Luxury Living in the Rain on the Coast of Maine

Inn by the Sea on Crescent Beach, Cape Elizabeth ME hi res

We were making an autumnal writing swing through New England and the surrounding states, visiting some of the regions finest B&Bs and resorts. A week or so into our trip, we hit a nor’easter just outside Cape Elizabeth, Maine, the home of our next destination. We found that a few days in a storm can be great fun – if you happen to be staying at the inspirational Inn by the Sea.

A very different resort

The Inn by the Sea is an eco-luxury, pet friendly, beachy rustic resort, located on mile-long Crescent Beach, a short 7 miles from Portland, Maine.

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As we drove up to the inn’s portico, the wind was lashing the entry plants to and fro, and the rain was bouncing off our rental car hood like miniature ping pong balls. We waited a few minutes, then made a dash for the front door.

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What a comfort to be inside the well-appointed lobby and right next to the registration desk.

The staff attitude at the Inn by the Sea was the first thing we noticed. Smiling faces everywhere, even on this dark and dreary day – how refreshing.

The accommodations

There are 61 diverse guestrooms, suites, and cottages to choose from in this luxurious Four Diamond property.

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In a matter of minutes we were escorted to our second floor suite overlooking the ocean — we think, but it was raining so hard that we couldn’t see much of anything beyond the dense vegetation below our balcony.

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Before long the fireplace was making a cozy room even cozier.

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A pot of tea from the well-stocked kitchen and we were ready to snuggle-in.

We nestled-down in front of the fire and the chill quickly left our bones. We had arrived, and were happy to be dry and comfortably situated in our weekend retreat.

Time to work

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We took several photos of our one-bedroom suite, and the larger two-bedroom suite next door. Both were spacious, spotlessly clean, and furnished in a tasteful beachy mode – very open and inviting.

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The bathrooms were especially noteworthy, quite large and airy.

Outside photos

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Not so much. We could tell that the grounds were lovely, but the heavy rains were relentless, so we were only able to shoot a few photos in-between downpours.

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It is not our usual practice to use stock images, but the sunny outside pictures in this article (like the one above) are all courtesy of the resort.

This is a hotel serious about being “green,” a “good citizen,” and “animal friendly.”

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Named a top ten American green Hotel by MSNBC and Forbes Traveler, this socially conscious resort practices what it preaches. Like growing attractive and sustainable edibles just outside the back patio.

Here’s another example 

Non-indigenous plants had overgrown and choked out local vegetation and wildlife in the brush area between the inn and the beach. The inn assumed responsibility for removing the offending species, and replacing them with indigenous plants.

rabbitAlso benefiting from the flora project was an endangered Cottontail Rabbit species being squeezed out of its habitat by the invasive vegetation.

The inn created a ‘Rabitat’ in the brush that soon had the bunnies hopping for joy – all to the delight of inn guests who now see them running about during their trek to the beach (the guests not the rabbits). That’s biodiversity in action! 

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Pet friendly

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The Inn by the Sea invites guests to bring their canine companions on vacation. The big news is that there is no extra charge for the doggie guests! Just tell the inn that you will be accompanied by a canine family member, and request a pet-friendly room.

Not only that, but Bowser and Bowsie are treated to water bowls, beach towels, cozy blankets – and treats at turndown. There are also grooming services, pet massages, gourmet pet menus, a dog walking service, and a doggie day care for additional fees. How about that pet fans!

This is fantastic

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There’s also a Foster Dog Program where the inn works with the local animal refuge and keeps a foster dog at the inn until it is adopted. They currently have their 11th dog in house. What a great idea!

And for the humans

Couples Room at SPA at Inn by the Sea

There’s a wonderful SPA to help you relax, refresh and rejuvenate. For tension relief, try the Deep Tissue Massage – one hour is just enough.

A superb restaurant

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Chef Sicinski  courtesy Inn by the Sea

The Sea Glass Restaurant, and nearby lobby bar, have great views and memorable meals created by Chef Steve Sicinski. Chef Steve, who is classically trained by Cordon Bleu, believes food should be about taste and health – but also be playful and energetic. His attitude makes for some delightfully delicious combinations.

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How about this hearty and delectable breakfast!

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And this unusual and delicious salad of marinated Braised Beets, Feta Cheese, and Granola dust…

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Or a succulent variation of the “Wedge,” with Romaine Lettuce, Apple Bacon crumbs, Cherry Tomatoes, and Blue Cheese with homemade Ranch Dressing.

Everything we ate left us satisfied and gratified.

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Opps, almost forgot the dessert. Apple Galette with roasted Apple Gelato, crisp Apple Salad, and Cider Caramel. Yummy!

One unusual aspect of growing food for his tables is Chef Sicinski’s working partnership with Cultivation Works a social enterprise that teaches people with disabilities to grow fresh, healthy produce in a sustainable way.

The chef can handpick salad ingredients such as baby pea sprout tendrils, baby beet tops, cilantro, and other herbs and produce grown in 11” by 22” flats in the inn’s kitchen that were started by the Cultivation Works’ “Teenie Greenie” farmers.

“Challenged adults come to the Cultivation Works’ greenhouses to learn about good agricultural practices.” They grow their micro greens with non-GMO seeds and organic soil. The program helps develop practical skills for sustainable farming, and the producers gain confidence in their abilities. This is a wonderful program. Learn more about it here.

A great place to vacation

The remainder of our days at the Inn by the Sea were spent tasting great dishes at Sea Glass, chatting with the other guests, enjoying the fire in the hearth, listening to the rain, and catching up on some good books. It was soul-settling, and we so enjoyed the change of pace. We reckon there’s not a better place to spend rainy days in Maine.

The Inn by the Sea has been selected for recognition for Conde Nast’s Gold, and Travel & Leisure’s Best Hotels in the World. It is Maine’s premier beach destination, and for that, and all the other reasons mentioned, we recommend it highly.

For more information about the Inn by the Sea, click here.

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For general tourist information about the area including the famous Portland Head Light, look here.

Pack up the kids and dogs and take a beautiful ride to Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

If you aren’t driving, Portland is serviced by major airlines and Amtrak.

You might pray for sun on your vacation, but even in the rain, you can have a wonderful time at the Inn by the Sea!

Happy travels.

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2015 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff.

Photos Unless otherwise noted – Copyright © 2015 Judy Bayliff – unauthorized use strictly prohibited.

The Lodge at Woodloch: An Elegant Spa Resort in the Pocono Mountains

If you were lucky, you went to a terrific summer camp when you were a kid. Well, now you are all grown up, and your luck is holding out – because we have found the adult luxury equivalent of your bygone summers. So come with us and relive those halcyon days of yesteryear at the Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley, Pennsylvania.

A region of kid’s camps and adult resorts

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We found the Lodge at Woodloch during our writing swing through luxurious vacation destinations in the Northeast Appalachians, which include the Pocono, Adirondack, Catskill, and Berkshire Mountains. Our travels took us to New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine.

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We stayed mainly at exclusive B&Bs, so a full-blown woodsy, all-adult resort and health retreat, was a nice change of pace.

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Just like our early memories of kid’s camp, the Lodge at Woodloch has hiking and biking trails aplenty, along with camp fires, a lake for fishing and boating – and advanced amenities like delicious wellness-centric meals, vegetable gardens, an orchard, and a first rate health spa.

A biofilic experience

The developers of the Lodge at Woodloch believe that all vacationers that have an interest in the Lodge at Woodloch have a special connection with nature, and an affinity for other life forms. The developers take this belief very seriously, and everything at Woodloch supports their conviction.

The Lodge at Woodloch is elegant and exclusive

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All the amenities we will mention (and more) are for the pampering of a relatively small number of discerning guests. There are just 57 guestrooms in the entire resort.

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This refuge truly defines the height of America’s health-conscious aristocracy.

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The lodge building fits perfectly with the natural environment, and has just the right amount of secluded niches for those seeking quiet relaxation.

