New Private Nile River Cruises from Abercrombie & Kent

I just got word about a new Nile River cruise that actu­ally hear­kens back to the days when daha­biehs — lanteen-rigged sail­boats — were the main method of trans­porta­tion on this water­way. These sail-powered ves­sels were used exten­sively up until the 19th cen­tury when steamships made their debut in the area. The pop­u­lar­ity of daha­biehs waned as they were slower than steamships and so fell out of favor with many. Today, these sail­ing ships have been retro­fit­ted for high-end travel up and down the Nile.

Aber­crom­bie & Kent is now offer­ing pri­vate travel aboard the new lux­ury daha­bieh, Zein Nile Chateau. This ship is part of A&K’s Tai­lor Made Pri­vate Travel pro­gram. These inti­mate boats are per­fect for small groups. And, since daha­biehs are smaller and more agile than tra­di­tional Nile River boats, they can visit more areas than their competitors.

Zein Nile Chateau was purpose-built for the lux­ury mar­ket with two expan­sive suites and four state­rooms. Unlike other daha­biehs, the cab­ins on this sail­boat are air-conditioned. Pub­lic areas include the din­ing room with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, cigar lounge, library, sun deck, oasis pool, and out­door lounge designed for stargazing.

Trav­el­ers may char­ter Zein Nile Chateau. Seven-night itin­er­aries start at $29,600 for up to 12 peo­ple. An expe­ri­enced Egyp­tol­o­gist trav­els with all Aber­crom­bie & Kent Nile River tours and with just 12 trav­el­ers on this ship, you’re sure to enjoy a per­son­al­ized jour­ney down the Nile.

Yosemite and Rich “New Worlds”

If you are crav­ing por­tals to beauty, the Mag­nif­i­cent Moun­tain Loop (MML) of three Cal­i­for­nia National Parks offers trav­el­ers uncount­able “doors.” In one trip you can enjoy the tree giants of Sequoia National Park, the adjoin­ing won­ders of Kings Canyon National Park and the iconic delights of Yosemite.

This year, Yosemite shares the riches of nature and his­tory with a 150th anniver­sary. Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln signed the Yosemite Land Grant 150 years ago, cre­at­ing “the first pro­tected wild land for all time” and the “first state park in the world” accord­ing to the National Parks website.

Below are some quotes by past famous Yosemite vis­i­tors Ralph Waldo Emer­son, John Muir, Ansel Adams, and Pres­i­dent Teddy Roo­sevelt to inspire your own visit. There are also some tips to add lux­ury to your travel.

Every­body needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” John Muir

EMERSON & MUIR TRANSCEND

Accord­ing to the National Parks Ser­vices web­site: “In 1871, John Muir, and Ralph Waldo Emer­son, Amer­i­can Poet, and Tran­scen­den­tal­ist vis­ited the Mari­posa Grove of trees in Yosemite and Muir said to Emer­son in the grove: ‘You are your­self a sequoia. Stop and get acquainted with your big brethren.’ ”

Emer­son called Muir a “new kind of Thoreau” who gazed at sequoias of the Sierra instead of scrub oaks of Concord.”

In Yosemite, Grandeur of these moun­tains per­haps unmatched on the Globe; for here they strip them­selves like Ath­letes for exhi­bi­tion, &stand per­pen­dic­u­lar gran­ite walls, show­ing their entire height, & wear­ing a lib­erty cap of snow on their head.” From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Journal.

PRESIDENTIAL AGAIN

In 1903, Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt requested to meet with Muir in Yosemite, and Muir encour­aged him to sleep under the stars– a night that led the pro­tected area to be expanded and trans­formed into a National Park.

It was like lying in a great solemn cathe­dral, far vaster and more beau­ti­ful than any built by the hand of man.”- Roosevelt

Sleep­ing under the stars like Muir and Roo­sevelt may be the rich­est way to enjoy the nature of the park 24/7, but if you are look­ing for more pam­per­ing nur­ture in your visit, the Tenaya Lodge offers lovely lux­ury rooms, concierge ser­vices, the Embers restau­rant and the Ascent Spa with sig­na­ture organic treat­ments. The Ahwah­nee Lodge’s legacy din­ing room is worth at least one mem­o­rable meal.  Yosemite Lodge inside the Park affords win­dow views of the Yosemite Falls, and great access to the park’s sites, trails and shut­tle system.

