Fall for Steamboat Springs


Steamboat Springs

As the snow melts, an outdoorsman’s paradise awakens. So grab your bike, kayak or fishing gear and set out into nature. You won’t be disappointed.

Steamboat Springs is best known as a winter sports town, home to the Steamboat Ski Resort and dozens of winter Olympians. Yet at an elevation of 6,700 feet, Steamboat is equally lively in summer and fall, when its dry-as-ranch-dust snow is replaced with a sunny, cool mountain climate that’s idyllic for an outdoorsy getaway. In a single weekend, you can fly-fish mountain streams, horseback-ride across rolling ranchlands, hike through wildflower meadows and aspen glades, mountain bike on a growing network of single-track, browse a downtown lined with boxy Western storefronts, and finish it off with a soothing soak in one of the town’s steaming natural hot springs.

COWBOY CULTURE
Long before it was a sports town, Steamboat Springs was a ranch town. Along with multimillion-dollar vacation homes, working ranches occupy much of the Yampa Valley—thousands of acres dotted with beef cattle and bus-sized hay bales. The cattle dogs you’ll see in the back of muddy pickups really do herd, and the cowboy hats worn in town—some of them, anyway—are the real deal, too.

The 10-block-long downtown still reflects Steamboat’s cowboy roots. Ranch supply stores sit alongside bike shops, boutiques and wine bars on the main artery, Lincoln Avenue. Foremost among them is F.M. Light and Sons, a century-old dry goods store where shoppers can browse the 2,000 pairs of cowboy boots, stop by the Hat Services counter and pick up a handbag with a built-in gun holster.

To sample cowboy culture yourself, take a horseback ride at Del’s Triangle Three Ranch, in the Elk River Valley a half hour north of Steamboat Springs. Guides lead half- and full-day rides over sage-covered slopes and through the hills, keeping an eye out for the elk herds that often gather on the property. Come fall, blooming fields of yarrow and mule’s ear daisy give way to blazing yellow aspens. At this time of year, the elk put on their own show, as the males bugle loudly for female attention.

TAKE TO THE TRAILS
For those who want to hoof it in hiking boots, trails abound. Four miles from town, an easy quarter-mile route leads to Fish Creek Falls, descending 283 feet into a deep rocky seam. Paths continue to Upper Fish Creek Falls and 5 miles south to Lost Lake. Also near town, the Spring Creek Trail climbs gently for 5 miles through a broad canyon glowing gold with ferns and aspens. The surrounding Medicine Bow–Routt National Forest offers a dizzying array of options for long day hikes.

On a mountain bike you can cover even more terrain. Locals flock to the trails on Emerald Mountain, which rises up from the southwest side of downtown, and the 50 miles of trails at the Steamboat ski area, accessible with leg power or by gondola. Explore the ski area’s trail network or leave its boundary to connect with a web of national forest trails.

STEAMING SPRINGS
A cloud of fog and the tang of sulfur hang over Lincoln Park at the edge of downtown, where several of the region’s natural hot springs gurgle out of rock fissures and ponds. When early trappers came upon a nearby spring on the Yampa River’s western bank, they thought that the funny chugging sound it made resembled a steamboat whistle—which is how this landlocked town got its unlikely name. (Alas, construction of the railroad silenced the spring years ago.)

After a day on the trails, a visit to one of Steamboat’s hot springs provides the perfect remedy for weary muscles. You’ll find two decidedly different options for a public soak. The Old Town Hot Springs right downtown and open year-round offers 8 man-made swimming pools fed by hot mineral springs. Also part of the facility: waterslides and a fitness center with a range of exercise classes.

On the more rustic end of the scale, Strawberry Park Hot Springs lies in the woods, 8 miles from town (including 3 miles on a rutted dirt road). Steamy 147-degree water trickles down a hillside into a series of stone masonry pools, where it’s cooled with creek water to about 105 degrees. For the complete experience, take at least one plunge into the cold-water creek. Though it’s not the freewheeling flower-child scene found at many hot springs, Strawberry Park is clothing optional and adults only after dark.

CAST AWAY
Hot springs may be Steamboat’s identity, but the Yampa River feels like its lifeblood. Starting from modest streams high in the Flat Tops Wilderness, the Yampa grows into a broad river that flows right through town, just a block south of Lincoln Avenue. The 7-mile Yampa River Core Trail weaves along its banks, busy with runners, bicycling kids and stroller-pushing moms. Kayakers play in its waves, while inner tubers float past waterfront restaurants. Anglers enjoy several miles of public access, casting for rainbow and brown trout.

Outfitters like Steamboat Flyfisher can offer even more, accompanying you to private stretches of river that run through ranchland south of town. Here the Yampa instantly feels wild, framed by red dogwoods and golden willows, flowing cold and clear the color of single-malt scotch.

