Sleeping in a Paradise Garden in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys offers a multitude of interesting options for places to stay. We found a small resort in Key Largo that was different from anything we had previously experienced. If you like the romance of “Old Florida,” you are sure to love this getaway. 

The Kona Kai Resort

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When it comes to family owned resorts we have learned to expect the unexpected. Such properties often reflect the imagination and ingenuity of entrepreneurial owners, and the Kona Kai Resort is the essence of the concept.

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Owners Joe and Ronnie Harris purchased the two acre Kona Kai grounds in 1991. They immediately began to painstakingly renovate the stunning waterfront property and transform it into a comfortable “Old Florida” resort – a style that is most becoming in the relaxed setting of the Florida Keys.

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The resort is designed in bungalow fashion and consists of single level guestrooms and one and two bedroom suites that vary in furnishings and views. All 13 accommodations have air-conditioning, ceiling fans, flat panel TVs with DVD players. Suites have CD players and fully equipped kitchens. This is an excellent resort for a stay of any duration.

Enter Eden

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What sets this property apart is that it is an integral part of an exclusive botanical garden. Starting with mature mahoganies, gumbo-limbos, coconuts, and Washingtonians, the plant loving owners began adding hundreds of new tropical and exotic flora and the Botanic Gardens of Kona Kai was born.

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Today, guests get to live in a garden that features more than 150 orchid specimens, 42 different species of palms, 25 native plant species, 11 bamboos, 21 grasses, 15 tropical fruiting trees and plants, and numerous bromeliads.

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New plants are being added regularly.

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Each guest of the resort also has a unique opportunity to take a self-guided tour of the gardens, or a 90-minute “Transforming Your Understanding of Plants” tour guided by one of the credentialed staff at the resort.

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The garden is a veritable walk through time with plants that can be traced to the Age of Dinosaurs. Joe and Ronnie have focused their garden around the science of Ethnobotony, the study of the relationship between people and plants. They want to provide their guests and visitors with a better appreciation of the role that plants have played in the development of human life.

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To that end, the Kona Kai Gardens sponsors a successful annual environmental outreach program for kids that offers students in the upper Florida Keys the opportunity to research and analyze environmental topics, and appreciate the beauty and importance of plants in nature.

The Gallery at Kona Kai

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The Harris’ interests are not limited to the earth sciences; they have also used their Key Largo resort to showcase original works of art in the Gallery at Kona Kai.

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The Gallery is where incoming guests register, giving all an opportunity to peruse the interesting art exhibits and purchase the many unusual specialty items found in the guestrooms.

Choosing a suite 

Lest we forget that this wonderful botanical and artistic enclave is also an extraordinary resort of the first order, let’s look at the hospitality aspects of the Kona Kai Resort.

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When we were shown the Pineapple Suite we loved it.

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We had a view of the waterfront, and were just steps away from the sparkling pool and hot tub.

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We felt right at home the moment we entered the suite through the living room door.

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Additional facilities

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The Kona Kai swimming pool and hot tub is pictured above.

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There’s also a tennis court, kayaks and paddle boats – the use of which is complimentary for guests. Dolphins and Manatees are seen just to the front of the Kona Kai beach, so keep a watchful eye.

Scuba divers will be happy to know that the resort provides equipment lockers, and a fresh-water soak and equipment wash down tank. Diving in the famous John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is just minutes away at Mile Marker 102.5.

Eating

The area around the resort has many dining venues, and there is a supermarket near the property for those wishing to cook in their suite’s kitchen.

Sunsets

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The resort offers some of the best sunset watching in the Keys.

For more information

The Kona Kai website is *here* There is also a website specific to the gallery at www.g-k-k.com. Each site has information you will want to read if you are planning a trip to the Florida Keys.

If you go

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Take the Overseas Highway – US 1 South into the Keys for approximately 30 miles – watch for Mile Marker 98 in Key Largo. Then watch for the oval Kona Kai Resort sign on your right. You have arrived, have fun!