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The sleeping rooms are well furnished and mindfully decorated to blend with the forest just beyond each guestroom door. We also noted that the spacious quarters elegantly avoid being trendy or thematic.

The food

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We ate all our meals at the TREE restaurant and bar, so named because of the exquisite outlook from the floor to ceiling viewing windows, featuring – what else – trees.

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If you are a devoted foodie, this all-inclusive resort is for you.

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There are food prep demonstrations, cooking classes, wine tasting, and an array of lectures for those interested in learning about the advantages of preparing, cooking, and eating proper foodstuffs.

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The in-house chefs have also one-upped the concept of “farm to table” dining, with their “table to farm” experience where a delicious meal is prepared and served in one of the resort’s three vast gardens. Really different, and great fun!

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The resort’s menu is unique and chock-full of tasty healthy treats, check out this breakfast menu.

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Here’s a photo of a succulent buffalo burger with mushrooms.

The garden

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We were privileged to spend some time in the resort’s gardens where much of what is used in the kitchen is grown. Chock full of produce goodies, the garden boasts currants, mint, rhubarb, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, and a large assortment of plants and herbs.

Since our visit, we have learned that the resort has added an orchard. Two acres and 65 trees will bring a bountiful harvest of apples, pears, peaches, and plums to be enjoyed by the guests.

Pollination

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You have undoubtedly heard about the decline in U.S. bee colonization. Well, the Lodge at Woodloch took steps to insure their 100,000 bee population would continue to grow.

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They sought, and obtained, a certification as a Pennsylvania Pollinator Friendly Property. These people are serious about natural symbiosis.

The trails and lake

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The resort’s grounds quickly envelop you in their beauty.

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Our morning at the Lodge was spent walking some of the nature trails in this pristine 150-acre wilderness.

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We ended up at the private 15-acre lake and decided to try our hand at fishing.

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All the equipment we needed was available in the “Lily Pad,” lake shed located just a stone’s throw from the water.

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A couple of casts, and voila – success.

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We caught several small, but spunky bass, which we quickly returned to the water after thanking them for participating in our holiday.

The spa

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The focal point of the indoor experience at the Lodge at Woodloch is the spa with its 27 treatment rooms, and an extensive array of customized body treatments, massages, and facials.

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We could not photograph the occupied treatment rooms, but did manage to get images of the beautifully appointed changing rooms and the Aqua Garden’s Hydro Massage Waterfall.

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What a spectacular way to relax after a massage – and we did just that!

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Guests are invited to luxuriate in saunas, steam rooms, and whirlpools, as well as separate male and female fireplace lounges for the ultimate in introspective relaxation.

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This spa and wellness center is a destination in its own right.

If you go

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The Lodge is nestled in the far northeast corner of the scenic Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, in what is known as the Lake Region. It is a scant 95 miles from NYC and many major airports.

For more information

This four-diamond resort incorporates an unparalleled level of sophistication in serene luxury. There are so many delightful aspects, that it would be impossible to present them all in this short article. We suggest you explore the resort’s extensive website at www.thelodgeatwoodloch.com

Like to stay at a resort that sports loads of awards? This is your spot. Check out this impressive list– a true standard of excellence achieved by few vacation destinations in America.

Whether you go to the Lodge at Woodloch for revitalizing, relaxation, nurturing, detoxing, a taste of good old fashioned nostalgia, or just an outing in the woods, this is the place to be.

If you can, give yourself permission to enjoy a special vacation at the Lodge. You will not be sorry.

PS – if you are looking for a family resort, look no further than nearby Woodloch Pines Resort. We did not have time to drop by, but we were told it may be an even better place to reflect on those still remembered summers at kid’s camp – because it has – kids.

****************************************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2015 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © 2015 Judy Bayliff

Combine St. Regis and Kaua‛i for an Unforgettable Hawaiian Holiday

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Often referred to as Hawaii’s “Garden Island,” Kaua‛i is a lush tropical paradise of towering cloud-crested green summits. The island has 50-miles of sandy beaches perpetually polished by translucent waves. It was undoubtedly the perfect island for the legendary St. Regis brand to open one of their unparalleled luxury resorts.

Behold the majestic north shore

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The Hawaiian St. Regis Resort at Princeville is surrounded by five verdant mountains overlooking the beautiful Hanalei Valley and the breathtaking Napali Coast.

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No wonder Hollywood picked nearby Lumaha‛i Beach to film scenes for Rogers and Hammerstein’s immortal “South Pacific.

Kaua‛i’s north shore is also home to Makana Mountain, better known as the mystical Bali Hai in the movie. In this case, the real thing is more alluring than the illusion.

Kaua‛i is everyone’s dream-scene of a protected rain-forest Pacific Island paradise, and having chosen it, the St. Regis is now the preferred glamour address for the elite Hawaiian vacationer.

A royal beginning

The location of the St. Regis in Princeville was named after the “Prince of Hawaii,” the official title of Prince Albert Edward, born in 1858 to King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, and godchild to Queen Victoria of England. Kamehameha IV and his family vacationed in the area in 1862. Sadly, the young prince died that same year, but out of respect, the area has retained the legacy name.

Arriving at the St. Regis

Our arrival felt like the beginning of an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The elegant ambiance of the resort lives up to its reputation and was immediately evident.

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The reception area is part of the larger lobby, and the eyes are drawn every which way to accommodate the combined spectacle of luxury and scenic beauty.

The check-in was effortless, and the staff exhibited the training and courtesy that is the hallmark of the St. Regis brand.

A legacy of distinction

John Jacob Astor IV, opened the first St. Regis Hotel in New York City in 1904. Forty-nine openings later, the brand has retained its well-deserved image of sophistication and the reputation for successfully catering to the old (and new) aristocracy and its many fascinating personalities.

The butler did it

Each suite at the St. Regis has a butler to cater to the guests’ every wish. During our stay, our butler proved to be an invaluable resource about navigating around the resort and the island of Kaua‛i in general.

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Our Bali Hai suite at the St. Regis Princeville consisted of two levels.

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The main floor was the location of the living room, kitchen, dining/meeting room, half bath, and balcony.

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A generous sleeping room and spacious full bath were located on the second floor.

Planning a wedding?

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From our balcony we had an opportunity to watch the St. Regis staff prepare for a beachfront wedding. Planned nuptials can be attended by five or 500; the St. Regis has the facility to make the event as perfect as a couple can imagine.

The Spa

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After settling in, we started our decompression in style with a massage at the luxurious Halele‘a (which means House of Joy) Spa located just off the main lobby of the resort.

This is much more than your standard resort spa. It is an 11,000 square foot facility with 12 treatment rooms, and a trained staff dedicated to your relaxation, healing, and ultimate body and mind restoration.

We chose and recommend the stress relieving Lomi Lomi Massage that involves a deep muscle therapy, accompanied by continuous gentle strokes – a technique we have learned to associate with Hawaiian therapists. Oh, so soothing.

Our first dinner at the St. Regis was a memorable occasion

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Although we found the on-site Kaua‛i Grill dining room decor to be somewhat understated for a five-star restaurant, the food  and view of Hanalei Bay and Bali Hai at sunset more than made up for any lack in interior motif.

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The exciting bill of fare at the Kaua‛i Grill is the brainchild of Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a globally recognized Michelin cordon bleu chef. The menu boasts the master’s flair for the French and Asian influence in personally selected appetizers, entrees, and desserts.

The place to start your day

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We had breakfast on the Makana Terrace overlooking Hanalei Bay.

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This is an oasis of tranquility that beckons one to sit back and enjoy the acclaimed scenery while savoring the culinary delights of the local fresh food markets.

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The restaurant so fits its place that it must have been inspired by Kaua‛i itself. If you stay at the St. Regis, don’t miss the day-opening buffet on the Terrace.

Eat at the bar

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Here we were offered light casual pub style victuals in a convivial comfy atmosphere. Also, a great place to gather for a cleansing ale before dinner.

