Category Archives: luxury travel

Honeymoon in Paradise: Anse Chastanet in Saint Lucia

Dave takes in the view at sunset from our Passion Flower terrace at Anse Chastanat, shortly after we arrive on Saint Lucia © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

When we thought about our ideal honeymoon, all we knew is that after extensive planning for our DIY destination wedding in New Orleans, we (1) wanted to be on a tropical beach with beautiful scenery and spectacular lodging in which we wouldn’t typically indulge, where we could decompress and just be together, and (2) didn’t want to do much planning. We had heard that Saint Lucia had some of the most unusual scenery of the Caribbean Islands (mountains, jungle, volcanoes), and that if we were going there, we had to stay at Anse Chastanet. We didn’t know it when we boarded the plane in New Orleans, but we were on our way to a honeymoon that would truly redefine our notions of a romantic luxury beach vacation.

Anse Chastanet (below) and Jade Mountain (above) are designed to be at one with Saint Lucia’s nature © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

A slow, adrenaline-pumping car ride up two miles of rocky terrain brings us to Anse Chastanet and its even more exclusive sister resort, Jade Mountain, nestled at the westernmost point of the island of Saint Lucia. The first thing we notice from the top of the mountain is the breathtaking view from every angle: the grand Pitons to our left, the Caribbean straight ahead, and lush jungle to our right. We find ourselves in a World Heritage Site anchored by the twin peaks and the resort’s two bays which are part of a designated marine reserve protecting miles of coral reefs. Both of these ultra-luxury eco-resorts are the creations of a young Nick Troubetzkoy, who straight out of architecture school discovered 600 acres of virgin jungle and had a vision for a resort designed to honor the boundless nature surrounding it.

The entire resort is seamlessly built into the oceanside mountain. The architecture highlights the views, camouflages walls, and celebrates natural touches of luxury like the soaring peaked ceilings in each room, the iridescent recycled glass tiles in each private pool of Jade’s residences, and the koi ponds dotting the layout of Jade’s open courtyard. There is no all-encompassing “roof” to the resort. The refrain we heard from a few of the staff there seemed to perfectly characterize Troubetzkoy’s vision: “Above Anse Chastanet is Jade Mountain, and above Jade is the sky.”

We can hear the ocean waves and chirping birds from our king canopy bed, and see the sunset from anywhere in our suite (even from the shower!) © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We will remember the details of our honeymoon at Anse Chastanet forever — falling asleep and waking up to the lulling lap of the ocean and peaceful chirps of the birds, our only visible and audible neighbors; epic buffet breakfasts overlooking the blue ocean horizon; red snapper and coconut ceviche lunch on the adjacent Anse Mamin beach, and the most flavorful jerk chicken we’ve ever had. During daylight hours we mountain-biked through the jungle on the property, snorkeled around the reef whenever we felt like it, had delicious tropical cocktails on both beaches (we recommend the St. Lucian Banana Daiquiri), and got amazing massages at the resort’s Kai Belté Spa. In the evenings we sipped champagne on our wrap-around terrace before strolling down to dinner, which one night featured a private, five-course Lionfish dinner served to us under a candlelit canopy on the sand (more on that later)! We couldn’t have dreamed for a more ideal honeymoon.

We are greeted with welcome drinks on the Treehouse terrace while the wonderful staff brings our luggage to our rooms.
© Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The rooms at Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain are masterfully designed to avoid two things: (1) artificial air conditioning and (2) the traditionally conceived concept of a roof, or more generally of an enclosed space. Each has its own unique features: one room at Anse Chastanet has a swing and a jungle tree running through it to the sky; one suite at Jade, named best room in the world by Condé Nast in 2016, is around 2000 square feet and features a lit mini-stairway to the bath area, a jacuzzi for exactly two people, and a freshwater infinity pool made of one-of-a-kind, hand-made iridescent recycled glass tiles, that overlooks the ocean and the Pitons (there are 3 Galaxy Sanctuaries with similar features at Jade Mountain).

JE 1, one of Jade Mountain’s 3 Galaxy Sanctuaries averaging 2000 sq. ft., features panoramic views of the Pitons and the Caribbean through the absent fourth wall, a two-person Jacuzzi and massive infinity pool © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The private infinity pools in Jade’s rooms range from 450 to over 900 square feet, with a private walkway leading up to the room (your privacy begins well outside your door). Jade’s rooms all come with a personal butler service of Major Domos trained by the British Guild of Butlers. While Jade Mountain reserves exclusive access to guests with rooms on this part of the resort, we were treated to a visit one afternoon.

There is, of course, no such thing as a room with a bad view at either luxury resort. Some rooms at Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain have the fourth wall missing entirely, while others have wooden louvre walls that open to balconies or patios. There is also the The Piton Pool Suite, tucked away in a private hillside setting, and the Beach House, a stand-alone house with a 1600 square foot patio, secluded amidst its own landscaped grounds with a private gated entrance from the beach (this house is fully air conditioned). There are no TVs, radios, or telephones in the rooms, “so that the outside world cannot intrude”. All of the rooms have original art on the walls created by artists who were invited to stay in the room while they made the artwork inspired by the space itself.

Without hyperbole, “Passion Flower” at Anse Chastanet is the most spectacular “room” we have ever stayed in. Calling any suite at Anse Chastanet a “room” is misleading for so many reasons; they would be more accurately described as exquisitely crafted sanctuaries integrated into the mountain, magically extending each space for miles. Passion Flower is a particularly spectacular suite because of its prized location at the top of Anse Chastanet, offering a panorama view of the Pitons to the left and the expansive Caribbean sweeping across the center and to the right. With multiple seating areas across the wrap-around terrace, this 900ish square-foot space is one of those that lacks a fourth wall, instead letting the room open up to the views and fresh air. Sliding mahogany doors of wooden jalousie louver (slat) windows allow great cross ventilation and let you move the “walls” to enable any palatial configuration you desire, while still keeping the light out in the early morning. The ceiling fan above the bed keeps the temperature perfect while you sleep. The long, warmly-lit bathroom with Matisse-like blue figures painted on the white wall, features a double vanity and an open-floor shower the size of a New York City bedroom.

Our sumptuous room, aptly named Passion Flower, is 900 square feet of luxury with panoramic views of the Pitons, the ocean and the jungle © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are so many thoughtful touches in the room that make our stay even more special, from the homemade banana bread and glasses of St. Lucian rum left on our dresser to accompany the fresh lime juice waiting for us in our mini fridge, to the amazing scent of the incense (or mosquito repellent coil) to which we would return each night after dinner, to the turn-down service while we were out that left a card on our bed with a new fun fact about St. Lucia each night.

A ring of warm yellow lights with traditional Saint Lucian shades, combined with pleasant-smelling incense, is the natural way to keep bugs away at Anse Chastanet © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The food at Anse Chastanet is an incredible (delectable) surprise. We travel by food, letting interesting culinary experiences and unique tastes influence much of how we move through the world. The chefs at Anse are on an entirely different level, each meal a culinary sensation more impressive than the last. Part of this must be due to the Emerald Estate farm where the resort grows its own organic produce, and to the talent and creativity of an all-star culinary team.

Indulge in breakfast amid trees with views of the Caribbean from the Anse Chastanet veranda © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Breakfast is served in the gorgeous mountain-top veranda nestled within the treetops of the jungle below. In keeping with the Anse way, there are no walls in any of the dining areas, so you are always surrounded by nature–they even have cute little whale squirt guns to shoo off the birds who visit your breakfast table, though they too are more of a treat than a nuisance. You can opt for the buffet or choose from an impressive menu that will please the health-conscious and the vacationing glutton alike (we tend more towards the latter on this trip). The breakfast buffet alone could satisfy most: cereal bar with home-made granola and all the fixings, English muffins and other fresh baked goods with a selection of lox, ham, various cheeses, homemade jams, seasonal fruits, a fresh juice bar, coffee, tea, and on special occasions hot cocoa from their own estate cacao beans. You can pair the buffet with made-to-order eggs, benedicts, or any number of brunch items from the menu.

Lunch on Anse Mamin Beach is cooked right behind you on a grill made from a large clay pot relic from the 18th century Anse Mamin Plantation. © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For lunch you’d be hard-pressed to do better than a fresh burger cooked right behind you (on the large clay coal pot leftover from Anse Mamin Plantation) while you enjoy an island cocktail with your feet in the sand at Anse Mamin, the smaller beach just next to Anse Chastanet with a castaway island vibe. Take the quick complimentary boat ride or five-minute walk to Anse Mamin for jungle to one side and water on the other. The excellent Jungle Grill and Bar will keep you content all day with several variations of loaded burgers and one of the best ceviches we’ve ever had. Full disclosure: we will try ceviche whenever it’s on a menu and its preparation is often how we rate restaurants (and of course had it at our own wedding). This Signature Coconut Ceviche was out of this world: red snapper with flavors of coconut, lime, chili, and lemongrass served in a coconut bowl with fresh baked plantain chips. Laini doesn’t like to share ceviche, but this bowl had so much fish in it she didn’t even get too anxious when Dave tried to steal it for a few minutes. The Caribbean Slaw with Jerk Chicken is another favorite–the chicken has a slight tandoori flavor to it, which we love. The Green Fig and Saltfish Burger (a popular local dish-turned-burger) is huge and all it’s cracked up to be. We also heard great things about the Jungle Beef Burger, so we’ll have to come back to try that next time. You can enjoy your lunch from your ocean-side chaise, picnic benches under some shade, or bistro tables.

Our delicious lunch served at Anse Mamin Beach: ‘Green Fig and Saltfish’ burger and the signature Coconut Ceviche with Red Snapper © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Each dinner we have is more spectacular than the last so it’s honestly hard to recommend one over another. Apsara is the ocean-front Indian fusion restaurant with romantic warm lighting and incredibly inventive dishes. We eat here twice during our four nights, and we have many great martinis and other cocktails here. It seems like everything they make just tastes better than anywhere else we’ve tried it before. Their fire roasted lamb chops, king prawns, and chicken tikka are unbelievable. The catch of the day marinated in ginger and chili served with pumpkin and mint crush and yogurt sauce is particularly interesting and delicious. The Sticky Toffee Pudding with cashew ice cream and caramel popcorn is so rich and flavorful it’s now become the standard off which we measure other desserts. Just thinking about Apsara’s menu makes us want to return to Anse Chastanet immediately.

The Anse Chastanet staff is already preparing the scene for our private dinner on the beach © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another highlight is the five-course lionfish dinner prepared for us by the Apsara chef as a private oceanside dinner with feet in the sand surrounded by lanterns and a romantic white canopy. An invasive species common in the Caribbean, Anse uses this lionfish dinner as a brilliant way to “eat them to beat them.” It would take way too many pages to properly describe each creative course, but suffice it to say each dish is something we have never seen before and we are amazed by how many tastes the chef is able to incorporate into dishes that work so well together. The final course (before a reprise of the sticky toffee pudding, of course) features a pork belly skewer topped with baked lionfish filet, with Malabar spinach purée and a side of lionfish egg sushi, just to give you a sense.

