Charleston On My Mind

Given all the attention Charleston gets these days, it goes without saying that this special little city offers a rich low-country experience to visitors looking to fully immerse in the deep traditions of the South.  Lately, however, there are some developments in town that are adding an exciting new dimension to Charleston.  Below is a compilation of my top picks of the moment!

Stay:  The Dewberry Charleston ( is a beautiful, brand spankin’ new hotel on the scene.   In fact, when we were there last weekend, only a portion of the rooms were ready for occupancy and the spa was not yet completed.  Didn’t  matter though, because I was sold on the lobby area, lounge and restaurant. All were done in rich woods and marble with a casual, mid-century modern flair.  I was not surprised to learn that the space was created with the influence of a Brooklyn-based design team.  It’s hard to believe the structure was once an eyesore of a federal building.  The first “grand”, luxury property to grace Charleston in years, I am rooting for this gem!


If you like to compare and contrast before deciding where to rest your head at night, have a look at these smaller but very special properties as well, all of which have mastered the art of fusing chic, modern luxury with low-country tradition:  The Spectator Hotel (, the Restoration Hotel (  and the Zero George (


Eat:  Le Farfalle ( is a relative newcomer on the Charleston dining scene that delighted our entire family. The interior is open, airy and casual.  The menu features delicious, inventive Italian fare (loved the tuna milanese) and the service was top-notch. Turns out the chef/owner wet his feet in Manhattan before taking his talents south.



Some of my other current faves for dinner in Charleston are The Grocery (,  Lana Restaurant ( and The Ordinary (, with Henrietta’s at the Dewberry Hotel ( on the top of my list for our next visit.  For lunch, I love Butcher & Bee ( and look forward to trying Park Cafe ( next time around.  And of course, Husk( is fast becoming an institution in this town.

For a more traditional Southern dining experience, you may want to reserve at a Charleston institution like Slightly North of Broad (aka “SNOB”) ( or McCrady’s ( for dinner, and High Cotton ( for live jazz brunch. Hominy Grill ( is another local classic open breakfast through dinner. I always get a good laugh when I look at the Vegetables section of their menu, which includes “macaroni and cheese”, “deep fried cheese grits” and “french fries” among its veggies.

Do:   My top activity picks are as follows –

Downtown, the horse-drawn carriage rides give insightful, scenic tours around the historic part of the city.  Each tour is a little different depending on the guide and the area covered so even if you’ve been once, it’s worth a second go round.  Palmetto Carriage Works ( and Old South Carriage Company ( are good options to consider.

A tour of Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began, is a must   ( for history buffs.  The kids will surely enjoy the boat ride over and exploring the fort ruins and the many cannons.  There is plenty of open space for running around as well.

A bridge walk (or run) over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge – or even halfway – is a fun activity that also offers stellar views of the city.



The bridge connects downtown to Mount Pleasant. You might begin on the Mount Pleasant side, take an abridged stroll on the bridge, and then relax on a park bench while your kids entertain themselves at the awesome playground under the bridge at the Mt. Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park.  There is also a long dock at that park, for yet another look at Charleston harbor and downtown. How many church steeples can you spot??   Nearby, you can visit the USS Yorktown, a World War II aircraft carrier and home to the Patriot’s Point Maritime and Naval Museum (

Sullivan’s Island beach is my favorite beach in town (I use the term “in town” loosely – it’s actually about a 20 minute drive from downtown) and from there you can grab a bite at The Obstinate Daughter (, located on the only commercial “strip” (blink and you’ll miss it) on Sullivan’s Island.


If the weather is not cooperative, the South Carolina Aquarium ( and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry ( are good options downtown (I would say 10 is the max age at the museum).   If you are at the museum and need a lunch break during or after your visit,  Rue De Jean ( is a yummy bistro (they have pretty good sushi too!) practically across the street.


If you are seeking culture in the form of live entertainment,  check out what’s playing at the Dock Street Theatre (, the Footlight Players Theatre (  and the beautifully rebuilt Gaillard Center (


If you are looking to do some shopping, King Street is lined with stores, from local boutiques such as the high-end Bob Ellis Shoes to chains such as J.Crew, and many in between.   Worthwhile is one of my favorites, with a unique and carefully edited selection of clothing, jewelry and homewares (  The Magnifilous Toy Emporium ( is a great spot for kids (and right near the Children’s Museum, mentioned below).

This past visit we also browsed through a few galleries downtown.  We spent a while in Robert Lange ( – great space with a cool assortment of local art, some of which we are thinking about adopting for our own walls.


There are several amazing, historical gardens and plantations under an hour from downtown Charleston that are worth visiting:

Charlestown Landing ( is an awesome place to visit for the entire family.  With over 80 acres of gardens, interactive educational “exhibits” on colonial history, walking trails and biking trails, you could easily spend an entire day here.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens ( is another historical gem which not only features beautiful gardens, but also provides rich historical tours about “Gullah” culture and slavery, as well as the historical significance of rice growing in and around Charleston.

Middleton Place ( has breathtaking gardens as well, and a fascinating area where craft artisans reenact the work done by slaves on the plantation at one time.  We brought a picnic and spent hours exploring Middleton.  Our kids loved playing with the sheep roaming on the huge open field by the picnic area.


That’s it for now, y’all!

A Home Away From Home

Sayulita Residence - Kie & Coe


Sometimes when I dream about vacation, a part of me gets excited to leave my “at-home” responsibilities behind as I check in at the hotel’s reception desk.   However, when I travel with my children or extended family, more and more often I find myself looking for that perfect house where we can all be under one roof and not have to deal with the logistics – or expense – of multiple hotel rooms.  When my early-rising kids wake up with energetic bodies and voices at 6am, it’s a relief not to have to worry that they will disturb other hotel guests.  It also makes for a calmer experience when we don’t have to compete for lounge chairs or a spot at breakfast.  On the other hand, it’s really the pits to pack everyone up and travel for hours, only to arrive at a rental home that is a huge disappointment.

Enter Kid & Coe (, a meticulously compiled selection of alluring properties that are child-friendly.  Their collection is gorgeous and expanding all the time and their site is so easy to navigate – you can explore by destination, type of vacation or even last minute availability.  So next time you’re planning a vacation, or if you simply enjoy being “virtually” transported to beautiful properties both far and near, check out


Mallorca Residence - Kid & Coe





Anguilla With Kids

My husband and I had an incredible experience at the Viceroy Anguilla back in 2013 and recently decided to return with the kids.  Based on our first visit,  we went with the highest of expectations. Fortunately, this time around was just as special as our previous visit.  This post will supplement my 2013 post so take a look at both for a more comprehensive review of Anguilla.
Where to stay – Top pick is the Viceroy (, located in the northwest of the island on a gorgeous, long stretch of beach called Meads Bay.   It is a stunning, chic property with a modern, laid-back vibe.  The layout of the hotel works well for couples looking for a romantic getaway as well as for families.   The rooms (166 of them) are spacious and have great terraces, many with plunge pools/hot tubs.  Families have the option of a 2+ bedroom residence, which has a full kitchen and living area, or two smaller rooms that are side by side (not connecting though, so not ideal if your kids are really young).     If you’re traveling with toddlers, the expansiveness of the property may be a challenge for their little legs.  I did notice a few strollers during our stay, but you may need to navigate some steps around the property.
 The hotel’s setting is breathtaking – part of it is perched on a dramatic, rocky coastline, while the rest sits on an idyllic, powdery white sand beach that invites long strolls any time of day or evening (the undertoe can be a bit of a challenge if you’re not a strong swimmer).  There are several restaurants along the beach (see “Where to Eat” below) within walking distance that are worth checking out. 


