Thursday, July 29, 2010

Singapore, Bali, and Koh Samui May 2010
Catherine Whitworth has specialized for many years in travel to Southeast Asia. Here she shares her trip with us.

May 26th: Singapore Raffles Hotel This is one of my favorite hotels in the world! It is still gorgeous. Located right in the middle of Singapore, the gardens are not to be missed! The rooms could be straight out of colonial times, with high ceilings and beautiful furnishings. My favorite area is the Palm Court suites- the sitting room is separated by a wall with open windows.
Be sure to see the Raffles Museum! An outdoor mall is attached to the property.


May 27th: Carolyn Tyler's Villa I went to look at this beautiful property. It is not completed but it will have two pools, a second house on property and 4 bedrooms in the main house. The gardens, however, are all ready complete and worth seeing! There is a river running along the front of the property. It will be a great rental villa!

May 28th: Hotel Visits
Viceroy- This five-star property has large villa-like rooms with plunge pools AND heli pad. It is located near Ubud on the Ayung river, where you can view authentic grass rooftops.

Amandari- This is the queen of Ubud! Glamorous, with large, bright rooms. Perfect with plunge pools and the restaurant is divine. The Spa is small but good!

Chedi Club- A moderate alternative in Ubud, the rooms were beautifully done, they are big and the property has gorgeous gardens.

Uma- Another good moderate property this health-oriented property's rooms have just been redone. It is all very bright and pleasant with a beautiful spa!

Begawan Giri- This property is absolutely stunning. You will share four/five bedroom villas with others. The gardens are amazing- situated in the Ayung valley looking right down into the gorge.

Ubud Hanging Gardens- About 20-minute north of Ubud, perched on a very steep mountain- so steep it has two funiculars (trains), is the Ubud Hanging Gardens. It is good for honeymooners who want to relax and chill. The views are beautiful. I liked it!

Four Seasons Sayan- This is where I stayed. It was lively and beautiful. You descend to the entrance for your villa. With terrific Four Seasons serivice, it was five-star all the way. The restaurant and bar have stunning views of the river. The rooms were huge, the bathrooms were huge! All very private, with a beautiful spa.


May 29th: Bali West Coast and Beaches

Hotel Tugu- This dramatic lobby is done by a collector of Indonesian and Chinese Antiques. The pieces are everywhere. When you get to the beach here- you know you are in Bali! It is a good moderate alternative for beach on the west coast, near Canguu. The cooking school is outstanding!

Legian Club- Located on the west side of Bali- across the street from the beach. Attached to the five-star Legian Resort. The club has access to all Legian facilities. The rooms were beautifully decorated, clean and contemporary.

Oberoi- This property has been recently renovated. It is a good alternative on the beach side of Bali. It has a great restaurant with big beautiful pool, gorgeous gardens, and excellent service. It is near the hot restaurant KU DE TA in Canguu.

Intercontinental- This Jimbaran hotel is huge! People were milling everywhere. It looked like a convention facility to me. Honestly, you could be anywhere- there is nothing special about the rooms.

St. Regis- Located in Nusa Dua. To me, Nusa Dua is not Bali, but it certainly has a lot going on lately. There were a lot of meetings and conventions going on here. Everyone on our flight seemed to be going to Nusa Dua. The St. Regis came highly recommended by clients. They loved the rooms, dining, and public areas. Plus, it is brand new.

Four Seasons Jimbaran- This is still the queen in my book. The service is impeccable and the villas have the perfect size plunge pools. The living area is open and the bedroom is closed for air-conditioning. The gift shop is the best. There are three restaurants: PGs by the water, the facility by the pool, and an Indonesian restaurant and cooking school. The spa is one of the best on the Island.

Bulgari- What a spectacular surprise! Bulgari is located at the bottom of the island. It would be a long drive to get to Ubud, but great to just chill down there. The property has plenty to do for 2-3 days. Glamorous and gorgeous, the bathrooms have tubs as big as some place's plunge pools. The bedrooms have glass on three sides, with fabulous drapes to close. It felt like I was in a cocoon. This was the most beautiful hotel I saw on the Island. Security could handle visiting royalty AND HAS. It is perfect for a destination wedding, or a honeymoon starting point. The spa was amazing--prettiest on the island. The restaurant and bar were great. The food was imaginatively done. Excellent! I want to go back!


