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9 of Tahiti’s Best Overwater Bungalows

Tahiti’s first overwater bungalows were built back in the 1960s as stilted homes. Who would’ve thought that half a century later, these water huts would be synonymous with luxury. Today, French Polynesia is home to nearly 900 overwater villas scattered across 22 hotels on seven of the 118 islands. Some of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous suites are tucked away under thatched roofs styled after traditional Tahitian fishing huts, and are outfitted with swanky, state-of-the-art technology and super-sleek furnishings that bring a five-star hotel element to remote stretches of French Polynesia. Here are nine of the most beautiful overwater bungalows worth booking when you’re ready to finally take that bucket list trip to Tahiti.[st_content_ad]

The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort

The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort.

Just because you’re on an island doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in the same luxuries you would find at hotels back on the mainland. Take The St. Regis Bora Bora, for instance, where you’re catered to around the clock by the brand’s signature butler service, as well as by pool attendants, who will happily whisk smoothies (or something stronger) straight to your chaise. Celeb chef Jean-Georges is behind the menu at Asian-fusion eatery The Lagoon, where you can watch a show of sharks swimming beneath the glass-paneled restaurant floor. The resort stretches across three “motus,” or islands, with jagged Mount Otemanu rising as a beacon in the distance, and the sparkling turquoise water is on full display from the transparent floors of the overwater villas—the largest in the South Pacific.

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Four Seasons Bora Bora.

Most of the hundred-plus bungalows at Four Seasons Bora Bora stand proudly on stilts over the lagoon (and the few that don’t make up for it in size). Modeled after a traditional Polynesian village, the design—dreamt up by a local architect, with the help of Paris- and San Francisco-based design firms—plays on the natural beauty of the lagoon with an indoor-outdoor concept. Think mother of pearl-accented light fixtures (a nod to Tahiti’s infamous black pearls), tattoo- patterned pillows, and sleek teak furnishings. Named No. 1 in French Polynesia in TripAdvisor’s 2019 Travelers’ Choice Awards, the Four Seasons Bora Bora is the quintessential vision of Tahiti: plunge pools and private ladders leading straight from water bungalows down to the tropical fish-filled lagoon—plus lavish spa treatments like 24-karat gold monoi oil massages.

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InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa

InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.

When deciding between InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa’s 84 overwater villas, the main choice you’ll have to make is the view: lagoon, beach or mountains? Traditional architectural touches (bamboo, carved mother of pearl, weavings) remind you you’re in French Polynesia, but the state-of-the-art in-room technology feels as cosmopolitan as New York. A glass-bottomed coffee table doubles as a porthole to the al fresco aquarium below, and sundecks feature outdoor freshwater showers perfect for cooling off in between sunbathing and dips in the lagoon. You can also soak up the views while soaking in your private plunge pool. Another reason to book a stay here: the thalassotherapy center, the first seawater therapy spa in the region that weaves nutrients extracted from the depths of the South Pacific into its ancient Polynesian rituals (performed in glass-bottom treatment rooms, of course). The InterContinental is also home to four new satellite suites with the largest private plunge pools in French Polynesia courtesy of Tahiti’s most exclusive resort—The Brando.

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Conrad Bora Bora Nui

Conrad Bora Bora Nui.

The majority of the high-end resorts in Bora Bora sit on the opposite side of the lagoon, so you won’t have to worry about sharing space—or views. Set on its own private atoll, across from Bora Bora on the southwest end of Motu To’opua, the Conrad Bora Bora Nui offers the largest stretch of sand in the area (spanning nearly half a mile), plus some of Tahiti’s best coral reefs—so snorkeling here is top-notch. Lounge on the pool deck of your overwater private bungalow on a hammock suspended over the sea—or in the sauna if you’ve opted for the presidential villa. Sporting the only two-story, overwater villas in French Polynesia, rooms here feature butler service, three terraces, an infinity pool overlooking the horizon, and a bar area, so you don’t have to go too far to find refreshments for sunset.

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InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa

InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa.

Nestled along the northwest coast of Moorea, just a seven-minute flight from sister island Tahiti or a 30-minutes ferry ride, the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa is a beautiful blend of tropical gardens and sea. Covered gazebos shield sundecks with sunbeds, showers, and direct lagoon access below. The junior suites are set up in a style so that you not only score the best views of the lagoon, you also don’t have to worry about anyone peering into the private sanctuary of your very own Tahitian water hut.

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Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island

Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island.

Once you land in Tahiti, hop on a powerboat and speed off to Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island, which is just as idyllic as it sounds. A five-minute boat ride from mainland sister hotel Sofitel Marara Beach Resort, the 21-bungalow beauty wisely chose its locale right next to a coral garden teeming with angelfish—which is why it’s home to some of the best snorkeling in Tahiti. One of the only luxury boutique resorts to claim its own private island, this spot really feels like a secluded, unspoiled paradise (with plenty of haute amenities). Admire panoramic views of nearby Bora Bora and its peaks from the sundeck of your overwater bungalow, or set off and explore the surrounding waters in one of the most traditional ways possible—by outrigger canoe.

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Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort

Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort.

French Polynesia is home to six archipelagos, but one of the lesser known (and less crowded) is Tuamotu, 220 miles north of Tahiti. White- and pink-sand islands dot the 177-square-mile lagoon surrounding the Tikehau atoll (population 500), an hour’s flight from Tahiti’s capital. You won’t find modern luxuries at Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort (sorry, no air-conditioning). But the cool, marine breeze and views of the crystal-clear lagoons make up for it. With only 24 overwater suites and bungalows (which span over 1,000 square feet), you’ll practically have the lagoon all to yourself. If you really want privacy, go for the premium bungalows at the far end of the pontoon, which feature chaise lounges, glass floors, and easy access to the lagoon below.

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Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa

Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort.

Why choose between sunrise or sunset views when you can have both? That’s the luxury of a stay in one of Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa’s overwater bungalows, which dot the two bays bordering the island of Moorea. The W-shaped string of bungalows offers picture-perfect views of both the lagoon and mountain-lined island, and while the style is still very much classic French Polynesian in design, inside is the complete opposite. Marble-clad bathrooms sport rain showers, claw-foot tubs, and flat-screen TVs loaded with films. The best show is right below your feet, though, thanks to the glass-floor viewing panel.

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Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort

Tahiti la Ora Beach Resort.

Most travelers use Pape’ete—Tahiti’s capital city and the gateway to the Tahitian islands—as a stopover en route to the more fashionable isles of Moorea and Bora Bora. But save yourself an extra flight (or ferry ride) with a stay at Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort, a Sofitel-managed property located 15 minutes from downtown Papeete. Since the resort sits on Tahiti’s west coast, you’re guaranteed sunset views each evening. In addition to the contemporary complex’s 146 rooms, a pier stretches out to a string of 12 overwater bungalows that offer vistas of Moorea in the distance—plus glass floors, so if you don’t feel like taking a dip in the water, you can still admire the vibrant marine life swimming right below your bed.

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From her base in Paris, journalist Lane Nieset covers travel, lifestyle, wine, and food for publications such as National Geographic Travel, Departures, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Travel + Leisure, Vogue.com and Food & Wine. She has also appeared as a guest host in the Cannes episode of BBC Travel’s RSVP Abroad series. Follow her on Twitter @LaneNieset or Instagram @LaneNieset, or keep up with her adventures on LaneNieset.com.
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14 Things a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You (And 6 Things They Can’t)

Few travelers think to contact the hotel concierge for much more than directions or restaurant recommendations—but if you don’t, you’re missing out on a wealth of local expertise. A good hotel concierge has impressive powers and can assist with almost any travel problem you might face, so you shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage.[st_content_ad]

That said, a concierge is not a magician. Below are 14 things your hotel concierge can do for you, six more they can’t, and four tips for maximizing your moments at the hotel lobby.

What a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You

Save You Money

The concierge can tell you how to get to the airport for less, where to find nearby happy hours, what the best free sights and activities are, and how much is a fair price for a taxi.

Recommend Fitness Facilities

If your hotel doesn’t have a gym or lacks the equipment you want, the concierge can usually point you to an affiliated hotel with better facilities, recommend a good running trail, or give you a list of nearby fitness centers that offer daily or weekly passes.

Get You a Ride When There Seems to Be None Available

If it is rush hour, raining, or really late, finding a taxi or Uber ride can be tough. The concierge can make this happen with a phone call in many cases. This can even work if you’re not staying at the hotel in question. I once saw a friend walk into the lobby of a New York hotel and offer the concierge a tip; within seconds, we had a ride.

Get Tickets for You

Many concierges are careful to say they can’t get tickets for sold-out shows, but the truth is they sometimes can. They may have relationships with brokers, or know season ticket holders who may not be using their seats, or even have tickets themselves; Michael Fazio, author of Concierge Confidential, started to purchase tickets to certain shows that he would then sell to guests, usually at a markup that matched the secondary market.

Keep You Safe

A concierge can offer advice on whether a neighborhood, park, or activity is safe to visit, and what you can do instead if your idea is iffy.

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Help You Celebrate

Are you proposing to your partner or celebrating a landmark birthday? Your hotel concierge can help with anything from filling your hotel room with flowers and balloons to organizing a rooftop proposal, complete with a photographer to document the occasion.

Help You Do Your Job

A concierge can assist with all kinds of work-related tasks, such as getting materials to a printer, setting up a courier service, mailing packages, and setting up a meeting space.

Help You Look Good

A concierge can get you an appointment with a barber or hairdresser, get clothes pressed, and more.

Fix Sticky Travel Problems

A concierge can help you find an expeditor or make an embassy appointment if your passport is stolen, or facilitate repairs if your smartphone goes on the fritz. They can also accept overnight mail or late-arriving luggage.

Get You a Table

Restaurants will often find a way to fit in customers who are recommended by their preferred concierge contacts. If the restaurant is truly full, the concierge can often get you to the front of a waiting list.

Recommend Local Service Folks

Need a babysitter, an auto repair shop, or a dog walker? Your concierge can help.

Create a Custom Itinerary

If you have a bunch of stuff you definitely want to do but are uncertain how to make it all fit together, the concierge can take your list of attractions and put together a coherent and achievable plan. He or she can also help you avoid pitfalls such as road construction or closed subway stations.

Help with Special Needs

If you are disabled, aren’t feeling well, or have other special needs, a hotel concierge can offer considerable assistance—like calling wheelchair-accessible taxis, finding English-speaking doctors, and recommending restaurants that can accommodate certain food allergies.

Provide Assistance Before You Arrive

The concierge can be a resource not just once you’re at the hotel but beforehand as well. For instance, he or she could help you plan out your first day, including a restaurant reservation for dinner.

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What Your Hotel Concierge Can’t Do for You

Gossip

Discretion is an integral part of a concierge’s job, so they tend not to talk about other guests, including which celebrities might be staying in the hotel.

Illegal or Immoral Activities

You shouldn’t expose a concierge to risk by asking him or her to help with illegal—or dubiously legal—activities such as obtaining drugs, forging signatures, finding “companions,” or the like.