You can tell that management has given a lot of thought to creating a relaxed mood at the hotel with plenty of conveniences at guests’ fingertips – soft background music plays throughout the property and huge bottles of SPF and fruit-infused pitchers of water are located at the pools, to mention just a few.  There are plenty of activities for kids (and adults!) on site without ever sacrificing the look or vibe of a sophisticated property.  Sprinkled throughout the property are a ping pong table, a small cricket field and a mini golf nook.  Bikes are available for guest use and there are multiple tennis courts and basketball courts (I hear a bunch of NBA players come down every summer to run a hoops camp at the hotel) on property as well.  At the time of our stay, the hotel offered complimentary tennis workshops Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-3:30pm. They provide racquets.





For kids who need a break from the sun and sea, there is always the kids club, called Generation V. It seems geared more toward younger kids but certainly has a few options for children through the tween years.    Generation V is conveniently located near the spa, which is worth checking out, not just for its treatments, but also for its transporting relaxation areas and cute boutique, which sells skincare, cosmetics and workout wear.


The main hotel boutique, called Nook, is well curated, if pricey.   They carry clothing, jewelry and a whole variety of accessories for adults and kids.  On our last day there, there was a jewelry trunk show featuring some amazing pieces from Lera Jewels (


In the evenings, there are a few dinner options if you don’t feel like venturing out, and live music is scheduled just about every night as well.
Other hotel options:  
There are a number of hotels,  as well as villas for rent, on the island.  A few top choices are below.
Malliouhana – At the other end of the beach (Meads Bay) from Viceroy is the Auberge Malliouhana Resort (, another five star hotel that boasts a more traditional decor than the Viceroy.
Zemi Beach –  If you’re looking for a more intimate, boutique hotel, check out the brand new Zemi Beach (, located on the northeastern part of the island, on a beach called Shoal Bay East.
Zemi is a much smaller property than the Viceroy, with only 64 rooms at its opening.  The rooms we saw are very pretty (modern as well), as was their restaurant, which has indoor tables as well as tables set up outdoors on the sand.  They have what looks like the beginnings of a great little kids club with plenty of creative activities planned, and a spectacular spa, which is housed in gorgeous, old Thai rice houses that were brought to Anguilla by the prior owners of the property where Zemi Beach is located.
How to get there – Best route is JFK to St. Maarten, followed by a 25 minute ferry ride (waters can be rough) or an eight minute flight via Anguilla Air Services (  If you opt for the ferry, there are a number of options, including the public ferry and private ferry companies at varying price points (  Keep in mind that the ferry ride can be rough, depending on the day you travel.  Once you arrive in Anguilla, you can take a taxi to your destination or pre-arrange a private car.  The Viceroy recommends a “limousine service”, which seemed insanely expensive at $85 for a 10 minute ride from the airport to the hotel.  However, our driver Hendrick was a real sweetheart. He took us everywhere we wanted to go during our stay.  The name of the company he works for is Vancoy’s Limousine and Chauffeuring Services ( They are easily accessible, kind, prompt and always arrived in clean, spacious, air-conditioned vehicles.     At the end of the week, the total cost for all of our transport was much more reasonable than the initial price tag for airport transfers would have suggested.
What to do – Anguilla is a slow-paced island that just makes you want to chill out!  With its amazing beaches and the alluring pools at the Viceroy,  it would be easy to while away the days on a lounge chair with a drink and a good book. That said, there are plenty of activities for people who like to keep busy.
You can visit one of the nearby islands for lunch and the afternoon.  We opted for Scilly Cay ( Read on below for details about the restaurant. Other options are Sandy Island ( and Prickly Pear (, both of which are a bit larger islands and involve longer boat rides (closer to 20 minutes).
Swimming with the dolphins ( is super fun, but keep in mind that you’re in the sea and if you hit a day when the waters are rough, it can be a challenge for little ones and anyone not comfortable with some waves.  Also, if you plan to buy the pictures documenting your time with the dolphins, the price of the “adventure” increases exponentially.  Of course, they make it very difficult for you to take your own pictures.
Horseback riding is an option on island that I’d like to try next time (
Water sports such as kayaking, paddle boarding, sunset cruises and snorkeling can be arranged through your hotel or on Crocus Bay, right behind da’Vida restaurant (see “Where to Eat”).
Bike riding – Viceroy offers morning bike tours on a first-come, first-serve basis but they don’t have toddler seats so this is limited to adults and kids who are able to ride two-wheel bicycles.
Live music – The Viceroy offers live or DJ music most nights. Also, if you want to hear some local tunes off the property, check out Omari Banks or his dad, Bankie Banx, both Anguillan-born singer/songwriters. Omari plays at different restaurants around the island.   Check his web site ( or ask your hotel’s concierge about his schedule.  Omari’s dad, Bankie Banx, is a reggae performer and owns the Dune Preserve restaurant, a popular destination on the island (
Where to eat – There is no dearth of restaurants in Anguilla.  During our week there, we managed to eat at a different restaurant every night and for most lunches and even still, we left with a list of places we want to try next time.  One item to note – the food is expensive in Anguilla!  If your kids are fussy, most restaurants have kids menus.  Even the “fanciest” restaurants on island are welcoming to children.
Da’Vida ( – Open for lunch and dinner.  Open air dining steps from the sand on the calm waters of Crocus Bay.  Sunday lunch usually features live music with Omari Banks and his band.  The food was decent (skip the pizza, even for the kids) but certainly worthwhile given the setting and Omari’s tunes.   After lunch, enjoy some time on the beach behind the restaurant, where you can  rent kayaks for $10-$15 per hour.
Mango’s ( – Local food, right on the water. Gets great ratings but our meal was just so-so.  We must have been there on an off night, although the service was terrific. We went for dinner but might be better for lunch when you can enjoy the views of the sea from your table.
Picante ( – Mexican, a two minute walk from the Viceroy.  Ask the bellman to take you to the edge of the property with a golf cart and you can practically see the restaurant from there.  Yummy and super casual dinner.  Great margaritas!
Blanchard’s Beach Shack ( – 15 minute walk from the Viceroy and just a stone’s throw from the Malliouhana.  Super casual, barefoot in the sand kind of lunch. Yummy tacos, rice bowls, decent salads and perfect smoothies and desserts for a hot day! Open til 8:30pm so could be a great option for early dinner with the kids one evening too.
Blanchard’s Restaurant ( – Ethnic-infused local cuisine. Same owner at the Beach Shack (above).   This is a”fancy” restaurant as far as Anguilla goes, but still quite casual.  We brought the kids and the hostess happily played with them for much of the meal in the bar/lounge area. They are well-equipped with games, puzzles and entertaining stories to share with the kids.   I thought it was great but my husband felt it was a bit overrated.
Straw Hat ( – Local cuisine. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, right on the beach at Mead’s Bay, about a 10 minute walk from the Viceroy.  Live music some evenings (Wednesday night during our stay). Food was yummy and staff was so kind.
Veya ( – Asian fusion cuisine served in an elevated, open-air setting that feels like a treehouse.  Food was delicious and we could hear the sweet sounds of Omari Banks, who was performing solo just downstairs at Veya’s newer outpost, Meze ( Meze serves Morrocan-style tapas in a super cool, lounge with live music nightly.  Servers were so friendly and the kids enjoyed running downstairs to feed fish in an in-ground aquarium and listen to the music.
Bamboo ( – Eclectic menu. At the Viceroy, casual lunch is served poolside or beach side and is yummy!  Fish tacos, salads, sandwiches, quesadillas and pizzas are all well executed, and they have fun cocktails (and mocktails for the kids).
Scilly Cay ( – Generally only open Wednesdays and Sundays, Scilly Cay is a teeny island practically a stone’s throw away from Anguilla. You need to arrange for transportation from your hotel to the northeast end of the island  where a little motor boat will pick you up and transport you a world away in about three minutes.  Not knowing what to expect, and since Scilly Cay has such limited hours, we reserved in advance for a Wednesday afternoon.  We also pre-ordered our meals because we were told it could take a while if we wait til we get there to order.  Once on the island, the hermit crabs, lizards and incredible setting were more than enough to keep the family happy for hours.  They sometimes have live music as well.  One awesome little detail is the little wall that runs the perimeter of the island – it’s largely made of conch shells! The menu selection is very limited – a huge barbequed chicken (would have been enough for our three kids to share), lobster with an incredibly delicious and addictive Caribbean curry sauce, as well as crayfish and catch of the day, when available. All items come with a generous serving of pasta salad, a small serving of fruit and a basket of garlic bread. They were flexible enough to accommodate our kids’ request for plain pasta instead of pasta salad and to bring extra sauce from the lobster so we could drench the bread and pasta in it!  The rum punch is refreshing and deceivingly strong.  Heads-up – this barefoot in the sand, deserted island kinda place is super expensive, so you may want to inquire about pricing before you go.
Sunset Lounge  ( – Japanese/Asian inspired menu, at the Viceroy.  Loungy setting with a focus on Asian cuisine and a few more generic options to appeal to those in the mood for a less ethnic meal.  Open for lunch and dinner.
Half Shell ( – At the Viceroy. Lunch and happy hour (1/2 price drinks!) only on certain days of the week.  This miniscule treasure is hidden between the villas on the “other” side of the hotel where few people seem to ever go.  The Mediterranean menu is a refreshing change from the other options at the hotel and the setting is idyllic.   Just down the steps from the restaurant is a small beach along Barnes Bay with lounge chairs set up for those who want to linger.  The kids can run down to the beach and play (as mine did – see below!) if they get antsy waiting for lunch to arrive.
Bamboo Beer Box  – Tiny shack right next to the Viceroy on the beach, serving a small menu of fish and meat barbequed right before your eyes, as well as coconut rice and peas, an Anguillan staple.
Until next time, we will remember this beautiful sunset!