Koh Samui:

Six Senses- This is more oriented to the health crowd. The rooms were small, but it was crowded, so someone loves it! The restaurant was delightful. However, it probably would not be my first choice.

Napasai- This was a fabulous moderate alternative and a happy surprise. Jeremie, the GM, recently came from Le Residence in Laos. He is passionate about this property. You will get great service. The pool is gorgeous. He has made a huge beach out of thin air. I hear it is the largest on the Island. They are newly done, and very very comfortable. They were redoing the spa while I was there.


Four Seasons Koh Samui- This is by far the most glamorous property on the island. No comparison if you have high end clients or honeymooners. Truly, it was fabulous and beautiful. Service was as with all Four Seasons- impeccable! Everyone says hello and wants you to be so happy! The spa is expensive but awesome. The views from the property are spectacular.


The W and Banyan Tree are not open yet, but supposed to be wonderful.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

RITZ CARLTON DOVE MOUNTAIN RESORT
As the Director of Sales for Brownell and Sterling Brownell, Debbie Fairvalley has more than 25 years of sales experience in the corporate and travel markets.






The Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain Resort is a very new property, and wow, what a property it is! Situated a mere 45-minute drive from the airport, its location right in the mountains of Tucson is magical. I arrived at night and entered the lobby to see all the saguaro cacti illuminated by up-lights and the glow of fire pits surrounding the pool are. It was a truly sensory experience. The hotel has done an excellent job of blending the building right into the desert surroundings, and you feel the Southwestern influence in both decor and beauty.

The lobby is sprawling with vistas that open right to the pool and surrounding mountains. There are plenty of conversation areas both indoors and outdoors off the lobby area--some featuring a fire pit, which makes sitting out at night with a cocktail quite nice. A small library off the lobby has well-stocked shelves with plenty of books on the Old West and the cultural heritage of the area.


There are five floors of guest rooms, with the fourth floor being the Club Level. All of the accommodations have mountain views, and some even feature the city lights of the Tucson skyline. The carpeting motif in the hallways reinforces the symbols of the Hopi tribe and what they bring to this area of the country. It was all so tasteful and rich!

The guest rooms are very spacious with patios so you can enjoy a desert sunset from your room. Colors are warm earth tones with rich wood accents. Because is it such a new property, everything is pristine and state-of-the-art. The baths feature a large soaking tub with separate shower, and despite being constructed of all granite and stone, they are inviting without being cold.



There are three restaurants on site and an additional eatery at the country club (5 minutes away by shuttle). The premium restaurant is CORE, and it features a top-rated chef who prepares American specialties. There's also quite the extensive wine list, and Cakebread Cellars was even on-site for a wine presentation. CORE is akin to a five-star outdoor barbeque. You dine under the stars with spectacular food on your plate and feel at one with nature. (Outdoor heaters help to make this an even more lovely experience.)


The second restaurant you have to visit is Caytons. Located right at the golf club, I would recommend this one for sunset dining. The atmosphere is rather clubby, but the views of the fairways combined with those of the cacti and desert flora and fauna should be enjoyed by both day and night light. Huge fireplaces provide warmth in both look and feel.


The spa is FABULOUS! It features a locker room, relaxation area, treatments rooms and MY FAVORITE – the outdoor steam/sauna/Jacuzzi area complete with glass walls and a kiva fireplace. I didn’t want to leave… There is also a pool located in the spa area which is nice and quiet – a perfect place for lunch!

The pool area is quite large with private cabanas and separate Jacuzzi area. There is a water slide to keep the kids engaged (I know this sounds a bit Disney) but you would never even know it is there…..it comes off the side of the mountain – same color scheme and looks like a waterfall that ends in the pool. Quite tasteful!

A big attraction in my book is the GOLF! The Dove Mountain golf outranks any other Tucson courses I have played. There are three nine-hole courses that all start and end at the beautiful clubhouse. Because there are five sets of tees, this course is challenging to both the novice as well as the low handicapper. I had a hard time focusing on my golf with the beautiful scenery. The course architect has left the cactus and desert surroundings intact – so it is more target golf with long luxurious fairways. A true treat!

There is ample meeting space (which is well disguised) so the leisure client doesn’t have to feel like they are in the middle of a huge convention.

I would recommend this property to anyone wanting a desert experience with all the comforts and luxuries of a first-rate resort and hotel.

