June 30, 2014

New Destinations for Adventurous Families

One of the most common requests I get is to suggest a vacation destination that has lots of outdoor activity and adventure.  Getting outside, being active, and seeing lots of wildlife seems to make everyone happy.  I know that formula works for my family!

So here are some vacation destinations you might not think of right of right away, which are great for the active family.   There is something for every age on this list, and several which are perfect for a multi-generational group.

PUERTO RICO – This gorgeous Caribbean island offers a wealth of activities, from cultural sites to impressive national parks.  Some of my favorites:  kayaking in a bioluminescent bay, hiking in El Yunque rainforest, and snorkeling in Culebra’s Luis Peña Channel Natural Reserve.   You can also visit Rio Camuy Cave Park or check out Rincon, one of the Caribbean’s top surfing destinations.  The bonus: no passport needed!
Culebra kayak and snorkel excursion
Hiking in El Yunque
SWITZERLAND – While known as a great destination for hiking and spectacular alpine scenery, there are quite a few other activities for adventure seekers.  The Bernese Oberland offers bungee jumping off a canyon wall into glacial gorge, or even out of a gondola suspended over a lake.  And there’s whitewater rafting and canyoning for all ability levels, some routes including high rappels, water slides, and zip lines.

Canyon water slides
Matterhorn hiking
EXPEDITION CRUISE – Don’t skip this paragraph because you saw the word “cruise.”  I’m not talking about a 2000-3000 passenger vessel that offers midnight buffets and Vegas-style shows.  These are small ships, often with fewer than 100 passengers, that focus on the destination and the activities, not onboard entertainment.  Their small size allows you to get up close and personal with wildlife and scenery in destinations like the Galapagos Islands, Alaska, Antarctica, South America, and Asia.   And they have a fleet of kayaks and zodiacs for even closer exploration (plus snorkeling gear where suitable).

Galapagos with Lindblad Expeditions

ARCTIC CANADA –   Been there, done that?  Now this is a list of activities that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else: kayaking with narwhals, hiking in Inuit territory, hot air ballooning between icebergs, polar bear safaris.  You’ll have cocktail party bragging rights for many years to come!
Polar Bear Viewing with
Natural Habitat Adventures 
Note that even places that are not normally considered “active” destinations have fun adventures, you just have to know where to look.  For example, companies like Butterfield & Robinson and Backroads offer cycling, hiking, and multisport tours in many European countries.  If you don't want to cycle or hike for a whole week, I can arrange just a day or tour of outdoor activity, such as cycling in The Hague or rock climbing and a high ropes course in the Dolomites.

Backroads in France
San Juan Islands
For some inspiration on where to go for you next outdoor adventure, check out the 2014 Virtuoso VAST catalog. That should spark your imagination!

June 13, 2014

A Perfect Girls' Getaway Weekend at the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe

I recently spent a glorious weekend at Lake Tahoe with 4 girlfriends to celebrate my 50th birthday.  Over the past 5 years, we've traveled to various destinations to help each other celebrate this milestone event.  We've had some really fun adventures, which have all been unique, and that will be the subject of a future post.  But today my blog is all about ME!

For my birthday celebration, I wanted to relax, be pampered, spend quality time with my friends, and not have to travel too far from our home in San Jose, CA.  And I didn’t want to have to dress up!  So the obvious choice was a place I’ve been wanting to get back to for several years:   the Ritz Carlton at Lake Tahoe.  I love being in the Sierra Nevadas, so its location right on the mountain at Northstar ski resort is ideal, summer or winter.

The view from our balcony
Our accommodations were a one bedroom suite connected to a guest room with 2 queen beds.   Not only did we have a large shared living room with plenty of seating, and a fireplace in each room, but we had 3 full bathrooms!  Now that's a nice setup for a group of girls, we were wondering if we were ever going to want to leave the suite!

Living room with sofabed

Master bedroom, plenty of room to add a rollaway.
What did we do on our girls' weekend?

* We ate.  We tried all the on-site dining options, including the signature restaurant Manzanita, Café Blue which serves casual ‘to go’ fare, and the Backyard BBQ on the patio which served huge portions of pulled pork, ribs, and baked beans. Our culinary adventures also included a tour of the kitchen led by the pastry chef, which was very interesting.  We got some great cooking tips from the staff, and also saw preparations for a wedding that evening.  We were very impressed to learn that everything at the resort is made on-site.  They even have a sourdough starter mix from 1997, used to make wonderful bread with a bubbly crust.

Chef picking herbs

The kitchen tour

Fresh baked bread.  The sourdough starter
creates the bubbles in the loaves on the top shelf.
* We got some exercise. Exercise classes and use of the fitness center are included in the resort fee (yoga classes for a small fee), so we had some early morning workouts and then also went for a hike right from the resort patio to a pretty lake.  I generally prefer to work out outside, but looking out at the trees from the gym was the next best thing.  If we had arrived a week later, the lifts to the top of the mountain would have been running for mountain bikers and hikers.

Pretty view from the fitness center

Sawmill Lake
* We partied a little. Truckee is just a 10 min drive away, but there are taxi services so nobody has to be a designated driver.  “Downtown” is only a couple blocks long, but it has quite a few restaurants and bars, some more upscale with live music, and some more of a “local watering hole” featuring karaoke. I won’t go into any more detail about where we spent most of our time. (What happens in Truckee stays in Truckee!)

Birthday dinner with a view in Truckee
* We got pampered a lot. Whether sitting by the main pool or the fire pit on the terrace, we always had staff checking on us to see if we needed drinks (grapefruit margaritas, yum!) or a snack, or even a pool noodle!  The resort fee included access to the beautiful spa amenities, including sauna, steam room and outdoor adults-only pool.  I loved swimming and relaxing under the pine trees!

A great place to have s'mores.

It's not a girls' trip without plenty of People magazines.

The peaceful adult pool next to the spa

I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my special day.  While there are many luxury hotels to choose from in northern California, few are in such a beautiful and peaceful setting.   And the alpine-inspired décor and artwork create a homey but luxurious feeling. It is truly one of the most relaxing places I’ve stayed, and the ideal place to hang out and enjoy the company of good friends.

The "Living Room"
Some of the fun artwork.  Do you see the song lyrics?

If you’re looking for a great place for a girls’ (or guys’) getaway, give me a call. If I book your stay at the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe, you’ll receive daily breakfast for free and an upgrade, if available. And I guarantee you my wonderful contacts at the resort will make you feel like VIP’s the whole time!

Happy birthday to me!