Spring Ski Buffs… Get to Breckenridge

The Residence Inn Marriott Breckenridge Lobby

I’m usually curious where I can ski late in the season for one reason only… I’m a fly by my seat sort of traveler and I also like to wait until the big Christmas crowds are gone. Nothing is worse than a crowded slope, in my opinion. So, at least now we know… ski buffs who live for the thrill of just one more run down the powdery slopes can take on the Breckenridge, Colorado ski scene well into Spring. Warmer weather, fewer crowds, softer snow and falling prices make for the perfect opportunity to also pack up the entire family for a Spring Break ski escape.

The brand new Residence Inn Breckenridge is a natural launch pad to explore the appeals of the Rockies this spring. Boasting all-suite accommodations, this spot is  ideal for families where they can make themselves at home in expansive suites with full kitchens and sofa beds. Complimentary hot American breakfast will fuel the fam before hitting the slopes of famed Breckenridge Ski Resort, where Peak 9 offers chair lifts and terrain that appeal to both beginners and experts, just two-minutes from the hotel. The transition to the slopes is eased by the hotel’s complimentary on-site ski storage.

breckenridge-hot-tub-and-pool

A hot tub perfect for mom & dad too…

Après–ski, guests can easily explore the charming restaurants and shops with the hotel’s choice location in downtown Breckenridge. The Lobby’s Hearth Room and Base Camp Lounge are another great gathering point with a sophisticated mountain lodge vibe, creative cocktails, and menu of small bites. A year-round outdoor pool and hot tub with sweeping views of Quandary Peak is also a huge win win, complemented by the hotel’s fitness center.

So, ski buffs take note… you and your family can hit the slopes without the headache well into April!

Spring rates start at $255/nt which includes breakfast for every guest, parking, wifi in the room and… there is no resort fee!

www.breckenridgeresidenceinn.com

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Hygge in the Hill Country

glamping

Glamping in Texas

By Sarah Ivens

Texas, I know, isn’t a state one usually associates with phrases like ‘less is more’ or ‘it’s the simple things that matter.’ Texas, stereotypically, is all about big hair, big boots, and big horns – well, longhorns. After living in the Lone Star state for six months I was getting used to this mindset – everything was sold to me as bigger and better in Texas and, as for a Brit whose upper lip is always stiff and tongue is permanently wedged in my cheek, I kind of admired the brash, bold, bootilicious OTT-ness of it all. But then the nights drew in, the amplified humidity dialed down to a bearable degree, and I longed for the comfy, cozy, low-key creature comforts of my European heritage. I needed to nestle.

The concept of Hygge is having a moment in my motherland right now. This festive season in the UK alone, ten books are being published on the art of it – how to Hygge, when to Hygge and how to out-Hygge your friends. Overwrought, wrung-out, over-loaded and ready to simplify, Brits in their droves are looking for the Hygge experience at home, on their dining table and in their wardrobes. But what is it, you may wonder?

texas-family-trips-camping

Matilda gets cozy in the tent

A Scandinavian concept meaning to enjoy the ritual of life’s simple pleasures – family, friends, graciousness and good food. It means to create a warm atmosphere – warm hearts talking in the glow of candlelight, hot chocolate mysteriously appearing from a warm stove and placed in your hands. This coziness of the soul was what I was craving, but in Texas? 6,000 miles from my extended family and old friends in London? How could I possibly get my Hygge on here?

Thankfully, tucked away in Spring Branch, a picturesque village in the Hill Country (70 miles from Austin, 30 miles from San Antonio) I found my soul solution: the Texas Bell, a glamping experience designed by Leslie Shurbet, a reiki healer and holistic health coach who – having always enjoyed hosting and cooking for friends and family – decided to erect a designer tent, 20’ diameter and 12’ tall in the center, in her back garden. Set upon a custom deck capturing long distance views across the glorious landscape, the Bell comes with A/C and a  fireplace (plus a fire pit just outside for serious s’mores action), and a full bathroom with an instant hot water shower and linens. Leslie would deliver hot coffee to the tent at sunrise, before guests could traipse at their leisure uphill past her clucking chickens and roaming deer, for a fine breakfast in her kitchen overlooking a fish pond. Wowzers. Why camp when you can glamp? And what could be more Hygge-y?

