About Me

My photo

I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

OHEKA Castle Tour

OHEKA Castle has an interesting history as far as castles go, it reminds me more of the history of Alcatraz then of a castle.  I just want to start by saying that my guide, Lowell, was wonderful, full of history and a passion for the castle.  She lives right around the castle so she is a local with an invested interest in the success of the castle.
Grand Staircase
Lowell started the tour in the entrance to the castle with the history.  Otto Herman Kahn bought 443 acres of land in 1914 to build this as a summer and weekend home on a high point of Long Island, since it wasn't the highest point, he built it up to be the highest point.  Today the castle land is only 27 acres, much of the landing having been sold off after Otto's death in 1934.  The home was built with 127 rooms, it was then and still is the second largest home in the United States.

After Otto passed away in 1934 his wife sold it off.  Being the tough times of the depression she didn't have many offers and it was purchased by the NYC Department of Sanitation to be used as a retreat.  That didn't go so well and only lasted 2 years.  Then it was taken over by the Marine Radio Operators before being purchased by the Eastern Military Academy.  The Eastern Military Academy was a respectful owner of the building, if you don't mind tanks driving around the gardens.  

In 1978 the Academy went bankrupted, they basically left everything, locked the doors and left.  The castle became a home for vandals, squatters, and kids doing bad stuff.  By 1983 the only reason the building was still standing was because Otto Kahn was so paranoid about fire that the building was very fire proof (there was almost no wood used in the construction).  So although there was no roof in areas, there was fire damage throughout, and plaster had simply fallen off the walls due to cold Gary Melius thought this was a good investment.  He bought the castle for $1.5 Million and has put in another $37 Million dollars into repairing the castle.

 Today the castle restoration is the biggest restoration project of its kind.  70% of the castle has been restored, with plans in the works for the other 30%.  The castle is currently functioning as a hotel, restaurant, catering hall.  I think catering hall is an understatement.  You may have seen OHEKA on Platinum Weddings or in photos of Kevin Jonas wedding.  You may have also seen it in The Emperors Club, What Happens In Vegas, Royal Pains or in ads for Audi, Victoria's Secret, Ralph Lauren and every bridal magazine - just to name a few of its accolades.

Charlie Chaplin Room
So the tour started at the Grand Staircase, which was modeled after a staircase at Chateau Fountainbleu in France.  From there we moved upstairs to the second floor and the main living floor of the castle.  Our first stop was brief in the Foyer before moving to the main ballroom.  The main ballroom was one of the early rooms to be restored, due to it's location across from the entrance and it's allure as a venue space to rent out.  The room had once been a gymnasium, complete with basketball nets.  Today is has ornate ceilings, wood floors, chandeliers and serves as a main dining room for guests.  To the right of the foyer is the formal dining room, and the new Terrace Room that was added to accomodate larger parties, up to 450 guests.  
Formal Dining Room
To the left of the foyer is a series of smaller rooms.  The library has been restored to the state it was in when the family owned the house and it's wonderful.  There are also sitting rooms, the Charlie Chapman Room and the bar is in what used to be the billard room.  Outside this wing is the formal gardens, which have been fully restored from the days of being a tank field.  
4th Floor Hallway
After this we moved upstairs to the 4th floor where most of the suites are.  We got to see the bridal suite and a Fairbanks Suite (a different one then featured on the website).  After the 4th Floor we went to the wind tunnel, which functioned as 1910's air conditioning and then to take a peak at the pool from the outside.  The pool is a long lap pool and for several reasons is not open to the public.  Although it is partially restored, it is still part of the 30% of the estate to still be completed.  After this we were brought  back to the ballroom for coffee and cookies, a really nice way to end the tour.  And it allowed you to take a look around the castle some more if you didn't have time to check everything out.
Bathroom in Fairbanks Suite
Fairbanks Suite
Fairbanks Suite
Bathroom, Fairbanks Suite
Entrance to Bridal Suite
Bridal Suite
If you're out on Long Island this is absolutely a wonderful site to see, although there are some other historic mansions on Long Island this one is unique in it's history.  I think you'll also find OHEKA Castle to be a very warm and home like environment compared to many other mansions you could see in the country.  This could also have to do with the fact that Gary actually lives in the castle and calls it his home.  Yes, while waiting for my tour Gary came by the grand staircase and said hi to anyone who was waiting for the tour and welcomed us to him home.  

Tours operate daily at 11AM, if you are planning on visiting I would recommend asking if there are any events going on when you are there.  If they are filming or have a party you may find areas of the castle are off limits for the tour.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fun With Spam

Many years ago in college one of my guy friends tried to convince me of the virtues of Spam, it didn't work.  Fast forward to last June when  I was informed my tour would be stopping at the Spam Musuem in South Dakota, I had a chuckle to myself.  Lets just say, no one expected much from this museum and we were all pleasantly surprised.
Thank you for the sign!
The museum was highly interactive and fun.  I didn't learn a lot about spam that I didn't already know.  Incase you are unaware, it's very popular in Hawaii, an after effect of WWII.  They had displays of Spam from around the world, and games.  The museum was also pretty photogenic, giving some interesting opportunities for photos.  The store was surprisingly expansive, you could buy anything from an air freshener (no, it didn't smell like Spam) to a costume or a christmas village house.

