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Archive for the ‘Romance’ 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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Linda and Warren H. traveled to Costa Rica this spring for the first time and had quite an adventure! They visited Monteverde and the Quepos and Manuel Antonio areas. This is what they had to say:

“We had a FABULOUS time! All the arrangement worked out great.  The drivers were on time, the hotels had our reservations, the flights  were perfect, and we LOVED COSTA RICA!

I’ll take a little time to tell you about it now because, to tell you the truth, I’m a little depressed about being back and I like talking about the trip!  Of course, the road to Monteverde was a surprise even though I knew what to expect.  But it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the adventure and the scenery very much.  Even saw a rainbow as we got higher.  Hotel Belmar was on a beautiful site–spacious lush grounds and high enough to see the Pacific.  Selvatura was wonderful.  It wasn’t crowded so we took our time and spent about 3 hours on the hanging bridges, then visited the hummingbird garden.  We discovered that Warren is an excellent “spotter” and he even pointed out animals to our guides throughout the trip.  We also went on a night tour.  The hotel itself was nice enough.  It’s pretty old and smelled a little musty, but it was quaint.  The only real disadvantage was that it is far from town.  Breakfast was excellent.  We ate the rest of our meals in town.  One full day was just enough time there.
It was very exciting to go down the mountain the next day and get closer and closer glimpses of the ocean.  Arenas del Mar is gorgeous!!!!  You have to go there the next time!  It feels like it’s the only hotel for miles around because they’ve kept so much of the rain forest intact.  We felt like royalty from the beginning.  The check-in process was very smooth.  They greeted us at the welcome pavilion and took us and our bags (on golf carts) up the steep, winding path to the reception area (spotting a sloth on the way up) and gave us delicious drinks while they took our bags on to the room.  Our room wasn’t quite ready but we didn’t mind sitting by the pool overlooking Manuel Antonio.  Breathtaking!  Our room was in the lowest building, which meant we were right on the secluded beach where the outdoor lunch area and second pool were.  The beach was so perfect–lots of sun and waves for Warren and all the shade I could ever want.  It never felt crowded even though the hotel was full.  There were always plenty of chairs and room to spread out under the trees.  Lots of white-faced monkeys and 2 sloths entertained us every day on the beach.  And the iguanas were so interesting and comical.  We could hear howler monkeys a lot but they were harder to spot.
The food at the main restaurant was excellent.  There were plenty of vegetarian options for us and they even gave us an additional vegetarian menu to pre-order for a future nights if we wanted to.  We also splurged and took advantage of the spa–very nice.  (We were given a free demonstration on the beach.)
We took two excursions.  The first was a guided walk through Manuel Antonio park.  Our guide was wonderful and since we only had 6 people in our group he was able to answer all of our questions and help us take pictures.  The only disappointment we had was that all the trails except 1 were closed (due to landslides) and that made it a little crowded.  The next day we did a zip line tour and loved it!!!  The one we took was by Safari.  It included lunch (surprisingly large) and a butterfly garden tour.  The course had 11 zip lines, 2 ropes to rappel, and a tarzan swing.  I didn’t know if I would be afraid, but I had no problem at all.  I was very impressed with how it was run.
The hotel staff were superb.  They encouraged us to learn Spanish.  We got to know several  of the staff personally.  I could go on and on about how well we were treated.  We did a little exploring in Quepos and ate 2 dinners there.  The food was good.
Our overall impression of Costa Rica was that the people are very friendly and the country is very beautiful, with mountains and beaches very close.  We were glad that we didn’t rent a car.  We heard from several people who got lost or felt it wasn’t worth the expense.  We are telling everyone that they have to go.  If we had had more time we would have like Arenal, I’m sure.  Everyone we talked to said it is gorgeous.  But I felt like we spent the time we had wisely.
Thanks SO much for all your help.  All of your suggestions were right on target and very helpful.  I don’t see how any hotel in that area could be any better (than Arenas del Mar).  Being right on the beach and in such a lush forest made it very special.”  by Linda H.

