Yes. Yes. Yes. A few steps from the Ferry Building and Embarcadero, a few streets (or short ride) to North Beach, a Marriott Bonvoy point qualifying property… we give this property a resounding yes.
Le Meridien San Francisco is a steal for any last minute SF vacation or the staycation feels. At around $200-$300/night (depending on the lucky lower rate you get), you’ll be smack dab in the city (but far enough from the Tenderloin sketchiness). With modern, bright, and wonderfully spacious rooms (bigger than my old midtown NYC apartment!), there’s a lovely front door staff and cocktail bar downstairs (Bar 333). Although there’s no longer valet, there’s parking for $35 overnight across the street in the garage beneath the Shops at the Embarcadero which works just fine. The room service menu is limited, but okay. One note: there’s no kid’s menu and not much for dessert so we had to Door Dash as my 8 year son couldn’t find a single thing he wanted to eat. What can I say? He’s used to having warm chocolate chip cookies sent up. The Dream Inn in Santa Cruz, California did a nice job spoiling him with their warm chocolate chip cookies. For moms like me, who want to get the little ones something special on a holiday, warm chocolate chip cookies with milk seems like a staple.
Pros: They have Bravo (hotels need to get with the program and get their Bravo TV!), there’s a decent bar downstairs where you can get a nice G&T (or two), the spaciousness of the rooms, and it’s so centrally located you can’t go wrong. Each of the 360 rooms have floor to ceiling windows and you’ll marvel at the remarkable skyline and unparalleled views of the San Francisco Bay. Win win.
Cons: Room service menu needs an option for kids and families traveling with them
Where to begin? Let’s start with the awe inspiring drive to the Carmel Valley from our hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea. One of my favorite things to do in life is to take the top down on my 911 Carrera Cab to drive the 16 minutes from the ocean to the valley. Long stretches of a relaxing winding road, fresh air that moves it’s way through the low languid mountains, and the warmth of the valley embracing my shoulders as we leave the misty cliffs of Carmel to meet the vineyard and spa retreat that is the Carmel Valley.
During a weekend in Carmel, my partner-in-crime and I decided to book massages as the Bernardus Lodge and Spa along with an All Day Pass to soak up some pool or hot tub time, grab a light lunch, and relax. Unfortunately, we arrived a little too late so only had time for lunch by the pool before our spa appointments were to begin at 3pm (spa closes at 5pm). Alas, we headed to the pool.
Thankfully, it wasn’t crowded. A decent amount of people around gave it some liveliness with couples and a few families. We sat in the full warmth of the sunlight and the spa attendant told us that she would send someone out to take our order. After waiting 20 minutes, we realized that they may have forgotten about us. They had. Instead, they told us to place our orders via a phone by the side of the pool. A little odd that they wouldn’t offer to make the call for us after forgetting about us, but mistakes happen. We dialed in an order for two glasses of New World Sauvignon Blanc and two salads, the Roasted Beet Salad with chicken and a Caesar Salad with chicken.
The wine was cold and the salads substantial, but the chicken, oh the chicken! It was a quarter of a chicken grilled with the skin on, a massive thigh and attached drumstick. Not exactly easy to eat in the hot sun nor as tasty as it may have looked on a salad. We both wished they had served the salad with thin slices of grilled chicken breast. The brunch menu promoted “Where Old World Craft Meets New World Creativity,” but it lacked inspiration or any creativity – Caesar Salad, Burger, Eggs Benedict, Fried Chicken Sandwich, Crab Cake, a few pizza choices, and Huevos Rancheros. Had the chef brought in more thoughtful, interesting seasonal touches like grapefruit, fennel, strawberry, lemon, or kohlrabi and a bit of flair, it has potential based on the beauty and expanse of the property alone, but it wasn’t the sort of menu where you had a hard time deciding what to get because they’re weren’t any stand out choices. It was, for lack of a better word, basic.
Onto the spa where the environment was an almost perfect Pottery Barn beige sense of calm. We were kindly welcomed and the spa attendant pointed out candied ginger to aid with digestion, assorted teas, fruit-infused water, and salted nuts as she ushered us inside. When we asked about our lockers and a robe, we were told that daytime spa guests didn’t receive them. That was when, after the large cavegirl leg of chicken on our salads and the spa forgetting to call the server, I realized that Bernardus, as stunning as the property may be nestled in the cozy rustic chic of Carmel Valley, isn’t quite at the level of service nor luxury that you would find at a Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, or Four Seasons.
