Categories
Island

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:597947″ /]

[st_related]Top Travel Destinations for 2020[/st_related]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:887085″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:596139″ /]

[st_related]The Essential Beach Packing List[/st_related]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:304568″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:307160″ /]

[st_related]The Best Travel Destinations for Every Month[/st_related]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:3451635″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:320588″ /]

[st_related]12 Incredible Hawaii Hotels Where You Can Escape Completely[/st_related]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:301841″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:308289″ /]

More from SmarterTravel:

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.
Categories
Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Business Travel Entertainment Experiential Travel Food & Drink Luxury Travel Romantic Travel

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.

[st_related]How to Find Bedbugs[/st_related]

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.

[st_related]The Most Bizarre Hotel Requests from Guests[/st_related]

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.

[st_related]15 Things Your Hotel Won’t Tell You[/st_related]

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.

Traveling? Get a Carry-On That Does More

The Bigger Carry-On from Away

3 words: lightweight, durable, & multi-functional. The Carry-On from Away makes traveling that much easier, especially with its removable, TSA-approved battery for your electronics.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=hotel]

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.

Categories
Arts & Culture Cities Health & Wellness

I Got Naked in a Moroccan Hammam Spa: Here’s What It Was Like

Whether it was from a friend who had visited or through a simple Google search, hammam spas kept popping up when I was researching things to do in Morocco.

And while I’m no spa connoisseur, going to a Moroccan hammam spa seemed like something I had to do on my trip. Here’s what it was like to get naked at one.

What Is a Moroccan Hammam Spa?

Moroccan hammams are part of many Moroccans’ daily life. Similar to a Turkish bath, a public hammam is a steam room where people go to clean themselves. This is usually a weekly ritual and is considered a social activity in villages and towns, with men, women, and children all participating. Baths are separated by gender and many people will spend hours here chatting with friends. While in Islamic culture women are typically covered from head to toe in public, they’re fully naked at hammams.

Upon entering the hammam spa you’ll get a bucket, a mat to lie on, some black soap, and exfoliating gloves (or you can hire someone to exfoliate you) and you essentially clean and exfoliate yourself in large steam rooms among everyone else, using your bucket and water from a tap.

A Moroccan hammam spa at a hotel would be much different. Treatments vary by hotel, but the general process is that you first soak in a pool or sit in a steam room, then you’re rinsed, exfoliated, and massaged. Here are all the dirty details of my experience.

 

La Mamounia Hotel, Marrakech, Morocco

What to Bring to a Moroccan Hammam Spa

Depending on what kind of spa you’re going to, bring a change of underwear and clothes, hairbrush, toiletries, makeup, and flip flops. Each spa is different, but it’s better to be over-prepared than under.

If you’re uncomfortable going totally naked, bring a bathing suit. Some hotel spas will provide paper underwear. Ask when you’re making your reservation what is provided so you can decide beforehand what you’re most comfortable with.

What to Expect at a Moroccan Hammam Spa at a Hotel

The receptionist said “take everything off” when she handed over a robe, paper thong, and flip flops. Obviously, if you’re going to a Moroccan hammam spa in Morocco, your spa specialist might not speak English. It was clear this would be the case when my attendant handed me a towel, motioned that I take off my robe, and led me to a steam room after I walked out of the changing room.

I was traveling with a friend, which helped ease some of the awkwardness. We had read in the treatment description that we’d be in the steam room for about 10 minutes, but after what seemed like forever, an attendant came in and gave us water bottles. Unclear if we were able to leave, we stayed in the steam room another 15 to 20 minutes, and ultimately decided to walk out when we couldn’t handle the heat anymore.

The attendants didn’t seem to mind, though looking back they probably thought we were crazy for staying in there so long. They directed us to the hammam’s beautiful (but completely open) mosaic showers. My friend was directed through another opening to a more private shower, and I was asked to take off my towel and paper underwear as I was rinsed off. I was then asked to lay down on a marble slab where my attendant said “henna” (like the tattoo) and applied a thick, brown-blackish paste to my body. After letting my skin absorb this goo, it was back to the shower to be rinsed.

[st_related]I Got Naked in a Turkish Bath and It Was Not Entirely Embarrassing[/st_related]

Then came exfoliation. This part of the experience is uniquely Moroccan and taken very seriously. I was scrubbed with what seemed like sandpaper from head to toe, and think an entire layer of skin came off my body through this process, as I wondered what a normal amount of dead skin to come off was … it felt surprisingly good, but was definitely intense. I’m sure if there wasn’t a language barrier I could have asked her to scrub softer, but I endured it before heading to the shower for yet another rinse.

 

La Mamounia Hotel, Marrakech, Morocco

Next came a calming clay mask. After application, the attendant covered me with a cloth and motioned for me to close my eyes. After about 30 minutes laying on the marble slab, she came back, led me to the shower to rinse off again, and pointed to some provided hair products. I fully showered this time, was (finally) handed a towel, and led to a room where I was asked if I wanted a massage. Unsure if this was included in the price, I politely said no. Instead, she quickly applied lotion over my entire body and handed my robe back.

After an overwhelming but ultimately relieving experience, I followed her to the relaxation room, where a kettle full of mint tea was waiting for me. My friend soon joined and we concluded that we were happy we experienced a Moroccan hammam, but we’d probably never need to do it again. We then headed back to reality in the busy streets of Marrakech … with one less layer of skin.

How to Pick a Moroccan Hammam Spa

Marrakech is known for its hammams and is one of the best places to get authentic hammam spa treatments in Morocco.

I received my Moroccan hammam spa treatment at La Mamounia, a luxury resort. If you’re looking for a certain level of comfort, book here or at another resort like Royal Mansour (of Instagram fame) or Selman Marrakech. You can easily call or email for a reservation ahead of time, and the spa menu at resorts will be in English. Because the exchange rate is so favorable at the moment, treatments are around $100 USD, which is a deal compared to U.S. and European spa prices.

For a less expensive (under $50) Moroccan hammam spa treatment, book at a riad, a traditional Moroccan home, like Riad les Jardins Mandaline or Riad Camilia. Other traditional hammam options include the popular Hammam de La Rose and Le Bain Bleu, both located in the Marrakech medina.

For the most authentic experience, consider a public hammam spa, like Hammam Dar el-Bacha. It’s the city’s largest traditional hammam with women-only hours in the afternoon and evening.

Must-Pack Spa Essentials

 

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

 

More from SmarterTravel:

[viator_tour destination=”825″ type=”3-mod”]

[st_deals_search search_type=vacation]

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
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.

[st_related]7 Travel Beauty Tips Experts Swear By[/st_related]

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.

[st_related]The Ultimate Packing List[/st_related]

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.

[st_related]10 Gorgeous Hotels Made for Instagram[/st_related]

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).

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:482662″ /]

More from SmarterTravel:

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.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel

Where to Stay in Germany: Lodging Tips You Need to Know

With so many tempting possibilities, deciding where to stay in Germany can turn into a dilemma. Should you choose ultra-modern hotels or charm-filled historic properties? Should you dream away your nights at country inns, fairytale castles, or pampering spa resorts? Even if you’re on a budget, Germany’s lodging options include hotels, B&Bs, and hostels that are among Europe’s very best. Or, for a change of pace, you can spend a few days on a farm or a countryside vineyard. Can’t choose? The best plan may be to mix and match as you travel through the country, sampling some of Germany’s best accommodations.

Traditional Hotels in Germany

Germany uses the international rating system of stars for hotels, from modest one-stars to five-star luxury. In one- and two-star hotels, you’ll find smaller rooms and perhaps shared bathrooms. From three stars up, hotels will have an on-site restaurant, luggage service, private bathrooms, and a reception desk that stays open at least 12 hours of each day. At four- and five-star hotels, you’ll enjoy room service and plenty of amenities, including robes and washcloths.

[viator_tour destination=”52″ type=”3-mod” tours=”46224P17,39295P66,3933FTWALL”]

German lodging standards are very high, and you can generally expect clean and comfortable rooms with breakfast included. Better hotels may serve a lavish morning buffet that includes eggs, meats, yogurt, fruits, and cheese. Many hotels in all price ranges have Wi-Fi, though sometimes for a fee.

Europeans still tend to smoke more cigarettes than Americans do, so if you’re sensitive to smoke, it’s worth requesting a nonsmoking room or floor when you make your reservation. Be aware that in a climate where air-conditioning is seldom necessary, many older hotels may not have it. If you are planning a summer trip, be sure to check.

Keep a copy of your reservation confirmation with you to make sure the promised rate is honored. Always check hotel sites directly for specials and deals, such as low weekend rates in cities when business travelers go home. During major events like Munich’s Oktoberfest or the Frankfurt Book Fair, rooms are scarce and rates can double or even triple. You can also find great deals on Germany hotels via TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) and Hotels.com.

[st_related]Germany Travel Guide: What to Do in Germany[/st_related]

Germany’s Romantik Hotels

While star ratings tell you about amenities, they do not measure charm, and many older European hotels have great appeal. Among the most enjoyable places to stay in Germany are the aptly named Romantik Hotels, found in Germany’s major cities as well as in its smaller towns. The hotels in this group are all in historic buildings and owner-managed.

Another romantic experience is to choose a schlosshotel, or castle converted into a hotel. Germany has more of these special accommodations than anywhere else in Europe. You can find many of them listed at TripAdvisor, and at a site called Castle and Palace Hotels.

Note that some of Germany’s older hotels do not have elevators, so if stairs are a problem for you, make sure to request a room on the ground floor.

[st_related]10 Castle Hotels in Europe That Are Worth the Splurge[/st_related]

Germany’s Country Hotels

The German countryside has so much beauty and so many attractions that it is well worth your time to plan part of your itinerary in Germany away from the cities. This will give you the chance to experience delightful places to stay such as gasthofs and gasthauses, atmospheric country inns that also serve good local food.

For a different experience, spend time at a countryside bauernhof, a farm that offers rooms for travelers. These are great fun for families, especially for city dwellers. You can also stay amid scenic vineyards at a winzerhof, a winery guesthouse. A site called LandReise is an excellent source for these types of lodgings (though it’s only in German; use the Chrome browser for translation). Bavaria alone boasts more than 1,000 farmstay listings, along with its own association and website to help find them: Farm-Holidays.com.

[st_related]Homestays and Farmstays: A Traveler’s Guide[/st_related]

Germany’s Spa Hotels

Ever since Roman times, visitors have been coming to Germany to “take the waters” in health spas surrounded by hot mineral springs said to have healing properties. “Bad” means bath, and hotels in cities such as Bad Reichenhall, Wiesbaden, and chic Baden-Baden share access to the coveted spa waters. Many of these cities also have diversions like casinos and fine eateries. Hotels vary from modest to super-luxurious. Check listings in each town to make your choice, as well as Booking.com.

Germany’s Budget Hotels, B&Bs, and Homestays

For those who are looking for a well-priced hotel in Germany, booking services like Expedia and Hotels.com offer good values in all price categories. Another good source is Best Western. The chain’s listings in Europe are not motels as they are in some parts of the U.S., but rather small hotels that have been inspected and are reliable. If you’re willing to stay outside the city center and take public transportation to get around, you can often find lower rates in better hotels. Just be sure that quick connections are near the hotel.

Germany has its full share of economical bed and breakfast choices, as well. B&Bs, also known as pensions, may be small hotels, but most often, they’re private homes with live-in hosts. They are a far more personal experience than staying in a hotel. The best way to find listings is by contacting the local tourist offices in the areas you plan to visit. You can also find listings at international online services such as BBOnline, BnBFinderBedandBreakfast.com or, of course, Airbnb.

At the lower end of the lodgings scale in Germany are zimmer, meaning simply “rooms,” in private houses, offered by families that have a spare bedroom or two. These can be especially handy if you’re looking for an overnight while touring the country by car. Watch for signs that say “Zimmerfrei” (room available), check with the local tourist office for locations, or try Homestay.com.

[st_related]Tipping in Germany: The Germany Tipping Guide[/st_related]

Germany Vacation Rentals

Apartment and home rentals provide more spacious quarters and can be less expensive than booking multiple hotel rooms when traveling with family or a group of friends. The agencies and websites that specialize in offering these types of properties have listings ranging from studios in the city to villas in the country. Among the sources to try are AirbnbHomeAway, and TripAdvisor’s vacation rentals page.

Ask for references or read reviews from people who have previously rented the property that you’re considering. Be sure that someone will be on call to help in case of emergency, like a lost key or a plumbing problem. If you’re hungry for more information before making your reservation, read up about what you need to know about booking a vacation rental.

If you’re planning to stay in Germany for a week or longer, you could consider a house swap. A German family might be delighted to trade their home or apartment for yours, saving each of you a lot of money. Specialized agencies such as HomeExchange or Intervac have listings all over the world, including many in Germany. As with rentals, references from others who have stayed in the property are invaluable. Not quite sure how to arrange this type of accommodation? Read more about how to set up a home exchange.

Hostels in Germany

Germany helped pioneer the idea of youth hostels, and today has more than 500 hostel properties that are among Europe’s most modern. While they still offer the bunk rooms that are popular with thrifty students, many hostels also offer private double rooms and family-style rooms that appeal to budget-conscious older travelers. Rates are modest and often include breakfast.

The best hostels book up fast, so reserve well in advance. Find listings at the German Youth Hostel Association or via Hostelling International, an organization that covers countries around the world. You may also want to consider investing in a Hostelling International membership, as this will allow you to stay worldwide at deeply discounted rates.

More from SmarterTravel: 

[viator_tour destination=”52″ type=”3-mod” tours=”89617P27,46151P3,8683P11″]

–original research and reporting by Eleanor Berman

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Adventure Travel Beach Cities Luxury Travel Miscellany Romantic Travel

9 Best Places to Propose That Are Worth Traveling To

So, you’re ready to pop the question and you want it to be special … really special. You already know you want to do it on your next big trip, but there’s one major factor you haven’t figured out yet—where should you go?

The perfect place to propose can’t just be romantic, it also has to be an amazing destination that you and your partner want to visit. (That way they’ll never see it coming.) It has to be exciting, picturesque, and maybe a little bit over-the-top—depending on how much money you have left over after you buy the ring.

The following places make it easy to plan a proposal and can supply the perfect backdrop for the story you’ll be telling for the rest of your life.

[st_related]8 Unforgettable Ideas for a Unique Destination Wedding[/st_related]

New Orleans, Louisiana

Having recently had the chance to witness a friend’s proposal in New Orleans, I can personally say that this city was made for spontaneous romance and celebration. Not only does its flower-filled French Quarter provide an intimate backdrop, New Orleans is also a city that’s more than ready to celebrate your big day with you. Whether you hire a marching band for a spectacle or plan something simpler like proposing mid-stroll in Jackson Square, New Orleans offers plenty of romance and many places to party afterwards.

