By Renée S. Gordon
The only real question regarding a vacation in the Poconos is when to go because each season has something special to offer and the scenery is always spectacular. The 2,400-sq. mile Pocono Mountain region is made up of four counties, Carbon, Monroe, Pike and Wayne, in northeastern Pennsylvania. There are hundreds of lakes, 261-miles of trails and numerous nationally recognized sites and parks. Among the many waterfalls in the area are Dingman's Falls and Raymondskill Falls, the two highest in the state. Visitors can hike, bike, horseback ride, fish, ski, boat and golf amidst some of the nation's most awesome natural scenery. www.800poconos.com
The Delaware, Lenni Lenape, Shawnee, Iroquois and Paupack were the early inhabitants of the land and though the Lenape called the area "Minisink," the elevated plateau took the Native American name, "Pocohanne," meaning "stream between the mountains." The Delaware, Lehigh and Lackawaxen Rivers ran through the area and once the Dutch explored this fertile land in 1614 and copper was discovered mining operations began and In 1659 Dutch settlers established a small settlement at Delaware Water Gap. When New Amsterdam was ceded to the English in 1664 the Dutch ceased mining and more extensive settlement of the region began.
Anthony Dutot built the first boarding house hotel in 1829 and by the turn of the century city dwellers were making their way to the area for the fresh air, sun and recreational opportunities. It became the third largest resort location in the country. The first honeymoon resort was constructed in 1945 by Rudolf Von Hoevenberg to capitalize on WWII GIs and their ladies who came here to honeymoon and have romantic getaways and in the 60s the Poconos was designated "The Honeymoon Capital of the World." The following year Big Boulder Ski Area was constructed, the first commercial resort in PA. Many vacationers took the then 10-hour trolley ride from Philadelphia. Today the trip from Philadelphia takes less than three hours and the Poconos is an even more exciting destination.
Mount Pocono, in the heart of the area's activities, was once called Forks because of its location at the juncture of the Easton-Belmont and Drinker Turnpikes. It was incorporated in 1927 as Mount Pocono after also having been known as Mount Pleasant.
The 1,000-acre, family-owned Mount Airy Casino Resort was built from the ground up as the third reconstruction on the site of the original 1898 Mount Airy Lodge. The completely new resort opened in 2007 at a cost of $412-million. The casino resort was designed to provide two separate experiences, that accommodate families or individuals, but are also created to blend smoothly together to create the ultimate destination vacation. It is the first Pocono casino resort and the only 4-star casino resort in the state.
The casino offers more than 2,000 gaming opportunities featuring the newest slot machines. The central point of the gaming floor is The Glass Bar, with etched glass walls, slot machines, LCD television screens, plenty of ambiance and some of the best drinks in the area.
Architecturally the structure reflects the environment with extensive use of natural materials, marble, glass and mirrors throughout. The owners wanted massive fireplaces on either side of the lobby but because of the potential danger to guests they chose instead to create shards of glass flames inside the huge stone fireplaces and the effect is stunning.
There are more than 800 guestrooms and suites, Gypsie's, Trifecta Lounge, nightclub and concert venue, three outstanding restaurants and a well-regarded buffet that presents their signature jazz brunch each Sunday. The Spa at Mount Airy has a full palette of treatments as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center.
This month a new golf clubhouse will open. The 18-hole course is renowned both because of its mountainous terrain and its unique design by Hal Purdy. Each individual hole replicates the best hole at one of 18 nationally ranked courses.
Mount Pocono offers packages and specials including golf holidays, girlfriend getaways and spa packages. www.mountairycasino.com
Obviously you can have a great vacation and never leave Mount Pocono Resort Casino but you can also venture out to other distinctive area attractions.
The 1803 Wagner Estate is the current location of Memorytown, a retail and restaurant development that is designed to evoke the past. You can shop with real spirit because it is allegedly one of the most haunted locations in the area. The Museum of the American Patriot at Memorytown interprets the history of America's military from the American Revolution through WWII and beyond. The story is related through artifacts and memorabilia.
Pocono Snake & Animal Farm is a small family-operated sanctuary that has provided big entertainment for nearly 40-years. Owners who found they could no longer properly care for them have donated many of the animals including some that have had past careers with Jack Hanna and Steve Irwin.
The collection includes a 14-ft. King Cobra and a 100-year old Alligator Snapping Turtle. One of the quirkiest couples in the animal kingdom is on display here, Max and Dillie, a wolf and bear that have been friends since childhood and continue as adult roommates. There are photographic, feeding and petting opportunities. Information and directions are online. www.poconosnakeandanimalfarm.com
The 1976 Pocono Indian Museum, in Bushkill, Is one of the least known but extremely interesting attractions in the area. The mission of the museum is to preserve and present the history of the Delaware Indians. On display are numerous weapons, tools and household items that shed light on their daily lives. Housed on the 1840's John Van Campen Coolbaugh Homestead, the museum structure served a variety of functions including that of a speakeasy and an Underground Railroad station. www.poconoindianmuseum.com
The 2.5-mile triangular oval Pocono Raceway is home to two annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Races and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event. The raceway also presents the Stock Car Racing Experience. Participants gear up and strap into a 600 horsepower Sprint Cup Car and select from a list of Drive Programs and Ride Experiences that test their racing skills. You can ride shotgun or solo for periods ranging from three to five hours. This makes a great gift or a chance to cross one off your bucket list. All the details are online. www.877stockcar.com
All this adventure awaits less than three hours and one tank of gasoline away and now is the best time to plan.
I wish you smooth travels!
Tickets are currently on sale for the 45th Annual Hampton Jazz Festival. The event will be held from June 22-24, 2012 at the Hampton Coliseum. The featured artists include Charlie Wilson, Natalie Cole, Kenny G, Will Downing, Jill Scott and KEM. Tickets are on sale in person and online at Ticketmaster outlets. www.ticketmaster.com
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