For those that want to cel­e­brate the resiliency of nature with some per­sonal rushes,OARS is now offer­ing river raft­ing in the Tuolumne River.  (I haven’t yet tried their river trips but hear good things.)

Musings — Museums, Gardens, & Love

Have you ever wanted to cre­ate a des­ti­na­tion with-in a des­ti­na­tion? Places that both spark and sate curios­ity?  Muse­ums and gar­dens that restore and moti­vate the human spirit?

In the midst of Marekkesh, Morocco, Yves Saint-Laurent, helped cre­ate an artis­tic oasis that now offers vis­i­tors a won­der­ful Museum of Berber cul­ture, the restored gar­dens of Majorelle, and a rest­ful café . In the 1920s and 30s,  Jacques Majorelle a French artist, land­scaped the gar­dens as canvases.

He also used blues and yel­lows and oranges in build­ings for con­trast, and the vivid cobalt like blue is named after him– Majorelle bleu.  In the 1980s, fash­ion designer Saint-Laurent and his part­ner Pierre Berge  restored the place and now vis­i­tors can walk peace­ful paths between cacti, palms, coconut trees, bam­boo and foun­tains as well as immerse in authen­tic Berber arti­facts in the museum.  There’s even a YSL gallery that includes the “love” cards he made each year for friends as hol­i­day greetings.

This eclec­tic des­ti­na­tion within the great des­ti­na­tion of Mar­rakesh was one of many mem­o­rable places we vis­ited as part of my recent, won­der– filled  Access Trips culi­nary jour­ney of Morocco, and it prompted many mus­ings while I meant to be writ­ing about the delight­ful  riads of the royal king­dom of Morocco. Good trav­els tend to stir dreams, mem­o­ries, and ideas for new mixes.

FAMOUS MAGNETS

I grew up explor­ing the Hunt­ing­ton Library and Gar­dens in San Marino, Cal­i­for­nia just a few miles from the Pasadena Rose parade route.  Thanks to Henry E. Hunt­ing­ton, and the trans­for­ma­tion of his for­mer home, the Guten­berg Bible, Gainsborough’s Blue Boy paint­ing, the Shake­speare Gar­dens, an imag­i­na­tive range of grow­ing fauna, and the big bell in the Japan­ese gar­dens were a part of my child­hood and are avail­able to the many thou­sands who visit the peace­ful grounds and rich repos­i­to­ries of knowl­edge and beauty.

The Getty Museum, thanks J.P Getty, is another visual feast inside and out in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.  Perched on a moun­tain top over free­ways and high-rises with far reach­ing views out­side and exten­sive art inside, it’s one of my favorite spots to meet friends and fam­ily for a meal, shared walks in the gar­dens and some sati­at­ing gawk­ing in galleries.


Thanks also to Solomon R. Guggen­heim whose epony­mous spi­raled museum in New York is a lovely respite from the inten­si­ties of New York city streets.  The Guggen­heims also spon­sored pub­lic muse­ums in Venice, Berlin, and Bil­bao, Spain.

The Bil­bao, designed by Frank Gehry, inspired the trans­for­ma­tion of a whole region of the Basque Coun­try for locals and tourism. Who knows how many vis­i­tors the art­ful des­ti­na­tion has sparked?

YOUR OWN

Many trav­el­ers I know, have places in their homes that are aes­thetic sanc­tu­ar­ies with good­ies culled from the globe, inte­grated domes­tic shrines to the won­ders of the world. But those places are only avail­able to friends.

What cul­tural pub­lic oasis would you love to leave that oth­ers could enjoy?

POSSIBILITATOR PARK
If I were to write a mega best seller or win some stu­pen­dous lot­tery so I had a sur­plus of funds, I would love to cre­ate “Pos­si­bil­i­ta­tor Park”  with a library full of eclec­tic inspir­ing works from around the world and dif­fer­ent times , and gar­dens full of places to sit and think or stroll and muse. Trees that are sym­bolic and lit­eral parts of sto­ries would be spa­ciously placed so peo­ple could pic­nic or nap or sketch the lyri­cal branches.  It worked for Bud­dha and New­ton… There would also be con­served wilder­ness with run­ning water, and open spaces for cloud watch­ing, and, and.. well I have more than a few ideas gath­ered over the year while think­ing about such a place.