Enjoying our private dinner on the beach under a canopy at Anse Chastanet

In addition to the special dinners all guests are able to book (such as the lionfish menu, private oceanside dinner, sunset celebration, and private dinner at Anse Mamin), there are also weekly culinary events including Monday Gourmet Dinner and Wine pairing, an Emerald Estate Cacao Plantation Tour and Chocolate Tasting, Tandoori Cooking Class, Chocolate and Wine tasting, and the Sunday Saint Lucian Rum Mixology class.

The service throughout the meals and overall hospitality at Anse Chastanet are exceptional. We feel we get to know each server, who always refers to us by name, and everyone is exceedingly helpful with everything from choosing dishes to arranging activities.

Of the many activities and “extras” available, we experience their snorkeling, mountain biking in the Anse Mamin jungle, and a couples’ spa treatment at Kai Belté.

Snorkeling on the side of the main beach area is very rewarding. Sign out the complimentary equipment at Scuba Center and with such clear water you’ll immediately find tons of tropical fish even close to the shore. We even see a little octopus! A first for us. A complimentary boat takes guests to other snorkel and dive spots for those who want to go out a bit further. While we are not divers, Anse Chastanet is known for their world-class diving, as the entire region surrounding the resort’s waters is an award winning marine reserve (SMMA) which has protected St. Lucia’s spectacular coral reefs since 1995. Beginning just 10 yards from the water’s edge, the Anse Chastanet reef is home to over 150 different species of fish. Scuba St. Lucia, the resort’s PADI 5 Star Dive Operations and DAN (Divers Alert Network) partnership facility offers both beach and boat instructor-led dives, night diving, scuba courses, and dive packages. Their state of the art compressor and filtration system is the first and only of its kind on the island, so if you’re a diver, Anse Chastanet is the place you want to be.

An easy day-trip from Anse Chastanet will bring you to Diamond Falls at the Botanical Gardens in Soufriere.

As land creatures, we opt for the mountain bike jungle tour rather than the dive experience. The mountain bikes let us explore more of the beautiful jungle grounds of Anse Chastanet that would have been a shame to miss, and our friendly guide leads us around the eight miles of exclusive trails and teaches us about the many different species of plants, trees, and fruits that grow in the area. We ride top-of-the-line Cannondale F800 mountain bikes, and even though it is a little scary to bike over tree roots and rocks, between our guide and the stability of the bikes, we never feel in danger.

Mountain biking through the jungle grounds of Anse Chastanet © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our “Romance Ritual” massage begins with an incredible chocolate platter from Anse Chastanet’s very own Emerald Estate Farms, followed by an aromatherapy foot soak, dry body brush to remove dead skin, and a candle-lit 60-minute couple’s massage. The spa facility sits next to Apsara by the shore so we are able to let our relaxing treatment continue to soak in on the oceanside lounge chairs afterwards.

Anse Chastanet is the perfect place for post-wedding decompression © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are faced with a difficult decision to make on our last full day at Anse Chastanet: whether to venture over to explore the closest town of Soufriere, known as the heart and soul of St. Lucia, or to lie on the beach at the resort and enjoy cocktails and another delicious grilled lunch. We are fortunate to have had four nights at Anse Chastanet, and having taken a tour the day before to the Soufriere Saint Vincent Volcano, and nearby Diamond Falls Botanical Garden and Mineral Baths, we just crave more beach time and opt for lavishing in leisure.

Anse Chastanet is the perfect place to treat yourself to a honeymoon paradise, even if you didn’t just get married. Our main advice once you’ve made the smart decision to visit: stay one night more than you think!

Complimentary Offerings at Anse Chastanet:

* Anse Chastanet beach with beach chairs and beach towels
* Complimentary use of non-motorized water sports including snorkel gear, windsurfers, sit on top kayaks, Sunfish sailing, Paddle boarding
* Complimentary use of tennis court and equipment
* Complimentary tennis clinic Monday and Wednesday from 9.00 – 9.30 a.m.
* Resort shuttle boat, Jungle Express to beach at Anse Mamin daily for Jungle Beach Bar & Grill, beach activities, jogging and hiking
* Select Guided Walks and Hikes on 600 acre estate with Meno – learn about history and botany
* Yoga daily 8.30 a.m. – 9.30 a.m. and 5.00 – 6.00 p.m. in the beach yoga gazebo
* Paddle board yoga demonstration in the Anse Chastanet bay every Tuesday from 12.15 p.m.
* Creole History Class in the Beach Bar Friday 11.30 a.m.
* Daily Live Entertainment in the Piton Bar except Tuesdays when entertainment takes place in the beach bar
* Library located in the Piton Bar with WiFi internet connection and complimentary guest computer
* Manager’s Cocktail Reception,Tuesdays from 6.30 – 7.30 p.m. in the beach bar
* Underwater Slideshow at the Scuba center, Tuesday 6.00 p.m.
* History, benefits and uses of Aromatherapy presented by Spa Manager, Tuesdays from 5.30 p.m.
* Chocolate Sensory Tasting at Emerald Restaurant, Tuesdays from 10.00 – 10.30 a.m.
* Saint Lucian Rum Mixology Class, Sundays 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.
* Anse Mamin Plantation Walk with Meno, Monday – Saturday from 1:45 p.m.

Anse Chastanet Resort, Soufriere, St. Lucia, 800-223-1108, www.ansechastanet.com; Jade Mountain, 758-459-4000, jademountain@ansechastanet.com, www.jademountain.com.

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© 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/.

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© 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

Mountain Top Inn & Resort: The Perfect Vermont 4-Season Family Retreat

A horse-drawn sleigh ride, a signature experience at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

There are subtle things. Little surprises. Like shortly after our arrival at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, I peek outside to see the horse-drawn sleigh gliding across the field. It is a signature experience at the inn, a class Vermont scene, but when you see it, you are overwhelmed.

It’s a place that organically brings people together. The low ceilings, the cozy sitting areas (I estimate probably one for each family grouping can be found), fire places, the fire pit with a supply of s’mores.

Even getting there along the narrow winding Vermont country roads to Chittenden, brings you through a Currier & Ives landscape.

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont © 2017 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. It is both small and big in the ways you want.

It’s the sort of place that you instantly feel at home, exquisitely at peace. You don’t want to leave. Even the memory of having been there, fills you with longing to return.

The setting is breathtaking – 350 acres surrounded by open fields, a 740-acre lake and mountains beyond, and the Green Mountain National Forest. Indeed, Mountain Top’s name comes from the fact that at nearly 1,800 ft in altitude, the inn may well be the highest non-alpine resort in Vermont.

It is no wonder Mountain Top is so popular for weddings (elopements too!) – it exudes romance (two weddings were scheduled during the holidays). But any family gathering is special here.

I take note of the many, many cozy sitting areas – almost as many as there might have been families staying. The low ceilings and soft lighting, the fire in the fireplace, much more of a living room than a lobby, more of a den than a lounge.

Sit in front of the fireplace in the lobby at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are here at the holidays and the inn has decorated Christmas trees and lights, fires going in the fireplaces; there is hot coffee, tea and hot chocolate set up in the afternoon.

Mountain Top Inn offers 32 rooms in the main lodge (classic, luxury and luxury suite), four king-bedroom cabins and more than 20 guest houses, each individually decorated, affording stunning views of the Vermont Countryside.

Our Lago Vista Suite is breathtaking – a kind of Colonial Spanish feel with a gas-operated double-sided fireplace separating the sleeping area from a living room area with plush easy chairs, a flat-screen TV, kitchenette. A stunning bathroom done with decorative terra cotta tile. All incredibly warm, like a big blanket enveloping you. And the view! Windows all across the wall out to the open field and the reservoir and mountains beyond. The bedding is so plush, it is a struggle to get out of bed in the morning.

The views from the Main Lodge rooms and suites at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other suites are notable: The High Meadow Suite, popular as a bridal suite, has 8 windows with views to the lake and mountains, a luxurious bathroom, double-sided fireplace visible from the living room and bedroom, a large kitchenette.

Of these, Ike’s View, on the southern corner of the second floor, is particularly noteworthy.  Rich in history, it is named for President Dwight Eisenhower who stayed at the inn during a fly fishing expedition in 1955. Ike’s View can be combined with the adjoining suite, Mamie’s Retreat, to create an expansive two-bedroom/two bath wing with living room, kitchenette and fireplace. Presidential, indeed.

During the holidays, the guests are provided their own s’mores kit (and each evening, a tray of s’mores fixings are left by the fire pit).

The resort also features four newly built luxuriously appointed cabins, which are open-plan, king accommodation living space -inviting and cozy,  a perfect mountain retreat for two. Each with its own unique design, and within easy access to all resort amenities. The cabins are located across a quiet country road from the Main Lodge and adjacent Event Barn.

Accommodations also include hearty Vermont buffet breakfast – complete with eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurts and cereals, breads and pastries, fresh juices and coffee.

The Main Lodge rooms and suites are not pet-friendly, but some of the inn’s luxury cabins and guest houses are (and some of the snowshoeing trails also are pet-friendly).

Dining Inn

The inn on this winter day we arrive after a five-hour drive is fairly isolated and we are content to enjoy dinner in its traditional mountain lodge atmosphere. We opt to dine in the nicely appointed Tavern at a table right in front of the fireplace (there is also a dining room, and you can order from either menu).  In warmer seasons, you can also dine on the outdoor terrace. In or out, you still have gorgeous views of the mountains, lake and meadow.

The Tavern at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The menu and preparations are superb – artfully crafted selections featuring locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. The tavern has an extensive selection of locally crafted Vermont brews on tap. (Reservations are recommended, especially during the holidays, 802-483-2311).

The inn also can prepare picnic lunches – which would be really a good idea for a day cross-country skiing or snowshoeing or hiking.

The Baked Brie, featuring  12 Blythedale Farms Brie in a puff pastry, orange marmalade, blackberry jam, and grilled baguette, was out of this world.

The truffle fries, prepared with Parmesan cheese and truffle aioli was superb.

The Grilled Caesar was prepared with grilled Romaine hearts, capers, croutons, Parmigiano-Reggiano, roasted garlic and house-made Caesar dressing.

The French Onion soup, with Spanish onion, red onion shallots, croutons and baked Swiss cheese, was perfect.

We also enjoyed perfectly prepared burger and short ribs.

The restaurant did a fantastic job of accommodating our gluten free requests and promptly provided delicious gluten free rolls for both dinner and breakfast. The restaurant will also accommodate special dietary needs, including vegetarian, with advance notice.

The dining room serves breakfast and dinner; a children’s menu is available.

During the holidays, there is live music playing.

Staying in one of the guest houses? Special arrangements can be made for one of the chefs to prepare a private dinner in the home. (Advance notice required, pricing based on items chosen.)

So Much to Do!