Where to Stay: For a big trip like this, you can live it up at the Ritz-Carlton. Located just outside, but not too far from, the French Quarter, you can stay close to the party while also geting your beauty rest. Let the front desk know about the proposal and they’ll make sure to have champagne in-room when you get back.

New York City, New York

If you’re a high-roller looking to plan a big gesture, it doesn’t get any splurgier than New York City. With so many iconic places to choose from (Central Park, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc.), the island of Manhattan is chock-full of show-stopping proposal settings. But if you’re looking for something truly remarkable, check into the Jewel Suite at the Lotte Palace. This sparkling 5,000-square-foot suite was designed in partnership with renowned jeweler Martin Katz and displays jewelry valued at over 1.5 million dollars. Call ahead of time and the hotel will plant the ring in the display case so you can give your partner the surprise of their life when you open up that million-dollar case and ask them to marry you.

Where to Stay: Can’t swing the Palace, but still want your New York City proposal to be special? Book a night or two at the Park South Hotel, a boutique hotel in the fashionable NoMad neighborhood, for an affordable hotel with luxury touches.

[st_related]SmarterTravel Spotlight: The Beekman Hotel in New York City[/st_related]

Santa Barbara, California

If you think your partner might sense something is up if you suggest a huge trip, plan a weekend getaway instead. For West Coasters, Santa Barbara is the perfect example of a laid-back but romantic destination. There are plenty of good question-popping spots, from the beach to Kapp’s Castle, but if you’re looking for something more private, check out the rooftop at the Kimpton Canary Hotel. With 360-degree views, you can time your proposal for sunset to match this Mediterranean-inspired hotel. The staff of the hotel can help you craft and customize your proposal, so you can be sure your privacy will be guaranteed and your partner will be romantically surprised.

Where to Stay: Whether or not you take advantage of the rooftop as an option, the Kimpton Canary is still a good choice for accommodations since it’s right downtown and has the only rooftop hotel pool in the area.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

For East Coasters looking for a casual-seeming weekend getaway to the beach, the Outer Banks in North Carolina is just the place for plotting your proposal. If you’re not feeling a beach proposal, you can also propose at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse or among the dunes at Jockey Ridge State Park. Or consider the gazebo at the Sanderling Resort, which faces westward toward the sunset and extends over the Currituck Sound. The resort’s staff can help you arrange the perfect proposal and hook you up with a local photographer to capture the moment.

Where to Stay: The oceanfront Sanderling Resort in Duck, North Carolina doesn’t just come with the perfect proposal backdrop, it also offers a spa, two pools, and private beach access.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

If you want to time your proposal with a snowy Valentine’s Day trip, head to Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva. Visit for Winterfest, a nine-day festival featuring the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship and illuminated jaw-dropping ice castles that are big enough to walk around in. The festival would make a great place to propose, but if you want to really wow your loved one, you can sign on for a helicopter ride over the Grand Geneva Resort and fly over the heart-shaped pond, where you can customize a message written in snow. It’s only big enough to fit 15 characters, but that’s still enough for “Marry me?”

Where to Stay: When you book the helicopter proposal package at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, it also comes with breakfast in bed, a five-course dinner, and a private winter photoshoot.

 [st_related]The 10 Best Lake Towns in North America[/st_related]

Finland 

Finland might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of taking a romantic vacation, but it should be—especially in winter. For the majority of people living outside the polar circles, seeing the Northern Lights is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it’s one worth booking a few days for to account for the possibility of poor visibility or weather.

Where to Stay: You won’t miss a moment of the light show when you stay in a geodesic domes like the ones at Torassieppi. These romantic see-through cabins are the perfect place to cozy up with your partner and celebrate your engagement. You can book them here.

Italy

Good wine, delicious food, and those soft yellow sunsets you always imagined Italy would have … need I say more? Italy is already a romantic destination, but if you don’t want hordes of tourists to be part of your picture-perfect proposal, you can forget about proposing on a gondola in Venice or in front of Rome’s Trevi Fountain. Instead, get yourself out of the major cities and into a villa. Propose among the vines or in an olive tree orchard and treat you and your partner to a week of good food, wine, and idyllic landscapes.

Where to Stay: La Cucina Sabina is a culinary resort located just thirty minutes north of Rome. It has seen many successful proposals on its property over the years and the owners can offer guests a personalized experience and help you scout out the right place and time for your proposal.

[st_related]8 Hidden Italian Islands Where You Can Escape the Crowds[/st_related]

Playa del Carmen, Mexico


There’s nothing suspicious about suggesting a well-deserved vacation in Mexico—and little will your partner know you’re also packing a ring. A tropical vacation is the perfect decoy and with so many Mexican hotels made for romance, it won’t be hard to find a private moment to pop the question. Not far from Cancun, but far from the crowds, Playa del Carmen has beautiful white-sand beaches and a colorful and lively town center. You can plan a classic proposal on the beach or propose during a day-trip to one of the less-crowded Mayan ruins.

Where to Stay: When in Mexico for a romantic trip, it’s best to go for the adults-only resort option. At the Hilton Playa del Carmen, all the rooms are suites, which means the two of you can enjoy your own private balcony and hot tub. There’s even an on-site romance concierge who can help you plan a candlelit dinner on the beach or set up a private sailing trip at sunset.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

The luxe Alpine ski town of St. Moritz is a place that seems more fairy-tale than reality. Whether you ask the question during dinner on top of the world at Corviglia Ski Resort or on a romantic horse-driven carriage ride through the snowy landscape courtesy of the Carlton Hotel, you won’t have any trouble finding the perfect spot, since practically everywhere in St. Moritz is the best place to propose.

Where to Stay: In addition to the carriage rides, the Carlton Hotel St. Moritz’s romance package includes a couple’s massage in the hotel’s stunning spa plus an exclusive five-course dinner.

More from SmarterTravel:

Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.

Categories
Beach Island Luxury Travel Sustainable Travel

The 10 Best Kauai Hotels for Every Budget

Looking for a big oceanfront resort where your kids can build sandcastles on the beach and splash in the pool all week? Kauai has that. Or would you prefer a secluded B&B where you can sip your morning coffee on a private lanai overlooking a lush tropical valley? Kauai has that, too. From glitzy resorts and luxury condos to oceanfront cottages and intimate inns, Kauai hotels span the gamut of travel styles and amenities.

Below are 10 of the best hotels in Kauai, with options for every price point. When evaluating the properties below, keep in mind that Hawaii is an expensive place to visit, and Kauai is no exception: At busy times of year, even a “budget” property will cost nearly $200 a night.

Where to Stay in Kauai

[st_content_ad]The South Shore is the sunniest part of the island and has some of the best beaches and biggest Kauai resorts, especially in the area around Poipu. Meanwhile, the spectacular beauty of the North Shore makes up for its slightly rainier weather. You’ll find many of the more affordable Kauai hotels on the busy eastern coast, which has plenty of restaurants and shops, and makes a good base to explore the island’s many attractions.

Can’t find a hotel you like? Consider vacation rentals instead.

[st_related]Kauai Travel Guide[/st_related]

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa

Grand hyatt kauai resort & spa

If your vacation philosophy is that “bigger is better”—and you don’t mind “bigger” also applying to the price tag—you’ll love the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa. Stretching over 50 beachfront acres on the sunny south side of the island, the resort boasts more than 600 rooms, a spacious spa, 10 restaurants, two tennis courts, and an 18-hole golf course with views of the ocean. But the showstopper is the property’s sprawling network of gardens and pools, which includes a saltwater lagoon, an adult-only pool, a lazy river, and multiple family-friendly freshwater pools, all fringed with colorful tropical landscaping.

Book it: Get prices for Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa

Garden Island Inn Hotel

Garden island inn hotel

The family-owned Garden Island Inn Hotel in Lihue is one of Kauai’s best bargains. Each of the 21 rooms includes a kitchenette, free Wi-Fi, artwork by a local artist, and freshly cut flowers from the hotel’s own garden. The hotel also has free beach chairs and towels, snorkel gear, boogie boards, and other gear available for guest use. Kalapaki Beach is within walking distance, and the airport is a short drive away.

Book it: Get prices for Garden Island Inn Hotel

Makai Club Resort

For a mid-priced option on the North Shore, consider the Makai Club Resort. Located right next to an award-winning golf course and just a short drive from the beach, the resort offers one-bedroom condos and two-bedroom cottages, all with full kitchens, laundry facilities, and private balconies overlooking gardens or the mountains. The resort also has a pool and hot tub for guests to use.

Book it: Get prices for Makai Club Resort

Whalers Cove

Whalers cove

Every one of the luxe condo units at Whalers Cove offers a full or partial ocean view, which you can enjoy from your own private balcony. Units also feature full-size kitchens and laundry facilities, ideal for long-term stays. Upgrade to a deluxe condo for perks like a Jacuzzi in the master bath and sweeping ocean views from the living and dining rooms. All guests can enjoy the on-site pool, hot tub, and BBQ area. Poipu’s shops and restaurants are a short walk away.

Book it: Get prices for Whalers Cove

The Palmwood

The palmwood

If your idea of luxury involves seclusion, gorgeous views, good food, and attention to detail, give The Palmwood a try. This intimate guesthouse is located on a hill overlooking the mountains of Kauai’s North Shore and offers three airy rooms with private hot tubs and balconies. Past guests rave about the homecooked breakfasts, which feature local and organic ingredients.

Book it: Get prices for The Palmwood

Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy

Kauai coast resort at the beachboy

The moderately priced studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom condos at the Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy overlook the ocean along Kauai’s east coast. The rocky shoreline here isn’t ideal for swimming, but the views are beautiful (especially at sunrise), and the resort has a pool area and sun deck where you can relax and go for a swim. The property is located next door to the Coconut Marketplace’s shops, restaurants, and farmers’ market.

Book it: Get prices for Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy

Marjorie’s Kauai Inn

Odds are you won’t miss the ocean when you’re marveling over the views of the lush, green Lawai Valley from the balcony of your room at Marjorie’s Kauai Inn. But if you do have a hankering for the beach, Poipu is just a short drive away. The breakfast menu changes daily but might include frittata with roasted potatoes, puff-pastry quiche with blueberry muffin bites, or eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon—alongside plenty of fresh fruit from the B&B’s own garden. Each of the three moderately priced rooms has air-conditioning and a comfy queen-sized bed.

Book it: Get prices for Marjorie’s Kauai Inn

St. Regis Princeville Resort

St regis princeville resort

One of the most luxurious Kauai hotels, the St. Regis Princeville offers dramatic views over Hanalei Bay and the jagged green cliffs of the North Shore. Upscale amenities include the Halele’a Spa and an infinity pool overlooking the sea. There are five on-site dining options at this Kauai beach resort, as well as 24-hour room service. The hotel has its own stretch of sand, but there are numerous other beaches within easy driving distance that are well worth exploring.

Book it: Get prices for St. Regis Princeville Resort

Inn Waimea

Inn waimea

A historic parsonage converted into a guesthouse, Inn Waimea is a good option for budget travelers looking for no-frills accommodation in the southwestern part of Kauai. Within easy walking distance are a beach and the restaurants and shops of Waimea town. Just a short drive away are the hiking trails and dramatic lookout points of Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park.

Book it: Get prices for Inn Waimea

Hotel Coral Reef

Hotel coral reef

A small, laid-back property in the historic town of Kapaa on Kauai’s east coast, Hotel Coral Reef is a convenient and moderately priced base for exploring the island. The hotel offers complimentary bikes for use on a nearby path that runs along the ocean. A waterfall spills into one end of the pool, which overlooks the sea. For less street noise and a better view, upgrade to an oceanfront room.

Book it: Get prices for Hotel Coral Reef

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=hotel]

Sarah Schlichter traveled to Hawaii as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines and Barclays. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Categories
Adventure Travel Island Sustainable Travel

10 Incredible Hot Spring Resorts

Ahhhhhh. Does anything feel better than sinking into a tub of steaming-hot water and letting your muscles—and your mind—relax completely? That’s the prime appeal of staying in a hot spring resort, where thermal pools typically come with an indulgent side of spa treatments, luxurious accommodations, and fine cuisine.

The Best Hot Spring Resorts

The following hot spring resorts offer travelers a chance to soak in natural thermal pools with stunning views of woods, water, or even the northern lights.

Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa, Arenal, Costa Rica

[st_content_ad]At the base of Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano is an inviting collection of steaming hot springs and flowing waterfalls, nestled amid lush tropical foliage. These pools are just a short walk (or free shuttle ride) from Tabacon, and while they’re open to day visitors, the intimate Shangri-La Gardens section is reserved exclusively for guests at this luxurious hot spring resort. Rooms offer cozy sitting areas and rainforest views, and there are restaurants and bars on site.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:293017″ /]

Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa, Puyuhuapi, Chile

Tucked away in Chilean Patagonia is Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa, where you can soak in outdoor hot springs overlooking snow-capped mountains and the serene waters of Dorita Bay. Using this ecolodge as a base, you can hike through a temperate rainforest, sample Chilean wines, and go sea kayaking—then come back and relax with a massage or thalassotherapy algae bath. At dinner, savor locally caught seafood accompanied by vegetables and herbs grown in the lodge’s own greenhouse.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:483163″ /]

Indian Springs, Calistoga, California

Four geysers provide natural heat and mineral water for the Olympic-size main pool, the private adults-only pool, and the serene Buddha Pond at Indian Springs. This hot spring resort in the Napa Valley offers lodge rooms, cottages, bungalows, and houses for guests looking to get away from it all while exploring California’s Wine Country. The pools stay open until midnight so you can soak under the stars. Don’t miss the resort’s famous Calistoga mud bath treatment, renowned for softening skin and encouraging relaxation.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:142381″ /]

San Giovanni Terme Rapolano, Rapolano Terme, Italy

As if Tuscany’s picture-perfect hill towns and fine wines weren’t restorative enough, the region is also home to San Giovanni, a hot spring resort with five thermal pools overlooking the countryside. You could easily spend a whole day moving from the waters to a poolside sun lounger to the spa, where you can enjoy a mango butter massage or be treated with healing thermal mud. For those who want to combine relaxation with sightseeing, the hotel is a half-hour’s drive from Siena and about 90 minutes from Florence.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:1149372″ /]

Takinoya, Noboribetsu, Japan

With thousands of hot springs (known as onsens) scattered across the country, Japan is one of the best places on Earth to enjoy a leisurely soak. Try it for yourself at Takinoya, located on the northern island of Hokkaido, where options include rocky pools and infinity-style baths looking out over the surrounding wilderness. You can also enjoy a traditional kaiseki-style meal, wander through tranquil gardens, and sleep on your choice of tatami mats or Western-style beds.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:1155425″ /]

