Hawaii

Seven things NOT to do in Hawaii

Hawaii is such a unique and diverse vacation destination and US travelers are rushing to plan their trips there during this time when domestic travel feels “safer”.  After all, Hawaii can actually feel like an exotic, international vacation without ever leaving the good ole USA.  There is so much to do in the Hawaiian Islands – a wide range of activities and experiences – however I always like to share my top things NOT to do when visiting this fantastic vacation destination.   Here are seven things to avoid on your next Hawaii trip. 

DON’T try to visit too many islands in too little time!

Hawaii is not meant to be experienced in a hurry, so why do so many people want to visit all 5 major islands in 10 days?  Each time you switch islands, you basically use up a day of your vacation with packing, checking out of your resort, returning your rental car, early arrival at the airport, baggage claim, picking up your new rental car, driving to your new hotel, and settling in.

I recommend no more than 2 islands in a week (focusing on only one is even better!), 2 islands in 10 days, or 3 islands in 14 days to be able to enjoy each destination to the fullest.

DON’T assume that a Hawaiian vacation is like staying at an all-inclusive resort!

First of all, there is no such thing as an all-inclusive resort in Hawaii.  State law prohibits the inclusion of alcohol in a hotel room rate/package.  And, it would be pure torture to think that I had to eat all my meals at my resort when there is so much deliciousness waiting outside. 

The best case scenario is to find a good resort package that includes a wonderful breakfast each day and explore the many culinary options that are open to you.  Plus, Hawaii is an easy driving destination and some of the best experiences are found outside of the resorts.

DON’T ever turn your back on the oceanha!

The Hawaiian locals have the utmost respect for the sea and understand its power.  No selfie is worth your life when a rogue wave or unexpected blowhole decide to make themselves known.  Enjoy the amazingly beautiful waters of Hawaii in a safe and smart way and ALWAYS observe warning signs, flags, and lifeguard’s advice.

And “No Trespassing” means just that.  Don’t wander onto private land looking for a nice hike.

DON’T pack your stilettos and neckties!

“Formal” attire in the islands means putting on a fresh Aloha shirt and your best flip flops.  Men do not wear ties under normal circumstances and women can get by with sundresses and sandals. 

However, DO remember to bring strong, reef-safe sunscreen and your favorite sunglasses and/or sun hat.  The rays can be brutal and you don’t want to ruin your vacation with a killer burn.

DON’T forget to leave your road rage and impatience at home!

Life just moves slower in the islands, and you need to adjust your expectations.  NEVER honk your horn unless it is an emergency (soooo rude!) and always be generous letting locals pass you or letting people merge or turn into traffic, If it takes a moment for someone to acknowledge you because they are “talking story” with someone else, take a deep breath and smile.  Your turn will come!  And a meeting time usually means 10-15 minutes later.  Get used to it…you might even relax a little!

DON’T let a luau be the only cultural education you get!

Before you leave for your vacation, do a little reading on the fascinating Hawaiian history and culture.  There is so much more to Hawaii than the beach! 

Learn some much-used Hawaiian words and attend cultural workshops and classes that are often offered free at your resorts.  And, most of all – be respectful of the Hawaiian ways and customs.  Even though it is still the USA, you are a lucky visitor.

DON’T eat at a chain restaurant!

Please, do not join the 1 hour wait for that table at the Cheesecake Factory, or stop into Burger King for lunch!  You can do that at home.  The cuisine in Hawaii is one of the best and most diverse in the world, so take advantage of it! 

There is an incredible Food Truck culture with gourmet quality food at reasonable prices.  Some local diners/shacks offer the freshest seafood or most rib-sticking plate lunches you will experience.  Farmers’ Markets and road stands are all over with freshly baked banana bread, local fruits and veggies, and incredible just-squeezed juices.  Eat like a Hawaiian during your stay and you will thank me later!

For information about current entry requirements to Hawaii please visit this official page. 

Ready to start planning a trip to Hawaii?  Let’s start the conversation by filling out my trip request form. 

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How to choose an African safari

An African safari is the epitome of bucket-list trips – yet costs vary widely and it can be so confusing for travelers to know what’s “worth it”. There are some nuances that will make your safari less or more expensive and you will have to prioritize your wishlist. Don’t get too caught up in slight cost differences between safaris before making sure you understand what it includes – it could be that one offers a much greater value than the other, based on my tips below.  Here are four key components that will help you choose an African safari.

Here are some differences to think about when choosing your safari: 

1. Choose your African safari destination 

Do you want to have a city & culture experience as well, or is your sole focus purely on animals?  If you want your experience to be 100% on the animals, then consider a destination like Tanzania or Kenya. 

If you want your trip to include cities and culture like restaurants, museums, non-animal focused touring, wine-tasting,  then consider a country like South Africa where you can spend several days in Cape Town and other areas learning about the culture & history before jetting off on an incredible safari. 

If you want to have a “relaxing” time after the upbeat pace of a safari,  then don’t forget to add on an escape to Zanzibar to enjoy the blue waters and fantastic culture on this spice island.  

2. Choose your lodging type

Are you the type of person who places great emphasis on the type of lodging during your trip?  For example, a “treehouse” style accommodation or upscale tented safari camps will generally take you into the 5-star category and the correlating increase in your budget.  By contrast, regular lodge-style safari camps are generally in the 4-star category,  and may offer buffets instead of plated meals for certain price points. (To be clear: your lodging will still be extraordinary at the 4 star level as well!)

Another item that can add to your budget is special requests.  If it’s always been your dream to have a sunrise hot air balloon over the Serengeti,  you’ll need to make sure you have room in your budget for about $500 extra per person.

3. Choose an African safari drive type

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Although many of us assume safaris take place in “national parks”, there’s an incredible nuance here to be aware of.   Certain safari camps are located on private property which means they have more freedoms with safari logistics.

For instance, a safari located on a private reserve can offer safari walks with a guide on foot as well as nighttime drives to find animals by moonlight.  They can go off-road to track animals better and have more free-range.  By contrast, a safari on public land often is not allowed to go off-road and must stick to designated paths.  They also cannot have bush walks or nighttime drives.  If nighttime drives and bush walks are important to you, you should let your travel advisor know before booking so the best property can be selected for you.

Another nuance can be the size of the vehicle and whether it is “open-top” or not.  Some travelers prefer vehicles with no top so they have the ultimate freedom in photography and viewing.  Other travelers may have to use a traditional Jeep with a top, and take photos from the window only.   Finally, it’s important to find out if everyone in the vehicle will be seated by a window, or if there will be anyone “stuck” in a middle seat.

In order to see the wide range of animals and scenery on an African safari, many travelers choose to stay in multiple safari camps. Think about whether you would like to fly or drive between camps (certain distances may not even offer the choice of a drive) and bear in mind long drives can often be uncomfortable on bumpy roads.

4) Choose between “private” and “group” safaris

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Many partners offer “group” departures as a way to guarantee specific dates and to bundle your costs more efficiently.  If the group departure meets your wishlist, it’s a fantastic way to get everything you want in one package.  Airfare from major US cities is often included.  This means the specific safari camps are chosen ahead of time,  and that your transportation between the camps is provided for throughout the itinerary. The package is sold to the general public with anywhere from 10 people to 20 people in the group. 

Your costs are slightly decreased because you’re not paying for private transfers on your own between camps.   Group departures are available anywhere from 4-star properties all the way up to incredibly luxe and dreamy camps!  Think of this as slightly similar to using a group tour to see Europe or Alaska – because of the bulk purchase, you may be able to stay at nicer hotels or have some curated experiences that would be above your budget on a customized trip – it’s the same concept in African safaris.  

By contrast, a “private safari” means that everything has been selected specifically for you.  Each safari lodge has been proposed based on your criteria – perhaps you have some special requests like a particular type of accommodation.   Bear in mind that while actually at the safari camp, you’ll still be sharing vehicles with other travelers during the actual day activities to see the animals, but your transfers between each location are generally private – which is why it can be slightly more expensive depending on the itinerary.  (By the way – ultra luxe camps do offer the ability to have a PRIVATE game drive every day, just you and your party.)

Of course, since this is such a bucket list trip, why not create your own group?  With as few as 6-8 people, you’d have an entire safari vehicle to yourself with private experiences during your trip and can customize your wishlist around your own departure dates.  It’s the best of both worlds – bulk pricing, but a highly specialized curated experience based on your wishlist.

Are you ready to start planning?

For your inspiration, here is a fantastic article written by one of my safari partners and published in Travel & Leisure: https://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/safaris/how-to-plan-safari-during-covid.

You don’t have to make all these decisions on your own. Working with a trusted travel advisor provides you with a “shortcut” to the best options for your travel style, wishlist, and budget. Learn about my travel services here or contact me to start planning the safari of your dreams.

