Tony Capecchi

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Since age 18, Tony Capecchi has been chronicling his worldwide travel and outdoor adventures for national magazines, including In-Fisherman and North American Hunter. He has co-hosted “Live Outdoors” on CBS Radio, produced television for NBC and worked on The History Channel’s hit series “MonsterQuest.”

The Ultimate Family Getaway ... with Free Deals

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Environment, Recreation, Fishing Updated: August 20, 2014 - 11:02 AM

Traveling with children can be wild, wonderful or woefully misguided, depending on the destination and the kids. For the first five years of our marriage, my wife and I took advantage of being dinks (dual-income, no kids) and traveled across the world sans children.

When we became pregnant last fall and realized we had a few months before life as we knew forever changed, we decided to travel somewhere special for the ultimate Valentine’s Day getaway. Our destination? Sunny San Diego.

We enjoyed a spectacular week hiking, sailing, fishing, whale watching, paddle boarding, swimming and relaxing on the beach. In short, it was the perfect destination for our final romantic getaway pre-kids. But we also realized how ideally suited San Diego is for families. All the activities mentioned above––not to mention our day feeding giraffes and rhinos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park––provide awesome experiences for children and adults alike. 

Not only was San Diego the spot we wanted to visit for our last trip before kids, it is also the first place we want to visit after we have kids old enough to travel. 

I cannot think of a city in America that’s a better place to bring your kids for a family vacation–– a reality that makes the upcoming “Kids Free San Diego” event this October the perfect proposition.
 

During the entire month of October, more than 90 San Diego hotels, restaurants, attractions, museums and transportation companies offer families with children special deals, so you can enjoy San Diego without emptying your wallet.    

Here are some of the best deals: 

Tour & Transportation Deals

  • Amtrak is offering one child, ages 2-12, a free ride with one paid adult rail fare aboard the Pacific Surfliner route, servicing San Luis Obispo to San Diego. Stops en route include the Santa Ynez Valley, Carpinteria, Ventura, Oxnard, Van Nuys, Burbank, Glendale, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Orange, Santa Ana, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and more. 
     
  • Hornblower Cruises & Events and Flagship Cruises & Events are offering kids, ages 12 and under, a free ride on their popular 1- and 2-hour harbor tours along picturesque San Diego Bay. Hornblower's offer is good for two kids per each full-price paid adult admission, while Flagship offers one child per paid adult. 
     
  • One child, age 12 or under, rides free per one paid adult on the entertaining, on- and off-boarding Old Town Trolley Tours of America and the thrilling San Diego SEAL Tours Sea and Land Adventures.
     
  • San Diego Speed Boat Adventures, Incis offering kids a free guided and narrated San Diego Harbor Tour aboard their own mini speedboat, with a paid adult tour.   

Deals at Major Family Attractions 

  • Home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego, LEGOLAND® California Resort and the historic Belmont Park, San Diego is offering substantial savings this October with free kids' admission to local attractions. 
     
  • All kids, ages 10 and younger, are admitted free into the San Diego Zoo, home to 3,700 rare and endangered birds, mammals and reptiles, and the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which is now home to the Tull Family Tiger Tail, featuring a new forested habitat for the Safari Park's Sumatran tigers with up-close views of the critically endangered species. 
     

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  • Click here to read about my trip in February to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park––we got to feed giraffes and rhinos. 

  • SeaWorld San Diego wants families to join in the celebration of their 50th anniversary by offering one child, ages 3 to 9, free admission with one full-paid adult admission. The same offer is valid at Dine with Shamu, and kids, ages 10 to 13, can participate for free in SeaWorld's Dolphin Encounter and Dolphin and Beluga Interaction Programs with one paid adult participation (kids must be at least 48" tall to participate).


     
  • LEGOLAND® California Resort, featuring 128 acres of LEGO-themed fun and more than 50 interactive attractions, and SEA LIFE™ Carlsbad Aquarium,with 36,000 sq. ft. of play zones and marine exhibits including the new Jellyfish Discovery, are offering a free one-day Child Hopper Ticket for one kid, ages 12 and under, with purchase of a full-price one-day Adult Hopper Ticket. 


     
  • Belmont Park, a turn-of-the-century-style seaside boardwalk and amusement park in Mission Beach, offers kids, ages 12 and under, free rides, meals and treats with adult purchase of the same offering. Kids can play unlimited laser tag or ride for free on the park's 11 ticketed rides, including the National Historic Landmark "Giant Dipper," one of only two remaining beachfront wooden roller coasters on the U.S. west coast. 