We headed to the spa for the treatment, took a quick 10 minute dip in the deliciously heated small pool, and were then called to our appointments. The treatment did not disappoint. We had the Bernardus Essential Massage for 50 minutes ($185, approximately $250 with tip; it’s included). My therapist was excellent and the massage was just the perfect amount of Swedish relaxation with a bit of pressure. When we went to pay, the spa director told us – Strike 3 of the experience – that she noticed we had enjoyed the spa pool (this was a mere 10 minutes prior to the massages) and, although trying to be nice, both my friend and I felt slightly scolded when she said, “It’s okay this time, but next time, if you booked a spa appointment for the day, daytime spa guests aren’t permitted to use the facilities.” Not your standard 15 minutes prior nor following the massage that is custom at luxury properties? Que raro! After our confused looks, no doubt because my friend and I, in all of our jaunts to 4 and 5 star properties, had never heard of such a ridiculous rule before, the spa director mentioned something about Covid. It didn’t make much sense as the mask mandate was ending and capacity was minimal. There was no one in the spa pool and we only saw two others in the spa throughout the entire time we were there. It seemed as if it was one of those poorly drafted “rules” that properties implemented to cut corners during Covid to charge the same for less.
Net net: we had a lovely time because the environment was well kept and beautiful, but we’re not sure we would come back for a meal or a massage. Perhaps if I brought my kids for a mini-vacation as the pool was nice. Apparently, the spa facilities are complimentary for hotel guests. Note to Bernardus Lodge & Spa: you have all the makings of greatness, so leverage seasonal California ingredients and bring thoughtfulness to your menu. Don’t disregard the value of loyal Bay Area locals with stingy spa rules that feel a few stars less than what you’re aiming for.
Rating: 8-/10 for the massage and nice spa amenities (points deducted for the chunk of chicken leg and odd very un-luxe spa limitations for day spa guests)
Let’s face it. Times have been extreme. So what better way to learn new skills and embrace new experiences than to focus on a well-tuned mind and body? I sure as hell could use it too! Among other benefits, meeting a new challenge head-on, whether physical, mental or both, fuels creativity, helps slow cognitive decline, and builds confidence. Balance that new adventure with a spa retreat and you’ve got the makings of an extreme wellness getaway. Here are a few great travel ideas that combine skills, thrills, and (spa) chills for those looking for something new and ambitious in 2021.
Triathlon Training in the Sonoran Desert. Train with an Olympian instructor by day, unwind at one of the nation’s premier resort spas by night. Who’s in? Plus, I’m an AZ local and can attest to the fact that it’s an incredible place to get active and get relaxin. At Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa, pushing one’s physical limits comes with world-class rewards. Sanctuary’s three-night Triathlon Training package includes three days of training with the resort’s team of experts. On the first day, Olympic gold medalist Misty Hyman shares the best swimming strategies for endurance and speed in Sanctuary’s 25-yard outdoor lap pool. Day two is a guided desert bike ride, and day three a tandem run with a fitness instructor. A power breakfast each morning fuels the day’s workout, while each evening brings a 60-minute spa treatment to restore muscles and joints impacted during training.