Inn guests have access to daily afternoon refreshments in the Main Lodge lobby, use of the hot tub, sauna and fitness room, free WiFi, as well as access to seasonal activities. In winter, these include a access to the inn’s 60 km cross-country ski trail network (rentals, lessons available), snowshoe trails, ice skating rink (a small, cleared area on the meadow that is flooded; skate rentals available, $10). Warm weather activities include heated outdoor pool, tennis court, lake-front beach where there are kayks, canoes, paddleboards for guests, disc golf.

We get to enjoy the hot tub on evening – you can see the stars from the outdoor hot tub. When the mist would dissipate, it would open up to a view if the sky.  It’s a 15-second walk from the hotel Tavern (wear shoes).  It takes a minute to adjust to the temperature of the hot tub (very hot! then it’s perfect). You can call ahead and request that they fire up the tub for you.

The firepit beckons with s’mores © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

With 350 private acres perched at the top of a quiet mountain road, a 740 acre lake, miles of trails, expansive meadows, the Green Mountain National Forest and a full host of activities, there is no shortage of things to do right at the resort.

Nordic Skiing at Mountain Top has been a favorite past-time since 1964, with 60 km of trails plus the meadows, offering varied terrain and sweeping views.  Through over 50 years of continuous operation, Olympic Athletes, Vermonters and XC Skiers from all over the country have come to Mountain Top. You can get Nordic ski lesson; learn to ski package; rent equipment.  Trails are open 8 am to 4 pm.

Snowshoeing: Whether you’ve been doing it for years, or this is your first try, snowshoeing (one of the easiest new sports to acquire, you just walk) is a wonderful way to explore the woods and meadows and get that cardio going! The team at the Activities Center will provide a trail map and the inn’s chefs can pack you a lunch.  There are pet-friendly trails. There are twilight group snowshoeing tours (lamps provided).

Horse drawn sleigh rides, the quintessential Vermont thing to do, are offered mid-December through March (weather permitting); reservations are required for the 30-minute tours; private rides and packages are available (maximum 9 adults & children per ride; $40 adult/ $20/child call 802-483-6089).  A Sleigh Ride & Dinner Package (includes sleigh ride, 3-course dinner for two & taxes , can be scheduled ( $150, gratuity & alcohol not included).

Snowmobiling: Hit the VAST trails or tour Mountain Top’s property. You can take a guided 30 minute Snowmobile Tour through the meadows and along some of the trails at the Mountain Top Resort, or stop by for a bite to eat (or overnight stay) as you journey along the VAST Trail System –the Inn is  located right on the trail ($60 pp as a driver; $15 as passenger for 30 minutes).

Spa & Salon: Mountain Top’s spa is located on the ground level of The Mountain Top Barn adjacent to the pool and hot tub. With features such as barn board wall paneling, hammered copper pedicure basins, a spacious cedar sauna, custom soapstone sinks, rich leather and wood furniture and views to the mountains and lake –  the spa & salon is a perfect example of ‘rustic luxe’ design in a wholly relaxing space.  The Spa offers several signature treatments; services include a wide variety of massages, scrubs and wraps, facials, manicures, pedicures and professional hair and make-up for wedding parties. The spa & salon operates seasonal hours – please contact us for a current schedule (Available for special events upon request). (For reservations, call 802.483.2311 ext 404 or spa@Mountain Topinn.com).

The fitness center  is equipped with state-of-the-art treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bicycles and a cable weight system and take a dip in the hot tub, or relax in our sauna, after your workout. (Guests under 18 yrs must be accompanied by an adult; open 7:30am – 9pm).

A White Christmas: The Barn was built for events; it can accommodate 250 guests © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Warm weather activities include:

Activities available for guests at no charge include tennis (you can borrow a racket; the court is available on first-come, first-serve basis); Disc Golf on the inn’s newly designed 9-hole disc golf course which takes advantage of the open meadow space, adjacent woods, spectacular views and finishes just a few steps from the Mountain Top Tavern and terrace (discs can be borrowed from the front desk, and discs and greens fees are included in your stay);  heated outdoor swimming pool open (weather permitting) from June into September; the  pool-side hot tub is open year-round; 40 miles of hiking trails; sand volleyball.

Private Beach: Less than ¾ mile walk down a private lane from the main lodge, Mountain Top’s exclusive beach is situated on a quiet cove within a 740 acre lake. Available spring through late fall, you can enjoy boating, swim or simply relax on lounge chairs. Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are available (no charge for guests; lifejackets provided). A beach towel is available from the front desk. You can arrange to take a picnic lunch. (Available spring through late fall.

Guided hour-long pontoon boat rides touring the entire lake are offered daily (weather permitting, through October; reservations are required).

Also available:

Equestrian Center: Mountain Top Inn is the only Vermont resort, and one of only a handful of properties in New England, to offer a full equestrian program, accommodating neophytes and experienced riders. The Equestrian Center is open May through October.

Mountain Top Inn is one of the few places in Vermont with a full equestrian center © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Children’s Adventure Camp is open July through August 14, for children 6-13 years old; the program is offered 9:30 to 3 pm weekdays (minimum 3 children). (802-483-6089).

Fishing: Go fishing for Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Yellow Perch and Sunfish on the 740 acre lake: you can rent a small fishing boat with electric trolling motor, seating up to four people.

Clay Bird Shooting: Lessons are offered daily by our experienced staff from spring through fall (weather permitting). For safety reasons, we have a maximum allotment of six people per time slot.  The minimum age to participate is 15 years old and reservations are required. ($40 per person for 20 shots with instruction).

Golf:  Mountain Top Inn & Resort, has several challenging yet fun courses near-by (including Rutland Country Club, Green Mountain National Golf Course, Killington Golf Course and Neshobe Golf Club – all of which are accessible to the public).  

Destination Weddings, Elopements, Retreats

For all the reasons – the setting, ambiance, facilities and activities, it is easy to see why Mountain Top is a favorite wedding destination.

Mountain Top Inn can accommodate up to 250 guests in the events Barn and the majority do tend to stay on property –it makes for less travel for guests and everything being pretty much within walking distance and gives family and friends that much more opportunity to be together and share experiences.

Intimate sitting areas abound at the Mountain Top Inn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The inn also has more intimate spaces on property such as the beach pavilion for rehearsal dinners and events of fewer  than 100 guests (where the barn can feel a bit large) and for even more intimate events (an elopement, or corporate dinner) the larger guest houses are ideal.

The houses make for a great option for the weddings because family groups can stay together in one house and have common living space to share amongst themselves.  As well as bridal parties or just groups of friends who want to stay together and not have to head back to separate accommodations at night. They can hang out in their pj’s! (With the spa, the inn is also ideal for bachelorette getaways.)

The popular wedding ceremony site in the spring, summer, fall is the knoll up above the lodge (an amazing view). And in winter it’s the terrace outside the tavern (with a similar, but not as high altitude) view. For both, the ‘weather’ ceremony location is the loft in the barn which has lovely floor to ceiling windows that still provide that view.  In the warmer months, weddings are also held at the houses and on the beach.

A White Christmas at the Mountain Top Inn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Overcome with the romantic ambiance and want to elope?

The Mountain Top Inn & Resort is the ideal setting for an elopement or intimate wedding. The inn has a dedicated staff of wedding coordinators. And because some elopements are planned with limited lead-time, or are truly a surprise, the inn has a special package which includes many of the elements the couple will need, or can be customized.

The Mountain Top Elopement Package includes two nights lodging; three course candlelit dinner for two; full breakfast each morning; scenic pontoon boat ride (summer) or horse-drawn sleigh ride (winter); one hour massage for both; Champagne and Truffles; bouquet and boutonniere; petite wedding cake ($1550 in classic lodge room; $1775 in luxury lodge room; $1975 for a suite; $200 more for peak dates and holidays).

The Inn is also ideal for corporate retreats, functions and events – having a place that brings people together in a close setting, plus has many activities to engage, dining and meeting venues. Mid-week November through April is when availability is the best. Various venues are used for meeting space including the yoga studio, the barn loft, the beach pavilion (in summer), living areas in larger guest houses for smaller meetings. The barn can seat upwards of 250 for larger conferences and functions.

Hometown Connection: A Distinguished History

The Mountain Top Inn has a marvelous history, and as it turns out, a connection to our Long Island home town.

As we were driving up the country lanes that lead to the Mountain Top Inn, I spotted a library named for Frederic Duclos Barstow, and recognized the name from our Great Neck, Long Island community: he was the son of William S. Barstow (1866-1942) and Frangoise Duclos Barslow (1876-1958) – he was the first mayor of Kings Point and his mansion is now the Merchant Marine Museum on the grounds of the US Merchant Marine Academy. Barstow, who was an important electrical engineer and a partner of Thomas Edison, made a fortune establishing utility companies (including the one in Chittenden) and even electrifying the Brooklyn Bridge. Their only child, Frederic Duclos Barstow, born in 1895, was exposed to poison gas during War War I, and suffered lung damage and from shell shock. He moved to Chittenden, Vermont, believing the clean air would be more healthful to him, but died in 1931, at the age of 35. The Barstows built the Barstow Memorial School in his memory.

Classic country scenes in Chittenden, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

William Barstow purchased a farmhouse in Chittenden on his son’s property to serve as a hunting camp (what is now Fox Creek Inn on Dam Road). Here he entertained such notable figures as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone.

In 1939, Francoise Barstow bought the Henry Long Turnip farm, dating from the 1870s, which overlooked the Chittenden Reservoir, renovating the barn as an additional place to entertain her many friends – this is the property that became Mountain Top Inn.

Throughout the ensuing years, improvements and additions to the original barn building were made to accommodate the growing number of visiting friends and family – eventually evolving into a full service Inn & Tavern.  While Barstow, an associate of Thomas Edison, was a forward thinker, the couple maintained the integrity of property’s Yankee origins and protected the beauty and ecology of its natural surroundings. Barstow died in 1942.

In 1945, William and Margery Wolfe purchased the Mountain Top Inn. They continued improvements to the property and in 1955 put the Inn on the map when they hosted President Eisenhower and his entourage during a fishing expedition. Photos of the expedition are still displayed in the Main Lodge Lobby.  Ike’s View, a luxury room in the Main Lodge in which the President stayed, is named for him and the adjoining room is named for his wife, Mamie’s Retreat.

In 1964, realizing the natural terrain was ideal for winter sports, the Wolfes began to develop a cross country ski center and trail system. Today, one of the oldest in the country, the resort boasts 60 kilometers of trails.

Mountain Top Inn & Resort is the perfect synthesis of old and new © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A fire in 1977 destroyed most of the original Inn’s structure. Undeterred, the Wolfes rebuilt the Inn using traditional post and beam construction.  Large Douglas fir beams span the lobby and lend warmth and charm to the Main Lodge.  Rows of windows and a signature glass “silo” staircase offers the perfect vantage point for stunning views.

This is what accounts for the feeling you get of the Mountain Top Inn, that is both old and new – it is the faithful preservation of the traditional inn, with the modern amenities and materials.