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There are five excellent dining venues at the resort – all with fantastic views.

For the golfers

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The St. Regis Princeville Resort’s Makai Golf Club is designed by globally-celebrated golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and is an 18-hole championship course complete with lakes, woodlands, and a spectacular view of Bali Hai and Hanalei Bay.

If you go

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The St. Regis Princeville is a luxurious resort with significant cachet and 252 guest rooms, including 51 premium ocean view suites.

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Look to the St. Regis website at www.stregisprinceville.com to choose from a range of diverse guestrooms to suit your taste and budget.

You will probably fly into Lihu‛e Airport on the east shore of Kaua‛i. If you do, expect a 32-mile drive to the picturesque north shore, and the resort. There are all varieties of available transportation at the airport. A standard taxi will cost just over $100 with tip – and it’s up from there. We reserved a rental car, and were glad we did because there is so much to see on Kaua‛i.

In future articles we will write about the many things to do outside the St. Regis demesne.

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As a preview, there are watery caves to explore…

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and the famous Waimea Canyon to photograph. We will also take you along on a fabulously romantic dinner for two under the stars in the Papa‛i Kilauea Hut at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas.

If you are researching luxury hotels and resorts for a planned holiday in the Hawaiian Islands, you might also like to read our stories and evaluations of these other Starwood properties in Hawaii. Click on a title to read a story.

The Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu

The Moana Surfrider on Waikiki Beach

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii

The Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa on Maui

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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

We flew to Honolulu and inter-island on Hawaiian Airlines.

Fabulous Redondo Beach Is All About The Sea

 

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There are towns that are great for living, and there are towns that are great for vacations. We discovered one of those rare places that is great for both. Redondo Beach, is on the sunny southern California coast just seven miles south of the Los Angeles International Airport. It is a “happy-happening-hideaway” by the sea.

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When it’s hot downtown and inland, LA folks head for the beach towns, which are frequently 10 to 15 degrees cooler. There’s a series of three beach towns north of the beautiful Palos Verdes Peninsula that are great places to enjoy the sea and sand. Making it even better, there’s a paved beach walk called the “Strand” that connects tony Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach with our personal favorite, historic Redondo Beach.

Places to stay in Redondo Beach

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We always prefer waterfront hotels, and the boutique Portofino Hotel and Marina in Redondo Beach is one of our favorites. It is close to King Harbor and the Redondo Beach Pier, both excellent places for a fun date, or family outing.

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Our suite at the Portofino had elegant seashore décor, and it overlooked the breakwater and open Pacific beyond. It was perfect.

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We left our windows open and enjoyed waking to the sound of harbor seals, sea lions, and the call of seagulls. If you relish that kind of ambiance, this is the place for you.

Rather not hear the local wildlife? Ask for a room overlooking the marina where it is quiet except for the occasional gentle tapping of halyards against sailboat masts.

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We had our first breakfast in Redondo at the outdoor patio at the Portofino’s BALEEN kitchen restaurant adjacent to the marina.

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What a splendid way to slowly wake to another day in this little slice of paradise.

The BALEEN is also one of our favorite southern California dinner restaurants. The menu is superb and the restaurant features some unusual and exciting dishes like a BLT Salad of sugar-braised bacon, jalapeno ranch and sherry/bacon vinaigrette dressings. Then there’s their famous Lobster Mac and Cheese (really).

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A great main for REAL meat and potatoes aficionados is the Roquefort Crusted Filet of Beef with whipped potatoes, grilled asparagus, crispy onions, and natural jus. The taste factor on this entrée is off the wow chart! We have eaten at the BALEEN on several occasions and have yet to be disappointed.

A more traditional hotel

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The Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach and Marina is a modern hotel that is a stone’s throw from the Portofino.

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It is also just across North Harbor Drive from the city’s popular Seaside Lagoon Park, a fabulous place for the kids to play safely in the sand and the gigantic salt-water pool. At the time of our visit, the parents looked to be having at least as much fun as the kiddies.

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The Plaza is also near Captain Kid’s Seafood Restaurant and Market – a rustic landmark eatery that serves up a dynamite chowder, and sells the freshest ocean bounty in their market.

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The rooms at the Redondo Crowne Plaza are very spacious with a contemporary flair. Most of the recently renovated 342 rooms and suites have private balconies with water views.

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We tried a 75-minute Swedish massage at the hotel’s Body ETC European Day Spa. Marvelous, and a great way to loosen up for an evening of “clubbing” or dinner at one of the more than 15 local restaurants within walking distance. Redondo Beach offers a total of 200 restaurants and entertainment locations.

By the way

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If you are an event planner, Redondo Beach, and the Crowne Plaza hotel in particular, is the perfect meeting venue. We toured 25,000 sq. ft. of newly designed meeting space at the Plaza that includes three ballrooms, and 12 break-out rooms.

There’s also a spectacular outdoor terrace with a swimming pool and a tennis court that overlooks the Pacific Ocean – a brilliant place for a large social or business event.

Time for lunch

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We were invited to a media luncheon at the H.T. Grill on Catalina Avenue to meet some local business owners who are justly excited about what Redondo Beach has to offer tourists. The Chamber of Commerce did an excellent job of providing us with plenty of subjects that would be of interest to people planning vacations.

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The H.T. Grill proved to be a great place for lunch and we can recommend it.

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Try the Prime Dip of shaved prime rib with a side of horseradish cream and French fries, served on a Milano roll with au jus. Delicious.

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The Grill is located in an area of Redondo known as Riviera Village. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, it was called “Hollywood Riviera” because of the stars who visited the village’s many quaint boutique shops and great restaurants.

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The village is easy-going, charming, and a fine place to walk and shop.

The farmer’s market

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Just outside the Grill they were setting up the Riviera Village Farmers Market – what a treat.

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A great place to browse delectable fresh fruits and veggies, along with local artisan crafts, and finger treats – too soon after lunch, we wish we were at least a little hungry!

Tour the easy way

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Having had previous experience on Segways in Pacifica, California, and Reno, Nevada, we were happy to find South Bay Mobile Tours  just around the corner from the Farmer’s Market. A few minutes of refresher lessons and we were off to see the Strand and oceanfront. This is a quick and easy way to view five or six miles of Redondo Beach attractions.

The Redondo Beach Pier and Boardwalk

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With King Harbor on one side, and miles of beach on the other, the Redondo Beach Pier is the natural epicenter of fun beach activity such as the annual Kite Festival, Sunset Concerts, Classic Car Show, and Winter Holiday Concerts.

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There’s always a wide variety of dining, amusement, and entertainment opportunities.

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We were in town just in time to catch the Pier’s annual Chalk Art Festival.

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Who would have thought that a chalk festival could be so much fun! Folks of all ages sprawled on their hands and knees showing their talents in clever chalk art drawings with dreams of becoming one of this year’s category winners.

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Meanwhile, just behind the artists, the fishing on the pier was proving to be excellent on the slightly overcast day.

After the chalk art

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It was time to eat again. This time we were at Old Tony’s, the iconic pier restaurant that has been operated by the same family for generations. This is the premier historic eatery in Redondo Beach for lovers of fresh food from the sea.

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We filled up on a medley of delicacies from local waters – all delicious.

King Harbor is for lovers of water sports

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Our following day was spent enjoying King Harbor, one of the largest small boat marinas on the west coast, and a favorite “Baywatch” filming location.

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First up was a nature cruise on the Voyager where we had great views of the South Coast shore while navigating through a large school of playful dolphins.

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Next we were on the Looking Glass for an opportunity to see the fishes beneath the waves.

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If we had the time, we would have enjoyed more boating opportunities in the harbor. Friends rented paddle boats and kayaks, and some signed up for sport fishing. Still others took sailing lessons. This place has it all!

Lest we forget 

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The actual beach at Redondo Beach is one of its greatest assets.

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Miles of pristine sand for beach volleyball, and a warm sunny spot to relax after a plunge in the waves. Did you know Redondo Beach was where Hawaiian George Freeth first introduced surfing to the mainland?

