Park City's Winter Wonderland


Utah

This old mining town has sure built itself up into an incredible getaway.

At first light you were schlepping a plastic bin through an airport security line. Now, the only line you’re worried about is which of the pitched white curves of Deer Valley’s Ontario Bowl to ski down—still untracked, it should be noted, at two in the afternoon. Visiting Park City is like slipping through a rabbit hole: It’s a quick, convenient and a true getaway. This historic mining town, just 40 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport, beguiles you with its downtown full of top-notch restaurants and galleries, and then tempts you with a trio of world-class ski resorts. Welcome to wonderland, Alice.

THE SERENDIPITY OF SILVER
While many ski towns try to manufacture charm, old Park City’s nearly abandoned boxy Wild West storefronts and frilly Victorians were waiting in mothballs, courtesy of the miners who chiseled more than $400 million worth of silver out of the surrounding Wasatch Mountains in the 1800s. Today, Park City’s fairy-tale Main Street twinkles with lights and brims with activity. Since the skiing here is considered less challenging than at neighboring resorts like Snowbird and Alta, the clientele tends to be of intermediate skill—couples and families looking for a well-rounded experience that includes shopping, dining and relaxing.

Pack snow-proof footwear, because this is a town for strolling. On foot, you’ll discover a warren of diversions tucked above, below and along Main Street and Park Avenue. Browse Bahnhof Sport for skiwear, Chloe Lane for designer jeans and Mary Jane’s for funky women’s clothing and accessories. A free trolley travels Main Street if you find yourself loaded down with packages.

Two dozen art galleries showcase everything from local watercolor landscapes to western bronze statues. Start with Phoenix Gallery, an airy, three-story space that provides a perfect backdrop for the contemporary mixed-media sculpture on display.

Shops and galleries seem to be outnumbered only by restaurants. It’s not easy to find a bargain, but the financial hit is worth it for some memorable meals. Rustic chophouses serve chile-rubbed prime cuts; trattorias could hold their own in Tuscany. The name on locals’ lips is Shabu, where you can cook your food in sizzling broth at the table. The atmosphere is fun and informal, and the “freestyle Asian cuisine” playfully pairs flavors, like sake-steamed sea bass with black bean and garlic paste.

Despite what you may have heard about Utah’s bewildering liquor laws, nightspots abound as well. Those wishing to close out a day on the slopes with a cocktail need only pay a nominal “membership fee” to get in to most clubs. Whether your tastes lean toward meeting for martinis and appetizers (Jean Louis) or drinking beer and dancing until dawn (Harry O’s), you can find it in spades in Park City. In Utah terms, Park City is “Sin City,” and the town takes pride in that nickname.

UP ON THE SLOPES
Above all, Park City is a ski town. Its fortunes were transformed from silver to snow in 1963, when a local mining company opened Treasure Mountain to skiing. Photos at the Park City Museum show zealous skiers traveling through old mine shafts and surfacing in soot-covered parkas on mid-mountain slopes.

Today Park City has 3 ski resorts, all regularly deluged with the dry-as-dust Utah snows that drift down the east side of the Great Salt Lake. Few ski hills are as centrally located as Park City Mountain Resort. To hit the slopes, all you need to do is hop on a chairlift downtown and soar over the city up the mountain. On the way down, skiers and snowboarders still schuss past the occasional mining relic. This 3,300-acre resort is especially well suited for families, thanks to its great location, abundance of ski-in/ski-out lodging, diversity of runs and teen-pleasing terrain parks (even lighted for night-riding) that routinely win kudos from snowboarding magazines. Near the base is the Alpine Coaster, a 2-person roller coaster that blazes downhill.

Four miles north, The Canyons has quietly become one of the largest ski areas in the country, with 3,700 acres of terrific bowls, gullies and ridiculously long, mellow cruisers. It's still expanding: 300 acres of aspen glades were added in 2008 around the new Dreamcatcher chairlift. And there's a growing village at the resort's base, though guests staying there might feel a bit isolated from Park City's other attractions.

The area's toniest accommodations can be found sidled up to Deer Valley Resort, a mile south of downtown Park City. This exclusive mountain prides itself on elite customer service and amenities. To prevent lift lines and give skiers plenty of elbow room, ticket sales are limited. Trail grooming approaches high art, and snowboarding is prohibited. Mid-mountain restaurants cater to the upscale clientele with dishes like grilled Atlantic salmon with orange hollandaise; the resort even markets its own line of signature foods (cilantro-lime glaze, anyone?). On sunny afternoons, after their 2-hour lunches, guests contentedly sip blueberry mojitos on The Beach, where Adirondack chairs are lined up in the snow.