Hotel Deals

  • More than 30 hotels across San Diego, ranging from budget to luxury, are rolling out the welcome mat this October for kids. Kids can eat free at many hotels or receive special welcome gifts upon arrival at others. 
     
  • Kids can eat free at a number of family-friendly properties, including the luxurious Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego along San Diego Bay and The Westin San Diego in the historic Gaslamp Quarter.  At the family friendly Paradise Point Resort & Spa on Mission Bay, kids will be able to play for free on land and sea with free bike, kayak and SUP rentals for children. The offer is limited to one rental per room.
     
  • Families staying at the Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa and the Bahia Resort Hotel  along scenic Mission Bay can enjoy free rides for kids, ages 12 and under, aboard the Bahia Belle, an 1860s-era sternwheeler that tours the bay and offers transport between the two resorts. Click here to read about my stay at the Catamaran Resort this February. 
     
  • Kids staying at the Tower23 Hotel,located just off the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, can enjoy a complimentary milk and cookies amenity as well as a free movie rental. The offer is valid for two children per paid adult guest. 

Restaurant Deals

  • After a day around the city, parents can have a taste of San Diego's emerging culinary scene while kids eat free at participating family friendly restaurants. 
     
  • After exploring the historic sites of Old Town San Diego, parents can unwind with a margarita and some traditional Mexican fare at Casa Guadalajara, while kids enjoy a free meal from the kids menu with every paid adult entrée.  Inspired by the late singer-songwriter Jim Croce, Croce's Park Westin Banker's Hill offers parents a classy and cozy atmosphere where they can dine and relax to the sounds of jazz, while kids enjoy a complimentary meal. 
     
  • Kids can munch on a grilled Italian-style sandwich or a flat-bread pizza while parents savor one of many Tuscan-style entrees at Pinzimini in The Westin Gaslamp Quarter, where up to two kids can eat for free per paid adult.

Cool and Unique Deals

  • During October, kids can enjoy a variety of unique free activities, from learning to ride the waves of the Pacific Ocean, to visiting a local farm and harvesting organic veggies to take home. 
     
  • With a purchase of one adult surfing lesson or session, one child, ages 6-12, receives a complimentary surfing session or lesson from the Surf Diva Surf School in La Jolla, the world's first all-woman surf school.
     
  • At H&M Landing, kids can adventure into the ocean and experience the thrill of catching their own fish. Kids fish for free with every paid adult, and reservations are required.  With the purchase of a paid adult public harvesting tour, kids can enjoy a free tour of Suzie's Farm, which is located thirteen miles south of downtown San Diego. During the 90 minute tour, families can learn the history and operations of the 140-acre USDA-certified organic farm and will have the unique opportunity to harvest veggies to take home.
     
  • Kids can embark on a free sailing excursion of the Pacific Ocean and learn about San Diego's wildlife aboard one of Sail San Diego 's three hour tours. Guests can choose to take the wheel or sit back and enjoy the sights of San Diego. One child sails free per adult reservation.  

Our son just turned one month old, and I already find myself thinking about future trips I will take him on. I know San Diego will be a special one, someday. 

Ironically, my wife and I found out the joyous news of our pregnancy in October, so it seems fitting that some October, years from now, we take advantage of the annual deal and bring our son to San Diego––the last destination we ever visited before he was born.  

A complete listing of "Kids Free San Diego" Month participants and their special offers is available at SanDiego.org/KidsFree.

Best of the Best: World's Top 5 Dining Experiences

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: August 12, 2014 - 11:46 AM

They say the stomach is the way to a man’s heart. Traditionally, this advice is given to young ladies courting that special someone with hopes that a home-cooked meal will seal the deal. Yet I think the guidance rings equally true for resorts, hotels and fishing lodges.

Give me a delicious dinner or a superb shore lunch––a signature dining experience to cap off an exciting adventure––and you’ve not only filled my belly but have cemented your place in my memory. 

I’m a simple man and am more than content to stay that way for the rest of my life, but I have to admit I have become a bit of a food snob––or, more accurately, have developed a nuanced appreciation of high quality cuisine. I can’t help it. In my travels, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to dine at a wide variety of the highest regarded restaurants on the planet. 

Allow me to share three examples. 

At a castle in the highlands of Scotland, my wife and I enjoyed supremely tender beef while watching the sun set on the tallest mountain in the U.K. The King of Norway donated the furniture we sat on for the feast, and one waiter’s sole responsibility was to help us select the perfect wine to accompany our food––and then to rush to our table and top us off, seemingly after every sip.  