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The city keeps the beaches spotless. When visitors are not sunning, the city is cleaning – and they do a superb job.

There is always something going on 

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Whether it’s sport fishing, boating, getting ready for the Super Bowl Sunday 10K Run, or just relaxing in the sand as you wait for the annual Lobster Festival, Redondo Beach is a true tourist mecca.

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For more information about happenings at Redondo Beach, be sure to check out their website at  http://www.VisitRedondo.com

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We love visiting Redondo Beach and its many attractions, and we think you will too! Plan a vacation that includes this wonderful beach community in southern California – you won’t be sorry.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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 Holiday at the Elegant Sheraton Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay

The location of the luxurious Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay is steeped in Hawaiian history and legend, and is home to the sociable denizens of the deep – the ever entertaining Manta Rays of Keauhou Bay. 

We touched down at the Kona airport on Hawaii, the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, frequently referred to simply as the “Big Island.”

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The first thing we noticed from the aircraft window was the vast expanse of black volcanic rock that is visible throughout the island landscape. This is the “newest” Hawaiian island, and the volcanic action is evident everywhere.

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We enjoyed the scenes of local village life and the stories told by our shuttle driver during our brief ride to the Sheraton Kona Resort. Our driver Tomas was native born, and like most Hawaiians is justly proud of his state and heritage.

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The entrance to the Sheraton Kona is dramatic with its signature lava rock formation. Stunning views invite your gaze to shimmering water on two sides of the resort.

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The topography is quite different from any other resorts we have written about. The deep blue-ocean and azure-bay are a perfect contrast for the lush green gardens of this exquisite Sheraton property.

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Check-in was a brief formality and we were off to the Deluxe Executive Suite number 2325, our elegant home during our stay on the island. In our opinion, this is the best suite in the resort. Enjoy it if it’s available.

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A view with rooms

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Our first observation upon entering our collection of rooms was the huge outdoor patio we found behind the suite’s floor to ceiling glass doors. Huge is not an exaggeration, this was undoubtedly the largest patio we have had anywhere, and what a view…

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– with Keauhou Bay to the front, and the vast blue Pacific on the left.

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We would have been content to spend our entire visit lounging on the patio, but there is so much more to see in the fusion of energy and elegance at this beautiful resort.

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The rich botanic ensemble on the 22-acre site offers photo opportunities at every turn. We strolled the entire campus and it was all impeccably maintained.

Wedding plans

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The resort’s quaint bayside chapel is a favorite wedding venue on the Big Island, and for good reason – quiet, private, and perfectly situated near both ocean and bay. Looking for a memorable wedding venue? This is it.

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Very near the chapel are the remnants of an ancient Hawaiian village, which was once home to kings and queens. Here there is reverence for the land and culture. Lily Dudoit, the resorts Cultural Director provides a complimentary tour where she talks about the property’s ancient past – don’t miss it.

Captain Cook landed nearby

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Lunch at Kealakekua Bay

We took a boat ride to neighboring Kealakekua Bay, a sacred site to the ancients of Hawaii. The very name means, “Pathway of the Gods.”  In 1779 Captain James Cook sailing on the HMS Resolution arrived on this site to the welcome of what was estimated at 10,000 natives visiting Kealakekua Bay to celebrate a festival to the gods.

By sheer coincidence, Cook sailed into the bay during the festivities, so it was perhaps not so unusual that the Hawaiian celebrants thought him a god and lavished gifts on Cook and his crew. However, within a month, the natives realized that the captain and his men were all too human, and in a dispute over gifts, Cook and four of his men were killed in a skirmish on February 14, 1779.

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Today, a monument stands at the site where Captain James Cook died. The nearby bay is a vibrant marine park well known for its water clarity and abundant sea life.

Eating at the Sheraton Kona

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There are several worthy restaurants at the resort, but our favorite is Rays on the Bay.

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Bite into an appetizer as you begin to relax in congenial company. Rays blends an al fresco ambiance with a world-class dining experience that excites and delights the palate.

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It is a celebration of the region’s produce in a striking setting with panoramic views. Wait for sunset, the open ocean grandly defines the horizon of Rays on the Bay.

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The famous restaurant overlooks Keauhou Bay and features a unique Manta Ray viewing area. To our knowledge, this is the only restaurant in the world that can boast evening viewing of the graceful acrobatics of the gentle giant rays.

The Manta Rays

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After seeing these beautiful creatures – whose wingspan can sometimes exceed 15-feet, we were eager to get in the water to watch their nightly ballet close up. The hotel arranged for us to join Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides aboard their 55’ catamaran, the Hula Kai. We will write about our up close adventure with the manta rays in a future article.

Don’t forget the Luau

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You don’t want to visit Hawaii without partaking in this true Hawaiian feast rich in culture and traditional songs, dances, and chants. The Sheraton offers a weekly Luau Dinner and Show – a bountiful buffet of Kalua Pork, Lomi Salmon, traditional Poi and much more. Take it in, it’s the ticket to the best of all things Hawaiian on the Big Island.

Ho’ola Spa

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Featuring a full line of therapeutic massages, specialty massages, facials, body treatments, the Sheraton Kona Spa is an important part of relaxing and rejuvenating at the resort.

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We chose the Lomi Lomi Hawaiian Massage because we wanted to experience the promise of utter relaxation for the body and spirit conveyed in the traditional Hawaiian massage technique of long, rhythmic, and deep kneading strokes that ease muscle tensions. We found the therapy to be just as advertised and most invigorating.

Something for everyone 

Within the resort confines, time and space are often given over to quieter activities like learning the art of Lei making.

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Not everyone has the grace of the locals, but that should not stop the lady guests from trying their aptitude for the hula at the free classes.

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There is also regular Yoga, and aqua Yoga in the resort’s inner pool, and a twice-weekly 2-mile hike to the Lekeleke Hawaiian burial grounds where a famous Hawaiian battle took place many centuries ago.

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Teens are kept gainfully occupied with their own private club called the Club Le‘ale‘a, and there is a 14,000 square-foot wandering pool with one of the largest water slides in Hawaii – special fun for kids of all ages.

Calling all conventioneers

The Sheraton Kona Resort rates a big “Wow,” when it comes to meeting space and conference accommodations. The resort has bragging rights to the largest meeting facility on the Kona Coast – 10,000 square feet. When you add up the available meeting rooms on the property, you have a total of 20,236 square feet of awesome indoor space to hold a memorable event.

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Like an out-of-doors meeting environment? How about 89,000 square feet of rolling landscape overlooking Keauhou Bay and the beautiful Pacific?

We toured all the meeting facilities and were greatly impressed. The hotel even has an event planner’s rewards program.

For the golfers

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The Kona Country Club bordering the resort has two 18-hole courses that are being renovated. They expect to open to the public in late summer of 2014. In the meantime there are many other available links throughout the island.

Venturing outside the resort

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If you decide you would like to reach out beyond the resort via auto, there is a rental car office adjacent to the well-stocked sports outfitter called the Flying Fishlocated on the second floor. However, before you buckle up, inquire about when the next presentation of “Journey around Hawai’i Island” will be held. If you can wait, a resort specialist will save you some time and cover the best places to visit and most popular things to do on Hawaii.

If you go

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The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is one of our recommended “destination” resorts.

With over 500 guest rooms you can choose from a range of bedroom types to suit your dreams and vacation budget.

Because there is so much to enjoy at this property, be sure to thoroughly peruse the resort’s website *here*. additionally, check out this great little video tour provided by the resort.

Luxury in Hawaii

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is a Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide property. We favor and have written about other elegant Starwood properties in the islands. Click on the hotel name to read our story: Royal Hawaiian – Moana Surfrider – Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa.

Beyond the resort, the Big Island has many spectacular attractions and natural wonders. High on the list is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, the black sand beaches, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing. To learn more about the island of Hawaii look at this informative website.