Right now I imag­ine this sanc­tu­ary and stim­u­lus on some moun­tain top acreage in the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains with a view of the Pacific Ocean, but places along the Hud­son River in New York also come to mind—some gor­geous nat­ural set­ting not far from an urban cen­ter, acces­si­ble to locals and trav­el­ers.  The library would make avail­able (via lat­est tech­nol­ogy) all kinds of exem­plary sto­ries, quotes, art, social his­tory,  and research about cre­ation and inven­tion and “dreams turned deeds”—tales of true “Pos­si­bil­i­ta­tors”  both the famous and the unsung.

On our first date, hours into our con­ver­sa­tional mean­der­ing, I told this attrac­tive, intel­li­gent man named Vic­tor that I wanted to res­ur­rect a word I had found in the OED(Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary)– the verb “pos­si­bil­i­tate” mean­ing “to ren­der pos­si­ble.”  “How could the Amer­i­can lan­guage have lost the active use of a verb con­vey­ing such a great con­cept?” I asked him.

He leaned over the wooden table at the Mir­a­cle Grill in New York and said,  “Why don’t you and I be Pos­si­bil­i­ta­tors?”  He made it a noun, and a lov­ing chal­lenge.  I had writ­ten in a jour­nal weeks ear­lier “I want to meet a man who is a vic­tor not a vic­tim.” Now I had met him. We were mar­ried five months later– the first mar­riage for both of us. We will enjoy our 15th wed­ding anniver­sary this Fri­day, 12/21/12 on the Sol­stice.  And I smile deeply think­ing how for­tu­nate I am to be in love with the per­son I am mar­ried to, a man who inspires mus­ings and is amusing.

Happy Valentines Day– Romantic Travels!

One def­i­n­i­tion of  roman­tic is “an ide­al­ized ver­sion of real­ity.”  The same could be said of top lux­ury travel.  The choco­lates are left on your plush pil­low or baked fresh to your lik­ing by a genius chef. Your flow­ers are abun­dant fields seen from your pri­vately chauf­feured tour­ing car or can­vases of Monet seen up close,  or  fresh arrange­ments deliv­ered to your ele­gant suite. Your bub­ble baths are in mar­ble tubs with views and aro­mather­apy you choose. Peo­ple want you to be happy.

Roman­tic travel gifts can be shared expe­ri­ences of ines­timable value per your own val­ues and ide­al­ized vision– from observ­ing pen­guins hatch, or a fam­ily of ele­phants while on safari, to pri­vate show­ings at a jew­elry store; from going to remote places to wit­ness cer­e­monies rarely seen, to secur­ing lux­ury booth seats behind home plate or in the royal box at a ballet.

Your idea of  “ide­al­ized real­ity” may be vis­it­ing thriv­ing, healthy envi­ron­ments with vibrant flora and fauna, and indige­nous cul­tures pre­serv­ing their ways and well-being with­out global fran­chises and homogenization.

Arguably, for today’s first-world cul­tures, sleep­ing in a five-star hotel and sleep­ing under a canopy of lumi­nous, infi­nite stars– are each roman­tic and are each luxuries.

The priv­i­lege of access can be the key to lux­ury travel– access to peo­ple, places, and expe­ri­ences. For some trav­el­ers that access must be cou­pled with com­fort and expense to be “lux­ury” — com­forts like the bed at the Pierre Hotel in New York (with a Broad­way show and fire­flies in Cen­tral Park) or the but­ler draw­ing a bub­ble bath at Le Blanc in Can­cun (after snor­kel­ing with whale sharks) or lunch at the French Laun­dry in Napa (as a way to enjoy time with dear friends). For oth­ers, like astro­nauts in space or James Cameron head­ing to the deep­est trench in the ocean, unique  “access” may be very expen­sive, but not at all comfortable.

Some­times access has lit­tle to do with com­fort or expense; it is good for­tune. I’ve trav­eled all seven con­ti­nents and con­tinue to explore in order to share the beau­ties of the planet– the roman­tic of the human and nat­ural.  But of course, moments of “wow” and “thanks!” don’t require pass­ports or first class seats; they can be in our own back­yard. At a pub­lic beach about 20 min­utes from my home, I saw a dol­phin body surf­ing a wave. At a lake five min­utes from my home, herons,cranes and egrets per­form bal­letic moves whether any­body is watch­ing or not.

The magic of the mun­dane– the extra– ordi­nary– that sun­rise that makes you swell with a sense of divine grace, the arc of the Milky Way that embraces you from afar, a song bird greet­ing the day with notes that make a tun­ing fork inside of you hum– these expe­ri­ences are free, but can feel luxurious.

