Monday, October 12, 2015

Bermuda Bound

When you have a 3 day weekend, it's tempting to get out of town! But travel time to many destinations makes 3 days too short for a getaway.  Did you know Bermuda is about 90 minutes nonstop from NYC, Philly, or Atlanta?  It is easy to get to, making it a great place for a quick trip... but once you get there I'll bet you wish you had more time!

Bermuda is on the rise.  The island is home to the 2017 America's Cup, which means the best sailors in the world will be descending on Bermuda for the events. Between now and then, many qualifying races bring buzz to the island... starting with the World Series this upcoming weekend.  We were lucky to see many sail boats already in the harbor this weekend in anticipation of the races, and for the Gold Cup this weekend. 

Bermuda also offers some of the best beaches... white (and pink!) sand and clear blue water.  Even in October the weather is mild (high 70s) and the water was warm enough to go in.  The warmest times of year are March to October. 

Many travelers want to be able to go out to dinner and spend time in town outside their resort.  Bermuda is a safe and fun destination for this, with many great restaurants on Front Street and in town.  You are also able to take hikes and walks to explore the coastline, cove beaches, and the colorful houses that Bermuda is famous for. It is perfectly safe, clean, and charming to explore off your resort property.

With 5 Virtuoso properties to choose from, there is a perfect fit for everyone! Give us a call and we'll discuss which is right for you!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hello from Hong Kong!

Reporting from the skies after a whirlwind 24 hours in Hong Kong! I'm en route to Bali and so excited to get there, but what a tease to only have 1 night to spend in the energizing city of Hong Kong.  When planning my Bali trip, my flight options included flying Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong.  I knew I had to make time to stop to see this booming modern city.  It is the perfect stopover city en route to many Asian destinations from the US and it's a no brainer - no visa required, everyone speaks English, it's super safe, and one of the most dynamic modern cities in the world.  
The best decision we made was hiring a guide to help us efficiently see the city in the short time we had.  I trust Abercrombie & Kent Hong Kong with my clients so I arranged for a guide to meet us at the hotel and we'd go around the city for the day, on foot, by ferry, and by taxi. It was a great way to get around the city like a local and also cover lots of ground. Our guide Angela was excellent.  Originally from Shanghai, she has lived in Hong Kong most of her life and is a wealth of knowledge on the history of Hong Kong.  In a city that has completely transformed over the last 20 years, it is so cool to hear about it from someone who has experienced the city's boom first hand.  A huge benefit of having an A&K guide includes skipping the line at the Victoria Peak tram - crucial as we would have wasted half our day in that line! A local guide also offers expert ordering advice at a dim sum lunch, and a perfect recommendation for a boutique filled with only Hong Kong designers (can't wait to show off my new fall coat when I get home!).   

Our favorite parts of the day were:
  • exploring in Soho and Hollywood Road area... a very international and hip neighborhood full of shops, restaurants of every type of cuisine you can think of, galleries and bars. 
  • visiting a Taoist temple (the oldest in Hong Kong) where they honor the gods of public service and martial arts. The scents were incredible as the ceiling is covered in hanging incense spirals which burn for days.
  • the bird park... think "dog park" but for birds. Yes, bird owners bring their birds to the bird park to socialize and chatter with their other bird friends. You wouldn't want your pet bird to be lonely, would you?  The price of real estate in Hong Kong means most people in Hong Kong live in small condos and apartments, so having a larger pet like a dog or cat is not as feasible. Birds make the perfect pocket-size pet!
  • taking the ferry across Victoria Harbor. I wish that was my daily commute. 
After a long day of running around Hong Kong, it was time for a cocktail! The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong in the ICC building boasts the highest bar in the world - Ozone - on the 118th floor.  It is amazing how one of the highest cities in the world can look so small when you see it from above.  (The good news: no, I did not have another fear-of-heights meltdown like at the Eiffel Tower :))

We had the great privilege of laying our heads in one of the most iconic hotels in the world, the Peninsula Hong Kong.  The hotel is famous not only for its impeccable service (led by the gracious (and gorgeous) general manager Ms. Rainy Chan) and afternoon tea (perfect people watching), but also for its fleet of hunter green Rolls Royces.  It is an absolute MUST that you splurge on the Rolls Royce airport transfers when you are staying here.  It completes the whole experience of the stay... and you have a luxurious and smooth ride with wifi.  I highly recommend the Harbour View rooms in the Tower building, overlooking Victoria Harbour and with spectacular views of Hong Kong Island.  Waking up and falling asleep to the view is the definition of "sense of place".