Casting a fly rod here is an utterly peaceful way to spend a morning. You’re serenaded by the sounds of the water, the trill of blackbirds and the distant mutters and moos of ranch animals. You mend your line just so and watch it unfurl downstream, mesmerized, as you wait for the almost imperceptible tug of a rainbow.

 

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The Snows of Summit County: Breckenridge


Breckenridge

As soon as you head west of Denver on Interstate 70, the scenery transforms. Steel and concrete morph into pine and granite, and the front range of the Rockies fills the windshield. WATCH FOR WILDLIFE, cautions a yellow sign; bighorn sheep, pushed from the peaks by heavy snows, casually gaze through a curlicue of horn at the cars streaming by.

By the time you reach Dillon 60 miles later, you’ve nearly climbed to the roof of the Rockies. Summit County sidles up against the Continental Divide, spiked with peaks and elevations that range from 8,000 to 14,000 feet. Its ample dry snows, top-notch ski areas and picturesque resort towns—all linked by the free Summit Stage bus system—make this region a no-brainer for winter sports fans.

Fifteen miles southwest of Keystone, Breckenridge seems to have been plucked from a snow globe. Flakes drift down on a Main Street lined with brightly painted cabins and steep-pitched Victorians, now filled with restaurants, shops and galleries. The Blue River gurgles under pedestrian bridges and a snowy massif, etched with ski runs, rises right from town.

Prospectors flowed into this 9,600-foot-high outpost in the mid-1800s, bushwhacking their way up river drainages as they panned for gold. They hit pay dirt, including the largest gold nugget ever found in Colorado. “Tom’s Baby” weighed more than 13 pounds; the miner swaddled it in blankets like an infant on the way into town.

Of course, it was snow, not gold, that turned out to be this town’s greatest fortune. Today Breckenridge anchors the nation’s second most-visited ski resort (after Vail). The resort stretches across 4 peaks and seems to expand every year. Its south end, Peak 10, skirts the town; the north end, Peaks 7 and 8, sits higher, linked to town by the free BreckConnect gondola.

Some call Breckenridge “the gentle giant” for its gradual slopes; indeed, many will find the intermediate runs here quite tame. But advanced skiers and riders will find plenty of pitch in the bowls accessed from the nation’s highest chairlift on Peak 8, which tops out at 12,998 feet. Breck’s renowned terrain parks and pipes—considered some of the best in the country—ramp up the challenge, with an array of boxes, rails, kickers and other features that seem to go on forever. And everyone can enjoy Breck’s stunning serrated scenery, looking across to the Continental Divide scraping at the sky.

Even if you never intend to get on a chairlift, Breckenridge dishes up plenty of entertainment, which makes it the best base for a Summit County vacation. Take a thrill ride on the Gold Runner Coaster, where two-person sleds on rails twist wildly downhill. At the Breckenridge Nordic Center below Peak 8, some 30 kilometers of trails wind through old-growth pines, across meadows and to overlooks with postcard views of the Ten Mile Range.

In town, there’s great dining at every turn, from reliable stalwarts like the South Ridge Seafood Grill to newcomers like Ember and Twist. The Arts District is home to a growing number of galleries and art classes. Sign on with the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance for a walking tour—the town has more than 250 historic structures—or a snowshoe tour of gold-mining sites.

And be sure to check out the Breckenridge Welcome Center. Its great little history museum reveals Breckenridge “firsts,” including the nation’s first half-pipe and the first ski resort in the world to allow snowboarding. Clearly, Breckenridge recognizes a gold mine.

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Enjoyments in Myrtle Beach


Myrtle Beach

There's so much happening at once in this popular Southern vacation spot, you'll feel like you're tackling yet another of its popular humongous buffets.

From toddler to tween to retiree, there’s a fun park or miniature golf haven in Myrtle Beach to suit everyone. Rollercoaster fans hit Freestyle Music Park while aquatic types tackle the slides at Wild Water & Wheels. Engine hounds race carts at Nascar Speedpark and miniature golfers take swings at Mutiny Bay. For old-school versions of all the above, try the nearly half-century-old Family Kingdom.

At the southernmost end of the new boardwalk, rent fishing poles and tackle from the 2nd Avenue Pier, a family-owned joint. The best biking is around the Market Common or Myrtle Beach State Park. Joggers, walkers and beachcombers avoid the summertime crowds when they hit the shore between sunrise and breakfast.

Serious golfers do well at any of the area’s courses, but the ones that regularly snag accolades are Barefoot Resort’s Dye, Love and Fazio courses, Dunes, Tidewater, and TPC of Myrtle Beach. While those courses can cost $100-plus a round, the well-loved Heritage Club, 40 minutes south on Pawleys Island, can run half as much.