“The important thing to me when people walk through the door is that they feel like they have arms around them,” Leslie told me over a slice of her warmed apricot jam-stuffed French toast on my first morning at the Bell (and yes, that is as divine as it sounds). “I want everyone to leave here relaxed and unburdened.”

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Are those chickens?

Relaxing is difficult when you’re traveling with a five and three year old as I was. My five year old was so excited by the assortment of games offered in the tent, and collecting still-warm eggs from the hen coop, that he was a pleasure to be with but my threenager was having a rough time of it. I was embarrassed but Leslie was having none of it. She enticed me and Matilda into her ‘healing room’, me for some lavender oils that would help with the headache that was fast developing and Matilda for a concoction called ‘Peace.’ “I call this my ‘Toddler Oil’,” Leslie said, as she lightly rubbed it into Matilda’s palms and showed her how to breathe deeply. The air filled with a sweet and delicious aroma, and my dramatic daughter suddenly became a bit more inviting too. Leslie found her a sparkly gold bottle, poured her some oil, and gave it to her a gift. Matilda was thrilled – “a fairy bottle, a real fairy bottle” – and my headache lifted. We returned to the Bell for a nap as rain lashed down in a rhythmic pitter-patter around the Bell, the glow from the fire warming our toes as we wrapped up under piles of woolen blankets and embroidered throws. We all regrouped for a family supper on the deck, before tucking in for the night at 8pm. Fresh country air does that to you. No television? No Netflix? No problem.

Time does stand still at the Texas Bell. And don’t we all need that occasionally? The two cities that sit either side of her are bustling metropolises, filled to brimming with great dining choices, unique entertainment experiences and shopping malls. But here, just over an hour from the hip hub that is Austin and half an hour from the history mecca that is San Antonio, I found my Hygge. I already can’t wait to get back there – just to lie down and let the wind blow around me, while Leslie’s hospitality holds me tight.

The Texas Bell accommodates up to 4 people. Weekend price $150 per night for the entire tent, included breakfast.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/11851292

 

 

Houston: Fun Things to Do with Kids

Four Seasons Houston Food

Four Seasons Knows How to Deliver a Good Spread!

Houston, we do not have a problem.

Everyone knows Texas is big, but when it comes to taking kids to America’s fourth largest city, it turns out it’s just a small world after all.

By Sarah Ivens

My two-year-old daughter wants to be a Lady Astronaut. I think she likes the idea of floating amongst glittering stars, or maybe it’s just that she fancies zooming far away from her older brother and his constant teasing. Either way, when we moved to Austin, Texas recently, we knew a trip to the Space Center at Houston would be our first family excursion.

Downtown Houston

Downtown Houston

Well when I say ‘we’, I mean my husband obviously. Visiting a city I knew little about apart from that it is very, very hot and sky-scrapery to spend eight hours looking at geeky space stuff surrounded by NASA nerds would not be my first choice of weekend getaway. But I’m so glad my moaning was ignored. Houston surprised – in a hip, healthy way.

For a start, traveling with offspring can be exhausting – and not much of a vacation, as you worry about the impact their having on other guests, who you fear are judging your parenting skills with a smug wrath, but my kids were too bedazzled to be bored and therefore behaved well. Secondly, I imagined our accommodation choices would be limited to dull, grey motels out near mission control, or dull, grey box hotels made for international oilmen to rest their Stetson-wearing, weary heads. The Four Seasons Houston, in the heart of the shockingly pretty downtown district, was neither – and may be one of the most kid-friendly city hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

Kid friendly hotels

Four Seasons Knows How to Deliver a Good Spread!

Miniature guests are greeted to their choice of soft toy at check-in, before making their way to the room and receiving surely the cutest tray ever delivered by room service: a carton of milk, a chocolate cowboy hat and a personalized rainbow-sprinkle cookie in the shape of Texas. My two sugar fiends enjoyed these delights on the beanbags set up for them at a small table, decorated with welcome signs with their names on.