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Portugal’s Alentejo Region: A Place Where Time Stands Still

This week I’m thinking back to my stay at the fantastic Herdade dos Grous (Estate of the Cranes), a working vineyard and farm in the incredible region known as the Alentejo, in Portugal.  The estate dogs followed me around as we hiked the property in the early morning, shrouded in mist. The afternoon sun warmed up the lake enough for kayaking and boating.

We biked to and from breakfast on provided bicycles and explored the vineyards with a picnic tucked in our bicycle baskets.  I had a wonderful private riding lesson at their stables.  We took an off-road jeep tour of the property that ended in a sampling of regional snacks and drinks.  And every evening we feasted on sumptuous local fare at the property restaurant that serves its own beef and wine produced a stone’s throw from the dining room.

Introducing…the Alentejo region of Portugal 

This area is truly a place where you feel like time stood still.  Choose this destination for relaxed travel, rural scenery, farm to table cooking experiences, sweeping plains of olive groves and cork trees, horse riding on traditional ranches, and stays on gorgeous estates with wine-tasting, bird watching, hiking, and other activities included.

The Alentejo is the region between Lisbon and the southern area known as the Algarve, but is one of the largest regions in Portugal, comprising 30% of the whole territory – yet only 7% of the population.

Here in the Alentejo, golden grains wave languidly in the breeze,  farmers still herd their flocks with their traditional methods, cork trees line the roadways, and olive groves dot the flat, straight plains.   It’s a slower way of life here,  with rich opportunities for immersive experiences.

Alentejo Reguengos

Due to its size and shape, it’s quite diverse, and while many people think of it as a dry inland area, it also has a substantial coastline with tourist-free beaches.

This is a region for those who love rural-based vacations, who want to eat the fruit of the very lands they’re staying in, who wonder what Tuscany was like before the crowds arrived. 

For a city-stay in the Alentejo: Evora

Evora in the Alentejo

Its best-known city, Evora, is considered the gateway to the Alentejo due to its proximity to Lisbon (90 minutes by car).  It well deserves its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.  Evora is a perfect city-stay for those who want to dip their toes into an Alentejo stay but who lack the transportation or the time to reach the more rural areas.

Evora has over 2,000 years of history within its walls – notably the Roman ruins of the Temple of Diana in its center.  If you’re not too spooked, check out the eerie “Chapel of Bones”. Visit local marble quarries or sample Alentejo wines either in town or on a daytrip outside to the countryside.  The Alentejo is fiercely proud of its wines, notably the red ones, and feel they are just as important a region as the Douro wine valley. The old town is a labyrinth of cobblestone streets, with history around every corner.

Archeologists may be interested to learn that the “Stonehenge” monoliths of Almendres Cromlech are just outside Evora as well.

Almendres Cromlech Evora

For rural tourism in the Alentejo:  the countryside

After your stay in Evora, head into the deep countryside to fully experience the Alentejo.  Many are in the Beja area but as the region is quite large you have a great choice of geography. Stay for a few days at one of the many estates (often called Herdades) designed for you to relax and enjoy the scenery around you.  Typical amenities include:  farm-to-table cooking, horseback riding, bird watching, wine tastings, biking around the estate, day-trips to local castles or towns if you have a car, jeep tours, lake kayaking and/or boating.

Insider tip: Summers in the Alentejo, particularly inland, are extremely hot.  I recommend making sure your accommodation has a pool if you’re traveling in July or August.

Due to the Alentejo’s size you have a wonderful array of options where to stay:  a luxurious 500-year-old convent turned into 5-star hotel, a castle-like hotel in the northern Alentejo with a spa and fantastic pool overlooking the plains, a 19th century farmland estate owned by the same family for the past two hundred years, wellness boutique resorts near the seaside, and more.

The Alentejo is also a perfect destination for travelers who may have fallen in love with Portugal on their first visit and ready to expand their explorations beyond just Lisbon and Porto.

Monsaraz Alentejo

If you only have a day-trip from Lisbon:

Evora, mentioned above, is reachable on a daytrip from Lisbon if you can’t spend the night, as it’s quite easy to access either by car or public transportation. Tours here can also include a stop at a Lusitano horse farm as well as special wine tastings in addition to exploring the historical center of Evora.

Arrabida Natural Park is technically in the Alentejo and easily reachable on a daytour from Lisbon.  This beautiful area with secret beaches and lush forests surrounding lagoons feels different from the deep Alentejo but is a wonderful area to explore, full of biodiversity.

Monsaraz

Where to stay:

  • Convento Do Espinheiro, Evora – luxurious 500-year-old convent turned into 5-star hotel
  • Pousada Mosteiro Crato – castle-like hotel in the northern Alentejo with a spa and fantastic pool overlooking the plains 
  • Sao Lorenco do Barrocal – located near Monsaraz, 19th century farmland estate owned by the same family for the past two hundred years.  Farm to table dining, horse back riding, vineyards, family-friend activities, cooking workshops, watersports on the nearby lake, and more. 
  • Quinta da Comporta – sublime, contemporary escape on the coastline, focusing on sustainability, relaxation and wellness

Are you inspired to visit the Alentejo now? Sign up below to receive my other insights about the best places to visit in Portugal or visit my Portugal page.

Blackberry Mountain

Best hotels and resorts in the USA to replace your international vacation 

Thinking about a getaway in the next six months?  There are an incredible number of fantastic vacation options right here in the continental USA.  If your nest-egg for your annual European vacation has gone unused this year, why not think about making reservations at one of these American properties instead?  Here’s a list of some of the best hotels and resorts in the USA

In this article I’ve assembled a list of some of the best properties for all styles of travel – seaside escapes, rural retreats, wellness-focused getaways, desert ranches, mountainous adventures, and more. 

Not finding anything that fits the bill?  Contact me for a curated proposal designed around your wishlist, budget, and dates. 

*Each US state has its own travel advisories and procedures for Covid-19 travel.  Each resort listed will also have its additional health and safety protocols.   Please consult the appropriate state, national, and property-specific websites and/or your travel advisor in order to make appropriate decisions before you travel.

Escapes By the Water 


Ritz Carlton Amelia Island – Florida 

A tranquil resort on Florida’s northeast coast, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island is an invitation to escape from the outside world and discover a new one. Set along 13 miles of beachfront, the hotel is an exploration in coastal treasures including the multi-faceted flavors of both salt and infused bourbon, the meditative movements of a hammock massage and the unspoiled natural beauty discovered while kayaking the Intracoastal Waterway.

Inn at Perry Cabin – Maryland

The Inn at Perry Cabin is so cozy and relaxed, you’ll be aching to stay indefinitely. Set in a manor house in the resort town of Saint Michaels, this intimate retreat offers just 78 guest rooms, all with turned-wood New England beds, stacked with pillows and lighted by lamps. Each evening, your turndown service includes freshly baked cookies – a delightful way to end the day. The Spa at Perry Cabin is not to be missed; treatments are based on local botanicals, such as linden blossom, verbena, and black birch. Take time to relax in an Adirondack chair on the lawn and watch the boats cruise by.

Adventurous guests can sail the Miles River to the breathtaking Chesapeake Bay or visit Philips Wharf, a non-profit oyster farm that is helping restore the estuary and serves guests the freshest, tastiest oysters imaginable. Landlubbers can explore the gardens or hop on a bicycle and tour beautiful, historic St. Michaels.  Tennis courts and a golf course are also available.

Montage Palmetto Bluff – South Carolina 

Nestled along the scenic May River in South Carolina’s Low Country, Montage Palmetto Bluff is set within a vibrant 20,000-acre community between Hilton Head Island and Savannah. Providing guests access to all that Palmetto Bluff has to offer, the resort encompasses an extensive nature preserve, two picturesque villages featuring eight Southern-inspired dining options, a riverfront marina and a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. The resort has beautifully appointed cottages, cottage suites and resort rooms as well as luxury two, three and four bedroom home rentals. Spa Montage is one of the top-rated spas in the United States. 6 on-property restaurants and a gourmet food shop all provide for an array of dining options from casual to exquisite. Multiple pool facilities, fitness centers and a movement studio with complimentary classes are available. Extensive activities are offered including: equestrian, boating, kayaking, 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course and croquet and tennis facility.

Grayfield Inn – Cumberland Island, Georgia

*Rates include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. 

Cumberland Island offers 18-miles of nearly-isolated beachfront, 300-year-old live oaks draped with Spanish moss, crushed shell paths, and an abundance of wildlife untouched by the outside world. Greyfield Inn is the sole commercial establishment on Cumberland Island, giving guests an unprecedented opportunity to connect with nature at its most pristine. Bike on winding, live oak-lined trails that lead to historic relics and natural wonder. Swim and sunbathe on a secluded 18-mile beach. Kayak through picturesque Lowcountry marshes and discover wildlife never seen before. Explore miles of hiking trails. Get lost or tour the island with an expert naturalist. At the end of the day, unwind on the porch with a cocktail and recount your adventures.