With an appreciation and love for the property and its history, in the early 2000s a small group of investors purchased the Mountain Top Inn & Resort and have carefully nurtured its evolution from small country inn to a premier Mountain Lodge and destination resort.

Winter Family Wonderland package is available for non-holiday periods, and includes three nights accommodation;  Vermont country breakfast each morning;  horse-drawn sleigh ride for your group; one hour “family” cross country ski lesson with rentals (must be 6 years of age or older to take this lesson; one parent must participate); trail passes; use of resort facilities; tax and resort charge ($1260 for quad occupancy in classic lodge room, $1620 for luxury room; two-bedroom guest houses also available at $1670).

The website is really complete and easy to use to get information, but you need to call 802-483-2311 to book the packages (https://MountainTopInn.com/specials-packages/winter-spring-packages/)

Mountain Top Inn & Resort is also located a short distance (about 20-30 minutes drive) to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing; the inn provides shuttle transportation (8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm); reserve in advance.

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.

See also:

Killington, ‘Beast of the East,’ is Roaring into 2018 With Powder Snow

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© 2017 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

 

Regent Seven Seas’ Navigator in New York Provides First-Hand Look at ‘Most Inclusive Luxury Cruiseline’

Regent Seven Seas Navigator docked at Pier 88 on the Hudson River in New York City © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Regent Seven Seas’ Navigator had just come in from a month-long voyage. Docked at Pier 88 on the Hudson River in New York City, as passengers for its next sailing – a 12-day cruise up to Halifax, Nova Scotia and down to Bermuda (fall foliage and eternal spring combined in a single journey) we got to tour the ship and see why Regent boasts being the “most inclusive luxury cruiseline.”

In style, feel, and philosophy, Regent Seven Seas harkens back to the glory days of ocean cruising – elegant, luxurious, intimate, a hunger and excitement to explore places.

RSSC specializes in longer cruises and a focus on destinations with longer stays in port to give more time, more in-depth visits, multiple nights in port, and free, unlimited shore excursions. It lists some 450 ports of call among its itineraries, which include a 137-day circumnavigation of the world, and longer stays in port to give more time, more opportunity for in-depth visits. Regent’s smaller ships can access ports that bigger ships cannot, and therefore are less frequented and less overrun (Check out www.rssc.com/destinations).. For this reason, unlimited shore excursions among a long list of inclusive features

Regent Seven Seas offers a sophisticated, refined ambiance and casual elegance, and a premium on pampered service – the staff to guest ratio is 1:1.5. This isn’t the cruise for a family looking for rock-climbing walls, water slides, flow-riders or supervised children’s activity programs. But it’s a cruise for families who want that sense of discovery, of immersion into cultures and heritage

The dining room/living room in Navigator’s Master Suite © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Because of the longer itineraries, cruisegoers tend to be of retirement age, who want “good food and beverage and bucket-list destinations.”

So a really significant all-inclusive feature of Regent Seven Seas Cruises are free unlimited shore excursions in every destination, as many as you like in a day. There are a limited number of optional tours, Regent Choice Shore Excursions, that because of their special content or limited availability or high cost, like heli-touring, require a discounted supplementary charge.

Free unlimited shore excursions (you can take multiple ones a day) is just the beginning. Also included are two-for-one fares; free roundtrip business class air on all intercontinental sailings or free roundtrip air on domestic flights; free unlimited Wifi; specialty restaurants with no surcharge; free unlimited beverages including fine wines and premium spirits; free open bars and lounges; in-suite mini-bar replenished daily; free pre-paid gratuities; free transfers between airport and ship; and free one-night luxury hotel package in concierge suites and above.

Regent Seven Seas Navigator has a staff to guest ratio of 1 to 1 ½ © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When you calculate the inclusive features, the unabashedly pricey fare becomes more of a value proposition. And, on top of that, there are special offers at RSSC’s site:

For example, the June 12, 2018, 12-day London (Southampton) sailing to Copenhagen on Seven Seas Explorer has two-for-one fares from $12,499 (with the discount) but children 17 or younger sail for $1,299.

The July 6, 2018 12-day Reykjavik to Dublin voyage on Seven Seas Navigator, priced from $9,799 pp, features a bonus savings of $1400 per suite.

A featured offer on an 11-day sailing on Seven Seas Explorer, Monte Carlo to Barcelona on April 12, 2018, with fares from $10,099 pp, features bonus savings of $2800 per suite.

Return to World Cruises

This year, Regent Seven Seas Cruises offered its  first world cruise in six years on Seven Seas Navigator,  beginning and ending in Miami on a circumnavigation of the globe in 128 nights, calling on six continents, 31 countries, 62 distinct ports and exploring 29 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Navigator is also the ship for the 2018 and 2019 world cruises; Mariner, which accommodates 700 passengers, will be the ship for 2020.

World Cruises come with a slew of additional inclusive features, including roundtrip air, full medical care, and visa and passport services.

Refined Ambiance

Navigator is refinement, elegance and grace, a destination in itself. Accommodations are all-suites, nearly all with private balcony. With only 490 guests, and a staff to guest ratio of 1 to 1 ½, you feel pampered.

Regent Seven Seas refurbishes ships every 2-3 years; and in 2016, Regent initiated a two-year fleet-wide $125 million refurbishment program to bring its ships up to the standard of its newest, Seven Seas Explorer, which has been hailed as “the most luxurious cruise ship” ever built.

Navigator had just gone through a bow-to-stern refurbishment in the first phase of the renovation project and we were able to see the fresh, warm color schemes, contemporary design, plush furnishings and amenities.

Galileo Lounge on Regent Seven Seas’ Navigator © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

A popular space is the Galileo Lounge on Deck 11 with a décor that conveys a celestial feel, beginning with its tempered glass double-door entrance trimmed with an abstract design reminiscent of the solar system and featuring a decorative sun-shaped handle. That theme extends inside the 132-seat cocktail lounge, where a night-black oval-shaped ceiling twinkling with fiber-optic “stars” overlooks the inlaid wooden dance floor.

Navigator Lounge / Coffee Connection: By day, these intimate Deck 6 venues – connected by a central walkway – are bathed in natural light from a bank of windows overlooking the sea. By night, the Navigator Lounge transforms into a small night club, with a Steinway piano as the centerpiece. Adding to the elegance are leather-wrapped columns with a copper-topped capital and dark wooden base.

The theater is a stunning affair – sofas and easy chairs with small tables, a beautiful stage where there is nightly entertainment – Broadway reviews and Las-Vegas style entertainment performed by a small cast of 4 to 6, plus onboard lectures from the Smithsonian Collection by Smithsonian Journeys .

There is also a small casino in the style of the French and Italian Riviera, as opposed to Las Vegas glitz and noise.

The Library aboard Regent Seven Seas’ Navigator © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Library is gorgeous (there is wireless access throughout the ship, free wifi).

There is an onboard Canyon Ranch SpaClub® offering various spa treatments; as well as a fitness room and yoga rooms – with free classes (stretching, pilates, yoga, spinning) offered throughout the voyage.

The outdoor pool is lovely; there is also a jogging track and miniature golf.

Cuisine

Regent Seven Seas is also known for its cuisine. In Compass Rose, the main dining room, the menu changes daily with a selection of offerings that reflect the destination, along with popular Continental cuisine standards, a selection of Canyon-Ranch healthful items, vegetarian and Kosher. The specialty restaurant on board, Prime 7, is a classic American steakhouse.

Compass Rose, the main dining room aboard Regent Seven Seas Navigator © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

La Veranda, a lovely casual restaurant for indoor and al fresco dining with incredible ocean views,   is the casual restaurant serving smorgasbord-style for breakfast and  lunch that transforms into a fine dining venue, Sette Mari La Veranda, for dinner featuring regional specialties and Italian specialties.

The Pool Grill offers casual dining al fresco and a popular Burger Bar. There are culinary demonstrations and wine tastings.

La Veranda, the casual dining room on Regent Seven Seas Navigator © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Suites with Benefits

Regent Seven Seas prides itself on being the most inclusive luxury cruising experience afloat, but as the suite category increases, so do added benefits:

The Concierge Suite Category, 356 sq ft with 55 sq ft balcony, adds free one-night pre-cruise luxury hotel package that includes ground transfers, breakfast, porterage; priority online shore excursion and dining reservations; binoculars; Espresso Maker & cashmere blankets, commemorative gift plus the rest of the amenities.

The Penthouse Suite category, 356-476  sq. plus 55-60  sq ft. balcony adds in personal butler; daily canapés; Guerlain bath amenities; in-suite I-Pad; personalized stationery; complimentary pressing on first night.

The Navigator Suite category, ranging from 414 to 495 sq ft with balcony, adds a welcome bottle of Veuve Clicquot  and fresh flowers; personalized in-suite full-liquor bar set-up; in-suite caviar service;  delivery of up to three daily newspapers and world atlas; in-suite Blue-ray Player; selection of Fig & Tea Leaves Bath Salts; luxe fruit arrangement, plus all the amenities provided in Penthouse, Concierge.

Regent Seven Seas Navigator is all-suite © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Master Suite category, ranging in size from 1021 to 1173 sq ft with 100 sq ft balcony, some with full wrap-around and the Grand Suite Category, 539 sq ft., plus 200 sq. ft balcony, some with full wrap-around balcony, adds on Dinner with the Captain; guaranteed reservation each night in specialty restaurant of your choice; in-suite dining menu; complimentary 25 minute personal fitness session at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub® Fitness Center; in-suite complimentary cocktail party for eight; Guerlain Box; Bottega Veneta bath amenities (in addition to the others) and Tea Forte set-up.

The suites are have big-screen TVs; walk-in closets equipped with plush terry robes and slippers; umbrella, hats, bag; bathroom well stocked with a selection of top-flight toiletries; an amenities box of everything you might think of (with a plush bear); liquor set-up; coffee-maker.

And, in the category of “they think of everything”, each deck has a launderette that is available to guests – extremely popular, especially on longer cruises.

Events at Sea

With just 245 suites, Navigator is the smallest ship in Regent Seven Seas’ fleet, and its size, equivalent to a luxury boutique hotel, makes it ideal for corporate incentives, meetings and events.

In fact, organizations can charter the ship –about $1.2 million might do it – for a three or four-day sailing and RSSC will alter the itinerary, bring the ship to you, and customize the cruise, while incorporating all the inclusive features (shore excursions can include team-building activities).

The ships are ideal size for corporate meetings, incentives, or events, and a cruise is ideal because everything is included, the participants spend their time together, there are venues for meals, entertainment, and it has the allure of being luxurious, glamorous, special and an experience that cannot be duplicated.

Everyone who sails on Regent Seven Seas is automatically inducted into the Seven Seas Society, a loyalty program that comes with exclusive rewards and benefits such as priority online shore excursion and dining reservations, free garment pressing and WiFi.

