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Archive for the ‘North America’ Category

We recently attended a work conference in Las Vegas.  If you’ve done the same in the past, you know how that can be.  Between the meetings during the day and late nights followed by early mornings, we were happy to get to spend a couple of days in Scottsdale after the conference.  We were fortunate to stay at the Royal Palms Resort, right near the line between Phoenix and Scottsdale on Camelback Dr., where many of the other larger Scottsdale resorts are also located.  But we felt that the Royal Palms really stood out in how intimate, cozy and charming it felt in comparison to the other more expansive, luxurious but less personable golf resorts.  It was originally a private vacation home-built in a hacienda style and as a hotel, it has kept all the charm and homey feel of the original home.  There are many beautiful spaces and nooks and crannies throughout the property with beautiful antique doors, Mexican tile benches, cacti, fireplaces and bougainvillea in bloom, palms, fountains and more.  The rooms are not large but very comfortable, homey and nicely decorated with decor to match the rest of this beautiful oasis of a hotel and some, like mine, with large and beautiful deep soaking tubs.  The food at T. Cook’s was absolutely delicious. The pool was small but quiet and relaxing with great poolside service (try the guacamole!).  All in all, The Royal Palms exceeded our expectations and I would highly recommend it as a great R&R getaway.

 

After a full day of just relaxing at the hotel and catching up on some much-needed sleep, we woke up the next morning and headed out of Phoenix for a full day of sightseeing on the Apache Trail. After some research, we decided this was the perfect way to see some great local scenery in the summer, since most of it can be viewed from the comfort of your air-conditioned car.  I had read conflicting stories about how beautiful the drive was but also some complaints about the safety of its partially unpaved roads. These stories made me even more curious and appealed to my spirit of adventure. So we set out in our rented compact car, with plenty of water and snacks (it was summer after all!), a full tank of gas, and our charged cameras and cell phones.

After passing Apache Junction (the official start of the drive) we came to our first stop, the Superstition Mountain museum. It is an indoor as well as outdoor museum with a reproduction 19th Century Wells Fargo office, stage-coach stop, barber shop, assay office and chapel, all with the beautiful backdrop of the Superstition Mountains.  It was a great first stop to get a feel for the history and landscape of the area. Just down the road is Lost Dutchman State Park, where a number of great trails lead to the Superstition Mountains.

Our next stop was Goldfield Mining Town, an old west ghost town with picturesque “main street,” consisted of shops, a chapel, saloon, brothel, jail and more (some in operation and some great for pictures).  A mine tour and a short train ride are also offered.  We stopped at the cactus shop and picked up some great original souvenirs (Yes! You can bring cacti on planes and they did a great job packing them up).

We continued the drive and admired the desert landscape with intriguing rock formations, saguaro cacti and other interesting vegetation which was foreign to us, when we first came upon Canyon Lake. This is one of four lakes created by the damming of the Salt River and it’s well described by its name. After finding a mostly deserted road on the Apache Trail, we were surprised at the number of local families we found picnicking, swimming, fishing, boating, grilling and generally enjoying their Saturday at this popular spot. The lake shore is easily accessible by car, and with its close proximity to Phoenix, yet remote feel, it is easy to see why it is popular with the locals.

  

After some more driving, we arrived at the much-anticipated old-west stage stop of Tortilla Flat, the only place to grab food and drinks before continuing on the Apache trail.  Here we found good food, a friendly bartender, saddle bar stools, walls covered in dollar bills and some very interesting bathrooms!  And before getting on the road, we tried some of the well-known prickly pear ice cream and were pleasantly surprised. We also met a friendly Harley-driving wanderer named Mike Whitewolf who told us about the drive up ahead and contributed to the allure of our Southwestern drive.

The road becomes unpaved shortly after leaving Tortilla Flat.  It is windy, with the mountain on one side and significant drops on the other but fairly wide and flat so the driving did not feel dangerous or very uncomfortable though we did notice some cars whose drivers seemed very much out of their element driving on unpaved roads.  The scenery and vistas throughout this part of the drive were stunning. There were canyons, gorges, fantastic rock formations, one-lane bridges, distant views of Apache Lake, flats, Saguaros, prickly pear cacti, etc.  There are several places to pull over and even some paved overlooks where you can stop and admire the beautiful vistas as much as you’d like.