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Back to Nature

Primland – Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
Southern comfort comes with a shot of refinement at Primland. Here, it is all about the simple pleasures: spotting white-tailed deer on a woodland trail, fishing for trout in a babbling brook, riding horses through fields of wildflowers, climbing trees to get that much closer to nature. A massive, eco-conscious resort in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Primland never forgets its connection to the land nor its commitment to luxury, with its 51 rustically elegant suites, cottages, and storybook tree houses. There is also an 18-hole golf course, an organic spa inspired by Native American rituals, and Orvis-endorsed wingshooting.

Old Edwards Inn & Half-Mile Farm – Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina   
Old Edwards Inn and Spa sits atop the beautiful southwest plateau of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The acclaimed European style resort fills several blocks filled with amenities, music, dining venues and individually appointed guestrooms, suites and cottages. Meals at the onsite restaurant are sourced from The Farm at Old Edwards. Spanning four beautifully landscaped blocks in downtown Highlands, the resort is in the heart of a walking mountain town filled with restaurants, live and performing arts, boutique shopping and pristine outdoor recreation on the fun and scenic Southwest Plateau of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

At their sister property Half-Mile Farm, discover a Napa-style setting and inn surrounded by bucolic landscapes and mountain vistas on the outskirts of downtown Highlands, NC. For guests 18 and older, an expanse of green lawn and views of glistening Apple Lake welcome you, and luxurious amenities invite you to stay and indulge.  Feel at home in modern farmhouse guestrooms and rustic-luxe cabins with fireplaces, stylish comfy interiors, and balconies that offer tranquil views of the courtyard, lake and surrounding forest. Half-Mile Farm is a peaceful getaway where adults can relax and recharge in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Blackberry Farm & Blackberry Mountain – Tennessee

*Rates include 3 meals a day as well as pantry snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, and non-guided activities. 

Blackberry Farm is a 4,200-acre estate nestled in foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee. The property has built a reputation as an unrivaled food and wine destination, providing farm-to-table cuisine and an award-winning wine collection of more than 160,000 bottles. Blackberry Farm’s passion for authenticity is expressed through its very own Foothills Cuisine®, which pays homage to local and seasonal ingredients, including those grown on the property’s garden. Guests also enjoy private fly-fishing, horseback riding, hiking, and more, to complement spa services in The Wellhouse at Blackberry Farm.

Blackberry Farm’s sister property, Blackberry Mountain, is no less stunning. In wild, imposing natural surroundings, the owners of Blackberry Farm have opened an establishment that prioritizes overall wellness, outdoor adventure and inner serenity. Rooms take the form of cabins and cottages designed with nature in mind, places to unplug from the world and reconnect with oneself.  Go mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and hiking on 5,200 pristine acres, more than half of which have been dedicated to conservation. Hike up or catch a ride in a house Lexus to one of the ridgetop cabins, or stay closer to the Lodge in a cottage made from reclaimed rock and wood – then admire the idyllic setting from your private patio or soaking tub. Find further serenity with an aerial yoga session, forest meditation, or holistic health treatments in the subterranean spa.

Salamander Resort & Spa – Virginia (near Washington DC)

Salamander Resort & Spa offers the refined sophistication of a luxurious country estate in the Virginia’s exclusive horse and wine country, just 40 miles from Washington, D.C. This luxury Virginia getaway brings together today’s sought after key elements of time-saving accessibility, authenticity of cultural and historical experiences, unique culinary and wine programming, and an innovative spa and wellness concept. Just 35 minutes from Dulles Airport, the 340-acre resort is located within the historic village of Middleburg, VA, which houses more than 100 unique shops, restaurants, surrounding wineries and equestrian fields. Their 14,000 sq ft stable at their Equestrian Center (riding programs available for guests) will be sure to dazzle the most avid horse-lovers.

The Inn at Dos Brisas – Texas (Hill Country)

Nestled between Houston, Austin, and College Station, Texas lies a culinary oasis where luxury meets rusticity. Upon the hills of Washington County, at the end of a winding road framed by lakes, wildflowers, and pecan trees, you’ll find the only Forbes five-star restaurant and Relais & Châteaux property in the state – The Inn at Dos Brisas.

After an action-packed day brimming with horseback riding, fishing and clay shooting, or a quiet escape full of yoga, couples’ massages and food and wine classes, guests from both ends of the spectrum come together to dine in the only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant in Texas. Our renowned restaurant features fresh produce picked just for you from our extensive certified organic gardens and greenhouses. The cuisine is artfully plated and expertly paired with wine from around the world, thanks to our in-house sommelier. Following dinner, stroll back to your opulent casita or hacienda, unwind by the fire or take a dip in your private plunge pool—all while enjoying the postcard-worthy vistas. Whether you’re in the mood for a family trip, romantic retreat, or last-minute getaway, our staff will ensure your stay at Dos Brisas is an exceptional one.

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Wellness, Fitness, And/or Spa-Focused

Lake Austin Spa Resort – Austin, Texas
*Rates include 3 meals per day plus snacks & non-alcoholic drinks, unlimited use of lake water sports equipment, unlimited smoothies and juices, up to 20 daily fitness activities, lake adventure outings, and wellness programs, and more.

Waterside luxury with the welcoming comfort of a friend’s lake house. Relax and rejuvenate on the lush, secluded shores of Lake Austin—perfect for a calming escape, but just 30 minutes from the excitement of downtown Austin. Nestled in the quiet serenity of Texas Hill Country, our all-inclusive waterfront oasis offers a true sanctuary for rest, renewal, and reinvention. Rediscover yourself and let the stress and demands of your everyday wash away. With only 40 inviting, uniquely-appointed rooms and suites, our focus is on providing guests with an intimate, customized wellness experience like no other. Come see why we were recently named the #1 Destination Spa Resort in North America and the #2 Destination Spa Resort in the World in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards.  Escape the demands of your daily grind and embrace restful relaxation in a way that only a private lakefront setting can offer.

Photos courtesy of Lake Austin Spa Resort.

Canyon Ranch – Tucson, Arizona and Lennox, Massachusetts

*Rates include all meals, non-alcoholic beverages, daily activities, airport transfers, and daily service allowance towards a wide range of experiences,  or choose the new “Pathway programs” with themed groupings of activities and experiences for additional value. 

Canyon Ranch wellness resorts offer an integrated approach to everyday wellness. Fitness experts lead daily classes and outdoor adventures. Gourmet chefs prepare fresh, energizing cuisine. Demonstrations and daily lectures equip guests with tools to take home. Board-certified physicians and spiritual specialists care for mind and spirit. Cultivating a personalized and preventative experience, Canyon Ranch wellness resorts cater to the individualized needs of every guest.

TUCSON: Founded in 1979, Canyon Ranch in Tucson is a year-round luxury vacation destination dedicated to life enhancement. It is located on 150 lush desert acres in the foothills of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains and accommodates 240 guests.

LENOX: Canyon Ranch in Lenox opened in 1989 and is nestled among 120 woodland acres just 150 miles from New York City and 130 miles from Boston. The historic Bellefontaine Mansion serves as the architectural focal point for the property and houses the Health & Healing Center. The property accommodates 200 guests.

Whether you are in need of a full lifestyle reset or a digital detox, Canyon Ranch experts have created a range of focused Pathways to help you find what you need now to pursue your best life. Pathway programs include Lifestyle Reset, Reconnect With Joy, Transition Purposefully, Personal Discovery, Optimal Health Exploration and Outdoor Escape. Whether you choose to visit Canyon Ranch in Arizona or the Berkshires, the Pathways experience you choose will lead you somewhere meaningful, positive, and empowering.

Photos courtesy of Canyon Ranch.

Miraval Resorts – Arizona, Austin, & the Berkshires

*Rates include all gourmet meals, non-alcoholic beverages, nightly resort credit to use toward spa services & private sessions, complimentary airport shared shuttle service and unlimited access to daily complimentary wellbeing activities & resort amenities.

These wellness resorts can be found in Arizona, Texas, and Massachusetts.  Miraval is a top-rated, all-inclusive destination resort and spa dedicated to helping guests live life in the moment. It is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top destination spas by top travel and lifestyle publications.

Opened in 1995, Miraval Arizona pioneered the destination well-being spa resort category with its comprehensive program of activities, experiences, and personal treatments. Miraval’s core is mindfulness, and its motto, “life is better when in balance”, guides each visit. Activities include fitness, meditation, yoga, well-being, equine, hiking, biking, and metaphysical exploration.

The Lodge at Woodloch – Poconos, Pennsylvania 

*Rates include 3 meals per day, outdoor adventure excursions, group fitness classes, speakers and workshops, hydrotherapy sessions, and more. 

Overlooking Little Teedyuskung Lake in northeast Pennsylvania, the spa at The Lodge at Woodloch has been exalted as one of the world’s best. And guests praise The Lodge for its cozy accommodations (most are equipped with private verandas, oversized showers and marble baths). Recent visitors can’t stop raving about the warm, welcoming staff as well as the wide array of on-site activities, which include everything from yoga and tai chi to cooking demonstrations and art classes. And then there’s the spa: This oasis provides pure relaxation. Indulgent travelers soak up in the Aqua Garden and then lounge on the rocking chairs that speckle the nearby terraces. And if you’d rather clear your head on the greens, the Country Club at Woodloch Springs is the spot for you. After a long day of hitting the links, savor tasty culinary delights at TREE, the Lodge at Woodloch’s organic-oriented dining venue.”