At a remote fly-in fishing lodge in Manitoba, I saw the shore-lunch concept taken to a new level by a dedicated guide who painstakingly measured the temperature of his oil to ensure the beer batter would have the ideal viscosity––a skill he honed six days a week, four months a year for the past decade. My dad and I sat on a pristine island and ate perfectly bronzed walleyes that were swimming just an hour ago, while watching a bald eagle soar overhead. 

On a tropical island in the Atlantic Ocean, my wife and I enjoyed a tiki-torch lit, five-course dinner on the beach with a personalized menu congratulating us on our wedding anniversary––all while a pianist played in the background and a key deer wandered up to our table. 

As incredible as those meals were, in terms of food quality, presentation and overall ambience, none of them crack the list for Top 5 dining experiences. Let that serve testament to the level of competition. 

Without further adieu, here is my list of the five best dining experiences at resorts, hotels and lodges around the world. 

1. Ashford Castle
Cong, Ireland

The Restaurant: George V Dining Room

The Scene: The dining room, built specially for a visit from the Prince of Wales, is the cornerstone of a magnificent, 800-year-old baronial castle on Lough Corrib in Ireland’s untamed Connemara region. Eleven Waterford crystal chandeliers hang from the dining room’s ceiling. 

If you catch Atlantic salmon or brown trout during your stay, the kitchen will clean and cook the fish to perfection; otherwise, the roasted rack of lamb with red pepper coulis and spinach is tremendous. The breakfast buffet with fresh ham, beef and made-to-order omelets is an event itself, after which you may need to stroll around the castle’s gardens to avoid a post-breakfast nap. 

Why It’s the Best: Eating in the castle’s dining room is like going back in time to spend an evening as royalty. 

What Else You Should Know: The Guinness family owned Ashford Castle centuries ago. As a hotel, Ashford was named #1 Best Resort Hotel in Europe by Conde Nast Traveler in 2010. My wife and I stayed at Ashford Castle our last night in Ireland. We are glad we saved it for last––it blew away everywhere else we stayed on the Emerald Island. 

Click here to read my full article about Ashford Castle, including my adventures with salmon fishing, falconry and hiking. 
 

2. Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior
Tofte, Minnesota

The Restaurant: Three Options: The Bluefin Grille, Coho Café and Bakery, and Waves of Superior Café

The Scene: A diverse array of fresh, locally made food ranging from Lake Superior salmon and lake trout to award-winning pizzas to apple walnut fresh toast served with pure maple syrup, fresh fruit and locally wild rice sausages––all with spectacular views of the world’s largest freshwater lake. 

“We make everything from scratch without any preservatives added,” said Diani Dimitrova, Coho Café and Bakery Manager. “We buy local as much as we possibly can for fish, sausage and seasonal produce so everything’s as fresh as it can be.”

Why It’s the Best: Outstanding food with even better scenery, perched on the big lake. “Guests are surprised how incredibly close our resort is to Lake Superior,” said Dennis Rysdahl, owner and general manager of Bluefin Bay. “People are stunned by these amazing views––you can’t get closer to Superior than this.” 

What Else You Should Know: The Bluefin Grille was voted “Minnesota’s Favorite Resort Restaurant” by Minnesota Monthly Magazine readers. Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior is hands-down the most beautiful resort in the Midwest, in my opinion. 

Click here to read my full article about Bluefin Bay, including my adventures kayaking, biking and mountain climbing.


3. Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
British Columbia

The Restaurant: Nimmo Bay dining room for breakfast/dinner; glaciers, mountains and islands for lunch

The Scene: Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is only accessible by helicopter or float plane and sits at the base of Mount Stephens, just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage. The dining room is built on an anchored dock. During my week at Nimmo Bay there were only four guests, yet two full-time chefs––that is how serious they take their cuisine, which consists of fresh Dungeness crab you catch during the day, as well as local halibut and wild salmon.
 
Why It’s the Best: Breakfast alone consists of three courses, plus fresh fruit smoothies and hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate croissants. I promised myself I wouldn’t name a “favorite” out of the top five because it’s a matter of taste (besides, who’s better, Beethoven or Mozart?), but I will say this: I have never been anywhere with better food that Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort.

What Else You Should Know: Nimmo Bay is routinely named one of the top ten wilderness resorts in the world, and was named the best dining experience in British Columbia in the New York Times best-seller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” You will be hard-pressed to find a more breathtaking place on the planet to enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch. 

