Category Archives: Hotels & Resorts

Driveable Getaways: Great Time to Time-Travel in Sandwich, Cape Cod’s First Village

The Dexter Grist Mill in historic Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my favorite places for a driveable getaway is Sandwich, Cape Cod’s first village, settled in 1637. Sandwich is an enchanting jewel where history, exquisite architecture, fascinating attractions abound in a compact, walkable area, a short distance from the delightful Sandy Neck beach as well as the Cape Cod Canal biking trail. It is quintessential New England, an idyllic place to visit, to stay, to make your hub for exploring Cape Cod.

All through Sandwich, you see homes that bear the names of the ship captains who commanded the packet ships and clippers that made this area a mercantile center.

Many of these quaint historic houses and buildings (including a church) have been turned into charming bed-and-breakfast inns, but if you want to extend your time travel back to when the Patriots were debating revolution, a wonderful choice is the Dan’l Webster Inn and Spa, at the heart of the village. It is also is the most substantial in size, with 48 rooms, amenities and services that include a full-service Beach Plum Spa, offering the best of past and present.

The present inn sits on property that was once a parsonage, built in 1692 by Rev. Roland Cotton; in the 1750s, it was converted to the Fessenden Tavern, one of the first and most famous of New England’s taverns and a Patriot headquarters during the American Revolution (the Newcomb Tavern, just across the pond, served as Tory headquarters). In the late 1800s, the inn, then known as the Central House, hosted famous visitors including President Grover Cleveland and poet Henry David Thoreau.

In 1980, the Dan’l Webster was acquired by the Catania family’s hospitality company which operates the popular Hearth n’ Kettle Restaurants, as well as the John Carver Inn in Plymouth and the Cape Codder Resort, in Hyannis. Since acquiring the Dan’l Webster, they have restored it with exquisite taste and respect for its heritage – there are antique furnishings and Sandwich glass.

The Conservatory at the Dan’l Webster Inn, Sandwich, MA © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Catania family also acquired the historic house next door. A marker outside the house tells the story: Nancy Fessenden married Capt. Ezra Nye in 1826 and moved into the house following their wedding. She was the daughter of the innkeeper (now the Dan’l Webster Inn). Nye was a famous captain who broke the speed record by sailing his clipper ship from Liverpool in 20 days, in 1829. Restored by the Dan’l Webster Inn in 1982, the house now offers accommodates four luxury suites, each named after prominent people associated with the inn, dating back to 1692.

Historic Fessenden house, now part of the Dan’l Webster Inn, Sandwich, MA © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Dan’l Webster has become an award-winning hotel, spa and dining destination. Recognized as a Distinguished Restaurant of North America (placing it in the top 1% of restaurants in the country) it offers a choice of the casual Tavern at the Inn, the cozy Music Room or the more formal (and romantic) ambiance in a lovely glass enclosed Conservatory.

The Tavern at the Inn is an authentic replica of the two-centuries-old tap room where Daniel Webster made regular visits and which had been a meeting place for local Patriots during the Revolution.

This is an especially good time to visit. The inn is offering a special package, Mosey & Museum Package, that captures the real essence of small-town Cape Cod (through October 3). It includes admission to the Sandwich Glass Museum to appreciate the art of glass making and Sandwich’s contribution to the industrial craft, and to Heritage Museum and Gardens to celebrate their Pollinator Festival. (Check the website for more packages.)

Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa 149 Main Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 800-444-3566,info@DanlWebsterInn.com, www.DanlWebsterInn.com.

So Much to Do in Sandwich

Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In a village of many substantial attractions and places of interest, what truly stands out is the Heritage Museum & Gardens – a destination attraction. It hits on a spectrum of cylinders – 100 acres of magnificent grounds and trails on the banks of the Shawme Pond; the vast, stunning and notable gardens that feature internationally important collections of rhododendrons, including those created by Charles Dexter, collections of hydrangeas, over 1,000 varieties of daylilies, hostas, herb, heather gardens, and more than a thousand varieties of trees, shrubs and flowers along beautiful and easily walked paths.

The JK Lilly III collection of vintage cars and folk art at Heritage Museums & Gardens, Sandwich © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, the JK Lilly III collection of vintage cars and folk art, and  you can take a ride on a delightful working vintage carousel. There is also – imagine this – Hidden Hollow, an enchanting family-friendly outdoor adventure center where you can get a “squirrel’s perspective” of the forest.  You should allocate the better part of a day to visit. (Heritage Museums & Gardens, 67 Grove Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 508.888.3300, www.heritagemuseumsandgardens.org, open daily through Mid-October.)

See the forest from a squirrel’s eye view at Hidden Hollow at Heritage Museums & Gardens, Sandwich, Cape Cod © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What built Sandwich, though (and likely the reason that so many of its magnificent buildings reflect the prosperity of the early-1800s) was that in 1825, Deming Jarves built a glass factory to manufacture glass with a revolutionary process that made it affordable for the masses (Sandwich glass is still a thing). The factory grew rapidly to be one of the largest producers in the country with over 500 workers producing over five million pieces of glass annually by the 1850s. By the 1880s, labor strikes, an economic depression, and new factories being built further closer to natural gas fuel sources forced the factory to close.

Today, you can visit the Sandwich Glass Museum which displays original pieces created during the 1800’s and provides demonstrations of glass blowing techniques. The museum’s theater shows a great documentary of the history of Sandwich. Throughout the village there are several glass blowers and artists with open studios to visit, creating a dynamic center for contemporary glass art (Sandwich Glass Museum,120 Main St., 508-833-1540, www.sandwichglassmuseum.org).

Historic Dexter Grist Mill, Sandwich, Cape Cod’s first village © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A short walk from the Dan’l Webster Inn is the Dexter Grist Mill, a working grist mill since 1654 where you can still buy ground cornmeal, or draw fresh water from the well (as many locals do for their personal supply).

The Hoxie House, built in 1675, was lived in until the 1970s but was never modernized with electricity or plumbing. This saltbox is named after a whaling captain who owned the house in the mid-1800s. it is now a wonderful little museum house showing what family life was like in the 1600s.

Benjamin Nye Homestead & Museum, is the 18th-century home of one of the first 50 men who settled in Sandwich.

Also, the Wing Fort House, built in 1641, the oldest house in New England continuously owned and occupied by one family (63 Spring Hill Rd., 508-833-1540).

A short distance away, you can visit the Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen (6 Discovery Hill Road off Route 6A), which celebrates author and naturalist Thornton W. Burgess, who wrote the Peter Cottontail stories. There are nature programs, nature trails, a working 1903 Jam Kitchen, jam-making classes (508-888-6870, www.thortonburgess.org). 

Scene biking along the Cape Cod Canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

One of my favorite things about Sandwich is the proximity to the Cape Cod Canal which offers a 6.2 mile-long paved path (on each side) for biking, roller blading or just walking (the banks of the canal are also popular for fishing). Along the trail, you can visit the Aptucxet Trading Post, built by the Pilgrims in 1627 to facilitate trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam and the Narrangansett Indians.

The Cape Cod Canal is a marvel (there is a visitor center on the mainland side that tells the history). The canal was constructed in 1914 – up until then, there were a tragic number of ships that were wrecked trying to sail around the peninsula. But it is astonishing to learn that interest in building the canal dated back to the earliest settlers: in 1623, Pilgrims scouted the area as the place best suited for a canal. In 1697 the General Court of Massachusetts considered a formal proposal to build a canal, but no action was taken. In 1776, George Washington, concerned about its military implications, studied the site. But it took until 1909 for construction to start. (60 Ed Moffitt Dr., 508-833-9676, www.capecodcanal.us).

Cape Cod also has the most marvelous network of dedicated bike trails.

Sandwich offers easy access to other marvelous places to visit on Cape Cod, like Falmouth, Wood’s Hole, Hyannis but you should spend at least a day on the other side of the Sagamore Bridge, in Plymouth, to visit a score of historic attractions associated with the Pilgrims, including the Mayflower II and Plimoth Plantation, one of the best living history museums anywhere.

For more information, contact Sandwich Chamber of Commerce, 508-681-0918, info@sandwichchamber.com, www.sandwichchamber.com.

______________________

© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Mill Falls Emerges as Destination Resort on New Hampshire’s Famed Lake Winnipesaukee

Mill Falls’ rustic elegance invites guests to immerse in the gracious tranquil ambiance of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lake Winnipesaukee, “The Smile of the Great Spirit,” gets its name from a charming and romantic legend of the Abenaki Native American tribe who lived in this New Hampshire Lakes region for 11,000 years. The tranquil setting here indeed, immediately brings smiles to generations of visitors.

And Mill Falls at the Lake, in Meredith, proves a fabulous base for immersing yourself in the pleasures of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.

With a most picturesque setting on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire’s largest lake, Mill Falls is a most unusual sort of lakeside resort complex, with four distinct inns – Bay Point and Church Landing on the water, connected by a lakefront boardwalk, and The Inn at Mill Falls and Chase House across a busy boulevard. Mill Falls also offers a full-service Cascade Spa, EKAL Activity Center, five restaurants, 12 shops in a four-story Marketplace housed in the historic mill with a 40-foot waterfall, and a vibrant Main Street community to complete the experience.

Mill Falls invites guests to immerse in the gracious tranquil ambiance of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mill Falls’ name pays homage to its heritage – the story told in historic photographs that grace the walls. Meredith started as a mill town powered by the flow of water.

In 1983 Meredith Bay Corporation bought the mill property, raising most of the buildings, but reconstructing the historic old mill into a four-story “Marketplace” shopping experience. Most of the original hand-hewn beams and wide barn boards remain; a half-ton copper cupola acquired from the North Woodstock church tower was hoisted to a new perch on the mill roof. A shopping plaza with three new retail buildings was created and the lovely 54 room Inn with swimming pool was added. The area was beautifully landscaped, incorporating the waterfall.

The opening of the Inn at Mill Falls and the Mill Falls Marketplace was the end of the industrial chapter for Meredith, but the beginning of a new era for the town.

In 1993, the company acquired an office building on the lake, which was reconstructed into the Inn at Bay Point.

Chase Landing at Mill Falls on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, in 2003, after St. Charles parish moved, HHH acquired their old church and waterfront property – a spectacular promontory that juts into Meredith Bay. Rather than raze the church, HHH incorporated the structure into its stunning design in the style of the great shingled camps of the 1880s. Church Landing opened in May 2004.

The Boathouse at Chase Landing is set right on Lake Winnipesaukee shore © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition to a spectacular new inn, Church Landing added 1,000 feet of boardwalk to create a three-quarter mile contiguous public walkway along Lake Winnipesaukee’s waterfront, connecting Church Landing with The Town Docks Restaurant, The Christmas Loft, two public parks, and the existing walkway system that extends past The Inn at Bay Point. It also includes two 60-foot docks and a public gazebo and pier, which are attached to the existing town docks system. The final and crowning touch to Church Landing is the full-service Cascade Spa.

Three-quarter mile of connected boardwalk and walkways lead from Chase Landing to the Town Dock restaurant to the Inn at Bay Point and beyond © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yet another incarnation has taken place with the acquisition of Mill Falls at the Lake in 2019 by Procaccianti Companies, a New England-based, second generation privately-held real estate investment and hospitality services organization. The property is managed by its hospitality management affiliate, TPG Hotels & Resorts.

The new owners acquired the activities center, EKAL (lake spelled backwards), so has control and access to the rental bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, aquacycles, canoes that are now incorporated into a new daily schedule of programs, including both free activities as well as fee-based ones.

The EKAL Activities Center is central to Mill Falls’ new activities program © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The new General Manager Nick Squire and new activities director, Sharon Wells, are turning this lakeside gem into a full-fledged destination resort, and even a wellness retreat.

“Everything I do is sharing wellness,” the aptly named Sharon Wells (her motto, ‘Sharing wellness”) tells me during the ice cream social she is hosting on the Boathouse patio on a Saturday afternoon.

Sharon, who has spent her entire career in wellness, came to Mill Falls in April to create an activities program. Her idea is to expand it with creative and clever ideas.

She organizes a schedule of daily activities that are provided at no extra charge to guests – like pilates, yoga, cardio kick boxing, or meditation on the boathouse lawn; paddleboard yoga, a fun ice cream social on the boathouse patio, jump rope, water balloon toss on the boathouse lawn, Art at the Lake (paint in plein air), a campfire or a fire spinning demonstration. She invites the Coast Guard to give a talk on reading navigation charts, local fisherman to talk about their life, an herbalist to do a plant walk, wild animal demonstrations by the Squam Lake Science Center, a presentation by the Loon Center (there are 26 loon pairs on the lake).

Fire-spinning demonstration, one of the nighttime activities in Mill Falls’ program © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A score of activities are available to guests at extra fee – guided hikes, guided bike rides, guided kayaking trips, a sunset cruise on the Mill Falls’ pontoon boat (also available for charter) and in winter, skiing at nearby Gunstock Mountain – that take in the spectacular nearby preserves, mountains and lakes.

Sharon is developing weekend programs organized around wellness, hiking, leaf-peeping and the like, and plans to add Winter Wonderland activities, ice skating for when the lake freezes, snow shoeing, micro-spiking, Nordic skiing, winter hiking (check the website for dates). A group can request customized programs.

“My background is wellness, fitness, health. I came here in a time of need to be healthy. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental illness, obesity, drug addiction, alcoholism – these are top killers in US. The only way to become healthy is to be educated – get outdoors, eat better, meditate, work body-mind-spirit.”