Hot Water Beach Top 10, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

One of the more affordable hot spring resorts on this list, the family-friendly Hot Water Beach Top 10 offers a wide range of lodging options, from villas and motel rooms to cabins and powered RV campsites. While there’s plenty to see nearby—think beaches, hiking trails, and artist studios—the prime draw is Hot Water Beach, where you can dig your own spot and enjoy the natural hot spring water seeping up from under the sand.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:1389550″ /]

Chena Hot Springs Resort, Chena Hot Springs, Alaska

Imagine soaking in a natural hot spring lake while gazing up at the northern lights blazing through the sky overhead: That’s the appeal of a stay at Chena Hot Springs Resort. Located about 60 miles from Fairbanks, the hotel has a large hot spring lake open from 7:00 a.m. to midnight, as well as hot tubs and an indoor pool. Massages and reflexology treatments are available on site. Accommodations include lodge-style rooms, yurts, campsites, and cabins.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:112941″ /]

Ma’in Hot Springs, Ma’in, Jordan

Discover your own desert oasis—complete with steaming waterfalls and hot spring pools—located near the Dead Sea. Let the warm water cascade down on your shoulders, then work out those last few kernels of tension with a massage at the hotel’s spa facility. Rooms at Ma’in Hot Springs are basic but comfortable, and some offer views of the falls. Guests can dine at multiple on-site restaurants.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:1382904″ /]

The Retreat at Blue Lagoon, Grindavik, Iceland

This brand-new hot spring resort opened in April 2018 and boasts spacious suites with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking either lava fields or the steaming geothermal waters of Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. (Upgrade to a Lagoon Suite to enjoy access to the waters right from your door.) For the max in indulgence, sign up for the spa’s Blue Lagoon Ritual, with treatments featuring lagoon ingredients such as algae, mineral salt, and silica.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:14070242″ /]

Harrison Hot Springs Resort, British Columbia, Canada

Travelers flock to this friendly lakefront lodge to take advantage of its five hot spring mineral pools, including one for lap swimming, one for families, and one for adults only. Two of the pools feature waterfalls. Other area activities include hiking, golf, Jet Skiing, and quad-cycling. For a poolside room, book accommodations in the West Tower; for more privacy, rent a cottage.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:183786″ /]

What to Wear at a Hot Spring Resort

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=hotel]

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Cities Experiential Travel Food & Drink Miscellany Outdoors

9 Fun Things to Do in Miami

Miami has rightfully earned a reputation as a party hot spot, drawing everyone from celebrities to spring breakers. But when it comes to fun things to do in Miami, this concept takes on multiple meanings. Miami isn’t lacking in late-night parties, but the city is also home to historic neighborhoods, stunning architecture, and mangrove-filled islands begging to be explored.

Fun Things to Do in Miami

To enjoy the best of both city and shore, add these nine things to do in Miami to your vacation itinerary.

[viator_tour destination=”662″ type=”3-mod”]

Canoe Tours

Canoe tours

[st_content_ad]Miami’s beaches may get all the love, but its flat calm waters and mangrove-covered islands make for excellent ecosystems to explore. Kayaking and canoeing are two of the many fun things to do in Everglades National Park, home to 99 miles of wilderness waterways prime for all levels of paddlers. From September to May, The Deering Estate leads morning and moonlit canoeing tours across Biscayne Bay to the seven-acre mangrove island and bird rookery appropriately named Chicken Key. While the island’s mangrove forests and sand dunes are one draw (with campfires and s’mores served during evening tours), the paddle out is equally as exciting as you canoe alongside manatees and sea turtles.

Fishing

Fishing

Miami is a prime year-round locale for anglers looking to cast their reel in the Atlantic. From land, you can throw a line from a number of spots, including Haulover Inlet Jetty and South Pointe Park Pier, both popular places for catching snapper and Spanish mackerel. If you’re after sport fish like marlin, sailfish, and tuna, head out to sea on a half- or full-day guided boat charter led by experts like Top Gun Fishing Charters.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Snorkeling

You don’t need to head south to Belize in order to find beautiful coral reefs. The third-largest barrier reef system in the world, the Florida Reef, happens to lie just offshore, stretching 360 miles from the St. Lucie Inlet north of Miami down to Key West and Dry Tortugas National Park. Snorkel along the mangrove coastline and outer reefs of Half Moon and Emerald in Biscayne National Park, or spend a day swimming with sea life in Key Largo at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first undersea park in the U.S. It’s home to dive sites like the Christ of the Abyss statue and WWII-era shipwrecks.

Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery

Schnebly redland’s winery & brewery

Wine tasting may not rank high on your list of things to do in Miami, but Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery has become something of a local secret, and its grape-less wines have developed a loyal following. Mango, lychee, guava, and passion fruit are just a few of the tropical-flavored wines you can taste at the southernmost winery in the U.S. Head out to the Redland area during the weekend for a wine tasting and tour of the estate, where you’ll come across everything from waterfalls and koi ponds to thatched-roof chickee huts. On Friday evenings, the taproom changes themes from country music hall to Southern-style barbecue, while bottomless mimosa (or beer-mosa) Sunday brunch is a staple at the winery’s farm-to-table-focused restaurant, Red Lander.

Historic Overtown

Historic overtown

A blend of Miami’s heritage from the West Indies, West Africa, and the American South, historic Overtown (once known as the “Harlem of the South”) is a community built by black men in the late 1800s. The historic neighborhood earned its modern-day name thanks to the local and visiting artists who would head “over town” to their hotels or events in other parts of the city. After falling into disrepair, Overtown is slowly getting back on its feet and drawing both locals and visitors to its landmarks, such as the 1913 movie and vaudeville Lyric Theater, the only building that still stands from Miami’s “Little Broadway.” Another major draw: Jackson Soul Food, a family-run restaurant that’s even enticed the likes of the late Nat King Cole and sports star LeBron James.

New World Symphony

Symphony

The New World Symphony’s campus is one of the landmark buildings in South Beach—and the only one in Florida designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry. If you’re trying to figure out what to do in Miami, dress up and catch one of the orchestra concerts. Or opt for a more casual outing, sprawling out in the grass for one of the free concerts or movies projected on the side of the building in SoundScape Park.

Art Deco Tour

Art deco tour

Miami is known for its Art Deco Historic District, which popped up during a building boom following the 1929 stock market crash. Get schooled on this distinctive style of architecture on a 90-minute walking tour highlighting the city’s Art Deco, Mediterranean, and Miami Modern buildings. If you’d rather take a DIY tour, grab a map from the Art Deco Welcome Center and cruise around the district on a DecoBike, which you can rent with the swipe of a credit card at one of the 100-plus kiosks around town.

Shopping

Bar harbour

Shopaholics can definitely get their fix at Miami’s many malls, which range from the traditional indoor type like Dadeland and Aventura Malls to upscale, open-air shopping centers like Merrick Park and Bal Harbour—both destinations in themselves. The three-story Bal Harbour Shops, Florida’s first high-fashion shopping center, opened in 1965 on the site of former World War II army barracks and looks more like a scene from Southeast Asia than tropical South Florida. Peaceful koi ponds line the center of the courtyard, surrounded by haute brands like Chanel and Harry Winston. Not only are the shops (and their beautifully curated window displays) worth the visit, so are the restaurants, from the French brasserie-themed Le Zoo to iron chef-inspired Makoto.

Beachside Spas

Beachside spas

Miami’s most glamorous resorts not only offer private beachfront access, but are also home to the city’s most lavish spas, which locals deem one of the top things to do in Miami. Most spas offer complimentary use of their amenities when you book a treatment, so plan on indulging in a full day of detoxing in steam rooms and relaxing poolside in between massage sessions. One of the top picks in the city: Fontainebleau’s Lapis Spa, known for its signature thermal treatments and “Water Journey,” a hydro playground with mineral pools, a rain tunnel, a jet bath, and a eucalyptus infusion steam room.

More from SmarterTravel:

—Original reporting by Lane Nieset

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Cities Luxury Travel Miscellany

10 Best Luxury Hotels in Denver

The best hotels in Denver cater to every kind of traveler, whether they’re seeking the trendiest spot, a historic setting, access to a five-star spa, or family-friendly accommodations.

10 Best Luxury Hotels in Denver

After a long day on the trails or the shopping circuit, unwind at one of these 10 best hotels in Denver.

DOWNTOWN

Four Seasons Hotel Denver

luxury hotels in denver

[st_content_ad]Sophisticated and welcoming, the Four Seasons Hotel Denver is in the heart of Denver’s theater district. The 239 rooms (21 of which are suites) embrace the Colorado aesthetic with natural materials and oversized windows that maximize the city and mountain views. The spa menu features local and seasonal treatments—for men, women, and teens—and the lobby-level Edge Restaurant and Bar are places to see and be seen. The heated pool and hot tub on the third-floor terrace are ideal for soaking in Denver’s ubiquitous bluebird days.

Amenities: Evening turndown service, marble bathroom, plasma/LCD TVs, fitness center, heated outdoor pool and hot tub, spa and salon, complimentary car service (within a three-mile radius), and concierge.

Book It: Get prices for Four Seasons Hotel Denver and other Denver hotels

The Crawford Hotel

luxury hotels in denver

Union Station, Denver’s main transit hub, has an unexpected tenant: a hotel. In design and décor, the 112 rooms of the Crawford Hotel—named after prominent local preservationist and developer Dana Crawford—reflect various eras of train travel, with plenty of Art Deco and Victorian touches and Colorado-made art. One of the top luxury hotels in Denver, the Crawford takes up the historic station’s top three stories, and its central hallways look out over the Great Hall with its bevy of restaurants and shops.

Amenities: Nespresso machine; C.O. Bigelow bath products; claw-foot tubs (in some rooms); in-room iPad; complimentary Tesla car service (within a two-mile radius); fitness center and classes; complimentary daily beer, ice cream, and drip coffee from other Union Station businesses; (dog friendly).

Book It: Get prices for the Crawford Hotel and other Denver hotels

The Ritz-Carlton, Denver

luxury hotels in denver

As one of the Mile High City’s only AAA Five Diamond award recipients, the Ritz-Carlton easily earns its place among the best places to stay in Denver. The 202 rooms are some of the largest in the city (they start at 550 square feet); and down comforters, oversized tubs, and neutral hues set the tone for relaxation. Other perks at this luxury hotel in Denver include a 6,000-plus-square-foot spa and, in the lobby, a high-end steak house from local football legend and Hall of Famer John Elway.

Amenities: Featherbeds, LCD TVs, rainforest showerheads, concierge, spa and salon, and fitness center and classes. (Dog-friendly.)

Book It: Get prices for the Ritz-Carlton, Denver and other Denver hotels

The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa

luxury hotels in denver

No list of the best hotels in Denver is complete without mentioning the iconic Brown Palace, which opened in August 1892. Its guest logs are a who’s who of the past century: President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Beatles. Katharine Hepburn. The downtown hotel has been renovated, but it still retains its Victorian elegance, and its 241 rooms are decorated with old blueprints and magnified guest logs displaying famous signatures. There are six on-site eateries and bars; every visitor to Denver should make reservations for afternoon tea in the eight-story atrium.

Amenities: Flat-screen TVs, twice-daily maid service, spa and salon, fitness center, complimentary car service (within five miles), and free hotel tours. (Dog-friendly.)

Book It: Get prices for the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa and other Denver hotels

The Oxford Hotel

luxury hotels in denver

No two rooms at this historic property in Lower Downtown (LoDo), just one block from Union Station, are the same. But the Victorian and art deco influences—the Oxford first opened in 1891—are apparent in the antique headboards, the claw-foot tubs, and jewel-toned accent pieces that decorate the guest rooms. The venue is also home to the Cruise Room, an iconic Denver cocktail bar that opened the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

Amenities: Claw-foot tubs, Egyptian linens, Le Mistral beauty products, fitness center, spa and salon, and complimentary transportation (within a two-mile radius).

Book It: Get prices for the Oxford Hotel and other Denver hotels

Magnolia Hotel Denver

luxury hotels in denver

Historic charm mingles with chic updates at this hotel just one block from the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian-friendly street with a free shuttle. Inspired by the building’s origins as a bank, an early 2018 renovation returned the lobby to its former glory, with restored original brass fixtures and a wall made of safety deposit boxes. The 297 rooms range from 400 to 700 square feet; business travelers will appreciate the ample workspace in each. Guests also enjoy complimentary cookies every evening.

Amenities: Garden tubs, Lather bath products, gas fireplaces, fitness center, lounge with billiards table, and complimentary car service. (Dog-friendly.)

Book It: Get prices for Magnolia Hotel Denver and other Denver hotels

CHERRY CREEK

JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek

luxury hotels in denver

The city’s toniest neighborhood is also home to one of the best hotels in Denver. Steps from Cherry Creek’s array of shopping and dining options, the JW Marriott reflects its surroundings with an urban-chic vibe. The 196 guest rooms are airy with bright touches of color and custom millwork, and many offer views of the snow-topped Rocky Mountains. The luxury hotel is also family-friendly, offering a free pancake social on Sunday for kids under eight, plus child-sized robes and other kid-focused amenities.

Amenities: Marble and granite baths, outdoor fire pits, concierge, spa and salon, fitness center, and complimentary car service (within a five-mile radius). (Dog-friendly.)

Book It: Get prices for JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek and other Denver hotels

UPTOWN

Warwick Denver

luxury hotels in denver

The Warwick is one of the only hotels in Denver’s eminently walkable Uptown neighborhood. It’s ideal for summer and fall travelers thanks to its heated rooftop pool and bar with views of downtown and the Rocky Mountains. (Fun fact: The building was once home to Colorado’s only Playboy Club.) The Warwick’s 216 rooms were renovated in early 2018 with a mid-century modern feel (wood accent walls, bubble lamps). Each one has a private balcony with floor-to-ceiling glass doors.

Amenities: Private balcony, marble bathroom, rooftop pool, fitness center, complimentary bicycles, and discount airport transportation.

Book It: Get prices for Warwick Denver and other Denver hotels

BOULDER

St Julien Hotel & Spa

luxury hotels in denver

Modern elegance—that’s the only way to describe this welcoming retreat in the heart of Boulder, about 30 miles northwest of Denver. Custom mattresses in the 201 earth-tone rooms make it feel as though you’re sleeping on air; splurge for a room with views of the famous Flatirons. The on-site spa is among the best in the state. The hotel’s central location makes exploring downtown Boulder a cinch.