Back down at reception, we are told of all the child-happy activities offered every weekend: A kid’s cooking class in the hotel’s kitchen, or the chance to don a chef’s hat at the dinner table in Quattro, the hotel’s mighty fine Italian restaurant, and make a Tiramisu from scratch for the family to enjoy. Every Saturday night, family friendly movies are shown on the pool deck, complete with fresh-popped popcorn and a Willy Wonka-style buffet, and this sugar can be burnt off with hula hoop classes, taught by one of the gym’s fitness experts. We opted to head for a swim, where non-judgmental waiters brought all the kids complimentary Shirley Temples as they played Corn Hole in the sun. I swear, even J.R. Ewing would have looked like a good parent if he’d stayed here.

Four Seasons Houston Pool

Enter a caption

Parents at the pool suggested the best places for newbies to explore. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is the place for fledgling dinosaur hunters and archeologists; while the Downtown Aquarium is an unforgettable place to take the kids for lunch, seated as you are in the middle of a 150,000 gallon aquarium filled with everything your Finding Dory fiend will love. The Children’s Museum of Houston is rated the best in the U.S. by Parents magazine and has something mind-blowing for all ages.

But with limited time to explore, we knew we had to soar to the Space Center – so we lifted off our behinds from the pool loungers and got going. Filled with artifacts, exhibits and information, this really is an out of this world museum. Not only do you get to see where real space scientists work every day, you get to touch genuine moon rock, board a space shuttle and visit the famous mission control room from the Apollo missions. It was surprisingly moving and jaw-dropping, learning about the planets around us and the drive that pushes humankind onward into discovery. It is truly worth of at least four hours of anyone’s time. My two enjoyed their day there as much as they enjoyed their day at Disneyland. Yes, it is that engaging for children.

space ship

Houston Space Center

 

My little lady still wants to be a space cadet, even after seeing what astronauts have to eat, and my son keeps saying he wants to move to Houston (although I think he actually just wants to move into a Four Seasons suite), and I can’t wait to go back. The city was the loveliest shock, much more than oil and cowboys and traffic on sweltering days. Houston, we really do not have a problem with you.

 

 

Top Dude Ranches for The Ultimate Escape

Waunita Hot Springs

Waunita Hot Springs

Courtesy of the Dude Rancher’s Association, if you’re looking for the ultimate winter escape, look no further than these all-inclusive dude ranches, each of which offers cold weather retreat in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful parts of the country.

Latigo Ranch in Kremmling, Colorado
The outdoor activities are just as invigorating as the inside comforts are cozy at Latigo Ranch. Experienced skiers know Latigo has some of the best snow conditions and finest cross-country skiing in Colorado. Other winter activities include snowshoeing and tubing, or enjoy the quiet and seclusion from the front porch of a historic log lodge with a panoramic view of 100 miles of the Continental Divide.

Latigo

Latigo Ranch – Kremmling, Colorado

Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana
Things move a little slower at Bar W Guest Ranch in Montana, and that’s just how it’s meant to be. Treat yourself to horseback riding, sleigh ride dinners, square dances, snowshoeing, ice skating, dog sledding and ice fishing. Cap off the day with a soak in the hot tub, a game of pool, or a relaxing book and some music. And don¹t forget to leave time to enjoy a magical sleigh ride accompanied by hot chocolate or even dinner.

Bar W

Guests ride a horse drawn sleigh at the Bar W Ranch near Whitefish Montana

The Home Ranch in Clark, Colorado
When the legendary snowfalls blanket the Elk River Valley in powder, The Home Ranch transforms into a sparkling white wonderland and becomes one of the most beautiful cross-country ski resorts in Colorado. Located just north of Steamboat Springs, the ranch offers some of the best Nordic skiing in the world, rustic accommodations, and a world-class chef that prepares what he calls ‘haute mountain cuisine’ for every meal. A typical day during a winter vacation could even include helping feed the ranch¹s herd of 100+ horses with a sleigh.