A small beach for swimming in Lake Winnipesaukee at Chase Landing at Mill Falls © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She adds, “’Winnipesaukee’ means Smile of the Great Spirit – it’s about experience, memory, enjoying one’s family, exploring and discovering lakes region. True experience is gained through exploration – nature, beauty. I want people to appreciate the larger world beyond you. Let people feel calm, serenity, peace of wilderness. This place offers Yesteryear Simplicity – a place to de-stress, refresh, eat well, live well. We teach how to live a healthy lifestyle,” as she offers returning kayakers her cucumber, ginger and mint smoothie.

After leaving the ice cream social, following Sharon’s suggested route, I take my bike for a 10-mile ride following the lakeshore to get a taste of these neighborhoods.

Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire–25 miles long, 15 miles wide at its widest point, it has 72 square miles of surface, 182 miles to circumvent the lake, and contains some 244 islands, some as small as a quarter acre. (Neighboring Shaum Lake was where “On Golden Pond” was filmed).

Lake Winnipesaukee is 45,000 acres – about as big as Lake Tahoe, but because it is not deep (as Lake Tahoe is) and as little as a few feet deep near the shore, the water is in 70s, comfortable for swimming, and there are beaches.

Mill Falls invites guests to immerse in the gracious tranquil ambiance of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The setting is incomparable: crystal clear waters of the spring-fed Lake Winnipesaukee at the foothills of the White Mountains, surrounded by three mountain ranges and a the wooded shoreline.

It’s a haven for boaters – and if you don’t have your own, there are many places to rent any manner of boat or watercraft. There are ports all around the lake where you can just tie up and go ashore to enjoy restaurants, go to shops, buy ice cream.

There is much to explore on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee by boat or by car. Meredith is a restored mill village, where you can browse through antique, art and craft galleries. Weirs Beach has arcades and boardwalks, waterslides, a public beach and an activity center. Wolfeboro is a picture perfect village, right down to its historic Main Street. Center Harbor, Moultonborough, Tuftonboro, Alton, Gilford and Laconia all have their own special flavor. All communities have public parks and docks, and feature varied activities such as fireworks displays and band concerts throughout the year.

Mount Washington Cruises, a New Hampshire tradition since 1872, offers scenic and sunset dinner dance cruises on the 230-ft. M/S Mount Washington and two smaller vessels, the US mail boat, Sophie C., and M/V Doris E.

You can cruise along on the M/V Sophie C – the oldest and one of only two floating United States Postal Service post offices still operating – as it makes its deliveries to eight of Lake Winnipesaukee islands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a special experience to cruise along on the M/V Sophie C – the oldest and one of only two floating United States Postal Service post offices still operating – as it makes its deliveries to eight of the lake’s islands.

Floating post office service was started on Lake Winnipesaukee in 1892. The Sophie C. was built by Boston General Ship & Engine Works in 1945 to temporarily replace the Mount Washington, when the Navy commandeered its engines and boilers during World War II and took over the mail route from the Uncle Sam II in 1969. Sophie C. delivers mail Monday-Saturday, June to September, sells postage, and collects and postmarks outgoing mail. Sophie C. also operates as a sightseeing boat, carrying up to 125 people on her two cruises a day as she delivers mail, and sells ice cream and snacks to residents of the islands she serves.

Gazebo on Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are any number of places nearby for hiking, biking, mountain biking: Belknap Mountain, Mt. Major, Chamberlain-Reynolds Memorial Forest, West Rattlesnake Mountain, Red Hill, Gunstock Recreation Area, Abenaki Tower, Cotton Valley Trail and Russell C. Chase Bridge Falls Path.

Wakefield, which prides itself on being a bicycle-friendly community, offers six loops ranging from 11 to 52 miles long.

(More information from the New Hampshire Lakes Region Tourism Association including Lake WinnipesaukeeSquam LakeOssipee Lake, Lake Opechee, Mirror Lake, Newfound LakeLake Winnisquam and the White Mountains, 603-286-8008, lakesregion.org.)

Gunstock Mountain, 15 minutes away from Mill Falls, offers hiking trails, treetop adventures, mountaintop yoga classes, and electric biking; ski lifts, which in winter, access217 acres of skiable mountains, are open year-round.

Hermit Woods Winery offers wine tastings and tours (Food & Wine Magazine included it in its 2017 “500 Best Wineries in America”).

The 18-hole Waukewan Golf Club course,designed and opened by Dr. Melvyn Hale in 1958, is a few minutes away from Mill Falls.

Funspot, founded in 1952 by Bob Lawton  offers 600 games including 300 classic arcade games, a 20-lane ten-pin and candlepin bowling center, indoor mini-golf, restaurant and tavern (it was named the largest arcade in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2008). Lawton, who reportedly still works at Funspot, is a former representative to the New Hampshire legislature and revived the Weirs Times in 1992.

The timeless all-seasons resort on Lake Winnipesaukee, Mill Falls offers 171 rooms across all four inns, each with its own special ambiance – Church Landing, Bay Point, Chase House, and The Inn at Mill Falls – with all the elements for a family gatherings, destination wedding, corporate event or wellness retreat.

Indoor/outdoor pool at the Boathouse at Chase Landing at Mill Falls © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Church Landing (which includes the Boathouse where I stay) is a luxurious lakefront lodge with 70 rooms and is the best choice for a family or resort stay. It has two indoor/outdoor pools, the full-service Cascade Spa and Salon, stunning grounds and landscaping that just invite you to sit with a book or just gaze out to the lake, a small beach from which you can swim to a dock. You wander through Chase Landing, through lovely libraries and sitting areas, the walls covered with bookcases, stone fireplaces, a stunning mural depicting the lakefront, pool room, a patio with a stunning stone fireplace, wicker furniture, old wood beams. There is also the Lakehouse Grill which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has a lovely bar/lounge, with a lovely Adirondack feel and stunning views to the lake. The atmosphere is just wonderful.

My room, a spacious king suite with a balcony overlooking the lake, in the Boathouse, is a charming stone building with gorgeous wood rafters, and an old timey Adirondack-style rustic elegance  that instills tranquility.

Bay Point is a 24-room inn perched at the end of Meredith Bay with gorgeous views; completely renovated in 2018, it has a nautical ambiance.  

Bay Point at Mill Falls on Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The original Inn at Mill Falls, with 54 rooms and an indoor pool, is set within a restored 19th-century linen mill with a tumbling 40-foot waterfall.  It is adjacent to the Marketplace shops, restaurants and main street activities.  (Pet friendly rooms are available.)

The newly renovated Chase House, across the street from Meredith Bay, offers 21 guest rooms and the Camp Restaurant with a cabin-style atmosphere, servers embodying camp counselors, and specializes in comfort food. (There is no actual children’s activity camp at Mill Falls)

Town Docks on Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are delightful restaurants in each of the lodging buildings – Camp, Lago, Lakehouse Grill, Waterfall Café, Giuseppe’s Pizzeria and Ristorante – are run by The Common Man company.  I thoroughly enjoy breakfast in the charming Lakehouse Grill, in Chase Landing, with a wonderful Adirondack ambiance and views of the lake. There is also the Town Docks restaurant in the midst of the complex– a bustling place each evening, with outdoor lakefront seating.

Mill Falls tent is popular for summertime weddings © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mill Falls on the Lake is exceptionally well set up for wedding, meetings and conferences with several ballrooms (and now, in summer, a permanent tent on the lawn) and meeting rooms.

Mill Falls is very much a four-seasons resort – I see how marvelous it is in summer, I can only imagine how magnificent fall foliage is here, when the colors turn to crimson and gold, then winter white with the lake frozen enough to skate, and then, the pastel colors of spring’s renewal.

Mill Falls at the Lake, 312 Daniel Webster Highway, Meredith, NH 03253, 800-622-6455, 844-745-2931, info@millfalls.com, www.millfalls.com.

______________________

© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Finding Love in All the Right Places

A wedding proposal on a Bermuda beach. One of the most romantic places on the planet, Bermuda, once known as the honeymoon capital, has safety protocols in place to welcome lovers to the island nation, a 2 ½ hour flight from New York © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, New York State is permitting restaurants to reopen indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, and as of March 15, will allow venues to host weddings at 50% capacity up to 150 guests. Governor Cuomo proposed that couples get engaged on Valentine’s Day and tie the knot on March 15.

Romance is by nature an intimate experience and even in a pandemic, it is possible to find romantic places and experiences. From glamping in nature, to boutique inns, to grand resorts offering specially planned, socially-distanced venues, and from romance to proposal to marriage vows, the coronavirus has certainly reshaped romance and love, but where there is a will, there is a way.  Love conquers all.

Back to Nature

adVANturing in a Moterra camper van © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is nothing more romantic than getting a camper van and following wanderlust, or renting a cabin or lodge or glamping on a lake or mountaintop, with that added spice of adventure and nature (as in, “let nature run its course” or “doing what comes naturally”). Glamping is also providing the setting for back-to-nature weddings and renewal of vows.

Kampgrounds of America (KOA) has a special section for glamping, cabins, and “unique camping options” (a teepee, a yurt, a train caboose, a Conestoga wagon, tree house, wall tent, a vintage airstream among them) that offer the atmosphere sure to get an “I will” or an “I do.” (See: https://koa.com/ways-to-stay/unique-accommodations/)

A glamping wedding in Montana (c) Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

GlampingHub, launched in 2013 as a booking platform for distinctive accommodations, sustainable tourism and  luxury camping, is where you can find glamping spots all over the world, ranging from pet-friendly hotels or eco-friendly hotels, glamping retreats & getaways. It devotes a portal to Romantic Glamping (https://glampinghub.com/portal/romantic-glamping/).

Romantic Getaways

The Daniel Webster Inn in the historic village of Sandwich on Cape Cod is inviting couples to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a Feb. 13-15 package that includes champagne, chocolates, roses; $60 toward lunch or dinner and $15 toward breakfast, and a special gift to take home. Also, a suite-deal package is a one-night escape in an elegant suite with fireplace and oversized whirlpool tub, and chocolates and massages, plus $50 toward dinner. (Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa, 149 Main Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 800-444-3566, 833-361-4988, https://danlwebsterinn.com/)

What is more romantic than a sleigh ride at Mountaintop Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mountain Top Inn & Resort has all the charm, the warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury, amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. The setting is breathtaking – 700 acres surrounded by open fields, a 740-acre lake and mountains beyond, and the Green Mountain National Forest. In addition to a lodge, it offers separate cabins, and a barn/event space. It is no wonder Mountain Top is so popular for weddings (elopements too!) – it exudes romance. (Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com).

With a secluded island setting and the beauty of the Adirondacks as your backdrop, the grand, historic Sagamore Resort is an enchanting destination for a Lake George wedding, proposal or romantic getaway. Besides the hotel, there are separate villa-style lodges. The AAA Four-Diamond resort offers a world-class spa, a Donald Ross-designed championship golf course, swimming and tennis and the Adirondacks.  (110 Sagamore Road, Bolton Landing, NY 12814, 518-644-9400, 866-384-1944, www.thesagamore.com)

Grand Historic Hotels Offer Special Ambiance

Historic Hotels offer ideal ambiance for a romantic proposal, a destination wedding, honeymoon, or special milestone.

The entire list of Historic Hotels of America members, in my book, are ideal for romantic getaways (historichotels.org), but here are a few of our favorites for your proposal:

Romantic gazebos placed along the lake’s edge are extremely popular for popping the question at Mohonk Mountain House, a Victorian jewel in New York’s Hudson Valley (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House (1869) New Paltz, New York: Mohonk Mountain House is an enchanting Victorian Castle perched at the top of a mountain with a private lake. The hotel has 120 “summerhouses” which are rustic gazebos designed for two people to share special moments together; taking in stunning views during or after a hike on 85 miles of trails- all of which provide the perfect romantic backdrop for someone to get down on bended knee. The Sky Top Tower is a hiking destination with panoramic views of the Shawangunk Cliffs and Catskill Mountains and a popular engagement site, along with the boat dock, which provides amazing views of serene Lake Mohonk. This is a full-service grand resort with world-class spa, indoor pool.

The Otesaga Hotel and Cooper Inn (1909) Cooperstown, New York: With its majestic views, The Otesaga Resort Hotel sits on the southern shore of Lake Otsego, known as Glimmerglass in James Fenimore Cooper’s novels, which makes the lake a popular place to pop the question. The lake dock, with its quaint stillness and breathtaking views surrounded by century old oak trees is a perfect place to get down on bended knee. There are some who would rather propose in an old-fashioned boat with the resort as a backdrop and others that would prefer to be on a horse drawn carriage pulling up to the resort’s front portico. Moreover, being the home of the national pastime makes Cooperstown and the Otesaga a unique venue for a baseball themed engagement.

View from our cozy cottage at Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., grand historic resort on the shore of Lake Champlain (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Basin Harbor (1886) Vergennes, Vermont: Basin Harbor is a grand yet rustic resort set on the stunning shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont. Steeped in tradition, this 700-acre resort has a variety of breathtaking settings that provide a perfect backdrop for engagements and weddings. From the Orchard Garden, filled with flowers and greenery to the Lodge Lawn with panoramic views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains, there are plenty of places for someone to get down on one knee. There’s just about every activity you could want, including golf course, boating, tennis. Besides hotel accommodations, there are charming cottages.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel (1887) Jekyll Island, Georgia: Built in the Queen Anne style, the Jekyll Island Club Resort is a castle surrounded by Southern charm. With sweeping Spanish moss and hundred years old live oaks, Jekyll Island is one of the most romantic spots in the South. The magic of the island will carry guests back in time to the grandeur of millionaires. From the top of the turret to quiet moments in Crane Garden, this little slice of heaven is perfect for any romantic proposal. Many couples who get engaged at the hotel have grown up coming to the Resort and wanted the destination to be a part of the proposal and eventually, the wedding. Besides the hotel accommodations, there are separate cottages. Jekyll Island also offers elopement packages.