African Queen

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By the way, the resort is not far from the dock of the authentic African Queen. Fans of the 1951 movie starring Hepburn and Bogart, won’t want to miss an opportunity to see and take a ride on this historic boat – we photographed our adventure on the “Queen,” and our pictures and story will be published soon.

Other Key information

You will also benefit by checking out general visitor information about the Florida Keys at www.fla-keys.com

As you head further south on Overseas Highway US 1, you will find two uber-luxurious resorts, one on Islamorada, the other just off Little Torch Key. We have visited both these properties, and you can click on their names below to read about them.

Cheeca Lodge and Spa – Marker 82 – in Islamorada

Little Palm Island Resort and Spa – Marker 28.5 – island is off Little Torch Key

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff. Photo of children on stage courtesy of Kona Kai Resort

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Relaxing In Luxury on Little Palm Island in Florida

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Tired of run-of-the-mill luxury vacation destinations? Looking for something extraordinary and exotic for that very special occasion? We have found a world-class tropical resort – in the United States – that will have you talking about your getaway for years to come. Here’s the story of Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys.

Driving south from Miami, it took us about 2-hours to cover the 120-miles to Little Torch Key and to reach mile marker 28.5 on scenic US1. There we found Pirates Road and the Little Palm Island Welcome Station (aka resort check-in and transport dock).

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The vibe for this destination resort is South Seas Island elegant and the Welcome Station fits right in. The Station building is a high-peaked thatched roof structure that is nestled against a lazy mangrove lagoon. The lagoon is where passengers board the shuttle boat to the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.

As we entered the door of the Station, we were greeted by a Little Palm Island employee who quickly and efficiently arranged for our luggage to be removed from our auto and placed on a bell cart to await transport to the island.

Registration was an unfussy affair that was made enjoyable by a complimentary beverage – we chose a refreshing rum punch – very tasty. Check-in went quickly – no doubt attributable to the fact that there are only 30 guest quarters at the Little Palm Island Resort.

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We parked our rental car in the lot adjacent to the Station, and proceeded to the Gift Shop, which was chock-full of interesting objects including sundry headgear and upscale clothing.

It was a beautiful day, so we lounged on the outdoor patio while waiting for our motor launch ride to Little Palm Island. There are just two ways to get there – boat or seaplane. The island is only 3-miles from the Station, and the launch departs hourly, so the choice of transport was an easy one.

Everything done in style

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At first glance, we thought our transportation to the island was a sleek 1930s Chris Craft motor launch – but it wasn’t. In reality, it is a 1990s built replica that looks and sounds like the real thing.

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Before we knew it, we were being whisked away by a uniformed four-stripe captain in a classic motor yacht to an offshore island paradise.

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As we approached the dock of the lush palm-laden island, we would not have been surprised to see Tattoo in his little white suit shouting “De boat, de boat.”

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Instead, we were greeted by a very cordial island guide in smart tropic attire. He told us that our luggage was already waiting for us in our elevated thatched palm roof “Sandpiper” suite. The bungalow suites are harmoniously named after tropical birds – and that is so very fitting in this Audubon haven.

Speaking of birds

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One of our first introductions was to “Spencer” a dominant gray heron and distinguished character. Spencer lords over the shallows of the island.

Our guide told us that Spencer could be occasionally cranky and territorial when it comes to other “big” birds eyeing his island for a roost. Later in the day, we were privileged to witness Spencer doing a ceremonious roust of a very big and lanky white crane.

Five acres of paradise

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We toured the entire Little Palm Island in about 45-minutes. The meandering manicured white sand paths and thick tropical landscaping are ingeniously designed to ensure bungalow privacy.

During our walk, we passed by the Spa Terre, the Library, the Zen Garden, the splendid outdoor pool, the outdoor chess set, the island gift shop, and the bar and restaurant.

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Guests have free access to fishing rods, kayaks, beach boats, small sailing crafts, and romantic double umbrella shaded lounges that are strategically placed throughout the island.