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

In Defense of the Spa-cation

For Christmas I gifted my mom with a Spa Day at the Four Seasons Baltimore. But this was also a gift for myself... of course it was a Mother-Daughter spa day, and I'd been dying to experience the Four Seasons spa since it opened just a few years ago. We'd leave that day wondering what took us so long to get there... and how soon we'd be back! So on a cold Sunday January morning, we bundled up and headed downtown for some post-holidays R&R.

You may be asking yourself... what were 2 self-respecting Ravens fans doing at the spa on a Sunday during the playoffs? Don't worry, the Ravens had already beaten the Steelers the night before.

The Spa at the Four Seasons Baltimore is a true urban oasis. You enter to first class facilities, a well appointed changing and locker room, with plenty of space and amenities to put yourself back together comfortably post-spa . Then you step into the Serenity Area (as I have named it). They have a brilliant Vitality Pool with individual seating compartments with personal jets... I spent about 30 minutes in there waiting for Deb and another 15 with her, so my body was thoroughly relaxed and loosened up for my massage! There is, of course, a nice sauna, steam room, ice bath, and huge multi-function rain shower. Finally, we relaxed on the heated tile spa loungers to warm up those muscles.

My advice to you is to arrive at least 1 hour prior to your treatment time in order to take advantage of the spa facilities. When you book a treatment at the spa, you have access all day, so you could book an afternoon treatment and come in the morning for hours of relaxation and even order a spa lunch. In the summer time, this is an even richer opportunity because spa access includes pool access... so you can take plenty of time to come early for your treatment and enjoy Baltimore's best outdoor pool with expansive views over the harbor.

Our treatments were five star. I considered getting the creative Seasonal Spa Treatment: the Baltimore Beer Treatment. This includes a scrub, which is a blend of iconic Baltimore staples –Natty BOH beer and Domino Sugar. How fun!  Tempting, but instead we both got hot stone massages. It was my first hot stone, my mom always gets hot stone, and we were equally impressed. We were so pleased with our massages that we basically couldn't speak as we spent another 45 minutes in the relaxation room regaining our composure. I felt like zen jello the rest of the day... now that's the way you want to feel after a spa experience. 

Now all we wanted to do was stay in our robes, ghost up to our room, and order room service. Unfortunately it was a Sunday and I had to be back In DC for work in the morning, but if you have the time, it is so worth making your spa day a staycation and spending the night at the Four Seasons. Book a room with a harbor view and you'll have the best hotel room view in all of Baltimore. Once you've recovered from your spa treatment (and rehydrated) head downstairs to the bar for a cocktail. You can lounge on their fun leather chairs and ottomans and take in the view from the floor to ceiling windows facing the harbor. Top off your staycation with dinner at Michael Mina's Wit & Wisdom, one of Baltimore's best restaurants. If you're there for the weekend, remember the Four Seasons is right in the heart of Harbor East with great restaurants within walking distance, and shopping from South Moon Under to Under Armor... and a favorite boutique Handbags in the City.

When you book your stay with a Four Seasons Preferred Partner like McCabe World Travel you'll receive the following benefits with our compliments:
  • Daily full American breakfast for two people per bedroom, served through In-Room Dining or in the hotel restaurant (including buffets)
  • Food and beverage credit of $100
  • Upgrade of one category, based on availability at time of check-in (excluding signature suites)
  • Complimentary basic Internet (up to 2 devices) in all guest rooms, complimentary premium Internet (up to 4 devices) in all suites.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Nieuw Amsterdam

Even though this post is overdue (and highly anticipated I'm sure!) I'm still so excited to tell you about my December trip to Amsterdam!  The last time I was in Amsterdam was 2007 and on a student budget.  The city has been a destination on the rise with lots of new hotel openings, the Rijksmuseum reopening, and lots of new river cruises departing from the port - so it was high time for me to get back and check it out! The fact that my best friend Grace is living there was also a motivating factor :)  So I bought my ticket, packed my bags for a cold week in Northern Europe in December, and I was off! 
Twins Reunited! View from SKYLOUNGE Amsterdam.
My reunion with Amsterdam was everything I imagined and more! Personally, I found the city so warm (friendly, not the temps in December), easy to stroll and enjoy, and simply picturesque with the canals, bridges, and iconic architecture.  Professionally, I was blown away by the new hotel options there. The great news is, I loved every one, but in a different way and for a different traveler. So if Amsterdam is on your list, there is a perfect hotel for you there!