The outdoor pool aboard Regent Seven Seas’ Navigator © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is part of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., a leading global cruise company which also operates Norwegian Cruise Lines and Oceania Cruises. With a combined fleet of 22 ships and around 45,000 berths, these three brands offer itineraries to more than 520 destinations worldwide. The company is introducing five more ships through 2019.

Norwegian Cruise Line is an innovator in cruise travel, most notably with the introduction of “Freestyle Cruising,” which revolutionized the industry by giving guests more freedom and flexibility. Also, The Haven, which is a luxury enclave with suites, its own private pools and dining, concierge service and personal butlers.

Oceania Cruises offers immersive destination experiences with destination-rich itineraries spanning the globe and the finest cuisine at sea.

Regent Seven Seas and Norwegian Cruise Lines have both undertaken fund-raising campaigns to help the recovery in Caribbean islands so badly damaged by the recent hurricanes.

Nine of the line’s itineraries have had some adjustments – six replaced calls at San Juan with St. Kitts.

For more information about Regent Seven Seas Cruises, visit www.RSSC.com, call 844-4REGENT (844-473-4368) or contact a professional travel agent.

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© 2017 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

 

Two Nights, One Day in Pittsburgh: Historic Omni William Penn Hotel Connects to City’s Proud Heritage

The gracious lobby of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Palm Court of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(I have come to Pittsburgh to join the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn three-day, 120-mile bike tour on the Great Allegheny Passage. I only have two nights and one full day in the city, so I focus on what is uniquely Pittsburgh’s heritage. This is fifth in the series.) 

My purpose for this all-too-brief visit to Pittsburgh is to immerse myself in the city’s proud heritage at the epicenter of the nation’s founding, settlement, industrialization and emergence as a world power, but a heritage that came at a terrible cost to its environment. The city has undertaken a fantastic revitalization, emerging from grey to green, and becoming one of America’s most liveable cities.

And so for my two-nights stay, I seek out the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – a member of Historic Hotels of America – which celebrated its centennial in 2016 the same year as the city celebrated its bicentennial, and is so much a part of Pittsburgh’s story.

I love wandering around, immersing myself in the taking in the ambiance, admiring its stunning architectural features and Art Deco-style appointments, and, as if these walls could talk, hearing its stories as if whispered in my ear. There are historic displays, photos, artifacts and artwork in various places that convey the story. Indeed, in its award-winning restaurant, The Terrace Room, that dates from 1916, there is an enormous mural that pays homage to the city’s history depicting “The Taking of Fort Pitt”.

"The Taking of Fort Pitt" mural hangs in The Omni William Penn Hotel’s award-winning restaurant, The Terrace Room, that dates from 1916 © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
“The Taking of Fort Pitt” mural hangs in The Omni William Penn Hotel’s award-winning restaurant, The Terrace Room, that dates from 1916 © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Whenever I travel, I first seek out members of Historic Hotels of America, a collection of properties. Historic hotels are so much more than mere structures. They embody the heritage and history and sense of place, and are also very much creations of their builders. Owners take on the role of steward, with a responsibility of passing it along to the next.

This is true of The William Penn, whose history parallels that of the city and the nation, as I learn from a wonderful pamphlet, “A Grand Dame Named William Penn,” by Marianne Lee.

Stunning decoration in the Omni William Penn Hotel’s interior. Built by industrialist Henry Clay Frick, when it was first opened, in 1916, it was hailed as the “Grandest Hotel in the nation” © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Stunning decoration in the Omni William Penn Hotel’s interior. Built by industrialist Henry Clay Frick, when it was first opened, in 1916, it was hailed as the “Grandest Hotel in the nation” © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The William Penn Hotel was the last building venture of Henry Clay Frick, one of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest industrialists. Frick envisioned the William Penn as Pittsburgh’s showplace, and it was designed by renowned architects Benno Janssen, and Franklin Abbott to rival the great hotels of Europe in Old World style but with what was then the state-of-the-art, sophisticated, 20th century technology. Guests were dazzled by such modern amenities including iced drinking water on top, “certified” lighting, electrically operated clocks, a telephone in every room connected to a master switchboard with 30 operators at the ready, and a private bathroom in an age when most Americans still used outdoor privies and most hotels offered only shared facilities.

Built at a cost of $6 million, when it opened, newspapers proclaimed The William Penn as the “Grandest Hotel in the nation.” Its first night featured the annual Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce Gala, the largest gala in city history up to that time, which was hosted by US Secretary of State Philander Knox.

When the hotel was first built, it had 1,000 guestrooms (interesting to contemplate since it only has 597 today), and an elegant two-tier Grand Ballroom on the 17th floor. In 1928, the hotel was acquired by the Eppley Hotel Company and Eugene Eppley, a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches figure, financed a major expansion, the Grant Street Annex. That added 600 more guestrooms as well as the hotel’s crowning jewel, the Urban Room, designed by Joseph Urban, when it was finished in 1929. With this addition, The William Penn became the largest hotel between Pittsburgh and Chicago, and the major convention facility for Pittsburgh.

But Eppley, who was the vanguard of a new breed of professional hotelier who saw his patrons not as customers but as guests, lost control of the hotel in the Great Depression, and new owners brought in the Statler Hotels company to manage it 1940-1951. Eppley briefly regained control, but over the years, this Grand Dame was held by Sheraton, then a group of local investors, then Alcoa, which invested $20 million in a substantial renovation, and finally Omni Hotels & Resorts, in 2001.

A photo of Lawrence Welk recalls the bandleader’s connection to the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – his famous bubble machine was invented by the hotel’s engineer  © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A photo of Lawrence Welk recalls the bandleader’s connection to the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – his famous bubble machine was invented by the hotel’s engineer © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout its storied past and many owners, The Omni William Penn Hotel has hosted many of the 20th century’s movers, shakers and celebrities.  A young bandleader named Lawrence Welk, who would later gain fame for his television show, performed in the hotel’s ballrooms; the hotel’s  engineers actually devised Welk’s iconic bubble machine – a connection commemorated by naming a ballroom for him, and in large photographic murals.

In 1934, a young vocalist named Dolores DeFina accepted a marriage proposal at The William Penn from the inimitable Bob Hope. The hotel remains celebrated as a wedding venue (including being named to the “Best of Weddings 2009” list by The Knot ).

A popular campaign spot as well as for presidential appearances, The Omni William Penn Hotel has received every president since Theodore Roosevelt (who visited in 1917 to attend a Moose Convention), including John Kennedy and Barack Obama.

The gracious lobby of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The gracious lobby of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, as now, The William Penn combines every modern amenity with timeless elegance: 597 beautifully appointed guestrooms including 38 suites, 52,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and five dining venues including its fine dining room, The Terrace Room, the Palm Court, a pub-style Tap Room, Starbucks Coffee Café, The Speakeasy (in 1920s tradition tucked beneath the hotel lobby), plus 24-hour room service. The hotel boasts two self-contained conference centers, a 24-hour fitness center, beauty salon, gift shop, and a jewelry store.

There is every amenity, nicety and graciousness, beginning with fresh apples at reception and a concierge available to help with every situation. My room is outfitted with plush robe, refrigerator, bottled water, coffee maker, big screen TV, hair dryer, ironing board/iron, safe, WiFi (free if you enroll in Omni Hotels loyalty program).

I take advantage of the opportunity to order two beverages (at no charge) plus other items at modest cost for the morning ($3 for an English muffin; $3 for a toasted bagel with cream cheese, $2.75 for a muffin, $3.75 for Greek yogurt, etc.), especially when I have to leave at 5:15 am to get to the start of my Rails-to-Trails biking trip on the Great Allegheny Passage. You tell them a 15-minute window when you want it to be delivered, and sure enough, it arrives right on time. So does my car, waiting for me when I depart.

The Omni William Penn Hotel marked its centennial in 2016 the same year as Pittsburgh’s bicentennial. Located downtown, it is walking distance to many of the city’s attractions © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Omni William Penn Hotel marked its centennial in 2016 the same year as Pittsburgh’s bicentennial. Located downtown, it is walking distance to many of the city’s attractions © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hotel is smack in the middle of the city, walking distance to all the downtown attractions, restaurants, cultural and financial center. Here’s a recap of my Day in Pittsburgh Walking Tour: Omni William Penn Hotel, Monongahela Incline, Duquesne Incline, Point State Park, Fort Pitt Museum, National Aviary, Andy Warhol Museum, Heinz History Center, Strip District. But one full day in Pittsburgh is simply not enough.

Omni William Penn Pittsburgh, 530 William Penn Place, Pittsburgh PA 15219, 412-281-7100, omnihotels.com/Pittsburgh. 

Historic Hotels of America

Historic Hotels of America is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating the finest Historic Hotels. Historic Hotels of America was founded in 1989 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation with 32 charter members. Today, Historic Hotels of America has more than 290 historic hotels. These historic hotels have all faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated properties. More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; have been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org, 800-678-8946. 

Visit Pittsburgh

For all the right reasons, Pittsburgh is a sensational travel destination no matter what season or weather, whether it is business, academia or leisure pursuits that bring you into the city. I can’t wait to come back.

For more information, contact Visit Pittsburgh, 412-281-7711, 800-359-0758, 877-LOVE PGH (568-3744), info@visitpittsburgh.com, www.visitpittsburgh.com.

See also:

One Day, Two Nights in Pittsburgh: From Grey to Green, A Proud City Revitalized

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Point State Park Proves Highlight of Walking Tour

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Andy Warhol Museum is at Center of Revitalized City

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Strip District Exemplifies City’s Past, Future

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com 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

 

Basin Harbor Club Marks 130 years as Luxury Summer Retreat on Lake Champlain, Vermont

 

Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years, offers a mixture of activity and tranquility © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years, offers a mixture of activity and tranquility © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

We come to the Basin Harbor Club by driving down a four-mile Vermont country road lined with classically picturesque farms. As we enter the grounds, we are overcome by the breath-taking beauty of the landscape and the surprising realization of just how enormous this place is – spanning 700 acres along Lake Champlain, with its own harbor and marina and beaches. Basin Harbor Club is more of a vacation village, a compound, than a mere resort.

Then there is the absolute sense of peace and serenity that rushes over us when we enter our very own cottage, Sunny Pines, which bears the date 1938 etched in stone, set in the woods on a cliff, from which we can gaze out over Lake Champlain from the balcony and through the French windows from the living room. A master bedroom and second room on the first floor, and a spiral staircase down to another sprawling room with two queen beds. Perfect for our multi-generational family.

Basin Harbor Club has been greeting guests for 130 years. A seasonal resort open from May through October, Basin Harbor Club offers 77 individual cottages and another 47 guest rooms in a gracious manor house – accommodations for about 350 people at one time.

Sunny Pines, one of 77 unique cottages at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sunny Pines, one of 77 unique cottages at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Each of the 77 cottages are different – built in the 1920s and 1930s according to the specifications provided by the original families who were invited to Basin Harbor Club by the Beach family and came back each summer to escape city heat.  In those early days, the first cottages were rustic – the equivalent of today’s glamping – wood with canvas roofs on a concrete slab. But today, the cottages are luxurious, each with its own history and sense of style, exuding grace and charm, most have fireplaces and decks or screened porches and are equipped with complimentary WiFi; refrigerators and coffeemakers (just don’t look for a TV).