Harry and Bess

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There is much ado about the Trumans on the island, including two full-length oil paintings of the famous couple in the Library. The pride stems from the president’s affinity for the isle when it was a private fishing resort.

Admiral Bill “Bull” Halsey was one of the many famous island guests of the Trumans after the War.

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Another president and Navy veteran, JFK was on Little Palm in 1962 to watch the filming of PT109 – a movie about his heroic exploits aboard a PT boat in the Pacific during WWII.

Cue the deer

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Just when we thought we had seen everything imaginable on this contemporary Fantasy Island, a tiny-toddler of a Lilliputian creature walked onto our white sand path. Here before us was a Key Deer fawn – so cute – and quite tame.

Before long, the fawn’s mom came along, happy to join in the photo op.

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The Key Deer is an endangered species native to the Florida Keys, and the Little Palm Island mini-herd swims over from a neighboring island – maybe to nuzzle the various celebrities that populate the resort from time to time. It is illegal to feed these little guys, but a joy to commune with them.

Photographing our hut-suite

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Each room in the Palm Island bungalows is like a character in a play. When combined, all the clever little things inside the suite add to the ethos of high living in paradise.

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Our suite was #23, The Sandpiper Suite, and it is very much like the other bungalow suites on Little Palm – a good thing because all 30 bungalows were occupied. We only had an opportunity to photograph the inside of the suite where we stayed.

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All the bungalows are South Seas castaway dream homes with a dash of British Colonial charm.

Each thatched roof suite-hut is outfitted with a well-appointed living room with comfy woven-seagrass sofa and chairs, a softly humming ceiling fan, military style birding binoculars, a stand of old-fashioned umbrellas, and a replica antique telephone with which to communicate with the Quarterdeck (Concierge).

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In the evenings, the large bedroom in each bungalow is softly lit by a simulated-candle that enhances the romance of the lavish room by casting exotic shadows on the wooden beams above.

Your sleeping comfort is guaranteed by an elegant and uber-comfortable king four-poster bed complete with decorative netting and zephyrous ceiling fan.

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Our suite also had a soaking tub, a large modern shower, and an attached outdoor bamboo shower room.

Of course, all the suites are fully air-conditioned. This is what present-day tropical luxury is all about.

Relax

Little Palm Island is a place of leisure. Go fishing, kayaking, listen to the birds or the quiet lap of the sea against the shore.

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Wait for a Key Deer to entertain while you sip a soothing beverage on your veranda, in the garden, or by the pool. Lounge on the beach or on one of the wooden walkways overlooking the sea – there are no bad choices on Little Palm Island.

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Relaxation sometimes requires help. That is why the suites do not have Wi-Fi service, TVs, or off-island telephones – and there are no children allowed on the island.

If you must

If you are a tech-junkie some of the above might make you nuts, so there is limited Wi-Fi service in the Library, which is also called the Great Room. If you look hard, you will also see a flat screen TV among the books and games – it is the only one on the island.

The Spa Terre

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Unlike many spa experiences that are a singular event in a busy day, the Spa Terre experience becomes an essential part of your total day on Little Palm Island.

We selected the ancient and deep Sacred Stone Massage – but perhaps you would rather a soothing massage on a table in the shallow water of a secluded beach.

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Whatever your choice, you can continue the bliss by immediately entering the warm and tranquil sea or nearby island pool.

Follow your dip with a shaded rest on one of the islands many comfortable lounges or couples hammocks.

Now is the time for a contemplative assessment of the joys of living. Little Palm Island is about Elysian serenity – your personal Shangri-La.

Dining on the Island

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Food plays a role of cardinal importance at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.

Savor a focused cuisine of Latin ingredients and French techniques. The menu created under the influence of Corporate Executive Chef Luis Pous, and enhanced and orchestrated by Executive Chef Brendan Mica and his team is nothing less than superb.

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Need we say more than Zagat rated the Little Palm Dining Room as the third best dining facility in the United States, and number one in the state of Florida.