Brownell Travel Expert



The "Travel Expert" issue of Conde Nast has hit the newsstands and, once again, Team Brownell is heavily featured. We have twice as many advisors listed than any other travel agency or company!!!


Conde Nast Cruise Guide (p B4)
Avalon Waterways "They've done the Danube, they've done the Rhine, and now they want to see the former Easter Block," says river cruise specialist Margret Propper." … "You have to duck when the ship goes under centuries-old bridges."


Top 135 Travel Specialists - and what they can do for you (p112)

Alaska - Margret Propper, Brownell Propper has been to Alaska 43 times and has driven the back roads, taken the scenic trains, flown on bush planes to remote Eskimo villages, and tested a range of local adventure outfitters (for glacier dog-sledding, kayaking among whales, hot-air ballooning, etc.) to determine which offer the most authentic experiences. She's also cruised on ships large and small and figured out the best ways to combine days at sea with days on land.

Rocky Mountains - Caroline Wood, Brownell Having grown up in Yellowstone National Park with a dad who is still a seasonal ranger for the Park Service, Wood has incomparable knowledge of the driving routes, the lodges and ranches (and their views, beds, and meals), and the best locales and outfitters for horseback riding, white-water rafting, ballooning, or whatever else you've got in mind in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.


Large Affordable Ships - Linda Allen, Brownell Stretching your dollar as far as it can go is Allen's priority. What we love most is her honesty about the potential drawbacks of each ship and her nifty tips for minimizing these for saving money on board. Use Allen for Celebrity, Holland America Line, Princess, and Royal Caribbean sailings.


Germany - Marion Harbison, Brownell Harbison spends two weeks a year in her native Germany, where she used to be a travel agent. Not only can she point you toward the country's less-visited castles, regional specialty snacks, and colorful small-town festivals, but she can also get you into private wineries and local events you won't find on the Internet.


Recommended Travel Generalists - Meg McGriff North Meg is listed as 1 of 18 "Recommended generalists for multiple trips to destinations worldwide." An industry powerhouse, there are very few travel executives who don't pick up the phone when Meg McGriff North is calling. Meg serves on the boards of some of the top travel providers in the world - Abercrombie & Kent, Orient Express, Ritz Carlton President Clubs, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts to name a few. Meg's strong ties and influence with luxury travel providers gives her clients access and entree to some of the most special experiences in the world. Apart for her passion for travel to Panama, Meg is also a top seller of East and Southern African travel and tour. Southeast Asia has also been a long-time passion for Meg.

The Real Alaska With American Safari Cruises

Margret Propper is the travel industry's premiere Alaska specialist. She has visited the state more than 40 times.

Alaska is a wonderful vacation destination, and one of the last unspoiled spots on earth. The state is huge, and most tourists follow the same path and thereby miss out on some of the most spectacular wilderness scenery available.

This is not the case with American Safari Cruises. The company offers small, yacht-like ships that cruise into hidden places to allow guests the opportunity to kayak amongst glacial gardens of icebergs, hike paths lined with wildflowers and mushrooms in old growth forests, visit small, native villages and anchor overnight in hidden coves and bays.I recently took a trip to sample the new products American Safari Cruises will offer in 2011. In addition to two ship and two separate itineraries, American Safari will also introduce a lucky 49 passengers to "Adventure Cruising," or the "un-cruise." The ships are the Wilderness Adventurer and the Wilderness Discoverer, and they will sail from Ketchikan to Juneau, and vice versa, so you will have time in these cities for a little shopping and sightseeing.Our cruise began in Juneau, which is one of my favorite cities and a spot worth having an extra night to explore. The Goldbelt Hotel is right across from the pier, so it is incredibly easy to stay there before embarkation day.Departure is spectacular as you sail down the channel through the Tongass Narrows headed to Windham Bay, where the ship docks for the evening. A kayak demonstration is given onboard, so even if you have never been in a kayak, you will be able to take to the water immediately.