Babysit

A concierge can help you find someone else to look after your child, but he or she can’t actually do the babysitting while on duty.

Float You a Loan

They’ll help you with money concerns, but concierges are not banks; don’t ask them to dig into their pockets for you.

Sell Stuff for You

Concierges are also not your personal eBay or Craigslist; they can’t sell tickets you no longer need or items you don’t want to take home. However, he or she may be able to recommend a place where you can do the sale yourself.

Book Tickets to Sold-Out Shows

Truly sold-out shows tend to be just that; however, you can ask if the concierge has any ideas or contacts to help get you tickets, and he or she might have a strategy for you. If there is truly no way to get certain tickets, the concierge will tell you so.

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Tips for Using a Hotel Concierge

Don’t Be Shy

You might feel as though the concierge is only there for the folks in the penthouse suite, but this isn’t the case; he or she is there to help all guests, so feel free to ask.

Give Them Some Time

Concierges can often pull off difficult tasks, but to do so on very short notice is tricky, and it distracts them from helping other guests. Give the concierge some notice if you need something beyond simple advice.

Present the Concierge’s Card

When a concierge sends you to a restaurant or other establishment, it is often his or her name, not yours, that is the attraction for the proprietor. So if a concierge asks you to show his or her card, do it; these relationships are what makes concierges able to help you now and in the future.

Not All Concierges Are the Same

Concierges at the very best (and most expensive) hotels are notorious for pulling off near-miracles; those at less prestigious establishments typically don’t have the same pull.

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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a biweekly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with the latest information.

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Tipping in Greece: The Greece Tipping Guide

A vacation in Greece promises beautiful scenery, fresh and delicious food, and interactions with friendly locals. As a visitor, you’ll find yourself in plenty of situations in which you might naturally think to tip. But should you?

Tipping in Greece is customary, but is by no means obligatory. This Greece tipping guide will help you navigate when/where you can leave a little extra for great service.

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Tipping in Greece

[st_content_ad]Tipping in Greece may be expected in most places, but it is by no means an obligation. There is no set standard for how much to leave when service exceeds expectations, but there are certain times when it’s expected you’ll tip. For instance, some restaurants may round up the bill to include gratuity, so it is wise to look for this inclusion before tipping. Note that it’s also common for servers not to receive tips included on a credit card, so try to leave cash whenever possible so ensure the person you’re trying to tip actually receives the gratuity.

Want to know when to tip for other services? Read on to make sense of where, when, and how much to tip when you’re traveling in Greece.

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View of a narrow street in the old town of Thessaloniki, Greece

How To Tip In Greece

Cafe Server:

Greece doesn’t have a strong culture of tipping at cafes. But if there is a tip jar by the cash register, it’s a nice gesture to leave a couple of coins. For exceptional table service, round up to the nearest €1.

Restaurant Server:

A tip is typically expected, especially for stellar service, but some restaurants round up the bill to include gratuity. Check the bill first for these inclusions before deciding whether or not to tip. If there is no added tip, leave 5 to 10 percent, and a few coins on the table for the busser. Some restaurants may refuse gratuity for service, so if you’re unsure, you can certainly ask before tipping. There may be a “cover charge” on the bill, which covers the cost of bread and non-bottled water, but doesn’t include gratuity.

Bartender:

At bars, it’s not necessary to tip a bartender, as most do not expect it; but it is considerate to round to the nearest €1 for great service.

Tour Guides:

In Greece, it’s customary to tip tour guides. Tip €2 to €5 per person, per day for a group tour; and €20 per person, per day for a private tour.

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View of Greek Orthodox Church in Monastiraki Square and line of yellow cabs

Taxis:

A good rule of thumb is to round up to the nearest euro. This approach simplifies paying with cash, and it’s not an unusual way to tip without actually tipping. For exceptional service, or if you use a taxi driver for multiple stops, for a longer distance, or as a guide, you might add 5 to 10 percent of the final fare to your total payment.

Airport Shuttle Driver:

It is not necessary to tip your driver, but feel free to give €1 per bag if they help with your luggage.

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Doorman:

If a doorman assists with luggage or hailing transportation, a simple thank you is appreciated. But for exceptional service, it certainly wouldn’t be remiss to offer €1.

Bellhop:

At hotels, feel free to tip the bellhop €1 to €2 per bag delivered to your room, but no more than €5 total. 

Housecleaning:

At hotels, or in vacation rentals that have daily cleaning services, it’s customary to leave €1 per night, especially if the cleaner is doing a great job.

Front Desk at the Astra Suites

Concierge:

If the concierge goes above and beyond with helping you book reservations, giving you directions, and/or providing insider recommendations, it’s considerate to tip €5 to €10. For answers to quick questions, though, you shouldn’t feel obligated.

Stylist:

For haircuts, shampoos, trims, and shaves, it’s considerate, but not expected, to tip 10 percent of the final bill if you’re satisfied with your new look.

Spa Service Provider:

A tip isn’t expected, but you can leave up to 10 percent for anything that goes above and beyond your expectations. Simply ask for an envelope for the tip at the front desk, and then either deliver the envelope to your provider or leave the tip at the front desk.

Beachy Jumpsuit for Greece Adventure

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12 Incredible Hawaii Hotels Where You Can Escape Completely

You’re scraping ice off your car’s windshield on yet another frigid winter morning or gritting your teeth through a stressful day at work, and you think: “I wish I were somewhere else.” How does Hawaii sound? Transport yourself to paradise with this list of dreamy Hawaii hotels where you can stroll along the beach, relax in a spa, and wake up to tropical birdsong.

Prince Waikiki, Oahu

Prince Waikiki, Oahu interior room

Every room and suite at the popular Prince Waikiki has an ocean view, plus windows that open to let in the tropical breezes. You can walk to the beach, the shops of Ala Moana Center, and a variety of restaurants—or take the complimentary hotel shuttle to Waikiki Beach. Catch a sunset from the infinity pool or treat yourself to a massage at the Naio Bliss spa.

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Hotel Wailea, Maui

Hotel Wailea, Maui Balcony view during breakfast

Perfect for honeymooners or anyone else seeking an adults-only getaway, Hotel Wailea offers 72 exclusive one-bedroom suites. Here you can focus on wellness with spa treatments or complimentary yoga classes, or head outdoors for kiteboarding, kayaking, snorkeling, or stand-up paddleboarding. The hotel can arrange several unique experiences, including a scenic drive in a 1957 Porsche and a tropical mixology class. The beach is a complimentary shuttle ride away.

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Kalaekilohana, Big Island

Kalaekilohana interior room with balcony

The owners of boutique inn Kalaekilohana have thought of every detail, from fresh flowers in the rooms to locally sourced fruit and coffee at breakfast. Past guests rave about the chance to learn about Hawaiian culture, with classes available on traditional weaving and feather arts. All rooms have private balconies and walk-in rain showers overlooking the surrounding treetops. Although the inn doesn’t have an oceanfront location, there are multiple beaches within hiking or driving distance, including Papakolea with its unique green sand.

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Ko’a Kea Hotel & Resort, Kauai

Ko'a Kea Hotel & Resort lava rock whirlpool

Ko’a Kea is a boutique resort on Kauai’s sunny southern shore. Its 121 rooms feature private balconies or patios and are located just a short walk from the beach. Relax at the pool overlooking the ocean, take a dip in the lava rock hot tub, savor a treatment at the spa, try your luck at surfing or paddling an outrigger canoe, or have dinner at the on-site Red Salt restaurant.

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Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head, Oahu

Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head room with balcony

Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head is close enough to downtown Waikiki that you can walk but far enough away that you won’t be swamped by noise and crowds. Guests can borrow bicycles to cruise around the area, then come back and enjoy complimentary wine each evening. Private balconies in each room look out over the ocean, Kapiolani Park, and/or Honolulu’s most famous landmark, Diamond Head.

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Montage Kapalua Bay, Maui

Montage Kapalua Bay view of pool and beach

Spread out in the condo-style accommodations at Montage Kapalua Bay, where you can choose among residences with one to four bedrooms—each with a full kitchen, separate living area, and private outdoor space. The spa includes a steam room, sauna, and infinity pool, as well as a fitness center offering a variety of classes. You can also play a round at one of two championship golf courses nearby.

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Volcano Rainforest Retreat, Big Island

Volcano Rainforest Retreat exterior view of lush forest entrance

The four guest cottages at Volcano Rainforest Retreat are shaded by giant tree ferns in a lush, misty rainforest, just three miles from Volcanoes National Park. Start your day with a private breakfast in your cottage before heading out for a day of hiking, cycling, scenic driving, or bird watching. When you return, relax in your private hot tub or enjoy a good book in front of the fireplace in your cottage.

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Four Seasons Resort Lanai

Four Seasons Resort Lanai

On the quiet, sparsely developed island of Lanai, you’ll find the exclusive Four Seasons Resort, one of the best luxury hotels in Hawaii. Spacious rooms include private balconies overlooking either the ocean or the resort’s lush botanical gardens. On-site amenities include multiple pools, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, a spa, a yoga studio, tennis courts, and a children’s program. Dining options include the sushi bar at Nobu Lanai and a poolside restaurant serving up organic items from the resort’s farm.

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The Laylow, Oahu

The Laylow guest room

The Laylow offers a classic Hawaiian experience in the heart of Waikiki, with funky 1960s decor accompanied by modern amenities such as free high-speed Wi-Fi and mini-fridges in every room. Fun perks include free shaved ice in the afternoons and ukulele lessons in the lobby. The beach is a short walk away, as are countless restaurants and shops.

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Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Big Island

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel pool and beach view

Located on one of the Big Island’s most stunning stretches of sand, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is a resort where you can do as much—or as little—as you’d like. Play a round at the championship golf course, swim in the outdoor pool, enjoy a game of tennis or volleyball, learn to make a lei, go stand-up paddleboarding, have a spa treatment … or simply lie on the beach and watch the waves roll in.

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Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono, Maui

Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono guest room

If big resorts aren’t your thing, consider a stay at the Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono. Housed in a restored 1920s building, the B&B has 10 individually decorated rooms that capture the spirit of old Hawaii. Its location in the center of Maui makes it easy to drive to various island attractions, including Haleakala National Park and Kula Botanical Gardens.

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Waipouli Beach Resort, Kauai

Waipouli Beach Resort pool

The one- and two-bedroom condo units at Waipouli Beach Resort feature plenty of space to spread out, and the ocean-facing ones also offer the chance to wake up to gorgeous sunrises every morning. The resort’s location in Kapaa puts you within easy driving distance of most Kauai attractions, including plenty of hiking trails and beaches. The poolside Oasis on the Beach restaurant serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a side of ocean views.

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Health & Wellness

SmarterTravel Spotlight: Adler Spa Resort Thermae

The Adler Spa Resort Thermae offers a full-immersion wellness experience that includes bountiful sauna options, a vast menu of medi-spa offerings, and thermal pools. In addition to its spa program, this resort in the heart of Tuscany’s Val D’Orcia offers excursions, health programs, and a kids’ club.