With sweeping Spanish moss and hundred years old live oaks, Jekyll Island Club, Georgia, is one of the most romantic spots in the South (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ledges Hotel (1890) Hawley, Pennsylvania: This hotel’s historic bluestone building and natural waterfall provide a dramatic backdrop for proposals. A life-long commitment made in the shadow of a historic landmark is symbolic of a relationship that will stand the test of time. The tiered decks overlooking Paupack High Falls are one of the most romantic spots to pop the question at Ledges Hotel. It’s a popular destination for engagements no matter the season. During winter, the frozen falls offer a stunning backdrop. Budding trees and rushing waters are a hallmark of spring. Summer by the waterfall is lush and cool, while fall foliage creates a vibrant landscape in autumn.

The Hotel Hershey (1933) Hershey, Pennsylvania: Known for its refined elegance, signature services and abundant amenities, The Hotel Hershey is a marvelous destination for a romantic getaway. The Hotel is rooted in its own romantic love story, between founder Milton S. Hershey and his wife, Catherine, and couples can spend time together in the beautiful Fountain Lobby, which was inspired by the couple’s travels and designed to look like a Spanish-style courtyard with palm trees, a beautiful fountain and a painted sky on the ceiling. The Formal Gardens behind the hotel are a popular spot for proposals. There, guests can find a quiet, romantic, picturesque area with beautiful flower beds, pergolas, fountains and reflecting pools.

See the full list of 2021 Top 25 Historic Hotels of America for a Romantic Proposal

See more suggestions; https://www.historichotels.org/us/experiences/honeymoon-romance.php. Historic Hotels of America, 800-678-8946, historichotels.org.

Micro Weddings

Micro weddings are all the rage. It’s all about keeping your special day small, but significant.

The courtyard of the historic St Francis Inn in the heart of historic St. Augustine, Florida, is a charming place for a small wedding. The couple can plan a private elopement for two or a micro-wedding in the four-season garden with up to 10 guests, flowers, champagne, house-made wedding cake and horse-drawn carriage ride (279 St. George St., St. Augustine FL, 800-824-6062, https://stfrancisinn.com/)

A micro-wedding in the garden of the historic St. Francis Inn, St. Augustine, FL

Then stay at either the St Francis Inn or the Casa de Suenos Bed and Breakfast (20 Cordova St., St Augustine, FL, 904-824-0887 dream@casadesuenos.com, https://casadesuenos.com/), or at a house on the beach.

Southampton Inn on Long Island has more than 20-years tradition of hosting “micro-weddings” – or the “minimony”. The inn has 3 acres of landscaped grounds, 2,300 sq. ft indoor ballroom for intimate but well-spaced wedding celebrations in a romantic setting (91 Hill Street, Southampton, NY, 11968, 631-283-6500, southamptoninn.comreservations@southamptoninn.com)

What may be a renewed old trend: elopement – it is said to date back to the 14th century, taken on new meaning in the 17th century, and was revived in popularity during the Great Depression when resources and money was scarce. Today, elopement packages are seeing new popularity because they have the benefit of catering to small, intimate ceremonies (as few as just the couple and witnesses) and minimizing the stress that typically comes with prolonged wedding planning Hotels also let the couple take advantage of windows of opportunity, compressing the time between “I will” to “I do.”

Hyatt Carmel Highlands Inn offers special wedding and elopement packages.

Hyatt Carmel Highlands Inn offers special wedding and elopement packages that keep intimacy and romance in mind. Designed for 2 to 20 people, the Highlands Elopement Package allows couples to exchange vows on a romantic gazebo overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hyatt Carmel Highlights 120 Highlands Drive, Carmel, California, 93923, events specialist, 831-622-5461, 831-620-1234, hyatt.com.

See also: Top 25 Historic Hotels of America for a Romantic Proposal

_____________________

© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Deals Bring Bucket-List Travel Experiences Within Reach

Staying at one of the Xanterra hotels on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park lets you step outside to capture the fleeting drama of sunset. Xanterra, which operates resorts at many national parks, has its biggest sale of the year, Nov. 24-Dec. 1. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Now more than ever, we’re all dreaming of destinations we long to go. We dream of wide-open spaces and journeys that stir your soul,” says Xanterra, which operates resorts in national parks which have proved such a respite this year. Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals put bucket-list travel experiences within reach this season, and hearten those with wanderlust, pent up with the ongoing health concerns. The offers come with flexibility and assurances to accommodate appropriate concerns, but are filled with hope and optimism to brighten the holidays.

Xanterra, which operates resorts in national parks including Grand Canyon and Death Valley, has its biggest sale of the year, Nov. 24-Dec. 1, with savings up to 40%. Generous cancellation policies mean you can save now and travel when you’re ready, and you can be confident measures are in place to create a safe and healthy environment for your visit (we know this first hand from our recent stay at the Ranch at the Oasis, Death Valley):

National Parks

●      Grand Canyon South Rim – 40% off in-park lodging at Kachina Lodge and Bright Angel Lodge and 20% off the crown jewel, El Tovar, during select dates Dec. 2020 to March 2021 (Jan. 2021 to March 2021 for Bright Angel Lodge).  Discover the “secret season” at the Grand Canyon with fewer crowds. The lodges are either in or within walking distance to the Historic District and rim of the Grand Canyon which includes Lookout Studio and Hopi House.

●      Historic Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel – 50% off roundtrip train tickets on an entertaining journey to the Grand Canyon’s fabled South Rim when booking a two-night Getaway Package over select dates between Dec. 2020 and March 2021.

The famous, historic El Tovar hotel and the historic Grand Canyon Railway. Xanterra is offering 50% off roundtrip train tickets on an entertaining journey to the Grand Canyon’s fabled South Rim when booking a two-night Getaway Package over select dates between Dec. 2020 and March 2021 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

●      The Grand Hotel – 30% off at the only AAA Three-Diamond hotel near the Grand Canyon in Tusayan (just one mile from the South Rim entrance) on select dates between Dec. 2020 and March 2021.

●      The Oasis at Death Valley – 33% off hotel stays at the beautifully renovated historic AAA Four-Diamond Inn at Death Valley and newly revitalized, family-friendly Ranch at Death Valley. Valid for select overnight stays between Dec. 2020 and Feb. 2021.

●      Zion National Park – 30% off overnight stays inside the park at Zion National Park Lodge on select dates between Dec. 2020 and Feb. 2021. 

●      Cedar Creek Lodge, at the gateway to Glacier National Park – 40% off room rates on select dates from Dec. 2020 through April 2021.

●      Yellowstone – Enjoy summer savings at Yellowstone National Park. Receive 25% off best available daily rates on new reservations for Superior Lodge Rooms at Canyon Lodge and Cabins on select dates from June to Sept. 2021.

Staying at the Oasis at Death Valley (a literal oasis in the midst of a desert) inside the national park let’s you capture the rich colors cast by the fast-rising sun at Zabriskie Point, just minutes away © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luxury Hotels

●      The Broadmoor – Rates as low as $200 per night for select dates, up to 20% off Wilderness Properties (The Ranch at Emerald Valley and Cloud Camp), and 10% off for select stays at Fly Fishing Camp.

●      Sea Island – To celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Lodge at Sea Island, book a three-night stay and get the third night for $20. The Cloister is also celebrating little brother’s anniversary.

Guided Travel/Tours

●      Bicycling Tours – Take $150 off any VBT Guided Bicycling Vacation in North America departing between Jan. 2021 and Aug. 2021.

●      Walking Adventures – Receive $150 off any Country Walkers Guided-Flex or Guided-Full North America tour departing between Jan. 2021and Aug. 2021.

●      Holiday Vacations – Save $400 per person on select award-winning Alaska itineraries in 2021.

Cruising

●      Windstar Cruises – Save on 2021 yacht-style cruises with fewer than 350 guests starting from $1,299.

For a complete list and to take advantage of Xanterra and its affiliates’ Book Your Bucket List offers, visit Xanterra.com/BucketListSale (www.xanterra.com/book-your-bucket-list-sale)

More Black Friday/Cyber Monday Deals

Available on Black Friday and Cyber Monday only, Perillo Tours is offering $500 gift cards for the price of $250. Gifts cards can be redeemed for future Perillo Tours to Italy, Hawaii or Spain and valid for travel through December 2023. This gift card promotion is available by phone purchase only on November 27 or November 30 (800-431-1515,www.perillotours.com/giftcard).

Take advantage of Quark Expeditions 2 for 1 Black Friday Sale on select Antarctic and Arctic voyages. These select voyages offer you the chance to cruise past icebergs in a Zodiac while visiting the 7th Continent, be amazed at stunning views of dramatic Arctic fjords while flying in a helicopter, and experience new innovative itineraries such as Greenland Adventure and Essential Patagonia. Plus, experience the inaugural season of the game-changing polar vessel Ultramarine on select voyages. Offers expire Nov. 30 (quarkexpeditions.com, 833-435-1900).

At the five-star Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, no detail is overlooked © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun’s  “All-in Grand offer” provides 46% off on stays through Jan. 14, 2022. The all-suite resort located along a private beach in the secluded town of Puerto Morelos, half an hour outside Cancun, is extending the offer through Dec. 7,. Available for all-inclusive stays or room only bookings (new bookings only with no minimum stay requirements). Complimentary airport transfer included on all bookings and children under the age of 12 stay free. Blackout dates apply and reservations are subject to availability. Book the promotional offer online or call reservations, 855-381-4340; use promo code ZW-20-17

Casa Kimberly, the former home of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and one of Mexico’s most renowned boutique luxury hotels, is offering 50% off on bookings made Nov. 27-30for stays from December 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021. Use the code CYBERCK to reserve at the discounted rates. Link to sale information.

Imagine staying at Casa Kimberly, the former home of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and one of Mexico’s most renowned boutique luxury hotels.

Escape to the tropical paradise of Riviera Maya, Mexico, and enjoy every consecutive 3rd night free breakfast for two at Fairmont Mayakoba, a 401-room AAA Five Diamond resort set on 45 acres within a private, luxury community. Book Nov. 25-27 and upgrade to the next category: Book here: https://www.fairmont-mayakoba.com/offers/resort-offers/black-friday/. Fairmont Mayakoba has been welcoming back U.S. travelers since June 15, 2020. For additional information on Fairmont Mayakoba’s and Accor’s commitment to helping its community stay safe and stay well, visit ALLStayWell.com.

Set in the middle of Meads Bay, one of Anguilla’s most renowned beaches, Frangipani Beach Resort, features 19 rooms and suites and an impressive 5,000 square foot beachfront villa.  The Take All the Credit Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer allows travelers to purchase resort credits at a 20% discount in denominations ranging from $1,000 up to $12,500.  Credits can be used at any time including the Festive Season, up until August 2024, and can be used in conjunction with existing specials.  Direct bookings, Nov. 23-30, can be made via email info@frangipaniresort.com or by phone at +1 264 497 6442; reference the Black Friday offer. 

Casa Chameleon Hotels, which operates properties in Las Catalinas, Nosara, Santa Teresa and Mal Pais, from jungle villas and ocean-view suites, to a private clifftop estate is offering 50% off standard rates for five nights or more, booked Nov. 27-30 for travel through Dec. 20, 2021. Accommodations feature coastal views, eco-friendly designs and infinity plunge pools. Book here and use booking code THANKYOU.

Located three miles off the coast of Belize, Cayo Espanto offers private island luxury. Recognizing that travelers are looking for a way to escape to nature and focus on taking a break from it all, the resort is offering a special “Choose Wellness” package where guests can experience the unique tranquility offered by a private island at a special all-inclusive starting rate of $3,995 per couple, a savings of over $3,000. Offer includes an all-inclusive three-night stay in Casa Ventanas, the Over-the-Water Bungalow (pricing available for other villas and longer stays) along with a series of customizable options such as private yoga classes from the comfort of your villa, menus crafted to fit a health-conscious focus, a private excursion to snorkel the Great Blue Hole or explore the Belizean jungle (excursions off-island are priced separately). Book online at aprivateisland.com or call 888-666-4282 Nov. 27 through Dec. 4 for travel now through Dec. 15, 2021.

Get 50% off standard rates for two nights or more at Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, Oranjestad, Aruba on bookings Nov. 27-Nov. 30 for travel through the end of 2021.Renaissance Aruba offers two experiences, the adult-exclusive Renaissance Marina Hotel and the Renaissance Ocean Suites. The resort is the only property on Aruba to operate its own private island, a 40-acre atoll exclusive to guests. Book here and use booking code: BOG.

Pacifica Hotels’ “Black Friday/Cyber Monday” enables guests to book their collection of more than 30 boutique, independent, design-inspired hotels along the California coast, at 45% off.  This offer is bookable from November 27-30 on stays through March 31, 2021. Sale link will be live on the 27th.  

Hawks Cay Resort is offering guests the ultimate Florida Keys vacation experience with onsite amenities like fishing excursions, dolphin encounters, snorkel trips and more.  The resort is offering an extended booking window this year, so travelers have a full week to save big on a getaway to Hawks Cay! From Nov. 23-30, receive 40 percent discount on two nights or more with promo code BLKFRI. Reservations are valid on stays through October 31, 2121.  Visit www.hawkscay.com for more information or to book. 

Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys.

Ocean Club Resorts “Black Friday/Cyber Monday” offer makes every third night booked complimentary, for stays March 1 – December 18, 2021. This offer includes a new cancellation policy implemented by the resorts where guests can receive a full refund up to 10 days prior to their stay dates between March 1 – April 11 and a full refund within 24 hours of their travel dates from April 12 through Dec. 18. Blackout dates apply and reservations are based on availability. The promotional offer must be booked online, use promo code BFCM.