For a family-oriented resort, check out their sister property Woodloch Pines.

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Historical & mountainous

Omni Homestead – Hot Springs, Virginia

Open since 1766, The Omni Homestead is one of America’s most storied resorts, offering unparalleled hospitality and southern charm in a 2,000-acre setting within the Allegheny Mountains of southwestern Virginia. Renowned for its natural hot springs, The Homestead is distinguished by 483 luxurious guest rooms and suites, 72,000 square feet of meeting space, a wide array of fine and casual dining choices, an expansive spa, championship golf courses that include one of the nation’s finest mountain courses (The Cascades), Allegheny Springs, a two-acre family-friendly water attraction complete with lazy river, water slides and water play zone. The resort also offers the South’s first downhill ski area, an Equestrian Center, top-rated Shooting Club, archery, canoeing, falconry, Segway tours and a wealth of other recreational attractions.

Photos: The Omni Hotels & Resorts Media Library

The Greenbrier – West Virginia

The Greenbrier’s stately grandeur is unmistakable –sprawling Georgian architecture, meticulously manicured gardens, ballrooms, sweeping staircases and lavishly distinctive décor draping every surface.  It is a timeless classic that maintains a high standard of elegance while catering to the expectations and creature comforts of twenty-first-century travelers. 

A scenic and picturesque setting, The Greenbrier resort is located in the Allegheny Mountain range that flanks the eastern seaboard. In its earliest days before the Civil War, American gentry was lured by the cool summer breezes and restorative mineral waters that bubbled up from these mountains.  Drive through the main gate today, and you’ll immediately feel whisked back to grander times. Long-honored traditions and a checklist of “holiday” must-haves have shaped these 11,000 acres into a vacation paradise–spacious accommodations, private estate homes, boutique shopping, golf courses, pools, tennis courts… everything that you would expect from a destination resort.

Omni Grove Park Inn – Asheville, North Carolina 

Serving guests for over a century, The Omni Grove Park Inn welcomes you with a tradition of southern hospitality amidst the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Relax in our unique subterranean spa with an indoor pool or enjoy a round of championship golf on our Donald Ross-designed course. When it’s time to dine, enjoy one of our four locally-sourced restaurants. Then, retreat to stylish 5 star hotel rooms with stunning views and plush bedding. We know you’ll enjoy the classic comfort and modern convenience of our resort. Noted for its understated elegance and southern charm, ten U.S. Presidents and countless luminaries from the worlds of art, entertainment, sports and politics have stayed at this one-of-a-kind hotel. Offering sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, innovative and locally sourced restaurants, a Donald Ross designed golf course, an expansive tennis and fitness center, an award winning spa and spacious convention facilities. This AAA Four Diamond Property is listed on Fodor’s “Top 10 Luxury Spa Resorts” and Travel + Leisure’s rankings of “Top Spa Resorts” in the world.

Photos: The Omni Hotels & Resorts Media Library

Western Adventures

Lodge at Blue Sky – Park City, Utah

The Lodge at Blue Sky, Auberge Resorts Collection, is a contemporary luxury resort set on a 3,500-acre ranch near Park City, Utah. Blue Sky is the ultimate outdoor playground offering guests transformational Western-inspired experiences year-round. The accommodations are designed to mirror the unique aspects of the environment on which they are situated and offer guests another powerful opportunity to reconnect with nature.

Amangiri – Southern Utah

Amangiri (which means peaceful mountain) is located on 600 acres in Canyon Point, Southern Utah. The resort is tucked into a protected valley with sweeping views towards the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Built around a central swimming pool with spectacular views, the resort blends into its dramatic surrounds of deep canyons and towering plateaus. Amangiri’s Aman Spa features a floatation therapy pavilion, a water pavilion with sauna, steam room, cold plunge pool and step pool, a fitness centre and a yoga pavilion.  Note:  They have a sister property Amangani in Jackson Hole. This is easily one of the best hotels and resorts in the USA.

Four Seasons Teton Village – Jackson Hole, Wyoming 

Located only one mile from the entrance to Grand Teton National Park, guests can enjoy easy park access complete with summer park packages that include passes and the option of to-go picnics. In the winter the location of the base camp ski concierge takes skiing to a whole new level of ease. Guests enjoy on-property demo level rentals, ticket purchasing options and retail for the left behind items. The unique naturalist packages bring guests a bit closer to the magic of the valley with the stargazing experience, wildlife safaris and exclusive fly fishing tours.  Fuel up with a hearty breakfast at Westbank Grill before your morning ski, hike, bike, raft – you name it – then come back for a soothing massage in our Spa or a soak in our year-round, heated pool before meeting for dinner at The Handle Bar. In Wyoming, evenings are for kicking up your boots and gathering with friends and family around the fire – and we’ve saved you a seat.

Best hotels and resorts in the USA
© Don Riddle / Four Seasons

Bush Creek Ranch – Wyoming

*Rates can include all meals, horseback riding, fly fishing, shooting sports, children’s programs, mountain biking and trail programs, yoga sessions, and additional all-inclusive amenities

Experience the award-winning Brush Creek Ranch, an authentic western ranch resort destination. This truly magnificent luxury getaway is home to the Travel + Leisure #1 Resort in the US, #1 in the West, Top Family Friendly Resort and #14 Hotel in the World, the Conde Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice #3 Resort Hotel in the U.S. and the highly-touted Forbes Travel Guide Five Star Hotel. It’s constantly named to lists featuring the best hotels and resorts in the USA.

Immerse yourself in the storied Great American West at our three, all-inclusive, luxury ranch resorts located in stunning Saratoga, Wyoming. Explore the North Platte River Valley of south-central Wyoming, nestled between the ancient Sierra Madre mountain range and stunning Medicine Bow National Forest.  Brush Creek Ranch offers 30,000 acres of a working cattle ranch. Surrounded by prairies, mountains, creeks and rivers, our luxury ranch is perched in the center of the true American West. Adventure into views, experiences, and moments that will leave you speechless.

Best hotels and resorts in the USA
Photo by Josh Carter on Unsplash

Enchantment Resort – Sedona, Arizona

Enchantment Resort is located in Sedona, Arizona, 110 miles North of Phoenix and Scottsdale, and 114 miles south of the Grand Canyon. Surrounded by the towering red rock walls of Northern Arizona’s Boynton Canyon, Enchantment Resort combines the rugged grandeur of the Southwest landscape with equal parts luxury and Native American culture. The 70-acre resort is designed to embrace the awe-inspiring scenery with one-story guest accommodations and panoramic views of rock formations and pine forests.

The resort lies within red rock Boynton Canyon, a scenic box canyon in the Coconino National Forest. The destination appeals to couples looking for a romantic getaway, friends seeking an active or restorative getaway and multi-generational families wanting to reconnect in a place of stunning beauty. More than 100 weekly activities include guided hiking and mountain biking treks, and room keys provide guests with direct access to Boynton Canyon Trail adjacent to the resort. Guests also enjoy exclusive access to Mii amo spa and Seven Canyons golf club.

Photos used with permission from Enchantment Resort.

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All-inclusive Fun in the Sun

Club Med Sandpiper Bay – Port St Lucie, Florida 

Located along the St. Lucie River, amid wonderfully lush vegetation, Club Med Sandpiper Bay enjoys a delightfully tropical climate, a Sports Academy with top-ranked coaches, and an adult-exclusive infinity pool with a dedicated bar. This family-friendly destination is best enjoyed by active families due to the wonderful number of inclusions such as trapeze lessons and sailing lessons.  One of the few “all inclusives” in the USA that actually includes your alcoholic drinks as well – the other is The Bungalows, featured below. 

Best hotels and resorts in the USA.
Club Med Sandpiper Bay

The Bungalows – Key Largo, Florida

All-Inclusive adults only (21+) resort offering a unique tropical experience set on 12 waterfront acres of lush landscaping with spectacular sunset views and approximately 1,000 feet of shoreline. Inclusions encompass Luxurious Accommodations, Unlimited Dining and Premium Beverages, Non-motorized Water sports, Daily Yoga Classes, Land Sports, Bicycles, use of Fitness Center, and much more.

The resort features multiple indoor/outdoor dining options, a waterfront tiki bar with direct sunset view, a boutique full-service spa, two resort pools, and water sports including kayaking, paddle boarding, tricycle water bikes, and the like. Accommodations feature 900 square feet of private indoor and outdoor living space, decorated with a contemporary “beachy” motif, and expansive private outdoor space. The outdoor area for each bungalow includes an ample private deck, a private outdoor garden shower and soaking tub, all set amid tropical landscaping.

Photos courtesy of the Bungalows Key Largo.