The Location

The Adler Spa Resort Thermae is nestled next to a tiny town in the heart of the Val D’Orcia in Tuscany, Italy. The valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers iconic Tuscan landscapes of rolling hills and cypress-studded lanes. It’s an hour’s drive from Siena, about two hours from Florence, and about two hours and 20 minutes from Rome. To get to Adler Spa Thermae, you’ll take country roads past olive groves and through forests. As you drive, you’ll get views of Tuscan hill towns and the rugged landscape that characterizes this valley.

As you wind up the road to the resort, you’ll pass a small public parking lot for the tiny nearby town (it’s a quick and easy walk down a picturesque path from the resort to the village) and its natural hot springs—an extension of the hot springs network that feeds the resorts’ pools as well. The resort’s sign signals that you’ve arrived, though you’ll continue to wend your way up the hill before you see any sign of it—it’s woven into the landscape in such a way that you almost don’t know it’s there until you’ve arrived.

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The Spa

saunas and pond at adler spa resort thermae

In the world of wellness resorts, there are hotels that offer a spa as part of their offerings, and then there are wellness resorts like the Adler Thermae. Its spa + med approach mingles traditional spa treatments with wellness-oriented medical offerings including dermatologic micro-surgery, cryolipolysis, needling, and Ultherapy natural lifting. There are customizable programs built around wellness goals including detox, weight loss and nutrition, stress management, prevention and anti-aging, and aesthetic medicine. The spa also offers a range of Ayurvedic treatments and massages.

And yes, there are massages (and they’re great), but the reason people come from all over the world to Adler Spa Thermae is its extensive offerings of treatments rarely found in this relaxing of an environment. Treatments included on the 30+ page spa menu include facial radiofrequency, oxygen bath, watsu, hydrokinesiotherapy, mineral mudtherapy, Somato Emotional Release, and HAKI treatments.

Beyond scheduled treatments, there’s an abundance of self-directed wellness and relaxation activities to choose from. The spa has 12 different saunas, including the Philosopher’s Cave, a sauna built into a rock formation; a clay therapy sauna; and a sauna that incorporates local herbal traditions. The resort’s crowning glory: two pools, centered at the heart of the resort, overlooking the valley.

Spa treatments range widely in price, from under 20 euros for 20 minutes in the blissfully peaceful Salt Grotto and around 50 euros for mineral mudtherapy to 1,800 euros for Ultherapy natural lifting. Most treatments cost about the same or, in many cases, less than what you’d expect to pay at North American spa. There are also a number of programs and packages that combine treatments for optimal effect.

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The Rooms

room at the adler spa thermae

There are just two room types at the Adler Spa Thermae: superior double rooms, with terraces or balconies yielding views of the surrounding wild Tuscan landscape, as well as wood floors, walk-in rain showers, and satellite TVs; and two-bedroom family suites, which offer the same amenities plus space for up to five people.

Dining

outdoor dining at adler spa resort thermae

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served on site, with breakfast and dinner at the upscale resort restaurant and lunch at the more casual poolside cafe. There’s also a bar next to the lobby.

Meals unfold in an unhurried Italian style, with multiple courses offered at a leisurely pace. While offerings are, for the most part, healthy and light, the tradition of multicourse lunches and dinners reminds guests that self-care does not have to mean self-denial. You’re in Italy, after all, a place where meals are not an afterthought but a non-negotiable centerpiece of the daily routine.

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Amenities

spa relaxation room at adler thermae

The Adler Outdoors program offers daily guided activities like guided hikes and biking tours. Mountain bikes and e-bikes are available to borrow at no cost, and racing bikes are available at a nominal daily rate. Guided fitness activities at the resort are part of the Adler Fit program, which includes daily yoga, access to fitness facilities, and more. The AKI Kids’ Club offers supervised activities and excursions for children four and older, and allows parents and caregivers time off to enjoy the more relaxing elements of the resort.

Price and How to Book: Rooms start at 194 euros ($214 at time of publication; check XE.com for current exchange rates) per night and can be booked on the Adler Spa Resort Thermae website, or you can compare rates with TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company).

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Christine Sarkis visited Adler Spa Resort Thermae as a guest of the resort. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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Beach Island LGBT

The Best Caribbean Destinations for Gay and Lesbian Travelers

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Dreamy tropical vibes prevail across the Caribbean, where the people are as warm as the waves. But when it comes to LGBT-friendly Caribbean destinations, some islands are keener to roll out the rainbow welcome mats.

As a region, the West Indies encompasses 13 independent nations; plus about a dozen more territories that are part of the United States, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It’s those latter islands where gay and lesbian travelers usually feel more at ease since local laws around homosexuality and same-sex marriage match those of their parent countries.

That’s not to say that gay and lesbian travelers won’t feel safe or welcome in less-progressive destinations. But rather than plan vacations to one of the dozen Caribbean islands where homosexuality is criminalized (surprising, but true), most travelers simply prefer to vacation where they’ll feel comfortable.

In fact, according to a 2019 survey, 86 percent of LGBT travelers admit that a destination’s policies toward the LGBT community are at least somewhat important when deciding where to travel. Conducted by the IGLTA Foundation and Airbnb, the survey also revealed that 51 percent of LGBT respondents are “very unlikely” to travel to a country where being LGBT is illegal. Still, the world is evolving when it comes to acceptance and equality—including in the Caribbean, where more and more cities are hosting Pride celebrations and flying rainbow flags.

LGBT-Friendly Caribbean Islands

Here’s a closer look at the most gay-friendly Caribbean destinations.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

san juan sunset

The fourth-largest Caribbean island is a gay-friendly U.S. territory that’s home to 3.1 million residents, with at least as many visitors every year. In the capital city of San Juan, LGBT visitors can enjoy Puerto Rican hospitality in its historic downtown, where the culinary and nightlife scenes are booming. In the beachfront neighborhood of Condado, the Atlantic Beach Hotel and Oasis Lounge are regular gay hotspots, both just steps away from the low-key gay-beach area. For a resort that’s lesbian-friendly too, the recently renovated San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is a favorite for its central location on the beach, spacious balcony rooms, plus live salsa music on weekends.

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In the Santurce neighborhood, La Placita is a public market by day and busy social scene by night. Among its strip of bars is El Patio de Lila, a gay-friendly watering hole that’s especially happening on Friday nights. Nearby, head to the trendy restaurant Santaella or the more casual Jose Enrique for some of San Juan’s best dining. Or sample the city’s tastiest delights by joining one of Spoon Food Tours fabulous walkabouts, where knowledgeable guides can tip you off to LGBT goings-on.

Bonus: Puerto Rico is home to two of the Caribbean’s biggest LGBT Pride events. The Puerto Rico Pride march and festival takes place in San Juan each May, while Boqueron Pride (near Cabo Rojo) follows in early June for a splashy weekend beach celebration.

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Aruba

colorful chairs on beach in aruba

True to its Dutch heritage, the Lesser Antilles’s island of Aruba is a proud Caribbean paradise ever eager to welcome LGBT travelers. The month of June is the island’s official Pride month, launching a series of events to celebrate diversity in and around the capital city Oranjestad. Resorts and hotels all over Aruba are welcoming but count on the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino and Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino for Pride season packages, plus adults-only pool and beach areas. Oranjestad also is home to District 7, an LGBT-centric nightclub, lounge, restaurant, and inn (which was once a simpler gay bar called Jimmy’s Place).

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Curacao

view of willemstad curacao

Like Aruba, Curacao is a Dutch territory that’s progressive and inclusive, a trademark of the Netherlands. But to welcome gay and lesbian Caribbean visitors, this small island goes the extra mile by being an active member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). Plus, the island offers queer travelers guidance with handy PinkCuracao, an online travel resource with recommended hotels, restaurants, tours, boutiques, and more. Floris Suite Hotel Spa and Beach Club Curaçao is the go-to gay hotel in Willemstad, where adult guests can enjoy luxury, privacy, and views of the island’s famously-blue waters. Among Curacao’s flirtier spots is MooMba Beach Club, perched on the island’s most gay-friendly beach and serving up cocktails, live music, fresh seafood, and weekend barbeques.

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This island loves to celebrate, and every September it hosts the five-day Curacao Pride festival with a slate of activities in towns, on beaches, and on the water. Come February (or March), Curacao Carnival becomes winter’s most colorful, all-welcoming celebration.

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St. Martin/St. Maarten

st maarten town view

St. Martin/St. Maarten is one Caribbean island that’s doubly gay-friendly. As the world’s smallest territory shared by two nations, St. Martin enjoys all the liberties of the French Republic on its northern half, while the southerly St. Maarten is a member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. No matter which side you visit, you can enjoy the island’s easygoing atmosphere.

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LGBT travelers can take their pick of gay-centric beaches to swim, sunbathe, and snorkel, especially Happy Bay Beach and the clothing-optional Orient Bay Beach (both on the French side), and Cupecoy Beach (Dutch side) where nude sunbathing is common. Visitors can discover lesbian- and gay-owned businesses with handy Gay Sint Maarten, which offers listings for the entire island. For fun in Dutch Philipsburg, don’t miss the long-running cabaret and drag show L’Escargot, and open-air dancing at Bliss on Maho Beach. Or head to Club Eros to dance at one of the island’s main late-night gay bars in the French town of Marigot. (Tip: Locals often refer to the island by its airport code “SXM.”)

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St. Bart’s

The French island territory Saint-Barthélemy, nicknamed St. Bart’s, enjoys the same marriage equality as France, as do its sister islands of Martinique, St. Martin, and Guadeloupe. But more than the others, St. Bart’s is among the most gay-friendly Caribbean destinations overall—thanks in part to its ritzy reputation as a celebrity vacation hideaway. The wee island measures just 10 square miles, and LGBT travelers can enjoy relaxed attitudes, even without any official gay bars or Pride events. But at all-welcoming/gay-leaning Saline Beach, travelers relax with or without clothes. And you can patronize gay-owned businesses like colorful Le Pasha boutique and La Cantina bar in Gustavia; and saucy Le Ti cabaret and tavern in Pointe Milou.

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U.S. Virgin Islands

view of st croix us virgin islands

To the east and south of Puerto Rico are the U.S. Virgin Islands, comprised of St. John, St. Thomas, St. Croix, and several minor islands. Their cluster anchors the northern Lesser Antilles, and together they’re among the most gay-friendly Caribbean destinations. Each of the three main islands is blissfully welcoming to all travelers (some of whom take day trips from the neighboring British Virgin Islands), and rainbow stickers adorn many a local business.

St. Thomas has its share of both upscale and casual hotels, restaurants, and attractions, concentrated mainly in Frenchtown (near the cruise ship port). But St. Croix is more populous and has a fun, active LGBT community. Among a handful of gay guesthouses on St. Croix is Frederiksted’s Sand Castle on the Beach, a hit for same-sex weddings and honeymoon packages. Plus, each June St. Croix ushers in STX Pride, with a month full of LGBT events that continue year-round. The organization’s motto is “the most gay friendly island in the Caribbean,” and based on its long roster of local hosts and sponsors, it’s clear how inclusive the destination really is.

