Harborside at Atlantis Resort: off-season stay advantages

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You have your own waterfall at Atlantis Resort in the off-season

 

Two major downsides prevent many vacationers from booking a late summer or early fall stay at a Caribbean or southern Atlantic resort. And granted, they are important ones: hurricane warnings and lack of activities. Unless you’re extremely worried about hurricane possibilities or you focus ALL activity on the ocean, most vacationing families will find enjoyable off-season stays are worth every dime — saved from reduced airfares, hotel or condo rates, restaurant charges and tour fees. Some off-season advantages we found while spending a September week’s stay at Harborside Resort at Atlantis on The Bahamas’ Paradise Island are:

Reduced lodging rates

Harborside Resort at Atlantis is one of 20 resorts in the Starwood Vacation Ownership collection. Using our Starwood points exchange program called StarOptions, we were able to trade our home resort week in Cancun to book a one-bedroom condo week during September at Harborside. Although it’s not actually part of the main Atlantis Resort, the adjacent Harborside Villas are just a five-minute walk or short complimentary shuttle ride around the yacht marinas to Atlantis. These nicely appointed condo units book up quickly for spring breaks, early summer vacations and winter holiday seasons. Even if you don’t own a timeshare you still may be able to find a deal through owners who rent out their week. Check sites such as Craigslist or Redweek.com. Or find lower nightly rates at Atlantis’ family-friendly Beach Tower or Coral Tower.

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Harborside at Atlantis Resort, view from Atlantis Marina

 

More time for perusing art and architecture

If you’ve been to Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, you’ve seen artist Dale Chihuly’s Desert Towers, located just outside the admissions building. At Atlantis Resort’s casino, each room opens to a large Chihuly glass sculpture, either suspending from the ceiling or sprouting out of a cashier’s kiosk. In the off-season, since there’s an increased chance of cloudy, windy days, you may as well be spending additional time in the casino anyway. Right? Why not take the time – in between rounds of blackjack – to admire these wonderful works?  You also can stroll around the hallways of the convention and entertainment wings and gaze upon Atlantis’ mythological metal works and massive architectural designs.

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Glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly on display Atlantis Resort Casino

 

Less waiting time in line for water rides and slides

Some resorts and water parks have numerous water features but none can hold a candle to Atlantis. In the off-season, you’ll find shorter wait lines and less chance of body bumping or traffic jamming along the Lazy River or The Current, a mechanical surf wave which propels inner-tubing kids of all ages through a canal around the waterfall grottos. More people will be dominating the famous water slides, but even these lines also move quickly. Tip: be sure your inner tube is fully inflated before riding down Power Tower slides.

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Atlantis Resort’s ‘The Current’ is no lazy river

 

No hustling and bustling to get your towel on a beach chair at 5 a.m.

Twelve pools, seven water slides, three beaches, two rivers, one lagoon will be at your disposal without crowds. I lost count of all the waterfalls and fountains. Maybe someone can get back to me on that. Crescent-shaped Cove Beach is the most protected — best for quiet wading. We also enjoyed our long morning strolls along Atlantis Beach and Paradise Beach. Tip: bring your entire days’ gear to the water park and stow snack lunches, water, change of clothes, money, etc. in hospitality lockers.

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More space for your sand castle if you visit during off-season

 

More photo opportunities of aquarium marine life

During peak times of day during the off-season, crowds will gather at feeding time around the underwater viewing windows. Feeding and times when fish are more active seem to attract schools of tourists. You will have more opportunity to return to the exhibit tunnels during other times of day and then have entire viewing window to yourself while you snap photos of manta rays, hammerhead sharks, seahorses, moon jellyfish, moray eels and many other species. Tip: don’t forget to turn off the camera flash when shooting through the window.