Amenities: Four-post beds, signature Canyon Mint bath products, concierge, spa, pool and hot tub, fitness center, and complimentary shuttle service (within a two-mile radius).

Book It: Get prices for St Julien Hotel & Spa and other area hotels

AIRPORT

The Westin Denver International Airport

luxury hotels in denver

Though locals can’t agree on whether the building is shaped like a mustache or a bird, there’s no denying that the Westin Denver International Airport is one of the best places to stay in Denver for business visitors. Its 519 minimalist rooms (35 are suites) are a welcome break from the stress of traveling, and the soundproof windows will make you forget you’re anywhere near one of the country’s busiest airports. Take the light-rail (University of Colorado A Line) straight from the hotel to downtown Denver.

Amenities: Pillow top mattresses, rain showerheads, indoor heated lap pool and hot tub, fitness center, workout gear rentals, and conference center. (Dog-friendly.)

Book It: Get prices for the Westin Denver International Airport and other Denver hotels

More from SmarterTravel:

– Original reporting by Daliah Singer

Categories
Active Travel Arts & Culture Cities Food & Drink Historical Travel Miscellany Outdoors

10 Must-See Denver Attractions

Denver’s best sites are concentrated in the downtown area, and many of them are close enough that visitors can walk from one to another. Walking is also a great way to familiarize yourself with the city and see firsthand how the newest Denver attractions intersect with historic locales.

10 Must-See Denver Attractions

 No visit to the Mile High City is complete without a stop at some of these Denver attractions.

Denver Art Museum and Clyfford Still Museum

denver attractions

[st_content_ad]The geometric-shaped Daniel Libeskind-designed building is a piece of art in and of itself, but what’s even more impressive about the Denver Art Museum is what’s inside: 10 permanent galleries that showcase art from around the world, plus some of the most exciting temporary exhibitions in the country. Bonus: General admission is always free to youth 18 and younger. Next door is one of Denver’s most distinctive cultural offerings, the Clyfford Still Museum. In his will, the Abstract Expressionist stated that his entire estate should be given to a single American city willing to create a permanent museum dedicated only to his work. Touring the nine galleries offers the rare opportunity to see how an artist evolves.

Denver Botanic Gardens

denver attractions

 

Interact with the natural world year-round at Denver Botanic Gardens’ 24-acre York Street location. (Its second venue, at Chatfield Farms, is a 700-acre native plant refuge about 30 minutes south of the city.) Many of the collections highlight sturdy Western plants that thrive in Colorado’s high-altitude climate, but other regions—including the tropics, South Africa, and Japan—are represented, too. Beyond the plants, there are regular art shows (and a permanent glass sculpture from world-famous artist Dale Chihuly), and the Science Pyramid is filled with interactive exhibits based on research Botanic Gardens staff are conducting around the world. If you’re visiting in the warmer months, pack a picnic (and your own booze) for a Summer Concert Series outdoor show; for those who like to plan ahead, tickets typically go on sale in early April.

Molly Brown House Museum

denver attractions

You know her as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” the nouveau riche who survived the sinking of the Titanic. But her real name was Margaret Tobin Brown, and she did much more than live through the world’s best-known maritime disaster. She was also a humanitarian who helped create Colorado’s first juvenile court system, and she ran for the U.S. Senate before women could vote at the federal level. These are just a few examples of what you’ll discover at the Molly Brown House Museum in Capitol Hill. Brown’s turn-of-the-20th-century house was saved from demolition in 1970 by Historic Denver, which restored it to its original 1889 glory. Daily tours of this Denver point of interest are available.

City Park

denver attractions

Some of the top Denver attractions, including the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, are located within the 314 acres of City Park. Of course, one could also enjoy a stroll around the park’s 5K loop, compete in a tennis match, pedal boat around Ferril Lake, or, in summer, relax with a glass of wine during City Park Jazz. The green space is home to one of the city’s best photo-ops: Standing on the northeastern edge of the lake’s walking path affords views of the City Park Pavilion, the downtown skyline, and the Rocky Mountains in the background.

Union Station

denver attractions

Union Station’s neon-orange sign may proclaim “travel by train,” but there’s plenty more to do in the 100-plus-year-old building than just hitch a ride. A massive redevelopment project completed in 2014 transformed the historic site into one of the city’s most important civic centers—and a neighborhood in and of itself. Inside, the Beaux Arts chandelier-capped Great Hall bustles with people dining and relaxing at the station’s restaurants and bars while commuters zip past on their way to catch the bus or light-rail. Beyond the northwest doors, find even more eateries, a handful of boutique hotels, and even a Whole Foods Market. Tip: The train to the airport departs from Union Station, making it easy to squeeze in one last Denver point of interest before you leave.

Larimer Square

denver attractions

Larimer Square’s single block (between 14th and 15th streets) is home to some of Lower Downtown, or LoDo’s, best shopping and restaurants—and a comedy club—along the city’s original thoroughfare. Buildings on the notable street date back to the mid-1800s; they were saloons, dance halls, barbershops, the city’s first post office, and even Denver’s City Hall. With twinkle lights forming a canopy that crisscrosses the street, Larimer Square makes for a romantic night out.

Colorado State Capitol

denver attractions

Want a Denver sightseeing stop that’s proof you really reached a mile above sea level? The 13th granite step (counting from the bottom) leading up to the Capitol has a brass Mile High Benchmark set into it to show precisely when you’ve reached 5,280 feet. (This “2003 Mile High Marker” is actually the third, and most recent, marker on the steps; updated surveys of the elevation resulted in changes to its location.) The Colorado State Capitol—you’ll recognize it by its prominent 24-karat-gold-leaf dome—opened in 1894; free public tours are available on weekdays.

Blue Bear

denver attractions

He’s adorable, he’s bright blue, and he’s 40 feet tall. One of the most beloved Denver sightseeing stops is “I See What You Mean”—known around town as the Blue Bear—a public art sculpture by the late artist Lawrence Argent. Blue Bear has been peering into the Colorado Convention Center since 2005.

High Tea at the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa

denver attractions

The Brown Palace, which opened in 1892, is one of the most treasured Denver attractions—but you don’t have to splurge on a room to experience its Victorian elegance. Every afternoon, from noon to 4 p.m., the grand, eight-story atrium transforms into a traditional English tea setting, complete with a live harpist or pianist. Guests have their choice of more than a dozen teas, and tiered pastry stands carry homemade scones with Devonshire cream (shipped in from England) and preserves, finger sandwiches, and delectable sweets. Reservations are recommended.

Tour Hammond’s Candies

denver attractions

The scent of peppermint, the snip of candy canes being cut, the swirl of melting chocolate—the sights and sounds of the Hammond’s Candies factory just north of the city are as sweet as the products themselves. Since its founding in 1920, Hammond’s has been a Denver institution. The factory produces around one million pounds of handmade candy each year, and you can see the process firsthand during free tours (book a spot online).

More from SmarterTravel:

[viator_tour destination=”4837″ type=”3-mod”]

– Original reporting by Daliah Singer

Categories
Health & Wellness Luxury Travel

10 Coolest Hydrotherapy Spas in the World

Step into a shallow pool and feel the current gently massage your leg muscles. Walk forward onto the river stones beneath your feet; if you feel a tinge of pain, stop and work out that pressure point. Feel the water temperature change as you wander through the maze-like pools and embrace the healing powers of water.

Typically, a hydrotherapy (water therapy) spa includes a step-by-step treatment involving saunas, steam rooms, and plunge pools. And while most spas have your typical sauna or steam room, these 10 hydrotherapy spa treatments take healing waters to a whole new level.

The Best Hydrotherapy Spas in the World

From Bali to the Arctic Circle, these 10 hydrotherapy spas offer therapeutic treatments worth traveling for.

Gem Spa at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun

hydrotherapy spas gem spa at grand fiesta americana coral beach cancun

This 40,000 square-foot spa at Grand Fiesta Americana’s Coral Beach location in Cancun is home to a unique 10-step hydrotherapy spa program. Your personal attendant will take you through the steps, which start with a beautifully-tiled steam room and end in the massive “pool of sensations.”

Book it: Get prices for Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun and other area hotels

Spa at The Chedi Andermatt

hydrotherapy spas spa at the chedi andermatt

Set against the Swiss Alps, the spa at The Chedi Andermatt is a hydrotherapy spa dream. It has a temperature-controlled outdoor lap pool, a Zen indoor pool, sol-steam baths, hot and cold plunge pools, and bio and Finnish saunas. Day passes are available.

Book it: Get prices for The Chedi Andermatt and other area hotels

The Setai Spa Wall Street

hydrotherapy spas the setai spa wall street

The exclusive Setai Spa and club juxtaposes the chaos of the nearby New York Stock Exchange: The hydrotherapy spa experience consists of a sauna, steam room, aqua grotto, and rain shower. Day passes are available.

Lapis Spa at Fontainebleau

hydrotherapy spas lapis spa at fontainebleau

The Fontainebleau Miami Beach calls its hydrotherapy treatments “water journeys.” Arrive before your booked spa treatment to participate in one (or all) of the five elements that complete a water journey, or pick a recommended path like the “Passage to Wellness,” which includes a eucalyptus infusion steam, rain tunnel, mineral co-ed pool, and a rain room.

Book it: Get prices for Fontainebleau and other area hotels

Premier57

hydrotherapy spas premier57 nyc

This New York City day spa has a variety of hydrotherapy treatment options—like indoor and outdoor Bade Pools complete with a bar (yes you read that right). These pools have different stations of jets that target specific pressure points on the body. This hydrotherapy spa also has a nude water lounge with hot, warm, and cold baths; wet and dry saunas; and rain showers. Another feature of the hydrotherapy spa (which is part of the Spa Castle family) is “Sauna Valley,” a collection of six different healing saunas, including the ice igloo room, which helps strengthen the immune system and relieve chronic pain.

KurSpa at Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa

hydrotherapy spas kurspa at sparkling hill resort & spa

This hydrotherapy spa with lake and mountain views is located on the edge of Ellison Provincial Park in British Columbia. It’s home to seven different steam rooms and saunas—the most unique being the crystal room—four nature-themed showers; an outdoor infinity pool that’s open year-round; an indoor saltwater pool with underwater music; an indoor hot pool with counter-clockwise jets; and Kneipp Hydrotherapy, or water-stepping, at varying temperatures.

Book it: Get prices for Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa and other area hotels

AYANA Resort and Spa Bali

hydrotherapy spas ayana resort and spa bali

AYANA Resort and Spa in Bali refers to its hydrotherapy spa as “thalassotherapy,” meaning it uses seawater as a form of therapy. The star of the show is the aquatonic pool, filled with 185 million gallons of water from the Indian Ocean. The pool features 12 hydromassage stations as well as jet streams and geysers. You can also book a pavilion at  the resort’s Spa on the Rocks, where you can take a private bath filled with rose petals to enjoy panoramic views of the open ocean.

Book it: Get prices for AYANA Resort and Spa and other area hotels

Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

hydrotherapy spas willow stream spa at fairmont sonoma mission inn

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn’s Willow Stream Spa is set on a thermal mineral spring, providing an abundant source of warm, mineral-rich water for hydrotherapy treatments. The spa offers a bathing ritual experience with an exfoliating shower, Roman Mineral bath, Jacuzzi hot bath, and rain tunnel with cold plunge, all arranged in an elegant space under a softly glowing domed roof. The spa also offers heat experiences like a eucalyptus steam sauna and a Himalayan dry salt sauna.

Book it: Get prices for Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and other area hotels

Aire Ancient Baths Barcelona

hydrotherapy spas aire ancient baths barcelona

You’d never guess that this old warehouse near El Born Market in Barcelona has been transformed into a tranquil, candlelit bathhouse. The AIRE Experience consists of five thermal baths, including a flotarium—a salt water pool for floating—as well as steam rooms with aromatherapy. And for those who prefer alcohol with their water therapy, AIRE also has a wine bath experience.

There are similar locations in New York City, Chicago, Seville, Almeria, and Vallromanes.

Arctic Bath

hydrotherapy spas arctic bath

Set to open early this year, the Artic Bath is a new floating hotel and spa in the Swedish Lapland, near the Arctic Circle. Open year-round, the hotel freezes over ice in winter and floats in the Lule River in summer. The circular-shaped spa has an outside cold bath, a hot bath, as well as outdoor and indoor showers and saunas—a beautiful example of natural hydrotherapy at its finest.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Us on Pinterest:

[st_deals_search search_type=vacation]

Categories
Holiday Travel

How I Spent Thanksgiving Week on NCL’s Jewel

Author: Louise Strong
Date of Trip: November 2006
PROLOGUE:

NCL treated me like a goddess and a family member all throughout the week on the Norwegian Jewel. They must have known I needed some R and R, some TLC, excellent dining, great activities, good dance music, fabulous ports-of-call, the opportunity to make new friends, and most of all, to laugh. This cruise will go down in the books as the best yet.

GETTING TO THE NORWEGIAN JEWEL:

I originally booked the lowest level category balcony and was upgraded to the highest level balcony for the same price. About one month prior to 11/19/06 I received the phone call for an upsell to a penthouse suite. Once I saw the suite was in front of the ship I immediately said yes. I flew into FLL on 11/18/06 and knew the week was going to be great when my luggage was the third and fourth suitcases to come through the belt! For 18 dollars I shared a van with seven others going to various places. One lady was my superhero. She goes on cruises for free while giving lectures on board all cruise lines. I want to be just like her some day.

My travelmate, The NewYorker, is a friend who I met on the NCL Sun two years ago Thanksgiving week. We called this our anniversary cruise. My hubby did not mind that I was leaving because he knew if I stayed home, then my large family was probably coming over for the holiday!

We enjoyed the Beacon Hotel in South Beach, Miami for our precruise stay. We walked to Lincoln Mall for dinner and shopped our way back to the Beacon. We bought expensive dresses for formal night that we did not really need for freestyle cruising. You can wear whatever you want on NCL freestyle cruises. We decided to dress every night of the cruise and most of my outfits had a black and white theme. I found a great black and white BCBG dress. We finished the evening drinking and dancing at the Clevelander Bar. The next morning we walked South Beach, dipped our pedicured toes in the ocean and chatted it up a bit with the homeless men who spent the night on the shoreline.

The cab ride from South Beach to the ship was about 20 dollars. I had so many thoughts and questions going through my head as we approached the Jewel. First, I liked her hull artwork. I wondered if there would be a tango-guy to teach me to ballroom dance. Would I never leave my penthouse? Can the bridge officers see down onto my forward balcony? What ports are we going to again and when? Who will show up to our planned Cruise Critic (a website for cruisers) party? Will I finally win the bottle of champagne at the latitudes repeat passenger party? Lastly, since I left my big family behind, would there be a family to take me under their wings during this holiday week…A family to adopt us?