Click here to read my full article about Nimmo Bay, including my adventures heli-hiking, ocean kayaking and mountain climbing. 

4. Ritz-Carlton, South Beach
Miami, Florida

The Restaurant: DiLido Beach Club

The Scene: The only restaurant on world-famous South Beach that is actually on the beach, the setting couldn’t be cooler. And the food you eat, while watching the rich and beautiful stroll along the beach, couldn’t be tastier. Our seven course, ocean-inspired lunch included award-winning cerviche, shrimp, marinated mahi, Pacific tuna and pan-seared salmon that––get this––was flown in that morning from the Pacific Ocean. 

“The local salmon we were getting wasn’t to our standards,” explained Chef de Cuisine Andres Meraz as he brought us our fish. “So now we get it flown in daily from the Pacific. We do that with the tuna, also, because tuna in the Pacific is better than what’s available in the Caribbean.”

Why It’s the Best: Chef Andres Meraz is a rock star. Mark my words: This immensely talented, personable and good-looking young chef will be famous someday. Not yet 30 years old, the phenom has already worked at restaurants in Spain, Hungary, Italy and Austria. 

What Else You Should Know: Again, I promised I wouldn’t commit to favorites, but I will say this was the best lunch I have ever had. Living up to its name, every aspect of the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach is first-rate. Last year, the Ritz rolled out a “Catch of the Stay” package that includes deep-sea fishing by day and evening stays at the hotel with your daily catch prepared to perfection. 

Click here to read my full article about the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, including my adventures with crocodiles, manatees and sharks in the nearby Florida Evergaldes. 


5. The U.S. Grant Hotel
San Diego, California

The Restaurant: The Grant Grill

The Scene: Boasting a $6.5 million art collection, the 104-year-old U.S. Grant Hotel and its signature restaurant––complete with a Sommelier and award-winning mixologist for fancy cocktails you can’t find anywhere else––is a West Coast icon. The seasonal menu features the best California produce, fresh Pacific seafood, sustainable meats and poultry, and fresh herbs with signature dishes such as Dry Aged Prime Rib Eye with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Marrow, Onoway Potatoes, and Sauce Bordelaise.

Why It’s the Best: Class, grace and elegance envelope the hotel, and the food is produced with exquisite care. Our lovely waitress, Natalie, was the best waiter or waitress we’ve had anywhere on the West Coast. "It's the combination of our beautiful surroundings and rich history, as well as the pride of our ownership and the service excellence demonstrated by our staff every day that makes The U.S. Grant such a special place," said General Manager Douglas Douglas Korn.

What Else You Should Know: The U.S. Grant Hotel is a historic landmark. It’s within walking distance of Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, and San Diego’s popular trolley tours. Nearly every U.S. president has stayed at the hotel. 

Click here to read my full article on The U.S. Grant Hotel, including my adventures paddle boarding, hiking and catching leopard sharks and giant sting rays. 

Photo Essay: A New View

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: August 22, 2014 - 12:00 PM

My interest in photography has grown over the years, along with my penchant for traveling and the great outdoors. Over the past decade, I’ve been dogged and deliberate in my pursuit of the planet’s most beautiful vistas. 

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to see more spectacular sights in the past 10 years than I deserve. 

Italy’s Amalfi CoastBritish Columbia. Alaska. Coronado Island. Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher.
The crown jewel of Hawaii, the Na’Pali Coast of Kauai. The mystical Isle of Skye, a ferry ride beyond the farthest reaches of the Scottish highlands. The island of Capri, where fabled sirens once sang to sailors in Homer’s The Odyssey. 
 
But on July 17, I saw unrivaled beauty in the eyes of my 1-minute old baby boy, Joseph Mario Capecchi. His 8-pound, 13-ounce frame knocked me over; my 20-inch son was more awe-inspiring than the tallest mountain I’m ever climbed.  I could barely fathom the miracle in front of me, let alone do him justice with a camera.

So I brought in a professional. Anna Ligocki is one of the hottest young photographers in the Twin Cities and came highly recommended, so I hired her for a newborn photo shoot. She seemed ideally suited for the gig––herself a new mother and former nanny––and has been on a busy streak for infant shoots, with seven newborn sessions last week alone. 

The photos on her website look fantastic, so I was pumped for our big day. Yet as high as my expectations were, she blew them away. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking, dear reader: With such an unbelievably adorable baby, of course the photos turned out great. Well, it’s kind of you to rave about Baby Joe (and I agree, he is remarkably cute), but a shoot with an unpredictable newborn is no easy stunt. Ligocki’s skills made all the difference.

