This is not going to be a normal trip report, but this hasn’t exactly been a normal year.
Those of you that follow me know that generally I don’t post pictures of myself or my family, but this particular vacation is really best expressed in the family photos – it was a celebration of life, of my parents being thankfully both vaccinated and healthy, of our being able to fly again, of the bad dreams we’ve been walking through slowly starting to recede as we collectively awake and begin anew.
And it felt that way, from the moment we landed – greeted at the door of the plane by a golf cart and whisked through customs in air conditioned comfort; our time from touchdown to enjoying a tropical cocktail on our balcony was less than an hour – for real.
The Hyatt Ziva in Cap Cana was built in late 2019, and it’s decor is completely on trend – reclaimed wood, super funky coffee outlets and rum bars, and shimmering through the open air lobby is the long white stretch of Cap Cana’s white sand beach and glittering turquoise water.
After being welcomed into the air conditioned club lounge with a cold drink, we were checked in, current Covid protocols were reviewed, and we were shown to our rooms. Our suites on the club level were oversized and super well appointed – the one bedroom has two bathrooms so nobody has to wait or share. Our double balcony over looked the pool with the ocean in the distance.
Highlights of our trip included luxurious breakfasts in the Club-exclusive cafe, ocean water that was clear as glass and warm enough that strolling in required no encouragement, family time in the lazy river at their all new water park with loop de loop slides, and a vivid pool scene with bumping music and chaise-side cocktail service.
As with all the Ziva resorts, while there is one “buffet” (now fully staff-served from behind plexiglass barriers), the majority of dining outlets are a la carte – we found the Italian spot, Noodles and Thread, to be particularly exceptional. Note that reservations are not taken and all dining is first come first serve. Nightly shows included pop music cover acts, a magician and an acrobatics troupe.
The question I know you’re asking is, what did it feel like – and that’s an easy answer. We felt extremely safe and protected in all circumstances. The resort requires masks in all common areas, including walking to and from the restaurant tables. Seating for the nightly entertainment was studiously placed six feet apart. All staff wore masks, and the testing process prior to leaving the resort was handled in a completely professional and organized fashion.
All in all we couldn’t imagine a more perfect way to emerge from our yearlong cocoon together. You can tell, I think, from the smiles on our faces that we were eager and enraptured with our time together in the sun as a family.
Escaping from reality is on all of our minds these days. So we in the northeast are super lucky to be able to hop on a plane and in less than two hours emerge in a warm, sunny climate full of southern hospitality, charming scenery and outstanding food around every corner. To reset our cabin fevered brains and get one last gasp of summer, two seasoned travel advisors and great friends traveled to South Carolina where we found, to our great delight, that there is indeed life outside our own homes!
I’m going to deviate from my usual format of free-form narration in this entry, rather, you’re getting an inside peek at the “trip report” my colleague and I put together to share with the rest of our advisors. Report Collaboration and Photo Credits: Mauricio Buenaventura, Smartflyer
Duration: 7 days, 6 nights
We Love it For: Couples, Families, Mother/Daughter or Bachelorette getaways, Bachelor/Gentlemen’s parties, Golf Groups
Trip Style: Relaxation, sightseeing, golf and culinary
Agent Notes: From the beach to the links to charming mansions, Low Country has a LOT to offer!