Kingsmill Resort, the only AAA Four Diamond golf condominium resort in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, offers one-to three-bedroom condominiums, with kitchens and spacious living areas.  Book by Nov. 27 to buy 2 nights, get 1 free on all room types, plus a $100 per reservation food and beverage credit for stays Dec. 1, 2020 – Feb. 17, 2021.

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin’s Cyber/Black Friday Travel deal: stay Sunday-Thursday for $159/night, weekend from $179, with a $100 resort credit to use toward skiing, dining, spa services. Book by Nov. 30 for travel through May 27 (flexible change policy).

Timber Ridge Lodge, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, is bundling four NOW! Waterpark passes, pizza and $10 arcade credit in its Cyber Deal with weekday rates starting at $109, weekend at $149. Reserve by Nov. 30 for travel through May 27, 2021 (flexible date change policy). 

Aspen Meadows Resort, Aspen, Colorado is offering up to 40% off accommodations this ski season for bookings between Nov. 26 and Nov. 30, for stays through April 18, 2021. Tucked away on 40 acres in Aspen’s quiet West End neighborhood, this low-key resort surrounded by mountain views is still close enough to be on the slopes of Aspen/Snowmass within minutes.

Main Street Hospitality: With the new Hammetts Hotel in Newport, RI and four properties throughout the Berkshires, Main Street Hospitality’s Cyber Weekend special – buy one night, get the second night free – goes live at 7 am on Friday, Nov. 27 and ends at midnight on Tuesday, Dec.1. Also The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA (Bonus option: pre-buy a $100 dining credit to use during a stay and the Red Lion Inn will add $50); Porches Inn at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA;Briarcliff Motel, Great Barrington, MA;Seven Hills Inn, Lenox, MA

Imagine a wedding or a sleepover at The Breakers, one of the Preservation Society of Newport County’s most famous legendary Gilded Age mansions. The Preservation Society is hosting an online Exclusive Experiences Holiday Auction from Nov. 22 through Dec. 6 with proceeds supporting the society’s preservation efforts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Preservation Society of Newport County is hosting an online Exclusive Experiences Holiday Auction from Nov.22 through Dec. 6 consisting of 19 unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that allow people to explore the Newport Mansions in new ways (one is a wedding at The Breakers! Another is a sleepover for up to 8 kids and 4 chaperones in the Great Hall), All proceeds support the preservation work of the Preservation Society of Newport County (www.newportmansions.org)

If you can’t get to places, some popular tourist places, known for their clever boutiques, can bring themselves to you: 

The Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce has created a virtual store, offering goods and gift cards from members, nantucketchamber.org/marketspace. Purchase proceeds go directly to each small business.  Also, Nantucket is encouraging shopping with a “red ticket” program which becomes a lottery for prizes (https://www.nantucketchamber.org/red-tickets).

If you can’t get to places, some popular tourist places, known for their clever boutiques, can bring themselves to you. The Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce has created a virtual store, offering goods and gift cards from members, nantucketchamber.org/marketspace © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can purchase Lift Certificates, gift certificates for discounts at the most interesting local lodging, restaurants, artists and boutiques on Martha’s Vineyard and Falmouth on Cape Cod. Shoppers have access to exclusive discounts not offered elsewhere. The site is powered by Martha’s Vineyard Bank (at no cost to merchants) https://lift.mvbank.com. Also, Martha’s Vineyard’s chamber is building a Vineyard Holidays web page.

See also:

Black Friday, Cyber Monday Bring Bucket-List Gift of Travel Within Reach

More Gift of Travel Ideas to come

_______________________

© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in a Time of COVID: Hospitality Industry Rises to Need to Keep Travelers Safe

Art gallery experience, adapted to coronavirus precautions. “Between Walls” exhibit by artist Laini Nemett opens at the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

People are being urged not to travel now as COVID-19 cases are rising, but travelers who show judicious care and act responsibly should be able to continue to take trips, because the travel, tourism and hospitality industry has taken bold steps to keep travelers safe.

We realized we had a window of opportunity to travel to California in October because we take to heart Dr. Fauci’s warning about travel during fall and winter when the weather gets cold (coronavirus lingers longer in cold air), there are fewer opportunities to do meals and congregate outside, and the numbers of infections have spiked, especially in states that have not taken seriously the necessary measures to contract the virus (just as he predicted).

Indeed, the spike in cases as the winter holidays approach, is horrifying and I would avoid traveling at any distance during these concentrated times, especially if travel involves going through states and destinations that have been so cavalier about containing the coronavirus. So we chose our itinerary with great deliberate care and intention, as well as showing the consideration and personal responsibility that all travelers should exercise.

And we are still planning to bike and hike in fall, ski and snowshoe in winter, and looking forward to traveling in spring when I expect a new Biden administration to do a better job of controlling the spread (if 95 percent of Americans would just wear a damn mask, the spread would be contained), when there will be more likelihood of treatments and perhaps even vaccines. (Indeed, RV vacation companies are doing gang-busters business and Tracks & Trails has made Dec. 15 a hard deadline for booking summer 2021 trips.)

RVs and campers are all the rage. RV vacation companies are taking bookings now for next summer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It would have been better – and likely tens of thousands of lives would have been saved and millions avoid long-term health issues – if the federal government had been more honest that COVID-19 would be a problem for a year or two, not two weeks or months (“Churches open by Easter!”), because businesses, infrastructure, and families would have made the necessary investments (even just wearing masks and having adequate PPE, while stores, restaurants, schools, offices and factories would have made proper changes), and people would have felt much more confident to get out and about.

The travel industry, facing existential crisis since these are the most face-to-face, people-to-people enterprises (airlines, restaurants and hotels are more than 50% percent down in business and unemployment is epidemic, especially among women who predominant in these fields), has been a model to make the necessary changes.

And that is what we experienced, pretty much going through the entire travel and tourism infrastructure that comprises a long-distance trip: airport, airline, car rental, AirBnB, hotel, restaurant, art gallery, vineyards, bike rental (Laini was disappointed with some elements of the bike rental), tennis, pool. We thoroughly enjoyed all of Sonoma’s delights – vineyards and wine-tastings, hiking along the Pacific Coast, beaches, even taking advantage of outdoor dining at a couple of restaurants, with the piece de resistance, an getaway adventure to Death Valley National Park (great vast open spaces, but still, everyone put their masks up on hikes when coming upon other hikers) which involved AirBnB and hotel accommodations and restaurants.

Wine tasting at Imagery in Sonoma. Timed reservations are required; capacity is controlled; tables are separated, and servers wear masks.

The point being that both sides of the equation, the travel purveyors (transportation, accommodations, dining, attractions) have to be responsible, but so do the travelers.

That begins with the planning.

We felt comfortable planning a trip to California, a state which was hit early but hard by the coronavirus, but, especially in San Francisco’s environs, has acted very responsibly since and gotten its infection rate down. I frankly wouldn’t have considered going to a place which has been cavalier, even arrogant or dismissive of protecting residents and visitors, politicizing the very notion of public health, and where, sadly, the infection rates are skyrocketing (South Dakota is a key one).

We quarantined ourselves for two weeks before traveling and each of us took COVID-19 tests (readily available in New York State for free) in time to have the results back when we departed.

We chose our flying route – airport and airline – with deliberate care.

Road Trip! – Laini double-checked with Dollar Rent-a-Car that the vehicle had been COVID-19 sanitized when picked it up at San Francisco Airport © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Laini booked a car rental from Dollar which promised COVID-19 sanitizing (the car rentals are connected to the air terminal by AirTrain, which is preferable to a shuttle bus, which was almost empty).

She booked an AirBnB for one night at Death Valley (originally it was for all three nights, but we realized we needed to be inside the park rather than more than half-hour drive outside), and we used hotels.com to book one of the few hotels in the park. She interrogated the Ranch at the Oasis, where we stayed a delightful two nights, to insure that they sanitized the room and left it vacant for 24 hours before the next guest arrived, that we didn’t have to go up in an elevator or go through a lobby, and could dine outside.

Prepare in advance: cooking dinner at our AirBnB, Design2Death, in Beatty just outside Death Valley National Park with groceries we brought with us © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We brought a lot of our own groceries (David baked sour dough bread) to cook dinner at the AirBnB as well as for breakfast and for picnic lunches for the remaining time (they located a popular grocery store, Carroll’s, en route to Death Valley, which had received rave s for its blue-cheese dressing); we ordered take out dinner (espresso rubbed steak!) from the Ranch’s restaurant and ate it on the outdoor terrace one night, and dined on the outdoor patio at the Inn at the Oasis’s fine dining restaurant the next.

The timing of the trip wasn’t just because I considered this a window of opportunity that would be shuttered for six months, but because we had a special event: to attend Laini’s opening of her art exhibit, “Between Walls” (on through December 20) at the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg (paulmahdergallery.com).

Wear a mask! Healdsburg, a popular town for tourism, has adapted itself to COVID-19 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Healdsburg is a wonderfully vibrant town, culturally rich with some 25 art galleries and a food-and-wine haven with marvelous restaurants and 30 wine-tasting rooms (we loved our lunch at Bargas, and our dinner at the H2Hotel restaurant, with gorgeous outdoor seating areas), set around a lovely village square.

Healdsburg, which like Sonoma, depends on tourism, has taken public health precautions very seriously:  signs say you will be fined if you don’t wear a mask, and sanitizing stations at the crosswalks. Restaurants are organized for take-out and outdoor dining (space heaters available), menus are either disposable or can be wiped off; the retail stores have sanitizing stations, require masks, limit capacity and kept their doors open for added ventilation. The same for the art galleries.

Indeed, art and wine come together – there is a wine-tasting semi-outside room at the Paul Mahder Gallery (fun fact: it boasts the largest moss wall in America) and the gallery itself is very large, well ventilated, with mask-wearing required.

We had traveled extensively through New York State, camping, hiking (Letchworth State Park, North-South Campground, the Adirondacks), biking rail-trails (Mohawk Trail, the emerging Empire State Trail Network), so were aware of the precautions that were being taken even in outdoor milieus to protect public health.

At each of the places we visited in California, which like New York, has mobilized to contain the coronavirus and, at least in the San Francisco environs, gotten huge buy-in from the community – farmers market, restaurants, galleries, stores – not only sanitizer, mandated mask-wearing, social distancing – and to minimize transactions to reduce in face-to-face interactions.

The Kortum Trail is such a popular hike that even being outside on the Pacific coast, you need to put a mask on when others approach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We had hand-sanitizer at the ready for when we had to fill up at gas stations or pick up food.

I felt comfortable booking a stay in a hotel because I have been following the hotel industry’s protocols that have been put into place, because the industry, facing existential crisis, is aware that people have to feel confident to travel.

“Through our Safe Stay initiative, hotels have enhanced our already rigorous cleaning protocols to be more transparent and give travelers even more peace of mind,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. (See: www.ahla.com/safestay).

We booked our stay at the Ranch at Death Valley over hotels.com (I’m a regular; Laini likes booking.com) – one of two hotels at the Oasis at Death Valley which date back to the beginning of tourism in Death Valley (www.oasisatdeathvalley.com).  

Hotels.com states at its website (while also advising travelers to “check government advisories before booking and traveling”),  now includes “COVID-19 Hygiene and Cleanliess” list on property pages:

Travel with peace of mind. We’ve made changes to allow hundreds of thousands of properties to add their hygiene and cleanliness details to the Hotels.com site, so you can make the right choice for your stay.

Enhanced health and safety measures

Look out for “COVID-19 Hygiene and Cleanliness” on the property pages to find information on enhanced health and safety, such as:

Hygiene and Sanitization • Property is cleaned with disinfectant • Commonly touched surfaces are cleaned with disinfectant • Gap period enforced between guest stays
Social distancing • Contactless check-in and check-out available • Shield between guests and staff in main contact areas • Social distancing measures are in place
Essentials at the property • Guests are provided with free hand sanitizer • Masks and gloves are available to guests • Individually wrapped food items available
Official health standards • Property adheres to corporate/organizational sanitization guidelines

“COVID-19 hygiene and cleanliness measures vary by property. Please check the relevant section of the property pages when searching for your stay.”

Laini went a step further and called the hotel directly to confirm that they sanitize the room and leave it empty for 24 hours before arrival, and chose a room where we didn’t need to go through a lobby or ride up an elevator. The Ranch is a sprawling-style resort with low buildings, rather than one large high-rise. (We were really surprised by the number of guests at the hotel, judging by how full the parking lots were in both the Ranch and the Inn, as well as the number of campers and RVs throughout the park.)

Dining outside on the terrace at the Ranch at the Oasis in Death Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many destinations (like Hawaii and Maine) had been requiring 14-day quarantine for out-of-state tourists, but now are accepting COVID-19 test results in place of the quarantine. Hawaii is making rapid testing available to visitors. New York State, trying to tamp down a new spike in infections and responding to the surge throughout the country, now requires everyone (including New Yorkers) who have been out of state for more than 24 hours (except for the contiguous states of New Jersey, Connecticut) to get tested before they come back, self-quarantine for three days after arriving in New York, and get a COVID test on the fourth day (otherwise, self-quarantine for 14 days).

Flying from Albany Airport © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Had the federal government been honest and told businesses that the risk would be one or two years, they would have invested in the changes, and public health protocols would have been as accepted and routine as the anti-terror security protocols after 9/11, instead of being politicized and tribal.

Look at Hawaii. As the New York Times reported,  instead of quarantine, the islands accept a preflight coronavirus test, processed by specially certified laboratories and trusted testing and travel partners including some airlines.

“Hawaii is at the vanguard of what travel will look like for the next year or so as we reopen,” said Avi Mannis, senior vice president of marketing at Hawaiian Airlines. Hawaiian Air is one of a few airlines that began offering pre-travel Covid-19 tests in October.