She brought a trailer full of props, a space heater to help Joseph sleep and a golden touch with babies. When he pooped all over her brand new blanket, she didn’t blink an eye––she just cleaned it up and kept shooting. When we couldn’t get him to sleep, she suggested we turn on the vacuum, and the background noise helped him doze. 

“My dad always told me if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life, and that’s how it is for me,” said Ligocki, who quit her job at Kohl’s two years ago to jump into photography full-time and launch her own company

The 29-year-old grew up in the tiny town of Waterford, Wisconsin, some 30 minutes out of Milwaukee, and first fell in love with photography in a high school photo class. Ligocki majored in photojournalism at Winona State, and worked for a year at a photo studio in Stillwater. 

When the studio closed, she went to work at Kohl’s as a Visual Supervisor, but she kept shooting freelance gigs and always had her eye on returning to her calling full-time. 

“It was scary when I quit my job to do photography full-time,” she admitted. “But it felt fantastic. This was my dream, and I feel very blessed to be able to do this.” 

At the beginning, it was unclear if Ligocki would be able generate enough business to make photography a viable full-time career. A store manager at Kohl’s gave her three referrals for shoots, and from there Ligocki gradually built up her business and today boasts over 250 clients––nearly all via referrals


Her customers rave about her. 

“The photos Anna took of our daughter's first year––from her birth to her baptism to her first Christmas––are among our most cherished,” said Christina Ries, of Inver Grove Heights. “Anna has great instincts. She knows how to manage a shoot, how to collaborate with the subjects and how to sniff out a potential pose or prop. I feel like she gets us, as a family, and somehow that understanding comes across in her pictures.”

Ries hired Ligocki to come to United Hospital and photograph the birth of her daughter, a unique photo shoot that produced the proud mother’s most cherished photos. 

“What an awesome opportunity to have our little girl’s very first moments of life captured so beautifully,” Ries said. “She nailed every shot, delivering incredibly sharp and poignant images of labor and delivery. Somehow she could make a sterile hospital room feel artistic. Anna handled the delicate situation with grace, maturity and reverence.”

Ries was so impressed with Ligocki that she’s already hired the photographer to come back several times to capture key moments in her daughter’s life. “Life gets busy, and it's hard for busy parents to pull out the camera and capture the moment as often as we intend to. We will always be grateful that we hired Anna to do this for us.”

Nick McCarthy, of St. Paul, hired Ligocki as his wedding photographer on July 19 and was similarly impressed. “As a high school teacher and football coach, I have been called many things over the years, but ‘photogenic’ is not one of them,” McCarthy said. “Anna even managed to make me look good in a few photos, so that’s real talent. Plus she was great to work with on the day of the wedding. She was like a great quarterback, like Tom Brady, managing everything and directing traffic to help us get some mementos of our big day.”

As for myself, I am realizing that the mementos in my life will change. The birth of my son signals that. My basement is filled with photo collages of trips my wife and I took––perfectly framed images of Jodie and me carefully posed in front of spectacular scenes and historic landmarks. The photos we take today are on rocking chairs and car seats, ourselves often cut-off in the background and almost always disheveled and un-showered.  

I will always love to travel and will continue to do so, taking countless photos along the way, but having a child changes the lens through which you view the world. You become less interested in your own conquests, and more interested in your child’s development. 

In the future, my photos will be less about the last trophy fish I caught or mountain I climbed, and more about the steps my son is taking in his own journey. 

I can’t think of anything more beautiful. 

Anna Ligocki’s website is www.annaligocki.com. To contact her, call 651.307.6577 or email anna@annaligocki.com.

My wife’s family is from St. Louis and many of her relatives, including her father, worked for the Cardinals for part or all of their careers. At our wedding reception, my father-in-law gave my wife and me this baby Cardinals jersey. During his toast he presented us with the gift, saying that he hoped we’d have kids someday who were part of Cardinal Nation. 

One month later, he died unexpectedly. My wife wears a pendant engraved with her late father’s thumbprint. Joseph won’t have a chance to meet his grandpa so this photo, which Anna artfully captured, has special meaning to us. 