Spa goers rave about the getaway in the North Beach Plantation community—Cinzia, The Spa at North Beach Plantation. With a saltwater whirlpool and internationally themed massages, it’s the region’s crown jewel.

And for a blast from the (distant) past, visit Medieval Times’ Myrtle Beach Castle to watch swordplay, falconry and a jousting tournament over a roast-chicken feast.

SHOP
Find the best of the worst cheap T-shirts and snow globes at Wings or Eagles, or visit the grandfather of them all—the gargantuan, 6-decade-old Gay Dolphin Gift Cove on the boardwalk. The area’s bounty of outlet malls keeps bargain hunters busy. The 2 Tanger Outlet malls alone include the likes of Banana Republic, Coach, Nine West and more. And the Coastal Grand Mall, with more than 170 shops, is one of the state’s largest.

Anglers revel in the Bass Pro Shop. For a traditional Southern souvenir, check out the hand-tied hammocks at the Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock.

EAT (LOTS!)
Myrtle Beach has a crazy number of huge buffets, most offering more than 150 different dishes. These massive dining rooms can easily handle the busloads of hungry visitors who descend on them before heading off to nearby attractions. Places like The Original Benjamin’s  and the Great American Steak & Buffet Co. offer local flavors like Calabash-style fried seafood and “chicken bog,” a Low Country dish of rice, chicken and sausage. The buffets are good value, but you might miss out on the nuances of Southern hospitality and home cooking.

DOWNHOME SOUTHERN
Barbecue joints like Big D’s Bar-B-Que Barn or Little Pigs Bar-B-Q lack frills but serve up perfect pork platters, hushpuppies and barbecue and slaw sandwiches. For a more traditional Southern supper, dine on crab casserole at one of the few waterfront dining spots on the beach: the more than 80-year-old Sea Captain’s House.

Just south of Myrtle Beach is Murrells Inlet, lined with restaurants, bars and a marina. Visitors stroll the marshwalk, carrying their drinks as they move from one spot to another to catch live music and enjoy straight-from-the-water appetizers. Sports lovers head to the Market Common’s upscale King Street Grille, while club goers check out the evening scene at Broadway at the Beach.

Epicureans no longer get short shrift on the Grand Strand. The best options are the mod SeaBlue for small plates that start at $10; Greg Norman’s Australian Grille for surf and turf; and Pawleys Island’s High Hammock for nouveau renditions of Southern seaside favorites like shrimp and grits and crab cakes. The Cypress Room at the Island Vista serves upscale versions of downhome food and fresh catches; Divine Prime is the place for dressy steaks.

MUST-TRIES
If you have access to a kitchen, visit the Mr. Fish seafood market for fresh-off-the-boat shrimp. The Crab Cake Lady sells handpicked, hand-shaped crab cakes. Go to a Piggly Wiggly to stock up on grits, ham hocks and peanuts for boiling. The farmers market sells fresh produce on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Finally, don’t miss the Sunday gospel brunch at perhaps the coolest joint in town—the House of Blues.

 

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Myrtle Beach Bliss


Myrtle Beach

Have fun in the sun, chow down in full Southern style, or even get abducted by aliens in this primo resort town.

The crews who dug the Intracoastal Waterway in the 1930s probably didn’t have a clue about what would spring up in their wake. But when they connected inland rivers at the northeastern tip of South Carolina and continued some 60 miles southward, they birthed one crown jewel of an island.

The area that eventually became Myrtle Beach—at the time known by only a few, for its pristine white beaches—was sparsely dotted with vacation homes and a few resorts. But by the 1940s, thanks to its new Air Force base, dance clubs that gave rise to the Carolina Shag and a motel-lined strip, it had been duly discovered. Nearly 80 years later, Myrtle Beach (named for the wax myrtles that sprout in maritime forests and edge up onto the dunes) welcomes almost 14 million visitors annually. Here’s what’s fresh in this long-beloved destination.

PLAY HARD
Myrtle Beach’s famed Ocean Boulevard has always been the place to cruise in the Palmetto State. But since 2010, when the city’s Boardwalk opened, the attention has been shifting from the automobile to the pedestrian. The 1.2-mile walk stretches from 2nd to 14th Avenues and includes countless benches, canopies, parks, souvenir shops and arcades.

You won’t run out of amusements on the Grand Strand, but two must-sees sit within a few blocks of each other on Ocean Boulevard. First, the beachfront SkyWheel, a nearly 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel sporting 42 glass-enclosed air gondolas and a million LEDs that dance in a stunning light show. A ride on this marvel, which opened in 2011, offers views of as far as 20 miles in every direction; try it at dusk to take in the sunset and the strip’s neon artistry.

