Wilmington, North Carolina

By Brad Tuttle
May 31, 2006
Morgan & Owens
The welcoming Southern vibe and old port atmosphere remain, even after Hollywood came to town

Despite the grits and sweet-potato fries on the menu and a name that sounds like Bo and Luke Duke would fit in nicely, the Dixie Grill is not your typical Southern diner.

Dalí-esque paintings of fish decorate the lime-green walls, and above the grill is a mural of a sunny-side-up egg screaming as it's about to get eaten. Local musicians sometimes play out back, where a small bar serves microbrews and $2.50 bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The staff is a young, tan bunch who could work as extras on a hip teen drama. And considering that One Tree Hill and Dawson's Creek were filmed in town, along with dozens of movies, they may very well have done so.

Founded in 1739, Wilmington remained North Carolina's largest city through the early 1900s. The action clusters where it always has, the east bank of the Cape Fear River, 29 miles upstream from the Atlantic. The red-brick streets were largely paved over with asphalt years ago, but there are a few holdouts, including a handsome, if faded, section of Dock Street near the river.

Wil-mington's 230-block historic district includes ramshackle factories converted into restaurants, pubs, galleries, and shops, in addition to Victorian homes so postcard-quaint that the owners must be tempted to run them as B&Bs. (Two home owners who did just that with particular success operate Camellia Cottage and Blue Heaven, which both have big porches and are located five minutes by foot from the river.) With a slew of artists and musicians calling the place home, a state university down the road, and fantastic beaches that are 20 minutes farther, Wilmington simultaneously appeals to hipsters, beach bums, and fans of traditional Southern gentility. But thus far tourists pay more attention to the two port towns it's often compared to--Savannah and Charleston--so Wilmington remains relatively quiet by comparison.

Visitors naturally gravitate to the boardwalk lining the Cape Fear. Known as the Riverwalk, it's ideal for strolling at dawn and dusk (and oppressively hot midday in the summer). A $3 ferry does a quick cruise-by tour of town before dropping you off at the Battleship North Carolina, across the river. Head belowdecks on the World War II ship to check out the old bakery, chapel, and sleeping quarters, and placards with soldiers' personal recollections (like the private who complained about how often "wallpaper paste"--rehydrated potato--appeared on the menu). On spring Friday evenings, classic movies are shown under the stars and next to the fighter planes and huge guns that once launched artillery up to 20 miles away.

Back on Wilmington's shore, grab an umbrella table at The Pilot House, built in the 1870s and dragged to the riverfront a century later for a new life as a restaurant. The prices that come with a river view are worth it, especially considering the elegant setting (impeccably dressed waitstaff, tables with fresh flowers) and regional favorites (pork loin sandwiches, fried green tomatoes, tons of seafood).

Guided ghost walks, trolley rides, river cruises, and tours of the Burgwin-Wright House and other mansions keep folks happy who are into those kinds of things. Others will be content browsing for antiques or nursing a pint at the grungy (in a good way) Barbary Coast, the oldest tavern in town, or at Hell's Kitchen, a market that was re-vamped as a Dawson's Creek set and has since become a hangout for more of those folks who look like stand-ins for Pacey and Joey.



  • Camellia Cottage 118 S. Fourth St., 866/728-5272, camelliacottage.net, from $135

  • Blue Heaven 517 Orange St., 910/772-9929, bbonline.com/nc/blueheaven, from $100
  • Food


  • Dixie Grill 116 Market St., 910/762-7280, two eggs, bacon, and grits $6.25

  • The Pilot House 2 Ann St., 910/343-0200, pork loin sandwich $7.25
  • Activities


  • Battleship North Carolina 910/251-5797, battleshipnc.com,$9 (movies $1)

  • Burgwin-Wright House 224 Market St., 910/762-0570, tour $8
  • Nightlife


  • Barbary Coast 116 S. Front St., 910/762-8996

  • Hell's Kitchen 118 Princess St., 910/763-4133
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    Portland, Maine