“In some markets, especially for international travel, until a vaccine is more widely available, testing will become part of the norm,” said Aaron McMillan, United’s managing director of operations policy and support. “What the data suggests so far is that here in Hawaii, testing has been the key to safely reopening. We now understand the data and the importance of testing. Testing provides a high level of protection for visitors, staff and residents.”

Upon arrival back at Albany airport, we were greeted by National Guardsmen who handed us a form to fill out for contact tracing and notifying us of the self-quarantine and testing requirements.

See also:

Travel in a Time of COVID: We’re Getting on a Jet Plane…

_____________________________

© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in Time of Pandemic: Hotels Offer Risk-Free Reservations

St Kitts Marriott Resort. More than 1,000 luxury hotels are participating in the Carefree Booking program, including Fairmont, Belmond, Crowne Plaza, Disney, Four Seasons, Hard Rock, Hyatt, InterContinental, Kimpton, Loews, Marriott, Meridien, Peninsula, Ritz Carlton, Rosewood, St Regis, and Westin Hotels and Resorts. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotels and lodgings, perhaps the industry most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, mindful of the uncertainty and changeability of conditions, have introduced flexible policies for changing or canceling bookings, offered hefty discounts on rates and gift cards, and, through the American Hotel & Lodging Association, introduced Safe Stay, an industry-wide, enhanced standard of health and safety protocols designed to prepare America’s hotels to safely welcome back guests and employees as the economy reopens. 

Overseas Leisure Group Introduces ‘Carefree Bookings’

It’s okay to dream about travel again and plan it, says Overseas Leisure Group, a luxury travel company operating in 34 countries across the globe. The company is announcing its Carefree Bookings initiative, offering a risk-free method of booking across an attractive portfolio of more than 1,000 destinations and experiences around the world. The newly launched industry-wide program has been designed to allow travelers plan their next trip despite the uncertainty of future restrictions enforced due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It features no deposit, no cancellation fees; automatic cancellation 7 days prior (if not paid by then), for travel between June 1 and October 31 at select top tier destinations and properties. 

The Carefree Bookings campaign follows the nationwide survey by the Miami-based travel group recently conducted among 2,000 travel enthusiasts in the U.S., revealing that 72 percent are already making plans for their next vacation; 53 percent are planning to travel this summer or fall, and 42 percent are ready to make a reservation now if it there was no constraint or penalty. With millions of travel and hospitality jobs on the line, it was deemed essential to obtain vital insight from travelers themselves.

Carefree Bookings offers a convenient method of making a reservation with some of today’s leading destinations and experiences around the world, without the need for a deposit and with no cancellation fee if travel plans change. Furthermore, the cancellation policy is truly carefree, whereby if payment isn’t made 7 days prior to the arrival date (to guarantee the reservation) the booking is automatically cancelled with no penalty whatsoever. These no-strings-attached terms for the Carefree Bookings initiative apply to travel between June 1st and October 31st, 2020.

More than 1,000 hotels, resorts and experiential providers are participating in the Carefree Booking program, including: COMO Hotels and Resorts, 1 Hotel, Auberge, Belmond, Crowne Plaza, Disney, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Hard Rock, Hyatt, InterContinental, Kimpton, Loews, Marriott, Meridien, Peninsula, Ritz Carlton, Rosewood, St Regis, and Westin Hotels and Resorts.

San Francisco’s famous Fairmont Hotel. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

In addition to the vast array of participating hotels and resorts, Carefree Bookings offers hundreds of experiences, such as surf lessons in Malibu with actor John Philbin (Point Break), and private helicopter rides with Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, among others. A full list of participating properties (with opening dates) and experiences can be found by visiting the Overseas Leisure Group website (https://www.overseasleisuregroup.com/CareFreeBookings.php).

“After weeks of confinement, there is a growing need for freedom and new horizons,” says Felix Brambilla, CEO of Overseas Leisure Group. “We heard the same comments time after time: “I am ready to make plans but I cannot commit if there is a risk of getting penalized.” Working with our hotel partners, we came up with the Carefree Bookings concept. More than a thousand properties already accepted to amend their usual T&Cs. We are very proud to be launching this initiative at a much-needed time!”

“In these extraordinary times, we believe strong partnership is fundamental to our business acumen, therefore we are thrilled to partner with Overseas Travel new initiative “Carefree Booking,” says Michele Bondanelli, Global Sales Director – Luxury, Lifestyle & Leisure for Hyatt.  “A large number of Hyatt hotels are participating in the program across all brands and we look forward to welcoming their guests in the days, months and years ahead.”

“What a great way to address the current global situation and the effect it is having on travel,” says Kidist Grznar, Vice President of Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters.  “A ‘Carefree Experience’ is an amazing way to give people the opportunity to keep dreaming and move forward with their travel plans ‘worry free.’ I am excited that Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters is participating.”

According to Statista, domestic and international travelers spent nearly $1.1 trillion U.S. dollars ($1,127 billion) in 2019 alone. When this sum is split by type of traveler, domestic travelers spent $972 billion, while international travelers spent $155 billion. Total travel expenditure in the U.S. is forecasted to reach $1.26 trillion by 2022.

Loews Portofino in Universal Orlando themepark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Overseas Leisure Group is a growing global network dedicated to providing travel professionals with insider expertise for all luxury travel needs. The company is represented in 34 countries through 41 offices and continues to expand every year. Through its brands, Overseas Leisure Group provides unique luxury programs for individuals, groups and high net worth individuals. 

Complete results from the recent survey conducted by Overseas Leisure Group can be viewed here. For further information on Carefree Bookings, visit the website.  For further information on Overseas Leisure Group, visit www.overseasleisuregroup.com

Major Hotel Groups Ease Restrictions

Major hotel groups and chains including Marriott, IHG and Hyatt have introduced flexible policies. But as a rule of thumb, double-check the specific cancellation, refund and change policies of whatever hotel, resort or lodging you book – for example, Marriott is excluding cancellation policies during peak travel periods.

The advantage of booking early is that lodgings are hungry to lock-in bookings and may be offering excellent rates, opportunities to upgrade, bonuses on gift cards, and alleviate the concern by offering very flexible and liberal change, cancellation and refund policies. You also get to lock in those favorable rates and the reservation because there is the possibility that when restrictions are lifted, there will be a great release of pent-up demand – weddings and honeymoons that had been put off, anniversary and bucket-list travel that have new significance and urgency.

Marriott International Hotel Brands

For all Marriott International hotels world-wide:

Guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates that are typically more restrictive, are allowed full changes or cancellation without a charge up to 24 hours prior to arrival, as long as the change or cancellation is made by June 30,2020. Any changes to existing reservations will be subject to availability and any rate differences.

For guests making new reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates, between today and June 30, 2020, reservations can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival date. Changes to the reservation will be subject to availability and any rate differences.

Gaylord National Resort, Washington DC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Marriott brands include The Ritz-Carlton, W  Hotels Worldwide, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, JW Marriott, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, Sheraton, Marriott, Marriott Vacation Club,  Delta Hotels,  Westin Hotels & Resorts, Le Meridien,  Renaissance, Autograph collection Hotels, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels, Gaylord Hotels, Courtyard By Marriott, Springhill Suites by Marriott, Four Points by Sheraton, Fairfield by Marriott, Protea Hotels, AC Hotels, Aloft, Moxy Hotels, Residence Inn, Towneplace Suites, Marriott Executive Apartments, Element by Westin. (Design Hotels and Homes & Villas by Marriott International (HVMI) are excluded. Periods with special event restrictions or peak demand weeks may also be excluded; refer to the property’s Rate Details for applicable terms or exceptions, if any, when booking or changing reservations.

The artful W Hotel, Amman, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

IHG ‘Book Now, Pay Later’

IHG has introduced “Book Now, Pay Later.” This new rate offers flexibility and savings. With no deposit required and cancellations possible up to 24 hours before your stay for direct bookings, travel planning is commitment free. Guests benefit from 5% or more off our Best Flexible Rate for bookings made up to September 3, 2020 for stays until December 30, 2020 (excluding Greater China).

  • Best Flexible Rate: This rate offers maximum flexibility to change or cancel your reservation. For direct bookings this rate can be fully changeable or refundable up to 6 pm (local hotel time) on the day of arrival (dependent on the hotels’ individual house policy).
  • IHG Rewards Club Members Rates: Additional savings are available for IHG Rewards Club members on these Book Now, Pay Later and Best Flexible rates.
  • IHG Rewards Club nights: You can change or cancel these bookings with no penalty prior to the time period set by the hotel.
  • We have removed our more restrictive (pre-paid/non-refundable) Advance Purchase rate from sale until later in the year (excluding Greater China)
  • These rates, and others, have their own terms and conditions. Please refer to specific rate information when booking for further details – including cancellation terms. Changing the date on any reservations may result in different pricing.
  • Exceptions apply at some Six Senses hotels – see the Six Senses website for details 

IHG brands include Kimpton, Regent, InterContinental, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn Resort, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, Hualuxe Hotels, Voco, EVEN Hotels, avid hotels.

IHG is emphasizing its comprehensive health and safety procedures, including all local laws, and provides its hotels with best practices and guidelines. The company has supplemented these resources with additional COVID-19 cleanliness specific guidance, training and information, “consistent with our own high standards.” This includes: activation of response teams to provide around-the-clock assistance to hotels; hotels have increased the frequency of cleaning public areas (including lobbies, elevators, door handles, public bathrooms) and high-touch points in guest rooms; all hotels have been advised on cleaning products and protocols which are effective against viruses.

“We continue to review food and beverage service in accordance with current food safety recommendations.”

See more: https://www.ihg.com/content/gb/en/customer-care/travel-advisory

Find out more at https://www.ihg.com/content/gb/en/deals/hotel-offers/booknowpaylater; to book, visit ihg.com, 877-424-2449.

Hyatt Hotels COVID-19 Policies

Hyatt Hotels has issued new policies concerning its reservations:

All existing reservations (booked April 1 or before) for arrivals through June 30, 2020 can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. This includes Advance Purchase Rate reservations.

Reservations for future travel: With some very limited exceptions, reservations made between April 2, 2020 and June 30, 2020 for any future arrival date can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. This includes Advance Purchase Rate reservations. The only exceptions are reservations booked after April 1, 2020 at select Destination properties and Special Events Rate reservations booked after April 1, 2020. The cancellation policies for a Special Event Rate will be noted in the rate’s Rate Rules section when booking.

Special exceptions are in place for all Advance Purchase Rate non-refundable reservations made directly with Hyatt on or before March 8, 2020 for arrivals before June 30, 2020. Guests holding these fully prepaid reservations who have decided not to travel may still opt, at least 24 hours before their stay, to receive 10,000 World of Hyatt Bonus Points compensation in lieu of both their stay and the offer above (if eligible). World of Hyatt points may be used toward future travel at any of our 900+ hotels across 17 brands globally.

Reservations can be changed or cancelled up to 24 hours before a scheduled arrival on www.hyatt.com or via the World of Hyatt app (subject to the exceptions noted above). For full details or to opt for the 10,000 World of Hyatt Bonus Point offer, call a Global Contact Center or email worldofhyatt@hyatt.com.

Reservations booked through Hyatt with MGM Resorts International, Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), or Lindblad Expeditions are subject to their cancellation policies.

Booking Sites

Riad el Yacout, Fez, Morocco, booked on the fly on hotels.com. Hotels.com makes it easy to cancel or change reservations. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotels.com has always made it easy to get refunds when you book hotels that allow for cancellations without any fees, typically up to 24 hours of a stay, and now, is allowing cancellations for any booking. Because of the volume of cancellations due to COVID-19, the company is saying that refunds may take longer than usual to process – up to 30 days. If you paid with a gift card, hotels.com is sending a new gift card within 4 hours of processing the refund. (I had no trouble cancelling reservations in Prague and Budapest.)

Booking.com isn’t as straightforward about its refund policy, saying it depends on the policy of the country, the arrival date, reason for traveling, and individual reservation policies set by the property you’ve booked. See https://www.booking.com/covid-19.html.

Hotel Association Issues ‘Safe Stay’ Industry-Wide Cleaning Standards

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has introduced Safe Stay, an industry-wide, enhanced standard of health and safety protocols designed to prepare America’s hotels to safely welcome back guests and employees as the economy reopens. Safe Stay represents the top priority for the industry, the health and safety of guests and employees, the association stated.

The standards of Safe Stay were developed under the guidance of an Advisory Council comprised of industry leaders representing all segments of the hotel industry, and in conjunction with public health experts to advance best practices for protecting against the coronavirus. This initiative represents a new level of focus and transparency for an industry that depends upon cleanliness. These enhanced guidelines are rooted in recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

“Safe Stay was developed specifically to ensure enhanced safety for hotels guests and employees. While hotels have always employed demanding cleaning standards, this new initiative will ensure greater transparency and confidence throughout the entire hotel experience,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA. “The industry’s enhanced hotel cleaning practices, social interactions, and workplace protocols will continue to evolve to meet the new health and safety challenges and expectations presented by COVID-19.” 

The “Safe Stay” guidelines will be revised as needed, based on the recommendations of public health authorities, in compliance with any federal, state and local laws. They include guidance on employee and guest health; employee responsibilities; cleaning products and protocols; and physical distancing. 

“The hotel industry maintains stringent standards for cleaning and safety, and the Safe Stay initiative helps to strengthen best practices to provide the healthy environments that travelers expect at hotels throughout the country,” said Ecolab. “Development of the Safe Stay initiative included guidance from Ecolab, a global leader in cleaning and disinfecting solutions and services that collaborates with the U.S. EPA, FDA, CDC, WHO and other organizations to help establish and promote best practice guidance, training and solutions.” For more than 90 years, Ecolab has partnered with the hotel industry to provide cleaner, safer and healthier environments for employees and guests. 