Just south of the wheel, Family Kingdom has reigned as Ocean Boulevard’s amusement park for decades. While it’s known for its old-school wooden roller coaster, 2013 brought the Twist ’n’ Shout steel roller coaster and a 2-person flying-gondola ride. You can stroll the amusement park grounds free of charge; you pay only to ride.

Farther afield in nearby Murrells Inlet, Pirate Adventures awaits pint-size landlubbers looking for seafaring action. After donning swashbuckling clothes and dabbing on pirate makeup, kids (and their chaperones) climb aboard an old wooden ship to sail in search of treasure. Spoiler alert: Rogue sailors attack along the way.

Myrtle Beach

GEEK OUT
How long would you have lasted in the cold waters that claimed the victims of the Titanic disaster? Stick your hand in an icy tank and find out. Think you can use your mind to move objects? Strap on a sensor-laden headband and give it a go at WonderWorks, where you’ll find hands-on experiments galore. Until Labor Day, Encounters: U.F.O. Experience displays 200-plus artifacts centered on purported run-ins with aliens.

TEE UP
Golf Digest has ranked the Grand Strand, with its 102 greenways, among its top 10 best buddy golfing destinations for years. And now, the area’s pick-of-the-litter course is easier to access. Instead of booking through your resort to score a reservation at the semiprivate Dunes Golf & Beach Club, you can book at myrtlebeachgolf.com.

SHOPPING BREAK
Myrtle Beach’s onetime Air Force base is now home to Market Common, a walkable live/work-shop complex with A-list stores. Noteworthy recent additions include City Mac, a chic Apple shop where you can get the latest phone or troubleshoot laptop snafus; the Kangaroo Pouch, which has the hippest baby gear and wear; Devo Olive Oil Co., selling some 60 types of pressed oil; and the Coastal Wine Boutique, where you can taste and buy

EAT YOUR HEART OUT
Find the Crab Cake Lady’s hand-made crab cakes at Harrelson’s Seafood Market, in Murrells Inlet. And hunt down Mr. Fish at its newly opened location, north of the old (closed) spot; the lines for fried platters and chocolate pie still run out the door.

For down-home food, head to Lulu’s Café (their eggs Benedict is a take on biscuits and gravy, and cheese fries come with pimento cheese). Kudzu Bakery offers cakes, while Coccadotts gets wacky with cupcakes (try the maple and bacon).

A casual lunch of Nacho Hippo’s tacos stuffed to the limits can’t be beat. And a great date night destination is tiny Sobaya Japanese Bistro, where Korean and Japanese dishes are made to order. On the other end of the evening-out spectrum, drive to North Myrtle Beach for 21 Main at North Beach’s country-club-meets-steak-house fare. Chef Lou Petrozzi’s steaks are perfectly rendered; his seafood dishes, like seared scallops, are impeccable.

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How to Tackle Hilton Head


Hilton Head

Experience a destination with a funky mix of history, abundant outdoor activities and unique cuisine.

Hilton Head is a 45-mile drive north from Savannah, GA, and 110 miles south of Charleston, SC. In the early 16th century, the French and Spanish attempted to settle this fertile land. Its live-oak forests and rich soil made it an agrarian paradise; the many waterways facilitated shipping; and the proximity to the Eastern seaboard made it a prime outpost. But local tribes didn't entirely welcome those early visitors. Finally, in 1663 British sea captain William Hilton successfully claimed the island for England, giving plantation life its start.

Today, Hilton Head Island is a funky mix. Historical sites are scattered among the resort-community-and-golf-course descendants of Sea Pines; hotels butt up against huge swaths of preserved land, while shopping and dining strips flood the interior. A four-lane road encircles the island, with hideaway developments shooting off it like spokes. And here and there, humble vegetable plots thrive next to multimillion-dollar digs and modest, slouchy cottages alike.

"This is the most relaxing vacation I've had with my family—ever," says a woman making her way across Broad Creek by kayak. "It's the first time we've ever just chilled out, relaxing on the beach, me reading and the kids shelling, and all of us trying new things."

To score that same experience, you'll need a strategy. Hilton Head has 250-plus restaurants and two dozen golf courses, so it's crucial to narrow your field of vacation vision. For a family-flavored getaway (the island's specialty), first pick a place to stay. If you're flying in, look for flights to the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. And on your way to the island, stock up at the Publix in neighboring Bluffton to avoid the weekend crowds at island grocery stores.

Next, come up with your dream menu of outdoor activities. Hotels and resorts offer daily tours; ask for schedules when you check in. Or try Outside Hilton Head for kayaking, boating, fishing and dolphin-cruising options. If you’re not staying at a resort with beach access, you can hit the sand at several public access points. The most popular one is Coligny Beach Park, with ample parking and a brand-new area with restrooms, showers and more.