    An intense revitalization effort began years ago in Portland's cobbled Old Port area, transforming it into a clutch of galleries, microbreweries, and stylish boutiques. Today, it seems like every corner of Portland is being rehabbed, including the once-dicey Munjoy Hill. Inventive chefs in search of ultrafresh seafood and produce are hanging out shingles like mad. The result is that Portland has more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city except San Francisco, and many serve a lot more than just lobster rolls and a good bowl of "chowdah." Some places, thankfully, never change. For 15 years, Becky's Diner has opened at 4 a.m. to serve pancakes and eggs to fisherman. You can see what the fishermen caught at the Harbor Fish Market. You can even buy lobsters packed for travel--around $50 for four (prices are seasonal). Portlanders love the chowder at Gilbert's and the "raw and nude" oysters on the waterfront at J's, which hasn't changed a bit since the 1970s. Any non-seafoodies should check out The Flatbread Company, a dockside restaurant that bakes organic pizzas, like its nitrate-free maple-fennel sausage pie, in an igloo-shaped wood oven. Or head to restaurant row on Middle Street for a meal at Duckfat, specializing in indulgent snacks like Belgian fries (cooked in duck fat) and panini filled with sour-cherry butter. Walk it off by trekking crosstown to the Victoria Mansion, one of the country's best-preserved pre-Civil War residences. Sea-inspired masterworks by Winslow Homer and the Wyeths hang on the walls of the nearby Portland Museum of Art, designed by I.M. Pei's architecture firm. After a long day hoofing it around Portland's hills, treat yourself to an expert foot massage at SOAK Foot Sanctuary and Teahouse, followed by dinner at Portland's best new restaurant, 555. Run by two transplants from Napa Valley, it has a well-curated list of wines available as tasting pours. If you eat just one thing while in town, let it be the Bang's Island mussels, steamed in chive butter with pickled cherry peppers, roasted garlic, and white wine. The West End, a historic residential neighborhood with a leafy promenade, is full of B&Bs that are great alternatives to the city's pricey waterfront hotels. Guests at the Percy Inn stay in one of seven antique-filled rooms named after poets; the narrow 1830s townhouse also features a cozy reading room with fireplace and a 24-hour help-yourself snack pantry. For an only-in-Portland tour by water, hitch a ride with the mail boat as it makes deliveries around Casco Bay. One of the prettiest stops is Great Chebeague Island. See Mac, "the Bike Guy," at the intersection of South and North Roads, and sign out one of the sets of wheels in his front yard that he loans out for free. If you're tempted to spend the night, reserve a room at the Chebeague Orchard Inn B&B. Neil and Vickie Taliento have been innkeepers for 15 years and have the details nailed--cut sweet pea blossoms from their garden, tubes of Tom's of Maine toothpaste, and blueberry pancakes at a farmhouse table. They'll even greet you right at the dock. Transportation   Casco Bay Lines 207/774-7871, cascobaylines.com, round trip to Great Chebeague $9 Lodging   Percy Inn 15 Pine St., 207/871-7638, percyinn.com, $139   Chebeague Orchard Inn 66 North Rd., 207/846-9488, web.nlis.net/~orchard, from $125 Food   Becky's Diner 390 Commercial St., 207/773-7070   Gilbert's 92 Commercial St., 207/871-5636, chowder $5   J's Oyster 5 Portland Pier, 207/772-4828   Flatbread 72 Commercial St., 207/772-8777, pizza $16   Duckfat 43 Middle St., 207/774-8080 555 555 Congress St., 207/761-0555, mussels $12 Activities   Victoria Mansion 109 Danforth St., 207/772-4841, $10   Portland Museum of Art 7 Congress Sq., 207/775-6148, $8   SOAK Foot Sanctuary 30 City Center, 207/879-7625, from $25 Shopping   Harbor Fish Market 9 Custom House Wharf, 207/775-0251