The final stretch of the drive took us up to Roosevelt dam, the sight of which surprised us after going around yet another bend in the road. Before we knew it, we were staring right at the massive structure, and stopped at the large parking lot to admire the dam and its surroundings more closely. Given none of us were familiar with this dam, we were all very impressed with its sheer size and feat of engineering. On the other side of the dam, Roosevelt Lake gleamed in the sunlight as did the attractive suspended bridge that we later drove over. Boaters, campers and day-trippers all took advantage of the good weather and calm lake surrounded by the beautiful mountains.

Back on major paved roads after our stop at the dam, and after admiring the lake, we made one last quick pit-stop  to check out the RVs setting up camp with their boats and jet-skis by the lake shore. Then we got on the highway headed back to Scottsdale, arriving back just in time for a local Mexican dinner and a stroll through quaint “downtown” Scottsdale with its many shops, restaurants and bars where tourists and locals mingle and enjoy outdoor seating under the cooling misting hoses . We decided to end our day by testing out this unfamiliar and clever invention by sipping on margaritas while talking about our day’s adventures.

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The last time that I stayed at the Greenbrier was two years ago. At that time, it was two months from bankruptcy and its future was uncertain. It was still a great resort, but small cracks were evident in service levels and offerings. Small things like rotating dining room menus and finger bowls in the dining room had been cut. I actually overheard an employees’ meeting discussing ways to cut services to cut costs; employee relations were low and therefore morale was also low.

 Now out of bankruptcy and under the ownership of Jim Justice, I am pleased to tell everyone that the Greenbrier is better than ever. My wife and I along with seventy-five other couples just returned from a three night golf trip to the Greenbrier and things have really changed – all for the good. Employee morale is very obviously at an all time high. Every employee (except one banquet waitress) was obviously excited to be working and wanted the guests to know that fact; smiles and pleasant greetings were received from all employees from the bellmen and front doormen, to the registration clerks, to the golf shop employees, to the dining room wait staff, to the new casino employees. Every employee with whom I came into contact convinced me that they wanted to do anything they could to enhance my stay.

 The classical architecture, the Dorothy Draper decorated interior, the three world-class golf courses, and the wonderful main dining room all continue to wow guests, but the new dining venues and the new casino really enhance the Greenbrier’s offer. The new casino, open only to hotel guests and certain other Greenbrier associated clubs, is more like a European casino than Las Vegas. A hundred thousand square foot casino is small by Las Vegas standards but is plenty for the Greenbrier. The resort was full during our stay and the casino had lots of patrons, but it did not feel overcrowded. One very obvious and welcomed difference from “Vegas” was the casino’s no smoking policy. The ten o’clock complimentary champagne toast of luck to all guests was a nice touch although my comment card included a suggestion to eliminate the dancing performances in the casino.

 Perhaps the biggest changes have come from the enhanced dining choices. The main dining room, Draper’s, and Sam Snead’s at the Golf Club continue to provide guests with the same offerings that they have for years. A new steak house, equal to most steak houses that I’ve ever visited now occupies the space once housing The Old White Lounge.  Order one of several choices of prime steaks or dry aged beef, or splurge and order a Wagyu beef steak that is ordered and priced by the ounce. Friends dined here and reported a wonderful meal.

 A “pizzeria and wine bar” now occupies the space previously housing Draper’s. We found this more of a full Italian restaurant than a wine bar and everyone in my party had a four course dinner. We ordered personal pizza, calamari, a veal steak, baked chicken, and shrimp and lobster pasta and all were delicious.

 Part of the new underground casino construction included a new sushi and Oriental restaurant. Although no one in my party tried In-Fusion, the menu looked great and I look forward to eating there next time I visit.

 How do you enhance an already outstanding golf program? You start at the entrance. A modern, colorful sculpture of golf tees now sits at the golf club entrance – it’s a nice addition. The large locker rooms and pro shop have not been touched and remain world-class. New uniforms for all starters and course marshals included neckties. Although they didn’t do much to improve my game, they really added a touch of class that was observed by all with whom I played.

 In summary, the always classy Greenbrier has just become more so. The noticeable high employee morale coupled with the enhanced dining and entertaining venues have come together to make the Greenbrier one of the country’s top resorts. Its aggressive pricing packages now make the Greenbrier more affordable than ever before. You owe it to yourself to spend a few nights at the Greenbrier and enhance your “return on life”.

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It’s the little things that separate good resorts from great resorts, and Tides Inn is a good resort. When we recently pulled up to the motor entrance, there were four cars parked in the circle, no one in any of the vehicles, and not a door man or porter in site. We were sure a porter would appear in minutes but after waiting, my daughter and I unloaded the luggage and schlepped it into the lobby ourselves while my son-in-law backed out of the circle and parked his car.