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Aloha, and happy travels!

We flew to the Big Island on Hawaiian Airlines.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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

Vacation in Luxury at the Naples Bay Resort

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Some luxury hotels like to be considered “destination resorts,” but few actually fit the bill. The elegant Naples Bay Resort in Florida is the exception that proves the rule – it is a self-contained destination of choice for upscale vacationers.

Situated in Naples, on Florida’s Paradise Southwest Gulf Coast, the Naples Bay Resort is an AAA Four Diamond Award winner that embraces an imaginative leisure and vacation lifestyle in a gamesome backdrop that is second to none.

Welcome to the Naples Bay Resort

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We drove our rental car under the grand port-cochere entrance where we were greeted by a wide smiling and nattily uniformed attendant.

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Handing him the keys we headed inside the building where we found the foyer to be the embodiment of our expectations.

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The registration desk was located in a sweeping and tastefully appointed two-story lobby that oozed richness.

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An open air corridor led us to our large (1000 sq ft) one bedroom villa suite that overlooked the marina and featured an expansive (500 sq ft) veranda – great for hosting a party.

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As an added bonus, had we wanted to sponsor a small social event, there was an extensive gourmet kitchen in the suite.

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The suite’s décor was comfortably Tuscan and perfectly consistent with the hotel’s Italian Village motif.

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The resort has both hotel and cottage accommodations. The hotel has 65 suites and 20 king guestrooms. There are 108 elegant two and three bedroom “cottages” that would be better described as villas – that have the look and feel of exclusive private residences.

On site amenities

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The Club at the Naples Bay Resort, has a complex of well-designed swimming pools including a waterfall and meandering lazy river pool – great for tube rafting through the tropical gardens, a children’s pool, and an infinity lap pool.

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If tennis is your game, you will be delighted with the six lighted tennis courts and the pro-shop. Then there’s a huge state of the art fitness and wellness center, a marina with a shopping and dining promenade, and an amazing Euro-style Spa. Phew!

Eating at the resort

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The Yacht Club is an on-site restaurant facility that offers a delicious “Breakfast on the Bay.” Complete with a gourmet buffet, and eggs and omelets prepared by a waiting chef who will fill your request while you watch.

Try a lunch at the BlueWater Bar and Grill located poolside and with a menu that is perfect for your mid-day repast.

The resort Concierge will be happy to help with suggestions and reservations at any of the dozens of fine restaurants that are close to the resort, but don’t miss the popular Bonefish Grill located right in the resort hotel.

The marina

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The Naples Bay Resort is the only hotel complex in southwestern Florida with a complete marina facility that provides a fuel dock, pump-out facilities, laundry service, showers, and other conveniences to all visiting boaters.

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The marina has a Ship’s Store and a Captain’s Lounge, and all guests of the marina also have full access to resort amenities.

Rent a boat from the Naples Bay Marina and cruise out to Keewaydin Island. Accessible only by boat the island’s shore indulges the feet with sugary white sand.

The Naples Bay Marina has 97 slips for overnight, seasonal, and annual rental.

Team building and events

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The resort has almost 3,500 square feet of specialized meeting space spread out among four comfortable venues. Each room is distinctly different in appearance, and the board room is stately and perfect for an executive meeting.

Remembering the kids

There is a pool just for children, and adjoining the Fitness Center is a children’s jungle gym complex where the resort provides Kidz Activity programs.

Embrace your Zen

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After our tour of the resort, a Therapeutic Energy Massage at The Spa was just what we needed. This medium intensity massage focuses on the muscles that carry the most stress – for us, that is usually the neck and shoulders. We could feel the tightness melt away under the skilled hands of our therapists. This is 80-minutes of intense rejuvenation. We recommend this particular therapy for all the sore necks out there. 

Poking around Naples

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The Naples Bay Resort fee includes shuttle service to many of the attractions in the area, including shopping, dining, and beaches.

Naples is a quintessential tourist haven – there is fun for everyone in the family.  From miles of white sandy beaches and a picturesque pier, boating galore, shopping, golf, and tours of the primeval Everglades with all the sounds and colors of the jungle.

Let’s all shop

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You need not leave the resort to find a bevy of boutique shops full of everyday treasures; just walk down to the Resort Marina to find the promenade of exclusive shops and noteworthy restaurants.

Shopping night

However, if your indulgence requires still more, take a short stroll to the famous Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South districts, or visit the Village on Venetian Bay for a vast array of local boutiques and galleries, as well as the chic shops of the likes of Hermes and Tiffany.

Of course if you are more inclined to shop Macy’s sales, your opportunity for that also awaits in accommodating Naples – and if existential funky happens to be your mood, there is always Tin City.

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Nothing quite like Tin City

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Tin City wharf

An unusual sea-themed, nouveau-rickety shopping mecca is within easy walking distance of the resort.

Tin City shops

Tin City

Appropriately named Tin City, this is the place to find local boat charters and tours, amusing Florida theme shops, and some of the best casual waterfront dining in Naples.

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To leisurely scope out the area, consider the Naples Bay Water Shuttle that departs from the Marina at the Naples Bay Resort. The 45-minute route shuttle allows hop-on-hop-off access to eight tourism locations. A small fee is all that is required to provide transportation for the entire day.

Do the Glades

If you are this close, you must take the short drive to the Florida Everglades. Everglades Area Tours offers guided boat and kayak tours deep into Everglades National Park where you can get up close and personal with dolphins, manatees, alligators, and some of the world’s most exquisitely colored birds. There are also extensive hiking and biking trails in the park.

If you go

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The Naples Bay Resort overlooks beautiful Naples Bay and is just 3.5 miles from the Naples Municipal Airport. The new Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers is approximately 30 miles north of the resort.

If you are looking for a first-class venue for your next high-end vacation, a wedding, or a corporate event, you will not be disappointed in the Naples Bay Resort. Check out their website at www.naplesbayresort.com.

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For more information about things to do in and around Naples, Florida, look at http://www.naples-florida.com/active.htm

If you want to investigate additional one-of-a-kind or upscale lodgings reviewed by Wayne and Judy in Florida, click on the titles below.

Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys

Cheeca Resort in the Florida Keys

A Beach Bungalow on Anna Maria Island

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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

Cheeca Lodge and Spa: Luxury Darling of the Florida Keys

The Cheeca Lodge and Spa has welcomed guests to the sunny isle of Islamorada in the Florida Keys since 1946. Through the years, it has earned a reputation as a world-class oceanfront resort with breathtaking views and extraordinary luxury amenities and service. Here’s what we discovered.

We were about one hour and twenty minutes south of Miami on the Overseas Highway when we spotted the inconspicuous signage for Cheeca Lodge at Mile Marker 82. The modest highway introduction made us wonder if Cheeca Lodge would live up to the stellar reputation on which we based our reservation. Our answer was waiting at the end of a long driveway in the form of the front entrance to Cheeca, and the blue Atlantic beyond.

This was the Florida Keys, and we should have taken our cue from an earlier experience with the modest highway frontage for the luxurious Little Palm Island Resort. There are many elegant surprises behind the lush tropical vegetation that lines the busy main thoroughfare in the Keys. Cheeca Lodge was no exception.

Luxury awaits on Islamorada

Before we could unlatch our seatbelts, a pair of smiling attendants were opening our auto doors. We were ushered into a breezy lobby area where a waiting receptionist offered us each a chair.

Check-in was over in minutes and we were on our way to 110, our spectacularly furnished West Indies style tropical suite that was front and center to the most colorful ocean you can imagine.

Guestroom 110 had warm mahogany furniture, and floor to ceiling glass walls that overlooked the pristine beach and swaying palms.

We turned on the ceiling fan, drew back the glass doors and nestled into the deck chairs on our private lanai. As we took our first deep breaths of relaxation, we simultaneously noticed the open-air spa tub – complete with privacy curtains.  What a marvelous innovation.

