I realize that spring break seems a lifetime ago as we head into fall, but I wanted to share a special itinerary with you in the hopes that maybe you’ll be inspired to start planning early for 2018….and as an added bonus, I can now book travel for you too! Email me at email@example.com with any inquiries! And now…..roll it back to spring break 2017 below!
Spring break this year exceeded all expectations as we journeyed out into the great, wide open deserts, mountains, parks and highways of Southern Utah and Arizona. For eight days, we experienced breathtaking panoramas and took advantage of nature’s perfect playground at every stop. Southern Utah into northern Arizona may seem like a narrow focus, but in order to fully experience the ins and outs of this beautiful destination, you’d need repeat visits or way more than a week. But alas, we packed in what we could and I’m excited to share our story. Read on for details.
Getting there – Fly into Las Vegas, NV and out of Phoenix, AZ, or do the reverse. It’s an easy 90 minute drive from Vegas to St. George and plus, it’s fun to spend an afternoon soaking up the action and oversized everything in Sin City.
Getting around – Renting a car from the Las Vegas airport is easiest. Be prepared for a long walk through the Vegas airport followed by a wait for the rental car shuttle to arrive and then another walk to get your car.
Where to Stay –
The Inn at Entrada (http://www.innatentrada.com/) – In St. George, this country club-residence development is set on a golf course with suites that are actually individual homes with private driveways. At the time of our stay, guests had access to the country club on site, including its pool, spa, tennis courts and restaurant. I would return there in a heartbeat, stay a week and explore the St. George area. Don’t expect cutting edge, but it’s perfectly comfortable and oh so spacious.
Amangiri – Located in Canyon Point, Utah, this property is nestled in an absolutely exquisite desert canyon. The quality of the service did not come close to the scenic eye candy but for a one-night splurge, it was worthwhile just to be surrounded by the beautiful shapes of 150+ million year old rock formations and far removed from civilization. The property is beautifully designed in a way that simply and tastefully juxtaposes the boulders that hug in from all sides.
Hogan Glamping on Navajoland – For a departure from upscale hotels, this property is unique and incredibly fun! We reserved through airbnb and slept under the stars in a traditional Navajo home, called a hogan, for a night. Think camping in a wooden (or clay) structure with nothing but the sand under your feet. We bought ingredients, pots and pans and a few flashlights and cooked out under the stars. There is no electricity and the bathroom is a Porta Potty. They have the most beautiful and friendly working dogs that watched over us all night long – we fell in love with them! Say hi to Baya and her kids from us if you go!
Enchantment Spa and Resort – Arguably the finest luxury property in Sedona. Similar to the Amangiri in that the landscape is what really stands out. The property is well laid out and the casitas are roomy and plush. The spa is expansive, both in size and in treatment options. The main part of the hotel boasts several tennis courts, a pool, two restaurants (plus lunch can be ordered pool side), a great open multi-use field and two boutiques. The entire property is wedged between red mountains and blue skies almost every day of the year. It is about a 10 minute drive from the town of Sedona and even closer to many hiking trails, including some right on property.
What to do –
We spent two nights in St. George, which we used as a base for a day trip to Zion, a UTV experience in Sand Canyon Park and to explore St. George a bit. We then drove to Canyon Point where we spent one night at the Amangiri. From there we drove just over the border to Page, Arizona where we “camped” out for a night before heading down to Sedona for four nights at the Enchantment. Read on for more details.
Highlights in Utah – St. George is an amazing home base. There are an infinite number of hiking trails to explore in the surrounding area. If you don’t suffer from claustrophobia and are into history, venture out to do a Petroglyph slot canyon hike. For a more open space, Snow Canyon and Sand Canyon State Parks are great options and both within 15 minutes of St. George. We did not make it to Yant Flat (https://www.hikestgeorge.com/yant-flat-candy-cliffs-leeds-ut/, but I hear it’s pretty impressive as well. Zion National Park (https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm) is less than an hour away (the Watchman Trail is perfect for families).
There’s an impressive (for being in the middle of nowhere) organic market on the way in and/or out of Zion where you can grab snacks and a picnic lunch.
If you are the adventurous type, you can book at UTV adventure while in the area. We booked a tour in Sand Canyon State Park (https://atvadventures.com/) and while it was incredibly beautiful and educational, our guide was conservative, so we were unable to let loose and take the “adventure” to the speeds we had hoped for. If you’re looking to go crazy on the UTV, I’d suggest finding another option in the area.
Canyon Point, Utah is nearly two hours east of St. George and the drive there is breathtaking. The red rocks slowly fade into gray as you approach Canyon Point, near the Glen Canyon National Park. There are gorgeous hikes of all levels throughout this region, including the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (https://utah.com/hiking/escalante). Since we were at the Amangiri, we could not pull ourselves away and took advantage of the hikes on property. From Canyon Point, it was less than a 30 minute drive to our next destination, Page, Arizona.