I have over 150 fishing pictures displayed in my garage. For some strange reason, my wife thinks they match the décor in the garage above our lawn mower better than in the living room above the fireplace. The photos feature me hoisting 55-pound sturgeon, 40-pound catfish, 30-pound muskie, 25-pound king salmon and 20-pound pike, plus a wide array of other trophy catches including lake trout, leopard sharks, bonefish and sting rays with 5-foot-long wingspans. 

In the years ahead, I am ready for these ego shots to give way to pictures of Joseph holding a bluegill. I think my fishing pictures will have less to do with the species and the size, and more to do with the smile on my son’s face. 

They say it’s good to talk a lot to your baby, but sometimes I don’t know what to say to a 10-day-old, so I take him into the garage and tell him fishing stories––some of which are even true. 

I look forward to the day when Joseph becomes a part of those stories, though for now I am loving the baby stage and am thankful Anna’s photography skills can help me capture and savor these fleeting moments.

 

The Terminal with a Twist

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation, Fishing Updated: July 11, 2014 - 10:13 PM

In the 2004 Tom Hanks movie, “The Terminal,” Hanks’ character gets stuck living at an airport for months on end due to immigration details and a revolution in his native country of Krakozhia. Humor abounds as Hanks endures the misery of living in the confines of an airport, a drudgery only slightly offset by a lovely flight attendant played by Catherine Zeta Jones.

The movie works because viewers appreciate all the inconveniences and stereotypical stuffiness associated with staying at the airport. Sympathy for Hanks’ character would not be found, however, had Hanks been flying through Vancouver and found himself at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, as I did several weeks ago.

The soundproofed hotel, situated within Vancouver’s International Airport (YVR) above the U.S. departures terminal, is anything but your typical airport hotel. The luxury hotel offers 5-star caliber accommodations, breathtaking floor-to-ceiling views of the runway in front of Vancouver’s mountains, diverse dining choices, and an indoor pool, health club and spa

In 2014, the Fairmont was named the No. 1 airport hotel in North America by Skytrax World Airport Awards, and boasts a litany of elite awards including mention in coveted “2014 World’s Best Hotels” lists for both Expedia and Travel + Leisure. 

I had seen the photo galleries on the website and knew I was in for a treat, but didn’t fully appreciate what I was in for until I made the two-minute stroll from the luggage carousels to the hotel’s entrance via a grand, spiral staircase. I was immediately welcomed to the hotel by a courteous staff member, then went up to the top level where I was greeted again by two concierges specifically assigned to the top floor. They led me to my room, where I was greeted with this spectacular view, and––as a delicious surprise––a spread of chocolate-covered strawberries.

“We take pride in delighting our guests,” said Nancie Hall, Regional Director at the Fairmont. “Our goal is to exceed guests’ expectations and we do everything possible to make each visit to our hotel special.” 

On the top floor, the Farimont also offers a club lounge with complimentary desserts and appetizers in the evening. It was a relaxing place to watch the planes come in. 

The Fairmont was also my base camp for several outstanding outdoor adventures. My first day at the hotel I took the famous Sea-to-Sky Highway drive, which is a wonderful one-day roundtrip from the hotel. Start early and plan on returning at dark––there are more than a dozen parks, hiking trails, waterfalls and scenic lookouts along the way. 

From the Fairmont, you can cut through Vancouver––stopping at Stanley Park if you so choose––and then head north on Route 99. The views along the 160-mile round trip drive are stunning, and surprisingly diverse. The massive Western Red Cedars around Vancouver gradually give way to hardy mountain evergreen trees near Lillooet, which receives roughly a quarter of the rainfall the coastal rainforest receives. The elevation changes dramatically as well.

“As you travel north along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, you’ll gradually climb from sea level to over 2,200 feet of elevation by the time you reach Whistler,” said Marsha Walden, CEO of Destination British Columbia. “As you begin your journey north, you’ll have sweeping views of Howe Sound on one side of your car and the towering Coast Mountains on the other side.  Keep an eye out for Arbutus trees which stretch at wild angles towards the water. The highway also winds through lush forests and alongside raging rivers as you continue north.”

Walden offered me some prophetic advice prior to my trip. “You’ll have a hard time keeping your eyes on the road!” she cautioned. “The Sea-to-Sky Highway is one of the world’s best drives.” 

As someone who has sought out the world’s most scenic drives––from Ireland’s Ring of Kerry to Italy’s Amalfi Coast to Kauai’s NaPali Coast––I wholeheartedly agree with Walden. Trust me, my photos don’t do it justice, but I couldn’t help myself from clicking away. The scale of the mountains and the trees and the vastness of it all is impossible to capture, but nonetheless, below are a few photos from the day.