The menu choices are both sophisticated and approachable, and reflect the location and relaxed atmosphere of Little Palm Island.

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For our appetizer, we chose a uniquely presented shrimp cocktail.

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Our main courses consisted of Key West Lobster accompanied by sweet corn, apples, fennel, onions, and Caviar Beurre Blanc and

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Rosemary Braised Short Ribs with a lavish medley of aged white Cheddar, creamed potatoes, mushrooms, truffle, and crispy shallots.

The night is young

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As guests opened and closed French doors between the restaurant and adjoining lounge, we could hear barely audible conversations and laughter.

Even with the doors closed, we enjoyed the faint familiar tunes being played by an entertainer on the lounge piano.

An after dinner digestif, accompanied by the murmured tinkling of piano keys in another room – and a sky full of seemingly touchable stars – it does not get more romantic than this.

The late Paul Newman, and Marvin Hamlisch relaxed in this restaurant – we suspect they were equally captivated by the setting.

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If you go

Little Palm Island Resort is the Florida address of the elite traveler. It has a cachet that will appeal to those with discriminating travel tastes. We recommend it to anyone wanting to experience the luxury of exclusive private island vacationing.

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For more information about availability, services and rates, look at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa website at http://www.littlepalmisland.com/

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

A Connecticut Castle Built by Sherlock Holmes

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We arrived at Gillette’s Castle, in East Haddam, Connecticut, just as the staff had put the final touches on the holiday trimmings.

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We were almost alone in the vast castle, and as we photographed each room, we sensed an aura of serenity and contentment about the place, possibly actuated by some manifestation of gentle ghosts of Christmases Past – and all the wonderful decorations that surrounded us.

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This is the story of how the castle came to be.

William Gillette

gcmt 3William Gillette was a renowned American actor and playwright who portrayed Sherlock Holmes over 1300 times in stage adaptions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery novels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Gillette’s long popularity on stage, and added fame from starring in early silent films, including one called “Sherlock Holmes,” brought him a commensurate fortune and a desire for off-stage seclusion.

At a point in his career, he looked to bucolic Connecticut for his solitude, and in 1914 he commissioned a strange and mysterious 24-room castle to be constructed on a 184-acre bluff overlooking the Connecticut River.

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Gillette personally designed the anomalous castle and many of its interior furnishings. He called his estate “The Seventh Sister,” because the purlieu was the southernmost of the Seven Sisters Hills that stretch along the Connecticut River Valley. The castle was built to Gillette’s exact specifications and completed in 1919.

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There are stunning views of the shimmering waters of the Connecticut River far below – it is exquisitely serene.

Gillette was a celebrity in many spheres of influence. Stage, radio, film, books, and he held at least five US patents – one for the first sophisticated sound effects machine. Much of Gillette’s creative genius is displayed in his castle. Visitors will quickly see that he took a different approach to defining country living for the aristocracy of his time.

Unique castle features

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William Gillette created what is believed to be the first fire sprinkler systems used in a building. A huge white metal tank containing water was installed in a room high above the main floor and could be activated by a valve that would spray water through pipes installed in the ceiling.

Another feature of the castle is its unique indoor surveillance system. Designed more for fun than spying, Gillette arranged mirrors in the Great Hall so he could observe the coming and going of people in the house from his bedroom.

From his bedroom position he could also see reflections of guests trying to open his mysterious liquor cabinet. Gillette took great pleasure in watching frustrated visitors, and then magically appearing to solve the enigma of the locked cabinet – just as Sherlock Holmes would have done.

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There is much to discover here that is not immediately obvious. It is reputed that no nails were used in the construction of Gillette’s Castle – ingenious if true. Beams are held into place with large iron rods, stone is used as an art form as well as an engineering necessity.

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Light switches are made of carved wood, as are door mechanisms and window blocks.

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Each room in the castle is like a character in one of Gillette’s plays. Light streams through the fretted windows of every chamber, illuminating each to an unusual mood.

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One curious mystery is why Gillette used hospital style white metal beds throughout his castle.