I must confess that I had always imagined Basin Harbor Club, which is a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org, 800-678-8946), as more rustic – more like a camp than a resort village. Instead, Basin Harbor Club manifests gentility, refinement, class, yet it is relaxed, casual, comfortable and completely unstuffy. You instantly feel you belong here. For the precious time you are at Basin Harbor, you feel less like a guest and more like you are at your summer home. All the activities they offer may make you feel you are in an adult camp, but the service, facilities, dining experiences make you feel like a country squire.

Guests, many who come year after year, generation after generation, are treated to a first class experience from top to bottom – from the exquisite, immaculately maintained grounds, to the impeccable service, to the top quality equipment and facilities.

I can’t list all the instances where we were greeted so warmly – like Ryan Baker who helps us get sunfish and kayaks into the water and sets us up with bikes, and Jamie McCatherin who leads us on a 2-mile hike on the opposite shore in the Adirondack State Park, Glenn Spence of Vermont who greets us warmly as we are deciding what to take from the buffet for breakfast; and the fellow working to ready the pool who runs to the front desk when I  ask what time the Escape cruise departs.

The cheery attitude starts with Bob Beach who I chance to meet not long after we arrive, as I explore the property. He is walking along to the marina with his two golden retrievers and engages in pleasant conversation. I find him again chatting with my kids playing shuffleboard. Later he tells me this is one of the ways he constantly gauges what might need adjustment, improvement or what services to add.

It is hard to imagine anything that should be added – everything you could want for a vacation retreat is already here.

In addition to the big things – a wonderful, walkable 18-hole, par-72 golf course that is sufficiently challenging but not frustrating, where you actually feel good about your game after your round (“It’s one of the most enjoyable courses in the state,” Herb Kessel, a regular, tells me. “You don’t get beaten up. It’s one of my favorite courses in Vermont.”); driving range (PGA instructor as well as electric carts available); outdoor lap pool heated to a perfect temperature; tennis courts; a marina with kayaks, canoes, sunfishes, paddleboards, waterskiing and tubing; diving board and two trampolines in the lake; plus bikes (top quality mountain and hybrid), and the Escape which takes people out on hour-long narrated cruises as well as special sunset cruises for groups) – there are also the pleasant diversions you happen upon, such as disc golf, badminton, croquet, ping pong. And while there isn’t an elaborate full-service spa, there are massage services available.

And that’s not even half of it. Basin Harbor spans 700 acres along the shores of Lake Champlain – one of the largest lakes in the country, which, because of where Basin Harbor is positioned, only a ½ miles across at this point, utterly stunning views of the Adirondack State Park on the New York Side. Just as you come to the entrance, you see the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, founded by Bob Beach and is a substantial and important museum, with among other things, a perfect working replica of the 1776 gunboat Philadelphia (the original, razed from where it was sunk in Lake Champlain, is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC).

Basin Harbor even has its own air strip – people come in their private planes just for lunch or a round of golf, and one family used to fly in their DC-10. (New England Aero Club has a fly-in with 200 planes and do aerial acrobatics.)

Hiking along the shore of Lake Champlain at Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hiking along the shore of Lake Champlain at Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The resort abuts Button Bay State Park, adding a whole other dimension to the stay. You can connect with hiking trails or bike into the park (though you are supposed to go in through the entrance off the Basin Harbor Road and pay the entrance fee). Bob Beach suggests going there (about 2 miles from the resort) for the sunset.

The hiking along the lake is utterly gorgeous – especially when the weather turns stormy and we watch the rain descend from clouds at first far away, over the Adirondacks to the east and Green Mountains to the north, and then closer and closer until we are caught in quite a deluge. No matter. It is tremendous fun. We find the gravel road from the Nature Center, and soon are on a scenic country road made all the more dramatic because of the breaks in the rolling clouds, the brilliant colors of the wet grass and soil, the blue mountains in the distance. Once out on the Basin Harbor Road, there are classic looking farms making the scenes even more picturesque.

Basin Harbor Club offers a guided hike on the New York State side of Lake Champlain, in the Adirondack State Park © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club offers a guided hike on the New York State side of Lake Champlain, in the Adirondack State Park © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

You can be even more ambitious: kayaking 1 1/2 miles across Lake Champlain to the New York State side where Basin Harbor owns a tiny portion of the Adirondack State Park, where you can beach the kayak while you hike to a wonderful rocky promontory (locals jump into the water from here, about 75 feet up, but it is really dangerous). Or, you can take advantage of the guided hike Basin Harbor offers, where they take you over by motorboat and you hike two miles through the woods to another cove (hiking a small spur to an overlook from which you can peer into an eagle’s nest).

As for biking, you can do a four-mile loop from Basin Harbor, or go out to the Champlain Bikeway – really a designated portion on the road (Basin Harbor has excellent hybrid and mountain bikes for rent).

Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain offers tranquil places just to be together © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain offers tranquil places just to be together © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Basin Harbor Club offers all of these wonderful activities and amusements, but what it is best at is simply offering the space, ambiance, not to mention time just to be together. There are quaint sitting areas positioned to take advantage of the best views –with colorful Adirondack chairs, including some giant ones that make you feel like a small child, and child-sized ones. There are gorgeous gardens and colorful, whimsical mobile art all around that makes you smile, makes you feel peaceful, and places where you can light a campfire.

Space, ambiance and time are a powerful formula for forging bonds of family and friendship. Many Basin Harbor guests are regulars who return year after year, same week, same cottage each year.

In fact, this September, a couple who met at Basin Harbor Club as 10 year olds – one family from Massachusetts and the other from New Jersey – and came back the same week each year, then came back as counselors and became engaged here last July 4, will be married here.

Weddings here are idyllic –the setting is absolute exquisite on a vast lawn with views of Lake Champlain, lovely gardens (there’s always an indoor site in case the weather doesn’t cooperate). A wedding coordinator is available who can arrange for florist, photographer and such, as well as organize special activities – like bringing the bride and groom into the wedding on vintage Chris Craft boats, the rehearsal dinner followed by a hayride and bonfire (a sample itinerary is on the website), and arrange such novel activities as hot air ballooning or even sky diving.. “Our wedding planner assists with all the wedding details, whether it’s a traditional ceremony, elopement or our shotgun wedding.”

The facilities, the space, the setting and activities make Basin Harbor ideal for multigenerational family getaways, reunions, executive retreats, team-building programs (they can arrange for a ropes course), for incentive programs and corporate meetings, and especially think tanks. Self-contained with lots of activities so never bored, but also not distracted. As much or as little, as busy or as lazy as you like. Indeed, Basin Harbor strikes you as an adult summer camp, but actually, children have their own camp.

Children’s Programs 

Lots of resorts say they have a “kids camp” but here at Basin Harbor, it quite literally is a camp – each of five age groups has its own bunkhouse or headquarters. The 3-5s have the larger playhouse and playground; the 9-12s (preteens) have a building away from the other siblings (near the Red Mill Restaurant). Teenagers have their own “den” but because they tend to be “unpredictable”, Basin Harbor hosts a mocktail reception on Sunday when counselors meet so the teens can plan their own activities for the week together – kayaking, hiking and such.

Kids Camp is available for five different age groups, from 9:30am-1:30pm and/or 5:00-9:00pm (so there is also time for families to be together). The program runs daily from mid-June through Labor Day and on select weekends in spring and fall. Activities include arts and crafts, fishing, sports, games and educational hikes. The program is included for guests on the FAP (Full American meal plan) and the MAP (breakfast and dinner plan).

Activities Galore 

Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In classic resort style, there are all sorts of organized activities – bird-watching, geocaching, a ga-ga ball pit, night golf, barn dances, narrated lake cruises, art classes, wellness classes, property tours, history talks, dogs walks, and so much more.

Jamie McCatherin, whose title is Entertainment Ambassador, hosts guided hikes, special events, brewery tours, pool parties, arts and crafts programs and such.

“We tell the activities director not to take it personally if people don’t participate,” Beach says. That’s because there are so many things to do, to explore, to discover.”

Beach calls it “Active tranquility – do as much as you want to do. We offer a lot to do. It doesn’t matter if people don’t show up.”

Choices for Dining 

Basin Harbor is a classic resort where most guests still take advantage of a meal plan (MAP, which is breakfast and dinner, FAP, which is breakfast, lunch and dinner, or bed-and-breakfast). Led by Executive Chef Christian Kruse, the formal dining experience in the lakeside Main Dining Room has been enjoyed by generations.

During the summer months, the tradition of jacket and tie is maintained for gentleman over the age of 12. Outdoor dinners are enjoyed three times weekly and the Red Mill Restaurant offers casual, bistro style dining overlooking the grass airstrip.

Nearby Vergennes also offers several charming restaurants, cafes and eateries, including Antidote, Black Sheep Bistro and 3 Squares Café.

Five Generations of Beach Family History

Basin Harbor Club is celebrating its 130th anniversary this season – a mind-boggling reality. That puts Basin Harbor Club at the very beginning of tourism in America, coinciding with a rising middle class born of the Industrial Revolution and rise of American cities.

At a time when Gilded Age monied elites had their cottages in Newport and Bar Harbor, their “camps” in the Adirondacks and Cape Cod and private retreats on Jekyll Island, the first and second generation at Basin Harbor pioneered a new sort of tourism that catered to the rising middle class.

Bob Beach is the 4th generation host at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Bob Beach is the 4th generation host at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The 4th and 5th generations run the Basin Harbor Club now –Bob Beach and sister Pennie Beech and her daughter, Sarah Morris, who is the director of sales. They can be seen about. During the course of our all-too brief stay, I meet Bob with his 2 golden retrievers, his wife and daughter. Indeed, some 120 of the 240 employees at Basin Harbor live on the grounds.

I sit down with Bob Beach who tells me the history of Basin Harbor Club, which is also his family history:

Basin Harbor was a working farm when Beach’s great great aunt Ardelia Beach purchased it in 1886. She began offering rooms to city folk looking to get away and experience farm work in exchange for food. Her nephew, Allen Penfield Beach, came to work in the 1920s and eventually took over. While attending the University of Vermont he implemented changes, including giving up farming altogether and transforming the property into a full service resort with stables, golf course, airstrip and cottages built from guest sketches.

The history of tourism is also manifested in Basin Harbor’s golf course: in 1916, Basin Harbor had 3 holes of golf on what was a sheep meadow; then in 1927, they built a nine-hole course; in 1955, they added the back nine. The course, 6,500 yards long, was redesigned by famed designer Jeffrey Cornish. Now, a new superintendent has been making changes to make Basin Harbor a “noteworthy” golf destination. Part of this involves making the course faster – making the greens putt at 11 mph (“people like fast greens”) and cutting the fairways to less than 3/8 inch for faster play. There are practice greens, PGA certified instructors and electric carts are available. The BHC Golf Program is ideal for all levels of play. Daily clinics are open to men, women and junior golfers.