I Heart Iceland



When I think of summer travel, cold weather doesn’t usually come to mind.  But Iceland has been on my radar for some time, so we decided to close out summer 2015 with a vacation that included five nights there and ended with a few nights in Paris (which I will cover in my next post!).  While five nights is nowhere near enough time to see all of Iceland, we certainly got a healthy dose of culture, nature and adventure.  We focused our trip on the south coast because of its relative proximity to the airport and Reykjavik, and because that region is rich with activities and diverse landscape.
Although it’s a significant expense, I highly recommend using a tour guide in Iceland. The country’s infrastructure is fairly undeveloped (aside from Route 1, the “Ring Road”, which loops around the the entire island) and many of the hidden treasures require driving on unmarked, unpaved roads. The guides all drive “super” jeeps with 4-5 foot tires that they masterfully inflate and deflate depending on the ever-changing terrain.  If that weren’t enough, the special historical and personal perspective of a native adds so much texture to the experience. Because Iceland is so sparsely populated, you are less likely to meet and intermingle with locals outside of Reykjavik, so a meaningful part of your cultural exposure comes from a good guide.  Our guide was like a walking wikipedia of Iceland – he shared volumes of fascinating historical facts and anecdotes, not to mention lots of cool Norse myths which our kids loved.   We booked him through South Iceland Adventures (
He picked us up in his “super” jeep each day and had a full itinerary in place, including national parks, volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, geysers and black sand beaches, just to name a few of the highlights of our three action-packed days with him.  We took walks and hikes at every destination so that we could explore on foot and experience each magical destination with all of our senses. We spent a day doing the famous “Golden Circle” tour as well, which included visits to the country’s most famous geyser (Strokkur), waterfall (Gullfoss, or Golden Falls) and national park (Thingvellir National Park).
In addition to our daily tours with Svavar, as he was called, we went on an unforgettable sunset ATV expedition in the shadows of Mt. Hekla (which included an Icelandic coffee shop experience we will never forget!) and snowmobiling on the 4th largest glacier in the country (Myrdalsjokull). We arranged the ATV and snowmobiling tours through South Iceland Adventures as well and fully recommend both experiences.
We ended our visit to Iceland in Reykjavik, where we had just a day to see the city with a map as our guide.  We managed to work in a visit to the Saga Museum (, a stroll through the city centre, a few great meals and a visit to the awesome Hallsgrimskirkja Church (  Basic info is below, and you can read on for a detailed itinerary.
Where to stay – Seems there are more and more options every month, as tourism grows rapidly throughout the country, from cutting edge boutique hotels to farm stays. The Ranga Hotel ( was our base for the South Coast.   Ranga is practically an institution.  We reserved two of their basic rooms – one for the kids and one for my husband and me.  Our rooms were fine, but I hear that their themed suites are the real attraction.  In Reykjavik we stayed in a spacious one-bedroom apartment at the Black Pearl (, a luxury apartment/hotel near the center of town. It was clean, modern and sophisticated with a beautiful, full kitchen.  The kids had plenty of room to spread out in the living area where the sofa opened to a queen size bed and we arranged for a rollaway for our third child.  Black Pearl is not a full service hotel but they do have a helpful concierge on site from 7am-10pm each day, who can arrange anything from car transfers to dinner reservations to breakfast delivered to your apartment.  We loved it!  We also considered the 101 Hotel (, which is a true hotel done in a chic, modern style. If you want to do Reyjkavik on the cheap, the Kex Hostel ( looks super cool and clean.
Getting There – We flew Iceland Air, but there are a number of airlines that fly nonstop.  Make sure to grab a snack from Joe and the Juice at Keflavik Airport.  Their juices, smoothies, coffee and sandwiches are delightful!  If you are planning on guided tours during your stay, you’re best bet is to pre-arrange airport transfers rather than to rent a car.  After pricing out a number of transportation options, we discovered that they’re all costly!  We ended up booking a car and driver through the Black Pearl. They were super responsive, organized the offered the most cost-effective and comfortable transfers for our family.
Where to eat – In the south, the restaurant at the Ranga is very nice, not to mention convenient if you’re staying there!  For you adventurous eaters, get ready to sample smoked puffin, reindeer carpaccio and Icelandic lamb.   Whale is another delicacy you will likely see on menus.  Stop at Fridheimar (, the country’s famous tomato farm, for lunch on the day you do the Golden Circle tour. Fridheimar is located inside of a huge, meticulous greenhouse. Everything on the limited menu was delicious.  In Reykjavik, The Fish Market ( is a must for dinner.  The Laundromat ( is great for breakfast or lunch, or even a casual dinner.
Tour Guides – There are many, but we had a stellar experience with South Iceland Adventures (  We worked directly with Kristin to organize our tours. She was patient and helpful.  Svavar was our guide. We thought he was terrific, though I am sure all of their guides are top-notch.
Wish we had time for:  Vatnajokull Glacier, including its famous the Glacier Lagoon tour (    The Husavik region, including Lake Myvatn and Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe (  A visit to the Westman Islands ( off the south coast.  A sea angling tour where you go out fishing and then bbq your catch on board for a terrific meal (bookable through South Iceland Adventure at River jet experience ( Visiting more remote hot springs, which are located throughout the country.  An additional day to explore Reykjavik.
Day 1 –  After a 5 1/2 hour flight from NYC, we arrived at Iceland’s international airport, Keflavik, close to midnight.  Since it was pitch black outside, one might expect the 1.5 hour ride to the Ranga Hotel to be uneventful.  Not so!  Gutta, our driver, stopped on the side of the road suddenly and urged us to get out of the car and look up.  We saw the amazing Northern Lights dancing magically through the sky.  Incredible! Unlike anything we had ever seen!  Not long after, we arrived at the Ranga Hotel, welcomed by a huge stuffed polar bear reared up on its hind legs.  The Ranga is designed in the style of a log cabin, with a few small cozy seating areas throughout.  It has one restaurant with windows for walls so that you can marvel at the beautiful landscape during meal time, and two inviting and intimate bar and lounge areas.  The standard rooms are decent but nothing to write home about.  Check out the themed suites for a more exotic experience.  There are a number of outdoor hot tubs for guests’ enjoyment.
Day 2 –   Breakfast buffet in the Ranga’s dining room.  Svavar, our guide, picked us up at 11am because of our late arrival the prior evening. He was young, friendly, laid back and adventurous. We quickly discovered his knowledge of and passion for Iceland’s history, which he generously shared with us during our time together.  We visited two waterfalls that were not only beautiful, but so accessible.  We were able to climb up a staircase built into the peak alongside one of them and we had the chance to walk along the banks of the river that fed into the fall. As for the next fall, we were able to do a 360 degree walk around it and experience its force from behind.  We were in awe of the beautiful rainbows from every angle.