Gillette’s Aunt Polly

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William Gillette registered his cruiser-houseboat in the name of “Aunt Polly” in 1905. He added 40-feet to her length, making her 144 feet long, and she was almost 19 feet wide. She weighed 200 tons, and had all the comforts of a luxury yacht for the time.

The story of the Aunt Polly is as significant in Gillette’s life as was his Seventh Sister estate home.

William Gillette was married only once, and his beloved wife Helen died in 1888, just a few years after the nuptials – they had no children.

After Helen’s death, William secluded himself in Thousand Pines, his 500-acre summer estate in Tryon, North Carolina where he resided off-and-on until 1910. At that time in his life he was suffering from an illness some thought was tuberculosis. A local resident he called “Aunt Polly” nursed Gillette back to health, and as one token of his gratitude he named his cherished cruising houseboat after her.

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It was also at Thousand Pines that Gillette showed his skill at wood carving and his admiration for house cats. Henry Zecher, in his book entitled William Gillette, America’s Sherlock Holmes indicates that Gillette had as many as 75 cats living in and around his dwelling on the estate.

The Aunt Polly was moored at the base of the Seventh Sister for the four-year term of the castle’s construction. Gillette enjoyed living aboard the Polly with his favorite cat “Angelina” who shared a nightly dinner at his table.

The Aunt Polly burned at her dock in 1935, but fortunately several furnishings including a piano were saved and moved to the castle where they are currently displayed.

The Seventh Sister Railroad

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The estate had its own railroad and Gillette enjoyed commanding the throttle and touring guests along three-miles of narrow gauge track at speeds up to 20-miles per hour. After Gillette’s death in 1937, the engine and railroad cars were sold.

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Gillette’s “Grand Central Station” is now a picnic area…

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with stone carvings of Gillette’s beloved cats sitting on the roof. Had the railroad been maintained, it would no doubt add greatly to the attraction of the castle, but at the expense of some wonderful hiking trails that replaced the tracks.

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The state of Connecticut acquired the Seventh Sister estate in 1943 and converted it to Gillette Castle State Park.

Gillette’s Castle is a top tourist attraction in Connecticut. The park’s substantial Visitor’s Center was closed during our visit, but we are told that it is an excellent introduction to the castle and grounds – and should not be missed.  For more information about Gillette’s Castle State Park look at their website here.

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A visit into Gillette Castle is a step across the threshold of time to a golden era where personal luxury was a given and attention to architectural detail a watchword. We recommend the experience hardily.

If you go

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The park is located at 67 River Road in East Haddam, Connecticut.

From I-91S:  take Exit 22.  Route 9S, Exit 7, for a bridge crossing of the Connecticut River.  Follow route 82E and park signs. From I-95N or S:  take Exit 69.  Route 9N to Exit 6 or 7.  For the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, use Exit 6.  Follow Route 148 and park signs. The ferry operates spring through fall.

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Note: The famous Goodspeed Opera House is just across the river and less than five miles from the castle.

Happy travels!

Need places to stay while visiting Connecticut? Read these stories and recommendations by Wayne and Judy:

The Mayflower Inn: The best of Connecticut resorts and spas

The Curtis House: Welcoming wayfarers before the American Revolution

Tidewater Inn: A storybook Christmas in Connecticut

Delamar Greenwich Harbor Hotel: By land or sea the place to be

Nehemiah Brainerd House: Enjoy the splendid fall colors

Starbuck Inn: The inns by Kent Falls

Hotel Sierra: A budget travelers’ delight

Inn at Longshore: Historic inn in Westport

Rock Hall: The best B&B along the backroads of northwestern Connecticut

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff – old photos are retakes of pictures on display in the castle.

Celebrating 50 Years at the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa

Those of you who have frequented the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui over the years will remember the queen of Ka‘anapali Beach – the Sheraton Maui.

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The hotel was new and glamorous in 1963. Back then, it was sitting quietly alone near the legendary and now famous lava jetty called Black Rock. It has been 50 years, and you should see the resort now!