“While the hotel industry was one of the first affected by the pandemic, we have collectively stepped up to serve their communities during this public health crisis.  Thousands of hotels across the country, more than half of those small businesses, are working tirelessly during this uncertain time to support their employees, healthcare workers and first responders. When the time is right, hotels will be ready to safely and eagerly welcome back America’s traveling public,” Rogers stated. 

The Safe Stay Advisory Council enhanced guidelines can be found at www.ahla.com/SafeStay.

_________________________

© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Hotel Industry, Most Hurt by Coronavirus Pandemic, Looks to Help with ‘Hospitality for Hope’

San Francisco, California hotels are among the 15,000 to sign up for American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) “Hospitality for Hope,” providing temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers as the COVID-19 public health crisis grows. Over 1,300 California hotels have signed on. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hotel industry has been the most severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but is also an industry in position to be a crucial help to break the logjam between the public health emergency and the economic devastation. As the focus shifts to the dire need to test, trace and then isolate people who are positive for COVID-19, the empty hotels, facing bankruptcy, can be used to house both front line workers including health care workers who now have the daily anxiety of passing the virus to their loved ones, and the people who need to be separated from their own families.

The incidence of the disease has already shown to be disproportionate among communities of color, immigrant communities and low-income neighborhoods where people are likely to be crammed into close quarters, unable to be quarantined.

Similarly, the out-of-work restaurant and hotel workers could be hired as tracers; indeed, the call-centers used for hotel reservations companies hired to do the tracing.

The travel industry can also be put into a wartime footing to solve many of the other problems: farmers destroying their produce because they don’t have the commercial markets of hotels, restaurants and schools? Well, rather than throw bailout billions to farmers (already facing 8 percent bankruptcies because of Trump’s tariff wars), could sell their produce to the government, which could distribute to the very same hotels, restaurants and schools, to be hired to produce food for food pantries and shut-ins.

In fact, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is doing this – organizing dairy-products producers to purchase the excess milk and converting it into products that the state will purchase and supply to food pantries and needy people.

Meanwhile, places like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California that have been hardest hit and most restrictive, need to make accommodation for getting people out in the summer. You simply cannot confine people in tiny New York apartments with three kids when the summer temperatures (the last several years have been the hottest on record thanks to Global Warming) hit 100. Communities – especially urban ones – will need to reopen pools (probably mitigating the risk of reigniting infection rates by restricting admissions to two-hour segments), reopen beaches, state parks, hiking areas; fishing and marinas; kayaking and canoeing; even golf courses; and shut down some city streets for walking, biking, and while promoting grab-and-go style eateries and dining al fresco. If ever there was a time for summer concerts in the parks, it is now. People should be conditioned to maintaining social distance as a new cultural norm.

Cyclists take over Park Avenue, New York City (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When we visited Central Park we saw people carefully respecting the new safety precautions, very possibly out of fear that if they didn’t, the city would close Central Park. We saw people walking on Jones Beach boardwalk, and on the sand also doing their best to maintain precautions (a couple of the bathrooms were open but closed frequently for cleaning, which is the pattern that other parks and facilities should use).

Governor Cuomo, looking ahead to reopening businesses at least the regions of the state least affected by the coronavirus (with infection rates below 3%), was careful to warn against reopening “attractions” that could become “nuisances” in the sense of attracting people into the area from downstate or neighboring states (the very definition of “travel”). But Cuomo’s reopening/”reimagining” strategy involves individual businesses to come up with plans that take into account the need for properly distance and that should hold true for places that give people necessary respite. Certainly you don’t want areas overwhelmed, but there should be a way to properly allow for people to enjoy – perhaps because parking lots have limits; restaurants that reopen to reduce their capacity (and take reservations) or do grab-and-go eating with outdoor tables for picnicking. And we are hearing about a revival in drive-in movie theaters.

A culture of social distancing seems to be taking hold as New Yorkers are desperate to keep access to the outdoor venues like Central Park (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Hotels and attractions should also be part of that Reopening/Reimagining Strategy to submit business plans that address the needs to continue to control the spread of the infection. This would include changes to working conditions, use of masks and gloves, taking temperature of employees as well as guests, more intense and frequent cleaning, providing hand sanitizer, limiting occupancy in order to maintain adequate social distancing.

Maintaining social distancing on the boardwalk at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The Crisis in Hospitality

Let’s be clear: many communities depend upon the very existence of hotels as a mainstay of their economy – quite literally putting their locality on a map. Local hotels not only bring business travelers in to do their deals and establish connections, but enable local businesses to sell their products; local hotels accommodate tourists who bring an infusion of spending – every $1 a tourist spends generates $4 for a local economy. Hotels provide the venues for family milestone events. Moreover, hotels are a mainstay of the economy, an economic engine that contributes nearly $660 billion to U.S. GDP and supports 8.3 million (1 in every 25) American jobs. All of this has shut down because of the coronavirus crisis.

As COVID-19 continues to devastate the hotel industry, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) released new data  showing that 70 percent of hotel employees have been laid off or furloughed as eight in 10 hotel rooms across the nation remain empty.

As this crisis progresses beyond what anyone could have projected, the impact to the travel industry is nine times worse than 9/11, with forecasted occupancy rates for 2020 hitting record lows worse than rates in 1933 during the Great Depression.

“With the impact to the travel industry nine times worse than September 11, the human toll of this public health crisis has been absolutely devastating for the hotel industry. For the hotel industry our priority is rehiring and retaining our hardworking employees who power our vibrant industry,” said Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA. “Hotels were one of the first industries affected by the pandemic and will be one of the last to recover. The CARES Act was an important first step with a lot of supportive measures for the hotel industry, but we need Congress to make important changes to the program to reflect the current economic reality and help the employees in the industries that have been impacted the most.”

Clearwater Beach, Florida. America’s hotels, supporting one out of every 25 jobs, face catastrophe because of the coronavirus health crisis. Over 1,000 Florida hotels are participating in the “Hospitality for Hope” initiative, providing lodging for healthworkers and first responders. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Due to the dramatic downturn in travel, properties that remain open are operating with minimal staffing. On average, full-service hotels are using 14 employees, down from 50 before the crisis. Resort hotels, which often operate seasonally based on the area’s peak tourism months, averaged about 90 employees per location as recently as March 13, are down to an average of five employees per resort today.

The key findings of the report include:

  • Impact to travel industry 9x worse than 9/11. (Tourism Economics)
  • 50% revenue decline (projected) for entirety of 2020 (Oxford Economics)
  • Eight in 10 hotel rooms are empty. (STR)
  • 2020 is projected to be the worst year on record for hotel occupancy. (CBRE)
  • Forecasted occupancy rate for 2020 worse than 1933 during the Great Depression. (CBRE)
  • 70% of hotel employees laid off or furloughed. (Oxford Economics and Hotel Effectiveness)
  • $2.4 billion in weekly lost wages due to the crisis (Oxford Economics and Hotel Effectiveness)
  • Nearly 3.9 million total hotel-supported jobs lost since the crisis began (Oxford Economics)

As travel halted in late February, the hotel industry took immediate action to work with the White House and Congress to help hotel industry employees and small business operators, which represent 61 percent of hotel properties in the U.S.

“The hotel industry is at a critical juncture. We need more resources to survive this unprecedented time,” said Rogers. “Additional funding is vital for small business owners across America, including tens of thousands of small business hoteliers, to help them keep their doors open and rehire and retain millions of employees.”

Hotel Industry Supports COVID-19 Effort

Meanwhile, more than 15,000 hotels have signed up for a new initiative, “Hospitality for Hope,” which identifies hotel properties that have offered to provide temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers as the COVID-19 public health crisis grows.  While the program primarily focuses on housing for the healthcare community, some hotels could potentially be used as “Alternative Care Sites” such as an emergency hospital or a place for those quarantined to stay if needed.

(New York City has contracted for some 11,000 hotel rooms for this purpose and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that the testing-tracing-isolating campaign would also involve using hotel rooms to quarantine people.)

AHLA’s “Hospitality for Hope Initiative” was created to boost collaboration between the hotel industry and local, state and federal governments to help employees, communities across the country, and the industry during this unprecedented health crisis. In the short time since the initiative was announced, participation has grown to more than 15,000 properties. Already, this initiative has identified a total combined 2.3 million rooms located in close proximity to established healthcare facilities.

To help match and streamline the process for willing hotel properties to connect with federal, state, and local governments, AHLA and its state association partners are working to create a national “Hospitality for Hope” database to assist the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local emergency management and public health agencies. AHLA has also provided a number of resources for members, which can be found here.

“It has been so impressive to see hotel after hotel join this important initiative as a way of giving back to the communities in which they operate,” Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO said. “As an industry of people taking care of people, the hotel industry is uniquely positioned to support our communities by caring for the first responders who are on the frontlines of this public health crisis. Hotels have always been an active member of our local communities, and this time is no different. We are proud to work to facilitate partnerships with federal, state and local governments to support the health community during this critical time.”

Local, state and federal government officials will be able to search willing properties based on geographic location. (Click here for a state by state breakdown of the number of hotels signed up).

Hotels partnering with local and state officials offering housing to doctors, nurses, homeless families and quarantined individual are being reported across the country including in Chicago, California, New York, Dallas, Portland and New Orleans.

“The number of hotels wanting to be part of the program is growing by the hour,” Michael Jacobson, CEO and president of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association said. “Our hotels are answering the call to action, and they want to be helpful to the city and the state.”

“‘Hospitality for Hope’ is just one of the many ways that our hotels are helping those in need in our communities during this time of crisis,” said Kim Sabow, President and CEO of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association. “We look forward to working with all interested parties, including local and state officials, and the federal government to find innovative solutions to make it through this critical time together.” 

Given the unprecedented public health and economic crisis, hotels and the industry as a whole are coming together to support the community and their furloughed employees, as well. 

In expanding “Hospitality for Hope Initiative”, the American Hotel & Lodging Foundation, AHLA’s charitable giving arm, rolled out free resources to help industry employees continue their education during this difficult time including free hospitality management online courses, professional development scholarships for AHLA certifications and continuing education online programs. (Learn more about additional training and education efforts through AHLA’s “Hospitality for Hope” by visiting  AHLA.com/ahlas-hospitality-hope-initiative)

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) represents all segments of the U.S. lodging industry which contributes nearly $660 billion to U.S. GDP and supports 8.3 million (1 in every 25) American jobs. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., AHLA focuses on strategic advocacy, communications support and workforce development programs to move the industry forward. Learn more at www.ahla.com.

_________________________

© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Hotel Industry Pleads for Government Help against Crippling Unprecedented Covid-19 Crisis

Clearwater Beach, Florida. America’s hotels, supporting one out of every 25 jobs, face catastrophe because of the coronavirus health crisis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Leading hotel CEOs met with the White House on March 17 to discuss urgent economic recovery solutions needed to protect millions of U.S. hotel employees and 33,000 small businesses as travel grinds to a virtual halt across the country because of the coronavirus health crisis.  From Main Street to major cities across the country, hotels everywhere are on the verge of shutting their doors in the coming days – many by the end of this week. With 1 in 25 jobs supported by the hotel industry, the rapid pace of booking cancellations is having an immediate, negative ripple effect that risks seeing mom and pop hotel owners shutter, furlough their employees, hurting community businesses.  

The hotel industry is an industry of people and the current human toll is proving to be catastrophic. Based on current occupancy estimates, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) says four million total jobs have been eliminated already or are on the verge of being lost in the next few weeks. In certain affected markets, including Seattle, San Francisco, Austin and Boston, hotel occupancy rates are already down below 20 percent and individual hotels and major operators have already shut down operations. 

The AHLA, the nation’s leading and largest trade association for hotel industry, made the case that the economic impact on the hotel industry is already more severe than 9/11 and the 2008 recession, combined. “The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our 33,000 small business owners who operate 66 percent of hotel properties across the country has been extremely severe with many considering shuttering and closing their doors for good within days if they haven’t closed already.”

Chip Rogers, AHLA President and CEO, said the burgeoning COVID-19 health crisis is unprecedented in its size and scope, and it represents the single largest decline in travel in modern times.

“The impact to our industry is already more severe than anything we’ve seen before, including September 11th and the great recession of 2008 combined,” stated Rogers. “The White House and Congress can take urgent action to protect countless jobs, provide relief to our dedicated and hardworking employees, and ensure that our small business operators and franchise owners – who represent more than half of hotels in the country – can keep their doors open.”

According to an Oxford Economic Study, a 30 percent decline in hotel guest occupancy could result in the loss of nearly 4 million jobs, with $180 billion of wages and a $300 billion hit to the GDP – crippling the hotel industry, the local communities they serve and the U.S. economy.  

“This unprecedented public health crisis has quickly become a catastrophic economic crisis as well,” said Roger Dow, President and CEO, U.S. Travel Association President. “The losses for the travel industry alone are projected to double the unemployment rate over the next two months and plunge the country into recession. Small businesses, which make up 83% of travel businesses, need relief right now if they’re going to be able to keep paying their employees.”

The Oxford study estimates the hotel industry supports 1 in 25 American jobs, totaling 8.3 million jobs, paying more than $97 billion in wages and salary income, and contributes nearly $660 billion to the U.S. GDP annually.  In addition to major hotel brands, the hotel industry includes more than 33,000 small businesses, which represent 61 percent of hotel properties in the U.S.

Top hotel industry leaders laid out several immediate actions the White House and Congress could take to help the hotel industry protect jobs and help small business operators. The group focused on two critical goals – retaining and rehiring employees and keeping hotels from shutting down through access to liquidity and low interest loans, including for small businesses. 