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Rocky Mountaineer’s New USA Train Route 

Finally, for a domestic vacation for train-lovers, consider Rocky Mountaineer’s new 2021 route from Denver to Moab.  The two-day train journey travels between Denver, Colorado to Moab, Utah with an overnight stay in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  Glide over the Great Divide as you toast champagne among friends. Witness the enchanting hoodoos, spires and spectacular landscapes while learning the history of the region. Highlights from this route includes Mount Garfield, Ruby Canyon, the Continental Divide, Moffat Tunnel, Byers Canyon and Mount Peale. Experience all the breathtaking scenery while enjoying world-class service and regionally-inspired cuisine. Get the sense of adventure you crave, with the exceptional service you deserve on this journey of a lifetime. You can read all about in my article here.

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I hope you enjoyed this list of aspirational American vacations and the best hotels and resorts in the USA!  For rates and further details about any of these properties, please contact me so I can VIP your experience when you book through me.  If you’re not quite sure which one suits your wishlist, let’s set up a call and I’ll help you narrow it down!

Dubrovnik Croatia

When is the Best Time to Visit Croatia?

One of the first steps in planning a trip to Croatia is deciding when to go.  People often ask, “When is the best time to visit Croatia?” From my experience, late spring and early fall are the best times to visit since they offer the widest range of activities and draw fewer crowds. 

That said, there is really no bad time to visit Croatia, and each part of the year has something unique to offer. Depending on your priorities, certain times will provide you with a better experience.  

To help you figure out when to schedule your trip, I’d like to share a local perspective on the advantages and disadvantages of each season as well as some travel tips for that time of year. 

Here’s a summary of what each season offers, with more details and ideas for your itinerary below. 

  • Summer is best for: beaches, watersports, festivals, and island hopping. 
  • Fall is best for: land and water-based outdoor activities, national parks, sightseeing, and food tourism. 
  • Winter is best for: holiday festivals, Carnival, winter sports, and spas.
  • Spring is best for: land-based outdoor activities, whitewater rafting, national parks, and sightseeing.

Late June to Early September: Visiting Croatia in High Season

Many people consider the summer to be the best time to visit Croatia. If you’re dreaming of warm days next to sapphire waters, you should plan your trip between late June and early September. This is the perfect time to visit if your top priorities are enjoying Croatia’s stunning coastal areas and spending time in the Adriatic Sea, but it’s also the busiest, hottest, and most expensive time of year on the Croatian coast. 

A summer visit is ideal for anyone interested in watersports. With more than 3,600 miles of coastline and 1200 islands, Croatia is rich with opportunities for snorkeling, diving, swimming, sailing, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, windsurfing, spearfishing, and more. For more information about the best places to try these kinds of activities, check out my guide to snorkeling in Croatia on OutsiderView.  

sailing Croatia

Days in July and August can easily reach 100°F, making land-based exploring, sightseeing, and outdoor activities less comfortable this time of year. Still, there are many opportunities for strolling through old town centers, hiking, biking, rock climbing, and zip-lining for those that don’t mind the heat. 

Summer in Croatia also comes with tons of live music, ranging from local artists performing in town squares to international icons playing at large music festivals. Some of the most popular festivals include INmusic in Zagreb in late June and Ultra Europe in Split in early July. In a typical year, there are also numerous concerts and beach parties on islands like Hvar and Pag. 

While visiting Croatia in the summer has many advantages, popular attractions like Plitvice Lakes and the Dubrovnik defense walls can become packed with tourists. To avoid the crowds and dodge the midday heat, try going early in the morning as soon as they open.

If you aren’t thrilled about the potential crowds but want to visit in the summer months, consider planning your trip with the help of a travel advisor and booking excursions with local guides. They can put together an itinerary for you that matches your interests and budget and provides you with your preferred combination of iconic sites and hidden gems. 

Choose this time of year if: You want to spend as much time as possible enjoying the Adriatic coast and don’t mind the crowds and heat. 

Dubrovnik Croatia

Mid-September to October: Visit Croatia in Fall Shoulder Season 

September and October are, in my opinion, the best months in Croatia. By around the second week in September, the summer crowds have gone, and the temperatures aren’t as sweltering. As a result, this time of year is ideal for those in search of outdoor adventures, sightseeing excursions, historical sites, and gourmet food tours. 

While the weather in the fall is not as consistent as it is during the summer, the sea remains swimmable through most of October with many warm, sunny days in a typical forecast. On an early fall visit, you’ll likely be able to enjoy the coast and watersports as well as land-based activities. 

Adventurous travelers can choose from whitewater rafting down turquoise rivers, sea kayaking and snorkeling in hidden coves, hiking through dense forests to rugged peaks, rock climbing limestone cliffs, and biking on historic railroad beds. 

Istria Pula

Fall is also the best time for foodies to visit. No food tour to Croatia would be complete without a stop in Istria, which was voted the best olive oil-producing region in the world six years in a row. On this peninsula in northwestern Croatia, you can search for prized black and white truffles in the Motovun forest, harvest grapes and olives, taste the region’s award-winning wines and olive oils, and enjoy delicious, farm-to-table meals in the countryside.  

Choose this time of year if: You want a mix of beach time and land activities like sightseeing, outdoor adventures, gourmet food tours, and national park visits. 

Plitvice Visit Croatia

November to Early April: Visit Croatia in Low Season 

For most people, I don’t recommend visiting Croatia in the winter months, but there are some exceptions. A winter visit could be a great fit for you if you don’t mind cold, gray weather, want to experience frozen waterfalls and snow-covered castles, or celebrate Christmas, New Years’, or Carnival in Croatia. 

Inland winters tend to be cold, cloudy, and foggy, with snowfall likely in higher elevation areas. While the coast generally sees milder winters with more sunshine, there are strong north winds called bura that can blow for days and shut down many highways, coastal roads, and ferries to the islands. 

winter in Croatia

Coastal areas – especially in Dalmatia – are mostly deserted in the winter, with many shops, restaurants, cafes, resorts, tour companies, and other services out of operation until spring. You’re most likely to find things open in larger cities such as Pula, Rijeka, Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik. If you decide to visit in the winter, stick to these areas or plan your trip further inland.  

In a typical December, cities throughout Croatia are filled with Christmas markets and stands selling mulled wine and traditional holiday foods. The largest and most popular is Advent in Zagreb, which many people say is one of Europe’s best Christmas markets. If you want to spend the holidays in Croatia, I recommend waiting until 2021 since many of these events will be canceled this year due to the pandemic. 

Carnival in February is another winter highlight in Croatia. The country’s largest and most famous celebration takes place in Rijeka, with Samobor, Split, and Dubrovnik also holding Carnival events. Whichever location you choose, you can expect parades, colorful decorations, costumes, traditional pastries, concerts, and partying. 

Other winter activities include visiting historical sites and castles like Trakošćan, experiencing snow at Plitvice Lakes, going on a winter hike, and skiing at small resorts on Sljeme near Zagreb and Platak near Rijeka. The low season is also an excellent time to find great deals on luxury spa and wellness packages at various hotels, resorts, and wellness centers.  

Choose this time of year if: You don’t mind the cold, want to experience the holidays or Carnival in Croatia, and plan on exploring inland areas rather than the coast. 

Mid-April to Mid-June: Visit Croatia in Spring Shoulder Season 

Spring is an excellent time to visit Croatia for those who are interested in outdoor activities and sightseeing and want a quieter getaway. The Easter holidays are generally considered to mark the beginning of the tourist season, but things don’t pick up on the coast until mid-May. 

Croatia usually has very nice springs with plenty of sunshine, but the weather can be unpredictable in April and May. Make sure to pack plenty of layers and rain protection for a spring trip, especially if you’re planning to visit inland areas in addition to the coast.

Generally, April is still a bit chilly to swim and sunbathe, but activities like sailing, kayaking, hiking, cycling, rock climbing, and sightseeing are fantastic choices this time of year. Thanks to the high water levels, spring is ideal for whitewater rafting and is a great time to see the waterfalls in Krka and Plitvice Lakes National Parks. 

Cavtat in Croatia

Beach season typically begins in mid to late May, and by June, the sea is warm enough to swim and snorkel comfortably for longer periods. 

Spring is also a wonderful time to explore Zagreb. With pleasant weather, numerous concerts and festivals, and a vibrant outdoor cafe scene, Croatia’s charming capital city has tons to experience from April to June. 

Choose this time of year if: Sightseeing and outdoor activities are more important to you than soaking up the Mediterranean sun on a beach. 

Split town

Conclusion: Are you ready to plan a trip to Croatia?

As you can see, Croatia offers travelers diverse experiences in every season. When you plan your visit will ultimately depend on your priorities and preferences. Whether you’re looking for a lively summer island hopping trip or a quiet winter getaway, there’s a vacation in Croatia to suit your tastes!  

Looking for your own customized itinerary to Croatia?  Let’s talk more! Find out about my services here or fill out a travel planning request form here.