As for getting around, either bring your own bicycles or rent from Hilton Head Bicycle Co. And for the ultimate Lowcountry experience, don't miss exploring the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. This 605-acre wilderness oasis combines jungle-like expanses of native evergreen palms, live oaks and wax myrtles with lagoons populated by cranes and alligators. Powdery dirt roads traverse the gently sculpted site. Pick up a map at the info center hutch and head off by foot, bike or car—or on horseback. For a trail ride, sign up with Lawton Stables.

Hilton Head

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Photo Tips: Portrait Pointers


How to capture your travel companions in their best light.

A good portrait is more than a snapshot—it’s a picture that captures the personality of the subject in a special way. Even better is a portrait of a loved one on vacation, when the subject is relaxed and the setting reminds you of happy times. Here are some techniques to make sure you come home with at least one frameworthy (or Facebook-worthy) shot.

START WITH THE LIGHT

People just don’t look good in harsh light, such as you find outside on a sunny day. So get your subject into some flattering shade before you shoot. Or, if there’s no cover to be had, have him or her face away from the sun. This will eliminate squinting and heavy shadows.

BACKGROUND CHECK

Look for plain backgrounds that let your subject stand out. If the busy background is necessary to the composition (say, to show off a resort’s jungle setting), find a place in the frame where the subject fits without objects like trees that seem to be growing out from behind his or her head. Pros sometimes soften a distracting background by opening up the lens to its widest setting (i.e., the lowest number f/stop) to limit the depth of focus and direct attention to the subject. (This technique works better with digital SLRs than with point-and-shoots.)

GESTURE AND MOMENT

Keep talking once you start to shoot, offering posing instructions and encouraging words that will make your sitter feel comfortable. And try to keep the camera at your eye level, so when you tell your killer joke and your subject responds with a great smile, you’re ready to shoot. Or set the camera on a tripod and use a remote to trip the shutter. That lets you maintain eye contact with the subject, allowing for easier interaction. The whole point is to be ready for that split second when the subject lets down his or her guard and the personality shines through.

THE EYES HAVE IT

A lot of things can be soft and out of focus in a portrait, but not the eyes. If your camera has a moveable autofocus target, make sure it falls right at the subject’s eye level. Try not to compose your portrait with the subject’s eyes in the middle of the frame (where your autofocus target usually rests), as it makes for a very static composition. And remember to fill the frame, even with a headshot.

SHOOT AWAY

Finally, don’t be stingy with the shutter. In the digital age, shooting more costs nothing extra. The sound of shutter clicks will reassure your subject, helping you both to arrive at that one magic moment—and the perfect portrait.

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Acapulco's Second Act


Mexico's original beach town has reclaimed its old-school allure.

Long before Cancún or Los Cabos or the Riviera Maya were even specks on the tourist map, Acapulco reigned as Mexico’s coastal queen. Acapulqueños have recently worked hard to restore Old Acapulco and the Costera, and posh resorts and malls have risen in the newest neighborhood, Acapulco Diamante. The result is a thoroughly modern vacation destination rich in culture and history. Now is the time to visit—or revisit—the place where Mexico’s tourism fame was born.

OLD ACAPULCO

In the early Hollywood days, Playa Caleta and Playa Caletilla, on the western shores of Acapulco Bay, saw the most action. Today, the ’50s have returned with the restoration of the beachfront Hotel Boca Chica. The designers faithfully retained the mid-century architecture and the tiny Coco Wash disco, which has become the hippest hangout in town. Chef Keisuke Harada creates platters of sushi and Kobe burgers for happy hordes at the hotel’s restaurants; on weekends, locals pull their yachts up to the dock and linger for hours over mescal martinis.

With Boca Chica grabbing attention, travelers are also being lured to the palapa-shaded fish shacks on Playa Caletilla. Here families gather beneath blue umbrellas, and water taxis take swimmers to the clear waters off Isla Roqueta, just 10 minutes away. At the nearby Plaza Alvarez (also called the zócalo), elderly gents study their newspapers at sidewalk cafés as kids scamper around the filigreed bandstand. Across the street, fishermen lay out their nets beside docks where party boats collect passengers for sunset sailings.

In the winding streets high above Old Acapulco, sightseers gather at La Quebrada to witness the famed clavadistas, or cliff divers. During the show, a lone diver poses atop a jagged, precipitous cliff. Below, waves crash against rocks before settling into a small swirling pool. In the blink of an eye, the diver swoops toward the sea. Onlookers applaud as he emerges from the water, and another duplicates his feat.

THE COSTERA

Most visitors to the Costera devote the sunlight hours to lounging poolside, browsing in arcades and malls and playing in the bay. Pint-sized fun-seekers enjoy the rides at Papagayo Park and the waterslides at CICI waterpark.