Next we drove up to the Myrdasjokull Glacier, where we went on an hour-long snowmobiling tour. After bundling up in neon orange snowsuits at the base of the glacier, we got a brief tutorial on how to operate the snowmobiles before setting off on our adventure.  Aside from the sheer rush of zooming across a vast open space on a snowmobile, we were amazed at the drastic changes in temperature, light, topography and views we saw from atop the icy mass.  Our guide stopped a few times to tell us about the glacier’s history, including how it has evolved and continues to change over time. We had the chance to get off our snowmobiles and walk around up there as well.  Felt like we were on the moon!
 After coming down from the glacier, we drove to a lava sand beach (called  Sólheimasandur) just a few minutes away, where we saw the remains of a US Navy jet that crash landed there in 1973.  With nothing but black sand all around, the glacier we had just visited clearly visible to the north and the Atlantic Ocean just a short distance to the south, it was quite a setting.  There was not another soul in sight and the kids had a ball running on the sand and “checking out” the plane close-up.
Then it was back to the super jeep, where Svavar warned us to hold on tight as he took us on a bumpy, speedy adventure around the beach, climbing up and down the uneven surfaces of the sand, rocks and through water.   We eventually made our way back to the Ranga Hotel for dinner.  As if we hadn’t had enough excitement for the day, the menu at the restaurant featured smoked puffin, reindeer carpaccio and Icelandic lamb stew, along with plenty of mainstream options.
Day 3 –  Svavar picked us up at 10am and we went to Thorsmork National Park, where we started out with a hike up a grassy hill to a cave, picking blueberries and crowberries along the way.  We noticed bird feathers and carcasses, loose sheep wool and what looked like fox footprints along the hike.  All of our “findings” felt like treasure to the kids!  Before getting back into the car, we filled up our water bottles in a nearby stream, after Svavar assured us that the water throughout the country is pristine.
As we drove deeper into the park, the landscape changed to volcanic sand and rock.  There, we climbed up to what Svavar called the “Elves Church” – because the rock structure looked like a church steeple and lore has it that elves live throughout Iceland, this structure is rumored to be a place of elf worship.  We all made our way up what felt like a hill of quicksand, into the “church”.
We also hiked to an ice cave located at the base of a glacier.   The kids had a blast trying to figure out how to make it across a stream to get to the cave.
It wasn’t until we arrived to lunch at the Volcano Huts, a small and very remote restaurant inside Thorsmork Park, that we caught sight of another person that day.   After refueling our stomachs, we drove through rivers and on unpaved roads back out of the park and headed to a pre-arranged (through South Iceland Adventures) sunset ATV tour.  Svavar left us with Unnar, a wonderfully warm and kind man who was our ATV tour guide.  Unnar took us off-roading through the most gorgeous countryside – lush and green.  It was crazy  to think that in the space of just a 20 minute car ride we had come from black, rocky volcanic surroundings to this setting that felt a bit like Switzerland.
We zoomed through the mountains on our ATVs and at one point we were faced head-on with what turned out to be a herd of about 50 Icelandic horses, running in our direction.  We pulled aside, stopped our ATVs and sat in awe of these gorgeous animals as they ran right by us, so peacefully.
As if nothing had happened, we resumed our ride and Unnar paused to tell us we were going to an Icelandic coffee shop.  Although I was so energized by the thrill of the ride, I couldn’t help but wonder how a coffee shop could exist in what looked to be uncharted territory.  Just a few minutes later, we stopped again and Unnar invited us to follow him into a cave. He told our children that trolls live in the cave and that they are generally afraid of people but they like younger people. He encouraged our kids to lead the way into the cave, which turned out to be quite large.  At the back of the cave was a fire pit.  Unnar made a fire and took from his bag contents he had packed for hot cocoa, coffee and delicious cookies.  We all sat by the fire enjoying this Icelandic coffee shop experience.  It was truly magical.
 Eventually, we exited the cave and took our time heading back to base as the sun set.  There, we met and got to feed some Icelandic horses that  belonged to Unnar and his wife.  They are gorgeous, docile “pets” to many Icelandic people!  After spending some time with the horses, we returned to the Ranga Hotel for a feast of unusual delicacies once again.
Day 4 – On our last day with Svavar, we did the famous “Golden Cicle” tour, which included Gullfoss (which means “the Golden Waterfall”), the Strokkur geyser and surrounding geothermal area, and Thingvellir National Park.  All the sites on this day were incredible but it’s worth noting that the this tour was meaningfully different from the prior days because of the busloads of tourists we encountered at Gullfoss and Strokkur especially.  While we were mesmerized by the sheer expanse and force of Gullfoss, the experience definitely felt less authentic than our South Coast tours because we were now among hundreds of other tourists.
 Strokkur was also filled with tourists standing around, waiting for the next explosion.  I’m glad we stopped there but we didn’t feel the need to linger for too long.   That said, we did take a great little walk up the surrounding red rocks to a pretty lookout point.  Last but not least on the Golden Circle tour was Thingvellir National Park, which straddles the fault line between the United States and Europe.  It’s also the site of the first meeting of Parliament.  We hit it on a beautiful day and basked in the sunshine as we strolled through part of the park, which didn’t feel nearly as busy as the other Golden Circle sites.
On this day we stopped for lunch at Fridheimar, a famous tomato farm that serves a limited but delicious and incredibly fresh lunch.  They have basil plants on every table with scissors so you can cut some into your lunch – doesn’t get more farm to table than that!
After the Golden Circle tour, we took at breathtaking drive through the countryside into Reykjavik.  We were craving Thai food so our guide took us to a restaurant called Banh Thai near the center of town.  Dinner was yummy and we enjoyed a short walk through the city on our way back to the Black Pearl, stopping at Eldur and Is for delicious ice cream (try their crepes too!) along the way.  After satisfying our sweet tooth, we prepared for the next morning’s excursion to the Blue Lagoon.
Day 5 – The same driver who took us from the airport to the Ranga on our first evening also drove us to the Blue Lagoon, where we had pre-purchased tickets (through the Black Pearl) to bathe at 10am.  Although this destination was swarming with tourists too, we loved it.  Make sure to bring along flip flops for your feet as you navigate your way from the locker room to the lagoon. While the facility is kept clean, you need to do a fair amount of barefoot walking to get to and from the changing area to the swim area.   We spent more than an hour relaxing in the lagoon and had a good laugh smothering healing clay (available at no additional charge) all over our faces.  If you really want a spa experience, you can book a massage, which is given in a private and quiet area of the lagoon.
After we arrived back in Reyjkavik, we grabbed a casual lunch at the Sea Baron (, which is known for their ultra fresh and impressive variety of fish kabobs.  The place is tiny, but really cute and nautical.  We tried a bunch of different kabobs, including whale!  After lunch we toured the Saga Museum, which, true to its name, features an exhibit that walks you through some momentous and historical sagas that have occurred in Iceland.  The exhibit is set up as a life-size diorama that you walk through with an audio guide. If you are traveling with kids, you might want to check out the exhibit before taking them through – one of our children stayed back as he was uncomfortable because of some bloody scenes depicted along the way.  At the end of the exhibit there is a fun Viking dress-up area where we spent some time re-enacting Iceland’s history.