The 1,825 acres of ski terrain at Deer Valley gets better every year. Guests tend to gravitate to those delightful corduroy groomers, leaving the wide-open steeps and glades for accomplished skiers off the Empire and new Lady Morgan chairlifts.

Not that you need more variety, but the scissor-sawed peaks ringing the horizon are home to more than a half-dozen additional ski resorts. These include Alta and Snowbird at the south end of Salt Lake City in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Robert Redford's Sundance near Provo, and the virtually undiscovered expanses of Snowbasin and Powder Mountain north near Ogden.

THE DETAILS

Bahnhof Sport: 693 Main St.; 435-645-9700

Chloe Lane: 556 Main St.; 435-645-9888

Mary Jane’s: 613 Main St.; 435-645-7463

Phoenix Gallery: 508 Main St.; 435-649-1006

Jean Louis: 136 Heber Ave.; 435-200-0260

Harry O’s: 427 Main St.; 435-655-7579

Park City Museum: 528 Main St; 435.649.7457; www.parkcityhistory.org

Park City Mountain Resort: 435-649-8111; parkcitymountain.com

The Canyons: 435-649-5400; thecanyons.com

Deer Valley Resort: 800-424-3337; deervalley.com

The Olympic Nordic Center at Soldier Hollow: soldierhollow.com

Utah Olympic Park: olyparks.com

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Atlantic City Revival


Nearly a century after its Prohibition-era heyday, the boardwalk is back.

There’s more to Atlantic City’s old nickname, “America’s Playground,” than raucous speakeasies and glittering nightclubs. This New Jersey beach retreat was also once known for a more wholesome brand of fun—namely, great food and spectacular shows. Now, after decades of decline followed by casino-focused development and a post-Hurricane Sandy revitalization, a new playground has emerged that mixes some of the old, Prohibition-era delights with more modern pleasures.

FRESH TRACKS
In his book Boardwalk Empire, on which the HBO series is based, historian Nelson Johnson writes that Atlantic City blossomed in the 1920s because of its accessibility. Ninety-nine trains, including 11 of the 16 fastest in the world, cruised in and out of A.C. each summer day. The city eventually evolved into a car-centric town, but rail travel returned in 2009 with the launch of the double-decker ACES train, which runs from New York City on weekends and is a far cry from the dreary casino buses (think leather seats and drink specials).

HISTORY SAMPLER
If you arrive in time for lunch, pop over to the White House Sub Shop, a favorite for its overstuffed sandwiches. The walls of this workingman’s deli, which opened in 1946, are plastered with photographs and memorabilia from A.C.’s past, including glossies signed by a zillion Miss Americas and a towel used by Frank Sinatra during his last show at the Sands. Dozens of friendly cooks whip up cheesesteaks and hoagies, using fresh bread supplied by the folks at Formica Bros. Bakery across the street.

When you’ve reached your caloric capacity, take a stroll down the boardwalk to Garden Pier, just north of the Trump Taj Mahal. Here the Atlantic City Museum awaits, with exhibits about the Steel Pier’s diving horses and the very first Ferris wheel. The boardwalk itself has few of the legendary hotels from Prohibition days, but near the Tropicana you can peek into the old Ritz-Carlton (now the Ritz Condominiums). It was from the Ritz’s ninth floor that crooked political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson ran the city in the 1920s. “Nucky had leased the entire floor from where he reigned as the ‘Czar,’” writes Nelson Johnson. With his silk robes and hedonistic lifestyle, Nucky turned the Ritz into a “lavish temple of pleasure.”

To get a real taste of old Atlantic City, leave the boardwalk and hit the traditional eateries. Several celebrity-chef restaurants have opened in town—including the Borgata’s Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck establishments—but locals will still point you to Dock’s Oyster House. Dock’s has been run by the same Dougherty family since it first opened in 1897, and they often greet you at the door. The dining room retains its old-world feel, with a pianist playing standards from behind the bar and a menu that still lists the same century-old hits: fried oysters and crab cakes.

Farther down Atlantic Avenue, you’ll find an even greater culinary landmark: The Knife & Fork, founded in 1912. It’s housed in an idiosyncratic, Flemish-style building that was first a private club and then a speakeasy until federal authorities raided it. In 2005 the Knife & Fork was purchased by the Dougherty family, of Dock’s fame, and given a makeover. It still serves traditional beef and reef fare, but the revamped menu also offers modern twists like Kobe sliders and Asian slaw.