If you're in the area then you already know it's not a hot bed of activity in this area, but the museum is worth a stop either way.  It's fun for kids and adults and it is free.  Plus, you might find you like some of the recipes they offer.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

OHEKA Castle, Long Island, New York

I remember as a little girl my Mom pulling up at a street a few miles from home and telling me that there was a castle down the road, as a little girl, that was just the coolest thing EVER!  In August, as an adult, I finally got to see that castle - OHEKA Castle in Huntington, LI.

In the next few weeks I will post about the OHEKA Castle tour with the history of the estate.  But the short story is that in 1984 (about when my Mom would have told me about its existence) a family bought this old dilapidated castle and refurbished it to be a wedding location and hotel.  Last year I bought a Groupon for a one night in the hotel, I paid less then $200 for a $500 a night room.  

I was booked in a Whitney Room, the second level of rooms offered at the castle.  Mine was not the one they feature on the website, but it had similar features.  When I first walked into the room I saw a fireplace, it's not an active one, but it still felt like a good way to start my stay.  The room had a large King bed, a sitting area opposite the fireplace, a desk, closet, full sized bathroom and 32 inch flat screen TV.  Two things that surprised me, the TV was kinda small, though I doubt it's heavily used in a hotel like this and the TV didn't have HD service on them.  It doesn't cost more for the upgraded cable boxes and I think the TV can display HD.  Odd.  
Whitney Room
Sitting area and fireplace
The bathroom had a traditional tub, but with jacuzzi jets, a fun way to relax after the stressful day I had had at work.  The toiletries were by L'Occitane and there were complimentary waters and snacks in the rooms. What?  I got free wifi, and snacks, crazy!  

The main floor of the castle has a foyer, ballroom, large party room, several small rooms for parties, a bar and restaurant.  There is also lovely grounds to walk around outside.  But here is one of my biggest problems with the place, it was very stuffy.  There are beautiful grounds, but no one said, feel free to take a walk outside. Every door was closed and none marked, I felt like I was sneaking around the place trying to find my way outside.  I of course got outside and walked around but I felt a little funny.

View from the back of the castle
The following morning I went to breakfast in the ballroom, it was a nice continental breakfast spread - muffins, donuts, bagles, fruit, yogurt, and oatmeal.  As an average person it was a little akward, there were staff there to clear the tables and get you anything you needed.  Although they didn't hover, they were often standing around doing nothing.  I'm not used to that kind of attention.

Formal Gardens
I checked out just before the 11AM checkout time and while waiting for my tour of the castle I met Gary, the owner of OHEKA Castle.  It was totally unexpected and a nice touch that made the castle feel more welcoming.  In case you are wondering, Gary does have his own suite on the 3rd floor of the hotel.
Would I stay here again?  Well since I live 10 minutes away, probably not.  Maybe for a special occasion, but at $400 a night minimum it better be a VERY special occasion. If you're visiting Long Island and looking for a special treat, this is a very unique spot and would make a memorable experience.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cheesy Madison and Boobs

Our first stop on the Northern Adventure was a lunch stop in Milwaukee on the way to Madison, where we would spend our first night on tour.  In Milwaukee we had and included stop at the Miller Brewery for a tour.  I've done several brewery tours, in spite of not liking beer.  The tour was above average as long as you don't mind hearing all the wonderful things about Miller.  It was very professional and educational about the company and the overall beer making process.  Plus we got free beer.

From there we drove to Madison, Wisconsin.  Sadly,  we did not get to see the city at all, but we did some cheesy american types of things.  We ate at a buffet and had drinks at Hooters.

Another room at our hotel
The buffet was very stereotypical american, large quantities of greasy and high calorie food. As I looked at the food choices I was reminded of why american's have become so obese, buffets like this are just one contributing factor.  And as I looked around the restaurant I was saddened to see sooo many overweight people around.

After dinner we went back to our hotel and for our evening out we went to Hooters, it was the only place in walking distance.  I have been to Hooters in the past, in NYC.  The wings are pretty good, and the boobs were not the attraction, though the girls were scantily clad.  I hadn't felt like Hooters was a place for guys to go and check out girls with big boobs.  And then I went to a Hooters in Madison.  First, all the girls did have large boobs, and at least our waitress was an idiot.  She was friendly, bubbly and nice, but no matter what we asked her she had to go check.  Really, she couldn't suggest a drink past a beer and a margarita, which were already at the table.  Then there were the men.  There was more then one table with a single man at it and they had long conversations with the girls.  I felt the urge to go and save the waitresses from their patrons.  I actually felt a little dirty after visiting Hooters.

I'm sorry I can't tell you anything of substance about Madison, Wisconsin.  But even a buffet and Hooters can be an educational experience if you're paying attention.