We bounced on the bed – it was perfect. There was a giant plasma-screen TV, wireless internet access, and the modern bathroom boasted an ocean-view glassed-in rain shower – yet another superb amenity.

This is a perfect vacation setup for a stay of any duration.

Look around

Management had arranged a tour for us, and there was so much to see. From six tennis courts, to waterfall pools, a snorkeling lagoon, a nine-hole pitch-and-putt golf course, complete fitness center, an adult lap-pool with private cabanas, and an iconic wooden fishing pier.

All beautifully laid-out in a calibrated strategy to produce a comfortably luxurious oasis in a spectacular 27-acre ocean-front setting with lush tropical gardens.

Cheeca captures the charm of old Florida in a trendsetter setting

The resort also provides all the equipment necessary for total vacation immersion. There are sea kayaks, fishing rods, bicycles, shade cabanas for your beach chair, etc., etc.

Famous Islamorada

All fishermen know that Islamorada is the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.” It deserves that famous tag because of the wide variety of angling options. Pursue the elusive Bonefish on the flats, or the mighty Tarpon on light tackle – it’s all there. Care for something a little bigger? The Sailfish in the deep waters off Islamorada’s islands are waiting for your challenge.

One of the first famous people to stay at the early resort was President Harry Truman. Other celebrities that have slept here and fished the abundant waters off Cheeca are Edward R. Murrow, Jack Parr, Paul Newman, Ted Williams, Jack Nicklaus, and George H.W. Bush, to name just a few.

After the tour

We took a stroll on the resort’s trademark wooden fishing pier. Followed by several hungry pelicans, we wished we had some fishy treats we could toss to them.

The Pioneer Cemetery

After the pier walk we spotted what appeared to be an old cemetery not far from the water’s edge – an odd sighting in a luxury resort. The picket fenced patch turned out to be the Pioneer Cemetery, the final resting place for Islamorada colonizers of the late 19th century.

The old cemetery was once bordered by a small schoolhouse and church that were destroyed during the big hurricane of 1935, but some tombstones and a statue of an angel survived the storm – enough relics to keep the old cemetery a worthwhile curiosity on the outskirts of this famous resort.

Just for kids

Our wandering eventually took us to Camp Cheeca, a wonderful supervised activity area for the kiddies between five and twelve years of age.

Kids get to play in the camp hut, explore and discover beach treasures, go fishing on the old pier, and splash about in the pool. A great experience for the children, and a much appreciated break for parents.

Just for adults

They were all occupied during our visit, so we couldn’t photograph the interiors, but Cheeca has a number of couples-only Beachfront Bungalows. These private bungalows have fashionable island décor, vaulted ceilings, and intimate balconies with a chaise lounge built for two.

Food at Cheeca

We were hungry after our meandering. Cheeca has three restaurants and two lounges to satisfy any guest’s desire for pub-grub or a gourmet feast fit for the most discerning foodie’s palate.

Light fare at the Tiki Bar on the sand was just what we wanted – not too much – so we would have an appetite for the main event at the Atlantics Edge Restaurant after sunset.

Fresh fish extraordinaire

The menus at Cheeca are designed to reflect the location and the relaxed, but elegant atmosphere at the resort. We chose our dinner from a lavish medley of delicacies from the sea. We started with Cheeca Conch Chowder featuring savory tender Conch with succulent Corn in a savory broth.

We skipped the salad and went directly to the sea once again for our main courses of Baked Halibut with Beluga Lentils, Sautéed Squash, Herb Spaetzle, and Caviar Beurre Blanc.

Our other selection was Guava Glazed Mahi with Coconut Herb Rice, Tempura Baby Bok Choy, drizzled with a delicious Coconut Curry Sauce. Both these principal dishes were outstanding.

Sweets in the tropics

Hummingbird Cake is Cheeca’s Spice Cake with Bananas, Pineapple, and Pecans – all well frosted with a delicious Cream Cheese Icing. The presentation was too artistic to disrupt early in the enjoyment – so we waited to perform our magic until we were down to our last few bites of cake – then we made the Chocolate and Honey Apricot Drops completely disappear.

The Cheeca Spa

The Spa has seven treatment rooms and a fully equipped fitness room – all surrounded by tropical landscaped gardens, shimmering pools, and cascading waterfalls. We indulged in a delicious Sea Breeze Massage, an oceanside deep kneading under a palm covered hut where we were lulled by the rhythm of waves softly touching the sand and seagulls effortlessly soaring above. This is serene isolation and rejuvenation – Cheeca style.

The unusual name

In case you are wondering about the origin of the resort’s odd name of “Cheeca,” here’s the scoop. The Twitchell family owned the property in the 1960’s. The Twitchell’s daughter Cynthia was an heiress to the A&P grocery chain fortune and had a great influence on the resort. Cynthia had a nickname of “Chee.” Chee married Carl – and there you have it!

If you go

The resort is located at 81801 Overseas Highway, Mile Marker 82, Oceanside, Islamorada, FL 33036

It’s best to make reservations to avoid disappointment. Cheeca is sought after for weddings and corporate affairs as well as romantic and family vacations. You can get all the information you need from their website at www.cheeca.com

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

Happy travels!

Here are two more articles about elegant Florida properties by Wayne and Judy:

A Beachy Keen Hideaway on Florida’s Gulf Coast

Relaxing in Luxury on Little Palm Island

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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

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/

Exploring the Amenities Aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam

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Holland America has been building  great ships for cruise vacations for 138 years. The ms Nieuw Amsterdam is no exception.

In our last article, we wrote about the four ships that have proudly borne the name ms Nieuw Amsterdam. We also reviewed the many on-board dining options available to passengers.

Today, we complete our story by listing a multitude of other on-board amenities. We also want to give prospective cruisers some insight into a ship’s crew – and how they contribute to a memorable cruise.

Exploring the ship

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Starting at the top – on deck eleven – there is an Observation Room with a forward-looking 180-degree vista.

Library Lounge

At this location, there is a coffee bistro, a bar, and an excellent library, with books, newspapers, and magazines.

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There is also an Internet Café, game tables, and numerous easy chairs.

One deck down, Club HAL (Holland America Line) provides supervised entertainment for the 3 to 12 set. The Loft is not far away and is a comfortable lounge where teenagers can meet and mingle, and play age related games. The Loft’s unique New York design is complete with street signs, a Yellow Cab, and a Hot Dog Stand.

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There is a fully equipped Fitness Center and Spa and Salon on deck nine where you can completely immerse your mind and body into a retrofit, or just rejuvenate and relax.

If you are tired from a hard day at sea, enjoy a movie in the ship’s 36-seat Screening Room – on deck three – and, it’s complete with cushy-chairs and free fresh and delicious popcorn.

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Also on deck three, and after your workout or spa-treatment, you might like a go at upscale shopping in the ship’s Signature Shops

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or try your luck at the slot machines and gaming tables in the glittering Casino on deck two.

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If you like to cook, the Food and Wine magazine Culinary Arts Center on deck two will be a big hit. There you will find a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen where gourmet-cooking lessons are provided by celebrity food preparers and the ship’s own master chefs.

Digital Workshop

Elsewhere on deck two, computer aficionados can take free lessons in the Digital Workshop powered by Microsoft Windows. Holland America’s Microsoft trained “techsperts,” will demonstrate photo editing tricks, and provide participants with general computer tips in an interactive classroom setting. Computers are provided.

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As the sun goes down, many of the day activity rooms magically morph into exciting cabarets, and like the other lounges situated throughout the ship, many offer passengers the opportunity to dance the night away.

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While on board, you can view and purchase your captured exploits at the ship’s extensive photo gallery on deck three, and don’t miss the fine art gallery where treasures are for sale and auction.

If for some reason you would prefer to spend your ocean holiday in your stateroom, you might enjoy a long soak in your cabin’s tub and pamper yourself with the provided Elemis bath amenities. After a slow dry with a plush Egyptian cotton towel, slip into a waiting deluxe terry cloth robe. You might then pop one of the thousand or so ship’s library DVDs into your flat panel wide-screen TV.