MODERN THROWBACKS
Not all of the “vintage” establishments in the city are old. The Chelsea, a 1950s-style boutique hotel, opened in 2008 as the first non-gaming resort on the boardwalk in the casino area. Retro lamps and art deco mirrors accent the rooms; the two restaurants were developed in part by Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr. Teplitzky’s is a chic diner and bar straight out of The Jetsons, while Chelsea Prime resembles an old-school steak house with its leather booths and black-and-white photos of 1940s A.C. The tall windows with sweeping ocean views make a perfect backdrop for a succulent T-bone.

Old-school revelry is also making a comeback. Check out the free parade put on three times a day Wednesday through Sunday by the Showboat casino, with dancers, acrobats and singers wearing feather boas and colorful costumes. Showboat may not be the spiffiest casino on the boardwalk, but you won’t find a more entertaining tribute to the glory days of the Steel Pier.

NEW TOUCHES
Had enough history? Head to the Pier Shops at Caesars, where you can browse the latest fashions at high-end boutiques (Gucci, Ferragamo) and marvel at the Water Show, a dramatic display of fountains, lights and music. Take a break in the Adirondack chairs on the mall’s third floor (which has great sunset views, by the way), then wander over to the outlet stores on The Walk.

As with shopping, Atlantic City’s entertainment scene has also gotten a serious update. With new casinos popping up across the country, the gaming industry is growing more competitive, and Atlantic City is trying to keep up with the changes by improving its other attractions. So far, the work has paid off. The city has now drawn big-name performers like Bruce Springsteen, Shakira and Lady Gaga, with more consistently on the horizon.

If you don’t have tickets to a show, you’ll find plenty of action at one of the many nightclubs and lounges. Exhibit A: Harrah’s Pool. By day, it’s a huge, watery oasis of hot tubs and palm trees. Come evening, DJs are unleashed and it transforms into an aquatic dance club with mini-cabanas and an MTV Jersey Shore vibe. The nearby Borgata also has several popular clubs and lounges with nightly DJs and live bands.

And to help you recover from your big night out, Atlantic City has tons of spas. Opt for the seashell massage ($125) at Showboat’s Vive Day Spa, which is like a hot stone treatment, but with a shore twist. The South Jersey shore, that is.

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Coastal Cali Drive


Cruising down the California coast may well inspire a lifestyle change.

SanDiego

When people talk about Southern California, they’re usually referring to the idyllic, 130-mile strip of coast between Los Angeles and San Diego. The “California Riviera,” as it’s often called, is as much a lifestyle as a location. People here live outdoors—even, it seems, when they’re indoors. To see California beach culture at its best, start your drive 40 miles south of L.A., among the surfers and volleyball gods of Orange County’s Newport Beach. Then cruise down toward San Diego, about 90 miles farther.

NEWPORT BEACH
Stop in Newport Beach for a bike ride along the 3-mile-long Balboa Peninsula. The flat cycling path cuts between the sand and a row of whimsical beach houses—a simple sea cottage is next to a palazzo, which is next to a tiki hut. Rent beach cruisers for $10 an hour from Easy Ride Bicycle Rentals. The beach is improbably wide and full of dunes; at its south end is the Wedge, a scenic inlet where sailboats and Duffy electric touring boats glide by.

Move slightly inland to sample Newport’s upscale diversions. Key among them is the nearly 400-acre Pelican Hill Golf Club. The Tom Fazio-designed 36-hole course is open to the public. A longtime Newport Coast institution, the club is now surrounded by the palatial, Mediterranean-style Resort at Pelican Hill. Soak up the ambience over an early dinner at Andrea, one of Pelican Hill’s dining rooms. It’s easily one of the state’s finest Northern Italian restaurants.

Leaving Newport Beach, Highway 1 dips and winds along cliffs and past sandy coves. Rather than blasting by all this beauty, set aside an afternoon for Crystal Cove State Park, a protected 3-mile sandy strand backed by 2,400 acres of seaside cliffs and forests of eucalyptus, pine and Canary Island palms. Before you head out on the 17 miles of hiking trails, fuel up at the 3-year-old Beachcomber Café, reportedly the first restaurant in 40 years to open right on the SoCal sand.