Hotel CEOs who participated in the roundtable discussion today at the White House were hopeful that President Trump and Members of Congress will work together urgently to provide relief and ensure the industry is positioned to rebound from the unprecedented impact from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Best Western Hotels & Resorts President and CEO, David Kong said, “For nearly 75 years, Best Western has been a brand with small family businesses at our core. Most of our hotels are owned and operated by hardworking men and women with their children growing up in the business. For them, their hotels represent their families’ legacy and their future. Many are being forced to close their doors with no assurance of when they will be able to reopen. Their employees are left with no gainful employment and the resultant financial hardship. It is imperative that the government step in immediately with loan programs that provide capital and liquidity to help small businesses survive as well as other employment programs to help the impacted employees. The situation is dire.”

Choice Hotels International President & CEO, Pat Pacious said, “The majority of our 13,000 franchisees are small business hotel owners who have to meet payroll, pay their mortgages every month, and support their families during this crisis – as well as take care of their guests. As I told the Administration today, while Choice Hotels is acting to assist our franchisees, the federal government has a critical role to play in helping minimize the impact and disruption to the livelihoods of small business hotel owners and their employees, as well as stabilizing the economy during this difficult and unprecedented time.” 

Hilton President and Chief Executive Officer, Christopher J. Nassetta said, “In Hilton’s 100-year history, we have never seen anything like the current situation. I am hearing directly from hotel employees concerned about their mortgage payments and hotel owners worried about making payroll. Nearly eighty percent of the hotels in our U.S. network are franchise properties that employ less than 50 people, and we are using every tool in our toolkit to keep these small businesses viable. Ours is an industry of people serving people, and that’s why we’re asking Congress and the Administration to help shield them from the economic impact of the coronavirus, so they can be part of the recovery that will follow.”

Hyatt president and CEO, Mark Hoplamazian said, “In our industry, success depends entirely on the passion and dedication of our people. It is critical that we take swift action to ensure that our workforce is protected with the proper healthcare and financial support so that the industry can return in full force following this unprecedented degree of business interruption.”

InterContinental Hotels Group CEO Americas, Elie Maalouf said, “The coronavirus represents a global economic emergency as well as a global health emergency, and the impact it will have on the hospitality industry is unprecedented. Even as we’re currently managing this issue to keep our guests and colleagues safe, and hotel owners secure, we’re committed to doing everything we can to protect the future of the millions of Americans employed by the hotel industry and prepare to expedite a return to normal once this crisis passes. We appreciate the administration’s engagement in this issue and look forward to continuing this important discussion in the weeks ahead.”

Marriott International President and CEO, Arne Sorenson said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented decline in demand impacting our hotels and our associates. We are looking to government to support the hospitality industry through this period of time so we can assist our associates and hotel owners, many of whom are small businesses.”

MGM Resorts International Chairman & CEO, James Murren said, “Within days we have transformed from a vibrant industry welcoming people from around the world, to one experiencing a total shutdown of business.  Addressing this public health emergency required major collective action which is why MGM shut down our operations. But it comes at a cost to our tens of thousands of employees, small businesses and communities who depended on us.  We look forward to a productive dialogue on how to ensure that when it is safe, the gaming industry can be in a position to open our doors so that we and the 2 million jobs that depend can be part of the economic recovery that is to come.”

“Pebblebrook Hotel Trust is a REIT with 54 hotels with over 13,000 rooms and over 8,000 employees around the country. Our hotels are in most of the hardest hit cities – Seattle, San Francisco, here in Washington, DC, NYC, Boston, Chicago and more. As of today, we have had to make the difficult decision to let go over 4,000 employees,” noted Jon Bortz, Board Chair, AHLA and Chairman & CEO, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust.

“By the end of the month, we expect another 2,000 employees will also be let go, representing over three quarters of our employees. We are looking at closing the doors at more than half of our properties. This is the reality we, and countless other owners and operators around the country are facing in the wake of this public health situation.”

Gift of Travel: Take Advantage of Black Friday, CyberMonday, Holiday Specials to Give the Gift that Keeps Giving

Xanterra is putting its Grand Canyon hotels on sale for the holidays. Scores of travel companies have special Black Friday, CyberMonday and holiday deals underway, for a great opportunity to give the Gift of Travel, the gift that keeps giving. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The gift of travel is the gift of together, of time, of memory, of life-changing, life-enhancing experience, of new perspectives and new awareness – of self, of others, of our place in the world and time itself. It is the gift that keeps giving.

Travel destinations and providers get into the holiday spirit with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and special deals and make it easy to package The Gift of Travel.

Hotels in national parks are in such high demand they rarely offer discounts…but they do during Black Friday and Cyber Monday! Xanterra Travel Collection’s annual Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale features up to 40 percent off hotels in Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Zion and Yellowstone. Also on sale: tickets on the historic Grand Canyon Railway, luxury hotels (The Broadmoor and Sea Island), Windstar Cruises, VBT Bicycling Vacations and Country Walkers. Details: www.xanterra.com/Thankful.

Whole countries are on sale: Ireland is promoting special offers of its partners including Great Value Vacations, The Irish Tourism Group, Brendan Vacations, CIE Tours, Railtours IIreland, Tenon Tours, Authentic Vacations and Insight.

More than 20 hotels, resorts and villas in Saint Lucia are offering significant Cyber Monday booking specials (up to 60% off!) on luxury resorts, family-friendly accommodations, private villas, hotels overlooking the iconic Piton mountains, beachfront accommodations, and more. Most of these limited-time specials are available for booking starting on Cyber Monday and several are offering these deals to “early birds” who wish to book before then. (www.stlucia.org/specials/cyber-monday-specials for details)

Taking in the view at sunset of the Piton Mountains from the Passion Flower terrace. Anse Chastanet and its sister resort, Jade Mountain, on St. Lucia have been recertified by Travelife, the sustainable tourism certification system. More than 20 hotels, resorts and villas in Saint Lucia are offering significant Cyber Monday booking specials. © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Perillo Tours and resorts like Woodstock Inn & Resort in Vermont, as well as chains like Hilton all have special timely offers.

Even themeparks like LegoLand California Resort is discounting its various pass offerings starting at 12 a.m. Friday, Nov. 29 through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 2, exclusively through its website.

Basically, anything that you have been thinking about, fantasizing about, anything on your bucket list, check out the company’s website to see whether there are holiday specials.

Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont. Gift idea: season pass or lift tickets © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many tour operators, including Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold and other sister companies of The Travel Corporation (ttc.com) are offering enticing discounts for early bookings and many travel entities – hotels and resorts, cruiselines, tour companies, spas (Spafinder), ski resorts (think about gifting ski passes like EpicPass, Ikon Pass or Liftopia) and cruiselines (cruisecompete.com is a good source) –  have gift card programs and are offering special discounts for the holidays.. Some have gift registries where multiple gift-givers can contribute.

Liftopia’s annual Cyber Monday sale begins Nov. 26 at 5 pm PT through Dec. 3 at 9 pm PT. Give the gift of ski this holiday, or simply use this opportunity to snag the best deals of the season by purchasing lift tickets online and in advance. Purchase a Liftopia Gift Card and get a bonus credit up to 25% (spend $100-$199, get a $15 bonus gift card; spend $200-$299, get a $40 bonus gift card; spend $300 or more, get a $75 bonus gift card). Purchase at www.liftopia.com.

The 1926 Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray, Florida, one of the members of the Historic Hotels of America, each one a spectacular venue for vacation or special event and holiday destination. Check out gift cards and holiday specials © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many of the grandest Historic Hotels of America members, each one distinct with deep connections to place, offer gift cards – like Wentworth by the Sea, NH; Omni Grove Park Inn, Mission Inn & Spa (the list goes on and on) – just inquire. To see members, visit historichotels.org and its European counterpart, Historic Hotels of Europe,  www.historichotelsofeurope.com.

Sebasco, a fabulous resort on the mid-Maine coast that manages to be rustic and luxurious at the same time is offering a deal where if you purchase a $150 Sebasco Gift Card by December 13, you get a $25 gift card for free or for a $500 gift card, a $100 bonus gift card free (sebasco.com, 877-636-0085).

A glamping stay in Montana for a wedding © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here’s a really interesting one: Glamping Hub (glampinghub.com) is offering its second annual Black Friday-Cyber Monday sale – an interesting way to experience this online booking platform for 35,000 unique outdoor accommodations in over 27 different categories (safari tents, tree houses, cabins, tipis, villas, domes) in over 120 countries. For every gift card purchasedon Glamping Hub’s Gift Card Portal, 20% will be added to the gift card. This deal will be live on the website from 11/28-12/4,and gift cards have a one-year validity, Travel Deals Black Friday 2019 / Cyber Monday Deals (https://glampinghub.com/special/black-friday-cyber-monday-travel-deals/).

These are just examples. The key here is that if there is a destination, a cruise, a resort you want to “gift” to your loved one, just ask if a program is available. Check expiration dates and how the gift card can be used.

Trips That Make a Difference 

Often, just showing up is a way of sustaining, revitalizing communities with tourism supplanting obsolete extractive and exploitative economic pursuits. Many travel programs and tour companies are now designed to sustain the environment and heritage of local communities, hire locally, donate a portion of the tour costs to benefit local communities (building schools, creating water projects) and even are organized around opportunities for travelers to participate in local life or projects.

Brett Tollman, chief executive officer of The Travel Corporation, commits the company and its 42 brands, and the TreadRight Foundation to “Make Travel Matter” for the planet, people and wildlife © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Travel Corporation’s 42 different brands (Including TrafalgarUniworldInsight Vacations, Luxury GoldContikiAfrican Travel, Inc.Lion World Travel, Brendan Vacations and Red Carnation Hotels)  are designed this way and also support the Treadright Foundation. TTL’s philanthropy,  dedicated to preserving and protecting the planet, people and wildlife, supports 55 projects in 280 communities in 26 countries (www.ttc.com). In addition, some of the tour programs work in conjunction with We.org, which builds schools, promotes sustainable agriculture, brings pure water to communities – to offer programs in which travelers can immerse themselves into that community. (www.TreadRight.org/trips/)

Pure Adventures (pure-adventures.com), a boutique biking and hiking tour operator  offering private, custom, independent and guided travel in Europe, Asia, South and North America,  as a member of the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund, contributes a portion of the trip fee to support conservation efforts around the world. (Check out this year’s projects)

Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which is part of Boston-based Grand Circle Corporation’s family of travel companies, supports the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation established in 1992 by owners Alan and Harriet Lewis to support communities in which Grand Circle works and travels, including some 300 humanitarian, cultural, and educational endeavors worldwide, among them, 100 schools in 50 countries.  The Foundation is an entity of the Lewis Family Foundation, which has pledged or donated more than $169 million since 1981 (www.oattravel.com).

Off Season Adventures organizes trips in such a way as to help local communities.

Off Season Adventures (offseasonadventures.com, 619-971-0823), a Hoboken-NJ based tour company which is specifically organized to support local communities.

There is a whole category of “sustainable travel” companies and projects that not only structure their travel programs with social responsibility in mind, but leverage the power of travel and tourism to improve the lives of people and their environment.  Many are represented by Center for Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.org), Global Sustainable Tourism Council (gstcouncil.org), Earthcheck (earthcheck.org), the Rainforest Alliance (www.rainforest-alliance.org) and Sustainable Travel International (sustainabletravel.org).

Voluntourism

The very act of traveling benefits communities by spurring an economy that sustains culture, heritage, the environment, community, and forges a mutual understanding that can translate into foreign policy.

But for those who want to go even beyond to improve conditions for people, there is a category of travel, Voluntourism, that organizes travel to a destination to volunteer for good purpose – whether it is participating in scientific research, working to save a species from extinction or save the planet, or helping disadvantaged communities, or rebuilding after some disaster, as in Puerto Rico.

andBeyond has launched philanthropic-focused itineraries in TanzaniaKenya, and South Africa to give guests a first-hand look at its core ethos of caring for the land, wildlife, and people. The activities range from adopting an elephant at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Kenya to participating in local school conservation lessons in Tanzania to visiting the Grootbos Green Futures College in Cape Town, an organization that provides educational training to unemployed young adults in the city (www.andBeyond.com)

Earthwatch Expeditions enable you to join scientists in the field as they research urgent environmental issues, in places that would otherwise be closed to visitors. Expeditions address wildlife and ecosystems, climate change, archaeology and culture, and ocean health, for example, researching lions and their prey in Kenya, rewilding the Scottish Highlands and studying orcas in Iceland. (800-776-0188, 978-461-0081, www.earthwatch.org),

Earthwatch Expeditions in the Amazon.

Habitat for Humanity’s Habitat for Humanity Global Village offers opportunities to help in disaster recovery or build or improve housing, schools, clinics, and other essential structures in 40 countries (www.habitat.org)

Sierra Club arranges around 90 affordable volunteer trips each year through its Sierra Club Volunteer Vacations to engage in hands-on conservation work like building and maintaining trails, removing invasive plants and assisting on archaeological digs. For example: park maintenance in Hells Canyon, Idaho (with transportation by jet-boat up the Snake River Canyon), forestry service at the New York Botanical Garden (a 50-acre urban old-growth forest) and native-bird habitat restoration on the Big Island of Hawaii (with hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park). (https://content.sierraclub.org/outings/volunteer-vacations)

Adventure Life incorporates voluntourism into some of its trips. For example, on its trip to Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano, travelers lend a hand with reforestation efforts, painting interpretive signs and performing trail maintenance; a trip to Costa Rica’s Pacuare Reserve for whitewater rafting also includes two nights with biologists for research at an important nesting ground for leatherback turtles; a cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula enables travelers to take part in citizen science projects aboard the ship (www.adventure-life.com).

Village Experience expanded upon its fair-trade retail shop (which supports local craftsmen) to create an ambitious program that brings travelers into their villages, creating another stream of revenue (www.experiencethevillage.com).