As evening sets in, families head to the Hard Rock Cafe for burgers and ribs. Partygoers seek out tables at Paradise or Beto’s, among the best of the clubs on the sand, or retire to high-end restaurants and discos in the hills. Horse-drawn calesas (carriages) clomp along the Costera, delivering dancers to Baby ’O, one of the best-known discos. And fireworks and laser beams shoot over the bay from the hilltop clubs until dawn.

ACAPULCO DIAMANTE

Perhaps the best evidence of Acapulco’s resurgence lies in the burgeoning Diamante neighborhood. Stretching from the Costera up the steep, winding Scenic Highway, Diamante has legendary discos, championship golf courses, lavish resorts, a concert hall and a shiny new mall.

Several large timeshare resorts are also found on the beaches of Acapulco Diamante, close to attractions like the La Isla shopping center at Punta Diamante, which has lured some of the Costera’s well-known establishments (including the family-friendly yet rowdy Carlos’n Charlie’s). Kids can head to the mall’s Aqua Planet, with bumper boats and mini-golf, as well as displays that teach about water conservation. And at Mundo Imperial, an enormous development with a convention center and hotel, the stars of today appear at the Forum, a state-of-the-art concert hall. With the three sides of Acapulco all in a state of transformation, Mexico’s coastal queen is once again the biggest star on the map.

 

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Cozumel – Island of Swallows


Josef W.Walking down the stone streets of Playa del Carmen, past the numerous vendors and quaint shops, the ferry to Cozumel slowly comes into view. It looks sleek, fast and modern sitting atop the crystal clear blue water of the ocean. As we wait in line with mild trepidation to board, we watch the families play along the pristine white sand beach, bathed in the warm sunlight. Boarding the ship is quite a breeze once the gate opens and we are soon under way heading to Cozumel. As Cozumel slowly comes into focus, small droplets of ocean water cool us off during our complimentary sun tan on the 30 minute ferry ride. Arriving in Cozumel proves to be as easy as boarding was and we are soon on our way to the resort.

One of the first things that we noticed about Cozumel was that it feels like mainland Mexico, yet feels very different as well. There were numerous places to rent scooters on the side of the road, offering adventurous travelers the opportunity to explore the island on their own. They seem to be quite the popular mode of transportation to get around for the tourists and locals alike. We quickly leave the town limits of San Miguel de Cozumel, the capital, and drive along the highway towards our vacation destination. The resort staff is quickly at our service with towels and fresh drinks upon our arrival. We are quickly checked in and on our way to explore the resort. Having the ocean right outside our door along with a convenient ocean-side bar made this stay quite the treat.

The island seems to move at a slower pace than the mainland which makes everything more relaxing. We managed to spend some time exploring the local shops and dining at a quaint restaurant in the heart of San Miguel. The locals are eager to show you their items for sale and are quite friendly.  The food was amazing in both taste and presentation. We truly enjoyed spending a nice evening exploring this charming city. Don’t forget to also spend some time snorkeling at the largest reef in the Western Hemisphere, located off the coast of Cozumel. Make Cozumel your next vacation destination and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of Mexico!

We hope you enjoyed all of the great photos shared by RCI subscribing members. Be sure to check back with us next week!

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Cozumel – Adventure and Relaxation in One


Kristina W.Walking through the small streets of Playa Del Carmen, the excitement was building. We were heading towards the ferry terminal that would lead to our Cozumel journey. The process of using the ferry as transportation was quite simple and enjoyable. It was a beautiful sight to see the island coming into view as we felt the calm waves of the ocean rocking the ferry. Upon arrival on Cozumel, transportation to the resort was easy. The island of Cozumel is not an overwhelming size as it is roughly 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. There is one main road that circles the island, so if you choose to rent a car it is pretty easy to navigate.

Once you get settled in, be sure to check out the amazing water sport activities, like snorkeling. The largest reef in the Western Hemisphere, the Mesoamerica Reef, can be explored while staying in Cozumel. The ocean is crystal clear which makes for some fantastic sightings such as tropical fish and turtles.

Back on the island, the town of San Miguel offers many unique shopping prospects. While we were visiting, we enjoyed a night out in Cozumel with a phenomenal dinner at a local restaurant. Additionally, Cozumel provides many choices for spa treatments. Whether you are looking for a relaxing vacation, or an exciting getaway full of adventure, Cozumel offers the perfect trip for any family.

We’re continuing to share RCI subscribing members’ Cozumel photos. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

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Winter is Right Around the Corner!


Dave TWith temperatures beginning to fall and the holiday season right around the corner, it is time to break out the heavy coats and embrace the season. As winter is knocking at the door and Jack Frost is nipping and your nose, I can’t help but think of all the things I love about this time of year. The first snowfall, sipping hot chocolate by the fire, freshly baked cookies, there are too many to name.