Embarkation was a breeze and once on board we went to the buffet lunch. A lot of yummy food was present! Stations were set up all over with different categories of food. For example, there was a pasta station, a soup station, a sandwich station, a hot selection station, a meat carving station, a dessert station and so on! For breakfast and dinner, the buffet area was also filled with great selections. This ship also had dining rooms and specialty restaurants for extra extra fine dining.

The NYer suggested we check out our suite #10000 and see if our luggage arrived. We loved the couch and chairs, the huge closet with doors on both sides (one from the entry hallway, the other from the vanity hallway), the huge bathroom, the fabulous balcony, the living area, the dining area and the bedding. We concluded if we were thieves, we would have stolen the linens, the duvet, the pillows, and the bathrobes.

Our steward stopped in to say hello and he asked us to close our curtains at night. He said closing them would avoid glare on the bridge directly above us. Once he left we exclaimed, “Yeah, right! If we were young and beautiful, maybe the request from the bridge would be to keep the curtains OPEN at night!”

The craziness began after we noticed fresh flowers on the table, a bottle of champagne in a bucket and fresh fruit in a basket. A note attached said it was compliments of NCL. The doorbell rang and in comes another bottle of champagne with a note attached, “hope you have a wonderful cruise” from Colin Veitch, the President of NCL. Papers started arriving too with special things written on it. Our repeat passenger benefits included 20 dollars off body and facial treatment, 30 free minutes in the internet cafe, a party invitation and a free meal in a specialty restaurant. There was also a 75 dollar credit on our account (37.50 each) which probably had to do with our booking.

The doorbell rang again and in comes someone else delivering a basket of fruit and a nice bottle of cabernet sauvignon…the little note attached is from NCL again. I wrote to NCL regarding their new commercials and the message thanked me for my suggestions. Their new campaign is about being able to eat WHENEVER you want and to wear WHATEVER you want.

Our phone rang next. Our Concierge called to tell us he had already scheduled a free meal (another one) in a specialty restaurant for us. He asked if the date and time were okay. I reminded him we were on vacation and we could eat at WHATEVER time and where ever place!

The doorbell rang again and we thought it was our luggage arriving. We open the door and in comes another delivery…a bottle of wine and fruit basket! No note was attached and we did not press the issue in case it was a mistake delivery. We were darned happy as we re-organized the fruit, champagne bottles and wine bottles. We were going to crack open a bottle but had to go to the muster drill, a required and necessary safety drill before the ship’s sailing.

After the safety drill we returned our life vests to our suite. We decided to check out the sailaway party as the ship starting moving. Always remember to close the balcony door before you open your stateroom door…if not, then papers fly all over the place. But that can be a good thing too. I looked at what I picked off the floor and I found a letter from the Jewel’s Hotel Director stating we had a free meal in any alternative restaurant!

As we left for our Thanksgiving Week Sailaway we concluded it was more like Christmas week!

THE CRUISE BEGINS:

Everyone seemed to be at the pool deck for the sailaway party. This was a great opportunity to see the overall mood of the passengers and of the cruise staff who entertain all week long. Overall, it was going to be a fun and happy week. We returned to our suite and found our luggage was arriving. We scored a dinner reservation for Teppanyaki, a specialty restaurant.

Teppanyaki is “a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food.” The chef cooks in front of you while “displaying slicing/dicing/juggling” techniques. Their tools make a beat as they perform. Our chef was a lot of fun! We laughed, we cheered, we hollered “yeah” when he caught pieces of food in his hat and we hollered “ohhhhh” when he did not. An anniversary cake was brought out in the end and we all sang happy anniversary to a couple celebrating their 45th.

One of the anniversary couple’s daughters was one of the very first winners of the happy birthday NCL free cruise on the new Norwegian Pearl. I thought this could be the family I was looking for because we shared our parts of our meals with each other. Most of us selected the Land and Sea and a few selected the Seafood Diablo. I had the Land and Sea and it was absolutely fantastic! The family later invited us to sit with them that evening at the 70’s dance party.

The other table had a well dressed family and I could not help but watch the two children stare up in awe at their chef. The kids were so cute. The son had his chopsticks tied together by the waitress in a particular manner so he could eat his food easier. I wanted mine tied the same way but they brought me a fork instead. Something new I noticed was that a black napkin was brought out for me but everyone else got a white one. I asked why and they responded so the white napkin would not leave stuff on my black satin pants or black satin shirt. I responded “oh” and thought to myself that I really should go out to eat more…!

During dinner we missed over 40 singles mingle (for the New Yorker), the ballroom dancing and the family karaoke. The Jewel also had a traveling alone social and dinner where one could meet other solo travelers and go to dinner with them. We thought how nice! Two years ago the NYer and I had to find each other on our own…now NCL helps set up solo travelers. Smart move.

After dinner we went down one deck to check out three bars with unique themes and designs as advertised on NCL. Since I was wearing black, I looked great in all three color schemes. I ordered a cosmopolitan at Magnum’s martini and champagne bar and then we headed up to the Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 13 forward for the 70’s Night dancing. The place was mobbed and they did their signature John Travolta/Gloria Gaynor/YMCA contest. The Cruise Director did a great job with this.

At the end of the night we talked about what we liked so far about the ship. Our suite and balcony was a given. We also loved the open railings with horizontal rungs all over the ship. They were great for viewing through our balcony, the decks, and the pool area. Some ships have that awful Plexiglass that gets fogged up from sea salt. The Jewel is wonderful for viewing the ocean. The furnishings in the lounges were also plush. Our feet even sunk into the ship’s carpets.

MONDAY…A PERFECT RAINY DAY AT SEA:

I got up at 6:30am and headed up to the buffet breakfast in my high-water black yoga pants, white flip-flops, an old skanky white t-shirt and black head-band. I made sure to put some mascara to not scare anyone in case others were awake at that time. It was cloudy and I noticed some of the pool chairs already claimed. Tempted to throw the towels/books/single shoes into one of the four hot-tubs I just chuckled knowing my option was the awesome forward balcony attached to my suite if the weather got nicer. Besides, I had A Cruise Critic party planned at 11am and a latitudes repeat customer party at 1pm.

At the Garden Cafe I had a beautiful selection of freshly prepared food. How wonderful to be an early bird. I asked an older gentleman (the only other passenger up at that time too) at the table nearby what his tag was for around his neck. He replied that over 300 Norwegian dancers were on board. A large group from Norway booked the cruise and they were all learning to dance. He invited me to watch as they were going to practice in Spinnaker’s Lounge at 8am and on the basketball court at 10am. So this is what goes on early morning! Who knew?

After breakfast I could have gone to early morning exercises, the casino, trivia, handwriting analysis seminar, golf seminar or arts and crafts all before 11am if I wanted to. I opted to head back to bed and watch the waves break the bow of ship. As I exited the cafe, I turned a corner and ran into five guys in white. Startled, I bid them all a good morning. I was asked what I was doing up so early on vacation. I replied I wanted to be the first in line for the omelette man and the first in line for the waffle man. I was next asked if I was enjoying the cruise so far. “Yes, it is great” I answered. I then added, “Who are you?”

The rest of the conversation was a blur. Not only were these guys in white, but they were the guys in white with stripes. I remember hearing Something-Director, Something-Director, Head-So-and-So, Big-Wig from Miami office and Assistant to the Something-Director. I could have run away. Here I was in my skanky clothes that I slept in with no make-up on. I thanked God to myself that I had put a bra on and applied mascara prior to leaving the suite. I held my ground and commented on NCL’s new menus. I thanked one of the Directors for dinner the prior evening. I then had to explain what I meant by that and they laughed. I then told them I had to go do a Norwegian dance group. When they laughed I realized I had to explain what I meant by that too. I ended their entertainment by wishing them a good day. I did not need my cabin key to get into the suite. I just crawled under the door…

I later checked out the Jewel’s spa. I began first with with the free area that women can use. You can use a hot-tub, a steam room, a sauna room, or sit on a few chairs overlooking the bow of ship. The spa is directly above the bridge and it has a fabulous view. I assume the guys on the other side had the same thing. They had regular bathrooms and regular showers along with two special showers that give an ice blast (which you are supposed to cold rinse after getting out of hottub or sauna/steam room to close your pores). I ventured down a hallway past the acupuncture room, the teeth whitening room, the massage rooms and the body tanning room into the therapy room which was unisex.

A juice/coffee/tea bar/water was set up as mellow music played lightly in the background. If I had my bathing suit on I would have checked out the therapy pool that seemed built for two with little rollers that one floats on. Instead, I sat on one of ten stone beds ergonomically designed for the body. The stones were heated. I sat there alone for about 20 minutes and de-stressed from my guy-in-white rendezvous. I almost fell back to sleep while looking out at the vast ocean ahead. I concluded that had I not had a penthouse suite to relax in, or if I was traveling with family members and wanted to get away, then this room is definitely where I would hang out!

I was so relaxed after my therapy room experience I returned to cabin to wake up the NYer and get ready for parties. I donned a black skirt, black sketcher sandals and a black/white/pink dress tank top (resort casual?) outfit. I was not sure of the decor in the Star Bar and I did not want to clash.

I brought our champagne to the Cruise Critic party and NCL set up glasses and orange juice to mix mimosas for those Cruise Critics in attendance. I also brought maple sugar treats from my home state of Vermont. NCL provided coffee and cookie treats. The best treat of all was getting to meet the Captain, the Food and Beverage Director, the Hotel Director, the Cruise Director and the group services coordinator. When some introduced themselves to me I reminded them I met him earlier that morning! I then shared the wonders of make-up.

Altogether, the officers were very nice and very personable. I noticed they took time with each of the Cruise Critics in a casual atmosphere. Their conversations were not boring and they were not stuffy at all. As a matter of fact, I began to think they were real people just like us! Overall, this was a great opportunity to ask questions of them if you wanted to. Lastly, it was great to put faces to people I communicated with online. After the gathering ended, we finished off the remaining mimosas.

Our next party was the repeat customer latitudes party at one o’clock. It was fun to go through the entry line and to not be afraid to talk to the guys in white with stripes. NCL served free champagne, wine, mimosas, rum drinks along with nice hors d’oeuvres. We stayed with mimosas. I dislike champagne but I had a nice mimosa buzz and my ultimate goal is to win the champagne bottle in the raffle. The party was well attended…it filled up the Spinnaker’s Lounge and the Captain talked to everyone and introduced the officers.

Prizes drawn included items from the gift shop, a pedicure and facial from the sap, NCL t-shirts and NCL hats. Prizes vary on each ship depending on who sets up the party. Once again, I did not win the bottle of champagne. I know if I ever win I am going to pull a Price Is Right move and run down and make a fool of myself. After all my suite treats, I was not too disappointed…

After the latitudes we were more buzzed and decided we better eat because more champagne was coming at the VIP party early evening. We selected the Blue Lagoon that serves chicken wings, potato skins, hamburgers, hotdogs, noodle soup, shepard’s pie, and some other stuff. This is one of the restaurants open all the time.

Afterwards, The NYer went up to the pool deck and it was time for my nap and solitude on the suite balcony. Upon my arrival, another surprise bottle was in the cabin and I have no idea where it came from. As my head hit the pillow on the lounger in bewilderment, I thought ‘Whatever!’ As I slept, I had no idea what the evening would bring…VIP party, another alternative restaurant, a dress malfunction, suite treats, and New Years Eve Bash…

During my nap I missed the afternoon activities that included champagne art auction, sexy legs competition by the pool, casino blackjack tournament, mega jackpot bingo, Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, spinning, martini clinic and margarita clinic. I wished I stayed up for the beauty seminars because I really could have used the seminar titled “Drop a Dress Size” or the one titled “Fab Abs” with the fitness instructors.

Monday evening and the V.I.P. party was billed optional formal night and we opted to dress up. While in South Beach I purchased a great strapless silk (ish) black and white cocktail dress. Each vertical black stripe and each vertical white stripe overlapped the other from top to bottom. I decided the dress was more important than going on shore excursions and getting my hair cut in the ship’s salon. Since black and white was my fashion theme for the week and it fit perfectly, I bought it.

When the time came to put the dress on, I wondered what happened. How could the dress have shrunk? How come I could not zip up the back? I forgot Caribbean humidity makes me swell. I forgot champagne makes me bloat. I forgot something else that I should have remembered. Since trying on the dress originally, I think I was ten pounds heavier. How was I going to chow down on lobster in a few hours?

We were almost late for the VIP party as the NYer (who is the size of a peanut soaking wet), had to help shove me into the dress. We laughed and laughed at the little flaps flipping up in certain spots whenever I walked or stood up after sitting down. Strange how it did not do that when I was dancing in the South Beach dressing room! I told the NYer I was going to wear the dress and just not move all night long. We could walk slowly; she would let me know if anything was showing, she could sit at the bar and I could stand up against it. When I had to sit down, I would remove my black sheer shawl (a burka head covering from Saudi Arabia I use as a shawl) and wrap it around my waist in a giant bow. Perfect. We were ready to go.

Before leaving, our suite treats arrived. We had treats arrive every night. This night had TWO platters of chocolate covered strawberries. We stuck them in the refrigerator in order to save room in our bellies for lobster. Lobster was being served in every restaurant that evening. We headed off very carefully to the Fyzz Lounge…

The Captain’s VIP party was very well attended. The Fyzz Lounge was very colorful and I did not clash with it in my dress. The Fyzz Lounge is used for karaoke and for other venues such as country line dance lessons. At the party, I did not move from the bar. We met a very nice woman who offered to show us her Garden Villa, an amazing 5500 square foot cabin with private courtyard. One of the officers introduced himself and I had to remind him I met twice already that very same day. This time I got to laugh and what him squirm. I explained to him the wonders of hairstyling and a little extra eye shadow. I thought to myself he probably did not recognize me because I gained weight since I saw him last.

Another officer asked which dining room we were eating in that evening and we had not really thought about it. He picked up his phone and made a reservation in a specialty restaurant. I wondered if we would ever see the freestyle dining rooms, the dining rooms that you go into anytime from 5pm-10pm.

Lastly, I noticed all the officers made sure they spoke to everyone who attended. I concluded this was a great group of officers. I secretly hoped they had fun at these events because they have to do it every week. The best part was that they were all very personable, cordial and funny.