Roman­tic travel can be  shar­ing the Ahhs of Awe. See­ing the syn­chro­nous fire­flies in Malaysia was a brighter expe­ri­ence for being with my hus­band. Walk­ing on the Great wall of China was warmer with him despite the winter’s sub­freez­ing wind chill. See­ing the mosques of Istan­bul with a child­hood friend mag­ni­fied the mem­o­ries.  Even an evening stroll at home, may reveal a cloud­scape worth watching.

Roman­tic travel can also be help­ing oth­ers– try­ing to make “the ide­al­ized ver­sion of real­ity” replace meaner ver­sions. Is that tak­ing your love to  the Lux­em­bourg Gar­dens in Spring sur­rounded by flow­ers, or help­ing build a school  in a far-flung out­post for you love of humanity?

It is a lux­ury to travel at all– to have the health, the time, the means, and the free­dom from other con­straints and respon­si­bil­i­ties. Some­times that travel pro­pels us great dis­tances out into the world. And some­times that travel comes from inside, sit­ting still where we are,  tak­ing time to awaken our senses– to smell, see, taste, hear, and feel.

Five Culinary-Inspired Spa Treatments

Often times, before I get to a des­ti­na­tion, I’m not sure what I’m going to write about. Most stories—or, at least, the best stories—come from the unex­pected, only unfold­ing after I’ve truly immersed myself in a place. And many times, the story doesn’t truly reveal itself until I go some­where else; mean­ing that I might find some­thing inter­est­ing in Hawaii, but I don’t find the true story until I head to Mex­ico, Whistler, and Turks & Caicos. Such was the case for this story, one cen­tered around the grow­ing trend of spa treat­ments that incor­po­rate food (some good enough to eat!). 

It all started ear­lier this year when I found myself at The Four Sea­sons in Whistler, British Colum­biaOn the evening of my arrival, I dined at the award-winning steak­house on prop­erty, Side­cut. The very tal­ented chef, Edi­son Mays, offers nearly two dozen choices of house­made spice rubs to com­ple­ment his vari­ety of steak cuts (Edison’s Medecine on the Kobe steak is not to be missed!). The next day, after an after­noon on the slopes, I headed to the spa, where I dis­cov­ered that Mays had devel­oped a sim­i­lar line of bespoke rubs to use in spa treat­ments. The ser­vices, like “The Awak­en­ing” (a rub made from epsom salts, cit­rus zest, cit­rus and lemon­grass essen­tial oils), didn’t offi­cially hit the spa menu until June, but they’ve already taken the spa by storm. If you’re headed to the area, I highly rec­om­mend the “Romance Rub”, a blend of Epsom salts, cin­na­mon and cin­na­mon essen­tial oil that brings blood and nutri­ents to the skins sur­face and relieves mus­cle ten­sion.

No mat­ter where you are, though, you’ll likely be able to find other culinary-inspired spa treate­ments on the menu. Here are four more I can per­son­ally vouch for:

At the recently ren­o­vated spa at The Regent Palms in Turks & Caicos, guests can choose from a vari­ety of culinary-inspired treat­ments, like the indige­nous island “Zareeba” treat­ment, a ser­vice where guests inhale an aro­matic steam from a blend of freshly brewed ther­a­peu­tic herbs, or the “Ori­en­tal Essence Cer­e­mony”, a ginger-infused salt scrub inspired by ancient Asian and Indian tech­niques using an aro­matic spice sachet filled with smooth peb­bles and soaked in warmed exotic oils. 

The 50,000-square-foot Spa Grande at the Grand Wailea in Maui recently launched two new treat­ments based on the power of the “Niu,” the coconut palm tree in Hawaii known for cre­at­ing radi­ant, smooth skin. The Royal Niu Coconut Dream for Two is a win­ner! The two-and-a-half hour treat­ment employs fibrous coconut husks (nat­ural exfo­lia­tors) to apply a mild coconut scrub, which is fol­lowed by a coconut but­ter body cocoon, com­plete with a scalp and foot mas­sage. Next comes a 25-minute coconut milk bath, fol­lowed by The Royal finale, a 50-minute mas­sage employ­ing coconut oil, shells and husks.