 

This post authored by one of my partners in Croatia: Rebecca Jambrovic.  Thank you Rebecca for sharing your valuable expertise!

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New: Rocky Mountaineer USA Route – The Rockies to the Red Rocks

Rocky Mountaineer has officially launched their luxury train route in the USA!  They’ll have a limited number of departures from August-October 2021,  and then have a full schedule starting April 2022.

Experience the Southwest by luxury train on Rocky Mountaineer’s newest route, Rockies to the Red Rocks. From vast canyons and chromatic deserts, to red sandstone landscapes that twist through the bright blue sky, this stunning rail route is filled with highlights best seen from the fantastic expansive glass-dome coaches. 

The two-day train journey travels between Denver, Colorado to Moab, Utah with an overnight stay in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  Glide over the Great Divide as you toast champagne among friends. Witness the enchanting hoodoos, spires and spectacular landscapes while learning the history of the region. Highlights from this route includes Mount Garfield, Ruby Canyon, the Continental Divide, Moffat Tunnel, Byers Canyon and Mount Peale. Experience all the breathtaking scenery while enjoying world-class service and regionally-inspired cuisine. Get the sense of adventure you crave, with the exceptional service you deserve on this journey of a lifetime.

 

What to expect on the new Rocky Mountaineer USA route

Onboard Rocky Mountaineer, everything is choreographed to make your journey feel special, effortless and unforgettable. On their newest route, Rockies to the Red Rocks, their expansive SilverLeaf Service glass-dome coaches put you right in the heart of the stunning Southwest. From the comfort of your luxury seat, this journey of a lifetime offers impeccable service and storytelling from engaging Hosts, regionally-inspired cuisine, and a front row seat to one of the most spectacular settings on the planet. 

Enhance your onboard experience with SilverLeaf Plus, which includes all the benefits of the exceptional SilverLeaf Service, plus exclusive access to the newly renovated lounge car.  Only 50 SilverLeaf Plus packages will be sold per departure, and SilverLeaf Plus is seated in a separate carriage. 

Featuring a mixologist who will carefully craft signature cocktails, the Silverleaf Plus lounge car offers additional space indoors to relax and soak in the scenery as it passes you by, as well as a small outdoor viewing area. Also, enjoy an elevated dining experience with an additional course during select meals, and premium alcoholic beverages.

 

What’s included on the new Rocky Mountaineer USA route

  • All meals, drinks, snacks, and guides onboard the train 
  • Your base fare includes 2 days on the train and 1 overnight in Glenwood Springs. You can create different packages that include additional hotel accommodations in Moab or Denver as well, or you can DIY once you arrive in Moab. 
Rocky Mountaineer
A bird’s-eye view of Glenwood Springs

What’s different from a Canadian Rockies journey vs the USA route

  • The tunnels on this train route are too small for double-deck trains, so there is no Goldleaf Service.  Those looking for a little extra glamor should consider the Silverleaf Plus package to get access to the exclusive lounge car!
  • All passengers take meals at their seats (no separate dining car).
  • Small outdoor viewing platforms are available at the rear of each train carriage, for about 3-4 people at a time. 
  • Unlike in the Canadian Rockies, almost all hotels in the package are within walking distance of the train stations.  In Denver and Glenwood Springs, coach transfers are not automatically added to your package but are available if you have mobility concerns.  Make sure to discuss this with your travel advisor! 

Good to know: 

  • This is the only luxury train trip in the USA and the only passenger train that goes to Moab.  
  • You can take this route in either direction – Denver to Moab, or Moab to Denver.  
  • 2021 is considered a preview season and there are only a limited number of departures from August-October.   In 2022 there will be a full departure schedule from April-October. 
  • Moab to Salt Lake City is 4 hours drive, and Moab to Las Vegas is 6.5 hours drive. 
  • Rocky Mountaineer trains are wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant. 
Rocky Mountaineer USA Canyonlands
Canyonlands National Park

Route highlights:

  • If traveling westbound, you’ll board the train in Denver around 9am, and partake in a sumptuous breakfast.  Later you’ll enjoy a 3 course lunch, and beverage and snack service throughout the day.  60% of the journey follows the Colorado River.
  • You’ll arrive in Glenwood Springs around 5pm.  Day 1 is all about canyon scenery!
  • You do not sleep on the train.  All routes, whether Eastbound or Westbound, stop in Glenwood Springs for the evening and include an overnight hotel in your fare. 
  • On Day 2, you’ll depart Glenwood Springs at approximately 7am with a two-course breakfast (and alcohol served after 10am),  arriving in Moab around 12pm.  If staying overnight in Moab your transfer is about 15 minutes.  Day 2 features mountain vistas, desert cliffs, and red rock formations!
  • Glenwood Springs, where you’ll spend the night regardless of which route direction, is a resort town with shops, hiking, and restaurants.  All hotels here are within walking distance of dining options. 
  • Note:  if traveling eastbound and starting your journey in Moab, the train will depart approximately 2pm and includes dinner on the eastbound route before arriving at Glenwood Springs. 

Why Moab?

The hospitable town of Moab is the gateway to two national parks – Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.  Dinosaur trails and tracks are also nearby. Mountain biking, scenic byways, rock art tours, river activities, ATV tours, horseback riding, and dark sky viewing are all available in the area.  Plan on spending a few days in Moab before or after your train ride on the Rocky Mountaineer to fully appreciate these incredible national parks!  

Moab train
Arches National Park

Hotel partners:

Moab:  The Hooddoo Moab, Hyatt Place, Hilton Homewood Suites 

Glenwood Springs:  The Hotel Denver, The Hotel Colorado, Glenwood Hot Springs Resort

Denver: The Maven Hotel, The Crawford Hotel, The Oxford Hotel 

 

Sample packages for the new Rocky Mountaineer USA route:

  • You can book the train portion and do the rest of your itinerary independently or there are some packages to choose from if you’d like to bundle the rest of your vacation. 
  • Packages with Rocky Mountaineer include  either a car rental for a self-drive itinerary or exclusive tour coach buses to transfer you to your end destination and explore the national parks if you’d like to have more of a guided tour component
Rocky Mountaineer USA
Red line is the train route and the green dotted lines are possible packages bookable with Rocky Mountaineer.

At last, a Rocky Mountaineer USA route for a luxury train trip! 

I’m thrilled about this new route as it’s a wonderful option for travelers without passports or who wish to explore the USA more fully, and it’s fantastic for train aficionados who love traveling in style!  If you’ve always wanted to take a Rocky Mountaineer trip train, reach out to me by filling out a contact request form HERE and let’s discuss which Rocky Mountaineer route suits you the best!  

RM18_Onboard_SilverLeaf_Service_Host (2)

 

Looking for information on the Canadian Routes?  Check out my articles here:

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What Resorts Are Doing to Keep You Safe in Pandemic Times

I’m writing this during my week-long stay in Puerto Vallarta (see my separate article here for why you should consider it for your next tropical vacation!) and have split my stay between two hotels, plus I toured an additional four hotels/resorts to learn more about what travel is like during COVID and pandemic times. This trip was taken October 25-Nov 1.

I wanted to share some photos of the safety measures and current protocols in place for hotels. Some of these practices are truly impressive and a testament to the tourism industry’s ability to pivot and adapt. During our stay so far, it has been so easy to social distance and to be completely in control of how much we interact with others each day.

One caveat, it did seem based on my tours there is a strong correlation between the star rating of the resort and the level of adherence to protocols. When you choose a quality hotel it’s very likely you’ll encounter similar standards of safety, but I definitely urge careful research if it’s a hotel/brand you’re not familiar with. This is another reason to use a trusted travel advisor now more than ever – we’re tapped into agent communities where we are sharing on-the-ground reports of what conditions are actually like at each property.

Here are some of the protocols I observed:

Temperatures taken and hand sanitizer dispensed every time you enter the hotel (and taxi drivers’ temperatures taken before allowed on property to pick you up)
Masks required in public areas (can take off at the pool and beach etc)
-Rooms are sealed with adhesive stamps to show you the room has been cleaned and left empty for 72 hours before your arrival
-Housekeepers don’t enter your room to clean unless on request
-Room service is supposed to leave items outside your room unless you request them to enter yourself . Food is delivered in disposable containers.
-Toiletries in rooms are in plastic baggies to limit touch and are only replaced when asked. TV remote is sanitized and placed in plastic wrap.
All staff wear masks at all times and some cases, masks plus shields
-Restaurants have spaced their tables out and both outdoor and indoor dining is available
-The Mexican government limits resort capacity to 50% currently, but most resorts I visited were at only 12%-35% occupancy. There are some days we are the only people at all on our end of the beach.
-Some resorts offered the ability to reserve the same beach/pool chairs for the entire duration of your stay, with cleaning of the chairs every night
-Personal hand sanitizer and other supplies provided for guests in rooms
Shoe sanitizer and hand-washing required before entering resort restaurants
Buffets have a fantastic new method of “assisted serving” where glass prevents any guests from breathing on the food or from serving themselves. You tell the staff what you’d like and they prepare your plate and pass it through a specific little “window”. There is absolutely no way to breathe on or touch food that isn’t yours.
-Fridges or other items in room sealed with adhesive to show sanitization has occurred
-Pool and beach chairs are spaced 6-8 ft apart (parties traveling together can be together of course)
-Gyms at resorts are open, limited to a specific number of people per hour and appointments requested
-Spas are open with additional precautions
Social distancing is marked with decals on the floor
-Limited number of people allowed in the elevator
-Menus are available through QR codes on your phone (paper menus only given on request)

If I’m missing a protocol that you’re curious about, let me know and I’ll update the list. I hope this helps for anyone curious and for anyone else who is starting to sense the magical reawakening of travel.