We spent the remainder of the day strolling through the streets of Reykjavik and made our way to the impressive Hallgrimskirkja Church, which you should not miss!  Both the exterior and interior architecture are incredible. Make sure to visit the church’s tower for terrific views of the city.

For our last night, we treated the family to dinner at Fish Market.  The food was amazing!



Montauk The End


If Montauk is not on your radar for a Columbus Day weekend getaway, you might want to reconsider. While our recent summer visit was a family hit, I would think that fall is prime if you’re looking for an authentic beach town vibe with great food and quiet walks on the gorgeous Atlantic Ocean.  Not to mention good hotel discounts!  One thing to note: some businesses in Montauk close for the season around Columbus Day…so confirm their dates and get your last licks in now!

Over the summer we planned a last minute weekend getaway to Sole East, located on a quiet road within walking distance of Montauk’s main strip.  Although there is now a scene that has settled into this once sleepy fishing town, for the most part we were able to feel like we were somewhere simple, laid back and far away from the big apple.  Sole East is a beautifully set hotel, with several inviting yards around the property.  While most rooms are located inside a two-story building, ours (a garden suite) had a private entry.  Just outside our front door was a grassy area with huge, comfy lounge beds and plenty of space for our kids and dog to play.


The hotel is small enough that it’s just a few steps from all the rooms to the pool, a poolside restaurant (called “Backyard”), a beachy boutique and several spacious and beautifully groomed yards, one of which had a few hammocks, a fire pit (reception had s’mores on hand when we were there).


If you are looking for a five star hotel, you may want to look elsewhere (Gurney’s is just around the corner!). Sole East does not offer room service and the cleaning crew rarely got around to tidying up our room before 3pm.  The staff was not the most professional and the pool was not heated. That said, if you are going for a barefoot chic vibe and a slightly lower price point, consider booking a room here.  It’s super fun and “chill”.  Beginning at 4pm on Saturday there was a DJ by the pool blasting top 40 hits.  Saturday evening was equally buzzy poolside, with well hydrated groups enjoying the Backyard Restaurant.

At Sunday brunch, on the other hand, we were serenaded by an incredibly talented indie-jazz duo – the singer’s voice reminded me of Basia.   The Backyard’s menu had something for everyone, ranging from pancakes to pasta pesto to kale caesar salad. Check out the music lineup in advance of your visit because it changes seasonally.

We spent the bulk of the weekend exploring the east end. Because it’s such a small area, we were never in the car for more than 10 minutes, which was a huge perk.  We really liked Joni’s ( for breakfast. It’s only a five minute drive (or about a 15 minute walk) from Sole East. We picked up breakfast there in the early morning and walked to the beach (a block away) where our dog and kids could play before the crowds arrived.



The beach was beautiful, although we were disappointed to see litter and glass remnants from what must have been the prior night’s beach party.  Eventually, we headed back to the hotel pool where we would hang out until the kids had their fill of the water.

One morning we skipped the pool and went to check out the Montauk Lighthouse (




We had a good time building sculptures on the rocky beaches and climbing around the lighthouse on huge boulders. We then visited the lighthouse itself where you can walk to the top and visit the museum, which is located in the base of the lighthouse.  On the way back from (or to) the lighthouse is the Deep Hollow Ranch (, a working horse ranch.  The kids enjoyed free pony rides.  They also offer longer rides for those interested.


Also on the way back to town from the lighthouse is Ditch Plains, a beach best known for its amazing surf.  If the tide is high, it’s so much fun to watch the surfers in action (note – parking can be tricky if you don’t have a permit).

If you’re into boating, it’s easy to arrange a half or full day rental in Montauk.  We rented a motor boat with an inner tube from Uihlein’s Marina (, which is right near Gosman’s Dock. If you work up an appetite on the boat, head to Inlet Seafood ( or one of the restaurants at Gosman’s Dock ( for a bite or a drink.  It’s touristy, but cute, and right on the water as the name suggests.

Two of our favorite casual dining spots were The Hideaway ( and Navy Beach (   The Hideaway is a super casual Mexican joint tucked away in the parking lot of a boatyard overlooking Diamond Cove Marina.



The food was simple and delicious, as were the margaritas.  At Navy Beach, the waterfront setting is unbeatable.  The outdoor tables in the sand are a must.  We showed up on Sunday night to a live reggae band and lots of spontaneous dancing on the beach.  Perfect way to enjoy the sunset with my family.



Harvest on Fort Pond ( is a classic Montauk restaurant with a pretty outdoor garden and dock from which you can feed ducks.  The food was very good, although portions are family-style so go hungry and ready to share.  If you don’t feel like sitting through dessert, walk a block to John’s Drive-In for an old fashioned ice cream experience.


Crow’s Nest is supposed to be another great spot for dinner but we didn’t get a chance to eat there.  We did drop by one afternoon though, and It’s so pretty!  There are also a bunch of casual cafes dotted throughout the main street in town.  Also in town are a handful of surf and other casual shops, which accurately represent the relaxed and unpretentious culture of Montauk.  Enjoy!

Makeup Tips for Travel

I don’t spend much time putting on makeup, much less shopping for it, so I recently reached out to my friend, Evy Drew, for some advice.  Evy is an incredibly talented makeup artist who has been in the industry for years and has worked her magic on many women, from brides to moms to celebrities galore.   Check out her web site for details and booking information, and see below for her expert tips!


What do you recommend for flights?
1. Apply loads of moisturizer! I love Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer & Ultra Facial Cream.  Don’t worry about SPF-save that for once you’ve landed.
2. Blend a bit of foundation on trouble spots to even out complexion.  My faves are Armani Luminous Silk and Makeup Forever HD Foundation.
3. Add a little color to your cheeks with a cream blush like Stila Convertible Color or Clinique Chubby Stick Cheek Color Balm.
4. Lightly smear a a long wear cream eye shadow all over your lids. Try Bobbi Brown Bone for light, Shore for medium and Cement or Malted for darker skin tones.
5. Use one coat of Cargo Better Than Waterproof mascara – it doesn’t budge.
6. Finish with a moisturizing color lip balm.  There are so many good ones from Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment.

 What about days spent at the pool or beach?
 MAC makes an amazing facial moisturizer with SPF 50. It doesn’t look greasy or white when photographed.  I use it on outdoor photo shoots and brides who plan to be outside all day. You can top it with an oil free foundation like Makeup Forever HD Foundation and look flawless.  Follow with steps 3-6 above.  Add waterproof gel eyeliner for more drama. Bobbi Brown makes some awesome colors. Oh, and I love Cargo Swimmables Water Resistant Blush, which comes in three gorgeous shades, Bali (medium rose pink), Los Cabos (soft tangerine) & Ibiza (hot pink).
Can you share your top picks for a natural glow in the evenings?
 – Add shimmer eyeshadow on lids (champagne, pink, gold, silver… keep it sparkly, soft & sheer).
– Use a dark eyeliner on top, tight in lashes for more natural look.
– Apply bronzer on cheeks, temples, nose and chin with a pop of pink on apples of cheeks.
– Top off your look with a fun, colorful lip gloss (think melon, tangerine, pink & plum).
 How about ski trips?
Same as flights really, plus SPF under it all!

Los Angeles Part Two – Weekend in L.A.



My husband and I had an event in L.A. and decided to steal away for a long weekend.  The trip was a whirlwind but I would feel remiss if I did not share a few highlights with anyone headed that way and looking for some tips. Read on for details and see my older, more complete post under “LA” for a fuller itinerary, reachable from my home page.

Flight – Delta from JFK to LAX.

Car – Rented from Hertz. Pre-arranged a car drop-off at our terminal. Great convenience since car rental area is a busride away from the terminals.

Hotel – SLS Beverly Hills. Hip, trendy, luxury hotel. Not recommended for kids.  Great rooftop pool. Centrally located.




Restaurants – Gjelina (see the mouth-watering pizza below), Ink, Bazaar (at the SLS), Urth Caffe (casual, local lunch spot), Croft Alley, Katsuya LA Live location




Shopping – Melrose, 3rd Street near Robertson and Abbott-Kinney in Venice are great spots.