    Madison, Wisconsin

    Rain or shine, from spring to late fall, vendors ring the giant state capitol building at the Saturday morning Dane County Farmers' Market, selling vegetables and cheeses, as well as fresh flowers, still-warm loaves of pumpernickel, greasy old-fashioned donuts, and ostrich jerky. Wandering into the scene, you get the idea this is the way life should be: neighborly hellos, generous samples, farmers rubbing elbows with academics, and people pedaling home with purchases in their bicycle baskets. Around every corner are more signs of Madison's friendly, small-town atmosphere. Small groups picnic on the lawn of the capitol building. Bike racks are everywhere, and folks use them. (Rent a bike at Machinery Row Bicycles.) Stroll underneath the enormous red marquee of the Orpheum Theatre for popcorn in red-striped boxes straight out of the 1950s. Yet Wisconsin's state capital also has its cosmopolitan side. When the Orpheum isn't hosting live bands like Death Cab for Cutie, it screens independent films. After shows, patrons linger in the lobby--with its sweeping split staircase and intricate moldings--which doubles as a moderately priced restaurant. Locals consistently fill tables at Bandung Restaurant, in a strip mall just east of downtown, for Indonesian dishes like the nasi rames sampler, with portions of spicy beef tenderloin, homemade tempeh, and marinated vegetables in a curry sauce. The Chazen Museum of Art hosts free, continually changing exhibits, such as an upcoming one on 20th-century American painting, featuring works by Georgia O'Keeffe and Guy Carleton Wiggins. Inevitably, everyone winds up poking around the bars, boutiques, and restaurants of State Street, which connects the capitol and the gorgeous lakeside University of Wisconsin campus. Chocolate Shoppe makes ice cream that's nearly sinful, with flavors such as Fat Elvis (banana ice cream with peanut butter and chocolate chunks) and Gaelic Delight (vanilla swirled with crème de menthe). The House of Wisconsin Cheese sells squeaky, rubbery, tasty cheese curds by the pound, and goofing off with its dorky Cheesehead apparel (bowties, sombreros) is difficult to resist. Stop by State Street Brats for a red brat--a Wisconsin-specialty sausage that uses smoked beef instead of the traditional pork. While you eat, take in a Wisconsin Badgers football game on one of the 25 televisions. Last year, Sports Illustrated ranked State Street Brats the 13th best sports bar in the country. Even though most of the 28,000 undergraduates leave during the summer, Madison is a party town for all seasons. Lederhosen-bedecked staff at Essen Haus, just next door to the Hotel Ruby Marie, serve 17 German drafts in giant glass boots, while a polka band oom-pah-pahs joyfully. High Noon Saloon hosts bluegrass musicians and hip-hop artists alike, as well as an indoor craft fair where you can browse locals' works while enjoying a pint of New Glarus Spotted Cow ale. Head to the university's Memorial Union Terrace, overlooking serene Lake Mendota, and just hang out if you want the most Madison-esque of all experiences. Sunbathe at water's edge during the day, or share a pitcher of beer and boogie to free live music by night. At one reggae show last summer, students bobbed near the stage, while couples and groups of friends clustered at tables, and grinning parents hoisted equally happy kids onto their shoulders. Like so much of Madison, the Terrace scene manages to be cool and wholesome in the same breath. Transportation   Machinery Row Bicycles 601 Williamson St., 608/442-5974, $20 per day Lodging   Hotel Ruby Marie 524 E. Wilson St., 877/690-7829, rubymarie.com, from $92, breakfast included Food   Bandung 600 Williamson St., 608/255-6910, nasi rames $13   Chocolate Shoppe 468 State St., 608/255-5454   House of Wisconsin Cheese 107 State St., 800/955-0238   State Street Brats 603 State St., 608/255-5544, red-brat basket $4.75 Activities   Dane County Farmers' Market Capitol Square, 608/455-1999   Orpheum Theatre 216 State St., 608/255-6005, orpheumtheatre.net, movie $7.25   Chazen Museum of Art 800 University Ave., 608/263-2246, chazen.wisc.edu   Memorial Union Terrace 800 Langdon St., 608/265-3000, union.wisc.edu Nightlife   Essen Haus 514 E. Wilson St., 608/255-4674   High Noon Saloon 701 E. Washington Ave., 608/268-1122, high-noon.com