I was reminded how accessible and walkable the city is... we walked everywhere! Amsterdam's tram system is tourist-friendly when you need it, and of course you could rent a bike to get around, but beware of getting run over by the locals. The Dutch are expert commuters on bicycles and they are not very fond of slow tourists fumbling on bikes in their way (DC friends: think about how you feel when tourists stand on the left side of the metro escalator!!).  You'll see moms riding their bike with a baby on their back, another child in a front carrier, two grocery bags... and texting!
Quintessential Canal View!
Now what do you do there?  Amsterdam's largest and most important museum is the Rijksmuseum,
which was closed for 10 years for renovations and reopened in 2013. This is a must-see and you should save at least a long half-day, even if you are not a museum person.  Not only can you see so many of the famous Dutch Masters' pieces, but the building itself is an incredible sight to see, inside and out.  Nearby you have the Van Gogh Museum, as well as a smaller museum of modern art, the Stedelijk that is worth a visit. You could spend days on Museumplein taking in all the art!

Of course the Anne Frank House is another must-see in Amsterdam, and do get your tickets in advance as lines can be prohibitive.  Another fun find (particularly for the ladies) is the Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses near the Rembrantplein where you can learn about the history of women through their accessories - so interesting!
After (and in between) your sightseeing, you'll certainly need to rest your legs and sit down in one of Amsterdam's cafes or traditional brown bars for a cold one.  In Amsterdam, most bars just have one beer on tap (usually Heineken or Amstel of course) so you just order a "bier" and they'll serve you their house draft.  And of course you need some munchies, so order a plate of bitterballen, delicious little fritters to soak up that beer.  Try Cafe Hoppe, where the beer is poured from copper pipes, making it the perfect temperature when served!

Now while there are so many fantastic tried-and-true hotels in Amsterdam, I'm going to focus on the 3 newest additions!
Christmas at Conservatorium

The Conservatorium is a hotel destination - I never wanted to leave!  It is located right next to Museumplein, a wonderful location.  It was a former music school (hence the name) and has been transformed into a contemporary hotel, while keeping some of the original touches to create a charming design hotel.  There is original tilework on the walls in the hallways, the doors are grand at 16' or higher.  The lobby and lounge and casual restaurant are all located in what used to be an outdoor courtyard, but has been enclosed in glass to make it a double-story indoor atrium.  So you have a real sense of bringing the outside in, with greenery and lots of light - this feels so nice in Amsterdam when the weather can be gray much of the time!  The rooms are fairly contemporary European - clean lines and neutral colors.  The top suites are inspired! The architect used much of the original building like exposed beams and brick with an incredible design result.  Have a cocktail at Tunes Bar, which pays homage to all the famous musicians who have called this institution home.

WA Amsterdam Canal Boat View
Another new favorite is the Waldorf Astoria.  It is not far from Rembrandtplein (and right by that purse museum I was telling you about).  The neighborhood is wonderful with lots of restaurants - from traditional corner bars to ethnic food to contemporary spots.  In Waldorf Astoria fashion, the hotel offers luxury with the comforts of home - very homey-feeling bedrooms with touches of Dutchy blue.  It is worth it to go for the canal view room - you'll open your window to a quintessential Amsterdam photo-op. The hotel offers bikes for guests, as well as a hotel canal boat, which makes for a very special arrival transfer, or a nice evening cruise to see the canals all lit up.

Delft done right at the Andaz
The Andaz Amsterdam is another gem! The location right on Prinsengracht cannot be beat.  You are an easy walk to Dam Square and right within The Nine Streets (best boutique shopping ever).  The hotel is a total design win.  The elevator atrium above the lobby is all in delft (sounds kitschy - it's not).  The rooms have funky wall artwork by one of The Netherlands top artists, inspired by the resources of the country, and the hotel boasts contemporary video art throughout. 
So the moral of the story is: if you have never been to Amsterdam, you must go.  And if you haven't been to Amsterdam in 2+ years, you must go back! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rapa Nui (Isla de Pasqua)

It is hard to summarize my experience on Easter Island, called Rapa Nui by the locals, but I can tell you I left a peice of myself there... it is such a special destination and people. Easter Island is one of the most remote places to visit.  It is connected with the rest of the world by once daily flight to Santiago.  Only local Rapa Nui people can own land. The Rapa Nui are Polynesian people, sharing their heritage with Tahitians, Hawaiians, and the Maori of New Zealand. Most islanders are descendants of just a few Rapa Nui families from when the island population was only 111 people. Many islanders are "mestizo" now, with mixed Chilean or European and Rapa Nui heritage but the traditional Rapa Nui culture is still very alive. The locals speak Rapa Nui language and uphold many traditions and fishing/agriculture lifestyle. It is a calm and peaceful island, where time seems to disappear.  A true departure and uninhibited experience for an American! 
The first afternoon we arrived we met our explora guide Niko who would be with us for the duration of our 3 night experience.  He is half Rapa Nui and half Chilean and has lived on Easter Island his whole life, with the exception of a few years in Santiago for university. We took a hike they call "Caves and Cliffs" where we could see the stunning rocky coastline of the island and many volcanic caves. The cave of "Dos Ventanas" (Two Windows) was an incredible cavern with two opposing "windows" overlooking the waves crashing onto the coast below. A very special place to stop for a little meditation and taking in the spirit of the place. We ended the hike on a magnificent cliff with a stunning sunset view. What a welcome! 