Orange County

LAGUNA BEACH
The affluent and arty city of Laguna Beach is home to fewer than 25,000 people. With its curving bay and bungalow- and mansion-dotted hillside, it’s like an American version of Italy’s Positano—but with surfers. At Laguna’s center is Main Beach, with its tidal pools and boardwalk; across from the beach are the galleries of Forest Avenue—Laguna Beach has lured artists for more than a century. The town’s Heisler Park has walking paths that drop down to golden sands where you can swim, surf, dive or just explore the tide pools. It’s a great vantage point for views of the rugged coast, human-scaled town and palm-silhouetted sunsets.

Treasure Island Park also has Pacific views to spare. Here, locals work their way through morning yoga routines on the lawns while bunnies can be heard hopping about in the underbrush. After your visit, stop at the adjacent Montage, a Craftsman-style resort that has been wowing travelers and celeb weekenders from L.A. since it opened in 2003. If you book a treatment you can spend some time at the spa, with its open-air relaxation areas, pool deck and oceanfront gym. Or just relax over drinks by the fire in the plush lobby. Views of the Pacific included, naturally.

NORTH COUNTY, SAN DIEGO
The next stop is North San Diego County—known as North County. An easy coastal drive south on Interstate 5 leads to the pretty community of Del Mar, anchored by the Auberge Del Mar resort. The lobby lounge and the tiered decks that hold the Waterfall Terrace and Bleu Bar are social magnets, and the restaurant, Kitchen 1540, is well worth a visit.

End your SoCal road trip in La Jolla, a walkable, Mediterranean-style village with a strong sense of community. The town’s ocean swimmers like to drop their towels on the emerald green lawn above La Jolla Cove and swim out—beyond snorkelers ogling Garibaldi fish—to the half-mile buoy in the bay. Paddlers can rent kayaks and tour the coast’s seven sea caves, while the more daring might sign up at Torrey Pines Gliderport for a 20-minute tandem flight above the sands of Black’s Beach.

When you’re in La Jolla’s oceanfront park, wander south along the coastal path to a tiny cove populated by sea lions basking in the sun. Humans must stay behind the rope: There’s no touching allowed. But from here you can admire (and photograph) the sea lions enjoying their version of the SoCal lifestyle.

Southern California Coast

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The Great Outdoors in the San Bernardino Mountains


From waterskiing to snowboarding, the twin towns of Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead offer a wealth of high-altitude fun and some off-season entertainment to boot.

Pine-swathed peaks, glinting lakes, idyllic mountain villages—the sister alpine towns of Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead seem a world away from the glamorous beaches of Los Angeles, a drive of less than 2 hours west. Located in the San Bernardino National Forest off the Rim of the World Highway (Route 18), these small burgs offer a bounty of outdoor activities for every season, including some charming festivals.

OFF-SEASON FUN

Nature takes center stage here, but there are a few surprises, too. Big Bear Lake showcases indie flicks each September at its International Film Festival. The town embraces Oktoberfest with gusto, so bring your stein to the highest beer garden in the country (6,750 feet) and watch live Bavarian musical acts clad in lederhosen. Adrenaline seekers should check out the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain—the twisting quarter-mile bobsled course is open year-round. When the weather is warm, it’s all about trout fishing, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Not to be outdone, the storybook Lake Arrowhead Village puts on a worthy Oktoberfest as well, having the largest German-brew selection of any celebration south of Santa Barbara and a typical smorgasbord of bratwursts and supersized laugenbrezel (traditional pretzels). In June, the Annual Antique and Classic Wooden Boat Show pays homage to skiffs that date from the 1930s. If you’re clamoring to get out on the water, McKenzie Water Ski School has been the go-to stop for lessons since 1946. 

Big Bear LakeHIT THE SLOPES

Southern California doesn’t evoke images of powdery slopes, but Snow Valley, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain harbor an abundance of ski runs that span all skill levels. Snowboarders camp out at the latter, doing their best Shaun White imitations on the 580-foot superpipe, the only one of its kind in the area. Those who prefer to keep their tips on the ground head to Rim Nordic, which has 10 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

GOOD EATS

While every resort has its own culinary offerings, those preferring to eat in the villages should fuel up for a day on the mountain at Belgian Waffle Works, situated on the banks of Lake Arrowhead. Its doughy golden staple comes in 17 versions made with different ingredients, from sliced peaches to Oreo cookie crumbs, and the biscuits and gravy is genuine down-home comfort food. For an early dinner, Madlon’s, in Big Bear Lake, serves a sophisticated menu in a replica of a gingerbread house. Don’t miss the garlic escargot and dry-aged porterhouse steak.