The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa

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Renovated many times through the decades, this classic Hawaiian resort still sits on 23 acres of pristine sand and tropical landscaping and overlooks the island of Lanai, just a short sail to the west.

Warm trade-winds float through the 508 spacious rooms and suites – most of which face the ocean.

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The Sheraton is a landmark destination resort on Maui that has gained in stature as the island has developed around it.

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We have watched this Sheraton resort blossom and become a favorite for generations of tourists. To stay at the Sheraton Maui is like coming home to a rich Hawaiian heritage, and we always find new and exciting things to write about during each visit.

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This tropical vacationland offers something for everyone in the family. In season, you can catch a catamaran right from the beach of the resort and head out to watch the humpback whales as they migrate to their ancestral mating and birthing grounds.

Another activity that originates from the beach in summer is parasailing. Get swept high into the sky and revel in the panoramic views of Ka‘anapali and the mountains beyond. It’s exciting regardless of age.

Explore the underwater world of Maui

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The Black Rock lava outcropping is at the far end of the resort, and is the best venue for oceanic underwater entertainment in the area.

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Known as Pu‘u Keka‘a to the locals, it’s the “in” place to get up-close and personal with turtles, rays and scores of Hawaii’s colorful tropical fish. It’s best to do your underwater activities early in the day – that’s when the sea is most calm and the water clear.

On previous trips we have made SCUBA dives around the jetty, but you can see just as much by snorkeling. If you are not a certified diver, but would like a SCUBA-like experience, try SNUBA.

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SNUBA is similar to SCUBA, but the air tank is not on your back – instead it floats above you on a small raft. You breathe air through a long hose that extends from the air reservoir to a regulator that you put in your mouth – much like a snorkel.

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Since your depth is limited by the length of the air hose, there’s no danger of going too deep, therefore certification is not necessary. The guides teach you everything you need to know. SNUBA is great fun and perfect for the waters surrounding Black Rock!

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Our SNUBA guide was with Shoreline SNUBA Divers

Watch the time honored Black Rock cliff dive

The acclaimed Black Cliff Dive Ceremony has taken place every evening at the Sheraton Maui since its opening in 1963 is a tradition that dates back to island royalty. The story is that Maui Chieftains made ceremonial dives from these same lava cliffs while their admiring warriors looked on.

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We watched the youthful diver start his fire run from the Cliff Dive Bar across the wide lawn and onto the sand that would bring him to the base of the great lava jetty.

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He climbed at a speed indicative of his age and prowess, and was soon atop the rocks lighting a series of torches as he made his way to the place where he would call upon the Gods to watch his entry into the dark water below.

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With a burst of energy the diver reached for the stars, then his outstretched body slowly turned downward toward the sea. He made a perfect entry – all to the wild applause of the spectators.

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A great place to watch the ceremony is from the Cliff Dive Bar. Try the resort’s signature Black Rock Lager and some homemade potato chips while you are there. Tasty!

More for the foodies

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Start the morning with breakfast at the Black Rock Terrace, it has a very nice buffet with all the trimmings – and really great coffee.

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We had lunch at the Cliff Dive Bar and enjoyed the grilled hamburgers and giant chips while watching some kids take their first lesson in the Hula. What a kick.

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There were guests swimming along the lagoon that encircles the bar, and after walking off lunch we joined them in a refreshing swim odyssey through pools, landscaped settings, under bridges, alongside waterfalls and a water slide. This is a splendid way to enjoy a tropical afternoon in paradise.

There’s a luau

The Ka‘anapali Sunset Luau takes place on the Ocean Lawn of the Sheraton Maui. The luau comes with all the time honored trappings of a great Hawaiian celebration inclusive of stories and songs of the islands, and an awesome fire knife dance. A Kalua Pig is roasted in a traditional underground oven, and the event includes an all-you-can-eat Hawaiian buffet, with unlimited drinks. A great family entertainment outing.