Home Ranch

The Home Ranch – Clark, Colorado

Western Pleasure Ranch in Sandpoint, Idaho
A favorite activity of visitors to Western Pleasure Guest Ranch in North Idaho is a scenic horse-drawn sleigh ride powered by one of the ranch’s draft teams. A two-mile loop trail takes passengers through a dense forest, treating them to fantastic views of the Selkirk Mountains. Sleighs are available in sizes ranging from two-passenger to 12-passenger. Western Pleasure also has ski trails for all levels.

Vista Verde Guest Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
An all-inclusive winter vacation to Vista Verde Guest Ranch combines the amenities of a luxury Colorado resort with the relaxed and intimate atmosphere of a ranch vacation. Hide out in a cozy log cabin with a private hot tub and enjoy delicious, freshly prepared meals in between snow-filled adventures. Winter activities include skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, tubing, sleigh rides, culinary classes, yoga and photography classes.

Lone Mountain

Lone Mountain – Big Sky, Montana

Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana
Lone Mountain Ranch offers the ultimate winter adventure. The ranch is perfectly situated just six miles from some of the best skiing in the country and was voted as the No. 1 Nordic Ski Resort in North America by Cross Country Skier magazine. Winter activities include skiing (Nordic, downhill and backcountry), snowshoeing and sleigh ride dinners. Guests can even take a short shuttle ride to explore Yellowstone National Park or the Gallatin National Forest by skis or snowshoes.

C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado
The winter weather is surprisingly mild at C Lazy U, thanks to the bright sunshine. Backcountry snowmobile and horseback riding tours, snowshoeing, private on-property snowcat skiing, ice skating, tubing and the C Lazy U Luge are favorite activities among winter guests. There¹s even ice hockey on the pond, as well as major ski resorts nearby.

Seven Devils

Seven Devils Lodge – Council, Idaho

Seven Devils Lodge Guest Ranch in Council, Idaho
Located in central Idaho, just south of the Seven Devils mountain range, Seven Devils Lodge Guest Ranch lies in a unique area, neighboring jutting canyons, high desert, and soaring mountains. It offers some of Idaho’s finest backcountry boondocking, with terrain for all levels of riders. The ranch tailors the experience to match each guests’ riding style and even offers Back Country Basics riding clinics for those looking to improve their skills.

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado
Winter is Bed & Breakfast Mountain Lodge season at Sundance Trail Guest Ranch. Guests are welcome to come for one or two nights, or for a week, during which time they can enjoy lodging, meals and morning horseback rides. Even four-legged travelers are welcome during the off-season! Sundance Trail is popular during the winter for family reunions, romantic getaways, and even honeymoons and elopements.

If an escape from the cold and snow is more your speed, check out these two all-inclusive guest ranches this winter:

Hideout

Hideout Ranch – San Simon, Arizona

Hideout Ranch in San Simon, Arizona
See the West the way it was meant to be seen ­ from the back of a horse. Hideout Ranch’s strategic location along the Arizona-New Mexico border provides easy access to thousands of miles of mountain and high desert riding trails ­ trails no other ranch in Southeastern Arizona rides. Prepare to let your stress melt away in the bright blue Arizona sunshine and crisp, clean mountain air.

Tombstone Monument Ranch in Tombstone, Arizona
Travel back in time to the era of the cowboy at this unique ranch, which is set up like an 1880s Western frontier town. Each of the ranch’s 18 rooms has a special Western theme and is decorated in turn-of-the-century style. Explore miles of open country by horseback, enjoy live music around the campfire, or take a walk to the monument of Ed Schieffelin, the founder of Tombstone, located right on ranch property. The ranch offers trails for all levels of horseback riding.

Club Med, Cancun Yucatan: Have Kids, Must Travel

Club Med

Saar Harel – International Traveller, Father, Lover of Global Cuisine, and Water Sports

Saar Harel, international traveller, amateur chef, IT consultant extraordinaire, and father of Little Zeus, takes our readers on his first no-nonsense trip to all inclusive resort.

