Niagara Falls, New York.

Niagara Falls, New York. Photos from our helicopter tour.

As 2013 rushes towards 2014, I like to look back at my experiences. After traveling a lot of miles this year, I thought I’d share the highlights. Hope you enjoy them too!

Best Air Adventure–Helicopter Over Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is one of the world’s best known–and most popular–attractions, and with good reason–it’s an amazing sight! I was lucky enough to fly over it with a helicopter, float near it on the Maid of the Mist boat cruise, and watch it from the lookout area. You can see some of the views here:

Best Festival–Virginia Beach Craft Beer Festival

This was our first beer festival, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Even though our beer glasses were mini-sized, we found out it was impossible to sample all the products of the more than 50 breweries. With great bands providing entertainment on a gorgeous fall afternoon, it was an awesome day. Here’s info on the 2014 Virginia Beach Craft Beer Festival (October 18 & 19)–plan to attend!

Whitewater rafting. Photo courtesy of Magic Falls Rafting.

Whitewater rafting. Photo courtesy of Magic Falls Rafting. That’s David at the back of the raft, right in front of the guide. I’m directly opposite him on the other side of the raft.

Best Extreme Sport–Whitewater Rafting on the Dead River

There’s nothing like the adrenalin rush of participating in sports to create a memorable holiday experience–whitewater rafting with Magic Falls in West Forks, Maine was this year’s high for us.

We were lucky enough to get in on one of the few times of the year that the Dead River has a release, making it the longest, continuous stretch of Class III to Class V rapids in the East. For more information on 2014 rafting with Magic Falls, see:

Best Activity–Kayaking in Fort Wayne

Our experiences in Fort Wayne, Indiana, proved that urban kayaking combines the best of both worlds. Not only did we enjoy Fort Wayne’s historic downtown on a walk around, we paddled through it on the St. Mary River nestled between the high banks almost totally secluded from the city, except for the sounds of traffic. For more on our weekend with Don Hall’s Guesthouse Hotel, check out:

Canons at Contraband Days.

Canons at Contraband Days in Lake Charles, LA, defending the city from pirates. Photo by David Aksomitis.

Best Event–Contraband Days, Lake Charles

I’d wanted to visit Lake Charles during Contraband Days since I first heard about the event. I mean, what’s not to love about pirates and treasure?

Celebrated annually for more than half-a-century, Contraband Days runs for two weeks. We made it in for the first weekend, where “pirates” invade the bay and take control of the city in the face of canon fire, forcing the mayor to walk the plank.

From there, the fun begins with concerts, auto adrenalin, carnival rides and more.

Best Walk–Bridge over the Hudson River

Poughkeepsie’s Walkway Over the Hudson gave me a 360 degree view of the Hudson River and fabulous fall foliage that lined the riverbanks. Here are some photos you may enjoy: Of course it’s a great way to see this city no matter what season you visit.

Made in America store

Made in America store in Niagara Falls, New York.

Best Shopping–Made in America Store, Niagara Falls

There’s a lot more to the Made in America Store than you might imagine–I was lucky enough to talk to Mark Andol, the owner of this rapidly growing company, when I visited Niagara Falls.

When he opened his first store in Elma, New York, he could only find 500 products that were completely made in America. This sounded odd to me until I thought about how many things we North Americans get “done” in other parts of the world, from printing our books to making buttons for clothes.

To qualify for inclusion in the inventory of Made in America, an item can’t have any imported elements, no matter how tiny. Now, the Made in America store has over 5000 items that truly are all made in America.

Best Ghost Tour–Alton, Illinois

Alton, Illinois, is often called the ghost capital of the U.S. My after-dark tour with the Mineral Springs Ghost Tours didn’t turn up any of its ghosts for me, but from the arm-tingling walk through the graveyard on a pitch black night, to the flashlight-led climb up the creaking stairs of what was once The Mineral Springs Hotel, it was still a spooky experience.



Best Harbor Cruise–Hampton, Virginia

The Miss Hampton II Harbor Cruise takes you from the 16th century through to the future, with a narrated tour of the world’s largest naval base at Norfolk.

Nurse ship at Norfolk Naval Base.

Nurse ship at Norfolk Naval Base.

We even got to see a nuclear powered submarine heading out to sea–and look into the machine guns on the guide boat. For more about our experience, see:

Best Local Tour–Carriage Ride in Lake Charles

There’s something about combining a narrated tour of an historic district with a horse drawn carriage ride that turns back the pages of time and lets you glimpse what it was like to live a century or two ago. J & R Carriage in Lake Charles, Louisiana, takes you through the Charpentier District of the city, with its forty blocks of homes up to two centuries old. It’s a great experience whether you’re looking for the clip-clop of a carriage ride, some architectural history, or a few tales of Lake Charles’ more notorious long-dead residents.


Our thanks to the many Convention and Visitor Bureaus that hosted us on our travels in 2013, and helped us experience so many interesting parts of the United States.