Daily activities on the ship include guided kayaking trips (both long and short to accommodate the different levels of fitness), sightseeing with a guide by skiff (a rubber motorized boat) to explore the shoreline and search for animals and sea life. There are many species of birds in Alaska only seen in the remote wilderness areas, and the guides are extremely knowledgeable about all of the flora, fauna and sea creatures you might encounter on your trip. Guided hikes are also offered each day and are again geared to a variety of fitness levels. Many hikes lead to hidden waterfalls and lakes or actual treks across a glacier.One highlight of this cruise are the evenings in Frederick Sound for whale watching. Prepare to see countless numbers of humpacks and possibly orcas. Sometimes, there are babies in the water with the pods. We spent several hours watching the whales breach and feed as at sometimes the boat is surrounded. Everyone is so quiet, you can hear the whales breathe -- a truly spectacular experience.

One of the most beautiful sites is Scenery Cove, which is aptly named because the cove is mirrored in the glass-clear waters. It is the perfect place to spend the evening hours contemplating nature or take a late evening kayak. Another highlight of the trip is our day at LeConte Glacier. The boat is as close to the glacier as possible, and you can watch the giant formation move and calve. However, since the entrance to LeConte is usually filled with ice, we found it better to kayak in the area.The bay in front of the glacier is aptly named a glacier garden as the icebergs are spectacular. Deep blue ice rises 10-20 feet out of the water with bubbles trapped inside. Every berg is different, and they change constantly as some break off and sink lower while others turn completely over. Some are even shaped like semi-circles, and you can go inside with a kayak or skiff and be surrounded by ice. We spent hours marveling at these incredible icebergs and took hundreds of photos. I have never seen anything like it anywhere else in Alaska.For our town visit, we explored Wrangell. I have passed the small village many times while cruising through on a large ship, but the harbor is too small for most big boats. The town is nearly devoid of tourists. (There's not even a T-shirt shop in sight!) The Clan House is a wonderful museum built in 1939, and the interior features many totem carvings as the main support for the painted ceiling. The tribes of Tlingit Indians and other Wrangell natives are proud of their heritage and doing their best to preserve it. They are also happy to share their unique history with you.We also enjoyed the Stikine River and Shakes Glacier in this part of the state. A jet boat carried us up the river delta and through an ice field from an up-close and personal view of the glacier's face. There are also lots of bear to be seen in this area as well as many eagles and their nests.
Another entertainment option is fishing for salmon, halibut or anything else in season. We fished out of Yes Bay Lodge while we were anchored overnight in Yes Bay Cove.
On our last evening aboard the ship, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner followed by a stroll along the deck. Once outside, we were surprised and delighted to spot several families of Orca whales. We were surrounded for at least an hour as the creatures put on a show for us, coming ever closer to the ship. It was a fantastic conclusion to the cruise, and we enjoyed yet another spectacular sunset as we set sail for Ketchikan.I would recommend small ship cruising in Alaska to all of my clients wanting a truly unique perspective on and experience of this magical land.

If you'd like to see more of Margret's photos from this trip, click here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Antigua

Katherine Gould loves to help her clients escape "the real world." She is an expert on travel to the Caribbean, Europe and Hawaii.

Stunning beaches, rainforest covered mountains, warm and friendly people, and amazing live music...These are the descriptions that come to mind when I reflect back on the two weeks I just spent on the island of Antigua. Blessed with captivating vistas, a rich culture and too many beaches to count (365 to be exact - one for every day of the year!), Antigua is one of the most memorable islands I've ever visited in the Caribbean.

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Whether you're searching for the ideal honeymoon or family destination, Antigua has something to offer everyone. The key is knowing which property to select, which is why I opted to stay at a number of different resorts while on the island. I found each one to be incredibly unique in feel and atmosphere.

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The Verandah: Eco-friendly, all-inclusive hotel located on the northeastern part of the island. It is a great choice for families with a moderate budget who want lots of activities for everyone. Highlights of this property include a gorgeous beach with calm water perfect for young children, lovely landscaping, an excellent Kids Club facility, and some of the best live music I had the pleasure of hearing while visiting Antigua. A different band plays every night by the main pool bar, which creates a fun atmosphere for the guests. My personal favorite was a nine person steel drum band - everyone was dancing that night!

Room exteriors at The Verandah

Carlisle Bay: "Contemporary luxury on the beach" is the description the hotel provides on its website, and I couldn't agree more. It is a polished, yet unpretentious hotel well suited for both families and couples, although couples should expect to encounter a number of young families while on property. I was a huge fan of the Beach Suites, which are spacious, two bedroom accommodations literally steps from the beach. As a mother of two young children, I found the layout to be ideal!