During our fabulous lobster dinner in Mama’s Italian Restaurant, another bottle of wine was sent to our table. The lobster and wine helped stretch my dress appropriately. We had missed the opening main event show by Jean Ann Ryan Company which other people reported as being fabulous. So after dinner, we checked out the ship store instead of arriving late to it. I found the store pleasant. Cigarettes and liquor were definitely a bargain compared to where I come from. You could buy a carton of cigs for 23 dollars or 2 cartons for 40 dollars. If you purchase liquor from the store, you pick it up the night before the cruise ends. Just remind yourself you can not “carry on” the plane. You will have to pack it in your luggage. The regulations might change by the time you cruise, but keep this in mind.

We returned to our suite and found towel animals and chocolate on our pillows. I had been awake a long time and NCL contributed to an appropriate “good feeling.” I do not think I had a bar bill yet but was feeling great. We next headed up to the New Year’s Eve bash in Spinnaker’s Lounge. We arrived to a packed house and everyone was having a good time! The crowd ranged from 18 to 80 years old. I immediately got my glow sticks, my streamers and began to work out on the dance floor. I noticed the older Norwegian dancer from early morning standing by himself. I grabbed him and took him out on the floor. This guy could boogie! I found out later that he was in the same profession as me.

This was the only night I kept track of how long I stayed out at night. The NYer and I returned to suite at 3:30am. I had been awake partying for almost 24 hours. It was a perfect rainy day at sea.

TUESDAY…SAN JUAN:

I awoke early and headed up to the breakfast buffet instead of one of two main dining rooms. It was a new experience for me to see just who was out and about early morning! I sat with a lovely Hawaiian couple from San Francisco. Their plan for the day was to find a long lost friend from year’s ago. I told them I would say a prayer to St. Anthony that they would find her. I never saw them again that week but I hope they made someone’s day!

We did not arrive in San Juan until noon so I caught some early morning sun on the penthouse balcony. The ship was moving slowly and I think I had the best view…even better than the Garden Villa passengers. We had special early debarkation tickets but we were not in any hurry to go anywhere. We were on vacation. We had no plans. We let everyone else get off the ship first. We walked around town and bought souvenirs. I concluded that you must wear comfy shoes in Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets. We walked along the pier boardwalk and throughout the streets. I was so tired that I asked in one store if I would get back American dollars. The shopkeeper announced that I was in the United States and I would get back American dollars because that is all he had. I replied that a certain percentage of Puerto Ricans did not want to belong to the United States…he happily responded, “What do I care? I am Mexican!” We ended our shopping day drinking giant margaritas in a Senor Frogs bar.

My general rule is to be back on ship at least one hour before the recommended time. If you do not go with a ship tour, then there are no guarantees on the ship waiting if a traffic accident ties up the main road back, or if a privately scheduled tour is running late. On the ship I ate yummy pizza, chicken, pork ribs and potato salad. The NYer and I returned to our suite for a nap but it was interrupted by a suite shrimp platter delivery. We concluded no sleeping today and that we must begin to crack open all the wine we had sitting on our counter-top.

We sat out on our balcony eating shrimp and drinking Colin’s Cabernet Sauvignon while watching everyone return to ship. We watched the sun set. We opened the second bottle of Cabernet and heard a report from our suite neighbors out on their balcony about the San Juan tour. We finally met the honeymooning couple out on the balcony of the Diamond Suite (saw their suite at debarkation and it was beautiful…great decor…will book that one next time) and they were having a great cruise. Good thing because I would have felt bad if they were not having any fun!

As darkness fell and the ship started sailing we realized that we had not had dinner since nobody told us where we were going to eat that evening! Would we ever make it to the regular restaurants? The Nyer then remembered the double platters of chocolate-covered strawberries in our refrigerator and brought them out on balcony. We commented on the fabulous lights of El Morro shining in front of us and how great a tour that was the last time in San Juan, we laughed also at the shiny lights of the brand new parking garage directly below it.

As we left port, the gentle wind and night-lights were mesmerizing. I was bundled up in an extra blanket and the NYer could not believe that I was chilly. I said I was just comfortable. She pointed out the constellations as she had once lived on a sailboat traveling the Caribbean for two years.

Once we were full speed ahead towards Antigua, we went back inside and got ready for ’80’s night in Spinnaker’s Lounge. We missed dinner, the main show the Action Comedy Showtime Edge, the Big Band Tribute to Glen Miller, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Audience Participation gathering and the adult karaoke. Even so, I would not have traded the NYer, the wine, the shrimp, the chocolate covered strawberries, the balcony view leaving San Juan at night for a million dollars…

WEDNESDAY…HOW I FOUND JESUS IN ANTIGUA:

The NYer and I awoke to the ship docked in Antigua. We found the room service request sheets in the cabin booklet’s back pocket the night before. Our butler was on time and he set a beautiful table setting on the balcony. While dining, we basked in the glorious sunshine and wondered whether or not we would ever make it to one of the big shows offered almost each night. We missed the comedy show but had asked a family the night before if it was funny. A middle-aged dad with his family said it was a riot and that we missed a good performance. The NYer and I concluded that it possibly could not have been funnier than the two of us hanging out together all week.

The NYer left after breakfast to get a salon appointment and I continued to work on my tan and to catch up on sleep on the balcony. The Antigua welcome band down below played. As I tried to rest, my eyes kept opening to view this awesome cathedral in hills of downtown St. John. I wondered how far a walk it was…I rested…I opened my eyes again and was drawn to the immaculate structure. It stood out among all the other buildings…I rested again…opened my eyes and felt the beckoning…”Louise…Louise…Come To Me…!”

I asked the NYer if she wanted to walk up and check out the Cathedral. She replied not only no, but “heck no!” I finally fell asleep but awoke once again. “Louise my child, you must come to me!” the church bellowed once again. We had talked about hitting the beaches in Antigua but we were content with just doing our own thing…a perfect agreement when cruising with friends or family. Falling asleep again, I was jolted with a bolt…”Louise you better get up here right now and pay homage!” I got dressed and told the NYer I was going for a walk to the church. She decided to join me.

Before heading out we checked the ship’s magazine, The Freestyle Daily, to make sure of the required return time. We noticed on each port-of-call the advisory notice: “While ashore drink only bottled water, be cautious while dining in port, wash your hands often, and discourage hand shaking.” This is one of the great things about NCL…the multitude stations of hand sanitizers everywhere you go throughout their ships. I truly believe this is the reason one hardly hears about norovirus on NCL ships.

St. John’s Cathedral was not as far a walk as I thought. Closer than it appeared from the suite, I was glad I had comfy shoes on as the sidewalks were in need of repair. The view was beautiful from the outside. The cemetery around the church was interesting. The structure inside was extremely interesting. We read through the brochure that noted the history, the organ, the wood, the stained glass, and the altar. Suddenly a local hands us a bible and a hymn book. Mass began.

We went to leave and turned around. The church was semi-filled with locals. The NYer said, “Let’s GO!” I replied, “NO!, think of the grace we can get by staying!…I will meet you back at the ship if you want!” She stayed as we moved to the back. The mass was very interesting. I remembered the words to most of the responses but followed a local when it came time to stand and to sit and stand again. I even sang…and I never sing! This was great, I thought! I could have been at the beach, on a tour, drinking at the bars while on vacation, but here I was praying in St. John’s Cathedral.

I prayed for my family, for my community, for my friends, for my colleagues, for NCL and for the locals. I thanked God, Jesus and Mary for having the life that I have. The priest’s main message was no matter how great you are (a great teacher, a great doctor, a great lawyer), what truly matters is how GOOD you are at the end of the day. Knowledge is wonderful, but how you use it to help others is what counts.

Then came the sign of peace. Back home we just say peace be with you to whoever you are standing next to. In Antigua, the ENTIRE group leave the pews, walks around and SHAKES HANDS with everyone! The NYer is freaking out and I am whispering, “Just don’t put your hands to your mouth after!” We shook hands with all the catholic Antiguans including the priest who also walked around. There were five other cruisers and we just nervously shook each others hands and gave each other a look of “Oh Jesus!”…

Thirty minutes and four songs later I forgot about the hand-shaking. It was time for the body of Christ. I wanted to go up to the altar and kneel just like I did as a little kid when the catholic masses were done in Latin. The locals were also up at the altar on the left and I was the first cruiser on the right of them. Back home, the body of Christ is now given out in your hand for sanitary reasons. In Antigua, the priest delivers the host directly to your mouth. “Oh Jesus,” I thought…”Please do not let the priest’s finger touch my tongue! Oh Jesus, please forgive me for thinking this!”

I watched as the body of Christ came my way. My turn arrives. I stiffen, shut my eyes and stick out my tongue as far as possible. Then it was over. “Thank you Jesus…no wet finger!” Of course the priest was probably thinking, “Oh Jesus, please do not let my finger touch this heathen cruiser’s tongue!” as he delivered the wafer to me. I watched in glee and in anticipation to see if his finger touched the other cruiser’s tongues. I then bowed my head and thanked God.

Nobody left the altar. I prayed some more yet wondered why we were all still kneeling up there. The priest shuffles, says some prayer and starts going down the line AGAIN. Another host? A blessing on the forehead? What was going on? I strain to see down the row and I spot the holy grail…the chalice of Christ’s blood…placed on the lips of each local in the same spot as they sipped.

“OH JESUS!” I prayed. “Oh Jesus, can’t that priest wipe off the chalice using a little more force with that napkin?” The priest was getting closer. I strained some more to see and thought, “Oh Jesus, how come he is not turning that freaking cup?!” The priest was now ten locals away from me. “Oh Jesus, will I offend these people if I get up and leave?” The priest was five locals away. I turn to the right and look at at the other tourists. They looked as if the devil himself was on his way to steal their souls.

I wish I had a camera to capture one tourist’s look at me. It was sheer horror. I returned the look, shook my head no to her, bowed my head and prayed, “Father, forgive me!” as I stood and left just as the priest arrived. I returned to my pew and prayed more for forgiveness if I offended anyone in Antigua. The NYer wanted to ask me what the heck happened…because all she saw was me get up and then five others disappear in a NY second…but I was too busy praying.

Church closed with everybody leaving the pews once again and standing in a circle holding hands singing a hymn. I think I prayed to Jesus more times in 75 minutes than I did my entire life. I felt like a good person upon leaving. I left a hefty donation to help preserve St. John’s Cathedral. Jesus is going to be with me for a solid two years after that “tour!”

After church, the NYer needed a drink. She informed me that she was not Catholic. Who knew? I then spotted a school across the street and she then had to endure my conversations with the students, the teachers and the security guards. Amazing how things are different yet still the same throughout the world.

We ended up at the “BeeHive” a bar near the ship which serves local beer for 2 dollars a pop. Good thing I was buying. We were so full of Jesus that we found something good during every beer we drank. The beer was good…The tourists were good…The rain shower felt good…The ancient Antiguan street dancer who balanced a pineapple on his head was good…Life was good!

I was so full of Jesus, goodness and Antiguan beer that I decided to buy presents for all the people who had to support my job while I was away. One stop at “Lipstick” perfume factory and I had all my thank you presents. The only perfume shop “packed” with customers, I assumed the deals were good. One Obsession, Dolce and Gabbana, Red Door, Pure White Rain, Wish, Angel, J-LO Glow, and Versace-something later, I was done. I told the lady at check-out that it took 8 people to do my job while away. The male customer behind me replied, “What are you? A Housewife?”

Stumbling back onto the ship, the security guard just did not understand why after I placed each hand under the sanitizer that I also wanted to try to drink out of it. We returned to our suite and realized we do not have a cabin in the back of ship. Always remember on the Jewel that the carpet fish swim towards the bow. I somehow managed to lose my key along the way. I think I sanitized my purse and my key under the machine and it somehow slipped out. The information desk people were very kind in replacing one. If you lose your key, go there immediately and they will void out the lost one and give you a new one. Others in the cabin will also have to have their key replaced too. So do not go to church, get drunk after, carry around 350 dollars worth of perfume, take a sanitizer shower and expect to have everything you started with.

The NYer headed off to her hot stone massage which she loved and highly recommended. I headed off to sleep in my suite lounger on the balcony. Jesus was happy with me and he finally let me get some good shut-eye since boarding on 11/19.

For dinner that evening, we ate at NCL signature French restaurant, Le Bistro. I donned a black halter top and white sailor pants. The NYer was late meeting me there. As I waited at the entrance a couple came up to me and stated their reservation. I told them they would have to wait 45 minutes to be seated but if they slipped me a 20, then I would get them in sooner. They looked at me as if I had three heads until I informed that I was a passenger and not an NCL employee. Immediately afterwards, the Maitre D arrived and seated them.

I loved my array of lobster/scallop appetizer, escargot, and seafood. The NYer loved her warm goat cheese tart, the salmon and the creme brulee. We both enjoyed the complimentary bottle of wine that came with our meal since I am a platinum member with NCL. I chuckled at how I was turning into a wino. I also concluded by the end of the meal that platinum is now my new favorite precious metal.

Unable to finish the wine at dinner, we brought it to the Fyzz Lounge to see what “Edge Unplugged” was all about. Families were enjoying themselves and a crowd of young and old were learning to juggle on the dancefloor. We met a lovely group from England and we laughed a lot with them. Could this be my cruise family? They were fun and we shared jokes. I gave them my best British, Irish and Scottish ones. Afterwards, we went searching for our photos taken by the ship’s staff. We had fun looking for and finding them but we never purchased any. For some reason we looked old in all of them.

The International Crew Show won over our interest in nightly venues. Instead of karaoke or the Latin Fiesta Dance Party, I knew the crew show would be more entertaining. It is a treat to see your servers, your stewards, your cooks sing, dance and entertain. I believe shows like this add to morale and the passengers appreciate them. The Cruise Director and his staff did a funny finale. We finished the evening dancing in the Spinnaker’s Lounge.

THURSDAY…ST. THOMAS:

I awoke early to the immigration call. Any ship that stops in St. Thomas must go through immigration because of re-entry to the United States. All passengers must show their passports or photo identification to the immigration officials who come on board. I left my cabin at 8pm and was back by 8:04pm. St. Thomas had enough officials show up and the entire process was painless.

The foreigners had to go to Spinnakers Lounge and the Americans had to go through Azura restaurant. I realized later that NCL organized approximate times for passengers depending on various things: 7:45 was for citizens booked on shore excursions, and the remaining 15 minute intervals were for citizens on deck 11 and 14, then deck 10, and downward. I was still asleep while going through the Azura main dining room and noticed it seemed a favorable place to eat.