To complement your relaxation and entertainment, may we suggest a beverage from the mini-bar and a snack or full meal from the complimentary room service menu. La bonne vie! 

Shore Excursions

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Holland America has an extensive array of port tours for passenger enjoyment. A good reason to avail oneself of on-board tour booking is safety. Another is that the contracted operators know when you need to be back at the ship for departure. Yes, it can happen. 

Live entertainment on board

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We have been on many cruises, and after awhile the stage productions on cruise ships tend to do a mental merge – but not on this cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam.

Group ensemble performers on cruise ships are selected randomly and put under various length contracts as individuals – which means, they work with many different people in the course of their engagements at sea.

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Laura Parkes and other performers answer guest questions

The assembled performers in the stage productions on our Nieuw Amsterdam sailing were absolutely the best we have ever seen. The dancers and singers on board were exceptional to a person. Their physical attributes and artistic talent were well above what you would find on the average cruise.

Kudos to the HAL talent scouts responsible for bringing this amazing group together. Sorry, we have no pictures of the group in action. Photography of stage performances is not permitted for legal and safety reasons.

One possible explanation for the quality of the talent is that unlike some other lines, HAL does not require double-duty from its performers. That means you will not see professional artists performing “welcome aboard duty,” or running daily bingo. Cruises that require artists to do something other than perform tend to attract less experienced talent.

We took a particular interest in a vocalist named Laura Parkes. She has a fantastic range and superb stage presence. Laura hails from England. She has been performing on the cruise ship circuit for several years as a lead production vocalist, and aspires to Las Vegas Cabaret. If any of our readers are connected in Las Vegas, Laura could be your greatest find – drop us an email.

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All this talent was supported by the ship’s backstage hands at the Showroom at Sea. This beautiful theater spans two decks, and the seats are most comfortable. The stage-sets in the Showroom were brilliant, and the costumes were professional, chic, and alluring. The Nieuw Amsterdam has the best of all of it. 

Service Maximum

A cruise ship is basically a floating resort hotel. Therefore, it only makes sense that the majority of shipboard employees would report to the Hotel Manager – who in turn reports to the Captain. At the time of our sailing, there were 868 crewmembers aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam. 756 of them reported to the Hotel Manager.

When we spoke to Mark Zeller, the amiable Hotel Manager aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam, we asked why he thought his ship was so well received by his passenger guests. He replied without hesitation, “It’s the quality of the crew.”

There are dozens of countries represented in the ship’s complement, but the vast majority of the service personnel come from Indonesia, Bali, and the Philippines – all countries whose people have reputations for being gracious, outgoing, and caring.

We found Mr. Zeller’s pride in his staff to be highly warranted, as the crew of the Nieuw Amsterdam was particularly delightful and friendly. We were not surprised to discover that Holland America has recruiting centers and training schools in both Indonesia and the Philippines.

Crew members aboard cruise ships work hard and are away from their families for long stretches. Typically, they sign on for a ten-month tour, and may rotate their assignments on several ships during their sea-going careers.

 Captain on the bridge

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Captain Jonathan Mercer

There is a common misconception that all Masters on Holland America’s ships are Dutch. Maybe they were at one time, but not now. Our cruise was under the able-command of  Captain Jonathan Mercer, who hails from Britain, and now resides in Florida with his American wife.

Captain Mercer is one of the most personable and visible ship’s Master that we have encountered during our many years at sea – meaning he was frequently out-and-about chatting it up with the guests in his domain – all of whom seemed delighted by the attention.

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We had a stimulating interview with the Captain, and we think it would be hard to find a better ambassador for Holland America.

In closing

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A few interesting facts about the ship. The Nieuw Amsterdam weights 86,273 tons, and is 936 feet long. She has 1,056 staterooms, and a crew of approximately 900. She can desalinate 500,000 gallons of potable water per day, and she consumes 75 gallons of diesel fuel per nautical mile. Her maximum speed is 24 knots or 27.62 miles per hour. 

If you go

For more information about cruising on the Nieuw Amsterdam or any one of Holland America’s elegant ships, go to their website at www.hollandamerica.com or call your favorite travel agent.

We had a delightful flight from New York to Europe on Aer Lingus.

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/

Vacationing Aboard Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam

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The ms Nieuw Amsterdam is first and foremost a high-caliber floating resort. It was designed to appeal to both first time cruisers and well-seasoned cruise veterans – it has everything the sea faring vacationer could desire. 

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We booked a 20-day passage on the Nieuw Amsterdam. The itinerary included ports in Italy, Monaco, Spain, and Portugal before heading across the Atlantic for the ship’s repositioning to Florida for its winter schedule in the Caribbean. It was a fabulous cruise.

This is the fourth Nieuw Amsterdam

In 1626, Dutch settlers named their new-world Atlantic colony “Nieuw Amsterdam.” It was not until the Dutch turned the island over to the British in 1664 that it became New York.

Holland America Line (HAL) was founded in 1872. In 1906, HAL began a tradition of honoring the old-Dutch colony and launched the first ms Nieuw Amsterdam cruise ship. That first namesake served until 1932.

In 1937, at a time of growing global unrest, the second Nieuw Amsterdam was christened. Like other great cruise-liners including the Queen Mary, the new Nieuw Amsterdam was conscripted to military service early in WWII. After the war – having served admirably in the conflict – she was again outfitted for cruise service and fulfilled that charter until 1974.

The third ms Nieuw Amsterdam was an instant hit when it began its Rotterdam to New York run in 1983. For 20-years, she was recognized as an elegant star by ocean-going celebrities in ports around the world. After a life of uncompromising reputation and service, she was sold in 2003 to make room for the current ms Nieuw Amsterdam.

Homage well paid

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The Nieuw Amsterdam is a fitting tribute to New York City. Its passageways, lounges, and public rooms are filled with nostalgic artistic renditions and iconic images depicting historical, social, and multi-cultural aspects of The Big Apple – there is even a seven-foot shiny aluminum apple that welcomes exiting elevator passengers on the Port Deck. 

Speaking of elevators

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Many contemporary cruise ships have glass elevators in the interior of the ship’s atrium. The Nieuw Amsterdam also has four outside glass-enclosed elevators – an interesting novelty – and lots of fun as they zip up eleven decks and provide ocean views on the way to the ship’s spacious Observation Deck. 

Always a lady

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Walking the decks of the Nieuw Amsterdam is a visual delight. She is outfitted in gleaming chrome and deep rich tones of red and tinges of other subtle hues. Call it understated elegance, or simply chic – in any case she is entirely comfortable. 

An unexpected test at sea

We boarded the ms Nieuw Amsterdam in Barcelona. During our first night at sea we encountered gale winds upwards of 80-miles per hour and 25 foot sea swells. Our balcony stateroom was on Deck 5, and we experienced drifting rushes of spray on our glass door throughout the evening.

The Nieuw Amsterdam listed occasionally and slightly from the starboard battering of the storm, but rode the waves like the 86,273-ton technical marvel she was designed to be. There was little discomfort among the 2,016 passengers and 868 crew members.

During that first night’s gale, and during much better days thereafter, our veranda stateroom was quiet and we could hear neither the wind outside nor our neighbors on either side of our stateroom. There was the occasional door slamming along the passageway, but even that sound was so muted as to not be disturbing. We heard no other noises, and nary a squeak. She is a well-put together craft. 

The staterooms

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The staterooms are of comparatively good size, and the addition of the Holland America tub shower in the bathroom will appeal to those who enjoy a good soak, and those who need a little extra room. If you cannot easily navigate over the side of a tub, you can request a cabin with the more traditional cruise-ship shower stall. 

Tempting your inner gourmet

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The Nieuw Amsterdam has a dazzling array of eating venues to satisfy every palate. As You Wish® dining on all HAL cruises means guests can chose from a wide selection of dining times and eating places.