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Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Senior Travel

The 10 Best Wheelchair-Accessible Hotels and Resorts Around the World

Many handicap-accessible hotels and resorts around the world offer accommodations for travelers with disabilities, but that doesn’t ensure that all of your room’s features or the property’s amenities and venues will be fully accessible.[st_content_ad]

In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires by law that people with disabilities have access to public buildings, hotels, transportation, and other facilities. In the European Union, the European Accessibility Act is in place, but it’s not as wide-reaching as the ADA, and other countries have no official programs requiring accessibility at all. However, that should not discourage a traveler with a disability from visiting those destinations.

No matter where you’re traveling, global brands like Marriott, Hilton, and IHG tend to have the best options when booking hotels for the disabled. Still, it’s always best to call ahead to your chosen hotel to get specifics about the width of the doorway, shower and tub set-up, grab rails, bed height, and other details so there are no surprises when you arrive. If you need rental equipment at your destination, such as a wheelchair or scooter, companies like Special Needs at Sea will deliver equipment to hotels in 68 countries around the world.

This list of handicap-accessible hotels and resorts highlights many of the best amenities for disabled travelers in North America and abroad.

Noelle: Nashville, Tennessee

Noelle: nashville, tennessee.

This 224-room experiential boutique hotel is located in the heart of downtown Nashville adjacent to Printer’s Alley. The historic luxury property features 10 fully accessible modern guest rooms with 32-inch doorways, roll-in showers, bathroom and bathtub grab bars, remote-control-operated lights and blinds, doorbells, and other useful amenities. It also offers hearing-accessible rooms and/or kits, and the property is pet-friendly. The fitness center, art gallery, boutique, and all restaurants and lounges, including the Hidden Bar beneath Noelle, are accessible during a stay at one of Music City’s most unique handicap-accessible hotels.

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Resort at Squaw Creek: Olympic Valley, California

Resort at squaw creek: olympic valley, california.

This resort property is one of the most impressive handicap-accessible hotels, thanks to its Disabled Access Ambassador, who assists disabled guests with navigating the property and planning their time in the North Lake Tahoe region. The hotel features 14 ADA-compliant rooms with features such as accessible peepholes and lower climate controls and closet poles. The sink and vanity are wheelchair accessible, and the bathrooms have roll-in showers. The rooms also offer audio-visual smoke detectors, close-captioned television decoders, telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDD), and a telephone and front door alerting device. This wheelchair-accessible hotel offers ramps and elevator access to restaurants and other resort amenities.

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Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz: Berlin, Germany

Scandic berlin potsdamer platz: berlin, germany.

This centrally located property is one of the best hotels for the disabled in Berlin. Its 60 handicap-accessible hotel rooms feature adjustable-height beds and plenty of space for maneuverability. The bathrooms are also spacious with accessible amenities and roll-in showers; wheelchairs can also fit under the sinks. The corridors of the hotel are extra wide, and the restaurant is barrier-free, so wheelchair users can serve themselves at the breakfast buffet. A unique feature is the property’s barrier-free representative, who provides training to the staff so they can better assist their guests with special needs.

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Halekulani: Honolulu, Hawaii

Halekulani: honolulu, hawaii.

Located on Waikiki Beach, this luxury resort affords stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and nearby Diamond Head. The handicap-accessible hotel offers 14 ADA-compliant rooms specifically designed for travelers with wheelchairs. These accommodations feature modified bathrooms, lower closet rods, and accessible door peepholes and air conditioner control panels. There are wheelchair ramps throughout the property, and all of the restaurants and facilities are accessible. The hotel also has a pool lift for guests and ADA-compliant parking stalls. Hearing-impaired kits are available upon request.

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Grand Velas Riviera Maya: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Grand velas riviera maya: playa del carmen, mexico.

This luxurious, handicap-accessible all-inclusive resort is located on the Caribbean coast, adjacent to the Yucatan Jungle in Playa Del Carmen. There are three distinct experiences offered at Grand Velas Riviera Maya: the romantic oceanfront Grand Class resort, family-friendly accommodations at The Ambassador, and the secluded Zen Grand surrounded by the Mayan Jungle. Each experience offers two ground-floor suites that are accessible, with wide door entrances and roll-in showers. The restaurants and bars have ramps, and there is a ramp with access to the beach. The resort also has wheelchairs on site. Zen Grand and Grand Class offer electric wheelchairs to guests at no additional charge.

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Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa: Lake Placid, New York

Mirror lake inn resort & spa: placid, new york.

This beautiful resort property is picturesquely situated on Mirror Lake overlooking the Adirondack High Peaks. The handicap-accessible hotel offers five ADA-compliant guest accommodations in two different room categories, with six accessible parking spaces. Two dining venues are wheelchair accessible, including AAA Four Diamond-rated The View Restaurant and the property’s casual option, Taste Bar & Bistro. All of the property’s meeting rooms, as well as its main lobby, library, living room, spa, and fitness room, are accessible. The indoor pool also has an individual pool lift, and there is a transfer wall for whirlpool access.

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InterContinental David: Tel Aviv, Israel

InterContinental david: tel aviv, israel.

Guests of this centrally located hotel in Tel Aviv will appreciate the property’s impressive views of the Mediterranean Sea and accommodations at one of the city’s best hotels for the disabled. The InterContinental David boasts 10 fully accessible rooms featuring bedside and bathroom grab bars, roll-in showers, wheelchair-accessible closets, panic buttons, and other amenities. Hearing-impaired devices and ionizers for respiratory conditions are available on request. The hotel also has wheelchair-accessible parking and easy access to restaurants and other on-site facilities. Service dogs are permitted.

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Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate: Orlando, Florida

Omni orlando resort at championsgate: orlando, florida.

This 15-acre handicap-accessible resort stands out for its proximity to Orlando’s theme parks and attractions but offers a great escape at the end of the day. The property’s 42 ADA-compliant rooms feature many amenities, including lower light switches, peepholes, deadbolts, and closet rods. They also have roll-in showers and accessible toilets, sinks, and grab bars. Visual alarm notifications are available for the hotel alarm, door, and phone. The entire property is wheelchair accessible, including the pool area with a lift and hot tub area with a transfer station.

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Sandals Barbados: St. Lawrence Gap, Barbados

Sandals barbados: st. lawrence gap, barbados.

This new adults-only, handicap-accessible all-inclusive resort features a long list of included amenities, plus three luxurious accessible rooms. Two are in Sandals‘ LX category with a private balcony and soaking tub, and one is an SLX suite. This swim-up suite features a large private patio and soaking tub with zero-entry access to the resort’s Crystal Lagoon pool. All three accommodations boast accessible showers with grab bars, a lowered magnifying mirror, a 34-inch vanity, and a grab bar in the toilet area. Eleven of the resort’s restaurants are wheelchair friendly, and the beach is accessible. The property also has one beach wheelchair and two standard wheelchairs for guest use.

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Novotel Melbourne on Collins: Melbourne, Australia

Novotel melbourne on collins: melbourne, australia.

Melbourne is a wheelchair-friendly city that offers visitors an accessible metro and various activities for people with disabilities, including surfing. (Yes, surfing.) Novotel Melbourne on Collins is one of Australia’s best handicap-accessible hotels, boasting seven accessible rooms that are some of the largest in the city. The property is centrally located on Collins Street, directly above the upscale St. Collins Lane shops. Its spacious standard queen and deluxe king rooms are bright with large windows, and have extra living space and wider doorways. The bathrooms are also generous in size with roll-in showers that have fold-down seats and handrails. All hotel venues are wheelchair accessible. The hotel’s pool is currently under renovation and will become handicap accessible, including a pool lift, by mid-December 2019.

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Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Award Finalist in journalism and an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer. Her work has appeared in U.S. News & World Report, USA TODAY, Cruise Critic, Reader’s Digest, Forbes Travel Guide, TripAdvisor, and Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles. Follow her on PratesiLiving.com and on Twitter and Instagram.

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Experiential Travel

7 Gorgeous Open-Air Hotel Rooms You Have to See to Believe

Lounging in your king-size bed, the cool breeze floating in around you, nothing between you and the amazing scenery outside . . . yet you still have enough privacy that you don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing. Three-walled hotel rooms are simply better than four-walled ones. See for yourself at these seven resorts featuring open-air hotel rooms.

Ladera, St. Lucia

Ladera paradise suite st. lucia.

If I could only stay at one hotel for the rest of my life, it would be Ladera. This idyllic luxury hotel on St. Lucia truly makes for the vacation of a lifetime. Perched in the middle of a UNESCO World Heritage site, Ladera sits on a high volcano ridgeline overlooking St. Lucia’s famous Piton Mountains and the ocean. Book one of the Hotel Spotlight: Ladera and you’ll feel like you could reach out and touch Gros Piton as you gently swing in the breeze on your own personal over-water swing above your private heated pool.

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Pacuare Lodge, Costa Rica

Pacuare lodge costa rica.

Pacuare Lodge is truly off-the-beaten path. Don’t expect to drive or take a bus here, as you’ll need to take a thrilling rafting trip or be chauffeured in via 4×4. Once you do arrive, though, you’ll be surrounded by the jungle in your own private suite or villa. All of the accommodations have sliding glass doors as the fourth wall, so you can open them up and feel like you’re camping in the rainforest.

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Petit St. Vincent, Private Island

Petit st. vincent private island.

In case being on your own private island wasn’t secluded enough, each of Petit St. Vincent’s cottages and villas are spread out throughout the property so that you have complete solitude. The rooms all have floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that you can leave open and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean.

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Esperanza Resort, Mexico

Esperanza resort terrace spa suite.

Not sure if you’ll be able to sleep in an open-air hotel room? Try out the Esperanza Resort’s Terrace Spa Suite, a room with an attached rooftop patio—and a king bed that can be easily rolled from indoors to out. Sleep under the open sky or retreat back inside at the first sign of rain.

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L’Albereta, Italy

L'albereta cabriolet suite italy.

L’Albereta’s Cabriolet suite may have all four walls, but its roof is optional, earning it a spot on this list. This elegant room overlooks Lake Iseo, and has a retractable ceiling that can be opened with the push of a button for impromptu stargazing.

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Verana, Mexico

Verana hotel mexico.

The only way to reach the small village of Yelapa is to take a boat along the coast of Mexico. Once there, the only way to reach Verana hotel is via an uphill hike. As soon as you see the boutique hotel, you’ll be glad you made the journey. Choose from one of the property’s open-air suites that overlook the jungle, and soak in the serenity from your private pool.

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Jade Mountain Resort, St. Lucia

Jade mountain resort st. lucia.

Each of the 29 rooms at Jade Mountain overlooks the mountains and the Caribbean Sea, and are designed to be completely private—so there’s no need for a fourth wall. Book a star, moon, sun, or galaxy suite to get your own infinity pool from which to admire the views.