TRIP HIGHLIGHTS: 1. Sunset views on the beaches of Hilton Head and Kiawah
2. Discovering the hidden secrets of Savannah’s many squares on a city tour
3. Play like the Pros at Kiawah
4. Exploring the Gastronomy and Craft Brewery Scene in Charleston
Day 1: Rolling into Town in Style Touch down in Savannah and pick up your rental car – a convertible isn’t strictly mandatory, but absolutely encouraged! Especially coming out of the cold rain of the northeast fall, we were so happy to let that southern sun warm our arms and shoulders! A short drive to Hilton Head Island, where you enter Sea Pines island and smile at the kids riding bikes all around you. After checking into your room overlooking the impeccably groomed links; freshen up and head down to the beach for a sunset cocktail and dinner under the stars. Day 2: A Resort for All Seasons Spend your day enjoying all Sea Pines has to offer – stroll the marina and harbor, lounge on their private stretch of beach and wiggle your toes in the sand, get out and golf on one of their three exemplary courses or spend the afternoon playing tennis, biking, kayaking or horseback riding! This resort offers a Virtuoso Inn with a pool, Condo-style set up apartments, Villas, and Homes in countless different sizes, locations and configurations so there’s an option for any travel party to stay comfortably. Day 3: Exploring Savannah After enjoying a bakery breakfast at the local sweet shop on Hilton Head, ease the convertible back on the road and into Savannah. A guided tour is a great way to get a feel for any city, and this one is no exception. Some favored sites included the park bench where Forrest told the world that “life is like a box of chocolates,” and the original home Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction used as a model, as well as the many historic square parks with inviting shade under centennial trees around homes which are all historic architectural gems. A great way to spend the afternoon is strolling along the riverfront with quaint stores and waterfront places for dessert, shopping and hanging out. A lunch at Vic’s is a must do! From Savannah you’ll continue on to Kiawah Island. This sweeping island resort offers a variety of residences (beachfront and waterfront houses widely available due to the many inlets, and villas of two, three, four and more bedrooms in private communities, as well as a The Sanctuary at Kiawah, a Virtuoso five star hotel. Not to mention some of the best golf the east coast has to offer. Kiawah Island Resort offers 14 dining outlets so options abound to taste local southern cuisine, more continental fare as well as traditional country club style meals without even stepping out of the gates of the Resort. Make sure to take time on the way to stop and see the world famous Angel Oak – this massive tree has a branch span of about 160 feet, and is estimated at almost 500 years old. There is something undoubtedly magical about stepping under its vast canopy.
Day 4: Fore! Or in the alternative, FOUR hours in the spa Today you can start with a great round of golf in one of the magnificent 5 courses. The Ocean Course is home to the 2021 PGA Championship and the most coveted by visitors for its sweeping views bordering the Atlantic Ocean. If you are not a golfer, you can might instead choose to luxuriate at the Spa, offered at The Sanctuary hotel, where multiple treatments are on offer in a serene but modern setting. Onwards would be great to have No stay on Kiawah Island would be complete without experiencing lunch at the beautiful Ryder Cup Bar which offers panoramic golf course and ocean views. The afternoon could be used to stroll or bike around the resort or spend at the expansive stretch of powdery sand beach that goes for miles. Avid golfers and spa-goers alike will delight in meeting at the “19th hole” at one of many bars around the island enjoy magical sunset views and craft cocktails after a relaxing day.
Onward to Charleston! Welcome to Charleston – the Holy City (so named for the myriad churches and steeples visible across the sky line – but to us it was more like – HOLY MOLY is the food here amazing! The beautiful thing about Charleston is that there is a hotel for every personality type – and they all have tremendous history. From the Wentworth Mansion and Zero George – both five star experiences with every modern convenience lovingly retrofit into homes built in the 1800s to the Belmond Charleston Place, which was the the first luxury resort built in the city to the newer additions of the Bennett, the Dewberry and Emiline which are modern in decor and are more lifestyle hotels with bars and rooftops.
Fortunately this city is completely pedestrian friendly, so a great way to find your bearings is a guided walking tour, offered by many companies arranged by your helpful hotel concierge. These entertaining and lively tours will highlight the main streets and attractions, while giving you a perspective and sense of history and culture that surrounds this incredible city
Want to live it like the locals do? Enjoy a stroll on historic King Street which traverses the city with great authentic, locally owned shops (as well as some popular brand names) as well as trendy restaurants and bars in the heart of the city center. This is a great spot to choose one of the various traditional southern fare spots for an amazing lunch.
After this you can head to the Charleston City Market, which stretches 4 city blocks full of arts and crafts, opportunities for all important souvenir shopping and a surrounding vibrant neighborhood. With all of the days purchases in hand, head to one of the great rooftop bars/restaurants to round up the day. The rooftop at The Dewberry has all the cool vibes at this time – and your travel advisor has the inner connection to get you one of their coveted reservations at sunset. If interested in a nighttime activity, you could take one of the Ghost Tours that visit mansions and locations that are famous for being haunted, or return to King Street for the nightlife – jazz clubs, spiked slushee pop ups and a rollicking energy make this the place to be.