If you have kids and want to travel, an all-inclusive resort might be the right ticket for you.

My wife, one and a half year old son, and I travelled to Club Med Cancun Yucatan for our first all inclusive family trip to see if all-inclusive (and Club Med) was as easy and fun as it’s made out to be.

Getting There

Getting to Cancun is likely one of the biggest draws. Almost every city has a direct flight and it’s often only 3-4 hours away, no matter where you’re located in the United States. That’s fantastic. From Chicago, our flight was direct, 3.5 hours, and smooth as fresh jar of Jiffy.

You come out of immigration, look for the Club Med sign, and a coordinator and a driver will be waiting to take you to the resort. The ride is only 10-15 minutes so that, too, was incredibly easy. In fact, my wife was such a huge fan of how convenient the travel was with a baby that she’s hesitant to take another connecting flight, or a flight over 3.5 hours, with the baby again!

Club Med Cancun

A view from our 2 bedroom family room at Aquamarine

Picking Your Accommodations

Option 1: Jade – Jade is an exclusive 18 suites, 37 deluxe rooms with a lounge and their own infinity pool. They also have their own concierges which only Jade residents have access.

Option 2: Main Area – These are the original buildings and they have a beautiful view of the lagoon and main beach.

Option 3: “Family” Area – On the other side of the property where the tennis courts are located, this area is less “happening” so families can have a little more space. The beach in this area is less luxurious.

Option 4: Under renovation when we arrived. It is basically between Jade and the main beach.

We stayed Option 3, the “Family” area, particularly in the Aguamarina rooms. To be honest, they are all the same for me as you can reach anywhere within a 5 minute brisk walk and they have golf carts to drive you from one side to the other, if you don’t feel like walking. You just need to wait 5-10 minutes.

Rooms
We had a fridge and everything inside was well laid out. We were also on ground floor, so we had a small ocean front yard. You won’t be spending much time in your room anyway.

club med cancun map

Club Med Cancun Yucatan Map I revised so that you can cross-reference alongside this review

Beaches

Main Beach – This beach has the best view of Cancun’s strip and was, very likely, the best beach for those with children in all of Cancun. Highly recommend. A+

This beach is also next to the bar and there are servers who walk around refilling your never-ending drinks. As new parents, this was one of the best features. Also, in Club Med you don’t tip, so, you can leverage them all day and avoid the annoyance of tipping each time. The water is crystal clear and turquoise, and fish will swim all around you. The waves are non-existent {at least for us}, so it was very safe with our toddler and enjoyable, no waves breaking on your head. The beach is also fine nice sand and there are no rocks.

Snorkeling Beach – On the east side of the resort, there is a protected park where you can dive. No need to bring gear as they will give it to you. This was a big highlight for me as I saw barracudas, plenty of colorful fish, and even a stingray and turtle. They have some chairs laid out for your partner so they can get a tan while you catch the sights.

Las Cazuelas Beach – I call it that because it is next to Las Cazuelas restaurant. It is somewhat rocky. However, it’s far from the crowd, so, if you want to relax without seeing many people, it’s perfect. As it’s next to Las Cazuelas, you have the added bonus of being close to the restaurant buffet (which is also less crowded than the main buffet) and it feels like a ‘real’ restaurant.

Sailing Beach – I call this sailing beach since the sailing is done in this area. The beach is ok for tanning. You can also watch your partner sailing away. There is an underwater weed in the water, so this won’t be much fun to be in. However you can swim to your heart’s content and tan to a crisp. There is no bar here. So prep in advance.

Las Cazulas View Club Med

The view from Las Cazuelas while dining

Classes

At Club Med, you can take classes. This is great for kids and some adults. For example, you haven’t played tennis. Well, take the 10 AM class and a pro will teach you. This is like getting a free lesson and people were definitely taking advantage of this.

Sailing – Unfortunately, we came when there was no wind, so we didn’t get to sail. A bummer for us, but that’s not Club Med’s fault and we still loved the idea that it was so conveniently located next to Cazuelas and our room.