The spa at Grand Velas Riv­iera Maya takes guests on a culi­nary jour­ney through Ancient Mex­ico with treat­ments like the “Cof­fee Ritual”, an exfo­li­a­tion fol­lowed by a relax­ing cir­cu­la­tory mas­sage with cof­fee oil extract, the “Cocoa Rit­ual”, which uses a smooth, fresh mint choco­late cream to leave your skin invig­o­rated and full of vital­ity, the “Puri­fy­ing Vanilla Facial”, a deep cleans­ing treat­ment, or the “Olive Clay Wrap”, which begins with a honey exfo­li­a­tion fol­lowed by a puri­fy­ing hot clay mask made with guaraná-mate, and a cold clay mask made from olive and mint (both of which boast ton­ing and slim­ming effects). 

At Travaasa Austin’s award-winning spa, you don’t want to miss the “Invig­o­rat­ing Avo­cado Wrap”, which uses sump­tu­ous avo­cado body but­ter blended with essen­tial oils of laven­der, pine, orange and lemon to bal­ance, purify and tone. Other foodie-centered treat­ments include the “Ancient Purification”, which begins with an organic pan­ela sugar scrub made from fos­silized Dead Sea mud and organic herbs of chamomile, dan­de­lion and lemon balm, and the “Detox­i­fy­ing Juniper, Olive Stone Exfo­li­a­tion & Pol­ish”, which employs juniper, sea­weed and cypress (all of which have a rep­u­ta­tion for puri­fy­ing and revi­tal­iz­ing the body and mind and jump-starting the metabolism).

Toronto’s Exploding Luxury Hotel Scene

North Amer­i­cans would be hard-pressed to find a city out­side of Toronto that, in the past 18 months, has opened a Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La, Trump and Four Sea­sons hotel, plus added a buzzy bou­tique ALT near the airport.

We had the plea­sure of tour­ing our friend­liest north­ern neigh­bor last week dur­ing the city’s biggest yearly event — the Toronto Inter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val (TIFF) and had the chance to explore many of the city’s new luxe offer­ings. We walked away con­fi­dent that this Cana­dian gem was one we’d return to time and again– after all, it was only an hour-and-a-half flight from our home­town of DC– plus all of the things that a vaca­tioner would seek: friendly, afford­able, vibrant and clean.

Here’s what lux­ury travel mavens need to know about the Toronto hotel scene.

If You’re Seek­ing Shop­ping: Four Sea­sons Hotel Toronto

Open­ing on Octo­ber 5, 2012, Four Sea­sons Hotel Toronto will open its sec­ond loca­tion in Toronto — the orig­i­nal prop­erty closed ear­lier this sum­mer to make way for the new iter­a­tion in the brand’s cor­po­rate head­quar­ters city. What can you expect? A prime Yorkville loca­tion, close to lux­ury shop­ping, din­ing and cul­tural attrac­tions, plus 259 spa­cious sunlight-filled gue­strooms includ­ing 42 suites fea­tur­ing state-of-the-art ameni­ties and a 30,000 square foot lux­ury spa (the largest lux­ury hotel spa in Toronto). Of course, Four Sea­sons din­ing des­ti­na­tions will be top notch as well — the sig­na­ture restau­rant will be Café Boulud by Daniel Boulud.  We’ll have a full report when we return for the open­ing in a few weeks.

If You Love Asian Inspi­ra­tion: Shangri-La Toronto 

For just the sec­ond time, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts — the Asian-based lux­ury hotel group — will bring its leg­endary offer­ings and hos­pi­tal­ity to life in North Amer­ica. The Shangri-La Hotel, Toronto opened on August 31, just in time for TIFF, and isn’t totally ready to receive guests– but in a few weeks when the hotel is 100% oper­a­tional, expect ameni­ties never seen before in Toronto, includ­ing the open­ing of Momo­fuku by acclaimed New York hef David Chang; a dra­matic multi-storey sculp­ture that begins out­side and winds its way into the hotel lobby by inter­na­tion­ally renowned artist Zhang Huan; and a state-of-the-art the­atre. The mas­sive glass-fronted build­ing is a mod­ern mar­vel, a tes­ta­ment to Asian con­cepts of feng shui, and tech­no­log­i­cally one of the most advanced in the city. We can’t wait to come for a stay.