    Burlington, Vermont

    After Birkenstock sandals, the most common accessory in Burlington is the coffee cup. Every third store on Church Street, the four-block pedestrian area up the hill from Lake Champlain, seems to be a coffee shop. If people aren't sitting and sipping, they're walking, riding extra-long skateboards, or even pedaling bicycles with java in hand. The thing about Burlington is, all that caffeine apparently never kicks in. No one ever seems in a hurry. Droopy-eyed shopkeepers, artists, and college kids always have the time to chat, play Hacky Sack, pet somebody's dog--or grab another coffee. The most popular coffee comes from Speeder & Earl's. The tiny Church Street branch offers around 10 brews that change daily, often with three or four from Central America alone. The roasting takes place at a bigger location a few blocks away. As with Bartles & Jaymes, there's no real Speeder or Earl; the name derives from a 1950s song by the Cadillacs. But the company's logo is a sort of metaphor for Burlington's split personality. On every cup is a cartoon of two men: a thin dude with slick black hair and a leather jacket, and a David Crosby type with a mustache and long hair. The mountain-man beard is alive and well in Burlington, but the town also has its edgier side--perhaps the result of the five area colleges, which attract tons of out-of-state students. You'll spot a fair share of tattoos and black clothing. Good music and good food are priorities, and big reasons why so many students stick around for years after graduation. On any given night, a handful of bands will take stages within a few blocks of Church Street, playing anything from Allman Brothers covers to hip-hop originals that are more hippie than gangsta. Red Square, a labyrinth of a place with multiple interconnected rooms, and Nectar's, stomping grounds for the jam band Phish, score points for reliably talented musicians who experiment to keep things interesting. For lunch, the Red Onion Cafe's signature sandwich--hot turkey, thin apple slices, tomato mayo, smoked Gruyère, and red onion on your choice of homemade bread--is legendary. Or create an instant picnic with readymade pastas and salads at Cheese Outlet Fresh Market, which also has more than a dozen kinds of olives and too many cheeses to name. Vermont Pub & Brewery serves excellent bar food and the best pints in town. There's even homemade root beer. It seems like a waste to visit Vermont and not take in fresh air, green mountains, and lakes. Knock out all three by renting a bike at non-profit Local Motion, and go for a ride on the converted rail path that borders the lake. To really escape into the country, bring your bicycle on the scenic hour-long ferry and explore the winding mountain roads across the lake in Port Kent, N.Y. The country vibe continues back on the Vermont side at Willard Street Inn, despite the fact that the converted mansion is just four blocks from Church Street. Guests wake to breakfast in a handsome room with a piano and checkered marble floors, overlooking evergreens and a huge garden dotted with Adirondack chairs. Transportation Lake Champlain Transportation King Street Dock, 802/864-9804, ferries.com, round trip with bike $8.75 Local Motion 1 Steele St., 802/652-2453, full-day bike rental $25 Lodging Willard Street Inn 349 S. Willard St., 800/577-8712, willardstreetinn.com, from $125 Food Speeder & Earl's Coffee 412 Pine St., 800/849-6041 Red Onion Cafe 140 1/2 Church St., 802/865-2563, Red Onion sandwich $6.60 Cheese Outlet Fresh Market 400 Pine St., 800/447-1205 Vermont Pub & Brewery 144 College St., 802/865-0500, burger $5 Nightlife Red Square 136 Church St., 802/859-8909 Nectar's 188 Main St., 802/658-4771 Resources Lake Champlain Bikeways 802/652-2453, champlainbikeways.org, free maps and guides