The 2nd day on Easter Island was a favorite day of the trip. In the morning we hiked to the huge crater of Rano Kau, the largest volcano on the island. Paige, Christian, and I decided to challenge ourselves to a trail run of about 2 miles around the crater's edge. It was a great rush! At one side of the crater is a small National Park area with preserved traditional Rapa Nui houses of volcanic rock built into the coast. 

Today we had an delicious picnic lunch of fresh fish grilled traditionally over hot stones with fresh grilled vegetables. 

After lunch we headed to one of the most iconic places of Rapa Nui to view the 15 moai! In Rapa Nui the word moai means "witness". These massive stone structures were sculpted to represent chiefs of a tribe after their death. They were all crafted in a huge quarry on the island and brought to an area of the island for that clan. There was a separate quarry of softer rock for the top knots (headdress) of the moai, and also for the coral and obsidian that would make up the eyes. Like many cultures, the Rapa Nui believe the eyes are the window to the soul. There are over one thousand moai on Rapa Nui, scattered throughout the island. After a peaceful era on the island when the Moai were crafted, the Rapa Nui had a civil war where most of the Moai were pulled down by opposing clans. So most of the moai are currently fallen down on the ground but many have been restored upright on their platforms. The 15 Moai are the most moai found together so it must have been one of the most powerful tribes. Of course we had a lot of fun taking photos with these guys!

On our third and final full day on Rapa Nui, we planned to snorkel in the morning but it was rainy so we changed plans. Easter Island has some fantastic snorkeling and scuba the water is so pristine and also great surfing (for an experienced surfer!). We visited the quarry of the top knots as well as the quarry of the moai. There are many moai standing all down the side of the quarry that never made it to their intended home due to the civil war. You can also see many moai half carved into the rock of the quarry but were never completed.

We also learned about the athletic competition called "Birdman" that happened every year on Rapa Nui and is still practiced to this day. In its original form, the clan of the winner of the Birdman competition would take over the mayorship of the island for the next year and the Birdman himself was prized with the most eligible virgin for his wife. Today it is an athletic competition with different challenges that occurs in the first two weeks of February. Challenges include: swimming out to two islands to fetch seabird eggs and swimming back without breaking them, running around the crater with 40lbs of bananas on your back, swimming across a lake on a raft of reeds, and sliding down a volcano on a sled made of banana leaves. Our awesome guide Niko was a recent champion of the competition!

On the way back to the lodge we were stopped by a local horse race going down the middle of the road. A man who looked like the Marlboro Man in a long worn leather jacket was organizing the race of men riding bear back.  Of course one of the guys turned out to be our guides uncle! (It's a small world here!)
For our final night on Rapa Nui we went to Kari Kari, a show of the traditional Rapa Nui dance. Wow, those Polynesians (men and women!) can use their hips! Some of us did not make it through without being pulled up on stage to participate! After the show, some of us stayed in town and went out for some cervezas and bailando with the locals... which made for a tired goodbye in the morning, but we were all very sad to leave... 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Exploring with Explora Atacama

Day 3 those of us up for a challenge woke up for a 7k hike at a higher altitude (3200m or almost 12000ft). The scenery today was unlike what we had seen before... Instead of being on the moon or Mars or in the red rocks,  it felt like we could have been in Arizona with cactus and scrubby vegetation, huge rock formations and a little river running through the canyon.  It is incredible how many different landscapes exist in this desert.  We hiked along the foothills of the Andes up to Puritama hot springs.  This area is a private reserve managed by explora with a private hot spring pool for us. I can tell you it felt amazing to soak in the springs after 2 hours of hiking up in that altitude under the hot desert sun!

Mauricio & Gina
Although my body wanted to take the afternoon off and get a spa treatment in the traditional adobe spa hut at explora, or relax by the pool, I didn't want to miss another experience in the desert.  So after lunch we went off again on a bike ride with Camilla into the Devils Gorge. This was a beautiful canyon with smooth white walls... The energy of the place is palpable and we stopped for a bit to take in the silence and let the nature seep into our bones. It's truly a physical and spiritual experience to be in this place.

