As the New Zealand Herald reports, luxury travel in kiwi territory is booming. Lodges like Kauri Cliffs, Wharekauhau, Blanket Bay and Huka Lodge are glam destination resorts that play host to celebs (laying low), oil tycoons, and the international jet-set. The cat's out of the bag about the remote Pacific islands whose breathtaking scenery played center stage in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings flicks. Our pick? The luxurious hideaway of Blanket Bay, with its magnificent setting next to Lake Wakatipu, beneath snow-capped peaks. Earning top accolades from CNT, Forbes, and the Sunday Times UK, Blanket Bay offers 12 secluded rooms and suites, constructed of timber and stone and filled with sumptuous furnishings. The suites boast exquisite views from large private terraces. Likewise, the mountain and lake vistas are phenomenal from the outdoor heated lap pool. Activities range from the adrenaline-pumping (jetboating and heli-skiing) to the calm and relaxing (excellent health and spa facilities).
Blanket Bay, Official Site
Blanket Bay, Five Star Alliance
They're open! And there's plenty of snow. Just in time for President's Day Weekend. The Wash Post has the skinny.
February 16, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
On vaca and you forgot the video camera? Don't fret. The newly- and greatly-improved US Airways mag has found the answer. A disposable videocam. I kid you not. $30, weighs a mere five ounces, and on sale at the ubiquitous CVS pharmacy. The little thing captures up to 20 minutes of video and sound, which the CVS photo lab will happily put on DVD for you. ($13 processing fee)
It's music to our ears. A 230-acre private island, Ritz-Carlton's deluxe spot in the Bahamas, is scheduled to open in 2009. Just four miles off Nassau and Paradise Island, Rose Island will be accessible by boat or helicopter. Guest rooms are planned to average 550 square feet with large balconies overlooking the beach.
Dating back to 1228, situated on the shores of Lough Corrib on a private estate of 350 acres, Ashford is one of the most luxurious castle hotels in Ireland. The former estate of the Guinness family, the picturesque castle was the chosen spot for the wedding of Pierce Brosnan (and 007's got the world's pick). For avid anglers, Ashford Castle has recently designed a deluxe fly-fishing package. After all, the castle is strategically located on one of the most famous fisheries in all of Ireland. (The lake is known for its wild brown trout and salmon.) Available from Feb 15-Sep 30, the package includes accommodations, guided fishing (shared guide/boat), all breakfasts, a ghillie's lunch on fishing days, and complimentary use of tennis courts, the 9-hole golf course, and walking trails throughout the 350-acre estate. All fishing gear is provided at no additional cost on fishing days. Prices start at $785 for two nights, and one day fishing. $2,241 for five nights, four days fishing. For the non-anglers in the family, the castle's got all sorts of activities—tennis, golf, equestrian, and even falconry.
Ashford Castle, Official Site
Ashford Castle, Five Star Alliance
Opening in June, the next Hard Rock Hotel will debut—where else?—but Madrid. How's that for a nonsequitur. So when the lovely Prado Museum shows off its new extension later this year filled with the zillions of masterpieces that had been idly collecting dust in storerooms, you can check out the exhibits while a guest at the happening Hard Rock, located on the lively Plaza Santa Ana, surrounded by bars galore. Noteworthy features? The Tower Suite, with its terrace offering 360 degree views of the city and "chillout zone." Along with the private outdoor jacuzzi, guests get personalized concierge service (talk about rockstar treatment) and a bottle of champagne.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, indulge yourself in a perfectly pink paradise of fun. St. Pete's Loews Hotel—the palatial pink icon otherwise known as "Florida's Pink Palace"-- is offering a Pink Panther themed vacation package. So even if the movie sucked (Steve Martin and Beyonce just couldn't redeem it), your whole family will be tickled pink by this clever and fun package that includes pink milkshakes and Pink Panther Gift Bags. Starting at $1,174, the package includes three nights accommodations for four, two pink milkshakes for the kiddies, "Who Stole the Pink?" Treasure Hunt, Two Pink Panther Gift Bags, and one full-day admission to Camp CeSar for two kids. Available from Feb 10- April 22. Rates are slightly higher during the weekends.
The Don CeSar Beach Resort, Official Site
The Don CeSar Beach Resort, Five Star Alliance
February 13, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Discover the world's top eco-tourism destination with some of the highest biodiversity on the planet. Costa Rica's Guanacaste Peninsula is jam-packed with breathtaking national parks and stunning beaches. (Erupting volcanoes, tropical cloud forest filled with chatty monkeys, orchid-blooming rainforest canopies…) Located in the midst of this lush landscape, on its own pristine paradise of 2,400 acres, the Paradisus Playa Conchal offers a luxurious, family-friendly environment from which to explore all that Costa Rica has to offer. Enjoy Central America's largest free form pool (the spectacular freshwater pool is set in a 1,800 square meter garden and has two jacuzzis), the endless choice of water sports (running the gamut from windsurfing to scuba), play a round of golf on the 18-hole, Robert Trent Jones designed golf course, or indulge in the spa. The kids will be happy at their own paradise (aka Kids Club)—comprised of playgrounds, climbing wall, mini disco, table games, movies, and eco-recreational team.
The Paradisus Playa Conchal, Official Site
The Paradisus Playa Conchal, Five Star Alliance
February 10, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
The coach of the country's Number One tennis player is now heading up the program at the Ritz Carlton Dubai. Zeeshan Ali has oodles of awards and titles under his belt—experience that he's now bringing to all tennis enthusiasts at the hotel in both private instruction and group lessons. Not really into tennis? The Ritz Carlton Dubai has got it all—from fitness classes, squash, golf, shopping, stunning pools, beach, and idyllic Balinese Spa. Situated on prime beachfront along the snazzy, exclusive Jumeirah Beach area of Dubai, the Ritz Carlton basks in the year-round sunshine of Dubai's perfect climate. Luxurious rooms have private balconies overlooking the tropical gardens and the Arabian Gulf. Plus, the Kids Club has loads of fun daily activities to keep the 'liluns happy and smiling.
The Ritz Carlton Dubai, Official Site
The Ritz Carlton Dubai, Five Star Alliance
February 9, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
The French are supersizing it. In the small, historic seaside port of Rochefort, near La Rochelle on the country's Atlantic coast, expert craftsmen have undertaken an enorme project: the reconstruction of the 65 meter ship that carried the legendary General La Fayette to join General Washington and the American leaders in their fight for independence in 1780. When it was first constructed, the Hermione required 11 months of work by hundreds of skilled workers; its reconstruction will take 10 years, and cost $10 million. This is the ultimate symbol of Franco-American fraternity, and an emblem of France's past naval strength. And a brilliant museum to visit, off the beaten path in France.