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November 14, 2014

Why You Should Take Your Family to The Ritz Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation

Just 75 miles from Atlanta, this destination resort offers 30 picturesque acres on Lake Oconee, and plenty of activities for all ages.  

A great place to discover Lake Oconee
Here are my top 5 reasons why you should consider the Ritz Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation for your next family getaway: 

Fun on the water - The swimming pools, which are heated year round, include a beautiful lakefront infinity pool and separate wading pool for toddlers.  The pool is being enlarged to add even more water play area next year.  A pretty white sand beach offers calm water for little ones, and plenty of splash room for older kids.
The current pool, expansion in progress!
A safe white sand beach
Other fun activities on Lake Oconee include fishing, canoeing, kayaking, YOLO boards (like SUP but easier), and paddle boats. ( Email me if you'd like a copy of the Activity Guide and Recreation Fact Sheet.)   

Fun on land -  Wide open lawns provide plenty of space to kick a soccer ball (available from the concierge along with other sports equipment) or play outdoor games like frisbee golf, horseshoes, bocce ball and croquet.  Guests also have access to tennis, bicycles, and 99 holes of golf!

Run wild & free!
Or take a stroll on a meandering path

Great value – The optional Kids’ Meal program includes 3 meals a day for one price for kids under 13, including dessert, drinks, tax, and gratuities.   Another great value is the activity package which includes complimentary use of non-motorized watersports, plus extras like tennis, bike rentals, and use of the fitness center and driving range. 

My clients also receive exclusive Ritz STARS and Virtuoso amenities:

•        Early Check-In upon Request
•        Late Check-Out upon Request
•        Daily American Breakfast for 2
•        Welcome Amenity
•        Room Upgrade at time of booking
•        $100 Resort Credit
•        Complimentary Valet Parking
 
Lakefront cottage with a golf course view
Room for everyone - There is a large variety of accommodations, including many connecting rooms which can often be guaranteed at time of booking.  And all 22 one bedroom suites connect to rooms with 2 queen beds.  If you want more space, there are 5 two bedroom cottages, a three bedroom cottage, and a Presidential house with four bedrooms, all of which have kitchens, fireplaces, and wrap around porches with views of the golf course and the lake.

   
A standard guestroom has plenty of space

And beautiful lake views!
Fun fact:  This is the only Ritz-Carlton property to offer a BBQ Butler, who will prepare a  made-to-order cookout featuring quintessential southern cuisine.  You’ll also get tips in the fine art of grilling, from roasting sauce-smothered ribs in the bold flavors of mesquite wood to smoking chicken in the pungent aromas of hickory.


Executive Suite
 Private time for Mom and Dad - Ritz Kids Camp for ages 5-12 offers activities incorporating outdoor adventures such as scavenger hunts, nature hikes, science experiments, and fun games designed to teach environmental responsibility.  On Friday and Saturday nights, parents can enjoy a romantic dinner while their children play games and enjoy arts and crafts during Kids Night Out.

What kid doesn't love fishing?
 And of course no outdoor adventure is complete without s’mores, s’mores, s’mores!

Lots of places to toast those marshmallows!
Reynolds Plantation is offering a 4th night free exclusively to clients of Ritz-Carlton STARS agents  through December 30.  With so much to do at the Lodge, you can really use that extra night! 
Sunrise view from my room

October 23, 2014

Boston Blends the Best of the Old and New

Boston is a wonderful city, and I had the pleasure of visiting recently for the first time in many years.  In every neighborhood you see a mix of the old and the new, and that is also exemplified by the hotels.
 
Boston's North End
For example, just a few blocks from one another are the Fairmont Copley Plaza and the Mandarin Oriental Boston.  Both are luxury hotels and members of Virtuoso, and I would be confident sending discerning clients to either one.  However they are dramatically different in d├ęcor and ambiance, so they would suit different travelers depending on their taste.
Fairmont Copley Plaza
The Fairmont Copley Plaza is a historic, grand dame hotel which opened in 1912.  There’s a real “wow” factor on arrival as guests pass through a majestic hall clad in marble and highlighted with a gilded ceiling and chandeliers.  The seven story tall building (with a health club on the roof) faces Copley Plaza, with views of Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library.  (Insider tip: The library offers daily complimentary art and architecture tours.)
 
Fairmont entrance hall

Fairmont lobby

Rooms were recently renovated in honor of the centennial anniversary, so they retain a traditional and elegant (but not “fussy”) style, and have modern amenities such as Keurig coffeemakers, iPod docking stations and laptop-size safes. The Fairmont Gold level is home to a private lounge offering complimentary breakfast and evening appetizers.

Fairmont Signature room
Fairmont Gold Lounge

Virtuoso amenities are:
  • Upgrade at time of booking (on arrival in 2015, based on availability)
  • Daily full breakfast for two
  • $50 hotel credit
  • Seasonal amenity from the Executive Chef
  • Early check-in/late checkout, based on availability

Copley Square & Trinity Church (Fairmont to the right)
If you enroll in Fairmont President’s Club, you’ll immediately receive these benefits:
  • Complimentary high-speed internet and local calls
  • Complimentary health club access
  • Complimentary shoe shine
  • Daily newspaper delivery
  • Discounts in the spa and gift shop
  • Complimentary use of TaylorMade golf clubs & BMW bikes at select hotels

(After achieving Premier or Platinum status, additional benefits apply.)

Back Bay neighborhood
If old world style is not what you’re looking for, then you can head just around the corner to the Mandarin Oriental Boston, less than 2 blocks away from Copley Plaza. Situated in the heart of the Back Bay, it’s surrounded by trendy restaurants and Victorian brownstones, and is a short stroll to the upscale Newbury shopping district.  
Mandarin Oriental lobby
The Mandarin Oriental Boston has a modern yet elegant style, with blond-wood paneling in rich tones, original artwork, and cozy seating areas around a gas fireplace.  Clean lines, earth tones, and understated but elegant touches carry through into the rooms, which are some of the largest in the city

Mandarin Back Bay Room
They feature custom inlaid maple and sycamore furnishings, silk fabrics, more original art, large bathrooms, and, my favorite, a walk in closet.  It’s not huge, but you can walk in and even sit down!
That's a bench in the closet!

Spacious bathroom
The hotel does not have a club level, but fine food and cocktails are offered in a French-inspired bistro and wine bar.  And many consider the spa to be the best in Boston. (Insider tip: Lifestyle rooms are closest to the spa and feature Japanese-style soaking tubs and a daybed next to the window.)  This is the ideal hotel for a traveler who wants traditional luxury with more modern styling, a cozy home away from home.

Since our agency is both Virtuoso and a member of the Mandarin Oriental FAN Club, my clients receive: 
  • Upgrade at check-in, based on availability
  • Daily continental breakfast
  • $100 spa or food and beverage credit
  • Complimentary wi-fi
  • 4 pm late check-out, subject to availability

 These two equally fantastic hotels represent what makes Boston such a fun and special destination.  The mix of old and new means offers something to suit every taste.  And both are kid and pet friendly!

Once you’ve found the perfect hotel, then you can have fun exploring all Boston has to offer!
Paul Revere House

Fenway Park

Boston Regatta

September 6, 2014

Ritz Carlton Can Make Holiday Wishes Come True

Yes, you can still book an awesome family vacation for the holidays!  Many Ritz Carlton hotels and resorts still have space available, though rooms are booking up quickly.  Contact me for the latest information on current availability and rates.  Some properites do not require a minimum night stay, either!

Here is just a sample of some of the great destinations where you could spend Thanksgiving or Christmas, and why they would make a great family getaway any time of year.

Sarasota

  • The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art showcases costumes, photography and artifacts from the greatest show on Earth.
  • The beautiful beaches of Longboat Key, Lido Key and Siesta Key (rated #1 by Dr. Beach) are within easy reach of the resort.
  • A live mermaid welcomes patrons in the Jack Dusty restaurant on weekend nights (it’s not as cheesy as it sounds).

Amelia Island

  • They honor the area’s heritage with a weekly Pirate Toast, Pirate Tuck-ins for little ones, and a giant gingerbread pirate ship during the holidays.
  • The island is home to museums, forts, nature paths, and eco-tours, so it appeals to history buffs as well as nature-lovers. 
  • Parents who reserve a 50 minute or longer spa service will receive a complimentary afternoon Ritz Kids program for a child age 5-12. 

Key Biscayne

  • It's located on a seven mile-long barrier island near South Beach, so you are close to the action but not in it.
  • A short drive away are Jungle Island, home to exotic birds, mammals, primates, and reptiles, and the Miami Seaquarium, featuring marine animals.
  • Complimentary tequila tastings are offered every evening by the Tequilier, who was trained in Mexico’s Agave growing regions.

Aruba

  • It's one of the newest properties, open for less than one year, is located at the very end of exclusive Palm Beach.
  • It features a 15,000 sq. ft. casino open 24x7, with slot machines and card games.
  • The island is known for hot weather and little rain, and it lies outside of the hurricane path.

Grand Cayman

  • It's located on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, with crystal clear turquoise-blue water and pristine white sand.
  • Stingray City is just a 15 minute boat ride away.
  • Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program offers unique Caribbean eco-tours for all ages.

Dorado Beach (Puerto Rico)

  • All rooms are ocean-facing, with an entire wall of windows or louvered panels which can be opened up facing the water.
  • It features an onsite waterpark with waterslides, a lazy river, a family pool, large fitness center and snack bar.
  • Residential suites are perfect for larger families with up to 5 bedrooms.
And no passport is required!
 


St Thomas

  • Nearby is Coral World Ocean Park, a five-acre marine park with a three-story underwater observation tower
  • It's perfect for active families, as use of Hobie cat boats, paddle boats, noodles, kayaks, snorkel gear, etc. is included.
  • The resort operates its own 50 foot catamaran, the Lady Lynsey, for sailing and snorkeling excursions.
(No passport required here either, but  you must carry proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate.)

And remember, at all Ritz Carton properties any time of year, my clients receive complimentary STARS amenities which include:
  • Daily breakfast for two
  • Upgrade at check-in-in, based upon availability
  • A special welcome gift
Plus VIP treatment such as first priority for sold out space, connecting rooms, and other requests such as bed type, rollaways, etc.

Exclusive, unpublished offers are also available throughout the year at various properties, only for clients of Ritz Carlton STARS agencies!

August 27, 2014

Exploring Alaska Off A Cruise Ship (Even Glacier Bay!)

Is Alaska on your bucket list?  That’s one of my favorite destinations and I’ve travelled all over the state in the past 20 years.   After my latest trip, I posted a 5 part series on my blog.  I’ve put links to all the posts below to make it easy to find in one place, and hopefully you’ll be inspired to take a trip to Alaska as well! 

A cruise is a great way to see the Inside Passage, but if you've done that and want a new experience, or you'd like to spend more time exploring the interior, then you might want to consider a land-based vacation.
  
Hiking in Denali National Park
Part 1: Gustavus: The Yummiest Pancakes in the Whole World
On the first leg of our Alaskan journey, we explored Gustavus, the only town located in Glacier Bay.   We saw glaciers, wildlife and scenery up close from a small boat, explored the coastline in kayaks, and hiked through a rainforest.  Evenings were spent relaxing and enjoying fantastic food at Bear Track Inn, a luxurious fishing lodge that made some memorable meals.  
Glaciers up close
Relaxing before dinner at the lodge

Part 2:  Juneau:  The Time We Watched Bears Eat Dinner (and it wasn’t us!)
In Juneau we rented a car so we could explore outside town at our own pace.  We visited the hatchery, where we watched salmon perform acrobatics as they worked their way up the ladder.  And Mendenhall Glacier, where we watched bears expertly scoop up salmon swimming upstream, including a momma bear and two cubs!  Then we wrapped it up with some beer tasting at the Alaskan Brewery, and wrapped the day watching the cruise ships pull away, leaving quiet Juneau all to ourselves.

Bye bye, everyone!
Can't get fish fresher than this

Part 3:  Anchorage: More Than a Place to Wait for Your Cruise/Flight
Many travelers only spend the night in Anchorage, either on their way to or from a cruise.  But if you have a couple extra days to spare, and a rental car, there really is quite a bit to do and see.  We watched an interesting movie about the quake of ’64, visited the Iditarod headquarters, and cycled along the coastal trail.  And if you love animal babies, you have to head down to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center!
  
THE trophy
Lunchtime for 'McKinley'

Part 4:   Talkeetna:  Living Vicariously Through the Locals
Talkeetna was one of my favorite stops.   While it was too late in the season to personally watch climbers prep for a trek up Mt. McKinley, we listened to interesting stories from the locals who host them, and learned from the park rangers just exactly what kind of mettle it takes to ascend the tallest peak on North America.  Talkeetna also boasts some of the best views of the Alaska Range.

Old vs new hiking gear
The main drag in Talkeetna

Part 5:  Denali:  The Best 11 Hours We’ve Ever Spent on a School Bus
The 92 mile long road which heads into Denali Park is filled with spectacular scenery and up close encounters with grizzlies, wolves, caribou, and more.  But unless you have a camping reservation, you aren’t allowed to drive past mile 15.  The only way to go deep into the Alaskan wilderness is on a shuttle bus.  Yes, it’s bumpy, and no, it’s not luxurious by any means (however you don't have to ride the entire 11 hr route).  But trust me, you’ll remember this as the one of the highlights of your Alaska vacation.  Afterwards you can hop in your comfy car and visit the other cool stuff in and around the park.  
Yes, this is a 2 way road.
We lost track of the grizzly bear
count by this point
Alaska offers a lot of logistical challenges to travelers because of its size and limited services.   It’s best to plan early, a year or more is not uncommon, especially if you want to stay in a wilderness lodge.  But I have also been able to pull together great trips at relatively short notice as well.

If you’d like to have your own great Alaska adventure, just send me an email to find out how to get started!
My favorite park employees

August 13, 2014

A Family's Fairy Tale Vacation in Europe

If you follow me on Facebook, you probably saw pictures that I posted from a client traveling through Germany and Switzerland earlier this summer.  They had a great time, and gave me permission to share some of their Facebook posts and text messages. 
                             
“We took the advice and did the castle drive along the Rhine…We must have seen 20+ castles. Very cool for the first thing we did.”

Castle on the Rhine

 “We got to Heidelberg around 5 pm. The staff is really great. Every room is a different themed suite.  It's a short walk across the bridge to old town where the food and shops are. It's a beautiful little town. There were fireworks our first night on the bridge celebrating the end of the 30 year war.  Yesterday we spent about 6 hours touring the castle. We learned a lot about medieval times and castles. The history is amazing. Everything is so old!”

Beautiful buildings in Nuremburg

Heidelberg
Rothenberg ob Der Tauber is a beautiful small town out in lush green hills that is stuck in the medieval times. The village walls, towers, homes and shops were all intact.  It wasn't bombed during any wars so it survived as is. The history there is incredible. We took a walking tour of the town given by a funny town watchman. They had some great museums with fantastic medieval artifacts. It was amazing.”

Rothenburg ob Der Tauber

“It took a few hours to drive to Aying. It's a small village off the beaten trail. It's famous for its Ayinger brewery (I'm not a beer drinker and even I liked the beer).”

“We had a fantastic day at Salzburg. We walked around the entire city. Walked up to the castle and had lunch. [My daughter] wanted to see as many Sound of Music sites as she could. We got in four before we had to leave....The Abbey, the do-re-mi stairs, the Von Trapp house and the 16-going-on-17 gazebo.  It was fun searching through town for them. There were so many churches that it seemed like they chimed all day long. “
 
Sound of Music gazebo
"[My daughter's] in heaven...the view from her bed, yes that's right, not just the room, her BED!  Cinderella's castle!"

Neuschwanstein Castle
“The Glacier Express ride from St Moritz to Zermatt was beautiful.  It was raining when we arrived so we didn't get to see the Matterhorn til this am. What an amazing site. We have a room with a gorgeous view of the Matterhorn. We took a train up to Gornergrat, another peak across from the Matterhorn. It was about 30 degrees this am but it warmed up by the afternoon. It was a gorgeous day!” 

The Matterhorn
One of the highlights of their trip was the day spent with Ueli Summers, an 80 year old farmer from Grindelwald who spent his life working as a private mountain climber guide.  He escorted them from their hotel via rail to Jungfrau, aka “The Top of Europe.”  
  
At the "Top of Europe"

Walking through a glacier

I want to point out that Switzerland is a bit more logistically challenging than Germany, in that many towns can only be accessed by train, which is a problem if you are driving a rental car!  I did not want my clients to backtrack to pick up their car, so my Switzerland partner came up with the perfect solution:  she sent over a driver to pick up their car and move it to the parking garage at my clients’ final destination, where they picked it up a few days later.

Train to Jungfrau
On any vacation, but especially an extensive trip through Europe, one expects a few snafus, but happily everything went quite smoothly.  My clients did need to scramble for backup transportation to Paris when it appeared the French rail strike would disrupt the final leg of their journey.  But my wonderful partners in Switzerland worked with my clients to make sure they were covered.  Fortunately their train was not cancelled and they arrived in Paris as scheduled.
Lucerne
It’s important to consider not just the price, but the quality of the suppliers, and the value of having a reliable contact at your destination just in case something goes awry.  Go ahead and travel independently, but don’t be on your own!