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A stroll along the Ka’anapali paved beach path is a great way to walk off a delicious Hawaiian dinner while you check out the resorts, shops, restaurants, and bars.  Mid-way along the footpath is the famous Whaler’s Village – a great place to watch people, window shop, and grab a drink or food. If you forgot to pack anything, one of Hawaii’s ubiquitous ABC Stores is located in the Village.

The Sheraton has shuttle service to the Whaler’s Village and the old whaling town of Lahaina – just 4 miles south of the resort.

Pièce de résistance

For an extra special treat don’t miss the romance of a Sheraton Maui “Dinner under the Stars.” It is an extraordinary romantic event that you will remember forever.

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Our dinner under the stars took place in a quiet corner of the resort, just in back of Black Rock.

We arrived at our reserved tropical hut just after the torches on Black Rock were lighted, and the sunset was flooding across the far horizon. Sunset was bitter sweet that evening. The day was perfect, and we did not want it to end.

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Our personal waiter motioned toward a chilled bottle of champagne, and what better way to celebrate a wonderful day – and a magnificent vacation – than with a cold glass of sparkling wine.

The menu

There is a choice of three unique offerings in the Sheraton Dinner under the Stars program. We selected the Moonlit Menu.

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Our Starter was out of this world. It was presented in Ice Pearls, which are large globes of hollowed ice surrounding the most delicious fresh island sashimi, served with a savory wasabi dipping sauce. It was almost too elegant to eat, but we got over it.

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Salad consisted of a floral of upcountry greens with oriental dressing, sour dough Kaiser Bread and whipped Molokai Honey Butter.

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The Entrée was exquisite. Seared filet mignon with crab legs and asparagus, glazed with béarnaise sauce and served with garlic mashed potatoes.

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All this was topped off with what else? Hawaiian grandma’s apple pie and coffee. However, we could have also selected heavenly haupia cake, double chocolate dobash, or Italian tiramisu. We don’t know about the other desserts, but we can certainly recommend the apple pie.

There are only three available outdoor settings for your private Dinner under the Stars. Don’t be disappointed, make reservations early.

If you go

The award winning Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa is on the northwest shore of the island and a 45-minute ride from the Kahului Airport.

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The resort is situated at the northernmost point of three-mile long Ka’anapali Beach. The beautiful silky sand beach is lined with many condominiums, resorts, shops, and restaurants. On the eastern side of the buildings are two of Maui’s ten popular golf courses.

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For more information about the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa visit their website at www.sheraton-maui.com.

While you are on Maui

Maui is an island that was destined to be be a place for recreation and relaxation. See the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala, and view the sunset from the sandy beach of the Sheraton Maui as you watch the Black Rock Cliff Dive Ceremony.

Visit the Maui Ocean Center to learn about those with which we share our planet. Stroll the old streets of Lahaina and spend some time under the historic giant Banyan Tree that shades all who seek it.

There’s much more to do in Maui than we could fit in this article. Visit: http://www.gohawaii.com/maui

Happy travels!

For more of our stories about Hawaii and Hawaiian resorts, click on the subjects below:

The Royal Hawaiian Elegantly Preserves Its Heritage on Waikiki Beach

Reliving the Privileged Past at the Moana Surfrider on Waikiki Beach

Remembering December 7, 1941 At The Pearl Harbor Memorial

Luxury Cruising From San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruises

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Underwater photos courtesy of Shoreline SNUBA

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

A Great One-Day Catamaran Cruise in Antigua

Antigua is a beautiful tropical island in the West Indies situated east-southeast of Puerto Rico. This is an isle with an assortment of extraordinary leisure pursuits for vacationers of all ages.

One fun activity worthy of consideration by every age group is an all-day catamaran cruise. Here’s what we experienced when we signed up with Antigua’s #1 tour operator, Tropical Adventures.

Selecting the activity

We had just arrived in Saint John’s, Antigua aboard the Celebrity cruise ship Silhouette. One of our shore excursion choices made available by Celebrity Cruises was a day sail on a 65-foot catamaran named the “Mystic.”