To get the blood going in the morning you can gear up with sneakers and comfortable clothes and head to the Arthur Ravenel Jr Bridge, a spectacular cable-stayed 2.5 mile bridge with an impeccable walking and biking path that provides the best views of all of Charleston – river, ocean, Naval bases and beyond. After the walk, reward yourself by heading to Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits, which offers a wide variety of delicious breakfast (and all day) meal options .
Chill Now might be a great time to chill at your hotel – many of the resorts in Charlestons have fantastic pools, and with weather in the 80s well into November, it’s a great perk! After relaxing for a bit to catch your breath, get ready for a late lunch at Leon’s Poultry and Oyster Shop, the place for some of the best fried chicken and every variation of oyster imaginable in an authentic lively set up. A boozy afternoon can always start with their frozen gin tonic or frose as well as their extensive beer list.
With a full belly you can now proceed to enjoy the wonderful Craft Brewery scene that Charleston has to offer. You can design your own tour (at least 6 breweries are walking distance) or let an organized company like Charleston Brews Cruise haul you around in a vehicle to the best breweries in town. The piece de resistance – ending your day at Revelry Brewery to catch Sunset at their hopping rooftop terrace with great selection on tap and friendly staff. Back to King Street to your hotel and maybe a farm to table meal one of several James Beard-award winning restaurants around the area. Your concierge can provide recommendations from the most down home casual to elevated fine dining.
All good things must come to an end – we recommend a strong coffee and french pastry at the Bennett Hotel, to fortify yourself for the fifteen minute car ride to the airport where you’ll head home with your heart full of wonderful memories, your body full of incredible food and an short flight to return from having experienced a whole different world just 2 hours away from your home in the Northeast.
For my husband’s 50th birthday, we were supposed to go to Greece.
Greece. Mediterranean waters, outrageous cuisine and epic sunsets… as the world has changed so dramatically around us, we had to let that drift away.
But we still wanted to celebrate; still wanted a family vacation that would be luxurious, engaging and have great food. So we packed up our car and headed for Boston!
Of course it’s not going to compare to Greece, but we definitely pulled out a pretty amazing trip; it felt great to be back on the road and staying in such lovely hotels, experiencing wonderful fine dining and learning a ton about our nation’s history.
We began our trip by checking into the first of two hotels – the Mandarin Oriental Boston, located in the historic Back Bay and freshly renovated as of this summer! The lobby is grand and sweeping with an inviting fireplace and a warm greeting by name from the friendly staff. It feels a bit like you’ve wandered into an elegant jewelry box – shiny surfaces and glittering lights.
After our socially distanced check in, the front desk staff invited us to “follow Mobi” to our rooms – to our surprise and delight, Mobi, the Mandarin Oriental’s robot mascot – literally escorted us along our path to the elevator where he selected our floor for us, rode up with us in the elevator, and led us directly to our door! The room was lovely – freshly renovated, warm and inviting, with an array of sweet treats awaiting our late night snack cravings as well as complimentary “safety kits” with masks, sanitizer and gloves.
We had a great night’s sleep and had a marvelous room service breakfast (included with our stay under Mandarin’s #FansofMO program). We were so excited to stretch out legs and walk the few blocks to the Boston Common where we met up with our costumed historian guide for a theatrical tour of the history of our great nation. History truly came alive for our son as we visited Paul Revere’s tomb, the site of the Boston Massacre, and Faneuil Hall. I cannot recommend our guide from History at Play enough – Judith was a fabulous and engaging entertainer. One on one with a local guide is such a great way to learn about a new city.
After our tour we checked into our next hotel – the fabulous Four Seasons One Dalton Street. This sleek, chic resort brings a winky bit of fun to the traditional five star luxury experience we all expect from the FS brand. Social distancing practices were evident upon check in with a mandatory questionnaire and temperature check for every person walking in the front door. After our warm greeting we we shown to our room – which a truly epic marble bathroom – the centerpiece being a massive white soaking tub with a city view! Outstanding!
