May 02

What to do in your state?

A few weeks ago the Huffington Post had an article about what to do in each state.  While some of the suggestions were classic, a few were a bit unusual.

In the case of my state, New York, they suggested Long Island’s east end wineries.  I have only been out to them once, but I really did enjoy my trip.  The wines were good and their are also a lot of farms in the area, so I was able to get some fresh fruits.

But it’s not an obvious choice for a state that has week, New York City.

So, what do you think of what they chose for your state?

Feb 21

Courtyard Marriott Herald Square

In June I stayed at the brand new Courtyard Marriott Herald Square in New York City for one night when I had a night out on the town planned. My original reservation was for a city view room with two full sized beds.  When I checked in I was offered a non-city view room or an executive room (King Bed and Pull out sofa) with a city view. I’m usually not a fan of pull out beds in hotel rooms, but I figured in a hotel that was 2 weeks old the bed would be in good shape.

So up I went to room 911 with a view of the city (midtown). The room was obviously nice and fresh, being only 2 weeks old. When you walked in the room you’re in a hallway that has the bathroom at the end and the bedroom area to the right. The benefit to this design was that you can’t see the room from the hallway of the hotel.

The room had a king sized bed, a small couch (twin sized pull out bed), flat screen TV, coffee table, desk, small closet with THIN full length mirror, coffee maker and a mini fridge.  I found the bed and couch comfortable and although the closet was small, it was what I would expect in a hotel in New York City.

The room was quite spacious for 2 people (by New York City standards), but it would be tight with a third person in it for more than a day or two.  They layout was good for the space, my only complaint is that if you sit at the desk you block access to the rest of the room.

Also worth mentioning is that there is security at the entrance of the hotel, while the doors open automatically during daytime hours you need a room key to enter at night.  I like that extra bit of security.

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced hotel in midtown I would recommend staying here, it was clean, secure and the staff seemed to care.

Sep 26

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.

Sep 12

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.