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What to Wear in Your Open-Air Hotel Room

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Caroline Morse Teel wants to stay in all of these open air hotel rooms. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from her adventures around the world.

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Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Booking Strategy Cities Experiential Travel Food & Drink Historical Travel Island Luxury Travel Romantic Travel

7 Seaside Hotels Fit for Your Bucket List

Sprawling beachfront resorts aren’t the only place to spend a sunny vacation. There’s something about a cliff-nestled inn or wave-straddling overwater bungalow that makes some of the best seaside hotels feel more far-off than your average beach hotel. 

Seaside Hotels for Your Bucket List

Here are some lesser-known seaside hotels that are just as stunning as the big-name beaches, but with fewer crowds. Unique properties like these are worth planning your entire trip around.

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Dead Sea Spa Hotel: Jordan

[st_content_ad]A saltwater lake with three times the average salinity of an ocean, the buoyant Dead Sea draws crowds to the heart of the Middle East year-round for an effortless float and a mineral-rich mud bath.

The Dead Sea Spa Hotel on the Dead Sea’s Jordan side is a locally owned favorite for its shorefront showers and multiple outdoor pools. After a salty soak, you can shower off for a more refreshing pool swim. Visitors also love the Mediterranean cuisine at the hotel’s restaurant and bar, complete with outdoor entertainment like the occasional belly dancing show. 

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La Belhamy Resort and Spa: Vietnam

La belhamy resort and spa vietnam

Vietnam is ultra-affordable for Americans—and that means that even a high-end Hoi An stay can come in under budget. La Belhamy Resort and Spa on the South China Sea is the perfect place to enjoy Vietnam’s coastal beauty in style. Book an open-air spa massage, enjoy your villa’s private pool, and post up at the beach to watch the heavy surf roll in. The favorable exchange rate means you’ll spend less than you would on an average hotel in the U.S., and you’ll still be able to afford romantic add-ons like a private dinner for two on the beach. 

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Seascape: Isle of Man

Seascapes isle of man

Smack dab in the middle of the churning Irish Sea is Isle of Man, a self-governing U.K. outpost of Celtic and Viking heritage that’s rife with hiking routes and historic ruins. Between adventures, though, you’ll want a seaside hotel to escape to and unwind.

Seascape, a sleek bed and breakfast in the coastal village of Laxey, has ocean-facing balconies and hot tubs. The cliff-nestled property is small yet luxurious, with its own steam room and floor-to-ceiling views of the sea from each room.

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Sa Pedrissa: Mallorca

Sa pedrissa mallorca

Equal parts nature escape and seaside hotel getaway, Mallorca’s village of Deia is known for its rocky natural swimming coves and rustic villas overlooking the Balearic Sea. Sa Pedrissa hotel has as many lookout points over the coastline as it does animals stopping by, like sheep and baby donkeys. Modern rooms with glass walls contrast the historic stone walls of the main house, and this family-run seaside hotel with its own pool is just a 10-minute walk to the beach. It’s the perfect seaside hotel to drink in coastal Mallorca.

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Aruba Ocean Villas: Aruba

Aruba ocean villas

You don’t need to fly to Southeast Asia to stay in the overwater bungalow of your dreams. A secret seaside hotel of six villas in Aruba, the Old Man and the Sea Aruba Ocean Villas, offers its own version of the experience in Savaneta, Aruba.

Just south of Dutch-Colonial Oranjestad and far from the bustling resort side of the tiny island nation, an Aruba Ocean Villa might feel as remote as the South Pacific. Your own overwater digs, a white-sand beach for lounging, and an on-site restaurant serving up authentic Caribbean cuisine make it an ideal honeymoon getaway, and just the spot for exploring inland Aruba and carving out your own plot over the Caribbean Sea.

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Hotel Cavo Bianco: Santorini, Greece

Hotel cavo bianco santorini greece

No seaside hotels list would be complete without a white-washed Greek Island getaway like the bucket-list-worthy ones in Santorini, Greece. Cavo Bianco is a sleeker version of the picturesque hilltop villas coastal Greece is known for, and is bigger than most Santorini seaside hotel options while still maintaining its local charm. Poolside cabanas and a nearby Aegean beachfront will fill your days, unless you’re more tempted by the slew of nearby dining options, wineries, and ancient ruins.

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Hotel Phoenicia: Malta

The phoenicia malta pool

The tiny nation of Malta is one of the most picturesque islands in the Mediterranean and packs surprisingly good value at high-end seaside hotels like The Phoenicia. An infinity pool with a sprawling view of the Grand Harbor is the main attraction, and the grand marble lobby is walking distance from plenty of downtown Floriana attractions and historic sites.

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What to Pack on Your Trip

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SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram at @shanmcmahon.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Family Travel Food & Drink Island Weekend Getaways Women's Travel

Why Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit Is the New Cancun

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Throughout the 30-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta to the brightly colored surfer town of Sayulita, there was one thing, besides the ocean views, that remained constant: New construction. The region of Riviera Nayarit, which got its name from Mexico’s tourism board of the same name, has a “made up” label of sorts, created in hope of differentiating this section of Mexico’s Pacific coast from its more popular neighbor, Puerto Vallarta.

The new construction, however, is about the only thing in common between each of the 23 distinct communities on this stretch of coastline. A vacation to Riviera Nayarit means experiencing different cultures, beaches, and activities, depending on which part you stay in.

Later this year the Conrad Playa Mita hotel is opening, and renovations are finishing at the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita. Also new this year is the Marival Armony Punta de Mita. Come 2020, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts will open the Rosewood Mandarina. One&Only Mandarina Resort and One&Only Mandarina Private Homes will also open next year, at a location with breathtaking ocean views, cliffside bungalows, an ocean-fed pool, all on a long strip of a pristine and remote beach.

AMResorts’ Dreams Punta de Mita Resort & Spa and Secrets Punta de Mita Resort & Spa are also both slated to open in 2020. Coming in 2021 is Auberge Resorts Collection’s Susurros del Corazon. In 2022, a new development called Costa Canuva will open featuring a Fairmont and Ritz-Carlton Reserve.

And 2019 visitor numbers support the hotel expansion projects. According to the tourism board, the region saw a five-percent increase in North American travelers compared to last year, and the average occupancy rate was 82 percent in the southern part of the region: the Bay of Banderas.

Interested in seeing this up-and-coming slice of Mexico before the crowds arrive? Here are the best ways to experience Riviera Nayarit.

Best Places to Visit in Riviera Nayarit  

colorful banners in mexico town.

Puerto Vallarta, the closest airport, is only 15 minutes away from the start of the Riviera Nayarit. And the farthest part of the region where most tourists visit, San Blas, is about three hours away from Puerto Vallarta. Riviera Nayarit’s close proximity to Puerto Vallarta makes it accessible via many North American hubs: Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, Toronto, and Calgary. And for those who want to explore more of Mexico, there’s a new toll road being developed between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta which will be about a three-hour drive. Within the region, there are also new roads being constructed to connect the towns along the Bay of Banderas.

Here are the best places in Riviera Nayarit to visit, in order of closest to farthest from Puerto Vallarta and the airport:

  • Nuevo Vallarta: A community of all-inclusive and family-friendly resorts on the Bay of Banderas; many properties have beach access.
  • Punta de Mita: A luxury development area where celebrities vacation.
  • Sayulita: A surfer-town made (in)famous by the reality show Bachelor in Paradise. It’s about 30 minutes to this section of the region, and the town is a popular place for surfing, shopping, and hanging out by the beach. It’s also one of Mexico’s famed pueblos magicos, a government designation for culturally significant towns.
  • San Francisco (San Pancho): San Pancho is what Sayulita was 10 years ago before the crowds found it. The sleepy town—about 15-minutes north of Sayulita—has a new eco-boutique hotel, remote beaches, and local charm.
  • San Blas: This is the northern-most point of Riviera Nayarit and a popular area for bird-watching. Back in the late 1700s, this was the most important port on the coastline and you can learn about its history as a fishing village. 

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Getting off the Resort in Riviera Nayarit

hidden cave beach in mexico.

While many come to the area to enjoy time at resorts, the region offers plenty of activities to enjoy off-resort as well.

For nature and water lovers, there are islands and national parks; Isla Marietas is the most famous one for its “Hidden Beach”. There are also two biosphere reserves: Isla Jaguar-Marismas and Isla Isabel National Park. And no matter what area you stay in, you’ll have opportunities to deep-sea fish, jet-ski, kayak, scuba dive, paddleboard, and more. During May through September whale sharks are spotted throughout the area, and the whale-watching season for blue whales, orcas, humpbacks, sperm whales, and more begins mid-December and ends in May.

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Birdwatching is a popular activity along the water, and there are also plenty of interior hiking trails and jungle walks to take that have gorgeous views of the coastline. It’s recommended to book an experience with a local guide, and you can learn more about Riviera Nayarit hikes here.

For culture visit the small towns along the coastline, like San Pancho. While perusing the towns, try a mezcal tasting class at a local mezcaleria like La Baba del Diablo. Isla de Mexcaltitan, which is often referred to as the “Venice of Nayarit” for its urban canals, is also a worthy day trip. And while resort dining is convenient and tasty, try at least one local meal off-site; the region is famous for pescado zarandeado (grilled fish) and aguachile (shrimp ceviche).

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Lastly, there’s plenty of golfing. The Punta Mita area especially is a popular vacation destination for golfers, home to two courses designed by famous golfer Jack Nicklaus. In total, the region has eight courses and is home to the only green in the world that’s on a natural island.

Best Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

stretch of beach on mexicos pacific coast.

From family-friendly properties to affordable hotels, there are plenty of hotels in Riviera Nayarit for every type of traveler.

All-Inclusive Resorts in Riviera Nayarit

All-inclusive resorts are the way to go if you want to check-in and forget about planning. The Nuevo Vallarta area and Punta Mita have concentrated sections of all-inclusive resorts. Here are three well-reviewed options:

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Luxury Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Celebrities have flocked to the Punta Mita area of Riviera Nayarit for years. Here are two of the most famous luxury hotels:

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Boutique Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Up-and-coming sections of the region are home to quaint, smaller, boutique hotels. Here are options in Sayulita and San Francisco:

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Family-Friendly Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Riviera Nayarit is a haven for families on vacation. Here are three well-known, family-friendly hotels in the Nuevo Vallarta area:

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Affordable Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Budget-conscious travelers will be happy to know that there are plenty of options for them as well; check out these three affordable hotels in the region:

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What to Wear in Riviera Nayarit

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Ashley Rossi was hosted by Riviera Nayarit. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

Categories
Booking Strategy Money

What Is a Resort Fee, and How Can You Avoid It?

When traveling to popular vacation destinations, you might find an extra charge tacked on to your hotel room bill, labeled as a “resort fee.” What exactly is this charge, what do you get for it, and do you really have to pay it? Read on to find out.[st_content_ad]

What Is a Resort Fee?