Other – If you are not going to be on the coast, you can get your fill of nature in central LA with a hike at Runyon Canyon Park or Griffith Park!


We went directly to Venice from the airport for laid back shopping and a delicious lunch on Abbott-Kinney.  We pre-arranged with Hertz to deliver our rental car to the terminal – a huge timesaver given that the car rental area of LAX is a bus ride from the terminals.  Of course, Uber is a good and widely used alternative in L.A. if you don’t feel like navigating your way around the city on your own.  The drive to Venice is only about 15 minutes from the airport so the instant gratification of immersing ourselves in the L.A. state of mind so quickly was a welcome relief after a six hour flight.  Don’t miss Gjelina for lunch, brunch or any meal for that matter (

We eventually made our way to the SLS Beverly Hills (  The SLS is a centrally located, trendy, upscale hotel. No detail was spared in the decor, which we loved, although we would not have minded a bit more light throughout the dimly lit common areas and our chic and spacious room….but then I guess the lighting (or lack thereof) is part of what gives the SLS its sexy vibe.  I don’t think we spotted even a single child here and I would not recommend this hotel for families-the rooms, restaurants and amenities don’t appear to be set up for the youngest generation.

We were impressed by the friendly service throughout the hotel as well as the rooftop pool area.  While the rooftop becomes a party on Friday-Sunday afternoons, with a DJ and full bar, it is quiet and incredibly dreamy early in the day.  Breakfast on a lounge chair under the morning sun was sublime.


After an extended winter in NY, we were eager to spend as much time outdoors as possible.  Luckily, the SLS is just a short (15 minute) drive from Runyon Canyon Park, where my husband and I enjoyed a terrific hike one morning.



Griffith Park is a bit further but I understand it too offers a plethora of trails, including one that goes right past the HOLLYWOOD sign.  The popular shopping areas of Melrose, 3rd Street, Robertson, the Beverly Center and the Grove are all very close to the hotel if you feel like making a fashion acquisition.


LA has no shortage of good food.  By dinnertime on our first evening, we were pretty  beat so we ate in the SLS at Bazaar ( We were pleasantly surprised by a feast of inventive tapas dishes.  The happening vibe and open kitchen are a draw as well.  We were blown away by our dinner at Ink, on Melrose Avenue (




Since we had to be at LA Live for an event one evening, we reserved right next door at Katsuya ( for dinner afterward.  The famed restaurant lived up to its reputation for Japanese fare, even if it lacked the intimacy and authenticity we typically gravitate toward.  Speaking of which, Croft Alley ( is a shoebox size restaurant on Melrose Avenue with an equally tiny menu of delectable-looking farm-to-table options.  It’s on our list to try out next time.  Urth Caffe is also a local and casual favorite lunch spot with several locations around town ( (gorgeous coffee and breakfast, below).  Thanks for a great weekend, LA.  Totally worth the cross country flight!



Confessions of a Disney World Skeptic


We were all set for a hiking trip out west over our children’s February school break – but then our daughter broke her ankle in January.  You can guess from the title of this post where the story is going.  Despite my hesitation to go to Disney World, my husband, as usual, made some compelling points that convinced me we should give it a roll. Since I wasn’t particularly excited about the trip, I found it difficult to motivate and research all the many ways to approach Disney.  Instead I asked the advice of friends and spent minimal time poking around on the internet before settling on a plan.  We would spend three nights at Fort Wilderness followed by two nights at the Four Seasons. We  would hit a park a day for four days straight and then relax at the Four Seasons (which, it turns out, is a great place to relax…more on that below) for our last day.  I am pretty sure volumes of books have been written about how best to navigate Disney World so my attempt here is to keep it simple, brief and straightforward. Basics are below; read on for details:

Getting There:  JetBlue ( from LGA (also flies from JFK) to Orlando.  Disney Magical Express Bus from airport to any Disney Resort – complimentary shuttle service (

Hotel:  Three nights in a log cabin at Fort Wilderness – accommodations are simple and rustic (  We rented a golf cart to get around the property from the Bike Barn (reserve in advance at 407-824-2742). Two nights at the Four Seasons ( – not enough good words to describe this property – entire family loved it.   NOTE – neither of these properties is walking distance from or on the monorail to any park.  For us this was a perk but some might find it a drawback.  If you want to be walking distance from or on the monorail to the parks, check out the Grand Floridian, The Contemporary and the Polynesian.

Parks:  We visited one park a day, in this order:  Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom.

To Eat:  You need to reserve all restaurants in advance!!  Our picks are below.

BREAKFAST – We pre-ordered breakfast items and snacks to our cabin at Fort Wilderness from a web site called  Worked out perfectly because we did not have to build in extra time to eat at a restaurant on mornings we went to the parks. Also pre-ordered plenty of healthy snacks to re-fuel with throughout the day.

LUNCH – We ate lunch at a park restaurant every day.   As you might imagine there are plenty of fast food kiosks and food cart options if you want to grab something quick and eat on the run, but I found a sit-down meal to be a nice break from the frenetic pace of the day and I was impressed (it’s all relative-I expected a daily rotations of burgers, pizza and fries) by the food served at each restaurant.  Meals were relatively quick – 45 minutes. Restaurants where we ate are:  Magic Kingdom – lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern; Hollywood Studios – Hollywood Brown Derby for lunch;  Epcot Center – lunch at Coral Reef; Animal Kingdom – lunch at Yak & Yeti.  Final day we had lunch al fresco at the PB&G Grill at the Four Seasons.

DINNER – Dinner varied depending on the day’s activities. The first night we ate at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue Show (at the Fort Wilderness Hotel, where we stayed), which served a decent all-inclusive meal during a fun, live show.  Second night was California Grill at the top of the Contemporary Resort ( It is a very short walk from the Magic Kingdom.  We had a terrific meal there – food, service and views were unbeatable as far as Disney goes.  From the restaurant you can see the Magic Kingdom Fireworks show.  Next night we ate dinner at Mama Melrose Italian at Hollywood Studios after the end of a long day spent visiting the park.  The pizza was delicious. The last two nights we ate at the Four Seasons – first night at Capa, a steakhouse on the roof, and our final evening we at at Ravello, their Italian restaurant. Both were wonderful.

Other Activities:  Most hotels are chock full of kids activities and pools and some have live entertainment in the evening, such as the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue ( at Fort Wilderness.  Downtown Disney has a boardwalk full of restaurants and entertainment, including Cirque de Soleil.  Universal Studios is about a 30 minute drive – it is not part of Disney World but does feature the very popular Harry Potter World (  Kennedy Space Center ( is approximately 45 minutes from Disney World.  Legoland ( is about the same distance and I hear it’s especially fun for younger kids (up to 5 or 6 years old).  Also, a friend mentioned that Winter Haven Park, near Legoland, is beautiful and worth checking out if you venture that way.

Nature: If you’re looking for nature, there are actually quite a few natural springs in the area (within an hour’s drive) where you can kayak, canoe, hike and swim. While not part of our itinerary, I’ve been told you can see lots of sea life indigenous to the area on these outings, especially manatees. Our tour guide (described below, in “Tip”) mentioned her favorite park in the area is Blue Spring   (  I’ve also heard the air boat tours in the area are super fun and educational (

Tip:  If you are willing to splurge, it is well worth your while to hire a private guide to help you navigate the ins and outs of the parks.  We were lucky enough to get a fun, young, bundle of energy named Renee, through a company called Michael’s VIP Tours ( or 407-445-7253).  Renee was all smiles all the time and super warm to our kids from the get go.  She arrived at each park well before opening time so that we would be first in line for admission.  She organized all of our timed fast passes (everyone gets a limited number with purchase of tickets to each park) so that we had practically no waits even at the hottest attractions.  She whisked us to where we needed to be and paced out our days very well.  Michael’s VIP, the company she works for, arranged all of our dining reservations during our stay.  They also arranged cars for us in the mornings so we could arrive at the parks quickly rather than sitting on the Disney Express bus (a complimentary shuttle that makes stops at all parks and all Disney Resort hotels so it can take time to get to your destination).  We certainly could have figured out these parks on our own (print out maps beforehand on the parks’ web sites) but Renee’s guidance made our visit infinitely smoother and more enjoyable. This service charges by the hour and is not inexpensive so you might want to specify in advance how many hours you want your guide so they can then plan for you in the most effective way.