Water Skiing – Water ski runs all year round inside the lagoon. You come in, wait a turn. Then start performing. If you don’t know how, then the beginner lessons are easily available.

Trapeze – They have trapeze lessons, they are not too daunting. You basically work on being able to use your muscles and core to swing and keep swinging. Easy peasy just make sure you arrive dry and clothed. My wife thought being in a wet bathing suit wouldn’t be an issue and didn’t want to have to go all the way back to the room so just a small detail to know.

There are many other classes, from gym to sports like beach volleyball, which all offer you an opportunity to perform an activity with others and a chance to bond about it and hopefully create an enduring friendship or just have fun while on the resort.

Club Med Children

Little Zeus knows how to chillax

Excursions
Day Trips – Every day, Club Med organizes and you can join a different trip. The trips change daily and are an excellent way to see Mexico in a safe, organized fashion. You wake up, you board a bus, it takes you to a site, for example the Pyramids, then it stops for food, another site, and you’re back. This is excellent when you have children or want a break from being on a break and can’t take another cocktail on the beach with the sun beating on your head #firstworldproblems. This sure beats getting a rental, getting lost, planning, drama, etc.

Diving – Club Med is famous for being a resort that caters to divers, they have a diving office and can easily arrange excellent, safe trips with vetted instructors who are proficient in your language. They can also match the trip to your experience level, so you enjoy yourself and not struggle against the current the whole time. They also can arrange classes if you want to get going and intro dives if you’ve never done it before.

Kids, kids

This place is perfect for kids. When they are small, they’re clingy. By the time they hit 5-10, they can barely stand you, and when they hit the teen years, they are too cool to be with you. So, this place is perfect. Safe, as this is a compound, plenty of activities for them, they can go play soccer, swim, hang, sit at the teen bar, and sip some juice, etc.

If they are 2 and above there is also “Petit Club Med” where incredibly kid-friendly instructors will take care of them for you. Trust me, at the end of the day, they will be exhausted and, during the day, they won’t ask you to build sand castles. So, you and your partner can enjoy “vacation” and not feel like scout instructors.

If they are less than 2, you can ask for a vetted baby sitter who can watch your baby while you charge your batteries.

Food at Club Med Cancun Yucatan

Gotta love the carved fruit

Food

Club Med has some set hours:

  • La Hacienda

A Baby corner is available during regular open hours.

  • Breakfast                                        7:00-10:30
  • Lunch                                             12:00-14:15
  • Dinner                                            19:00-22:00
  • Las Cazuelas
    • Breakfast                              7:00-10:30
    • Lunch                                   13:00-16:00
    • Dinner                                  19:00-21:30
  • La Estancia (Steak house at night)
    • Late Breakfast                     10:30-12:00
    • Snack                                    16:00-18:30
    • Dinner (Steak House)       19:00-21:30
    • Snack                                    22:00-00:30

Note: these hours are note set in stone and may vary. However, they also offer you the ability to eat outside those hours. You can simply head over to the La Estancia during  “Snack” hours and they will give you a menu and you can order like a restaurant.

Most meals are a huge buffet with a very wide selection including local cuisine and international one. So, you won’t be stuck eating Mexican rice and beans and can have your pasta, if so inclined.

Dinners are the best, there are two locations. La Estancia which is now an Argentinian grill and La Cazuela which is a Mexican themed restaurant. Both require a booking and then you can eat in them like a regular restaurant with your selection in the menu. If you don’t care for that, you can go to the Main restaurant and eat buffet for dinner.

Club Med Food

If you’re hungry and looking for a nibble in between drinks, they often serve appetizers like this near the main bar. Score.

All in all, there is a lot of fish near Cancun, so the selection mirrors that and you can get extremely good fish dishes.  The chicken is also very good. You won’t find lamb and the steaks won’t be Texas grade but everything was good and we would take seconds and thirds.