Say a hotel targets $125 a night in room revenue. But it also wants to appear to be a good deal, especially with high competition on third-parting booking sites. So, instead of $125, the hotel lists its rate as $100, but it still gets the targeted $125 by adding a mandatory $25 fee, which guests pay when they check out of the hotel. To make this fee seem reasonable, hotels come up a laundry list of services that they say the fee covers, such as access to the pool, Wi-Fi, parking, a fancy fitness center, or whatever else sounds plausible.

And if one hotel starts tacking on resort fees in a certain destination, other hotels will follow.

Many hotels have different names for these charges such as “amenity fee,” “housekeeping fee,” or “concierge fee,” but they operate in the same way as resort fees. Unfortunately, not using the “amenities” doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay for them … so if you’re looking to avoid resort fees, it’s best to find a hotel or property that doesn’t charge one.

The Federal Trade Commission conducted an analysis of hotel resort fees in 2017 and stated that “separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers by increasing the search costs and cognitive costs of finding and choosing hotel accommodations.” And yet they’re still the norm in many destinations.

Recently, there has been a crackdown on resort fees as deceptive advertising, with the first real action taken by Washington, D.C. against Marriott. The state of Nebraska has also filed a lawsuit against Hilton for the same reason.

The best news for consumers would be that the industry abandons these types of fees and that the actual total price is reflected in advertised rates both on the hotel’s website and on third-party booking sites. Earlier in 2019, Britain banned these types of hidden charges and now requires hotels and booking sites to include all mandatory charges, i.e. resort fees, in the listed price. Additionally, Booking.com now charges commission for resort fees in Europe and plans to do so in the U.S. starting in 2020, according to the Los Angeles Times, claiming that it hopes hotels start providing more transparency to consumers.

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Which Destinations Have Resort Fees?

In general, hotels that charge resort fees tend to be concentrated in beach, ski, and entertainment destinations, although some urban areas, like New York City, are starting to charge extra for things like an “amenity fee.” According the American Hotel & Lodging Association, about seven percent of hotels charge a resort fee. But how much does that add up to? Hospitality expert Bjorn Hanson, an adjunct professor at New York University School of Professional Studies, estimated that hotels made over $2.9 billion in revenue generated by these extra fees last year.

The website ResortFeeChecker tracks more than 2,000 hotels with resort fees. According to the site, the average hotel charges over $30 per night in resort fees. You can search by city or specific property to find out if it charges a resort fee.

Note that ResortFeeChecker does not cover a lot of properties in the Caribbean islands or Mexico, but resort fees are typical in these areas as well as in some European coastal and island destinations.

Hotels Without Resort Fees in Hawaii

The average resort fee in Hawaii is $27 per night with more than 100 island resorts charging additional fees (based on a study by Travel Hawaii). Here are three properties where you can avoid resort fees in Hawaii.

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Hotels Without Resort Fees in Las Vegas

The average resort fee in Las Vegas is about $28 with more than 122 resorts charging fees (based on information from Las Vegas Jaunt). Here are three properties where you can avoid resort fees in Las Vegas.

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Hotels Without Resort Fees in Florida

There are numerous popular destinations in Florida where resort fees are common. Fees average $24 per night in the Florida Keys, $25 per night in Miami, and $14 per night in Orlando, according to ResortFeeChecker. Miami alone has close to 200 properties with resort fees. Here are three properties where you can avoid resort fees in Florida.

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Hotels Without Resort Fees in Arizona

The average resort fee in Phoenix is $24 with more than 70 properties charging an extra fee (based on information from ResortFeeChecker). Here are three properties where you can avoid resort fees in Arizona.

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Hotels Without Resort Fees in Puerto Rico

The average resort fee in Puerto Rico is $34 per night with more than 28 resorts charging fees in San Juan (based on search results from ResortFeeChecker). Here are two properties where you can avoid resort fees in Puerto Rico.

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Editor’s note: Ed Perkins contributed to this article.

What to Wear at a Resort

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Categories
Health & Wellness

These Cities and States Have the Cleanest Hotels, According to AAA

AAA has over 27,000 inspected and approved hotels in its network. For over 80 years, the company performs in-person inspections of these properties and also come up with the “Inspector’s Best Of Housekeeping” rankings. Since cleanliness is often top of mind for travelers when booking hotels, this list is especially useful. In order to qualify, properties must rank high in excellence for housekeeping two years in a row in their inspection and have no AAA member complaints. The federation notes that only about 25 percent of the 27,000 AAA Inspected & Approved properties get this ranking

View the full report release information, here.

States with the Most AAA Inspector’s Best of Housekeeping Hotels

  1. California (982)
  2. Florida (485)
  3. Texas (468)
  4. North Carolina (458)
  5. New York (406)
  6. Virginia (328)
  7. Pennsylvania (281)
  8. Tennessee (268)
  9. Maryland (238)
  10. Massachusetts (215)

Cities with the Most AAA Inspector’s Best of Housekeeping Hotels

  1. New York, New York (161)
  2. Houston, Texas (90)
  3. Washington, D.C. (78)
  4. Orlando, Florida (69)
  5. Charlotte, North Carolina (68)
  6. Austin, Texas (63)
  7. Nashville, Tennessee (61)
  8. San Diego, California (60)
  9. Anaheim, California (50)
  10. San Antonio, Texas (49)

Where does your state or city rank?

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Cities Island Outdoors

The 24 Most Beautiful Places in Canada

[st_content_ad]The Great White North is blessed with endless beauty. It comes in many varieties, from unspoiled wilderness to urban splendor. But the following 24 places take the prize for being the most beautiful places in Canada, with at least one stunning destination in each province and territory.

Alberta

Banff National Park

 

lake louise banff national park.

Perhaps the most obvious place to start when discussing the most beautiful places in Canada is Banff National Park and its magnificent Lake Louise. Take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain for an incredible view of some of the world’s most dramatic mountain scenery, then explore the park’s stunning waterfalls, forests, and glacier lakes, including vibrant Lake Louise, an unlike-anywhere-else oasis in the Canadian Rockies.

Where to stay: Elegant Mount Royal Hotel has a Banff-themed library, rooftop hot tubs, a lobby museum, and modern decor that echoes the destination.

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Jasper National Park

glacier skywalk jasper national park.

Jasper is the Canadian Rockies’ biggest national park, and it’s packed with snow-covered peaks, translucent lakes, roaring waterfalls, inspiring highways, and large populations of wildlife including moose, caribou, wolves, and grizzlies. Step out onto the kilometer-long, 918-foot-high, glass-floored Columbia Icefield Skywalk—if you dare.

Where to stay: Airy Glacier View Lodge opened in summer 2019 and offers tours of the Athabasca Glacier, tall windows with views of icefields and steep mountains, gourmet dinners, and live musical performances every evening.

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Abraham Lake

Abraham lake clearwater county alberta canada.

When considering beautiful places to visit in Canada, don’t overlook Abraham Lake, on the Kootenay Plains’ North Saskatchewan River. Peer into its crystalline surface to see eerie methane bubble formations trapped in frozen bright blue water. These underwater oval towers of gas turn the manmade reservoir into a bucket-list destination for any Instagrammer worth his or her salt.

Where to stay: It may be about 80 miles from Abraham Lake, but the epic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is worth the drive. This gilded resort showcases one of the prettiest places in Canada by way of lovely accommodations right on Lake Louise. Guests get to borrow bikes and canoes for free.

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British Columbia

Victoria

butchart gardens victoria in spring.

Victoria is British Columbia’s fairy tale-like capital—easily one of the most beautiful cities in Canada—and Butchart Gardens is the jewel in its flowery crown. Besides touring these enchanting gardens, things to do in Victoria include visiting the expansive Royal BC Museum, strolling salty Fisherman’s Wharf, and exploring idyllic Beacon Hill Park.

Where to stay: Victoria’s stately Fairmont Empress is famous for many things, its classic afternoon tea chief among them. Service and accommodations are as regal as you’d expect.

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Vancouver Seawall

Vancouver seawall in fall british columbia canada

The 17-mile Vancouver Seawall allows for one of the most exhilarating bike rides you’ll ever take. Ride (or walk) the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path for wide, glittering views of the Pacific and plenty of entry points into dynamic Stanley Park. Stop to enjoy the beaches and other fun surprises along the way. While in Vancouver, you may as well visit a couple more of the prettiest places in Canada: the immersive Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and 4,100-foot-high Grouse Mountain.

Where to stay: At the impressive Fairmont Waterfront, service is so bespoke that even your shampoo bottle is personalized with your name on it.

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Whistler

whistler in winter.

If you’re aiming to see the most beautiful places in Canada, you could do far worse than Whistler in winter. It’s got sheer white mountain peaks, world-class skiing and snowboarding, an inviting apres-ski village, zip-lines through snow-covered trees, and fantastic places to eat and sleep.

Where to stay: For magical views, book Nita Lake Lodge, which has luxurious guest rooms, a spa, three restaurants, and a shuttle that takes you to the base of Whistler Mountain.

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Glacier National Park

glacier national park canada.

Amid the massive Canadian Rockies is Canada’s own Glacier National Park and its jaw-dropping beauty. The namesake geographical features take the form of icefields, waterfalls, and brightly hued lakes, making for some of the most resplendent natural scenery on Earth.

Where to stay: In the park, you can camp, use an RV, or book a hut or cabin. There are no hotels in Canada’s Glacier National Park, although the town of Revelstoke is nearby, and its Poppi’s Guesthouse hostel gets high marks for coziness, friendliness, and affordability.

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Great Bear Rainforest

black bear in great rainforest canada

Into wildlife adventures? The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the best places in Canada to see grizzly bears catching salmon in wild rivers, whales breaching, eagles soaring, and wolves roaming. In Klemtu on the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, you’ll find mossy forests, untamed fjords, and natural hot springs. As the name implies, ursines frolic everywhere, including the rare white “spirit bear.”

Where to stay: The indigenous-owned Spirit Bear Lodge offers exclusive access to wildlife-viewing areas and cultural sites within the Kitasoo Xai’xais territory. Accommodations are homey and dinners communal.

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Yoho National Park

yoho national park british columbia canada

The Kootenay Rockies’ Yoho National Park is named for the Cree word meaning “awe,” and it’s easy to see why—its imagery seems out of a movie. You’ll see intense blues and greens, dramatic peaks, the immense Takakkaw Falls, and gem-colored Emerald Lake, making this park one of the most beautiful places in Canada. Hiking trails and scenic drives let you take in the full force of this stunning wilderness. Don’t miss Yoho’s Burgess Shale, a paleontological jackpot containing 500-million-year-old fossils of more than 120 types of marine animals.

Where to stay: The historic, cabin-style Emerald Lake Lodge has balconies and wood-burning fireplaces right on the shores of the famous lake, amid towering mountains.

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Manitoba

Cape Churchill

polar bears in churchill manitoba canada.