While eating breakfast on our suite we discussed St. Thomas. Wasn’t he the one who doubted Jesus? Or, was St. Thomas named after St. Thomas Aquinas, the philosopher/theologian/teacher/traveler? We never reached an answer but agreed we had seen and done just about everything on the island in the past. This included Coki Beach, Megan’s Bay, jewelry/watch/linen shopping, island tours and turtle cove. Other possible shore excursions we discussed included snorkel tours, scuba tours, parasailing, St. John beach escape, Kon Tiki Party Raft, coral world and champagne catamaran sail/snorkel.

I have almost everything on previous cruises and by this Thursday morning, I was not interested, especially since I bought that darned dress! The only thing both of us had never done was the screamin eagle jet boat or the skyline ride directly off the ship. Somewhat disappointed in ourselves that we were having to think about making a decision, the crew drill offered some relief.

I commend NCL for their passenger safety. I already mentioned hand sanitizers but need to mention cameras all over the ship. A newer ship, I felt safe and secure knowing they were everywhere. Should a crime occur on board, I am sure that at least one if not four would show one spot. If you are bored on board…try to find the cameras…they are hidden everywhere. Phones are also all over the ship. Portable phones in each stateroom can be used to stay in contact with family members while on board.

In addition to the life-raft crew drill, the crew onboard this week had to participate in missing children simulations. The first simulation was Jill. The announcer described her and the crew had to find her. She was found within two minutes (the crew really has to search until found). The NYer said that was an easy one…she was probably in Jack’s cabin! The second simulation was missing Willey. The NYer had a field day with that one and I laughed for over an hour.

Laying in the sun on the balcony won us over until the shade arrived and we sunbathed at the pool for the very first time. We were soooooo relaxed. While many passengers were on St. Thomas, some of us had the pool to ourselves. Two Sapphire pools are located on deck 12. One for kids with a giant water slide, the other for adults with a waterfall. Swimming under the waterfall gives a wonderful back massage. Be sure to stay under the water unless you want a head pounding. The kids waterslide was uneventful for me. I had a hard time sliding down it. Maybe because it was for kids? The peanut NYer had no problem but I was slighted by getting stuck on the slide. No fast downhill motion-plunge-at-the end for this heavyweight!

I probably ticked off the little kids waiting their turn behind me, assuming their complaints to peers how the big adults were not staying in their own pool. Even so, I took my time as I gently had to push my tush one arm movement at a time all the way down. A little guy at the bottom said I was supposed to lay down to go faster. I said to him “Ohhhh!” while wanting to say “Whatever!”

We had great bar service all day and the pina coladas were great. We knew already to order them in a regular glass so we did not pay the extra cost of the fancy-smancy glasses. The pool band was very good as they played easy-listening music. Showers are located nearby the pool but we found a large shower area on deck 13. It had gigantic fake shower handles with a large overhanging shower head. You press a button and the water flows to cool you off. Do not worry if the water keeps going and going…it shuts off automatically. I am sure if the camera guys were watching, they got a good laugh at the look of panic on my face when the water would not stop for me.

The pool areas on deck 12 and deck 13 began to fill up as passengers returned from the island. I watched one use their cell phone and I remembered The Family! Oh my gosh, it is Thanksgiving! Here I was on the beautiful Norwegian Jewel, it was 3pm in gorgeous St. Thomas, and I was enjoying the warm sun combined with a cool pina colada while they were all eating warm turkey in the cold green mountains. I missed them. I called them (My verizon cell phone worked in San Juan and in St. Thomas). My immediate family is so large that I had to call five houses to wish them all a happy turkey day. My family is so large that some were surprised when told why I could not come over for pumpkin pie that afternoon…I discussed the toss-up over who spoiled me more…my older brothers and sisters or NCL! I told them NCL won out this week!

We left the pool area by sailaway time and decided to work off the pina coladas. The Fitness Center on deck 12 was large and many cardiovascular machines faced an ocean view. The NYer pointed out the corner water fountain with a very long spout. She whispered in my ear. No more Evian purchases the rest of the week. We finished the workout powerwalking the promenade deck as St. Thomas’ view drifted further away. I think 2.3 times around the promenade is one mile. A jogging track is on the upper deck but it is too short for me and it is in full sun which I do not like. You can not run on the promenade as some passengers go out there for relaxation, for shuffleboard, to watch the sunset, to read quietly, to kiss their lover, to think alone, to gather thoughts, to Whatever. Promenade decks are the best-kept secrets of any cruise ship.

I worked up a hefty appetite. An invitation to dine with officers was extended at the V.I.P. party earlier that week. We were suggested to pick a day and time. I responded that they were the ones who had the busy schedules and I thanked them. I commented to let us know what was convenient for them. After 27 cruises, 17 with NCL, I had Red Buttons fever (the comedian on the old Dean Martin roasts who never got a dinner) and always wondered how passengers get the invite. Figuring the invitation was just a nice gesture I assumed it would be forgotten. Besides, think of the stress of it all.

We were told on Le Bistro night to meet in Star Bar Thursday at 8pm with dinner at Cagney’s to follow. Oh My Gosh. How do you decline that? I still wonder as of this writing how we got the invite. I am guessing the following: 1. They know I am a Cruise Critic?, 2. I am an NCL platinum member?, 3. They liked my commercial?, 4. I was in a penthouse suite?, 5. My SouthBeach formal dress flipping up?, 6. Jesus was with me?

Thursday was Caribbean night at sea. While getting ready the NYer and I discussed what we were supposed to wear. Was it formal? Was it resort casual? Was it Caribbean? Should I wear my black and white polka-dot dress? No, Caribbean night is usually the night the passengers and officers/staff/crew wear those horrible looking multi-colored caribbean shirts and goofy pants. We concluded the Star Bar and Cagney’s Steakhouse had the least amount of color of all lounges on the ship so we would wear our brightest outfits too.

I called for help anyways to make sure. The response was this was freestyle cruising and that we could wear “whatever.” At that moment I felt like making a bed-sheet toga to show just what I thought about “whatever!” None the smarter, the NYer ended up in a casual caribbean dress and I ended up in a multi-colored floral halter top with white capris. We concluded they were definitely our worst outfits the entire week. At the very least, we would match the officer/staff/crew’s worst outfits of the week too.

The Concierge, a.k.a our limousine driver, escorted us to the Star Bar and waited with us while the others showed up. We were all going to dine in Cagney’s Steakhouse. I just about died when the officers entered. Seems NCL took my previous advice and got rid of their goofy caribbean outfits. These guys showed up in black dress pants, black dress shoes and Gorgeous silkish solid color Cuban-style shirts. Here we were in our stupid outfits and there they were looking like they just returned from a Gentleman’s Quarterly Magazine shoot. Oh my god, this was going to be the longest dinner of my life, perhaps my last supper. I immediately ordered a mount gay rum and tonic with lime.

After nervous introductions once again of everyone, we were asked how our day was. The NYer responded in an exasperated voice, “I am EXHAUSTED!…I have been looking for Willey ALL day!…Have you guys found him yet?!” Mount gay rum and tonic actually came out of my nose. I almost fell out of my chair laughing as did everyone else. The rest of the meal was fabulous. The only way to describe the dining experience was that I was dining at home with my family, especially my brothers and sisters. How surprised was I? We laughed, we told stories, we laughed, we ate a lot, we laughed more, we talked a lot and laughed some more. The NYer pointed out the ones (including me) from big families talked the most. She described it perfectly how we all grew up…we had to compete for the attention!

Overall, what a special treat for me to have been missing my family earlier that day and to have NCL find a way for me to feel right at home. My perception of officer stuffiness has changed as I realize they are people just like you and me. I come from a family of officers and I should have known better all along. Even so, I thank NCL for one of the best Thanksgiving dinners to remember.

If anything, I hope that they in return enjoyed themselves. Since this is done on a weekly basis, I somehow wonder how they view the dinners. There were a few times they almost had water coming out their noses, so I suspect it was something different for them too!

While dining, I did not have a problem missing The Second City comedy improv earlier that evening. There was enough laughter and joy at our table. After thanking the Jewel officers for Thanksgiving dinner and wishing them and NCL a happy birthday, the NYer and I went to the Caribbean deck party. After the Caribbean deck party, I went to the Spinnaker’s Lounge to dance off my jumbo shrimp, prime rib dinner with au jus and horseradish, Idaho baked potato and steamed asparagus. Since the next day was at sea, the disco is usually crowded because nobody has to get up early. Like having to get up early makes a difference to my late night dancing!

FRIDAY…DAY AT SEA:

Friday morning arrived and it was a full day at sea. All the documents and information for debarkation were delivered the night before. I suggest reading through them all to avoid confusion on debarkation day. On NCL, one debarks the ship in a variety of ways: Express walk-off (you get off first)…you must carry off all your own luggage, then passengers with flights to MIA or FLL before 3pm, then guests with shore excursions (you meet in a separate area), then guests with independent travel arrangement (arranged by deck locations), following with guests who have FLL or MIA transfers with flights after 3pm. If you do not want to read through the directions, just watch it on your stateroom television.

I suggest you fill out your customs cards, comment cards, luggage tags and check your onboard account within the last two days of cruise. This avoids the potential long line at the purser’s/information desk debarkation morning. Who wants to end their holiday stressed out?

I wrote out my thank-you letters for the Thanksgiving dinner invite and then packed a bit while watching “Pirates of the Caribbean (part 2)” on the movie channel. Oh my gosh, who knew of the selection of free movies along with the selection of other dvd games available? I never get the chance to go to the movies at home so it was a treat to see this one for free.

I decided to spend the day at sea checking out all other area’s of the ship. After the breakfast buffet I went up to sports deck and to the sun deck. A full size basketball court (also used for tennis and volleyball) with stadium seating was impressive. I found a golf swing area, a giant size chess board game, more shuffleboards, and the private area to garden villas. The sun deck was forward and I concluded this was a nice private area away from the pool. A few passengers were vegging out on the loungers and I did not want to disturb them. The ship’s chapel was small and not very decorative.

My attention was captured in the card/lifestyles room and in the library. The card/lifestyle room had a view of the ocean. Tables were set up where one could play games (bridge/cards/checkers/chess). I looked in all the cabinets and found plenty of board games including monopoly, rummikub, cribbage, sorry, just to name a few. I even found decks of cards!

The library room was the best library at sea I ever noted. A view of the ocean, comfy cubby chairs, and tables by the windows, the book selection was fantastic. I noted fiction, non-fiction, best-sellers, children’s, health, travel and other subjects. Passengers have the opportunity to check out books throughout the cruise and to return them by week’s end. I found three great travel books on Paris and spent the next two hours perusing them. My first visit to Paris was soon thereafter this cruise and I learned a lot. I guess while on the streets in Paris I am not supposed to look French men in the eyes nor respond to their greetings…unless I want to get picked up. I also learned how say, “Bonjour Monsieur! Je suis bien! Et tu?”

The Jewel Club Casino is a brightly decorated one with plenty of slots, tables and tournaments. I bought the perfume in Antigua with my gambling money so I never made a donation. I spoke with a nineteen-year old who had beginner’s luck at the crap’s table and according to him, he spoke to people who had won big at various times. I asked him on the last night if he was in the black or in the red. He had broke even yet commented he enjoyed every minute of it. At least he learned the correct way to gamble.

The internet cafe, located on deck 7 had about six computers. A staff member is nearby to assist passengers. An art gallery was nearby and art auctions took place all week. There were some pieces I liked. The Galleria shop staff was excellent in all areas. The employees were cordial and helpful. I bought t-shirts for hubby, boxes of caribbean rum balls and a great carry-on duffle-bag for 26 dollars. I could not bring the perfume liquids on the plane ride home so I had to re-arrange my packing. The store also had perfume, jewelry, gift ornaments, clothing, and toiletries. So, if you ever forget something, the Galleria store will probably have it.

I finished my self-guided tour with a buffet lunch of cold soup, pork ribs and iced tea. Yummy. Back at the cabin I told the NYer I was going to finish packing so I did not have to rush that night. She politely informed me that we still had another port of call the next day (Great Stirrup Cay) and what the heck was I thinking? Having no concept of time or date all week, I thought we were debarking the following morning. Could this cruise get any better?

I still packed a little bit and The NYer attended a towel making demonstration. Once I was done, I attended the ice cream machines. My first dessert of the week, I found two stations at both ends of the Garden Cafe. You can get chocolate, vanilla or mixed. They have sauces and sprinkles available. Cones (the good kind) are present but I don’t eat them. Instead, I gave the ice cream server my best smile when I handed him my giant soup bowl. He grinned as I whispered, “whatever, right?”

I thought of my father, now deceased, as I sat by myself amongst the crowded Sapphire pool area. Having a family of 13, our special treat was taking us for rides in the car and going to the Dairy Queen. If it was just him and I, he would always get me the super-giant size creemee as long as I could eat it all before I got home so my mother and siblings would not find out. I could never do it and he always helped me out as we pulled into the driveway. I remembered toward the end of his life taking him for rides and for creemees. He still finished what I could not. As 1/2 the ship’s passengers gathered at the Sapphire pool area, it only felt like it was just him and me as I ate the entire serving of icecream. I even licked the bowl.

Feeling like a little kid again, I watched a great show at the pool. A grand illusionist performed an underwater escape challenge. In true Houdini fashion, he had the entire crowd in awe. Passengers chained him up and threw him in the water. Amazing how long this guy could hold his breath. The real little kids were jumping and pointing in anticipation as the minutes passed. I found myself jumping and pointing and holding on to stranger’s arms as I watched. This was a great addition to NCL’s program. Totally cool.

I discovered the NYer at the Sky High Bar and we decided to pass on the bingo, casino tournaments, name that tune, exercise classes, seminars at sea, and singles socials all taking place on this sea day. Instead, we perched ourselves on the bar stools overlooking the pool below and met a lot passengers…some new and some familiar. We began with mojitos which were full of mint and yummy. I can only drink one of those though. We continued with her double-scotch and me double-mount gay cocktails. Much to our surprise, the activities came to us.

We took part in a Kid-Bingo-Coverall taking place by the pool. The prize was 400 dollars and it was one game only. NCL set it up in the cutest way. Each little kid received a beach ball. At the top of the slide, the staff had the machine balls and wrote out the number on each beach ball. The little kids slid down with their beach ball bingo number and held it up for the cruise director to announce. It was coverall and some of the little tykes were pooped towards the end. Some dropped out. I admire the ones who endured the entire game. If you want to make sure your child goes to bed early, then have them participate! They got to keep the balls too!

The sun was setting and the NYer and I were still perched at the SkyHigh bar and we met two wonderful gals having just a great time as we were. The four of us laughed a lot and we wished we met earlier in the week. Come to find out, one gal was from Cruise Critic. She did not make it to our gathering earlier that week so I told her what she missed. The four of us remained there until they had 20 minutes to get to dinner and left. The NYer and I met more passengers along their way. Who says you can’t meet interesting people at a bar? It had been dark for a while and it was getting foggy out. We noticed everyone dressed up while we were still in our shorts and bathing suits. After sitting and drinking all sea day long, we left the Sky High Bar with a Sky High bill. Returning to cabin, we realized we were indeed Sky High.