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There’s the two-level Manhattan Dining Room that is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is the main dining room and appeals to those wanting a more formal dining affair.

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On the other end of the spectrum is the Lido Restaurant on Deck 9, where comfort food and ethnic/regional dishes from around the world are all offered up buffet style. Self-seating ocean view tables are always available at the Lido.

Casual table service is available at the adjacent Canaletto restaurant, which specializes in delectable Italian cookery.

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There are two poolside walk-ups near the Lido Restaurant. The Terrace Grill serves hot dogs, burgers, paninis, pita sandwiches, and fries. The Slice is a poolside stand that serves up piping hot pizza by the slice or whole pie – with your choice of toppings.

Guests can also enjoy their food selections along-side one of the two swimming pools on the Lido Deck. There are open seating tables, and if so inclined, private cabanas. There are also bars at both locations.

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The larger Lido Pool has three hot tubs, and the entire area is covered by a retractable dome, which is open in fair weather and closed in foul. The aft Sea View Pool provides reflections of where you have been as well as the ship’s wake. Holland America thinks of everything. 

Specialty Restaurants

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We also had the pleasure of dining in the Nieuw Amsterdam’s specialty restaurants, the Pan-Asian Tamarind

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and the Pinnacle Grill, specializing in steaks and seafood. There is a nominal charge for each guest at both of these reservations-only restaurants. The food is excellent at all the ship’s eateries, but these two choices are truly special.

The Pinnacle Grill features Sterling Silver Beef® and fresh seafood served on Bvlgari® china, Riedel® stemware, and Frette® linens and is well worth the money for a quiet evening of fine dining, or for celebrating a special event. 

Of course, if none of the above is appealing, there is always the complimentary 24-hour room service menu.

In our next article, we will reveal many more of the gratifying features and amenities that Holland America has thoughtfully included on the Nieuw Amsterdam. We will also give our readers some insight into the personalities of the Captain, Crew, and Entertainers that were part of the launch of this beautiful high-seas resort.

For more information about the ms Nieuw Amsterdam or any of the other Holland America Line ships, check out their website at www.hollandamerica.com or contact your favorite travel agent.

We had a delightful flight from New York to Europe on Aer Lingus.
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/

The Madonna Inn: An Enduring and Endearing Curiosity

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The Madonna Inn has fascinated travelers for over 50 years. Here are the reasons why it is so famous.

There is nothing like it – anywhere

The Madonna Inn Resort and Spa spreads across 2,000 acres of scenic Central California. The sprawling complex of glistening white and pink buildings houses an assortment of banquet rooms, restaurants, a cocktail lounge with bandstand and dance floor, boutique and wine shops, a pool and fitness center, an Expo Center, an equestrian event center, and a fabulous spa. Need a limousine? No problem – there’s a company on site.

This is Disneyland without the rides, but it has something beyond comparison – bizarre guestrooms. All the rooms have descriptive titles such as Jungle Rock, Bridal Falls, Caveman, Yahoo, Irish Hills, Matterhorn, Time of Your Life, and Oriental Fantasy.

In the largest lodging building, boulders as large as 200 tons were assembled to create rooms with rock walls, rock fireplaces, and in some cases, rock waterfall showers.

Many were skeptical about the feasibility of constructing guestrooms around rocks bigger than cars, but we have it on good authority that the Inn’s creators Alex and Phyllis Madonna took comfort in an old Chinese proverb. The maxim goes, “Those who say it can’t be done should not bother those who are busy doing it.”  Structural design such as this is just not seen outside the confines of the Madonna Inn.

The famous men’s room urinal

The men’s toilet in the main building where the stores and restaurants are located is so unique that members of the gentler sex often pop into the men’s loo to see the famous rock wall urinal – complete with waterfall flush. The sinks in this lavatory are fashioned from giant clam shells – overall, it is a bathroom you will remember.

Other unique adornments at Madonna Inn

The building housing the Gold Rush Steak House and adjacent Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge is finished with intricate hand carved doors, posts and beams, wine barrels, and railings. Many were done by Alexander Zeller a famous Bavarian master wood-carver who died suddenly in the 60s and before he could complete his work at the Inn. If you look closely in the bar (there is a photo in the slide show) you will see where Mr. Zeller’s carving ends, but his beautiful preliminary sketches continue. Those sketches and outlines are in themselves, worthy works of art.

The Conference Center

The Alex Madonna Expo Center is just a short distance from the Inn’s main facilities. This is a complex with a capacity for 2,600 guests and over 20,000 square feet of floor space making it the largest event facility on the Central Coast of California.

The Pool and Spa

Popular demand resulted in the construction of The Spa at Madonna Inn in 2008. It is in the same area as the elegant 90-foot long European pool with beach style entry.

It is easy for guests to enjoy a relaxing and rejuvenating therapy session by Licensed Massage Therapists and Estheticians in The Spa, and then take up a comfortable lounge at poolside to listen to the soothing cascade of the Inn’s 45-foot waterfall. There is also an exercise room at this site, and a large pool bar room. Life is good at Madonna Inn.

Weddings

As you might expect, a beautiful and unusual resort like the Madonna Inn attracts many weddings. What a site for a marriage ceremony to remember.

The Gold Rush Steak House

The gold rush setting of California’s past provides the vibe and festive atmosphere for this animated restaurant that boasts live band performances several nights per week. During our Saturday night dinner, the guests enjoyed big band sounds that delighted more than a dozen couples who never left the floor until the music stopped.

The milieu in the Gold Rush is reminiscent of the elegant and dressy super clubs of yore. If this were 1960, the evening entertainment might have included an unexpected celebrity appearance, or an Astaire and Rogers style cabaret.

However, do not be deceived – the Gold Rush is not at all formal and caters to the comforts of its traveling patrons. Guests arrive garbed in everything from suits and gowns to casual attire.

The Gold Rush Tree

Despite elegant furnishings throughout, a 28-foot golden tree fixture with floating cherubs still captures the attention of every eye that enters the Gold Rush Steak House. The “tree” is generously decorated according to the season and is a notable and exciting centerpiece for dining room activity.

Welcome to delicious

We started our meal with a relish tray appetizer of fine cheese, thin sliced Italian salami, fresh celery, various peppers – and other goodies. It was an easy segue into a crisp fresh garden salad with an excellent choice of dressings.

The Gold Rush menu is extensive with excellent entrée selections. The cuisine and wine list is both approachable and sophisticated. After much deliberation, and based on local recommendations, we settled on the filet mignon with baked potato and a carrots and string beans accompaniment.

The tender and delectable house steaks are seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked to perfection over an oak pit barbecue. The results are tantalizingly delicious. Note: Those who prefer their meat unseasoned should advise the server when ordering.

Did we mention desserts?

Take a peek at the Champagne Cake in the photo gallery

Controlling quality

Owner Alex Madonna knew the best way to ensure his “World’s Best Steaks” for the Gold Rush dining room was to control the feed and production process. It is not surprising that he collaborated with John Wayne in buying and raising cattle for the Madonna Inn. Our guess is that the two men enjoyed a friendship that had much more in common than an ability to select and raise good livestock.

Yes, the Madonna Inn is wonderful and fun, and we recommend it highly. It is an especially rewarding experience because it is founded on an all-American family success story. In these difficult times, we can all use an occasional smile and a little extra inspiration.

Be sure not to miss our *photo gallery* of the Madonna Inn, click here.

For reservations and more information about the Madonna Inn look at their website at:  http://madonnainn.com

You can also check out http://www.sanluisobispocounty.com to locate other attractions in the area such as Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument (Hearst Castle), in San Simeon, CA, which is about 45 miles away.

Click here to read our story describing the interesting history of the Madonna Inn.

If you go

The Madonna Inn is about 225 miles south of San Francisco (take Exit 201) and 175 miles north of Los Angeles (take Exit 200A) just off California Highway 101. Follow the signs to the Inn.

Happy travels!

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Photos of Madonna family courtesy of Madonna Inn

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