Highlights in Arizona – Page, Arizona is a great starting point for visiting Northern Arizona. The slot canyons here are so cool. Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons are the most iconic but you can only tour through them with a guide as they are on Navajo land (http://lowerantelope.com/). Unfortunately, along with the guided tour (only two companies in Lower Antelope – Ken’s and Dixie’s – and I heard somewhere that they are siblings) comes crowds and an insane number of pauses for iphone selfies and landscape pix (yep, I am guilty of it too-see below). Still totally worthwhile though. Canyon X is another slot canyon in the area that I hear is a bit less populated. You can also boat to the canyons from Lake Powell (link below).
Horseshoe Bend is another gorgeous yet crowded sight. Go early before the throngs arrive and you’re more likely to have the dramatic landscape to yourself. Once you park, it’s about a 15 minute walk on a dirt path to the viewing point. Although we arrived with the rest of the fast-clicking iphone pack, I imagine that a sunrise arrival with a picnic breakfast would be the way to go next time around.
We did not visit Lake Powell (http://www.lakepowell.com) because of time restraints but I wish we had. If you plan in advance, you can rent kayaks or even paddle boards. Motorboat rentals are another option, as well as guided boat rides.
About an hour from Page you can visit the Eastern Rim of the Grand Canyon: the least talked about entry to the most talked about site in the region. There are very few ways to enter the Grand Canyon through the Eastern Rim because it borders private Navajo land. We used a company called Sacred Edge Tours (http://www.sacrededgetours.com/) and for an entire day, we drove to on dirt roads to different scenic overlooks of the Canyon and did not see a single individual all day. We spotted wild horses taking advantage of the vacant acreage and a few abandoned hogans (traditional Navajo dwellings), but that was about it. Despite the bumpy, sometimes lengthy drives along dirt roads to get to each scenic overlook, the quiet and secluded routes were quite awesome and talking to our Navajo guide gave us meaningful insight into the Navajo’s history, way of life and current struggles of the Navajo. We were coming from Page and grabbed lunch beforehand at a cute, casual restaurant called River’s End Cafe (http://www.raftthecanyon.com/rivers-end-cafe/).
From Page, we drove to Sedona by way of Flagstaff for a quick dinner pitstop (http://brixflagstaff.com/). We then continued on to Sedona, which was about another hour south. In Sedona we stayed at the Enchantment Resort and Spa (http://www.enchantmentresort.com/). Enchantment is a very pretty property in yet another gorgeous setting amidst the red rocks. We stayed in a casita, conveniently located just across the way from the hotel’s pool and its two main restaurants, boutique, concierge and reception area. Our room was a one-bedroom with two queen size beds, a generous living room with a queen size murphy bed, and a dining area with a small kitchenette. It had two full bathrooms and was well-appointed. The hotel has a huge, full-service spa where I was treated to a wonderful massage. There is a meditation room, fitness center, sauna and steam rooms, adults-only indoor and outdoor pools and relaxation area, a juice and smoothie bar and a restaurant called Mii Amo. Enchantment was a great place to end our vacation with some downtime at the pool and plenty of space for the kids to explore and engage in all the activities on site.
Early one morning we did the obligatory Pink Jeep Tour, which was overpriced but fun (https://www.pinkjeeptourssedona.com/sedona-guided-tour/?gclid=CIas0-aWo9YCFduNswod3EIPyw). I’ve heard the Broken Arrow tour is the best one but the timing didn’t work out for our crew so we opted for the Diamondback Gulch tour.
We also rented UTVs here as they’re widely available along the main strip in Sedona. We had a great time and had plenty of laughs tearing through dirt paths, except we had to share many of those paths with hikers, which put a damper on any hopes of a Mario Andretti experience. We incorporated a few hikes during our stay at the recommendation of the hotel’s concierge, all of which were terrific and approachable for our kids.
We ate dinner at the Enchantment one evening, in their highly acclaimed Mii Amo. We must have hit it on an off night because our meal was mediocre at best. Another night we went out to Mariposa Latin Grill (http://mariposasedona.com/), where we enjoyed a great meal with even better service. I have also heard that Picazzo’s (http://www.picazzos.com/) and Javelina Cantina (http://www.javelinacantinasedona.com/ are good, casual meal options in Sedona.
During the 120 mile drive to the Phoenix airport on our way out, we all agreed that this part of the country more than merits a second visit, hopefully before too long.
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 (http://www.thedewberrycharleston.com/) 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 (http://thespectatorhotel.com/), the Restoration Hotel (http://www.therestorationhotel.com) and the Zero George (http://zerogeorge.com/).