My wife had checked in the day before so there was no issue with my room being ready. Check out time is 12 noon at Tides Inn and it was now 2:15 p.m.; in spite of calling ahead and being told that her room would be made up as soon as the present occupants checked out, my daughter’s room was not ready. That really was no problem because we had not had lunch so we went to the pool restaurant for lunch. We all ordered a round of beverages and an order of quesadillas to start. When the drinks arrived, we ordered lunch. In due time, our lunches arrived but we never saw (or missed) the quesadillas. The waitress placed our orders in front of us and disappeared, leaving no napkins or flat wear; with no one else there, I had to help myself to utensils on other unoccupied tables. The BLT sandwich and the crab cake sandwich we ordered were both good, although we all thought it a little strange that the crab cake was served with a bowl of tarter sauce that must have measured at least one full cup! My daughter’s chicken garden salad looked like weeds from the back yard with a few pieces of chicken; I ordered my hamburger cooked medium and it was served well done.

My wife and granddaughter indulged themselves before I got there with room service breakfast. They ordered it the night before and it was delivered on time, hot, and 100% complete.

Both grandmother and granddaughter also visited the spa. The spa area is small, as you would expect a 100 room resort to have, but both said it was clean, bright, and the aestheticians were friendly and accommodating.

The Tides Inn décor is bright, clean and shows well. Our bathroom was modern and pleasant. Every staff member that we encountered was extremely pleasant and friendly. The Tides Inn has one inherent problem that any resort located on the water will have; that’s a mildew smell in the rooms. This is the same problem we encountered ten years earlier when my wife and I last were there. I have been to dozens of seaside resorts and the great ones solve this problem; the good, mediocre, and poor ones don’t seem to be able to solve this problem.

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As we drove into Hot Springs and I looked up over the tree tops and saw the clock on the Homestead’s impressive and distinctive red brick clock tower, I realized that this was no ordinary deluxe resort. This first impression was over twenty years ago and yet I still get that excited feeling when I drive into the small village and look up and see the Tower.

After checking in, we were walking to our tower room when we ran into friends in the lobby. Surprisingly, my wife recalls that years ago this couple had said how much they loved the Homestead, but had also said “put me in the ‘old section’, not the new part”. Our room, located in the “old section” was beautifully and freshly decorated and the bathroom was newly renovated. The wallpaper appeared new as well as the rest of the room’s furniture but nothing could mask the distinct slope of the floor – something that’s charming and prevalent in buildings as old as this one.  Thirty five percent of all rooms have been renovated this year.

We had a very late dinner reservation so we ate a late lunch and then met our friends at the outdoor pool. Quite a few guests were trying to get cool at the pool as the temperature rose into the nineties; something that rarely happens in the mountains. There were plenty of lounges and umbrellas and the well attended bar was busy serving various adult beverages until it closed at 6 p.m.

The dining room was still busy as we arrived a few minutes early for our 9 p.m. reservation.  The trio of musicians was playing easy to listen and dance-to music, and husbands danced with wives next to young dads dancing with their pre-teen daughters. Greeting us as we walked in was Woody Pettus, the every present maitre d’ of the Main Dining Room for fifty years. Whether he really remembers you or not, he sure makes you feel special and lets you know how much he enjoys seeing you that evening.   Among our party, we ordered the Sautéed Mountain Trout “Homestead” with peeled grapes and almonds in lemon butter sauce, duck breast, and medallions of pork – all prepared as you would expect from the finest restaurant. The Homestead offers two other elegant dinner venues, the 1776 Grille and Sam Snead’s Tavern, but we all agreed the Main Dining Room was one of the Homestead’s truly unique experiences and we decided to eat here every night.

The next morning I arose early for an 8:20 a.m. starting time on the Homestead’s Cascade golf course, considered by many to be the finest mountain course in the US, host of several USGA championships, and ranked by Golf Digest #12 on its Best American Resort Courses. The Cascades course is one of three championship courses at the Homestead. I am glad to say that my driver kept me in the fairway most of the day and the greens are usually reachable if your irons are straight, which by some unusual circumstance mine were that day. But, as those of us who play a lot of golf have come to understand, it’s tough for everything to be working all in the same day; my atrocious putting prevented me from having a great score on this impeccably groomed course – but I will putt better the next time I play it.

While Bill and I were enjoying the Cascades, our wives decided to enjoy the services offered by the Homestead’s world class spa.  Built on the centuries-old tradition of “taking the waters,” the spa brings you the most innovative of luxury spa treatments available today in a unique historic setting. Whether you want a typical spa offering such as one of eight different massages, hydrotherapies, body therapies, skin care or hair and nail therapies, the spa offers you many choices to help you relax and to revitalize yourself. My wife and Barbara each reserved a different treatment and each complimented their individual therapist as being extremely professional.

