Karin J. Martinez
Command Information Officer
Just an easy drive north on Interstate 81 from Fort Drum is a village on the St. Lawrence River that provides a wide variety of things to do for anyone with a yen to get out of the house – day or night, weekdays or weekends.
Alexandria Bay, the “heart of the Thousand Islands,” boasts a variety of activities ranging from go-karting to visiting an aquarium, to taking a boat cruise and touring a millionaire’s castle. The village is both a family destination and a unique experience for single Soldiers; there is truly something for everyone.
“We have boating, scuba diving, golfing, planned summer events, family activities, ice cream shops, coffee bars, sightseeing and nightlife,” said Kathy Williamson, executive director, Alexandria Bay Chamber of Commerce. “Thirty minutes up the road (from Fort Drum), and you’re in paradise.”
Located minutes away from the interstate exit ramp are go-karts and batting cages. There is also an all-weather driving range, miniature golf and a small arcade at Bonnie Castle Greens. Each activity is priced separately, so visitors can participate in one or all.
Slow down and catch your breath from physical exertion at the batting cages and cross the road to visit the AquaZoo. The attraction is a family-owned aquarium with 100 saltwater exhibits.
Owned and operated by Dave and Mary Roberts, the aquarium has been open for 11 years and has grown each year. It is open daily through Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Wander from the AquaZoo next door to Mazeland, to work your brain in an outdoor scavenger hunt. According to Jennifer M. Davis, co-owner of the attraction, there is a full acre of 2,500 trees to work through while searching for letters.
The scavenger hunt is challenging but fun, she added, with different puzzles for adults and children. Adults must find six to 10 letters to form a word, and children must find three or four letters for their word. When children find their word, they may choose a prize from the prize box; when adults find their word, their name goes in a drawing for $100 that will be selected on Labor Day.
Words change weekly, so guests can visit every week and not get the same puzzle twice. Return passes are available.
Mazeland also hosts birthday parties, specialized scavenger hunts and a “haunted” maze in October. It is open daily, 10 a.m. to dusk. Davis encourages groups and picnickers.
Fun in the Bay doesn’t stop at Mazeland. Drive farther north on Route 12 and stop by the local farmers’ market each Friday, now through the end of September. There, patrons will find fresh flowers, craft vendors, home-grown produce and more.
Although the activity on the outskirts of town is enough to keep anyone busy for a few hours, it’s only the beginning. Go into the heart of Alexandria Bay and park your car: you’re not finished yet.
Stroll down James Street for shopping, ice cream or homemade fudge. One of the coffee shops might be a place to rest your weary feet. There are also several restaurants in town, with enough on the menus to delight anyone’s taste buds.
Keep this area in mind, too, if you enjoy a night out on the town. Nightlife includes bars, pubs and a dance club.
Fun on the river
You can’t visit this village without hitting the water. Besides scuba diving, jet skiing and year-round fishing, there are several boat tours to choose from when you want to see the river. Private charters are available, as well as the popular Uncle Sam Boat Tours that provide frequent shuttles to the St. Lawrence River’s most famous attraction: Boldt Castle on Heart Island. The 120-room castle represents a great love story that no romantic soul can resist.
At the turn of the 20th century, George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, set out to build the six-story, Rhineland-style structure for his wife, Louise. In 1904, however, Louise Boldt died suddenly, and all construction was stopped. George Boldt never returned to the island.
The structure sat for 73 years until the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977. Several million dollars have been applied to rehabilitating and restoring the castle and other structures on the island.
“We make one large improvement every year, and of course, many smaller projects continue,” said Shane Sanford, operations manager. “The castle you saw in 2005 is not the castle you will see in 2006.”
Visitors take self-guided tours and can spend as much time as they like on the grounds, and then hop a shuttle back to the mainland. The castle is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. through Oct. 9, and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 10-15 and Oct. 21-22.
Make sure to check out the web site, www.boldtcastle.com, for details on visiting the yacht house or planning a dream wedding at the castle.
A second castle
The Thousand Islands features a second castle as well. Singer Castle on Dark Island, built 1902-1904, is the only castle on the river to be completed, fully furnished and resided in during the heyday of the great builders and industrialists in New York.
According to the web site, www.singercastle.com, the structure was inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s novel about Woodstock Castle in Scotland. Frederick Gilbert Bourne, a self-made millionaire, wanted to surprise his wife and children with an island hunting retreat.
Visitors must take boat transportation to the island; once there, they may join a 45-minute guided tour. Tours are provided on the hour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Sept. 4. Comfortable shoes are recommended, and strollers are not allowed inside.
Go to the web site to learn more about parties, wedding packages, spending the night in a luxury suite, or enjoying a “Victorian tea” experience.
Before you get back on the interstate to head home, don’t forget to stop at the Thousand Islands Winery on Seaway Avenue, off Route 12.
The winery opened in July 2003 and offers tours, a tasting room, and a gift shop where guests may purchase any of the winery’s featured red and white varieties. (Watch the Blizzard for an upcoming feature on the winery.)
Spend a day or spend a weekend, but spend some time in Alex Bay. Many businesses offer military discounts for active-duty and retired Soldiers and their family members, so be ready to show your military ID card. The Fort Drum Parks and Recreation Office also has discount boat tickets available.
To get there, follow Interstate 81 north to Exit 50. Take the exit ramp and bear right onto Route 12N. Take the aforementioned stops along Route 12N; to get into town, follow Route 12N to the flashing light and turn left.
For more information about Alexandria Bay, visit www.alexbay.org, or call 1-800-541-2110.