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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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Here’s what clients who recently returned from an anniversary Mediterrenean cruise aboard the Crown Princess with an extended stay in Rome & Vencie had to say about their trip.

  

Where do I start…..our trip was AMAZING!!!!  All went well with our flight to Rome and our transfer to our hotel. The driving in Rome was a little scary, but we made it to our hotel just fine! Our hotel was teeny tiny but nice…I would dare to say that our room was smaller than our room on the ship, but we didn’t mind since we didn’t spend much time there!!! Upon arrival we dropped our bags, took a quick nap and then headed to the Colosseum. Before we left we downloaded a bunch of Rick Steve’s podcasts which ended up being great! We just walked in to the Colosseum, put on our headphones, hit play & got a step by step tour guide from Rick Steves….we would highly recommend this for future travelers!! After the Colosseum we headed over to Vatican City, as you recommended it was best to go there late in the day..that was great advice, we were able to walk right in, put on our headphones & do our own tour. We heard from a lot of our friends on the ship that they waited in lines that wrapped around the square!!! That evening we enjoyed a great meal and then walked in the rain around Rome, had gelato and saw the Pantheon & Trevi Fountain. The next morning we got up early to go to the Roman Forum where we once again did the Rick Steve’s tour & then grabbed our bags and headed to the train station. The train to Civitavecchia was confusing but we managed to make it to the port eventually. The walk to the port was also confusing, but we followed the crowds…the craziest part was the steep staircases we had to lug our luggage up & down!!  (Note from agent: we strongly recommend all our travelers pre-book car or shuttle transportation to and from the port to avoid such hassles).
 
Princess Cruises was all that I hoped for and more. H. and I were both curious about what we would think about cruising & both of us ended up absolutely loving it! The service, atmosphere, prices, entertainment & food were all excellent!! We ended up becoming friends with a few other couples and really enjoyed sitting on their balcony each evening before dinner while drinking wines that we had bought at port!  The first three days of the cruise were exciting as well as exhausting since we signed up for full day excursions in Cannes, Florence & Naples. After the back to back excursions we made some changes to our plans so we had more free time on our own for the future ports…we were glad we did this, but wish we had downloaded Rick Steve’s podcasts for those locations.
 
I would have to say that we loved the island of Santorini the most. Corfu, Capri & Sorrento were all close to the top as well, but riding a donkey up the cliff in Santorini, eating delicious Greek food & riding four-wheelers all over the island led to Santorini winning out!  We were fortunate to not see any strife in or around Greece considering we were there right around the time of the riots.  Athens was quiet since we were there on a Sunday!  
 
Ending the trip in Venice was wonderful….what a beautiful, unique city!! We had a very smooth transfer to our hotel by utilizing the vaporettas. Our hotel (the Casa Verardo) was nice & the location was ideal. We spent the day & night getting lost as well as hanging around St. Mark’s Square…seeing it flood at night was wild!
 
The next morning we had breakfast & headed out to the airport. The flight back was great & as much as we loved our vacation, it was nice to finally be home!
 
Thank you for all of the time that you spent helping us plan this once in a lifetime vacation. Your planning and advice fit just right with what we were looking for in a 2-week European getaway! Thank you for helping to make our dreams become reality! By K.C.L.

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100_5165Paris – Ooh-la-la, what a delightful city!  With over 100 museums, historical buildings and monuments located within a block or two of the Seine, this is a wonderful, walkable city.  First time visitors will want to do Paris’  Hop-on/Hop-off bus tour.  It is a great way to orient yourself to all that Paris has to offer and chances are that you will still be fatigued from your less than perfect international flight.  Your body will appreciate an easy touring day.  This bus tour can be booked prior to your arrival for seamless hop-on and go use. *Tip – The Paris Museum Pass is available for 2, 4, or 6 days.  Use the Pass with your Hop-on and off bus to maximize your experience.  The best feature of the Pass is the ability to skip the often very long lines at the most popular sights.  Your time in Paris is precious.  Don’t waste it. (more…)

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