 

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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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Dune & Bayside Bar


Bayside Bar
St. Lucia 
In 2012, the former Jalousie Plantation emerged from a multimillion-dollar facelift as the Viceroy chain’s swanky Sugar Beach. Much had changed, but the view of the Pitons from the resort’s Bayside Bar remained blissfully the same. Adirondack-style chairs occupy a deck shaded by almond trees on Anse des Pitons, the only white-sand beach on St. Lucia’s southwest side (full disclosure: the sand was imported to replace the black sand for aesthetics). Enjoy the view while you linger over the bar's Caribbean Sorrel cocktail (below) and make a toast to the good life, distilled.  
Val des Pitons, Soufrière; viceroyhotelsandresorts.com 

Dune
Paradise Island, Bahamas 
Ditch the crowds at the sprawling Atlantis resort for something classier. Dune, at the nearby One & Only Ocean Club, sits atop a dune beside Cabbage Beach, which is one of the nicest in Nassau. While the French-Asian menu is amazing (no surprise; the chef is Jean-Georges Vongerichten), you can feast almost as well on the view from your table on the deck. “The setting is so magnificent that everything else pales in comparison,” says Mark Jordan, a photographer from Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. Take it in while sipping a Dune Cocktail—a riff on Nassau’s famous Sky Juice, made with gin, Cointreau, curaçao and coconut milk. 
1 Casino Dr., Paradise Island, Nassau; oneandonlyresorts.com

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Wreck Bar & Grill and Iggies Beach Bar & Grill


Iggies Beach Bar & Grill
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Let the kids play beach volleyball or snorkel in the shallows while you kick back with cocktails at this classic spot at the Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, an all-inclusive near the capital, Charlotte Amalie. Cruise passengers often throng the place during the day, but don’t let that keep you away. There’s live music and a local vibe every night, plus hammocks on the beach and VooDoo Juice (a rum concoction) served in buckets. Go on a Wednesday for Carnival Night: steel drums, West Indian food at the buffet, and fire-walkers performing on a stage in the sand.
7150 Bolongo; iggiesbeachbar.com 

Wreck Bar & Grill
Grand Cayman 
The favorite road trip on Grand Cayman must be the drive to Rum Point, a remote spit of beach across the sound from George Town. The name probably came from the rum barrels that washed ashore here during buccaneer times. Today Wreck Bar is the heart of the action, and the thing to drink is the Mudslide—a frozen blend of vodka, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kahlúa. Sip one while you relax at a colorful picnic table on the sand, or get horizontal in a hammock slung under the casuarina trees. Sunday afternoons bring the biggest crowds, including a flotilla of party boats anchored offshore. 
Rum Point Dr.; rumpointclub.com

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Learning Your ABCs: Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao


These three islands may be culturally related, but in the Lesser Antilles they couldn’t be more different.

You may not have even noticed, but the Dutch islands group formerly known as the Netherland Antilles is no more. These once included Saba, St. Maarten and St. Eustatius in the Leeward Islands, as well as three outcroppings just off the coast of Venezuela—Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, known as the ABC islands. Aruba went first, declaring independence in 1986. And as recently as 2011, the remaining islands made their decisions: whether to stay in the Kingdom of the Netherlands or secede and be independent. Curaçao and St. Maarten went their own way, while Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire stayed tied to the motherland.

Any time is a good time to check out the Lesser Antilles. The weather stays in the upper 80s most of the year, with trade winds providing welcome breezes. And each island offers something different, whether you’re in search of beaches, diving and snorkeling, or a little culture in a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A IS FOR AMAZING BEACHES

Aruba is known the world over for its sugary sand, and rightly so. The island is ringed with it. The resort area on the northwest shore has beautiful strands, but they’re often crowded. Just to the south lies Eagle Beach, a pristine stretch with far fewer people. For dinner, try Marina Pirata, a seafood restaurant near the south end, with tables out over the water. Beneath your feet, hundreds of fish swirl in the lights of the dock.

B IS FOR BEST DIVING

Aruba’s little sister, Bonaire, is just a puddle-jumper flight away, but you’ll feel as if you’ve entered another world—a much quieter one, with far fewer crowds. You might notice that the rental cars available at the airport are mostly small pickups, perfect for lugging scuba gear. Divers come from all over the world to explore the protected waters off Bonaire. An ideal spot is 1,000 Steps, a sliver of a beach just yards from amazing coral reefs that teem with fish. Afterwards, watch the sun set at Karel’s Beach Bar, a sweet little spot where Dutch expats and locals gather, on the main drag in the tiny capital, Kralendijk.