 

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Puerto Vallarta: Eight Reasons to Visit

 Puerto Vallarta is more than just a beach vacation. It’s a vibrant, stunning juxtaposition of golden beaches, green jungles, meandering mountains, and intriguing culture.

After returning from a fantastic stay in Puerto Vallarta,  I’m in love with this incredible region on the Pacific coast of Mexico.  

One quick note – I use the term “Puerto Vallarta” a bit loosely here.  That’s the name of the airport and local town closest to the airport – but the entire region is spread between two states, Nayarit and Jalisco states.  The region encompasses the gorgeous Bay of Banderas which is one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world.   

The town of Puerto Vallarta is somewhat in the middle of the horseshoe shaped Bay of Banderas,  with 50 miles of stunning coastline flanked by the mountain range known as the Sierra Madre.   Hotels and resorts are scattered all along this coastline, so work with a trusted travel advisor to make sure you understand where your resort or hotel is located, and be sure to let them know if you want to be within walking distance of restaurants or local communities and ask their advice about which area is best to stay in.  Let him or her know if you’re okay with a slightly longer ride from the airport in exchange for a very special location.  There’s really no bad location, just different atmospheres and access to sights.  

For example, I stayed in the southern zone about 10 minutes from the historical center of Puerto Vallarta, which meant I was only about 10 miles from the Botanical Gardens and the Ocean Grill Restaurant which I mention in this article, but someone staying a bit north of the airport, for instance, could be an hour away from these locations.  Punta Mita, Nuevo Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, and even Sayulita are all distinct entities from the actual town of Puerto Vallarta, but my article here addresses the benefits of visiting the region not just the specific town.  When you contact me for your Puerto Vallarta vacation, I’m diligent about explaining where each resort in your customized proposal is located and why I think it’s a great location for your needs specifically. 

Here are eight reasons why you should consider this area for a Mexican vacation. 

The ocean and the weather in Puerto Vallarta

The beach at Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta

I know I said that this destination is “more” than just a beach vacation — but it’s pretty fantastic if you only want beach, nevertheless!

The Pacific ocean here isn’t as turquoise as its Caribbean counterpart – it’s more of a very special emerald color.  Beaches here tend to be golden sand.  There’s something distinctly magical about taking a sea kayak out and seeing the mountains meeting the sea dramatically from a new viewpoint – reminiscent even of a Tahiti or South Pacific coastline.  It’s a destination sure to please any photographer!

With 50 miles of coastline on the Bay of Banderas, many beaches have unique characteristics – some could be rocky, some have strong undertows, yet others have finer whiter sand and barely any waves.  I found the beaches at both resorts to be swimmable, but do be aware weather and time of year could affect the ocean patterns. The water was not cold at all, yet still refreshing. I liked how the ocean water was not necessarily OVERLY warm either.  

The weather here is tropical, and fairly consistent.  The rainy season is from June-mid October, with June-July-August-September being the hottest months and not quite as comfortable to walk around exploring!  November through May is generally considered the “nicest” time to go, although I visited in late October and was perfectly content.  

The average high temperature during the cooler months is 80 degrees fahrenheit,  with the hotter months reaching 90 degrees,  and the region itself does have high humidity all year round. January and February can fall to 60 degrees at nighttime, which can feel cold after a day of sun, so locals often will have long sleeves on in the evening! 

It’s also extremely rare that hurricanes hit Puerto Vallarta – a very compelling reason to check out the Pacific coast if you’re thinking about traveling during hurricane season!

Be sure to tell your travel advisor if you prefer a hotel with a private beach, as most beaches here are open to the public. By law, all beaches in Mexico are public, but hotels or resorts with geography on their side, such as being located in a private cove, can feel more exclusive.

The food 

The Puerto Vallarta area is consistently rated as some of the best food in Mexico, outside of Mexico City.  You can dine at an international-themed Michelin-star restaurant or grab some bites from a street vendor. I may never appreciate American tacos again after having real tacos in Puerto Vallarta.  The food here is delicious and even if you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort, most people like to venture out at least once to experience the local quality restaurants.  

And the prices are great as well.  We had lunch at Andale’s in downtown Vallarta for four people, with margaritas and entrees for all (with some people having multiple margaritas…) and the bill was about $50 USD.  

A fantastic restaurant experience in the southern part of the area is the Ocean Grill Restaurant This lovely restaurant is built on the side of a cliff overlooking the crystal water about 40 minutes south of downtown Vallarta.   You need to make a reservation because they have a boat that comes and picks you up to access the restaurant (the only alternative is a long hike to access the area).   Afterwards you are free to swim if you like before taking the boat back.  My grilled mahi-mahi in their specialty sauce, caught fresh that day, was one of the best fish I’ve ever taken.  The guacamole and their signature mint ginger margarita were both delightful as well.  The water was so clear that while we were eating we could easily see large polka-dotted brightly colored fish playing below. 

Culture

Puerto Vallarta Church
Downtown Puerto Vallarta

Although you’ll find a healthy number of ex-pats living here, this area is specifically considered to be less “touristy” than the Caribbean resort side of Mexico.  Many travelers here love leaving their resorts to explore local towns, secluded beaches, or vibrant jungle paths.

Throughout the year, you’ll find art & film festivals, gourmet cuisine, environmental events, Restaurant Week, farmers’ markets, fishing tournaments, folkloric dance festivals, native Huichol artwork and temple tours, and more. 

One place I was really impressed by was the Botanical Gardens.  They are quite a distance from central Puerto Vallarta but worth the trek in a taxi or an organized tour. Their restaurant there has incredible food, and it’s set up with hummingbird feeders (staff will also give you little containers to hold to see if the hummingbirds will come to you!) all around.  It’s a truly beautiful spot to take a meal.  You can see over 200 species of birds that inhabit the gardens, and you’re free to actually swim in the river that passes through the gardens as well.  There are a couple great hiking trails here as well,  so it’s truly a pleasant way to spend the day surrounded by lush tropical plants.  We only had about 2 hours here, and I definitely think we could have spent twice that amount of time if we had taken advantage of the hiking and swimming. 

Sunsets

Puerto Vallarta sunset

You’re guaranteed an incredible sunset every night.  Pull up a chair at a beachside restaurant or from your private balcony and enjoy Nature’s fireworks each evening.  

Puerto Vallarta ocean

Activities in Puerto Vallarta

There is so much to do in Puerto Vallarta so it’s perfect if you’d like to take a break from the beach every so often. 

Whale watching in the winter,  zip lining, excursions to mountain towns, cooking classes, taco tours, kayaking, snorkeling, visiting the Marietas Islands, strolling and shopping in colonial towns, horseback riding, visiting the botanical gardens, taking a boat out for the day, having lunch at a traditional ranch, watching dolphins in the bay, jungle hikes, browsing artists works for sale, and more.  Let’s not forget that tequila got its start in the town of Tequila just three hours away, so tastings and distillery tours are also available. 

Puerto Vallarta jungle
Jungle tour offered by our hotel – one of the highlights of our trip!

Animals & ecotourism

Puerto Vallarta turtles
Participating in a turtle release program at our hotel

Jaguars have been spotted in some of the forests.  Dolphins race in the sea.  Humpback whales come here every winter from Alaska.  Coatis, known as “Mexican racoons” and brightly colored birds, along with iguanas can often be spotted even on hotel property.  And of course, the adorable sea turtles, whose hatchlings you can help release into the sea if your hotel participates in a conservation program. 

Community

Again and again, I was struck by the warmth and friendliness of the local people.  Their pride in their region and their eagerness to introduce newcomers to the Puerto Vallarta area was impressive. 

Transportation is also easy here – official taxis are safe and Uber also runs successfully here.  There are also public buses between several areas that are easy to use. 

While I always recommend caution in any new area, and to follow the same safety procedures you would at home, the staff at the hotels I visited and the local people at restaurants were all very proud of their town and area’s safety ratings, and in pre-Covid times it was very acceptable to be out late at night in town for dinner and to take a taxi back to your hotel with no problems. 

Puerto Vallarta aerial view

Variety of accommodations available 

You can stay in a boutique hotel, an all-inclusive resort, a 5-star treehouse hideaway, or rent a private villa.   There are adults-only properties and family-friendly resorts.  Share the same hotel with a high-flying celebrity, or get to know your landlady with a local bed & breakfast.  There’s something for every budget!  You can even stay in the house that Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor (how’s that for a 32nd birthday present??) – glamorous Hollywood has been coming here since the 1960s!  

One of my favorite parts of the accommodations here is when the pools overlook the ocean.  There’s nothing quite like soaking in a refreshing pool while hearing the crash of waves just a few feet away. 

Here are some of my favorite pools:

Grand Velas 

Grand Velas

The three tiered pool runs down to the ocean and has different water temperatures according to your preferences.

Hotel Mousai 

Hotel Mousai

This incredible adults-only hotel is known for the best rooftop infinity pool in the area – can you blame them? 

Swimup Suites at Hyatt Ziva 

Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta

Who wouldn’t love this view every day with your own semi-private pool??

Marival Distinct Luxury Residences 

Marival Distinct Luxury Residences

Residences here can have a rooftop private pool or villas have their own private pool in a secluded garden as well.  This resort is perfect of families or groups of friends as you can have a private 3-bedroom villa with all-inclusive amenities!

Visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 

Those are my top eight reasons as to why I enjoyed the Puerto Vallarta area, and why I plan to return!  Am I missing anything from my list, or do you have any questions?  Reach out to me here and let me know! 

P.S. Are you curious about what measures resorts in Mexico have put in place while traveling during a pandemic? Here’s my summary of what I observed.

Rocky mountaineer trip planning

How to Choose a Rocky Mountaineer Train Route

Which Rocky Mountaineer Route to Choose?

So you’re ready to book a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer train and you’re dreaming of that amazing scenery, all-inclusive food and drink, wonderful narrating hosts, and spectacular domed views…. But how do you actually pick which itinerary or route? Choosing a Rocky Mountaineer route is one of the first steps to creating your perfect luxury train vacation!

Here are some hints to help you – and I encourage you to work with a Rocky Mountaineer Specialist like myself who can really make sure you’re getting the most from your investment into this amazing train ride!

Three Rocky Mountaineer Train Routes

There are three main train routes that take you across the gorgeous Canadian Rockies.  They can often be combined in different ways, so it’s important to start to think about your wish-list for this vacation.  For instance, if you definitely want to spend time in the Jasper area,  you need to choose a route that starts or end in Jasper,  as not all of them do. 

All Rocky Mountaineer itineraries can be reversed – you can choose to do train first or train last.   If you fly into Calgary, you will do the “non train” portion first.  If you fly into Vancouver, you will do the train first.

First Passage to the West (Vancouver to Banff or Lake Louise)

The two-day First Passage to the West route rolls along the historic tracks of the country’s first coast-to-coast railway between Vancouver and Banff or Lake Louise, with an overnight stay in Kamloops. 

 Pass by the snarling rapids of Hell’s Gate—named for explorer Simon Fraser’s assertion that “surely these are the gates of Hell”—and the twin rail bridges of Cisco Crossing. Between Kamloops and Banff, you’ll witness the site of the “last spike” driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 at Craigellachie, and experience the engineering marvel of the Spiral Tunnels. As you travel through Banff National Park be awed by views of towering Castle Mountain and Mount Rundle.

Choose this route if: You want to spend a lot more time in the Banff/Lake Louise area (they’re very close to each other) and you won’t be going up to Jasper at all.   Hint:  If you get a late afternoon flight out of Calgary for your departure,  you can spend your last day in Banff and still make it to the airport on time, rather than transferring back to a Calgary hotel the night before. 

Journey Through the Clouds (Vancouver to Jasper)

Also two days long, Journey through the Clouds travels between Vancouver and Jasper, traversing some of the most remote landscapes in Canada, with scenery and wildlife largely untouched by humans. Like First Passage to the West, the rail route passes the rushing Hell’s Gate and Cisco Crossing, travelling along both the Fraser and Thompson rivers. Between Kamloops and Jasper, the train passes the glacier-fed, three tiered Pyramid Falls; Mount Albreda; and Mount Robson—the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 metres (12,972 feet). Mount Robson is so big that it often forms its own weather patterns, with clouds enveloping the peak while the rest of the sky is blue. Jasper National Park is a Dark Sky Preserve known for stargazing, wildlife around every corner and some of the best outdoor adventure in the Canadian Rockies.  

Choose this route if: It’s a high priority to spend time in Jasper and to visit Jasper National Park, and if you’d like to stop at the Athabasca Glacier on the Columbia Icefields during the drive from Jasper to your next stop. 

Insider trip:  I recommend at least 2 nights in Jasper on this route so that you get at least one full day to explore.  Travelers who are able to stretch to 3 nights in Jasper have thanked me profusely as well! 

Check out this video of the route. 

Rainforest to Gold Rush (Vancouver to Jasper via Whistler)

For those that want to delve further into Western Canada’s history and diverse landscapes—as well as spending more time on the train—the three-day Rainforest to Gold Rush route takes a northerly path between Vancouver and Jasper, uncovering the stories of those seeking their fortune. This rail route also boasts the most trestle bridges, making it a favorite with train fans. With overnights in Whistler and Quesnel, on this journey you’ll climb through rainforest into the alpine alongside the southern fjord of Howe Sound, pass the deep turquoise waters of Seton and Anderson lakes, travel along the desert like Cariboo Plateau, cross the historic Cottonwood River Bridge, and take in Mount Robson. With two of Western Canada’s best outdoor adventure hubs on this train journey, Whistler and Jasper, this rail route is the perfect fit if you love exploring nature. 

Choose this route if: Spending a free afternoon in Whistler excites you, and you’re thrilled to spend 2.5 days on the train (remember, you don’t spend the night on the train!).

Circle Routes

These basically combine two rail routes to return to your original point of origin.  This is ideal for returning clients who really want at least 4 days on the train itself.  You may take the Rainforest to Gold Rush route first, for instance,  then have some free time in Jasper and Lake Louise,  then take the Journey Through the Clouds itinerary back to Vancouver from Lake Louise.  

 

Still can’t decide on a Rocky Mountaineer Train Route?

If a luxurious train trip through the Canadian Rockies has been on your bucket list, but you’re not quite sure which to take, don’t worry!  I’ve designed a short, fun quiz to help you decide what type of train trip you should take. Click below to get started!

 

 

Morocco travel tips

Morocco Travel Tips

These Morocco travel tips may help to make your next trip just a little bit better! If you want my full trip report from my Week In Morocco it’s available here.

-Reserve dinner your first night at your Riad.   They normally have wonderful cooks and it’s great not having to navigate the busy streets your first night. This generally needs to be reserved ahead of time, so send them an email before departure or ask your travel agent if this can be arranged. Most Riads do not have restaurants, the staff will be making your meal personally so this is why it must be reserved ahead of time.

-Dress like Moroccans.  Women do not have to cover your hair, but in rural areas you should cover your knees and shoulders.  Tunic-like tops are great over jeans.   A colorful scarf can make your outfit both stylish and modest.   In the hotter months, longer dresses instead of short skirts will still keep you cool but allow you to respect the culture and integrate a bit better.  Men in Moroccan typically do dress a bit sharper than Americans – long pants with a nice shirt is common.

-Consider getting the VIP/Priority service for the passport control at the Marrakesh airport if you don’t like lines.  This needs to be reserved ahead of time before you depart the USA. If your plane lands in Marrakesh at the same time as other international flights, you may spend over 2 hours in line on a slow day. Paying ahead of time for expedited service is a great way to start your vacation on the right foot.

-Learn at least “Hello” and “Thank You” in Arabic.  It really goes a long way

Google Maps is AMAZING in the Medina in Marrakesh and for finding walking directions almost everywhere.   It can help make you more confident in the narrow alleys and backstreets that were previously very intimidating.

-Don’t be afraid to use a guide or use your hotel’s services – it’s very culturally appropriate to have a guide and it’s a great way to experience the town and culture more in depth.

-Take a cooking class or other hands-on activity to experience the culture. (Some tours are here.)

-Look up travel distances.   Many tours might have you go to towns that are 3 or 4 hours away as a day trip. Be sure to find out how many hours you actually spend in the town to make sure the car ride is worth it.

-If your hotel has photos of staff hanging near reception – take a look or even snap a photo.  Even though they don’t always specifically tell you that this is why they are displaying it, it’s because a very common scam is for someone to pretend to be from your hotel and approach you.  This happened to us and even though I’d read about this ahead of time, in the moment I was still “oh I’m sorry I don’t recognize you… no thanks we don’t need help” and afterwards my hotel said that no, no one from the hotel had approached us.   So in the moment we didn’t even realize it was a scam (although nothing came of it since we didn’t accompany the guy anyway).  BUT,  it’s very important to be aware of this,  and you can also call the hotel at any time (some riads even give you a temporary phone).

Have you been to Morocco? What did you think of these Morocco travel tips? What other tips would you add? Contact me to let me know.