The boys met the girls after golf and spa appointments for a quick lunch and we all lounged for the rest of the afternoon; I got a little more pool time and one more frozen margarita! High tea is served complimentary in the main lobby each afternoon, but we passed on this today. There are too many other activities to list here, but suffice to say, they have something for everybody; fishing, horseback riding, carriage rides, sporting clays, falconry, just to name a few.

Both couples met the next morning to enjoy the Homestead’s legendary buffet breakfast. Served every morning in the Main Dining Room, it offered a wide selection of fresh fruits, ham, bacon, eggs and omelets cooked to order, pancakes, waffles, pastries, and much more; the woman ahead of me at the cooking station ordered chocolate chip pancakes!

After a few purchases in the shops located in the hotel, it was time to pack and say goodbye to one of Virginia’s finest resorts, if not THE finest. If I went to the Homestead every month, perhaps it wouldn’t be so special, but since I don’t go often, it is truly a wonderful experience that everyone should enjoy periodically.

  

Since this is a Virtuoso property, our clients always receive the best price available either for a room or for one of numerous inclusive packages, plus the value-added Virtuoso amenities. These amenities include FREE breakfast daily (that’s a $50 per day bonus), a $100 activity credit per stay, early check-in and late check-out based on availability and a FREE upgrade at check-in if available. By Dan Smith.

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Travel is often necessary, and sometimes eagerly anticipated – it is not always easy.  Just a few musings from a tired travel agent who really does know the ropes of airline travel.  Delays are no fun, especially when the delay appears to be a result of a nationwide FAA computer problem.  I know how to check for delays before I leave for the airport, and I did and there was no posted delay on my flight, or even on the inbound aircraft that was to turn into my outbound fight.  Yet, somehow when I reached the check-in counter there was a delay.  A long enough delay to have lunch at the Applebee’s at Richmond airport with so many other travelers that we filled the restaurant.  The food & beverage revenues for Richmond airport, and others around the country increased significantly at lunch time today. Sometimes there are unexpected rewards from travel and my reward today, after take off delays, a bumpy flight, holding patterns over Newark and an airplane traffic jam at the arrival gate was a hotel shuttle bus actually waiting at the curb for me, a charming driver, a quick and friendly check in and a quiet room with a soft bed at the Newark Airport Marriott.  The TV works, the lamps all work (and the light is actually bright enough to see) and I have 7 soft pillows all to myself.  Sometimes it is the unexpected that can surprise and delight a tired traveler.  This is my new favorite hotel and the Steakhouse downstairs now beckons…..

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My husband and I recently returned from a ten day land and cruise tour of our beautiful state of Alaska.  With so much to see in Alaska, we had the opportunity to experience the best sites by ship, rail, and motorcoach, staying at pristine lodges and cruising on the beautiful Diamond Princess.

Princess Mt. McKinley Lodge - fireweed

Our land tour included a stay in Anchorage, one night each at Mt. McKinley Wilderness Lodge in Denali State Park and Princess Wilderness Lodge located just outside Denali National Park.  Each location offered something unique.

What a thrill to spot moose grazing outside the city limits of Anchorage and to hope for a  look at the majestic beauty of dazzling Mt. McKinley.  Having binoculars close by (more…)

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Frederick Sound“My husband and I just got back from an Alaska cruise by American Safari Cruises.   I have been on over a dozen typical Alaska cruises, but this one was much different.  The cruise ship only holds 36 passengers and we were 32.   Believe it or not we had 7 days of sun – and great food and great up close and personal scenery and excursions in the zodiacs and kayaks.  It was phenomenal!! On a scale of 1-10 I would rate it a 20.  The itinerary is Juneau to Juneau for 7 days, spending 2 of those days in Glacier Bay.  We saw all there is to see of wildlife, but in a much more  ‘close up’  position.  We were chasing humpback whales and in a ring of them in Frederick Sound.  We saw them breach several times and many, many times slap their long fins in the water, plus of course the tail dives.  I highly recommend American Safari Cruises (this is our second one now), and as to service, the staff couldn’t do enough for you.  Food was super, and drinks plentiful.  I would go back in a minute if I could.   The rates may seem higher than other cruises, but you have to take into consideration that all of your excursions are included, along with bar, not to mention going where and when we wanted to.  It was worth every penny.”  By Dianne H.

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