For more details about our trip, see below.

We flew Jet Blue from LGA to Orlando and then took the Disney Magical Express bus from the Orlando airport to Fort Wilderness. The bus is complimentary and I had heard it’s a fun introduction to the wonder of Disney because it shows a video highlighting some of the attractions at the parks.  It was easy, direct and organized.  If you are staying at a hotel within Disney World you can arrange it prior to your trip through your hotel, your “my disney experience” account or at  Disney will then label your luggage with special tags so that after your flight you don’t need to deal with baggage claim. They collect your luggage from the airport and deliver it to your hotel room within a few hours of your arrival.


Fort Wilderness is huge property – several hundred acres – with a campground and log cabins for accommodations.  We thought it would be fun for the kids to have a rustic experience and had heard it was situated in a quiet, forested area which sounded like it could be a nice respite from the lights, noise and action of the parks.


We stayed in a log cabin, which was cute and simple.  If you are accustomed to luxury accommodations, you’ll need to readjust your expectations.  It had one bedroom with a bunk bed and a full bed, which was plenty big enough for our three children, one full bathroom and a smallish living room and kitchenette/dining area.  In the living room was a full size murphy bed where my husband and I slept.  I won’t go into details about the quality of the murphy bed but let’s just say we didn’t have the best night’s sleep. We rented a golf cart to get around the property, which was really fun, if not a little superfluous.

I had pre-ordered (two weeks in advance) snacks and breakfast items from a service called When we checked into our cabin, the food had already arrived.  It worked out well because park mornings start early and we didn’t have to build in extra time for breakfast at a restaurant, plus we had semi-healthy snacks to keep us going throughout the day.  The first night we went to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue Show at Fort Wilderness.



It is a hokey and fun family-style Western show with singing and dancing that takes place while the audience, seated at tables, is served a huge all-inclusive dinner. Then it was off to bed in anticipation of a busy few days ahead!  It would have been great to spend some time during the day at Fort Wilderness because the property offers so much – horseback riding, archery, boat rentals (it is located on the water), bike rentals, nightly campfires and movies and what I hear is a great pool.  However, we did not get to take advantage of these amenities because the following few days were jam packed. I would probably opt to stay here again only if we were actually going to take part in the property’s activities during daylight hours.

Specific park highlights are below, but it’s worth noting that in general the parks were all clean and well-run with incredibly helpful staff and better dining options than I had expected. You can rent strollers at every park in case of an unforeseen meltdown midday and/or if you want to leave your own stroller behind. The first week of February was a great time of year to visit because the weather was beautiful – crisp mornings and evenings with warm, sunny afternoons where we could peel off the layers – and the parks did not seem too crowded.  I cannot stress enough the importance of arriving EARLY.   In fact, our private guide, Renee, arrived well before the parks opened each day to wait in line and make sure we were first in at opening.  Renee also helped us navigate our way through the parks in the most strategic manner.  Having Renee was a HUGE luxury and her guidance (and great energy!) made our experience seamless.  She knows every park inside and out and she scheduled out our days in advance so we could get to the most coveted attractions and confirm our entry into our top choices…all with minimal or no waits in any lines.



Day 1 – Magic Kingdom from 8:30am-5pm.  At this park, our favorites were the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Thunder Mountain and the nostalgic It’s a Small World ride.  Space Mountain is a classic here as well that you don’t want to miss unless your kids are fearful of roller coasters in the dark.  I think the Hall of Presidents is great for older kids and Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress was interesting and, dare I say, somewhat educational.  Disney’s PhilharMagic, Peter Pan’s Flight and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin are fun as well if you have time.  We were disappointed by The Haunted Mansion.  This is a good night to eat at the California Grill ( because it’s a short walk from the Magic Kingdom and you can head straight to dinner from the park.


Day 2 – Hollywood Studios from 8:30am-6:30pm. Highlights of this park were the Indiana Jones Stunt Show, the Frozen Sing-a-long (even if you’re tired of Frozen, don’t miss it-it’s so entertaining and funny!!),  Star Wars Jedi Training Academy (realistic “training” for your little Jedi onstage with appearances by Darth Vader and Storm Troopers), Star Tours Ride (awesome simulated spaceship ride) and the Great Movie Ride (both informative and fun, this ride travels back in time to give you a history of film by genre-watch out for the gangsters!!). The kids also enjoyed the Beauty and the Beast show (a 20 minute take on the Broadway play).  My husband and I were super impressed by the talented casts in each of the shows/attractions.


Day 3 – Epcot Center from 8:30am-4:30pm. Favorite attractions here were Soarin’ (4D ride that transports you to California so you feel like you’re in a hot air balloon cruising over the entire state), Fast Track (create your own virtual race car and then take an actual version for a ride, including some adrenaline-inducing bursts of speed), Mission: Space, Spaceship Earth and strolling through the different countries in the World Showcase – especially the live entertainment throughout the day in each “country” – make sure to look at their daily schedule and plan accordingly.  Loved that the people working in the different countries were actually native to that country.


Day 4 – Animal Kingdom from 9:30am-2pm; back to hotel (Four Seasons) for swimming and relaxing. We all loved the Kilimanjaro Safari here and walking through the African region where we got to see a live performance of African drummers and dancers.  The Festival of the Lion King was a great spectacle reminiscent of the Broadway play.  It’s Tough to Be a Bug was a fun attraction as well.  We would have liked to spend more time in the Asia section of the park but the kids were petered out by lunchtime.  Animal Kingdom is great because there is actually “culture” in the Africa and Asia regions.  I was amazed by how well the safari captured the different habitats of the animals on view – it kind of felt real!  Also the architecture of the structures in Asia and Africa were an impressive reproduction of the feel of these countries, as well as the restaurants, the live performances and of course all the animals in their various “Asian” and “African” habitats.




Day 5 – Swim and relax at Four Seasons until departure. The Four Seasons was a real treat in every way.  We had two beautiful, modern adjoining rooms overlooking Magic Kingdom (great for watching the nightly fireworks show at MK). Upon our arrival to the rooms, there were pirate’s costumes for the boys and a princess costume for our daughter laid out on their beds.


The service could not have been more friendly.  In fact at dinner one night at Ravello (their Italian restaurant), the chef came out to talk with my son to create his favorite dish, which was not on the menu. The outdoor space at the Four Seasons is just beautiful.   The layout and landscaping are so inviting that we took several walks around the property admiring the gardens.


They have several pools (a lazy river pool, a pool with water fountains, a family pool and an adults-only pool) and two immaculate kids clubs that cater to varying age ranges.



One of our favorite activities at the hotel was the outdoor “playroom” overlooking the pools that had pool tables, ping pong tables, life-size connect four, Russian toss and other games that kept all of us busy for hours. On our last day we had lunch at the outdoor cafe, PB&G. With the sun shining down on our backs, the warm breeze all around us and servers as accommodating as could be, I thought to myself, I’ve gotta hand it to those folks in Central Florida – they’ve created something pretty magical for the whole family.