We went to dinner in Tango’s restaurant with a Tex-Mex flair. We had fun practicing on the Tango carpet during the day. The carpet has foot pictures and directions on how to do the tango. Who knew my tango guy would be a rug? We loved the ambiance of Tango’s at night with the lights dim and hearing the live music playing one deck below. Our waiter was excellent. I had the chicken soup and fajitas…the NYer had the spring rolls and quesadillas. Tex-Mex Burger: beef, shredded chipotle, avocado, Monterey jack cheese, lettuce, spicy fries

After Tangos we went to the Fyzz Lounge and watched the cruise staff teach line dancing. A few started out and others joined as they realized just how fun it is! The cruise staffmember was excellent and a very good teacher. I remember she taught me a few moves on the Norwegian Sun a few years ago.

The big main event show that evening was Cirque De Bijou. Held in the beautiful Stardust Theater forward, every seat was a great seat. There is nothing to block a view in this theater. The design was very well thought out. With exception to the peacock curtain, the colors and decor worked well.

The show was fabulous. I sat in the very back at the top and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Billed as “an artistic and awe inspiring aerial ballet featuring world recognized aerialists, rhythmic gymnasts, acrobats and bungee jumpers hurling from 40 feet in the air…” I totally agree this is a show NOT to miss and that it is definitely the “the best show on the seven seas.” If you sit in the first 8 rows, you have to stay the entire performance due to safety reasons. You have performers flying about above you coming within feet of your head!

Also not to miss is the after-show farewell by officers/staff/crew. NCL does the best send-off compared to my Princess, Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruises. As the farewell progressed, I realized the answer to my question all week long. As I heard the words sung “This is your home…away from home…you are part of our family…” and saw everyone up there, I reviewed the week in my head. How true those words were for me on this cruise. I opened this review with stating that NCL treated me like a goddess and like a family member at the same time. These are the words I use when anyone at home or work ask how my vacation was.

After the show we had good intentions of attending the well announced chocoholic buffet set up in the Garden Cafe and the Late Night Comedy Liars Club. Instead, The NYer went to sleep. I watched The Da Vinci Code, another movie I was pleased to see for free. I found myself having a hard time following along even though I read book two years ago. I did enjoy seeing the sites of Paris knowing I would see it for real very soon.

Not wanting to think too much about the Holy Grail once again, I ventured up to the Spinnaker’s Lounge and danced with myself. I had a good time with me! I found out that my favorite music is played late late late night. Not hearing it on other nights (although I still liked the DJ’s selections and I was only out late late the other nights), I was very pleased. My favorite music is trance/techno/club music and had I known, I would have taken longer naps during the day in order to stay up later. Even so, I am very proud of myself that I never once on this trip closed down the disco. I think I am growing up!

SATURDAY…GREAT STIRRUP CAY:

We awoke to a beautiful sunny day off Great Stirrup Cay, NCL’s private island in the Bahamas. The wind and the waves moved the stationary ship. I was thankful we could tender to shore because sometimes the island is missed due to weather/strong winds. The NYer was going to stay on board and I was going on island to seek out the lighthouse and secret beaches.

The Nyer ended up coming ashore and we left the ship at about 12:30pm. Most of the passengers were already on island. We took our time getting off although we could have have used our priority tender tickets to leave earlier. Upon arrival, I saw many people sunbathing and not too many in the water. On less windy days, the beautiful calm waters beckon swimmers, snorkelers, and water loungers. We saw the quieter beach to the right but it was closed off probably due to safety reasons. We watched the Caribbean band play as passengers danced. Many of them were the diehards in Spinnaker’s late nights. Passengers rested in hammocks, played volleyball or ping-pong located near the very clean bathrooms. Kids built sand sculptures while others buried each other.

We did not eat the buffet lunch provided on the island by the ships crew, but saw many eating at the picnic tables set up. We did not go to the straw market because I already bought my straw hat there when I was on my April 2006 NCL Spirit cruise.

We did find the lighthouse marked two miles away from the main area. Along the way we found a private rock beach (no sand…just rocks) and had a great laugh at the Great Stirrup Cay Airport. The NYer should have a wonderful photo of her there at the entrance. Where I live back home, we can go into our lighthouses. Since this lighthouse was a working one, it was closed up. I found out later from some that there is another private beach in front of lighthouse. We kept walking past the lighthouse and found a private area with beautiful calm waters. We sat in the sun on a rickety old dock and watched a few crew members and a few passengers enjoy the peaceful water. Some snorkelers arrived from around the bend and reported they saw pretty fish, lobster, a stingray, a shark and starfish. We stayed there for a few hours and ended up watching a couple of passengers catch fish. This getaway was ideal and I shall not forget the serenity I felt upon leaving.

Before boarding the last tender back to ship, we watched the operation of breaking down the island. The crew certainly works hard to bring everything ashore and then to bring it all back to ship again. All the umbrellas and loungers are stored on the island while all the food, drink, and passenger trash returns to the ship on a separate tender. Fortunately for the crew, the red-shirt bar staff versus the blue-shirt kitchen staff could play some volleyball prior to boarding the ship.

Categories
Cities

Greetings from South Africa – a short trip report

Author: gardkarlsen
Date of Trip: March 2008

Here is a short travel “teaser” from South Africa. My wife and I are here in Johannesburg to visit family but we have also had some time for some tourist activities as well.

We had a few days in Cape Town and I can really recommend that. It is a beautiful city and it reminds me a bit of Norway with the mountains, ocean and beaches. In the Cape Town area we rented a car for a day to drive around on the Cape peninsula, we took a tour of the wine lands (Stellenbosch, Paarl etc) and we got to taste some wine along the route, we took a trip up to Table mountain, we took a walking tour in the downtown area where we followed in the foot steps of VOC.

In Johannesburg we have also had some time to play tourists. Yesterday we took a trip down in the Cullinan diamond mine. This mine is still in full production and this is where the worlds largest diamond of 3106 ct was found It was very cool to be in a mine that is still in production and we met people working there and we got to check out the lowest level of 763 meters below the ground.

South Africans are big on beer and we went downtown to get a tour at SAB (South African Breweries). Their tour is called World of beer and you get info about tradition, making of beer…and you get a couple of beers at the end of the tour of course. SAB also owns and makes Miller beer if I’m not mistaken.

Outside Joburg you can find the Sterkfontein caves. Here they have found fossils and remains that shows that humans have been around for a long time in South Africa. They have also created a new center called Maropeng where they try to give you an overview about the origin of life and it was pretty well laid out.

When on vacation you should also relax. So the other day we took a trip to a spa in the middle of town. The place is called Mangwanani (see www.mangwanani.co.za) and we got a full day spa from 9 am to 5 pm and we were rubbed, scrubbed, massaged etc…with some breaks to get some drinks and snacks of course. The price was 950 Rand per person…120 USD. For a Norwegian this is extremely cheap.

The price level here in South Africa is great for a Norwegian. The South African Rand has gotten weaker to the Norwegian Krone which is good for us as visitors. The other day we went to a restaurant called Linger Longer and it is on the top 10 list of restaurants in South Africa. The meal cost of 120 USD and that was including a bottle of good wine. Even at very nice restaurants you can find a bottle of wine starting at 15 USD

Well, I hope that this have give a little impression of our stay in South Africa. If you are going to Johannesburg I would like to recommend that you rent a car as it makes it so much easier to get around. I brought a GPS this time and it made it a lot easier to find stuff. Yes, they do drive on the “wrong” side of the road and their driving culture is different but it is not a problem to adapt.

Johannesburg is often referred to as the most dangerous city in the world. We have not had any problems but we keep hearing about break ins, smash and grab from cars etc. So if you come here…use common sense and follow the recommendations and hopefully you will not experience anything bad.

I will post more info with pictures and links on my homepage.

Regards Gard
http://gardkarlsen.com/

Categories
Food & Drink Romantic Travel

My Yummy Valentine: The Chocolate Spa in Hershey, PA

I have proven, definitively, that you can indeed have too much of a good thing. My proof came in the form of a case of red, itchy hives that covered my neck and arms after my return from a weekend visit to Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The hives were a result of a weekend so indulgent that I have only myself to blame. I have suffered from chocolate-related hives before, but did that stop me from eating, drinking, bathing in and wrapping myself in chocolate? Nooooo. In fact, this happened to me once before when I was a child, but I had long forgotten that an overdose of chocolate leads to an itchy skin condition for me. (The same thing will happen to me if I eat too many pickles, but luckily, I haven’t heard that Vlasic is planning to open any gherkin-related hotels or spas.)

The good news is that the hives were well worth it — after all, how often does an entire weekend of your life revolve around chocolate? Not often, I bet. In Hershey though, every day of the year revolves around chocolate — hence the nickname “the sweetest place on earth.” You might not necessarily associate Hershey, PA, with romance, but with the onset of winter comes the closing of Hersheypark and a big decline in the number of children visiting — in other words, a perfect time for couples to take advantage of the romantic Hotel Hershey, its Chocolate Spa and a number of dining options for all budgets.

Friday Evening

My husband Ryan and I left New York City Friday night and headed west to Hershey for an early Valentine’s Day getaway. We divided our nights — one at the Hershey Lodge and one at the Hotel Hershey. Upon check-in at the Lodge, we received two — what else? — Hershey Bars. These were the first of the 10-plus Hershey Bars I consumed over the next 36 hours. Once we checked into our spacious and tidy room, we headed to the Bears’ Den, a sports-themed restaurant and bar, for a late dinner of pub-type fare accompanied by chocolate beer. One of the many activities aimed at adults during Hershey’s “Chocolate-Covered February” is a class on chocolate and wine pairings.

After a quick hotel tour we headed to our room for the night, where on our pillows we found, you guessed it, chocolate.

Saturday

Saturday started with a trip to the Cocoa Beanery for a hot chocolate latte. Then we checked out of the Hershey Lodge and headed to the Hotel Hershey for a day of spa treatments. Though our room wasn’t yet vacated by its previous occupants, the hotel took Ryan’s cell phone number and promised to clean the room and call him as soon as it was empty.

They made good on their promise — though check-in was not until 4 p.m., we were able to get into our room around noon. Oh, and they gave us two more Hershey’s chocolate bars at check-in. Since I hadn’t had a proper breakfast I figured, “why not?”

I made my way to the spa and was surprised to find that, despite the relative off-season calm in town, the Chocolate Spa was bustling. I arrived a few minutes late for my first treatment, a chocolate fondue wrap, but was quickly and politely ushered through the pre-spa paperwork and changed from street clothes into a plush robe. I had never had a body wrap, chocolate or any other kind, and enjoyed the process of having dead skin brushed off my body and being wrapped in a chocolate cocoon and placed under warm overhead lights.

Less enjoyable was the process by which the mud and cocoa essence is removed — a series of shower heads extend from the wall and, with help from the technician and a cloth, wash the elements from your body. It felt a little like being bathed by another person, something I had hoped not to experience until the much later years of my life.

Next up was a spa lunch, which I enjoyed in my fluffy Chocolate Spa bathrobe, accompanied by Ryan in his normal clothes. The asparagus soup, salads, healthy sandwiches and juices were delicious. My next spa treatment was a 20-minute chocolate oil-scented massage, which was very relaxing but not nearly long enough — treat yourself and go for an hour-long massage.

The last treatment of the day was a Whipped Cocoa Bath — basically a very relaxing soak in chocolate milk complete with candles, music, lots of bubbles and chocolate kisses to snack on. Eating chocolate kiss after kiss while actually bathing in chocolate felt delightfully sinful.

After I had been dipped, slathered and bathed in chocolate, I finally got to check out our room. The king-size bed was dressed in luxurious linens and the oversize bathroom featured a giant whirlpool bathtub and spa products. Ryan and I then strolled around the vast grounds of the Hotel Hershey — past the formal gardens and the site of the outdoor pool. The hotel has six miles of nature trails and, weather permitting, romantic horse-and-buggy rides.

After enjoying pre-dinner cocktails in the Iberian Lounge (chocolate martini for me), we made our way to the Circular Dining Room where we enjoyed lobster bisque, filet mignon, grilled venison chops and chocolate panna cotta for dessert. Relaxed from a day of pampering and pleasantly full of food and drink, we retired to our room where we were greeted by chocolate on our pillows. “When in Hershey…” I thought. Into my mouth the chocolate went.

Sunday Morning

We woke up early and decided to check out some of the sights that are open in Hershey year-round. We took in a 3-D movie at Chocolate World (more Hershey bars on the way out of the theater) and a trolley tour that offered a historical perspective on the town. We checked out of our plush hotel room and discussed the possibility of heading to nearby Amish Country to sightsee and buy a quilt. On the way to the parking lot we made a quick stop in the Cocoa Beanery for another one of those delicious hot chocolate lattes.

I was taking the last sip when I turned to Ryan and said, “I feel sort of itchy….”

How to Get There

By Car: Hershey, PA, is within driving distance of many cities in the Northeast. It is approximately 90 minutes from Baltimore; two hours from Trenton, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.; three hours from New York City; and four hours from Pittsburgh.

By Train: The Harrisburg train station is serviced by Amtrak and is about 15 minutes from Hershey. Some hotels have a shuttle service from the train station to Hershey; call to inquire.

By Air: The Harrisburg International Airport is 15 minutes from Hershey. Rental cars are available at the airport and some hotels offer a shuttle service. Call your hotel to inquire.

Where to Stay

The Hotel Hershey is a family-friendly, 278-room luxury hotel. It offers indoor and outdoor pools, nature trails, golf, a fitness center, a spa and several on-site restaurants including fine dining in the Circular Dining Room. Guests enjoy free admission to the Hershey Gardens and the Hershey Museum.

The Hershey Lodge is a 665-room hotel and conference center affiliated with the Hotel Hershey, which means guests have access to many of the Hotel Hershey amenities such as golf and the spa. The Hershey Lodge offers several on-site casual dining options including the sports-themed Bears’ Den, the Hershey Grill, Lebbie Lebkicher’s (buffet), and the Forebay. It also has indoor and outdoor pools and on-site miniature golf.

What to Do

Besides all the chocolate-themed attractions, Hershey also offers over 60 outlet stores for shopping enthusiasts. It is within an hour’s drive from Lancaster, PA and Amish country. Also about an hour away is the Civil War-buff haven of Gettysburg, Pa.

— written by Genevieve S. Brown