If You Crave Glitz, Glam and Great Views: Trump Inter­na­tional Hotel &Tower Toronto

The tallest build­ing in Toronto is none other than the Trump Inter­na­tional Hotel & Tower — would you expect any­thing less? The oasis of glam is a choco­late and cham­pagne mas­ter­piece ris­ing 32 floors above the city sky­line (with res­i­dences above) and fea­tur­ing a spec­tac­u­lar bi-level Quartz Crys­tal Spa™, fea­tur­ing a 65-ft. marine-grade, heated, zero-edge nat­ural salt lap pool (the only one of its kind offered by a Toronto hotel), see-and-be-seen steak­house and mod­ern con­tem­po­rary restau­rant STOCK and the pop­u­lar happy hour cock­tail lounge, Suits. Did we men­tion that STOCK has a choco­late cave? It does — a mas­ter­piece of a space ded­i­cated to form­ing the finest treats known to man. Spa­cious rooms (half of which are suites), offer excep­tional ameni­ties includ­ing push-button light and drap­ery con­trols and gas fire­places. Mr. Trump must approve.

If You Want the “Club Level” Ser­vice (and A Primo Busi­ness Loca­tion): The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto 

It’s hard to say any­thing bad about one of the orig­i­nal grande dames of lux­ury, and The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, lives up to expec­ta­tions. The “old­est” of the new lux­ury hotel set, the Ritz has a bit over a year of his­tory under its down­town roots, mak­ing it the first new lux­ury hotel in the city’s vibrant finan­cial dis­trict. Ideal for guests seek­ing a hockey game at Rogers Cen­tre or vis­it­ing the CN Tower, the Ritz brings its sig­na­ture ser­vice to great use. We enjoyed a fab­u­lous stay on the hotel’s club level, which offers up daily meal pre­sen­ta­tions and pri­vate concierge ser­vice, as well as a room over­look­ing the city har­bor, afford­ing excel­lent views of the planes com­ing and going from nearby Billy Bishop Air­port. If you have the chance, a visit to the hotel’s 16-room spa offer­ing treat­ments by Clar­ins’ new My Blend line (the only of its kind out­side of Paris) is not to be missed.

Cancun: Le Blanc Wellness & the Whale Sharks

“Muchas Gra­cias!” I kept repeat­ing with a big smile, and “June Bou­tique,” which is what “thank you” sounds like to me in the Mayan dialect near the Coban pyramid.

My four full days based in the resort mecca of Can­cun, Mex­ico were remark­able and relax­ing, and filled with plea­sures big and small — from snor­kel­ing with giant, 40–foot-long, polka-dotted fish (called whale sharks) that won’t eat you, to soak­ing with lit­tle, one-inch, imported fish (called Garra rufa) that will eat you, munch­ing on your dead skin cells for the lat­est in organic defo­li­a­tion and spa treatments.

From climb­ing the tallest Mayan pyra­mid in the Yucatan amidst lagoons to help­ing release just-hatched baby sea tur­tles, I enjoyed the huge and tiny even more because my big-name resorts had top food and spas, and paid atten­tion to the lit­tle details that make for true pampering.

My sweet mem­o­ries were forged in two vari­eties of hotel suite plans: First, a world-class, lux­ury, all-inclusive, Le Blanc Spa Resort; then, at the Fiesta Amer­i­cana Grand Coral Beach, with the largest spa in Can­cun and its highly-regarded “Euro­pean Plan,” with the Club Plan for extra luxury.

Kudos to each for their exe­cu­tion of a panoply of pam­per­ing for well being!

Le Blanc (the White) Spa Resort is the first all-inclusive, adults-only resort in Can­cun. From the start, you enjoy the lit­tle details of this big-vision site that has earned a five-diamond AAA des­ig­na­tion and inclu­sion on many top lists of all-inclusive beach resorts.

The sen­sual sojourn begins with pri­vate check-in, fea­tur­ing a savory white coconut drink and white flow­ers. Your Major Domo (but­ler) greets you by name near the ele­va­tor of your suite and asks you to choose from the room’s “Com­fort Menu” with options of pil­low type, aro­mather­apy scent for the room, and spe­cial blends of bath salts for the dou­ble Jacuzzi in your room.

The all-inclusive pack­age offers great room ser­vice for every meal if you want, or swim-up pool bars with a nearby, out­door pizza oven, or very fine din­ing at the roman­tic French Lumiere. I loved the Lumiere’s 7-course taster spe­cial meal, which changes fre­quently. Culi­nary options also include the Blanc Italia, which shares good food and la dulce vita, a superb and peace­ful Asian restau­rant, and a bright inter­con­ti­nen­tal restau­rant with sea­side views and lus­cious buffets.