    Trip Coach: May 30, 2006

    Tim Winship : Good afternoon, fellow travelers! This being the day after the Memorial Day holiday -- the busiest weekend of the busiest season for travel -- it seems fitting that we should be discussing the ups and downs of flying. I look forward to your questions. _______________________ Singapore: I am trying every-which-way from Sunday to get two business class awards or upgrades for the long-haul transpacific segment using 180,000 OnePass miles on any affiliate carrier for travel between Singapore & Lafayette, LA. My dates are flexible (Nov-Dec) and I am willing to purchase a revenue ticket and use miles to upgrade. I have even paid $140 to AwardPlanner.com and they have not been able to come up with anything for the past 30 days. They say they have tried all the hubs. Do you think I have a snowball's chance in Hades and/or do you have any suggested strategies? What do you think about the service offered by Global Pass? Thanks! Tim Winship : If you have AwardPlanner working on your behalf to secure award seats, you can be pretty confident that they're pursuing every option -- different partners, different routings, different dates. I'd be inclined to develop a Plan B (a trip which I know there's award availability for) and have the AwardPlanner folks continue trying to find seats for your first choice. _______________________ Carrollton, GA: I have never used frequent flyer points, but I've accumulated 30,000+ points on Delta, and given their financial situation, think I should take action soon. What advice can you give me, a first timer, about redeeming points? Tim Winship : There's no need to make any moves based on Delta's bankruptcy. While there's a small (very small) chance that Delta won't survive the restructuring process, your miles would probably be transferred into another airline's program in the event Delta failed outright. That's what happened when other major airlines -- Eastern, Pan Am, TWA -- liquidated. Of course, the way to avoid any risk whatever is simply redeem the miles now and take the award trip as soon as possible. But again, I wouldn't recommend that. _______________________ Washington, DC: How can a non-elite flyer (e.g. not platinum, gold, silver, or whatever) use frequent flyer miles to upgrade? Tim Winship : All airlines which have two or more classes or service (i.e. coach + business and/or first) offer one-class upgrades as awards. Check the award chart of the program in which you have miles for specific mileage requirements. Typically, there will be an award which permits you to upgrade from full-fare coach to the next-highest class of service, and a separate (higher priced) award that permits upgrading from discounted coach. Caveat: depending on the program, sometimes the cheapest coach fares cannot be upgraded using miles. Confirm with the airline before purchasing your ticket if you're planning to upgrade. _______________________ Waterbury, CT: I am interested in going to Ireland June 2007- when is the best time to book award miles- I have not had luck in redeeming miles for Europe in the past two years. Tim Winship : Most airlines begin allowing bookings 330 days before the departure date -- that's when seats first become available for sale in the rservations systems. So by all means, start trying then. But since availability can change at any time -- either because other passengers cancel their bookings or the airline adjusts award seat inventory -- it's worth checking back often. And toward the end of the award booking window, say within two weeks of the flight's departure, the airlines often make new award seats available if it looks like the flight in question won't be sold out to revenue passengers. As you've discovered first hand, award travel to Europe during the summer months is a challenge. If you have any scheduling flexibility, your chances would be considerably better in May or in the fall. _______________________ New York, NY: : Are airfares higher this year, I cannot seem to find any bargains? Tim Winship : Absolutely. And it's probably a good thing, too. As the recent airline bankruptcies prove, airfares over the past few years have been unsustainably low. Even low-cost JetBlue lost money over the past two consecutive quarters. As consumers, we should be prepared to pay a bit more. In exchange, we'll benefit from a more stable travel industry. And we might even see some improvement in the level of comfort and service we receive when we travel. Lastly, it's worth bearing in mind that ticket prices, when adjusted for inflation, are still very low by historical standards. _______________________ Evergreen, CO: I have many Delta Skymiles (400,000) that I would like to use for an international flight. When I check flights, anywhere they travel to, up to 12 months ahead, they only only offer SkyCHoice (250,000 miles) instead of any SkySaver (which are 100,000). What would you do, give up, formal complaint, etc...? Tim Winship : Many frequent flyer program members share your frustration. And it's not confined to Delta, although their being in bankruptcy seems to have exacerbated the problem. What can you do? Not much. As a consumer, you're more likely to get Delta's attention by taking your case to the media than by sending a letter to Delta, which will almost certainly be routed to their customer relations department. In the longer term, I'm cautiously optimistic that airlines will be forced to operate their mileage programs to a higher standard of accountability and, specifically, to increase award availability. But for now, the best bet is probably to readjust your expectations. With award seats more difficult to obtain at the lower mileage levels, the programs are delivering less value than ever before. If that means disengaging from the programs, so be it. Perhaps that would compel the airlines to fix the problem sooner rather than later. _______________________ Hendersonville, NC: How many months in advance is needed to secure a good rate for airline travel. I have a projected vacation between now and 30 June 