Bob Beach speaks of the challenge of being 4th and 5th generation hosts, maintaining a 130-year old institution. “Travelers are different today. Each generation brings new things. We have never been opposed to making changes, but we don’t make changes just for the sake of change. We have a certain tradition we continue. It’s a sense of stewardship.”

There is history all around: one of the larger stone buildings was the oldest operating inn on Lake Champlain when Ardela bought her farm; and in a small garden just below the shuffleboard courts, there is a stone marker, ”Site of Naval Shipyard, 1804-1812. Erected 1938”

Beach tells me of a shipwreck right in the cove, and once a week (on Monday), the hour-long narrated cruise on the Escape, turns into an expedition, using a ROV camera to view the wreck.

Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

That afternoon, we get to take the 1 ¼ hour narrated cruise on the Escape (daily at 2:30 pm) is not only really interesting but also wonderfully scenic, as we come close to the dramatic stone cliffs on the New York State side where the captain points out an eagles nest and where an eagle is sitting in a tree, pass small private islands, see the vast Swift Gilded-Age mansion and 450-acre estate, and get a view of the gunboat Philadelphia II docked at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The views are breathtaking.

Lake Champlain, we learn, is the largest lake in the US after the Finger Lakes and played an important role in colonial times, Revolutionary War period, and economic development of the region. Great steamships used to ply the waters, and even before the Erie Canal, a 60-mile long canal was built in 1823 to connect the Lake with the Hudson River, which created a waterway extending up to Canada.

Pet-Friendly: Basin Harbor Club is also the most pet-friendly place you can imagine. I meet a man walking his cat who comes every year – the cat is particular – it wants to stay in the room they had the year before.

For a daily fee of $15 per dog, BHC offers a resort vacation for your pets with activities and amenities including: biscuits made in Vermont, games of Pick Up Mitts, hundreds of acres available for playing and Fanny’s Beach — their own swimming area.  

Seasonal Events: Rocktoberfest (Bacon & Beer Festival), Festival of Fidos, Barbeque Bonanza, American Girl Teas, Harborween; and regular daily programming also offers guests a wide variety of entertainment.

Meeting Space: Over 9,000 square feet of meeting space provides an ideal setting for traditional board meetings, as well as multi-day retreats featuring activities like lake cruises and lobster bakes, team building, golf tournaments and banquets. You can arrange a small party or reserve the entire resort, with lakeside parties, beach bonfires and cocktail cruises. 

Come aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Come aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

So much to do! In addition to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum right at Basin Harbor Club, nearby attractions include: Dar John Strong Mansion Museum; Crown Point State Historic Site; Fort Ticonderoga; Mount Defiance; Carillion Cruises; Mount Independence State Historic Site; Chimney Point State Historic Site. Other sightseeing attractions: the Shelburne Museum, the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. Basin Harbor also has created biking routes; wine & beer routes; local cheeses; and historic drives 

Access: Set on the shores of Lake Champlain, surrounding a private harbor, the resort is just 45-minutes from Burlington International (BTV), Vermont’s largest commercial airport. BTV serves major commuter airlines, with connections from most cities in the Northeast. The resort is also accessible by private aircraft — Basin Harbor’s own 3,200-foot grass airstrip is one of the best in New England — as well as by boat. Greyhound and Megabus lines serve the Vergennes/Burlington area; transportation to Basin Harbor is available at a nominal fee. Basin Harbor Club is five hours from New York City metro; and 2 ½ hours from the Albany area.

Basin Harbor is a place you don’t want to leave and can’t wait to return.

Basin Harbor Club, 4800 Basin Harbor Road, Vergennes, VT 06490, 800.622.4000 or 802.475.2311, www.basinharbor.com

See next: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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, Historic Loews Don CeSar, St. Pete Beach’s Famed ‘Pink Lady’, is Classic Beach Resort

Loews Don CeSar (the "Pink Lady") in the golden light of the setting sun on St. Pete Beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”) in the golden light of the setting sun on St. Pete Beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

In urgent need of some R&R? Cure it with a two-night/three day stay at Loews Don CeSar, not just a grand historic hotel, but a true beach resort with all the amenities and activities for a luxurious, pampered stay. Better yet, for a complete vacation, plan a seven-day stay and balance out days relaxing on white-powder sand beach and lounging around glorious pools, spa treatments and yoga, with visits to the myriad cultural and scenic attractions close by, in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa.

From the moment you cross the threshold, walk down the stairs into the lobby, a feeling of peace and tranquility sweeps over you.

The Don Cesar has been welcoming guests since 1927. But as in so many of these grand historic hotels, they are living links to the past, and are in essence timeless.

Sophistication and casual elegance evoking the Gatsby Era at the Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sophistication and casual elegance evoking the Gatsby Era at the Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It may seem cliché, but you step through the lobby and you are in the world of those who came before: F. Scott Fitzgerald (remembered with a nightly Fitzgerald Reception at the fine dining restaurant, when you can experience a cocktail and a nibble), Clarence Darrow, Lou Gehrig, even Al Capone.

You feel their presence. But the hotel has a unique personality, a character of its own – you can’t help but think of the stories these walls hold.

The Don CeSar exudes casual elegance and Southern Charm – ceiling fans, a beautiful courtyard garden that leads to the pool area and beyond, the white-sand beach and the Gulf of Mexico. Elegant, yet casual (not stuffy or stiff), comfortable, welcoming, and one of the most beautiful hotels anywhere.

Gracious, That’s the word to describe the experience.

Wendy Hessinger leads "Yoga on the Beach" © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Wendy Hessinger leads “Yoga on the Beach” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A classic beach resort with activities offered throughout the day. Checking in, I am given an “Activities” schedule with a long list, day by day, of activities, all included in the $25/day resort fee: Yoga on the beach (9am), kayaking and paddleboarding (8-10 am), aqua fitness, sunset yoga, daily history tour of the hotel, Sea Life tour, Kidding Around Yoga, Kidz Kraze, Restorative Yoga, Star Gazers (that’s just Monday’s Schedule). The activity schedule changes through the week: Body Toning Tuesday, Legs, Bums and Tums; Noodling Around (Kid and Parent Aqua Fitness), Zumba, Beach Yoga Sunset; Drive in Movie on the weekend.

There are activities for the children as well: included in the resort fee is a half-day at Camp CeSar activities program. There are also aqua fitness programs for kids and families, educational talks. Kids Night Out are also available Friday and Saturday nights (6-10 pm).

Some special activities are offered by reservation and for a fee, such as Culinary Kids, Pint Size Picasso, and Waterside Music Makers.

There is a free shuttle service (available 9-5) that takes you into downtown St. Petersburg (here’s where you can easily balance the beach with the extraordinary cultural attractions of St. Petersburg).

The concierge can arrange for golf or tennis at the nearby Isla del Sol country club.

Of course, there is the beach with the most beautiful white-powder sand, the texture of talc, and two pools, heated to a perfect temperature.

Tranquil setting at Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Tranquil setting at Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The pool area is gorgeous – with lush tropical gardens, tall palm trees sheltering, opening up to the beach and Gulf beyond.

It is frankly hard to pull yourself away from the pool – two actually, both heated, both large enough for lap swimming. My favorite of the two is set off a little, tends to be quieter, and situated with the most magnificent view (I just get this wonderful feng shui feeling here). It is one of the prettiest pools anywhere, with the Pink Palace as a backdrop on one side, and palm trees and the Gulf on the other side.

There is iced, fruited water available and even magazines at the pool – plush robes in your room to wear to the pool.

This is in every way pampered luxury –you are quite literally fawned over by a genuinely friendly and helpful staff.

There is a game area with billiards, ping pong tables, chess, and other games – under shelter in case of a rain shower, you can still be outside.

Loews Don CeSar pool © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Loews Don CeSar pool © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There are a variety of shops to take care of immediate needs – a small general/convenience store, an Ice Cream shop (actually where the original entrance to the hotel was located, which still has the original flooring) where you can also get a bagel, muffin or cereal for breakfast, lovely clothes shops and sports stuff in case you forgot something.

In the evening, there is nightly live music in the lobby lounge/bar, laid out to be extremely comfortable and casual. (We are told that the Don CeSar has a signature drink, Old Smokey: take old cigar box and barrel-aged bourbon that spends two weeks behind the bar; then hose in cherry wood smoke, let it sit so the Bourbon is infused with cherry smoke, then the open box and chill with a snowball ice cube.)

After being awed watching the sunset from the beach, I stroll into the Maritana Grille for the Gatsby Reception. The bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger and a nibble (seared pork belly with maple and sherry vinegrette).  The Harvey Walbanger is a classic cocktail consisting of Vodka Galliano, orange juice that goes back to the 1950s; concocted by Donato “Duke” Antone who owned Duke’s Backwatch Bar in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. Duke, who also invented the Rusty Nail and the White Russian, named it after a surfer named Tom Harvey.

The fine-dining restaurant – a beautiful seaside motif with large fish aquarium – has a varied American menu. On this evening, it was featuring  Venison, Long Island Duckling, Snapper, and offered a wine tasting menu ($65, $95 with wine pairing).

A Grand Hotel With History

A couple enjoys the nightly Gatsby Reception at the Maritana Grille where the bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A couple enjoys the nightly Gatsby Reception at the Maritana Grille where the bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Don CeSar was a founding member of Historic Hotels of America in 1989, which began with just 32 members and now has 260 members in 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico (HistoricHotels.org).

HHA hotels are invariably my favorite places to stay anywhere I go. They tend to manifest the charm and high standard of hospitality (an old fashioned sensibility and refinement) of bygone days, as well as a deep connection and sense of place. Each of the HHA members has its unique personality and character.

The Don CeSar was awarded HHA’s “Historic Hotel of the Year” in 2015 in the 201-400 room category

This largely reflects the acquisition and management of the Don since 2003 by Loews Hotels, which owns the Don with Prudential Insurance. The new owners invested millions in renovations and new facilities – opening the stunning 11,000 square foot Spa Oceania in 2008, the only beachfront luxury spa on the Gold Coast of Florida. Multi-million dollar investments included the meeting spaces, the Maritana Grille, its fine-dining restaurant, the Lobby, Lobby Bar and Sea Porch restaurant, and guestroom redesign.

The sense of responsibility to care for these entities is powerful – you can’t rest on laurels or prior reputation and the fact of the matter is that age does take its toll, as does the need to cater to new generations of guests. There is the constant push-pull of progress and preservation. As is the protectiveness of patrons. When they renovated the lobby, changing out dark wood colors and carpets and bronze-and-crystal chandeliers for a white wood paneling reminiscent of Southern plantation-style cool elegance, light floors, brighter colors and modern blue-and-clear glass chandeliers people were up in arms that they were disposing of “history” – except that the bronze chandeliers only dated back to the 1986 renovation.