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Other highlights from Carlisle Bay include a lovely beach, incredible food, unusually good fitness and tennis facilities (including nine courts - the most I've seen anywhere in the Caribbean), a consistently attentive staff, and a top notch Kids Club facility. I also loved the nightly children's buffet, which was complimentary and served poolside every night from 5-6:30PM. It was wonderful to feed the children early in a casual environment, then hire a sitter to play with them while my husband and I enjoyed a quiet dinner alone. Heaven!

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Curtain Bluff: I would best describe this legendary, all-inclusive hotel as The Greenbrier meets the Caribbean. It is charming, elegant and friendly - the quintessential Caribbean resort. What makes this property so special is the owner and the staff. Mrs. Hulford and her late husband started the hotel almost 50 years ago, and their vision has resulted in a unique culture among the Antiguans who work there. Many of them have been employees of Curtain Bluff for decades, and their loyalty and pride is immediately evident upon check-in.


View from my balcony at Curtain Bluff
In addition to two breathtaking beaches, I particularly loved the rooms, dining options and the spa. Built just a few years ago, Curtain Bluff's spa has a spectacular setting on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean.

Spa at Curtain Bluff

The main dining area is so romantic that it reminded me of a set from a movie. An enormous tamarind tree is the anchor of the courtyard, where a different band plays nightly. Guests enjoy superb service and gourmet dining in this amazing setting. Once finished with dinner, many guests opt to dance under the twinkling white lights that flank the pavilion.

Dancing with my son at Curtain Bluff

Jumby Bay: Ultra-luxurious hideaway located on a 300 acre private island, which is accessible only by ferry from the mainland of Antigua. Immediately upon arriving at the dock, guests feel like royalty as they are greeted by a polished staff offering a rum punch in one hand and a cold-scented towel in the other.

Arriving at Jumby Bay

This all-inclusive hotel recently underwent a massive renovation, and the results are magnificent. The rooms are incredibly luxurious, all offering amazing views of the ocean.

Rosewood Estate Suite at Jumby Bay

A new infinity pool sits on a bluff overlooking the water, and guests taking a dip are just steps away from enjoying a wonderful lunch at the Pool Grille. I particularly enjoyed spending time at The Verandah - Jumby's newly designed beachfront bar and restaurant. Other highlights of this Rosewood property include a stunning, long beach great for relaxing or walking, complimentary bicycles for traversing the island, and elegant (yet casual) bars ideal for enjoying your favorite cocktail.
Poolside view from a Rosewood Estate Suite at Jumby Bay

Read about more of Katherine's travel adventures on her very own blog.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Canyon Ranch Spa

Kitty Armstrong is a 25-year veteran of the travel industry. She specializes in spa vacations.

December began with a toast to healthier living for me. Some friends and I went on a four-day trip to Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson, Arizona. We managed to experience many of our favorite activities and challenge ourselves to new adventures.

The lifestyle experts at Canyon Ranch tailored a life-changing fitness strategy for each of us. The major focus for me was a program of body movements for flexibility and balance, so that I can alleviate the pain I had grown so accustomed to. The classes were varied and each instructor brought a new and fresh approach to the class. The women's stretch class (full to capacity every time) had a different instructor each day, so the class was not repetitive. I felt great leaving the Pilates studio after Gyrokinesis, a new system of exercise that systematically opens the joints.

The meals served in their fine dining restaurant -- all healthy -- were scrumptious. I came home with several new recipes and am slowly trying them out.

The life-enhancing lectures opened up a whole new world of possibilities from learning how to grow and change the dentrites in my brain cells to having a new appreciation for everything in my life.

The rooms are comfortable and typically Southwestern in style with lots of amenities. I only took one shower there because I often ended up showering in the fully-equipped women's locker room after a session in the steam room, soak in the hot tub, massage or some other pampering regime. At night, no one batted an eye as I strolled back to my room in a bathrobe. I then curled up in the comfortable beds and fell asleep early. After all of the spa treatments, exercise classes and lectures, it was a real surprise to fly back from Tucson to Atlanta, through Dallas, with no leg room and still find the trip very comfortable.

I will go back to Canyon Ranch again and recommend the holistic experience to everyone.

To read more about Kitty's spa experiences, check our her reviews of Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, Miraval and Royal Palms Resort & Spa.