2006. Can I get a better rate by securing a ticket now or wait a few days before my departure? Tim Winship : There's no way to predict what will happen to airfares over the next 13 months. My guess is that they will rise steadily, somewhat faster than the overall rate of inflation. More important than the long-term trend is the fundamental distinction between advance purchase and walk-up fares. Generally, tickets purchased 21 or 30 days in advance are cheaper than those purchased 14 days in advance, which are cheaper than those bought seven days in advance. And tickets purchased within seven days of travel are the most expensive. So, since you can't accurately predict the optimum moment to buy a ticket, at least be sure to make the purchase 30 or more days in advance. And avoid buying a ticket within seven days of departure. (Don't confuse walk-up fares with last-minute Internet-only fares. The latter are cheap fares, advertised at the last minute, usually for weekend trips.) _______________________ Nashville, TN: From the first week Continental started offering service to Buenos Aires, and for several months after, I saw no more than one or two dates with open mileage seats for this coming June or July. I was checking from three different Florida airports for departure. It wasn't any better on the phone. I finally gave up and bought a ticket on Copa since it was two hours less of flying time. Are there some routes that the airlines just never really open up to frequent flyers? Unfortunately, I'm not an elite member since I'm usually buying discounted coach seats on my own dime. Tim Winship : Award seat availability reflects demand by revenue passengers. The more likely a flight is to sell out to paying customers, the less likely that flight is to have seats set aside for award travel. Some flights on high-demand routes are pretty full year-round, and award seats are always in short supply. Very generally, newly launched flights tend to have more award seats available because the airline hasn't had time to generate paid bookings. So I'm a bit surprised CO was so ungenerous with seats on the Buenos Aires service. My guess would be that they had strong advance bookings and wanted to minimize the chances of displacing revenue passengers. _______________________ New Bern, NC: I leave in a small town with an airport serviced by US Airways. I've never had much luck flying our of this area using frequent flier miles. Is there a secret? Also, I read the articles this month comparing the different mileage programs, but there was no mention of the American Express program. How do you feel about credit card dollar for miles? Tim Winship : There is no particular secret to earning and using frequent flyer miles. Rather, it's a matter of understanding how the programs work and doing everything possible to squeeze the most value out of them. Living in an area served by a single carrier, with limited flights, can be a challenge when it comes to redeeming miles. The key may be flexibility: looking for low-demand routes during off-peak periods. The key benefit of the Amex card is points which can be converted into miles and points in a number of airline and hotel programs. That "multi-currency" feature is a nice benefit for those who participate in many programs. But the card is expensive, and if you manage to consolidate your earning in a single program, you're probably better off using the card associated with your primary program. _______________________ Scarsdale, NY: I've ben reading a lot about fuel surcharges and wondering whether my planned trip to Thailand this summer may be impacted - I haven't booked yet but I want to be sure that I don't end up seeing a great advertised price and then get lumped with massive surcharges. Tim Winship : Ticket prices for summer travel will reflect current fuel prices, whether via a surcharge or simply a higher ticket price. Just be sure to compare "all in" prices, including any and all fees and surcharges, before committing to booking your flight. _______________________ Milwaukee, WI: I'm flying to Burkina Faso this July to visit my brother, who's stationed in the Peace Corps there. I'm flying on Air France from O'Hare to Burkina, via Paris, and want to know if there's any way of trading my Northwest frequent flyer miles for Air France miles in order to get either a seat upgrade or a pass to the lounge at the Paris airport. Tim Winship : Air France and Northwest are partners in the SkyTeam alliance. So while you can't trade your NW miles for AF miles, you might be able to redeem your NW miles for a free flight or upgrade on an Air France flight. _______________________ Atlanta, GA: Suggestions on how to use my 400,000 Delta FF miles to take a round the world trip that I have been planning for more than 20 years. Delta only allows 5 stops per trip. To avoid returning to my point of origin, can you suggest any way to use 2 RTW tickets to visit more countries? Trip can start as early as November, but March 07 is my target date: China, Nepal, Australia, Thailand, Russia, Egypt, India are group 1 and S. American is Group 2. Tim Winship : I normally suggest that travelers are best served by plotting out their own itineraries. But because of the complexity -- the number of possible carriers, their route networks, and the RTW restrictions -- this is a case where I'd strongly recommend calling the SkyMiles service center and having an agent assist you. In situations like this, it's well worth the "service fee" charged for phone bookings. _______________________ Greene, ME: : Which airlines give the best value for transatlantic flight along with comfort for the long trip? Tim Winship : Value-conscious flyers swear by Icelandair for Europe trips. Of course, you'll have to travel via Reykjavik. Otherwise, look for sale fares on the Internet and in the Sunday travel section of your local paper. _______________________ Tim Winship : Great questions! Thanks to all for participating. Best wishes for a safe and hassle-free summer, wherever your travels may take you. _______________________