“People were upset because they felt they were discarding history,” said Jeffrey Abbaticchio, Director of Public Relations. “We have to give much more attention to preserving the charm and character of hotel.”

It exposes the special challenge of caretaking for a historic hotel, especially one that means that much and has been so much a part of a local community.

That is the balance that modern hoteliers have to strike but there is the clear recognition of their responsibility as caretakers and their respect for these unique entities.

“We have to give much more attention to preserving the charm and character of hotel.”

Historic hotels like The Don CeSar typically have their tales of survival – dramatic snatches from the wrecking ball (indeed, the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg, which opened in 1927, also became a VA hospital and has a similar tale of being saved just moments from being demolished, in 1972).

This is the case of the Don CeSar – long known locally as “The Don” and “The Pink Palace.” It surprised me to learn how in its 80 year history, it only spent about half of that as a hotel, and from the beginning, struggled to survive – the Great Depression, World War II, economic recessions.

You speak of these kinds of properties as “The” – as in “The Don” – and as if they are people, with their own biography, rather than structures or institutions. They have personality and character. Unique. Authentic. They are closely connected to their community, which in fact, rallied to “Save the Don” from the wrecking ball in the 1970s, after being shuttered and closed for four years, a blight on the neighborhood.

The Don’s struggles began not long after coming into being, the fruition of a dream of its founder, Thomas Rowe, I learn from Susan Quinn, a long-time concierge at The Don CeSar who conducts history tours of the hotel.

Born in Boston in 1872 and orphaned at age 4, Rowe was sent to live with grandparents in Ireland, returning to the United States to become a real estate speculator in Florida, during the early boom of the 1920-6 years. Partnering with a local attorney, Walter Fuller, e turned a $21,000 investment into $1,050,000, and then sought to fulfill a longtime dream in building a lavish hotel.

Tthe Loews Don CeSar, a historic resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Loews Don CeSar, a historic resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He patterned his “Pink Lady” (as “The Don” continues to be known) after the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach, styled as a kind of Mediterranean palace. An opera lover, he named the Don CeSar after a character in one of his favorite operas, “Maritana,” written by a Scottsman (today, its fine-dining restaurant is named the Maritana Grill). He planned for construction costs to be $450,000, but instead, the hotel cost $1.2 million to build – wiping out his resources, so that he had to mortgage to raise the $250,000 needed to furnish the property so it could open.

He devised an ingenious system though, because he had spent $100,000 to buy 80 acres surrounding the hotel, and turned to developing small Mediterranean-style homes on property just south – you could buy the lot for $5000 and build the house on it for $5000 more.

A view of the Loews Don CeSar pool and grounds © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A view of the Loews Don CeSar pool and grounds © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He opened The Don CeSar in 1928, immediately drawing an “A” List of celebrities and important people: F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda (today, the Maritana offers a 5:30 pm Fitzgerald Reception, featuring a cocktail and nibble), famed attorney Clarence Darrow, baseball great Lou Gehrig and Al Capone.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Rowe devised an ingenious method of staying afloat: he offered for the home owners who had taken mortgages from him to cash out at a fraction of the amount owed in order to accumulate the cash he needed to make it through the Depression. And another thing: when the hotel would otherwise be low-occupancy in spring, he leased it out to the New York Yankees for spring training, at $8/day including breakfast.

Rowe, who came to St. Petersburg for his health and to speculate when he was in his 40s, lived in the hotel (his wife, a university-educated woman, stayed in Virginia, because she didn’t want to live in a backwater). In May 1940, he suffered a heart attack and insisted on staying in the hotel. Legend has it he intended to will the hotel to his employees, and he wrote a new will, but it was not witnessed, so his wife inherited the property. She appointed her lawyer to take charge of the corporation, who brought in his own management team. Then Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, and World War II hit.

Instead of the hotel’s 300 rooms being totally occupied for the season, all but 100 room reservations canceled, and the government went after her for taxes stemming from her husband’s refinancing scheme. Her attorney sought to negotiate a deal with the Navy to take the Don CeSar for officer’s housing, but the Army wanted it for a hospital, and used eminent domain to take it over, purchasing the building for the assessed value of $450,000. The army disposed of everything, even the hotel register with its famous signatures. The property later became an Air Force Convalescent Center (actually becoming a model for dealing with the condition now known as PTSD), and then a Veterans Administration regional office, from 1945 to 1969.

By 1969, the VA abandoned the hotel – set up a chain-link fence around and a guard – and it deteriorated terribly, a blight on the community.

In 1971, local residents and former employees formed a “Save the Don” committee to prevent the hotel from being demolished. June Hurley Young, realizing that locals had never known the Don as a fine hotel, wrote an article that was finally published in a paper under the headline, “Pink Elephant or Sleeping Beauty”. It  came to the attention of  William Bowman, a Flying Tiger during war, who was building new hotels in the area. He purchased the decrepit property in 1972, just two weeks before the hotel had a date with the wrecking ball.

“It cost $3.5 million to fix up –he  replaced every window, waterproofed, added air conditioning so the hotel could stay open year round,” Owen said.

The Don CeSar reopened on November 24, 1973. The following year, the Pink Palace was admitted to the National Register of Historic American Places.

1973 was the year of the Oil Embargo and a recession. It wasn’t long before the Don CeSar was foreclosed but continued to operate. It changed hands several times until in 2000, it was taken over by Prudential Insurance.

Finally, in 2003, the Don CeSar became a Loews Hotel, which owns 15% and manages the luxury property, and brought it up to the standards of today’s luxury travelers.

(Both Rowe and Bowman are honored in a display case that has their picture and their history with the hotel. A new eatery, the Rowe Bar, is an indoor/outdoor bar which will serve different Juleps, different nonalcoholic “-ades” (lemonade, etc), communal bowls of cocktails, have fire pits and overlook the sand dune.

Don CeSar has 277 rooms. They may be a tad smaller than we have become accustomed to (because people didn’t come to a resort to spend time in their hotel room), but have every amenity imaginable – plus robes, mini-bar, Keurig coffee maker, safe, ironing board, a flashlight, lush mattress and bed linens, flat screen TV and free WiFi, even the shampoo has the perfect scent.

The Don CeSar is pet-friendly and offers pet menus (Bow Wow beef; Chow chow mein),  pet room service and pet massage, in room.

The Don CeSar now has a second property, the Loews Beachhouse Suites, located just about a quarter mile up from the Don CeSar (finishing up a renovation by mid-February), which is also a pink building on the beach. A free shuttle van is offered between the two Loews properties, so Beachhouse guests have the use of the Don CeSar’s facilities.

An Idyllic Place for Destination Weddings 

The sun seems to melt into a space beyond the water © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The sun seems to melt into a space beyond the water © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The ambiance, services and facilities at the Don CeSar are so magical, it is no wonder how popular the luxury resort has been for destination weddings. The hotel hosts some 425 wedding-related events a year, and accommodates weddings as large as 300. There are four people on staff just to help coordinate destination weddings, and an event company, Cheers, on call to handle elaborate events.

The planners can organize everything from releasing doves to special transportation.

“What’s popular lately are Indian weddings – people arrive by horse, do henna. We just hired an executive chef from India (most recently he was at The Breakers) so we can provide authentic Indian food,” Jeff said.

The fifth floor, with its enormous picture windows that look out to St. Petersburg and down the St. Pete Beach coast, and which once was a massive open dining room that could sit 1400 at a time for dinner, has been turned into a series of meeting and function rooms ideal for weddings, conferences and events (38,000 square feet of function space). Indeed, during our stay there were wedding and conferences underway.

A Complete Vacation 

Each morning of my stay, I go down to the beach for 9 am beach yoga with Wendy Hessinger, and then aqua fitness which Wendy also conducts (an interesting routine using noodles). She also conducts sunset yoga on some days.

But there is so much going on in the area to round out your stay: take advantage of the free ride into St. Petersburg (about 20 minutes)  which goes to the Sundial, a centrally located entertainment center with movies, excellent restaurants, and walkable to just about anything you want to get to (or you can hop on the Downtown Looper trolley, to take around the downtown)  and enjoy an enormous selection of cultural attractions  (Dali Museum, Chihuly Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg Museum of History, Florida Holocaust Museum, emerging arts districts, among the highlights. They are currently rebuilding the famous Pier, which is due to reopen in 2018.)

Or just hop a delightful trolley-style bus to Passa-Grill, a tiny charming village with a block-long “downtown” at Historic 8th Street ” (truly “Old Florida”) where the locals go to the beach, fish, look out to see dolphins and manatees, watch the sunset and hang out at waterside watering holes like the Paradise Grill. At Passa-Grill you can go out for deep sea fishing or take a tour boat to Shell Island. Or continue on to Fort de Soto where you can visit a Civil War-era fort.

Another popular activity is taking a sailing cruise to see dolphins or the sunset cruise. The Don CeSar has an arrangement with Dolphin Landings which offers two-hour cruises.

Winter, the plucky dolphin and star of "Dolphin Tale" with her prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the major attractions near the Don Cesar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Winter, the plucky dolphin and star of “Dolphin Tale” with her prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the major attractions near the Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just about 30 minutes away to the north, in Clearwater Beach (you can take the trolley bus to get there, switching at 75th Avenue). For shopping, go to John’s Pass (150 shops and restaurants in a small area), reached by the trolley bus, midway between St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach.

Or plan a day trip to the Ringling Museum and historic mansion in Sarasota nearby.

Busch Gardens Tampa theme park (one of the best zoos with great roller coasters and entertainment) is less than an hour away (The Don CeSar has a partnership with Busch Gardens and offers a package that includes tickets, but you need a car or the hotel can arrange transportation).

Another idea is to split your stay between a beach holiday here at the Don CeSar and a theme park holiday in Orlando, staying at the Loews Portofino at Universal Orlando, another favorite hotel (which manages to create a resort atmosphere in Universal Studios theme park with sensational pool that creates a beach effect).

(For more vacation planning information, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater: 8200 Bryan Dairy Road, Suite 200, Largo, FL 33777, 727-464-7200, 877-352-3224 www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.) 

But frankly, it is hard to pull yourself away from the Don CeSar

The St. Pete beach is absolutely magnificent – and one thing I notice is that the buildings are set well back from the beach and are low level for the most part, not blocking – peaceful. One day as I walk, I come upon a beach-volleyball regional tournament.

A Great Blue Heron appreciating the sunset on Don Cesar’s beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A Great Blue Heron appreciating the sunset on Don CeSar’s beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The beach is also the place to go for the sunset – get out there 20 minutes before because you would be amazed at how fast the most brilliant colors come and go as the sun seems to dash to the horizon, seeming to melt into a slot just beyond the water’s edge.

The Loews Don CeSar is ideal for couples, gal getaways, destination weddings, honeymoons, family getaways, family reunions, any special occasion, pre-baby getaway, or just about any excuse to have a holiday.

Loews Don CeSar Hotel, 3400 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach, Florida, 33706, 727-360-1881, reservations, 800-282-1116, www.loewshotels.com/don-CeSar.

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