Daily class offer­ings of a well­ness theme include a 7am yoga ses­sion for mind, spirit, and body. The Spa also offers a range of hydrother­apy options and sooth­ing treat­ments (out­side the all-inclusive package).

I melted dur­ing a “Mayan-inspired mas­sage” called the KuKulkan. Two masseuses worked syn­chro­nously for 80 min­utes in one of the most relax­ing treat­ments I have ever enjoyed on any continent.

Before they started, they asked me to think of a mem­ory I wanted to elim­i­nate. They burned some copal resin and fanned smoke made from burn­ing sage, rose­mary, and basil to help “purify my energies.”

Then, in an effort to “bal­ance” my spirit, mind, and body, the four hands of this skill­ful duo imi­tated the motions of the ani­mals that rep­re­sent the Mayan king­doms – the eagle of the upper king­dom, the snake of the mid­dle king­dom, and the jaguar of the underworld.

Do you remem­ber the scene in the Wiz­ard of Oz, when Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scare­crow, and Cow­ardly Lion are all coifed, groomed, primped, patched, and pol­ished to meet the Wiz­ard? I felt as if I had was being beau­ti­fully, lov­ingly prepped to meet the next morn­ing with the wiz­ards of the sea – the whale sharks.

Polka-Dotted Sharks

See­ing eye-to-eye with a polka-dotted shark and hav­ing one come at you with its mouth wide open both rank high in great under­wa­ter mem­o­ries I want to keep! These gen­tle behe­moth beau­ties, which can grow to 60 feet long, are actu­ally the largest fish in the ocean. They are fil­ter feed­ers and dine sea­son­ally on the nutri­ent rich plank­ton near the sur­face waters off Isla Mujeres, where the Gulf of Mex­ico meets the Caribbean Sea.

Some whale sharks seem to tol­er­ate curi­ous snorkel­ers, approach­ing with their long bod­ies undu­lat­ing, swish­ing in sinewy curves through the sea, carv­ing the liq­uid grace­fully. From May to mid-September the whale sharks have become a major attrac­tion for Can­cun vis­i­tors. Some days, as many as 200 can be seen swim­ming and eat­ing within a half-hour boat ride from Can­cun. We were in one of only two boats on the scene when we arrived, but almost 20 boats had gath­ered by the time we left.

After nearly two hours of under­wa­ter enthrall­ment, whale sharks had cer­tainly made a joy­ful impact on me, but I found myself won­der­ing about the Snorkeler’s view of Whale Shark’s eye and closed mouth © Lisa TE Sonne impact so many of us humans might be hav­ing on these gen­tle giants. I wanted an oppor­tu­nity to con­tribute to the con­ser­va­tion of the region’s mag­nif­i­cent under­wa­ter habitat.

That night, Le Blanc had a tur­tle release. One of the clutches of eggs res­cued weeks ear­lier had hatch­lings. I took a two-inch, green sea tur­tle baby – its limbs flap­ping like wings – and put him on the sand to return to the sea. Le Blanc is part of the Palace Resorts, and accord­ing to its Foun­da­tion report, “Every year, over 120,000 baby endan­gered sea tur­tles are released as part of one of the Palace Foun­da­tion[programs].”

I walked on the pow­dery white sand under the stars toward my Le Blanc suite, where I would immerse in a Jacuzzi bub­ble sea, think­ing how won­drous a sin­gle day can be!

And my short trip was only half over.  It was hard to leave the nur­tur­ing tran­quil­ity and won­der­ful staff and ser­vices of Le Blanc, and so tempt­ing to go out and watch whale sharks again. Yet ahead still lies the fan­tas­tic Fiesta Amer­i­cana Coral Beach Resort, with its 40,000 square foot Gem Spa, includ­ing water fea­tures and “fish ther­apy,” the world’s largest under­wa­ter museum, the tallest pyra­mid in the Yucatan, a Mayan shaman, yel­low frogs,  jun­gle zip-lining, rap­pelling into a cenote, a fresh water “Mayan por­tal to the under­world,” mon­keys in trees, and blue butterflies.

Muchas Gra­cias and “June Bou­tique” for large and small delights!

Ritz-Carlton Vienna Makes Its Debut in Austria

This Decem­ber I’m head­ing to Vienna, Aus­tria, so—of course—I’m work­ing up my list of must-visit restau­rants and Christ­mas mar­kets. (If you’ve got some favorite places, please let me know!) While I won’t need overnight accommodations—I’ll instead make my home base aboard a riverboat—I do hope I can carve out some time to visit the new Ritz-Carlton Vienna on Schubertring.