Other entities offering voluntourism opportunities: Biosphere Expeditions (800-407-5761, www.biosphere-expeditions.org), Globeaware (www.globeaware.org/volunteer-vacations); Global Volunteers (https://globalvolunteers.org/volunteer-worldwide/, 800-487-1074); American Hiking Society (americanhiking.org/volunteer-vacations); Projects Abroad (www.projects-abroad.org).

But don’t expect that because you are volunteering your services the trips are cheap, sometimes you pay for the privilege of doing good and your fees help support the mission.

On the other hand, during the holiday season, many of the operators offer substantial discounts for early bookings.

For example, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic has a new Alaska Family Offer, where with discounts for up to two children 22 and under traveling with two full paying adults on select 2020 Alaska departures: save 50% departing in May and August and save 25% departing in June and July. Also, there is Free Air for Adults from Seattle to Alaska for booking select 2020 Alaska departures by Dec. 31, 2019.  .

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic has announced a new Alaska Family Offer that makes traveling next summer a lot more economical for families.

There is a whole category of experiential trips that not only enrich and inspire and make the world a better place, but support important institutions like National Geographic, the Smithsonian (which also offer student and family programs); Outward Bound, Road Scholar, Sierra Club (sierraclub.org), just a few examples.

Through the National Geographic Global Explorers Program, kids and teens learn to develop the skills and curiosity of an explorer while working alongside our certified field instructors -observing the behavior of blue-footed boobies, painting watercolors using glacier ice, or filling a field journal with wildlife sketches of all kinds (www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions). Traveling with National Geographic helps further the work of its scientists, explorers, and educators around the world (natgeo.com/giveback).

Indulge a fantasy: in addition to photography safaris, there are travel programs to indulge all sorts of fantasy: become a Broadway star at Broadway Fantasy Camp (www.braodwayfancamp); a rock-and-roll star at Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas (www.rockcamp.com); or Baseball Fantasy Camp (Twenty four major league baseball teams offer annual fantasy camps, see: http://www.lineupforms.com/choosing-the-right-fantasy-baseball-camp.html)

Gifts for the Traveler

Still wedded to the idea of a material gift? There are umptium possibilities for the travel-bound, especially where some special-interest or activity that requires special gear or equipment is involved like skiing, biking, hiking, scuba diving or safariing is involved.

You can purchase some needed gear while also supporting the cause. For example, go to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s trail shop for  all-new Great American Rail-Trail jerseys, gift memberships and trail guidebooks and help realize the dream of an a nation connected by rail trails (railstotrails.org).

Rails-to-Trails Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail. Purchase a Rails-to-Trails jersey for your biking enthusiast and help the conservancy build a bike-trail spanning the entire nation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Going traditional among our favorite suppliers: REI, www.rei.com/s/holiday-gifts-for-travelers, 800-426-4840)Eastern Mountain Sports, 888-463-6367, ems.com;  LL Bean, 888-610-2326, llbean.com; Sun & Ski, 866-786-3869, sunandski.com; Tennis Express, TennisExpress.com, Bass Pro Shops, www.basspro.com. And of course, luggage (I love my Olympia USA 22 in. Green 8-Pocket Rolling Duffel for $25 purchased through homedepot.com of all places which I used on an around-the-world trip; another great site is Luggageonline.com, 888-958-4424).

Cameras are big on the list for travelers, with size and functionality among the key criteria. Some of the new smaller, mirrorless cameras have as much functionality as the larger digital SLR and use interchangeable lenses but tend to be fairly costly (in the $1000 range).  What I look for when purchasing a camera for travel: decent digital zoom, ISO range, image stabilization, video capability, battery life, how fast the camera focuses and shoots and WiFi capability.

For something like a safari, you would need a good DSLR with great lenses to cover the various focal lengths, but for, say, a biking or hiking trip, that is, what can I wear around my neck, shoot with one hand while riding a bicycle that gives excellent quality images, image stabilization, decent zoom lens, auto focus, is fast and responsive on/off/shoot, and is reasonably priced. I have found the Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS70 to be ideal for this kind of travel (offered at $100 off, $298, at B&H), Panasonic Lumix DMC AZ100 (now on sale at B&H; B&H consistently has best inventory, prices, and holiday specials, plus excellent customer service, delivery and return policies, www.bhphotovideo.com, 800.606.6969, 212.444.6615).

The experts at this year’s PhotoPlus Expo also recommended: Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III (24.2 megapixel; 3x zoom, 24-072mm, ISO 100-25600); Canon PowerShot G5 X  Mark II (20.1 megapixel, 5x zoom, 24-120mm f 1.8 lens, Canon PowerShot G1X Mark III (24.2 megapixel, 3x zoom, 24-72 mm);  Nikon Z 50,s Nikon’s first DX-format mirrorless camera. 20.9 megapixels, ISO 100-51200, which uses interchangeable lenses; Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III features dustproof, splashproof, freezeproof construction in a compact and lightweight body.

Drones and GoPro-style cameras are also great gifts, as well as new accessories (like attachable lenses) that enhance the excellent photo capability of smartphones to give them more of the functionality of a camera.

Consider getting your traveler a waterproof camera for those adventures into the rainforest, snorkeling, whitewater rafting and such.

Or more spectacularly, what about a photo safari or a trip led by a master photographer, such as offered by Photo Safaris (www.photosafaris.com/Destinations/Find-a-Trip‎); National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com); ‎Photo Workshop Adventures (www.photoworkshopadventures.com); and Nomad Photo Expeditions (www.nomadphotoexpeditions.com).

Lindblad Travel has photography tours with National Geographic photographers and with the B&H Photo Locker on many of its ships, you can even test-drive the latest gear. (expeditions.com/why-us/expedition-photography)

Give a Gift, Support the Institution

Gift giving can support important institutions at the same time. Many of the great museums and institutions of the world offer some of the most interesting, innovative and creative items in their gift shops and you can support their endeavor by shopping online or through catalogs (check out holiday specials): the Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), the American Museum of Natural History (www.amnh.org), the Art Institute of Chicago (855-301-9612), Smithsonian (Smithsonianmag.com). The Nassau County Museum of Art and New-York Historical Society usually have special items oriented around major exhibitions  (www.nyhistory.org),  to list just a few.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has exquisite items for sale in its many gift shops, many oriented around special exhibitions, which support the institution. Can’t visit? Check out the catalog. Museums typically offer holiday specials © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zoos and aquariums and special attractions are fantastic to shop at, especially for kids: The Palm Beach Zoo (www.palmbeachzoo.org), for example, has eco-friendly items. There are also Adopt-an-Animal programs. The Bronx Zoo has similar programs and an online store (www.bronxzoostore.com). And you don’t have to visit the Kennedy Space Center, to get space-related items (www.thespaceshop.com), though visiting offers incomparable experiences. You might also consider gifting special experiences, like Zookeeper for a Day or an Overnight Campout at a Museum.

Another gift idea is to purchase family memberships in these entities, which gives a sense of “ownership” and encourages multiple or multi-day visits as well as giving access to benefits. Just call or go online to your favorite museum, zoo, aquarium, preserve, historic site or attraction. Often the memberships give you broad access like the Smithsonian Institution, Sierra Club (they produce a catalog of trips), National Trust for Historic Preservation (savingplaces.org)and its sister organization Historic Hotels of America (www.historichotels.org), Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Parks & Trail NY, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

National Trust for Historic Preservation  offers Great Experiences & Tours, (nationaltrusttours.com). The National Trust has just introduced a new program to make history fun for families: Distinctive Destinations. From grand homes to artists’ studios to working farms, these places across America can add memorable moments to your off-the-beaten-path road trip, create new opportunities for your next vacation, or even be your new favorite gift shop (https://savingplaces.org/distinctive-destinations). They even have created an online list of holiday experiences at its collection of historic holiday sites. (https://savingplaces.org/collections/distinctive-destinations-historic-holidays).   

Stocking Stuffers

Darn Tough: Made in America socks for just about every purpose, that comes with a lifetime guarantee and the benefits of Marino wool (no odor; when hot, it wicks away moisture, when cold, it keeps you warm). Socks tailored to hiking, running, endurance, skiing, biking, hunting, work and lifestyle. Founded by Ric Cabot in 2004, a third-generation sock maker, the company operates out of Cabot Hosiery Mills, in the Sock Capital of the World, Northfield, Vermont. Colorful, a great stocking stuffer. (www.darntough.com).

Lowa Boots (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lowa Boots, a Connecticut based company that is in partnership with a German company founded in 1923, is famous for four-season specialized outdoor footwear for hiking, backpacking, mountaineering and walking, as well as everyday use. Available at Paragon, REI, Zappos and 450 independent specialty stores as well as online (www.lowaboots.com).

Ecco Outdoors creates ergonomic footwear that have their own version of natural motion, unique to each foot. The shoes are produced in factories in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and Portugal and sold in 90 countries from over 2,200 ECCO shops and more than 14,000 sales points. (www.eccousa.com).

For the hardcore adventurer, consider the Bivystick, a recently launched two-way satellite communication device that works with your smartphone with a flexible data plan, and offers the benefits of a GPS unit and satellite two-way communicator to send messages, track/share location information, access GPS maps, get updated forecasts an d notify EMS in the event of an emergency when otherwise off the grid. The company also produces Bivy, a software application that identifies the details, location and full path of tens of thousands of trails, waterways and climbing routes. (www.bivy.com).

_________________________

© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Grand Residences Riviera Maya: A Luxury All-Inclusive Done Right

At the five-star Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, no detail is overlooked © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Sarah Falter & Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the five-star Grand Residences Riviera Cancun (30 minutes south of Cancun), no detail is overlooked. In fact, the 144-all-suite resort takes advantage of every opportunity and touchpoint with guests to elevate the experience, be it with a wide-variety of activities, gourmet cuisine or comfortable lounge areas that make the already picturesque scene that much more serene.

This is notable because the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is an all-inclusive resort, a category which can be associated with mass-market travel experience.

But from the moment you step out of the airport you’re greeted with a smiling representative from the hotel who takes your bags, gives you a cold eucalyptus towel and an ice cold bottle of water. The transportation from the airport was premium (luxury SUV) and complimentary. When we arrived, we were presented a beautifully crafted welcome cocktail, gently wrapped local jewelry at reception, and a personal tour of the resort as we made our way to the room.

The impeccable service didn’t stop there. There were handmade crafts on our pillow with turn-down service every night, personal concierge service throughout our stay, and even a hydrating Evian facial spray with towels every time we arrived at the pool. We were particularly struck by the kindness and generosity of the staff. Everyone we interacted with during our stay somehow managed to be warm, present and helpful, without ever feeling overbearing or intrusive.

The beach at the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, a luxury all-inclusive resort © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Outside of the service, the facilities were also top-tier. The rooms were spacious and comfortable. The grounds of the resort were colorful and beautifully manicured (the resort is located between the world’s second largest barrier reef and a tranquil nature preserve). The beach was clean and expansive. We very much enjoyed exploring the property and surrounding areas in the early morning and walking the beach at sunset. One evening we rented yoga mats and did self-guided sunset yoga on the beach.

Some beach resorts may make you feel trapped or constrained, but what we loved most about our experience was the freedom to really make our stay whatever we wanted or felt like doing at the time. When we wanted to be active, there was a tennis court, lap pool, gym and miles of beach/trails for running. But when we wanted to do nothing, there were so many comfortable nooks to relax and fully enjoy the exquisite luxury of doing nothing at all. And when we wanted to eat, the options were endless.

The food was truly delicious (which is saying something for two foodies) and the options for dining were plentiful. On the property, there are three restaurants: El Faro Grille, Flor De Canela and Heaven Beach Bar & Grille. While the last option is only open for lunch, the first two offer elaborate and varied options to satisfy every possible appetite. El Faro Grille is the international option, with a rotating menu every evening. Flor De Canela is more traditional Mexican cuisine (definitely our favorite).

We ate so much delectable food at these restaurants throughout our stay: Lobster tails in fettuccine pasta, green curry mussels, short rib mole, the list goes on and on and on. And for those looking to lay low, the resort offers 24-hour room service, the menu for which is more limited than the restaurants, but still with tons of options.

All of this is included in the all-inclusive package (anywhere from $400-500 per night, depending on the time of year).

There is a long list of what we could take advantage of: Tea Time Experience; yoga; zumba dance lessons; tennis lessons; Kids Club (mask design, sand art, face painting, Mexican lottery, air hockey, Xbox, etc.); bicycle tour to Puerto Morelos Town; cooking classes; personal concierge; 24 Hours fitness center; complimentary WiFi; butler service; mixology lessons and 5 minute sunscreen massage at pool/beach and the complimentary airport transfer.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is in the Riviera Maya of Mexico, rich in natural sites, including Cenote Multun-Ha © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun sits in the heart of the Riviera Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula which boasts a vast wealth of natural wonders and interesting remains of the ancient Mayan civilization.

The resort is relatively close to some vibrant, historical and culturally interesting towns. During our week-long trip, we spent some time in Playa del Carmen (45 minutes) & Tulum (90 minutes), as well as visited nearby cenotes and caves. For us, these destinations offered a textured and authentic compliment to the tranquil resort life. If you’re like us and value a balance of adventure and relaxation in your vacations, we highly recommend checking out these nearby destinations.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is in the Riviera Maya of Mexico, rich in archeological sites like Coba © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is worth noting that Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is a great wedding destination (planners on staff) and honeymoon place.

If you’re looking for a great balance of luxurious family resort (children under 12 stay free) and a relaxed adult atmosphere, Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World,  is a perfect destination for your next vacation. It is secluded and private, but very accessible, making it especially easy to swing for a long weekend. 

Visit the website for special deals.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, (US) 855-381-4340, https://grandresidencesrivieracancun.com/.

_______________________

© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures