Recreation & Destinations

NWQ Getaway Guide: Summer Edition


The Old Northwest Territory is full of great resort and hotel getaways. Why not explore some of the best in your own backyard? Scroll Down to Learn More

Punta Cana boasts miles of white-sand beaches and tourist resorts along turquoise water. (Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism photo)

Fly RFD: Explore Rockford’s Newest Connection to Tropical, Caribbean Getaways

Go tropical this winter with the Chicago Rockford International Airport’s latest offering: winter charter flights to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. The newest arrangement with Apple Vacations is now available for booking. The first lucky vacationers take off this Dec. 26, and the once-a-week flights continue until early April 2012.

With free parking and direct, non-stop flights to Punta Cana International Airport, RFD makes it easy to escape to this ritzy resort destination.

This Caribbean getaway is a beach bum’s dream. It’s full of possibilities, with a wide variety of water sports, golf courses, all-inclusive resorts and shopping destinations, not to mention miles and miles of white-sand coastline. Plus, Punta Cana is just a short drive from Cap Cana, one of the Caribbean’s largest inland yacht marinas, with a cove of luxurious resorts.

Punta Cana’s white-sand coastline stretches for miles along turquoise waters. Enjoy scenery from the Spanish-Colonial setting at Secrets Sanctuary Cap Cana, located just 10 minutes from the airport. Opened in 2007, Secrets Sanctuary includes five pools, seaside paddle boats and a generous health club/spa, in addition to five restaurants and live evening entertainment.

Just up the coast, try the all-inclusive Riu Bambu, a beachside bungalow complex filled with swimming pools, tennis courts and lots of water sports, from scuba and snorkeling to waterskiing, wind surfing and fishing. The coastline is also popular for kite surfing and a variety of water recreation.

The temperate waters provide an endless playground, with many resorts offering boating and fishing. There’s ample opportunity to swim with dolphins, go deep-sea fishing or race around the sea in speed boats. Helicopter flights provide a birds-eye view of the paradise, and outback tours await tropical explorers.

For landlubbers, Punta Cana offers some 19 high-class golf courses, designed by the likes of Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Fazio. The Jack Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada offers breathtaking beachside views, including one hole that’s surrounded by water. The Tom Fazio-designed Corales Golf Course, located at PUNTACANA Resort & Club, is one of the area’s newest. It features lush green fairways with rocky cliffs and ocean views.

This is the land of Ponce de Leon and Christopher Columbus, and the reminders are everywhere. In Punta Cana, learn more about the vibrant Spanish colonial culture at historical museums and sample the flavors of this heritage at native cuisine restaurants. There’s more history to discover a few hours away in Santo Domingo, one of the first cities of the New World. Filled with cultural museums, luxury shopping and local cuisine, the city includes open-air markets and plenty of cigar crafters.

Santo Domingo’s historical museums give tourists an up-close look at the native Taino peoples’ lives and early colonial times. The city offers a vibrant nightlife, and several casinos offer still more ways to enjoy this lively city.

Before you leave, make sure your documents are in order. According to the U.S. State Department, travelers to the Dominican Republic do need passports, and the embassy in Santo Domingo offers a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to update tourists on safety announcements and to connect them with families in case of emergencies.

A tropical world awaits you this winter and tickets are already being sold. Don’t miss your chance to explore a Caribbean paradise. Visit to learn about the exciting getaways made possible by Chicago Rockford International Airport. ❚

Members of the Starved Rock culinary team pick fresh herbs like basil to be used in the kitchen. The on-site garden also has vine-ripened tomatoes. (Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek photo)

Starved Rock Lodge: Fresh Discoveries Await at Historic State Park Lodge

Fresh basil is a must for bruschetta, and there’s nothing better than the fresh herbs which are used to make our new veggie wrap,” says Starved Rock Lodge Corporate Chef Barry “Bear” Brooks. “We now offer that to our guests on a daily basis, along with a mélange of other herbs grown in our own on-site garden.”

Nestled into a previously under-utilized corner of the veranda, Starved Rock’s garden is in full bloom under the summer sun. What began as an Eagle Scout project that never got off the ground now flourishes – off the ground. Raised beds were the answer. “The higher beds are easier to maintain,” says CEO/President/Concessionaire Terry Cross.

Cross brought the raised-bed herb garden idea to General Manager Mitch Wagner, who said, “I planted herb gardens when I was food & beverage manager, early on in my career, and I saw how successful they were. The idea of having one at Starved Rock seemed like a natural fit.”

The staff and managers agree that it’s a thing of beauty. When guests see the herbs in the garden, they ask if they’re used in the dining room. The answer is proven when their food arrives and they taste the pico de gallo or bruschetta. Cilantro enhances the dressing on the Mango Shrimp Salad as well as several other items on the menu.

Little ideas become big when Cross puts one of his plans into motion. Commander-in-chief at the lodge for 20 years now, he has enhanced the property with two koi ponds; the largest collection of chainsaw art in the Midwest; two outdoor wedding venues (where he personally planted hostas); Fox Ridge, a new venue for outdoor gatherings and especially fireside stories; and his latest idea, the herb garden, planted right off the Main Dining Room.

“We’ve all seen the monster tomatoes Terry brings to work from his garden at home,” says Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek, Starved Rock Lodge’s director of marketing. “So we could only imagine what would happen if he put his green thumb into an herb garden on Lodge property!”

Cross says this garden is a test. If it works out, they may do more gardening at Cattails, another property he manages within the Starved Rock family. 

So the herb garden continues to grow, and so does Cross’s never-ending quest to bring new attractions to Starved Rock Lodge. A smokehouse was recently added, to prepare smoked prime rib, baby back ribs and even pheasant.

Starved Rock Lodge has several dining options. The Café has quick breakfasts, sandwich wraps, soup of the day and on-the-go snacks. The Back Door Lounge has live music, special events and a menu for tasty munchies. The Main Dining Room serves breakfast and lunch, and its dinner menu offers appetizers, fresh salads, and entrées from pasta and seafood to beef and fowl. Of course, all are seasoned with fresh-picked herbs.

To see the complete menus – and learn more about Starved Rock Lodge – visit

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