Meet You on the Mexican Riviera

DSC_0728December break – I always find it difficult to zero in on a destination, much less a hotel, for this infamous “Christmas break”.  It never fails – by the time I start looking, almost a year out, I either get “sorry, 10 day minimum over Christmas” or “sorry, we’re fully booked that week”.   The past few years I have had the added complication of trying to find a location that would suit a multi-generational vacation.
After checking into a number of options, we decided on Grand Velas in the Mayan Riviera (  It looked nice, got great reviews, was easy to get to, and was one of the more reasonably priced options we found at this time of year.  I had heard that it was like the Four Seasons of all-inclusive hotels but I was admittedly concerned about its immensity.  The 500+ room property was a significant departure from the boutique hotel I had initially envisioned.  Nonetheless, I was looking forward to escaping the blustery NY winter for a week.
The 3 1/2 hour Jet Blue flight from JFK to Cancun is a no brainer (  A pre-arranged van was waiting for us just outside baggage claim to take us to the hotel.  Just forty minutes later, we arrived at the hotel through a mammoth entry and I immediately realized the owners of this hotel were not fooling around when they chose its name.  EVERYTHING at Grand Velas is enormous.  The reception area of the Zen Jungle (inspired by the surrounding Yucatan jungle) section of the hotel boasts a dramatic and beautiful thatched roof that must be 60′ high.  Given the number of rooms in the hotel, I was impressed by the warm welcome of a concierge who knew our names the moment we arrived. After greeting us with refreshing juices and cool scented washcloths, he explained a few details about the hotel and escorted us to our room through a lush pathway surrounded by jungle.
Our room was very nice – modern, simple and spacious, with a small terrace.  My husband and I shared a room with our three children.  Despite the room size, given the layout (a large rectangle – no separate living room area), it was challenging to have a conversation or keep a light on until after the kids fell asleep.  However, we did use a hotel babysitter for three of the seven nights we were there, and that worked out well.
Aside from the Zen Jungle, where we stayed, the hotel has two other sections – the Ambassador, located on the beach a very short shuttle ride from Zen Jungle, and the Grand Class (adults and children 12 and up), located directly beside the Ambassador.
DSC_0729The van that shuttles guests from one area to another is very easy – never more than a minute wait and pleasantly clean, cool and relaxing.  Each of these areas has a pool and multiple restaurants.  The Zen Jungle’s pool felt Asian-influenced to me – clean lines, surrounded by lush landscape, infinity edge.  It is much quieter than the Ambassador pool, which is right next to the beach and is the hub of activity.
DSC_0739The Ambassador pool has a swim-up bar and tons of organized activities for kids  throughout the day.  One of our kids’ favorite activities was a seal show.  Another fun family activity was a nature walk through the property’s gardens, where you get to see all the vegetables, fruits and spices the hotel grows and uses in its restaurants. We missed a bunch of activities but I recall the schedule included a juggling show, magic show, pirate-themed dinner and a traditional Mexican dance show.
In the evenings there is karaoke for kids and adults.  And I would be remiss to omit the kids club, which is clean and has programming throughout the day and evening. My daughter loved walking there by herself in the afternoons to get a break from the sun.
The beach is really nice but it was super windy when we were there and not so conducive to swimming with children.   In terms of activities on the beach, there are a variety of boating activities such as wave runners and catamarans, as well as beach volleyball, a small soccer area, and bungee jumping for the younger set.
There are seven restaurants on property, not including the bento box lunches you can have delivered to your lounge chair if you are so inclined.  The food was good everywhere, although if you are looking for a barefoot beach vibe with mariachis, margaritas, guacamole, salsa, chips and tacos (like we were!), you may be disappointed.  The closest we came to satisfying that craving was the fish tacos and guacamole available to the pool lounge chairs.
One incredible convenience at Grand Velas was our personal concierge, Osiris.  Although we had made dinner and babysitter reservations in advance of our trip (recommended, especially if you’re going during a school break), Osiris checked in with us daily to review and confirm, and modify, if necessary, that evening’s dinner plans.   He also answered any questions, made sure we were satisfied with our stay and checked us in for our flights when it was time to leave.
My breakfast preference was Azul because of its well stocked buffet and location overlooking the beach.  I also liked Azul for lunch, or the bento box option at the Zen Jungle pool.  For dinner my favorites were Frida, Bistro, and Piaf (order the grand marnier souffle for dessert here!).  The evenings we ate at Chaka and Lucca were partially buffet style, which was fine but I would probably skip them next time around.  The service was incredible everywhere – attentive, accommodating and so polite.
If you have time, the spa is definitely worth checking out.  It is so huge that the staff recommends 40 minutes, at a minimum, to experience the thermal baths.  Our massages were just okay, although the setting was so serene I would give it a second try.
All in all, we had a wonderful and memorable week.  Grand Velas is in many ways perfect for multi-generational travel because it really has something for everyone and has the space to accommodate big groups.  The biggest disappointment for me is that we only left the property once, to go to Playa Del Carmen (which was just okay).  I would have loved a daytrip to Tulum (about 45 minutes by car) and one to Chichen Itza (closer to 1.5 hours away) at the very least. There are a number of other daytrip options, such as visiting the natural cenotes that this region is known for.  It was difficult to motivate given the size of our group and how happy they all seemed to be relaxing poolside every day. What can I say – while this vacation ranked low on the cultural immersion scale, it is a huge nod to Grand Velas that their top notch staff and amenities made the place hard to leave!

Weekend in Turks & Caicos

Turks & Caicos is easy to love because just a three-hour, nonstop flight (from NYC) can transport you so quickly to welcoming powdery soft beaches, warming sunshine and a super mellow vibe.  I recently spent a long weekend there – left home at breakfast time and by lunch, I was in flip flops and a bathing suit, relaxing by the pool.
We spent the first night at the Amanyara (, which had me at hello.  The property is exquisite and the service is so perfect that I would actually be curious to know how it is they they train their staff so flawlessly.  The staff seem to levitate in and out of your presence at all the right times.
The hotel is the only private property located inside of Marine National Park on the otherwise sparsely occupied northwest coast of Providenciales. As if that were not enough to make you feel like you’re on a deserted island, the accommodations are comprised of villas, each surrounded by lush landscaping to maximize guest privacy.  The hotel is designed in a modern, Asian style, from the architecture to the furnishings to the service.  In fact if I just loaded a bunch of pictures onto this post without words, one might guess that these photos were taken in Bali.
My husband and I were there without the kids, which brought the zen factor to an even higher level. Although children are permitted, I would imagine this hotel might not be ideal for families with young ones –  no kids club, waterslides or pool toys.
All meals can be prepared by a private chef, pool side at your villa (most villas have gorgeous infinity pools).  We took advantage of this amenity for our first lunch and it was heavenly.  The hotel has a spa, tennis courts and a host of non motorized water sports if you’re too antsy to sit on the breathtaking beach with a book or a cocktail.
We opted to have dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was located on a lagoon and lit only by candlelight and torches.   Although a menu was provided, we basically created our own meal and the service could not have been more accommodating.  We sat for hours basking in the beautiful setting.  The next morning we visited the spa and had massages which, not surprisingly, were spot on.
After one night we transferred to the Gansevoort (, located on a beautiful stretch of Grace Bay.
DSC_0159 DSC_0170
The Gansevoort was an altogether different experience but still great.  We were in a very pretty and spacious one bedroom suite with a terrace overlooking the ocean. The property is quite compact and I actually liked that the pool, beach and restaurants are all very close to one another.  We thoroughly enjoyed our buffet breakfasts and one dinner at the restaurant on property.   For anyone looking to enhance their mind-body wellness, there is an exhale spa ( where you can decompress with a massage or energize with a core fusion fitness class.
We ventured out one evening to Coco Bistro (, which was terrific. The last time I was in Turks & Caicos the food was very mediocre
(and very expensive) everywhere, so I didn’t have high expectations.  But Coco Bistro blew us away. The setting alone, amidst of the largest palm grove on the island, was worth the ride. Fortunately the food was impressive as well.  If you go, you might also want to check out a cute bar/restaurant just down the beach from the Gansevoort called “somewhere”.  Although the drinks were nothing to write home about, the barefoot beachfront setting was pretty amazing.