Tonight we were all TIRED! A quiet dinner and early to bed... an exhausted group is the sign of a full and happy day!

On Day 4 at Atacama I spent the morning seeing other lodges that my clients have experienced or that I wanted to know. The good news is that they are all different but all wonderful and for a different traveler... so whoever you are, there is a perfect match for you in the Atacama Desert.
This afternoon we went out on our final excursion. Vernie took me and Peter out to the Valle Arco Iris (Rainbow Valley) where red rock hills meet money-green peaks and contrast with white-purple salt formations... All due to the different minerals making up the earth. Another amazement of how different this desert can be.

We were sad to leave explora and the Atacama Desert. I usually recommend 4 nights here and I will never let another traveler stay less! I could have used another day to do another excursion and also have a half day at leisure to enjoy the spa and pool. There is just so much to do and experience, and for all levels of activity and interest.
We are off to Santiago for a quick overnight and then Easter Island tomorrow!

Welcome to Atacama, The Driest Desert on Earth

Wow! 4 nights, 7 excursions, 3 different mountain ranges, and countless different landscapes, I am so inspired by the incredible destination of the Atacama Desert. I can't say enough about the management, staff, and guides at explora Atacama who played such a great role in making our experience here memorable.

I flew overnight from the US to Santiago... 10 hours from NYC or 8 hours from Miami but the same time zone as the East Coast makes it an easy trip. No jet lag! A quick connection to Calama and an hour drive to San Pedro de Atacama and we arrived at explora in time for lunch and excited to get exploring.

San Pedro de Atacama is in the valley under the famous Linkancabur volcano and in between three mountain ranges... Sal, Domeyko, and the Andes. Bolivia is just across the Andes on the other side of the volcano. It is the driest desert in the world; moisture from the jungles of central South America can't make it over the Andes and moisture from the Pacific can't make it over the other mountain ranges. The minerals that make up the mountains and landscape of the desert (especially salt) are so soft and soluble that the landscapes are so varied as they've been affected by wind and rain.

The first afternoon we went out with our guides Camilla and Juanjo into Death Valley for a hike... not too strenuous to get acclimated, but an amazing intro to the destination... I couldn't tell if we were still on earth or the moon or Mars!! The photos do not do justice but I can't put it into words either. We stopped at the top of a huge sand dune almost 90 degrees down... it reminded me of the sand dunes of Peru's California desert where I did the 4 wheel off road vehicle excursion. But we had no vehicle here... how are we getting off this dune?  We are running down?? We let our inhibitions fly away in the (strong!) wind and felt like little kids running down the huge sand dunes!
Back at explora we had dinner at the quincho (BBQ) with different meats over the fire while traditional Atacameno dancers performed.

The next morning we met our guides Andres and Pistu for horseback riding. Andres is a rodeo champion who competes around Chile and internationally so we were in the best hands. Those of us with little experience took a leisurely ride through the stunning red rock valley while those with more experience were able to cantor or gallop. The guides at explora are so accommodating of all levels on each excursion so that everyone feels comfortable and is able to take advantage of the full experience.  The horses are all well tempered and you can tell well taken care of. Explora is the only lodge in Atacama with its own horses and stables.

In the afternoon the group split up to different excursions and I went with Carolina on a hike called Kari. This is a protected area and only 6 hikers are allowed at a time, and due to the weather, it is usually only open once or twice a year. Only explora and Alto Atacama have access to this hike and it was a highlight.  We started in the Moon Valley and the unbelievable view is self explanatory! Then we hiked into Kari, incredible canyons shaped out of the salt. If you stand in silence at sundown you can hear the salt and quartz crackling as they expand with the temperature change... literally hearing the landscape growing and changing, feeling the earth alive. You can lick the salt right off the walls and see it bubbling up from the ground where the water has evaporated so quickly it leaves the salt behind.

Our guide Carolina is from a town not far from San Pedro with only 30 inhabitants.  She said many of the towns like that are disappearing as the young people leave for higher paying mining jobs in Calama. They are trying to educate the young people in their environment to encourage them to stay and maintain the traditional agrarian lifestyle or become local guides.

After dinner on Day 2 we followed our guide Alex to the telescope on explora property.  Explora Atacama owns the largest telescope that is available for purchase by lay people (non science institution). Since there is such low moisture in the Atacama Desert (therefore no clouds) and little light pollution since it is so remote, it is the perfect place for stargazing.  All of us from cities in the Northern Hemisphere were amazed to take in the clear Southern sky freckled with stars. We saw the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, and with the help of the telescope we could see the rings of Saturn!!