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Eels in one of many subterranean marine life exhibits

 

No reservations – no problem

We enjoyed several of the restaurants, both near the main casino area and on the resort perimeter without long waits. Atlantis has a wide variety of dining options – there’s something pleasing for every kind of palate and pocketbook. A few places required reservations, but when we arrived, few tables were filled or reserved. And shopping, too, actually was pleasant. Window-shopping at high-end designer shops in the Crystal Court and Marina Village makes for wishful daydreaming. Or visit nearby souvenir and craft shops — just a short walk away from the resort.

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Pastel, Colonial-style shops, cafes and bistros at the Marina Village

 

Best thing about traveling to The Bahamas during off-season? It’s the same time as fall break for many of Arizona’s school districts — perfect time for a family getaway!

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During the off-season, have the Royal Baths Pool all to yourself — almost

‘The Descendants’ movie prompts Hawaii trip memories

 

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Secret Beach on Kauai’s north shore. Not every day can be sunny.

 

 

Last weekend we watched the movie, “The Descendants” starring George Clooney. It’s from Alexander Payne, the same director whose film “Sideways,” received an Oscar for Writing, Adapted Screenplay. Shortly after “Sideways” was released, a surge of “movie tourism” brought fans and wine lovers to the Santa Barbara, California vineyards. And just since “The Descendants” was released last fall, there have been numerous websites, blogs and travel news pages, dedicated to describing these movie locations to Hawaii visitors. Having traveled to some of the destinations seen in “The Descendants,” it prompted memories from past Hawaii vacations.

Anyone who has seen “The Descendants” (released on DVD last week), and has also been to any of these places in the film, will probably understand how easy it is to feel a close connection to Kauai, its beauty, history, culture and mystique.

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St. Regis Resort Beach, Princeville – on Kauai’s north shore

 

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Princeville Resort in 2007, before major renovations

In the movie, the King family stays at the St. Regis Princeville Resort while visiting on Kauai for a few days. Even if you’re staying at another hotel on Kauai’s north shore, I recommend stopping by the St. Regis, even just to take a tour of the lobby area and surrounding grounds. Have some lunch or do a spa day there. It’s luxurious! If it’s too steep for your wallet, consider stay in the Westin Princeville Resort Ocean Villas, which were also featured in the movie, then you can take the shuttle to the St. Regis.

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Sunset scene from St. Regis

 

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St. Regis beach front view of Hanalei Bay

 

In “The Descendants,” much of the time Matt King and his daughters spend on Kauai is in either Princeville or Hanalei. While visiting Hanalei, you could walk out on the pier, stroll along the beach, browse through the quaint shops, cafes and restaurants, such as Tahiti Nui, where George Clooney  has a drink with his cousin Hugh, played by Beau Bridges. Incidentally, Beau Bridges is a part-time Kauai resident, and word has it that he spends time at “da Nui.”  Find information about those Hanalei cottage rentals on the Hanalei Land website.

Waikiki Beach, taken from the Sheraton

 

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Waikiki from Diamond Head

 

In the final scene from the movie, Matt King and his daughters, Alex and Scottie are floating in an outrigger canoe with the tall Waikiki hotels on the Oahu horizon. The ocean in the movie looks extremely calm — almost too calm, but it was definitely not filmed in a tank assures Shailene Woodley, who plays Alex.  While on Oahu, other movie sites include the hospital, private school and exclusive neighborhood where the King family resides. These are not places I’d want to spend my valuable Hawaiian time exploring, but more information about these and other locations from the movie can be found on these websites and blogs:

Garrett on the Road

USA Today Travel Destinations

Readers: Just from gathering research for this blog, I was really surprised how popular “movie tourism” is. I’d like to know — how many of you have seen a movie, then wanted to travel to its filming locations. If so, what was the outcome?

 

 

 

Jerome eatery a must: 15.quince grill & cantina

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15.quince grill & cantina: highly recommended for dining in Jerome, Arizona

 

Up until a few years ago, when we’d visit an Arizona town, we’d always wonder how to find the best lunch spot. We would check all the rating-review websites and chamber of commerce listings. We soon realized, to find a really great lunch spot, you need to become a ‘stalker.’ When the local residents leave work for lunch hour, just follow them. Or, better yet, I guess you can always ask around. We asked our pourer at one of Jerome’s wine tasting rooms for his recommendation. He didn’t even need to think about it. “Quince,” he said.