During another day at the hotel, I made the 20-minute drive to nearby Granville Island for some salmon fishing. I met up with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters and enjoyed the best salmon fishing of my life.

We caught many king salmon, weighing up to 20 pounds, and even played around in the afternoon fishing for ling cod. 

I was impressed when I returned to The Fairmont after a couple days away, the concierge remembered I had mentioned my plans to do the Sea-to-Sky drive, and immediately asked me how I enjoyed it. That quality service certainly carried over to The Globe at YVR, the hotel’s signature restaurant.

“Many of our staff at The Fairmont have been with the hotel for years and years, and that makes a huge difference,” Hall said. “We don’t just hang our hat on the views and the top-notch accommodations we can offer. We work hard at providing personal service and making sure each guest has a wonderful stay.”  

By the time my visit was done, I found myself wishing I had another few days at The Fairmont. It was strange, but true: I wish I spent more time at the airport. 

The website for The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel is Fairmont.com/vancouver-airport-richmond. For more information, call 1-800-257-7544. 

The airport hotel is one location within the larger Fairmont family of hotels. To see the full listing of Fairmont Hotels, click here

For information on other area attractions, visit HelloBC.com. 

Adventure in The Great Bear Rainforest

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation, Fishing Updated: June 29, 2014 - 9:21 PM

Editor’s Note: The author visited Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, a second-generation family-run lodge in northern British Columbia. This article is the fourth of a four-part series on Nimmo Bay. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the adventure. 

My love affair with Canada began with a high school graduation gift from my old man: a week-long, father-son fishing trip. We bunked in a rundown resort in the woods of Ontario. Wind and rain besieged the camp, and daily thunderstorms forced us off the lake back into our knotty pine cabin, which housed a pair of field mice. In the black of night, a wind gust blew open the cabin door and in our semi-awake state we shoved a dresser in front of the door to prevent it from blowing open again and letting even more rainwater pour in. 

I loved every minute of it. 

Since that stormy initiation, the Canadian wilderness has beckoned me back annually, if not two or three times a year. From the East Coast to the West, I have laid to rest in everything from sleeping bags on rocky islands to five-star accommodations in plush fly-ins. 

This May, a decade and a half after that first fishing trip, my love affair with the Canadian wilderness culminated with an incredible adventure: a week of ocean kayaking, mountain hiking, and heli-fishing at the incomparable Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort in the Great Bear Rainforest. 

The resort, recently featured in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” consists of nine cabins built on stilts on a tidal, fjord-like bay just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage, and is accessible only by helicopter and sea plane. From this pocket of luxury, guests have access to over 50,000 square miles of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year old glaciers, mountain tops, old-growth rainforests, remote islands, white sand beaches, hot springs, a 5,000-foot waterfall and over 50 pristine rivers and streams––the majority of which can only be reached by Nimmo Bay helicopters.

I was lucky enough to experience a day of heli-hiking and heli-fishing in the mountains during my second day at Nimmo Bay. This adventure gave me the chance to soar into grizzly bear country, terrain above the clouds that is otherwise off-limits. I can’t count how many glacial waterfalls we hovered along in our helicopter, but that remarkable day provided more than enough material for an article in and of itself.

So, too, did my first and third days at Nimmo Bay, the former of which I spent ocean kayaking, paddle boarding and bear-watching, and the latter of which I visited an old village on the water to see a hearty breed of people who stake their homes in the wild. 

Each day also consisted of evening bonfires on a floating dock, nightly soaks in an outdoor cedar hot tub at the base of a waterfall, and over-the-top, spectacular food––cuisine ranging from fresh Dungeness crab to locally caught halibut.

As grand as the operation is today, it all began with one man’s dream over 20 years ago to run a fishing lodge with his wife and kids. “I wanted to make a living doing something where I could be with my family,” explained Vancouver Island local Craig Murray, who started the lodge in 1980 after purchasing an old float house near Port Hardy and towing it by barge to Nimmo’s current location. “Not a lot of jobs out here at the time other than logging and commercial fishing and those would require me to leave my wife and kids behind and travel to wherever there’s work.”

And so, at 34, Murray decided to follow his dream and start Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort with his wife and sons, age 3 and 1. 

“There are 150 million things that can go wrong, and most of them did at some time or another, but we managed,” said Craig. “We had no options––we had to make it work, even when the bank would say, ‘Sorry, no more money.’” 