The hotel com­plex, which opened its doors on August 27, 2012, is com­prised of four 19th–cen­tury palaces. These land­mark build­ings now hold 159 guest rooms and 43 suites, includ­ing the expan­sive Pres­i­den­tial Suite. The property’s Club Lounge is on the sev­enth floor and offers pri­vate check-in, five lus­cious food pre­sen­ta­tions each day, and an open bar. Club level is just one of the things that I love about Ritz-Carlton hotels. It’s nice to have a lounge to retreat to for a drink before din­ner and to enjoy the per­son­al­ized ser­vice from the club atten­dants and concierge staff.

In addi­tion to lovely accom­mo­da­tions, Ritz-Carlton Vienna fea­tures Dstrikt restau­rant, a lobby lounge, D-bar, Atmos­phere Rooftop Bar and Lounge, and The Spa.

Ritz-Carlton says Restau­rant Dstrikt is “upscale casual” with indoor/outdoor seat­ing. The menu high­lights Aus­trian cui­sine made with local and sus­tain­able products.

The Spa offers six treat­ment rooms—two of which are meant for couples—as well as a gym and heated indoor swim­ming pool com­plete with under­wa­ter music.

Matthias Vogt, for­merly hotel man­ager of The Ritz-Carlton, Sanya in China, is now GM of Ritz-Carlton Vienna. Vogt says, “it’s a great honor for me to open a hotel in a city full of cul­ture and his­tory and many tra­di­tional Grand Hotels. We will offer our guests a warm and cor­dial ser­vice with the well-being of the guests as our high­est priority.”

I’m look­ing for­ward to hear­ing more about this hotel!

Silversea Silver Cloud in London for the Olympics

Don’t you wish you were sail­ing aboard this ship as it sailed under London’s Tower Bridge, where the 2012 Olympic Rings are promi­nently dis­played! This is Silversea’s Sil­ver Cloud at the tail end of a 16-day voy­age from Copen­hagen to London.

Upon arrival to Tower Bridge, port author­i­ties needed to raise the Olympic Rings so Sil­ver Cloud could safely sail beneath the bridge (see photo at left).

Guests were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime sail-in with spec­tac­u­lar views as the city of Lon­don read­ied itself for the Olympic Games.

In the pic­ture below, the ship is tied up along­side the HMS Belfast.

Sil­ver Cloud departed Lon­don last night for a 9-day sold-out voy­age from Lon­don to Reyk­javik, Iceland.

Luxury Kayaking: Top Tips and Trips

This is the week I hope to be kayak­ing in a lake with the world’s only fresh water sharks, amidst vol­canos, islets, and pro­lific birdlife as part of Austin-Lehman Adven­tures’  com­pelling flag­ship tour in Nicaragua. To pre­pare, I con­tacted fel­low Explorer’s Club mem­ber Alan Feld­stein who teaches kayak­ing in the Pacific waters of Los Ange­les, and leads a com­pany that offers cus­tomized water safaris via kayaks in Tan­za­nia, Africa—Infi­nite Safari Adven­tures(More on Feldstein’s other col­or­ful ven­tures below.). He shares some tips and trips with me and Lux­ury Travel Mavens readers:

What is “lux­ury kayaking”?

Feld­stein: “Most kayak trips, which I have done and love to do, involve pad­dling to a remote site with your gear in the boat, set­ting up camp, and then pad­dling the next day.  Us aging boomers are less into camp­ing so the bet­ter way is to pad­dle to a lodge or pad­dle to and from a com­fort­able won­der­ful lodge with nice beds, hot show­ers and great meals.”

What does it take to be a kayaker?  How does it relate to health?

Feld­stein: “Kayak­ing is a great sport for active peo­ple who do not want high impact.  Any­one can kayak and our trips are offered with no expe­ri­ence nec­es­sary.  Gen­eral good health is all that it takes.  You use your core and are not putting stress on knees, hips and other joints.”

What are your five best tips for “good” kayaking?

Feld­stein: “Have good equip­ment, have guides who are cer­ti­fied and know what they are doing, eat and hydrate well before pad­dling, and remem­ber ‘the jour­ney is the des­ti­na­tion’ so go out and enjoy, and do not worry about how far or fast you pad­dle.  It is that Zen rhythm you get into when pad­dling that I enjoy so much.”