As a word of warning, sometimes in buffets some things can be a miss. For example, on Day 2 the rice was undercooked. However, there is such a huge selection you can just pick something else. So I recommend putting “mini” tasters on your plate in round one. Then come back for what you liked in round two.

Wine/beer

If you love wine but don’t know exactly how to describe a pinot grigio vs a pinot gris  then they offer a good basic red or white. If you are more discerning, try the Rosato {rose wine}. It was better than the standard free house red or white, I would rate it as a C. If you are very picky, ask for the wine menu, it’s an extra cost, but the prices are the same as you would pay at a resort. Their selection is quite good.

For beer, the tap was Dos Equis which was fine by me.

For cocktails, they are excellently done and not strong, but just strong enough. So, you can glue the cocktail glass to your hand and have them all day without passing out or embarrassing your kids. My wife recommends the caipirinha and was happy that they tasted good, had a decent amount of alcohol, but weren’t so strong to give her a hangover. I had never been to an inclusive and pretty much swore myself off of ever going this route, but once I had a baby, I was open to trying anything that was easy.

All in all, Club Med was an excellent way to vacation, without breaking the bank.  It is also extremely safe and well laid out so you can enjoy your time and your kids can enjoy their time without you hovering above them.

This place offers a lot of options. Coordinate with another family and enjoy a joint vacation, go out and see Mexico, take some diving, polish your tennis, try that water ski you always see on TV, relax with some bocce ball, try some trapeze, you get to choose and the staff was excellent.

Club Med Yucatan

A storm looked like it was moving in, but after a nighttime drizzle, the sky was clear and the weather was perfect. Beautiful colored canopies and ambient lightening make parents feel like they’re in a more hip version of a family establishment.

Big Positives

  1. No Tipping allowed – so no need to lug cash!
  2. Safe – this place is a compound, you can pretty much leave your phone on the chair and no one will steal it.
  3. Nice – staff are the nicest, they are recruited from all over the world, so they can speak French, Italian, Spanish, German, and English. We found them to be friendly genuine people. They are especially good with the kids as kids can tell a phony from 100 yards away.

Things to Know

  1. Make sure you bring Deet bug spray. The resort is surrounded by a mangrove and, at night, the mosquitos can be annoying. They don’t sell Deet, they only sell Citronella, which did not work for us.
    So, bring your Deet and you will have a perfect vacation.
  2. If you plan on learning to dive, there are pre-requisites. Like a medical exam, etc. So call them and make sure you bring all the paper work. Like I said, they are methodical and safe and won’t let you go without the requirements being met. I can respect that.

Grade: A-/B+

Club Med Cancun Yucatan

Puerto Vallarta Deal: CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa

CasaMagna Puerto Vallarta

The beach at CasaMagna Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa

Who doesn’t dig a beachfront escape and the mountains? It’s part of the reason why we love California, but even Cali doesn’t always have the warm water you might expect. Enter: CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, located on a sandy strip between the Sierra Madre Mountains and Banderas Bay. A charming, friendly town with an authentic Mexican vibe, Puerto Vallarta offers a vibrant culinary and arts scene, highlighted by local festivals such as the Puerto Vallarta Gourmet Festival and the Guadalupe Processions. Puerto Vallarta’s 21st annual Festival Gourmet International, taking place November 16-22, will feature the best of the best eats in and around one of Mexico’s most surprisingly foodie friendly destinations. Festival-goers have a chance to enjoy 6 nights of wine, cocktails, live music, and jazz at Puerto Vallarta’s culinary hot spots.

The “Puerto Vallarta, Table for Two” package at the CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta includes oceanview accommodations and a chance to savor the Gourmet Festival Menu at the resort’s Mikado restaurant, with breakfast for two each morning at one of the hotel’s restaurants.

Rates start at $239 /night with a 3-night minimum stay.