About a half hour after check in we had a knock at the door and opened it to find a cocktail cart and our own private bartender who mixed us craft beverages from the hallway – the presentation was great, old school and so fun. We spent the late afternoon at 60 foot indoor pool, coming down in time to change for our amazing Italian dinner in the famous North End.
The next morning we enjoyed our Preferred Partner breakfast from room service, and headed to meet our amphibious Duck Boat – these super cool buses actually turn into boats and float up the Charles, giving you a coastal view of the city. Our tour guide was hilarious! After the tour we swung by the front desk and picked up a fall themed picnic basket – lovingly prepared by the chef at the Four Seasons. We strolled along the Esplinade until we found a spot under a willow tree, and enjoyed sunset views with our delicious charcuterie, and then spent the early evening strolling on Newbury Street and people watching.
The next morning was our departure day, but we just couldn’t go home without experiencing the high tea offered at the resort’s Trifecta lobby bar.
Author’s note: This was our first really trip since the pandemic began. We were a little nervous – less so about the protocols because we chose our hotels carefully, but more about whether there would be enough for us to do and how it would “feel” to be tourists right now. It was a marvelous escape, as the pictures hopefully show, and we are already planning our next city escape to Philadelphia – so stay tuned!!!
“You’ve got to be KIDDING me!” That was my reaction when I checked into my room at Miraval and was handed a soft cloth ‘sleeping bag’ for my cell phone.
Just a short four hour flight from New York, Miraval shouldn’t feel that far away, but arriving there and being told that my constant electronic leash/companion/security blanket was going to have to stay in my room made me feel like I was on a different planet. However, as instructed I set my intentions for my stay (break iPhone addiction, drink more water), threw on some yoga pants and flip flops and fully committed to the program.
Miraval is a well established spa and immersive wellness resort that recently opened their newest outlet in Austin, TX. I was invited there as a guest to check out their programs and facilities in October.
Unlike some other wellness-focus resorts, Miraval does offer alcohol, making it a super popular option for bachelorette parties, mother/daughter getaways and other special and fun occasions. However, there’s also plenty of space here for quiet meditation, holistic healing therapies and self reflection that make it perfect for those getting back to themselves after a life changing event.
The highlights of Miraval are plentiful – including amazing food and beverage outlets (all meals and non alcoholic beverages are included in your stay) that are thoughtfully located and offer delicious and healthful options throughout the day. For example, one therapist suggested to me to grab a yogurt and granola on the way back to my room in the evening so that I could sleep late in the morning and not miss breakfast. It was a great tip and the “grab and go” bar had plenty of other guilt free options for late night and early morning snacking.
The resort boasts two pools with phenomenal views; one more social with a great bar and cafe, and the other more intimate and quiet, located behind the spa. And the spa!!! Definitely the centerpiece of the property, this lofted tranquil space defies description, after the magicians there render you speechless with their expert treatments, you curl up in a decadent lounger with a tea overlooking mountains and valley and have to fight to keep your eyes open – that’s how relaxed this place makes you feel.
The fitness and meditative offerings are too plentiful to enumerate; amongst the most popular are floatation meditation (done in the yoga barn where you are suspended from the ceiling on silk scarves), their “horse of a different color” equine therapy in which you finger-paint directly onto a horse’s flank, and guided visits of their working farm and apiary where you can literally pick what you’ll eat for dinner that night.
The rooms are spacious and airy, the food is nutritious, plentiful and lovingly prepared and the vibe is luxurious, contemplative and fun.
PS By the time I was zipping up my suitcase to go home, I was going as long as four hours without checking my emails! I slipped that “cell phone sleeping bag” into my carry on to bring some of my newly found inner peace home with me.
In March of this year I was lucky enough to be hosted by One&Only Resorts on a life changing trip to the mountains of Rwanda. This quick five night jaunt wound up being the last long haul traveller this lifetime frequent flier undertook before the pandemic gripped the US and grounded us all – I couldn’t have picked a more important, culturally significant or visually amazing “last trip” to have taken.
Upon arrival in Kamembe, we were transferred by private car and driver to One&Only’s Nyungwe House – located in southwest Rwanda (on the Burundi border south of lake Kivu) this luxury resort is set amongst acres of tea plantation. As we pulled in we were greeted by tea pickers moving at lightening speed. The House is on the edge of Nyungwe National Park, and covers over 1000 km of some of the last mountain rainforest habitats on the planet.