Quince (or actually 15.quince grill & cantina) was without a doubt right on the mark. We had to wait for a few minutes, as 15.quince is a cozy little storefront and seating comes at a premium on one of Jerome’s sunny March Saturdays. While we waited we were captivated by a taste of the Jerome Art Walk, which occurs each first Saturday of the month. Although the art walk actually is later in the evening, a few artisans and a musician had already set up in the vacant lot next door.

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Artisans and musicans set up on a Saturday afternoon

 

 

In just a few minutes we were seated and I couldn’t help but notice the large number of painted cow skulls and carved wooden crosses on the wall. What a nice collection! Colorful examples of Mexican folk art are everywhere. The clientele is part local and part tourist, however, if you know Jerome, sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart. Think: cowboy hats, Hawaiian shirts and Harley-Davidson leathers. The atmosphere is very animated; we liked that. People smiling and laughing in a restaurant is always a positive sign. Our server was excellent: attentive, personable and efficient.

 

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Colorful cow skulls and cross adorn the walls at 15.quince grill

 

We immediately were brought our icy cold Negra Modelo beers. And it wasn’t long before our entrée was served: a very hefty looking burro with shredded beef, black beans, green rice. We ordered it “half-and-half:” one side red sauce and the other side green. Both colors were swimming along side the chipotle cream and melted cheeses. Excellent!

 

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Lunch is served: "Orale Vato Loco" Smothered Burro

 

The entire menu looks very appealing; enough to even make the most finicky diner drool. We also heard the margaritas are over-the-top, but those will have to wait for our next Jerome getaway. We did, however, opt for a slice of decadent cherry cheesecake. After a lunch like that, we felt a siesta was in order but we decided to instead walk off the experience by window-shopping through the streets of Jerome. If you have relatives and friends visiting this month, you will want to bring them here.

Costa Rica vacation home: Casa de Mariposas

 

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Casa de Mariposas' spacious front porch welcomes visitors

In one sense, Costa Rica seems so distant, so remote. Yet at times it seems comfortably close to home – especially if you stay at Casa de Mariposas.

Casa de Mariposas, located just on the outskirts of Jaco, is a vacation home at the point where the rainforest meets the beach, and where ‘town meets country.’ Even when you pull up to the house, you’ll have this feeling that you could be in the middle of a jungle. The sound of exotic bird calls greets you, as does the warm friendly charm of the front porch. It’s like you were meant to be here. When you step inside, you get that feeling you’ve come home, almost as though you never left the city, but then you smell those wonderful flowers and plants that could only come from the Costa Rica rainforest.

 

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Jaco's beach is only a two-minute walk from Casa de Mariposas

 

You could call it luxury with a fringe of the wild side. I mean, all the resort amenities are there in the home: spacious living room with flat screen TVs, luxurious beds and huge walk-in showers of tile and glass, but the views from the second floor through the green canopy to Pacific Ocean beyond the beach, make you feel like you might be in a tree house or on a deserted island. Then you hear the faint sounds of Latin music and laughter coming from the boutique resort, Club del Mar, located across the street, where you, as a Casa de Mariposas guest, have complimentary use of most facilities.

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Club del Mar is just across the street from Casa de Mariposas

 

Imagine both ends of the spectrum: that of a remote, private little world in the rainforest or on an unspoiled beach, then the images of a comfortable, familiar, welcoming vacation home. After spending nearly two weeks here, I concluded it really does have the best of both worlds, one of uncivilized: adventure, excitement and intense natural beauty, coupled together with another world of civilization with its full rewards — lounging around the pool, feasting on fresh seafood, enjoying a massage at a spa or golfing at the nearby Los Suenos Marriott.