Tequila Tastings at CasaMagna

Tequila Tastings at CasaMagna

One of only a few resorts in the world with a proprietary brand of tequila, CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta also grows its own blue agave on property in the cactus garden. Audrey Formisano, the resort’s tequila sommelier and an authority on the highly sophisticated and remarkably wide variety of tequilas, teaches guests about the history of tequila in the Jalisco region. Weekly tequila tastings are offered in La Cava wine cellar as an extension of the Secretos de la Familia program. The experience was developed to increase guests’ knowledge of and appreciation for tequila. The presentation includes the history of tequila (the mythical origin of the drink was by “Mayahuel,” the goddess of tequila and “Quetzalcoatl,” her eternal lover… I mean, how sexy Mexi is that?), and, of course, the newest technologies for tequila processing. The tastings are complimentary for members of Marriott Rewards and $15 for all other guests. Additionally, the resort offers more than 60 brands, representing 114 tequilas by the glass.

Regular hotel rates start at a steal: $119/room, per night.

So say, “Salud,” and get your tan on.

www.puertovallartamarriott.com

5 Top U.S. Culinary Adventures

Mirbeau Inn and Spa

Mirbeau Inn and Spa at The Pinehills – Plymouth, Massachusetts 

These days, we in the mood for easy luxury. Perhaps we’re getting accustomed to comfort, perhaps we need to be waited on hand and foot, perhaps… we just won’t settle for mediocre. We want more!

So here are five properties in the US that promise to tickle your taste buds and treat you well:

1.      Mirbeau Inn & Spa at The Pinehills (Plymouth, Mass.): Guests with a penchant for foraging can join Executive Chef Stephen Coe at nearby Plymouth Rock Oyster Farm for a tutorial on picking and shucking oysters. Groups of up to 12 are privy to a farm dinner thereafter including oysters, scallops, lobster, saltwater corn and prosecco ($75 per person). The program launches today and continues through early autumn.

1,000 Islands Harbor

1,000 Islands Harbor Hotel – Clayton, New York

2.      1000 Islands Harbor Hotel (Clayton, N.Y.): Another off-site adventure awaits in upstate N.Y., where guests head out on the St. Lawrence River to fish with Captain Jeff Garnsey.  The day’s haul is then cooked over a hardwood campfire for a traditional Shore Dinner (a Clayton staple since 1872). In a single cast iron skillet, Captain prepares salt pork sandwiches and fried fish, followed by French toast, served with local maple syrup.

Chatham Bars Inn

Chatham Bars Inn- Chatham, Mass.

3.      Chatham Bars Inn (Chatham, Mass., on Cape Cod): Not every culinary moment can or should be planned. The oceanfront resort’s luxury fleet stands ready to whisk guests to sea for big game sport fishing, among other leisure pursuits. (The biggest guest catch was a 350 lb. blue fin tuna.) When opportunity strikes, Executive Chef Anthony Cole will greet boats at shore and immediately filet fish for fresh sashimi, served gratis to guests on the beach with the fisherman’s OK.

The Umstead Hotel and Spa, Kaiseki Canapes

The Umstead Hotel and Spa, Kaiseki Canapes – Cary, North Carolina

4.      The Umstead Hotel and Spa (Cary, N.C., outside Raleigh): Herons’ seven course Kaiseki dinner by Executive Chef Steven Greene begins with a spectacular tableside tea ceremony (this video captures the wow-factor of the process). The drink is served in custom dishware by potter Ben Owen, whose large-scale works are showcased throughout the art-centric Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond hotel. This unexpected start to the dinner experience is a perfect complement to the “source local” mentality at The Umstead, which relies heavily on N.C. products and produce from its own garden and nearby farm.

Sanctuary

Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain – Scottsdale, Arizona

5.      Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain (Scottsdale, Ariz.): The “Mi Casa, Mi Chef” package takes the relationship between diner and chef to new dimensions. From the arresting vantage point of Sanctuary’s Mountainside Estates, guests work hand-in-hand with a Sanctuary chef (like Food Network star Beau MacMillan) to plan and execute their customized dining experience, letting the day’s best fruits, vegetables, fish and meat dictate the menu.  They join the chef in the kitchen of their private home, working side-by-side to prepare the feast. In-home spa treatments take the package over-the-top.