While it can be hard to step away from all the distractions and running around that are associated with the season, I find winter to be the perfect time to escape and explore my adventurous side. A snow filled vacation is an awesome opportunity to take part in these activities or even try new ones! Some of my favorite activities include skiing, ice-skating and snow tubing. And after I’m done with the day’s activities there is nothing better than relaxing at a beautiful snow covered resort in a warm outdoor hot tub or in front of a roaring fire.

Some may beg to differ, but winter is my favorite time of year. Whether it’s cruising down the slopes or curling up by the fire with a good book, it doesn’t get much better in my opinion. Check back to the RCI Blog for great stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who also share my love for this time of year!

 

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Family Holiday Fun in Mazatlan


What better way to connect with family than to spend a week together in Mazatlan, on Mexico's west coast, and with the Christmas holiday as an added attraction. With El Cid El Moro Beach Resort as our base, three generations enjoyed an all-inclusive vacation, which made sure our grandsons never went hungry! The beach itself provided sunny days of swimming, ping-pong, water sports, and parasailing for a perfect view of the city, the coast line and the nearby islands. Shops and restaurants, within easy walking distance, made life easy for the older generation. One day we all boarded a catamaran and sailed to Deer Island, passing sea lions that lazed on the rocks, oblivious to our squeals of delight. We swam, snorkeled, rode the giant banana, kayaked, and picnicked on the beach until the magnificent sunset told us it was time to return to reality.

Christmas Eve is one of the biggest celebrations of the year. We traveled by local bus to Juarez Street in the heart of the city. Over 100 stalls at the outdoor market provided souvenirs, tee shirts, leather goods, pottery, and every food imaginable from goat to chicken feet (not legs)! The Mexicans shop there every day, but for us it was an unusual treat. Nearby the cathedral shone with its majestic spirals and stained glass windows. Christmas carols pealed from outdoor speakers and decorated Christmas trees reminded us of the holiday. A cantina lodged in the park somehow seemed out of place until we remembered where we were!

We slept with our balcony door open to hear the breaking waves and see the gorgeous sunrises. We were up at dawn every day, as we did not want to miss a thing: kids, parents, and grandparents alike.

-Karen I. from Greenwood, SC

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Deep Sea Fishing in Puerto Vallarta


One of my favorite vacations through RCI was a deep sea fishing excursion in Puerto Vallarta. At 5:00 am we departed from the marina, started fishing around 6:30 am and by 9:30 am I had a good bite. I caught a 320-pound black marlin, which took me over an hour to land. When we got back to the dock, the fisherman cut off the main meat and rest was donated to the locals. We then took the marlin to the resort chefs where they prepared it for 40 people. The staff at Club Velas Vallarta was excellent. It is a vacation I will never forget.

-Allan D.

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Divine Girls Trip!


Upon opening the door to our room, my friends gasped at the sight of our accommodations! I had booked an Extra Vacations Getaway, requesting at least three bedrooms. The suite had this and so much more. Puerto Vallarta, our huge and beautiful suite, the balcony right over the beach, and the resort being an all-inclusive was an experience out of this world. I took five of my best friends and they were in total awe of the accommodations and location we were treated to through my RCI subscribing membership. It's still one of my favorite trips.

-Dixie R. from Dalzell, IL

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Terrific Time at Tamaracks


The Tamarack Resort was a beautiful resort community with lovely accommodations. The condos felt like luxury townhomes with bedrooms upstairs and the living quarters on the first level. My family had the best time using the on-site amenities like the fitness center, swimming pools, and racquetball courts. We barbequed right outside of our condo and enjoyed the spacious kitchen and living room. My husband and I had a great time, and our children were just in heaven because there were endless activities between the Dells' waterparks and the fun at the Tamaracks Resort. We are so thankful to RCI for providing these wonderful vacations for our family to enjoy.

-Carol W. from Chicago, IL

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Family Fun in the Dells


We took a vacation with my in-laws, my husband's brothers and sister, their children, my mom and step-dad, and our kids. Looking back, I have never been more pleased to have taken the trip. Eighteen of us went and had three units at Christmas Mountain Village. It was awesome for all of us to be able to be at the resort at the same time and have the option of eating there together instead of eating out everyday and trying to find room to fit all of us. Now my father-in-law has been diagnosed with COPD and has had a tough go of it and most recently is bed bound. My mother-in-law finds it difficult to get out the house now with her medical conditions. It was our only vacation we every took with all of my husband's siblings and his mom and dad. I am so happy that we have that memory because we could never do anything like that now. We were thrilled that RCI made it so easy to arrange to have so many people come down with us. Thank you RCI. To many members of our family it one of the best vacations they have ever had.