 

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Manuel Antonio's sandy white beaches are less than an hour's drive

A visit to the owner’s website is the best way to get more clear idea of region’s beauty plus you can be impressed by all the fine details of the home and also obtain additional information about the huge amount of local attractions and activities. On the website, you may conjure up an itinerary of deep sea fishing, surfing, Scuba diving and snorkeling, zip-lining and rafting, beach sports, beautiful wildlife parks and nature preserves filled with the most amazing flowers, plants, and some of the most fascinating creatures you never knew existed. After you consider the “uncivilized,” think about the “civilized” – Jaco and neighboring towns have it all: casinos, great restaurants, nightclubs, big box stores, a yacht marina, fine golf courses. And right in the heart of it all is Casa de Mariposas.  It really does have the best of both worlds.

 

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Jaco Beach at dusk

Escape from high gas prices, admission fees with a day trip to Chandler’s Veterans Oasis Park

Okay, so gasoline prices are sky-high. You’d like to take an out-of-town day trip, but don’t want to shell out the bucks for a couple of tank fill-ups. Admission charges for zoos and animal parks also run a little too steep for your budget. Here’s a suggestion: try spending the day at one of the Phoenix-area municipal parks or riparian preserves. Many of the local parks offer a variety of enjoyable ways for a family to spend the entire day.

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Inside the Environmental Education Center at Chandler's Veterans Oasis Park

 

We recently spent a few hours at our one of our local parks, Chandler’s Veterans Oasis, located at the northeast corner of Chandler Heights and Lindsay Roads. It’s one of our area’s newest parks, and it really does have a little bit of everything. The Environmental Education Center (EEC) is a standout – it houses classrooms for nature camps and classes, landscaping workshops, healthy cooking, scouting programs, fishing lessons, birding, art, even yoga. Spring Nature Camp during the two-week Chandler school spring break provides both full and half-day programs.

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Urban fishing lake at Veterans Oasis

 

But we didn’t come to the park to look at nature programs; we came to look at nature. The park sits on 113 acres with a five-acre urban fishing lake, over four miles of trails and walks, many picnic ramadas with grills, playground areas, equestrian trails, butterfly and hummingbird habitats, plus an outdoor amphitheater for outdoor concerts like the Sonoran Sunset Series. Upcoming appearances include a folk/country trio from Gilbert called “Firefly,” on March 8 and a locally known jazz singer, John Vold on April 12.

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Spring wildflowers bloom along one of the walking trails at Veterans Oasis Park

 

Municipal parks such as Veterans Oasis are the perfect getaway for a Saturday or Sunday – or any day of the week, because they provide such a different environment than you’re accustomed to. For example, the day we were there, we couldn’t believe we were still in Chandler. As we strolled around the lake, we heard some bird songs and nature sounds we certainly wouldn’t hear at our subdivision’s playground, park or retention area, or even some of the city’s other parks. And as we came around the far side of the lake, I spotted a jackrabbit about the size of my border collie, just lumbering around a few feet from us between the bushes. I couldn’t get my camera or phone out fast enough.

Veterans Oasis Park has recently been named, “Certified Wildlife Habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation. From the beginning, naturalists and park administrators have combined their efforts to plan the park so that it will attract small animals, birds, fish, butterflies and other forms of wildlife to the park and maintain the environment to protect them. Since the park’s opening in 2008, more than 135 species of wildlife have been documented.  Last year the park became the first municipally owned park to be a part of the Bird Habitat Recognition Program from the local Desert Rivers Chapter of the National Audubon Society.

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Part of a recent community art exhibit at the Environmental Education Center

 

Veterans Oasis Park in Chandler is the perfect location for the family to observe Earth Day 2012. The City of Chandler is combining Earth Day, Arbor Day and the four-year anniversary of the EEC into one event on April 20 from 4 to 7 p.m. with hands-on activities, live animal exhibits, food booths, artisans and prize giveaways.

The best thing of all about Veterans Oasis? It requires little gasoline to get there, (at least for those of us in the Southeast Valley) and it’s FREE!