Shark Diving at Singer Island. With the world’s third largest barrier reef practically at its doorstep, Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa is the perfect base for a thrilling shark-diving adventure. Cage and free shark dives, offered through numerous local dive operators, let adrenaline junkies of all skill levels share the water with predators ranging from Florida’s abundant sandbar and lemon sharks to massive tiger sharks. After, guests can de-stress at the all-suite resort’s SiSpa, named one of the top 10 resort spas in the country by Condé Nast Traveler readers. A Capture the Moment Package, complete with a GoPro Waterproof Action Camera (Model Hero4) also let’s you document all the action, and includes daily beach chair and umbrella rental for stays of two or more nights. Luxe Recess also has this to say, “From the moment plush turtles greet you in your family suite to when you meet the magnificent creatures at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center down the road, a vacation at the Marriott Singer Island is all about slowing down to a turtle’s pace while connecting with the authentic richness of the Palm Beaches: its seashore.”The Whiteface Lodge – Lake Placid, NY
Bikes, Biathlons and Bobsledding in the Adirondacks. Seek peak wellness high in the Adirondack Mountains at Lake Placid’s Whiteface Lodge, an all-suite resort just a short drive from the Olympic Village in this two-time Winter Games host city. Among the Olympian-worthy local activities is a brand-new Bike & Biathlon experience, which debuted June 29 and combines an hour-long mountain bike lesson with professional instruction on the Olympic Biathlon Range, building skills and confidence for participants of all ages (biathlon rifles for those 13 and up; paintball for those 12 and under). In the winter, the action shifts to the Olympic bobsled run, where thrill-seekers can hurtle down the track with a professional driver and brakeman in the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience. Just don’t forget to relax and recharge at the award-winning Spa at Whiteface Lodge with an Alpine Retreat treatment. It includes a hot hydrotherapy soak and slow massage, both with Naturopathica Ginger Oil to melt away a day of adventure, followed by a warm oil scalp massage. I live for warm oil scalp massages. JUST SO YOU KNOW.
Fly a Helicopter over the Hudson. High-flying adventurers can test their mettle at the controls of a Robinson R44 Raven II with Wings Air Helicopters’ 30- or 60-minute Discovery Flight at Westchester County Airport, just a short drive or train ride from New York City. Now, I’m afraid of heights so, as one like me is prone to doing, I tend to challenge my fears head on. I’m not saying it works, but it can certainly be thrilling to climb a mountain or fly in a copter! The lesson begins with a ground briefing before taking to the sky with a professional flight instructor who, once airborne, will hand over the controls. Students can also bring up to two friends to ride along for an additional fee. Roundtrip hotel transfers between Manhattan and Westchester can also be arranged. Two top choices for a post-flight spa getaway are The Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester (White Plains), home to Synergy Spa, Westchester County’s largest destination spa, and Tarrytown’s landmark 19th century castle (!!) turned luxury Castle Hotel & Spa, with its sweet riverside digs, French cuisine, and Sankara Spa.
Alaska is open, y’all, and it’s ideal for families and friends who dream of exploring America’s greatest wildernesses free of crowds and against a pristine white canvas. Imagine skiing through forests, wildlife spotting, flightseeing above multicolored geysers and glaciers cresting on the snow, and a vastness only available in the quiet of winter. Abercrombie & Kent’s U.S. Luxury Tailor Made itineraries, which can be customized to your private party’s interests, feature handpicked local guides, fun activities that naturally lend themselves to social distancing, and luxurious accommodations. You can even book with confidence knowing you can reschedule your journey due to COVID-19, and that they have enhanced protocols in place to safeguard your health while travelling. This is numero uno in my book since I’ve been sheltering in place for almost a year and need to know things are on the up and up.
Our recent travel dream favorite is their Call of the Iditarod series because I’ve always been obsessed with riding a husky driven sled through the snow like a Russian Bond Girl.
Well, we can celebrate Alaska’s famed Iditarod dogsled race, watching the participants prepare and depart from Anchorage on their 1,000-mile trek, witnessing their arrival at an important checkpoint near your remote wilderness lodge. You can dogsled yourself along the rugged Iditarod trail on this independent journey filled with the splendors of Alaskan wilderness.
Join Anchorage’s Fur Rendezvous festival, giving the Iditarod teams a ceremonial send-off
Take in the buzz of Iditarod mushers and their teams arrive at a remote checkpoint
Choose from an array of outdoor activities, including the option to drive your own dogsled team
Discover the history of Alaska’s indigenous culture and art in Anchorage
Itinerary at a Glance
ARRIVE ANCHORAGE, ALASKA
ANCHORAGE | CELEBRATING THE IDITAROD
WINTERLAKE LODGE | SCENIC WILDERNESS FLIGHT
WINTERLAKE LODGE | IDITAROD MUSHERS’ ARRIVE
WINTERLAKE LODGE | DOGSLEDDING & THE GREAT OUTDOORS
ANCHORAGE | EXPERIENCING INDIGENOUS CULTURE
INCLUDED WITH EVERY LUXURY TAILOR MADE JOURNEY
One-of-a-kind Itinerary Designed for You
Driver-guide and vehicle
Exclusive Insider-Access Opportunities and Inspiring Sightseeing