Cape Churchill, Manitoba, is the polar bear capital of the world. If your idea of impressive scenery involves endless stretches of ice and dozens of polar bears striding across it, head up to the Arctic to experience one of the most beautiful places in Canada. In October and November, Hudson Bay freezes over and thousands of polar bears migrate to its ice, although climate change is already taking effect. Local tour guides in tundra rovers get you up close to see the endangered white creatures.

Where to stay: At Churchill’s Lazy Bear Lodge, accommodations are simple but comfortable. It’s a rustic log cabin with a huge stone fireplace and a location that’s walking distance from town. The lodge’s beluga whale tour is highly recommended.

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New Brunswick

Fundy National Park

waterfall in fundy national park.

Fundy National Park, on the Bay of Fundy, has the world’s highest and lowest tides. This means that you can walk out onto the ocean floor during low tide, then kayak alongside landforms like the must-see Hopewell Rocks when the Atlantic refloods the bay. Elsewhere in the park, hike through the Acadian Forest to see dozens of lovely waterfalls, explore sea caves, attend festivals and outdoor concerts, or drive Fundy Trail Parkway to see some of the prettiest places in Canada.

Where to stay: Fundy National Park has three hip campgrounds, as well as Fundy Highlands Motel, which offers simple, comfortable, dog-friendly chalets right on the bay.

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Newfoundland and Labrador

Gros Morne National Park

gros morne national park newfoundland labrador canada.

The iconic image of Gros Morne National Park is Western Brook Pond, whose name makes it sound small. It’s actually a massive freshwater fjord around which dramatic cliffs plunge into a glacier-formed gorge. Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is also home to the Tablelands, a geological rarity where earthquakes have forced the earth’s mantle up for all to see. There’s also Green Point—sheer cliffs full of ancient sea fossils—as well as waterfalls, dwarf forests, moose and caribou, and Gros Morne Mountain, which is among the planet’s oldest peaks.

Where to stay: Neddies Harbour Inn, a boutique property in the national park, provides unbeatable views over the Bonne Bay fjord, as well as a peaceful atmosphere and an excellent restaurant.

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Nova Scotia

Cabot Trail

cape breton drive canada.

Nova Scotia’s 185-mile Cabot Trail loops around Cape Breton Island, making for one of North America’s most memorable drives. In addition to providing gorgeous coastal views, the highway takes you to small fishing villages, the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, golf courses, museums, galleries, and artisan boutiques. It also passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, where moose, bears, and eagles roam, and where autumn’s vivid colors secure Cabot Trail’s spot among the prettiest places in Canada.

Where to stay: Keltic Lodge is a historic, well-appointed resort right on the Atlantic in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Amenities include in-room fireplaces, verandahs, a golf course, a heated swimming pool, and a satisfying restaurant.

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Ontario

Niagara Falls

horseshoe bay niagara falls canada.

Niagara Falls isn’t just one of the most beautiful places in Canada—it’s one of the most beautiful places in the whole world. And though Americans tend to think of it as a U.S. attraction (of course), the Canadian view of the famous falls is actually even better. Come in summer to be treated to nightly fireworks over the mist.

Where to stay: The city around Niagara Falls is pretty touristy, so it’s worth the effort to drive about 13 miles north to a charming little town called Niagara-on-the-Lake and its elegant Charles Hotel, where guest rooms have fireplaces, private verandahs gaze over Lake Ontario, gardens bloom with flowers, and service is superlative.

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CN Tower

CN tower ontario canada.

Those in search of Canadian urban wonders can look no further than the CN Tower, the defining feature of Toronto‘s skyline, punctuating postcards all over Ontario. The tower’s observation deck has glass floors, its 360 Restaurant rotates, and its heart-pounding EdgeWalk lets you strap in and hang off a five-foot-wide ledge more than 1,000 feet high. This iconic structure is prettiest when it illuminates after dark.

Where to stay: The Shangri-La Hotel, set in in a 66-floor glass-encased skyscraper, epitomizes modern luxury with its artistic decor, high-tech amenities, and hammam-inspired spa. And it’s within easy distance of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada.

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Prince Edward County

winery prince edward county canada.

Prince Edward County, a detached peninsula on Lake Ontario’s north shore, is ideal for both beach lovers and oenophiles. The region’s limestone bedrock makes for great wine grapes, which is why there are more than 40 vineyards here. There are also expansive fields of sunflowers and lavender, more than a dozen breweries, some 450 farms, and plenty of talented chefs who put all this local bounty to good use. PEC was relatively unknown until recently, when it gained something of a buzz among urbanites, artists, gourmands, and hipsters.

Where to stay: The colorful Drake Motor Inn opened in spring 2019, full of whimsy and modernized nostalgia. Its 12 rooms are all retro-chic, and the entire property pays playful tribute to the bygone days of road travel.

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Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island National Park

winter waves prince edward island canada

Prince Edward Island National Park is easily one of the most beautiful places in Canada, especially its windswept Greenwich section. Visitors can explore red sand beaches, wavy dunes, mystical forests, boardwalk trails, and the idyllic places that formed the setting for L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

Where to stay: Dalvay by the Sea, a national historic site on the north shore, was built in 1895 in Queen Anne Revival style. Its 25 rooms—each one unique—remain furnished in antiques from that ornate era.

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Victoria-by-the-Sea

victoria by the sea lighthouse prince edward island canada.

Victoria-by-the-Sea is a storybook village full of small-town seaside charm, including a photogenic lighthouse, red sand beaches, and artisan shops and galleries. Historically known for its fishermen, it’s now more populated by artists and creatives who leave an inspired mark on their lovely municipality.

Where to stay: The historic Orient Hotel is an inviting bed and breakfast that provides wonderful views of the water from almost every guest room.

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Quebec

Old Montreal

old montreal city street quebec canada.

Montreal is one of the most beautiful cities in Canada—and one of the most interesting, too, what with its amalgam of European and North American culture and engaging attractions like Olympic Park’s Biodome and Botanical Garden. The prettiest part of the city, however, is Old Montreal, founded as a French colony in 1642, with intricate architecture to match. If you ever feel like going to Europe without crossing the Atlantic, visit Old Montreal’s resplendent Notre-Dame Basilica, browse its stately Bonsecours Market, gawk at its colonial-era mansions, and watch the St. Lawrence River’s dynamic Old Port at work.

Where to stay: The newish Four Seasons Montreal puts forth its brand’s usual level of service and comfort—which is to say, it’s an excellent place to stay. Adding to the appeal is its central location in the Golden Square Mile, its fine cuisine, and its proximity to high-end shopping at Holt Renfrew Ogilvy.

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Quebec City

quebec city sunset quebec canada

Ask Canadians which is the most beautiful city in Canada, and most will respond the same way: Quebec City. It’s hard to overstate how magical this French-speaking town is—its fairy-tale charm pervades every cobblestone street. Quebec City, the only fortified city north of Mexico, is also blessed with colonial-era architecture, the bustling St. Lawrence River, and a rich, palpable history. It boasts four distinct seasons, each more beautiful than the next. Just outside of town, Montmorency Falls is almost 100 feet taller than any of Niagara’s three falls, making for a truly underrated natural wonder.

Where to stay: The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is the world’s most photographed hotel for good reason: Its legendary castle-on-a-hill look makes it an icon of Old Quebec. The elegance continues inside, in terms of both decor and hospitality par excellence.

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Saskatchewan

Grasslands National Park

grasslands national park saskatchewan canada

Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Canada, but in a bit of an unexpected sense: The grandness here isn’t so much village charm or even distinctive nature attractions. It’s more the vast golden prairies, the open country, the huge skies, and the roaming herds of bison that provide their own type of wild gorgeousness. One great way to take it all in is via a brand-new scenic road called the Badlands Parkway. Perk up your Instagram feed with photos of the park’s iconic red Adirondack chairs, or scour the hoodoo spires for dinosaur fossils.

Where to stay: Sky Story Bed & Breakfast in nearby Val Marie earns high marks for its warm hospitality, delicious breakfasts, and friendly cats.

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Northwest Territories

Great Slave Lake

aurora borealis great slave lake canada

If seeing the northern lights is on your bucket list, plan to visit Yellowknife and Great Slave Lake, in the Northwest Territories. In winter, this remote Arctic region transforms into one of the most beautiful places in Canada, thanks to its position north of the 60th parallel, placing it firmly inside the aurora oval. This, plus a flat landscape far from the ocean, makes Yellowknife one of the world’s best places to see nature’s most spectacular light show. Prepare to see deep, glowing greens and purples dominating the skies over North America’s deepest lake.

Where to stay: Blachford Lake Lodge is an eco-conscious wilderness resort where you can see the auroras from your bed, the hot tub, or the dining room. You can also take igloo-building workshops.

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Nunavut

Baffin Island

mount thor auyuittuq national park aunavut baffin island.

Baffin Island, above the Arctic Circle, is Canada’s largest island—it’s bigger than Great Britain. But it’s among the prettiest places in Canada because of Auyuittuq National Park, where icy fjords and glaciers dominate the landscape with their intense blues and bright whites. This surreal expanse of tundra is home to wildlife like you’ve never seen: narwhal, ringed seals, snow geese, Arctic foxes, caribou, and, yes, polar bears.

Where to stay: The Discovery Hotel is a boutique property with modern rooms and refined Arctic cuisine.

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Yukon

Whitehorse Region

white pass yukon route railroad.

The Yukon is full of beautiful places to visit in Canada, and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad is a thrilling way to take them in. This scenic narrow-gauge railway was built in the late 1800s for the Klondike Gold Rush. Today, it still connects Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital city. The memorable ride takes passengers, many of them on shore excursions from Alaska cruises, into wide expanses of rugged scenery, over and through impossible bridges and tunnels, and past wildflower-packed meadows, waterfalls, and glaciers at a speed that allows appreciation for the sheer magnitude of it all.

Where to stay: Northern Lights Resort & Spa, true to its name, is well positioned to see the winter aurora borealis. Book a glass chalet or a log cabin and enjoy this much-loved B&B’s saunas, warm hospitality, and highly personalized service.

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What to Wear on Your Canadian Adventure

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Abraham Lake was 50 miles from Lake Louise, rather than 80 miles. It has been corrected.

Categories
Beach Booking Strategy Family Travel Island Romantic Travel

Are All-Inclusive Resorts Really Worth It?

They claim to save you time and, most importantly, money, but are even the best bang-for-your-buck all-inclusive resorts really worth it? The answer depends on your vacation style. Discover what all-inclusive resorts actually include—and don’t include—to help you figure out whether this popular vacation option is right for you.

What Does All-Inclusive Mean?

All-inclusive resorts come in all shapes and sizes, and despite the name, they don’t necessarily include every conceivable vacation expense. Some let you book airfare along with your accommodations, so you only pay once for the entire vacation. Many include things like meals, drinks, airport transfers, gratuities, entertainment, and activities, but not airfare. Common exclusions include spa treatments, purchases at the resort shop, off-site excursions, and some premium activities.