The offer

We wanted to get wet, and the promise of a remote sandy beach accessible only by boat was romantic and appealing. Picturing ourselves on the bow, with a gentle sea breeze wafting through our hair as we sailed to paradise was most alluring. The fact that a lobster lunch and beverages were included, and all we had to do was sit there and enjoy the experience – sealed the deal.

Welcome aboard

It was a short walk from where our cruise ship was docked to the Mystic’s small wooden pier.

The Mystic catamaran is quite roomy and can hold about 90 guests. There are two bathrooms aboard, and the center of the spacious deck is dedicated to a well-stocked open bar.

There were about 70 passengers aboard our excursion. Our fellow sailors hailed from a mixed bag of island accommodations including vacation rentals, hotels, and several cruise ships. Ages ranged from the low 20s to the mid-80s. We wondered how the mix would influence the outing.

A quiet start

We did not know any of the other passengers and that appeared to be true of most of the guests. On our outbound sail, people kept to themselves as they enjoyed the warm tropical sun and sea.

A remote beach

After about an hour of passing small islands with flowing palms, we approached a charming cove with a white sandy beach and the absolutely clearest turquoise water. Our captain pulled the Mystic close to the sand and we all waded ashore.

The passengers stayed with their familiar groups and took off in all directions to enjoy beachcombing and swimming in the warm and inviting ocean. For those interested in snorkeling, the equipment was available aboard the Mystic at no extra charge.

Just when we started to get a little hungry, the Mystic crew enticed us back to the boat with the promise of grilled lobster and champagne.

One by one, the passengers returned from their swimming and shore explorations. Once aboard they selected places to sit and have lunch.

The crew did a marvelous job of passing out the lobsters and corn – and champagne. Within the hour, everyone had their fill of food, but apparently not – champagne.

Heading home

As the Mystic pulled away from the beach, a metamorphosis overcome the guests. The heretofore-soothing island music seemed to grow in dimension and volume, and there was a definite repositioning of people on the deck of the boat.

Dancing ensued

Energized by champagne and a delicious rum punch, some of the younger folks began to strut their limber stuff on the makeshift dance floor in front of the now busy bar.

This was followed by somewhat older passengers and the merry Mystic crew engaging in a limbo contest upon the bouncing sea.

Beverages for all

Beer began appearing alongside the rum punch cups that covered the bar, tables, seats, hatch covers, and deck. Water, fruit punch, and soft drinks were also available – but not in great demand.

Some elders found a loose case of champagne among the empties, and were happy to share their bounty with their juniors.

A gathering of spirits

Smiles turned into laughter, and quite miraculously, everyone seemed to find long lost friends across generational lines. All over the boat, new entrants to ongoing conversations were greeted with handshakes, hugs and hearty slaps on the back.

Good things do end

Before long, we were back at the Mystic dock. The roughly 6-hour day sail had ended all too soon for everyone on board. As the passengers carefully disembarked the boat, they all gave high-fives and tips to the wonderful Mystic crew.

Memories

On our slow and cautious walk back to the Silhouette, we could hear our fellow Mystic passengers singing the now familiar tunes that we shared all day. In fact, we could hear them singing in the passageways of our cruise ship throughout much of the early evening. We just smiled – along with the other 50 or so new best friends that we met on the Mystic.

If you go

Information about the fabulous “Mystic” sailing catamaran and other excursions and tours run by Tropical Adventures in Antigua can be found *here*

This tour is definitely worth the price of admission. Be sure to bring a swimsuit and camera.

Happy travels!

Here is a list of other Caribbean stories written by the authors. Click on the title to read the article.

Fun at Labadee on the Island of Haiti

A vacation aboard the Celebrity Silhouette

The most exciting vacation starts in the Bahamas

Service aboard the newest Celebrity cruise ship

Best of the Sans Souci Resort  in Jamaica

A submarine adventure in Grand Cayman, BWI

Couples only Tower Isle Resort in Jamaica

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/