-Julie B. from Sterling Heights, MI

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81 million people in the US live within 600 miles of the Wisconsin Dells, "The Waterpark Capital of the World!®"


Beth SDid you know that more than ¼ of the total US population lives within a 600 mile radius of the Wisconsin Dells?  For many, this is less than an 8-hour drive to a destination that delivers endless hours of activities for people of all ages!

My family of five has been traveling to the Dells nearly every October for the past eight years, and we’re planning a return visit over Fall Break this year.  With three boys ages 3-14 years old, our interests change daily, and the Dells is one of the few drive-to destinations that the whole family looks forward to. Here is a list of what you can do during your trip to the Dells!

At the waterpark:

  • My 14-year old –LOVES the wave pools, surfing, water slides and sometimes a hot tub to (in his words) “chillax”J
  • My 6-year old – He’s crazy about playing basketball and getting his feet wet riding the big kid slides!  With zero-degree entry pools, water guns galore, and plenty of splashing water, there are endless kid-friendly areas to play.
  • My 3-year old – Last year he loved floating on the lazy river, chasing his brothers and gliding down the tot sized slides. 
  • Where can you find all of these amazing water park activities in the Dells?  Our personal favorites are the Wilderness Resort, Kalahari, and Mount Olympus
     

Away from the waterpark:

This week on the RCI Blog, we’ll be sharing stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who have also traveled to the Dells. Be sure to come back to take a look!

Have you vacationed in the Wisconsin Dells, what other recommendations do you have (for me and the other 81 million people living within 600 miles)?

Here’s a pic of my 2-oldest boys at the wave pool. 

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35th Anniversary


My husband and I wanted a vacation to celebrate our anniversary and we wanted something close to home. We chose Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells. We used our resort as a base and took several day trips over the course of our week. Wonderful vineyards that offered wine tasting just a couple of hours away. We visited House on the Rock in Spring Green and spent time at the resort. We had a fireplace in our cottage and made great use of it during the chilly October evenings! What could be better than a warm fire on a cold night with my husband of 35 years? What a relaxing and fantastic trip.

-Lynn C. from Oconomowoc, WI

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A Dream Trip to Hainan


Jenny U.As a child, I pictured Hainan as a mysterious and remote island waiting for courageous visitors to reveal its nature. It was not until many years later that my parents planned a spontaneous family trip which uncovered a fascinating and mind-soothing journey in my memory.

We took a ferry to Haikou, the northern point of Hainan. On arrival our family headed directly to a local seafood restaurant where I had steamed red crab meat, juicy shrimps and tender large yellow croaker. Never had I tasted seafood as sweet and luscious. It is said that the pristine south seawater has gifted Hainan with the most delicious seafood. The next morning, we drove alongside the East Coast national road to Sanya Bay. For miles along the road, there were people riding bicycles passing high-reaching coconut trees, cycad and palm trees swaying along the sea breeze.  Behind us, the clear blue sky stretched far to meet the edge of the dazzling seawater.

We arrived at one luxurious resort in Sanya Bay and spent half the day sitting among the sublime tropical plants and vibrant flowers. As far as I could see, I was able to spot two islands amongst thin mist and motorboats sailing around them. People can go angling, a type of fishing, on one island where the best angling club of Sanya rests.  In the afternoon, I took a walk along the bay and touched the warm sea water while fishermen were trawling (another type of fishing) and singing in the distance. People can join in and take trawling lessons, then take their self-caught fish home. Our short stay came to the end as the sun settled below the sea, leaving a golden lining in the sky.

This week on the RCI Blog we’ll be sharing a lot of great information about China. I hope this will help you plan your next vacation to China!

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Take a trip and never leave the farm!


Take a trip and never leave the farm!

Milking a cow while visiting Silver Dollar City near Branson, MO...just one of the many places to go when vacationing in the Ozarks and staying at Silverleaf's Ozark Mountain Resort.

-Kenneth R. from Hope, KS

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Friends/Laughter/Shows/Places


We had never heard of Branson, Missouri and little did we know what we were in for. When I did some research about how wonderful it would be, as well as how different it would be, people would ask me why I would want to go out there. However, after I booked it and read more about it, we decided to go with another couple. Not only did we stay at a fabulous resort that received a high rating, we had the best time ever. We booked show after show and I got to see Bobby Vinton's Blue Velvet show. It was the best. I even ran to him for a hug... Every night we went to a different show and the people there were so friendly and caring. Branson was so beautiful, surrounded by mountains, and the city was immaculate. In fact, it was was so wonderful there that we went back a second time with other friends. On top of all the fun, the shows were very affordable compared to New York. We saw a lot of famous people as well. There are some beautiful theaters in Branson. This was my best vacation ever. We have a lot of beautiful pictures and memories of Branson and will go back there again someday.

-Anna S. from Fairfield, NJ

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