Eat: Le Farfalle (http://lefarfallecharleston.com/) 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 (http://www.thegrocerycharleston.com/), Lana Restaurant (http://www.lanarestaurant.com/) and The Ordinary (http://eattheordinary.com/), with Henrietta’s at the Dewberry Hotel (http://www.thedewberrycharleston.com/drinks-dining) on the top of my list for our next visit. For lunch, I love Butcher & Bee (http://butcherandbee.com/) and look forward to trying Park Cafe (http://theparkcafechs.com/) next time around. And of course, Husk(http://huskrestaurant.com/) 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”) (http://snobcharleston.com/) or McCrady’s (http://mccradysrestaurant.com/) for dinner, and High Cotton (http://highcottoncharleston.com/) for live jazz brunch. Hominy Grill (http://hominygrill.com/ 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 (http://palmettocarriage.com/) and Old South Carriage Company (http://www.oldsouthcarriagetours.com/) are good options to consider.
A tour of Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began, is a must (http://www.fortsumtertours.com/) 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 (https://www.patriotspoint.org/).
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 (http://www.theobstinatedaughter.com/), 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 (http://www.scaquarium.org/) and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (http://explorecml.org/) 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 (http://www.holycityhospitality.com/39-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 (http://www.charlestonstage.com/dock-street-theatre.html), the Footlight Players Theatre (http://footlightplayers.net/events/) and the beautifully rebuilt Gaillard Center (http://www.gaillardcenter.com/).
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 (http://shopworthwhile.com/). The Magnifilous Toy Emporium (http://www.magnifilous.com/) 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 (http://www.robertlangestudios.com/) – 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 (http://www.southcarolinaparks.com/ctl/introduction.aspx) 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.
Boone Hall Plantation (http://www.boonehallplantation.com/) is one we just visited and a must-see. On property there is a terrific live performance about Gullah culture. If you’re lucky, you’ll go on a day when Jackie is performing – she is incredibly talented and gives soulful, deep insight into the history of the Gullah people and slave history of South Carolina. You will also get to see some of the slave quarters that were occupied during slavery at Boone Hall. If you have time, take the Plantation Coach Tour also, during which you will learn about the plantation’s history as well as its current use as a working farm. They have seasonal pick-your-own fruit on site during the spring and summer as well.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (http://www.magnoliaplantation.com/) 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 (https://www.middletonplace.org/) 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!
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 (kidandcoe.com), 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 kidandcoe.com.
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.
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.
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 (http://www.jonismontauk.com/) 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 (https://www.montauklighthouse.com/).
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 (http://www.deephollowranch.com/), 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 (http://www.uihleinsmarina.com/), which is right near Gosman’s Dock. If you work up an appetite on the boat, head to Inlet Seafood (http://inletseafood.com/) or one of the restaurants at Gosman’s Dock (http://www.gosmans.com/) 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 ( http://www.thehideawaymontauk.com/Home.html) and Navy Beach (http://navybeach.com/). 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 (http://www.harvestfortpond.com/) 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!
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.
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 (gjelina.com).
We eventually made our way to the SLS Beverly Hills (http://slshotels.com/beverlyhills/?ES=Thayer_SLS_BEVERLYHILLS_3171_cpc_google_brand_us_booktoday&gclid=CIWW2rue98QCFerm7AodLEAA3Q). 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 (http://sbe.com/restaurants/brands/thebazaar/). 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 (http://mvink.com/).
Since we had to be at LA Live for an event one evening, we reserved right next door at Katsuya (http://katsuyarestaurant.com/lalive/) 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 (http://croftalley.com/) 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 (http://www.urthcaffe.com/) (gorgeous coffee and breakfast, below). Thanks for a great weekend, LA. Totally worth the cross country flight!
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 (jetblue.com) from LGA (also flies from JFK) to Orlando. Disney Magical Express Bus from airport to any Disney Resort – complimentary shuttle service (https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/magical-express/).
Hotel: Three nights in a log cabin at Fort Wilderness – accommodations are simple and rustic (https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/cabins-at-fort-wilderness-resort/). 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 (http://www.fourseasons.com/orlando/) – 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 gardengrocer.com. 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 (https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/contemporary-resort/california-grill/). 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 (https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/cabins-at-fort-wilderness-resort/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 (https://www.universalorlando.com/harrypotter/). Kennedy Space Center (https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/) is approximately 45 minutes from Disney World. Legoland (http://florida.legoland.com) 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 (https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Blue-Spring). I’ve also heard the air boat tours in the area are super fun and educational (http://www.orlandoairboattours.com/index.php).
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 (Michaelsvips.com 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 https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/magical-express. 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 gardengrocer.com. 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 (https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/contemporary-resort/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.