Read the fine print of your package before booking and find out what’s included. If you’re paying for unlimited scuba diving (an activity quite pricey on its own), take advantage of it—you’re paying for it anyway. The same goes for food and drink. Don’t book an all-inclusive if you’re not planning on eating or drinking your way through the week. If all-you-can-eat buffets and top-shelf liquors are key to a good time, make sure your package includes them. If not, they can increase your price considerably.

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Who Should Book an All-Inclusive Resort?

Certain types of travelers benefit from all-inclusive resorts as opposed to other vacation options, particularly those who want to set a budget and stick to it, or those who are looking for an adults-only all-inclusive experience on the beach. Unlike many other types of vacations, an all-inclusive resort rolls the vast majority of your trip costs into a single up-front price. There are relatively few hidden fees, and you may not even have to worry about tipping. Quite literally, you could leave your wallet at home and still live like a king.

Even if penny-pinching isn’t on your agenda, this type of worry-free spending has a certain appeal. After all, you’re on vacation and you shouldn’t have to think about anything stressful, least of all money.

Others who benefit from all-inclusives are people who like to stay busy. In addition to accommodations and meals, all-inclusive resorts typically include a slew of on-site activities ranging from fitness classes to tennis and beach volleyball. If you’re not going to take advantage of them, this vacation option might not be worth it.

All-inclusive vacations typically will not save you money if you want to spend most of your time exploring the destination, eating in local restaurants, and otherwise spending time off-resort. Travelers interested in this type of vacation experience should consider staying in a hotel or rental property instead, as most all-inclusives don’t allow you to experience much outside the confines of the resort unless you pay extra.

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Finding the Best All-Inclusive Vacation Packages

So where do you look for all-inclusive packages? All-inclusive chains like Sandals, Barcelo, Beaches, Iberostar, Couples, and Club Med offer their own packages, but most are land-based (some include the option of air for an extra cost). Online travel agencies like Expedia, CheapCaribbean.com, and Apple Vacations offer good deals as well as the opportunity to incorporate air travel into the price. Booking all-inclusive vacation packages through one of these online agencies is easy, convenient, and often not much more expensive than booking the air and hotel elements individually.

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Choosing an All-Inclusive Resort

There seems to be a limitless array of all-inclusive resorts, so while booking may be easy, deciding which is best suited for your needs can be bewildering. All seem to offer quality accommodations, endless activities, and great food. But there are differences.

In general, couples looking for romance and quality time together will want to consider adults-only chains like Sandals, Secrets, or Couples. Families will be interested in Beaches, Grand Velas, or Sunscape, while fun-seeking singles can party till dawn at the clothing-optional Hedonism II or at certain Club Med properties. Chains like Riu, Club Med, and Iberostar offer a range of options for all ages.

For a good rundown of your options, see The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for All-Inclusive Brands from Oyster, SmarterTravel’s sister site.

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What’s Included at Five Popular All-Inclusive Resorts

To help you answer the question “What do all-inclusive resorts include?” I’ve gathered details on five highly rated all-inclusive resorts in beachfront locations. Read on for a sampling of what all-inclusive resorts offer—and what they don’t.

Sandals Montego Bay

This adults-only all-inclusive property in Jamaica was Sandals’ first resort.

What’s included: Accommodations, meals and snacks at 12 on-site restaurants, unlimited drinks, airport transfers, scuba diving for PADI-certified guests, various watersports including snorkeling and kayaking, various land activities including tennis and beach volleyball, entertainment and live shows, Wi-Fi, gratuities and taxes, and even a free wedding (with three-night stay).

What’s not included: Spa treatments, gift shop purchases, optional tours, phone calls, scuba certification courses, and medical treatment.

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Club Med Columbus Isle

Located in the Bahamas, this resort from Club Med, a pioneer of the all-inclusive experience, caters to couples and families alike.

What’s included: Accommodations, airfare, meals and snacks, drinks, snorkeling, windsurfing lessons, sailing lessons, water skiing and wakeboarding lessons, kayaking, paddleboarding, beach volleyball, bocce ball, table tennis, fitness classes, access to weight room, swimming pool activities, tennis lessons, children’s club, Wi-Fi, Club Med membership fee, taxes, and gratuities.

What’s not included: Spa treatments, local excursions, fishing, cycling, kitesurfing, and scuba diving.

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Beaches Negril

This family-focused resort in Jamaica has just about everything, from a kids’ program to a water park.

What’s included: Accommodations, meals and snacks at nine on-site restaurants, unlimited drinks, airport transfers, kids’ camp program, scuba diving for PADI-certified guests, various watersports including snorkeling and kayaking, various land activities including beach volleyball and tennis, access to Pirates Island water park, teen club, Xbox play lounge, entertainment and live shows, access to Certified Autism Center, gratuities, and taxes.

What’s not included: Spa treatments, optional tours, gift shop purchases, phone calls, scuba certification courses, golf caddies, medical treatment, and transportation anywhere besides the airport and neighboring partner resorts.

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Iberostar Selection Playa Mita

This resort on the Pacific Coast of Mexico caters to guests of all ages.

What’s included: Accommodations, meals and snacks, unlimited drinks, entertainment and live shows, non-motorized watersports, taxes, Wi-Fi, and tennis.

What’s not included: Transfers, golf, scuba diving, off-site tours, and babysitting.

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Secrets Papagayo

This luxurious, adults-only resort is located in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

What’s included: Accommodations, meals and snacks, unlimited drinks, 24-hour room service, pool and beach wait service, fitness classes and facilities, a variety of land activities and non-motorized watersports, entertainment and live shows, Wi-Fi, calls to U.S./Canada/Mexico, taxes, and gratuities.

What’s not included: Off-site excursions, golf, casino, spa treatments, dinner for two on the beach, and romantic extras such as premium Champagne or chocolate-covered strawberries.

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Tips for Booking an All-Inclusive Resort

Here are a few final things to keep in mind before booking your vacation:

  • Price is often relative to quality. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Read reviews of the resort by past guests on sites such as TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent site) so you know what to expect. However, it’s possible to get an amazing—and legitimate—deal, especially if you’re traveling at a less popular time of year, such as Caribbean hurricane season.
  • Look for deals. Most resort websites have a “specials” or “deals” section that includes promotions such as free nights, credit toward flights or resort spending, or discounts for military personnel.
  • Know what you’re getting into. Check to see what’s included in the price, so you don’t incur any additional costs that you’re not prepared to pay for.
  • Don’t go for the filet mignon if you really just want the hot dogs. There’s no point in paying for things you won’t use or do, so take that into consideration when evaluating packages.
  • Always have a way out. Ask about cancellation policies, and look into travel insurance, especially if you are booking through an online agency.

Whatever you do, enjoy yourself. It’s vacation—and you’ve earned it.

What to Wear at an All-Inclusive Resort

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

Categories
Beach Cities Health & Wellness Romantic Travel Sustainable Travel

SmarterTravel Spotlight: ‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach

No detail is missed in the ‘Alohilani (named after and dedicated to the last sovereign monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani) lobby. The gorgeous indoor-outdoor space reflects traditional Hawaiian living with its pillars wrapped in basket-woven teak and floor-to-ceiling window walls, all just steps away from the center of bustling Waikiki. Previously the Pacific Beach Hotel, the newly-renovated ‘Alohilani Resort opened its doors in 2018. The massive, 839-room property is defining what it means to be the new kid on the block with sustainability initiatives, roof-deck tennis courts, a saltwater infinity pool, two Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto restaurants, and street art murals commissioned by local artists … all without having direct beach access (you just have to cross the street to reach the sand). Read on to find out what it’s like to stay at this non-traditional (in the best way) Waikiki resort.

The Location

Located a block away from Waikiki Beach on the south side of Waikiki, the ‘Alohilani has unobstructed views of the ocean and Diamond Head from its upper floors. It’s also close to attractions—both the Honolulu Zoo and the Royal Hawaiian Center are about a 10-minute walk away.

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The Rooms 

view of room at alohilani resort in waikiki

I stayed in a Diamond Head Ocean View room in the Seascape tower, which had a view of both Diamond Head and the ocean. Due to the hotel’s location, most of the rooms—with the exception of those on lower floors—have at least an ocean view. Since the hotel is only a year old (at the time of publication in mid-2019), modern amenities like USB outlets are an appreciated touch, as is the TV with stream-casting. All rooms are at least 330 square feet and have a balcony. The living space feels large, so if you are sleeping four in a room, it would still be comfortable. The bathroom has a functional layout with a separate vanity from the bathroom-shower area.

Dining

morimoto restaurant at alohliani resort.

On-site, you’ll find five dining options, including two Asian restaurants by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. One is a more traditional restaurant with indoor-outdoor dining, while the second is a more casual space serving up noodles and sake. Other dining options include the pool deck with Swell Bar, the O Bar located off the lobby with views of the Oceanarium, and above the lobby area, you’ll find Lychee, a breakfast buffet room. 

(All of the) Extras

If you’re booking a vacation to Hawaii, a beach or pool is probably at the top of your hotel amenity checklist. Not only is ‘Alohilani less than a block to the beach, it also has an amazing pool deck with a heated saltwater infinity pool, cabanas, fire pits, and bar-dining area. There’s also a kid’s club and separate family pool. A separate beach club is also coming soon to the hotel. Since it’s not technically beachfront, you’ll find nightly rates to be slightly less than you might expect.

On-site, you’ll find the Island Club and Spa, which is truly a fitness and health “experience.” There is a fitness center with a studio that offers daily classes as well as rooftop tennis courts, batting cages, and training turf. Activities range from sunset yoga to TRX classes.

Another surprising element is the resort’s Oceanarium, which came with the original property, pre-renovation. Developers decided to keep it for its history, and guests can watch daily feedings (10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.) by the hotel’s scuba diver. The massive saltwater aquarium houses over 550 indigenous marine animals of 44 different species.

Guests looking for an extra touch can opt for access to the Longboard Club (the price is inclusive of two adults and two children per room). The extra fee includes a separate indoor and outdoor lounge area and free draft beers and wine during an evening service. Complimentary light bites are also available throughout the day, with an acai bar and select breakfast buffet in the morning and cheese and charcuterie in the evening.

The hotel also is proud of its sustainability efforts, like charging a $5 Tree Planting Fee, distributing eco-friendly water bottles, providing communal water stations, and participating in recycling and compost programs. The resort also encourages guests to visit Gunstock Ranch and participate in a tree planting tour as part of its partnership with the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative.

The $40 resort fee includes Wi-Fi and some non-traditional amenities too, like access to free fitness classes, Hawaiian cultural classes, surfboard storage, complimentary access to the Honolulu Museum of Art, portable phone chargers for use, a $20 spa credit per room per stay, English and Japanese-speaking concierges services, and more. 

Price and How to Book: Nightly rates start at $309 per night and can be booked on TripAdvisor or ‘Alohilani Resort’s website.

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Ashley Rossi stayed as a guest on behalf of the Oahu Visitors Bureau. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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