The resort initially focused just on fishing, and gradually grew from accommodating eight guests to its current capacity of 18. For nine months of the year, the eco-friendly operation is powered by electricity generated from the waterfall. A hydroxyl waste management system converts all the camp’s waste-water into to bacteria-free, clear water that can be released back into nature. Nimmo Bay has always led the way with sustainability and consciously minimizes its carbon footprint. 

“There are too many things in this world that are not sustainable, too many people that aren’t thinking about that,” Murray said. “Right from the get-go we had a catch-and-release only fishery, so we never killed any fish at all. We have the purest, sweetest drinking water coming down from Mount Stevens. We did all the stuff you can possibly do to be green right from Day 1 because we know how fortunate we are to live in this pristine environment.”

Over the years, visitors from all over the world have taken note of the pristine environment as well. Nimmo Bay boasts a 76 percent return rate. It is consistently rated as one of the elite wilderness resorts in the world. The secret behind it all is simple, according to Murray, who in his early years visited his guests at their homes to study their behavior and preferences in order to optimize their future Nimmo Bay experiences. 
 
“There are three reasons for our success at Nimmo Bay: humor, music and detail,” Murray said. 
“Music is the universal language, and it’s all around us in nature,” Murray said. “If more people got involved with making music it’d be a happier place.” 

His own children have taken the advice to heart. Murray’s middle child, Clifton, serves as an international ambassador for the resort while traveling with his popular band, The Tenors. Murray’s youngest child, Georgia, works full-time at the resort by day and is a professional singer by night. Guitars, sing-a-longs and karaoke are common at Nimmo Bay. 

Murray’s oldest, Fraser, now runs the resort along with his wife, his cousin and his sister Georgia. “My dad has taught me so much,” says Fraser, who became a father himself earlier this winter. “He was there when I caught my first fish, and he also had me washing dishes and cleaning toilets at a very young age.”

Fraser and his generation of Murrays were the driving force in expanding Nimmo Bay’s offerings to include a wider breadth of activities beyond fishing, such as heli-hiking, whale watching, whitewater rafting and glacier trekking.   

“We have all dedicated so much of our lives to Nimmo Bay that it is hard to separate life from work,” Fraser admitted. “Dad taught me the value of a long, hard day’s work and to never give up on something you believe in. I would say the only thing that was ever bigger than Nimmo Bay in our lives was our family, and this is true to this day.”

The result of Fraser and his family’s tireless devotion to Nimmo Bay is frequent recognition as one of the top wilderness resorts in the world. But the true reward for Fraser is much greater: friendship with guests from all over, and the unequaled satisfaction of waking up each morning in paradise to share your passion with others. 

During my stay, I made friends not only with Fraser and the staff, but also the other guests at Nimmo Bay: a delightful couple from London, and a Vancouver woman who was lovely inside and out. 

“Nimmo Bay is a resort with a soul,” said Jeneen Southerland, who was visiting Nimmo for the first time and plans to return. “This whole experience is rejuvenating. The Murrays are such an incredible family, and it’s amazing to think how they have created this place in the wilderness for others to enjoy.” 

Indeed, it is remarkable. 

In the past decade, I’ve been deliberate and dogged in my pursuit of the planet’s most beautiful vistas. Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Alaska. The Cliffs of Moher. Coronado Island. The crown jewel of Hawaii’s Kauai Island, the Na’Pali Coast. The mystical Isle of Skye, a ferry ride beyond the farthest reaches of the Scottish highlands. The island of Capri, where fabled sirens once sang to sailors in Homer’s The Odyssey. 

I realize it is a serious understatement to say I’ve been fortunate with the sights I have seen. I list these destinations not to boast, but purely for reference––for of all the places I have been, I have never before communed with wilderness beauty the way I did at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. 

The website for Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is www.nimmobay.com. For more information on Nimmo Bay, call 1.800.837.4354 or email heli@nimmobay.com.  

For more information on this region and other parts of British Columbia, visit HelloBC.com

My new friends Peter and Jo, from London, graciously let me join them in the early mornings for bear-watching expeditions led by our Chilean guide, Francisco. We all agreed that seeing a bear in a setting like this is purely a bonus––simply being out in the wilderness watching the fog rise up into the mountains is its own thrill.

 Above I am pictured searching for bears; below is a video I took of a large bear we got to watch for over 35 minutes from a fairly close distance. We also saw a mother bear with her cub, several other massive adults (larger than the one in this video) and one bear while paddling on a stand-up paddle board. 

My words are quite inadequate in describing Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, but this video shows what the experience is all about.

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