After a leisurely lunch, we shook off our jet lagged cobwebs from a dizzying perspective – a canopy walk on hanging bridges 75 meters above the forest floor.
The mornings in Rwanda do necessarily start before the sun rises – but it was well worth it to encounter one of East Africa’s last intact chimpanzee population in their natural habitat. Guided by expert trackers, we took a challenging hike to observe these playful and fast moving creatures as they dashed through the flora wild and free.
The afternoon was well spent in the spa, because that hike was no joke. And our dinner was an epic and singular traditional African BBQ at the Boma, where we gathered around a fire pit and enjoyed vibrant music and dance performed by a local cooperative under the stars.
The following morning I skipped the hike in favor of a private tour of Chef Treasure Makwanise’s gardens. The gardens themselves were wonderful, lush and bursting forth with delicious offerings; but more impactful by far was listening to Treasure talk about his family background and experience immigrating from South Africa to Rwanda as a homeless teenager, and the hard work and perseverance that went in to making him the Executive Chef at such an esteemed resort at the young age of 27. His journey was poignant, remarkable, and was shared with me so easily and simply that I’m not sure he realized what a gift it was to hear it.
The following morning we began our transfer bright and early to our next stop – One&Only Gorilla House. The trek begins with a short flight to Kigali.
Kigali is a sparkling city – you could search high and low and see not a drop of litter, graffiti. Our driver guide proudly tells us that what keeps the country clean and organized is ‘Umuganda,’ or community service. Umuganda is practiced on the last Saturday morning of every month: a member of each household in Rwanda must participate for at least three hours in cleaning, fixing or maintenance of public spaces. The activity is more than just community service, it’s seen as a social gathering and woven into the fabric of their community.
It’s important for context to remember and consider the all to recent complex historic events that shaped Rwanda’s current culture. We spent the afternoon at the Kigali Genocide Museum and Memorial, which is a must to gain even a peripheral understanding of the country.
The memorial was opened in 2004 to mark the tenth commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It is the final resting place for up to 259,000 victims of the genocide and serves as a place where people can grieve for their lost loved ones and remember them. It also serves as a museum where both local and international visitors can learn about the history, implementation, and consequences of the genocide. The memorial also runs a number of education programs, both onsite and in communities across Rwanda with a mission to prevent mass atrocities from ever occurring again in their communities.
After that prolific experience, we finished our journey to Gorilla House. Cushioned in the foothills of the breathtaking Virunga Volcanoes mountain range, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest makes the magical possible – five star luxury with every creature comfort in the middle of an other worldly exotic natural habitat.
A pre-requirement for gorilla trekking is a meeting with a Gorilla Doctor or conservation experts, these Doctors are dedicated to conserving wild mountain and eastern lowland (or Grauer’s) gorillas through life-saving veterinary medicine and a One Health approach. The international team of veterinarians is the only group providing these critically endangered animals with direct, hands-on care in the wild. We learned about what to expect during our trek, the proper gear to wear, and the terrain that we might be assigned to.
Once again we were up before dawn, but so excited that coffee wasn’t even a necessity. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is often described as “life-changing” and with good reason. With only an estimated 880 Gorillas left in the world, to see these gentle creatures in their natural habitat are a truly unique moment. Hikes in the mountains can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours+ depending on the family allocated to your group and their location. The journey back can take just as long, but we were totally carried along by the euphoria experienced after coming face to face with a Silverback. We were lucky enough to see a family with a baby, two young “toddlers” and an adolescent male. The pictures are incredible but even they don’t really do the trip justice.
The next morning we grabbed a jeep ride back to Kigali for our flight home – after being off the grid for five days, it was surreal to hear about COVID and come into JFK where many people were wearing masks already. The memories of this special trip carried me forward these past months, and I’ll forever be grateful and changed by the opportunity to experience this amazing country.
I am writing this from my Alcoba Swim Up Suite here at Unico 2087, sipping a smooth crafted cocktail and admiring one last sunset.
Riviera Maya’s newest addition, this adults only paradise called Unico (more…)