Regular park hours are 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily. The wildlife preserve is open 6 a.m. to sunset daily and the Environmental Education Center is open Monday and Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Readers: Where are the riparian preserves or wildlife areas near you? Have any suggestions for day trips that are close to home and free? I’d like to hear about them…

Health benefits of traveling with tea

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Travel with tea for health and wellness

 

You’re apt to find an online packing list for every type of getaway, business trip, family vacation or around-the-world tour. And no doubt, there’s a ton of information and websites about healthy traveling and handy remedies for the traveler. Rather than packing a little of this or that for each and every malady, you may find relief for many common travel ailments in your kitchen canister – tea.

On a recent airline flight, I was bothered by an eye infection and I tried treating it with eye drops without much success. My sister-in-law had suggested using a cooled, used tea bag, placed over the eye. So on my return trip, after enjoying a cup of Earl Grey, I placed the warm bag over my eye for several minutes. “This is really working!” I remembered, thinking how soothing it was. And drinking a cup of the tea seemed to improve my general malaise.

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Teapigs English Breakfast Tea, a favorite my son brought back from Cambridge, UK

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This had me thinking: there must be lots of other ways tea can benefit travelers, so I consulted local tea expert and restaurateur, Glynis Legrand. Glynis, who owns Urban Tea Loft in downtown Chandler, has been a longtime advocate of the health benefits of tea. Glynis agrees: tea is perfect for traveling, and in addition to being a tasty beverage, can be used to energize, relax, relieve congestion, refresh from heat, calm stress, alleviate inflammation and soothe sore muscles.

As a pick-me-up, Glynis recommends Yerba Mate (pronounced mah-tay), derived from leaves of a Brazilian rainforest plant. It has energizing qualities that are different than the caffeine in black tea or coffee.

“With Yerba Mate, there’s no caffeine crash,” Glynis explained, “rather you step down gradually from the energy lift from Yerba Mate.”

The feeling of alertness would be perfect for business travelers trying to work on a long flight, but would still like to relax once they reached their destination, she added. Black tea, with caffeine is also beneficial. It’s the more palatable and popular of the two teas, and blends well with many different flavors.

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Mango Orange Tea from Hawaii's Island Plantations

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According to Glynis, a variety of herbal teas will help accomplish relaxation after a long flight or road trip. Chamomile is the most popular. And to counter anxiety of travel, such as delayed flights, fear of flying or other travel stressors; a cup of calming, warm hibiscus tea will work.

Traveling can be hard on digestion too. Rooibos or other red teas will not only aid digestion but also act as an antioxidant. Rooibos has no caffeine and may be mixed with milk for children with stomach upset, said Glynis. Or it could sipped as an after-dinner drink. Mixing Rooibos tea with water in a small spray bottle is an ideal way to refresh the skin and hair.

With their antioxidant properties, warm green teas will fend off respiratory infections such as colds — extremely helpful for air travelers. And green teas will relieve accompanying congestion, too. They also provide relief for painful joints and muscles resulting from heavy suitcase lifting, stand in long lines or sitting for long periods on trains, planes and automobiles. Steeping green tea bags in warm water creates a soothing foot soak, added Glynis.

After your long flight, train or car ride, you’ve finally reached your destination and checked into your room. Again, consider tea’s advantages; nothing works better to relax and calm than a long soak in a lavender tea bath. Just the aroma itself slows the nervous system, promotes relaxation and a good night’s sleep — all very valuable to the frequent traveler.

Some teas pack better than others. For example, Matcha tea, a Japanese tea used in ceremonies travels well because it comes in a powder form, which can be added to water, or even stirred into lemonade.

“Matcha tea is very high in antioxidants,” said Glynis, “it has six times as much as other green teas.” Glynis advised green or black teas should not be packed in clear plastic bags, because sunlight and UV rays will degrade the tea. Instead, travelers can stow tea in a opaque, airtight container. For brewing tea ‘on the go,’ Glynis suggests a portable tea infuser like the Tuffy Steeper, a collapsible, packable strainer.

Readers: I would love to get your input about healthy travel. What items do you pack to keep healthy and stay comfortable while traveling?