C IS FOR CULTURE

The cosmopolitan city of Willemstad, in Curaçao, is yet another world away. Here you can explore 17th-century cobblestone streets that wind up from the harbor in the Otrobanda neighborhood. The classic view of Willemstad is from Queen Emma, a pedestrian bridge that connects Otrobanda with Punda, across the harbor. Right by the water in Punda is the famous Handelskade, a waterfront row of shops that looks straight out of Holland, except for the cheery pastel hues. Speaking of cheery hues, Curaçao is famous for its blue (and green and orange) liqueur of the same name. Take a free tour of the factory where the spirits are crafted at Chobolobo Mansion. You’ll be surprised to find that the main ingredient is an unappetizing-looking brown-skinned citrus fruit. A bottle of Curaçao makes a great souvenir—a little bit of island color you can enjoy back home.

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Undiscovered Aruba


In a single day, you can sail a tall ship, pet a donkey and sip an eight-ingredient cocktail on this Caribbean island

Some of the most majestic islands in the Caribbean were summarily dismissed by European colonizers. Consider the Dutch trio of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. The 16th-century Spanish conquistadors dubbed them Islas Inútiles, or “Useless Islands,” because they lacked gold or silver. But these days, Aruba happens to be an affordable gem for travelers.

A mere 15 miles off the coast of tropical Venezuela, Aruba isn’t your typical Caribbean island. It’s outside the hurricane belt, which means there’s a lower risk of storms. And while this arid island may not have lush vegetation, it makes up for that with soft sand beaches, cheap flights and all-inclusive discount deals.

BEACH GUIDE

The best beaches lie on the south and west coasts, where the water is great for swimming and snorkeling. Instead of touristy Palm Beach, head for tranquil, low-key Arashi Beach (to the north) or Eagle Beach (to the south). The water off the south end of the island at Baby Beach is shallow enough for wade-right-in snorkeling. And locals dig Rodger’s Beach in nearby San Nicolas—its reef-protected waters are relatively unknown to tourists. On the east coast is Dos Playas, where experienced surfers go to find the island’s “juiciest” waves. (In late afternoon, the winds are calmer and the swells rise 4 feet high.) For a taste of Aruba’s famous shipwreck diving, take a 5-hour trip aboard the 80-foot wooden sailboat Mi Dushi. You’ll cruise the coastline and stop to snorkel over shallow reefs and through the wreck of the MS Antilla, a German ship that sank off Arashi Reef during World War II.

GET OUT THERE

Aruba’s capital, Oranjestad, is a busy cruise port with glitzy casinos, colossal hotels and upscale malls. (The island is excellent for shoppers: Price tags can run 30% lower than in the United States and the sales tax is a mere 1.5%.) But you don’t want to be stuck indoors the whole time, buying slightly more affordable Louis Vuitton and Gucci. The island’s petite size—just 20 miles long and 6 miles wide—makes it perfect for day trips. Pay a visit to the Donkey Sanctuary Aruba, 5 miles east of Oranjestad, to feed and play with rescued donkeys; not native to Aruba, donkeys were originally brought here as part of the island’s 500-year-old transportation system. Or stop by the Aloe Museum & Factory for some after-burn care and education. If you drive up north, you’ll see rugged rock formations and graceful, windswept divi-divi trees. And in the center of the island, you can climb 541-foot Mt. Hooiberg and see Venezuela on a clear day. Aruba even holds an international film festival every June, with events scheduled all around the island.

EAT LIKE A LOCAL

For an authentic taste of the island, leave the resort area and head south to San Nicolas and Charlie’s Bar, one of Aruba’s oldest institutions. The walls are hung with random posters, license plates and fishing gear; the signature drink is the Aruba Ariba cocktail, a delicious mix of vodka, rum, Grand Marnier, crème de banana and coecoei (a local agave liqueur), plus pineapple, cranberry and orange juice. If you’re staying for dinner, order mahi mahi, shrimp scampi or steak. Or head to nearby Savaneta, where you can sit with your feet in the sand at Old Man and the Sea. There’s more beachfront dining at Flying Fishbone. Feast on skewered shrimp or grilled Caribbean lobster tail while you watch the sun set over the water.

 

 

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Fun in Fort Lauderdale


This seaside Florida town has moved far beyond its former spring-break-hotspot heyday.

When in Fort Lauderdale, it never takes long before you hear a reference to the city’s once apt (and recently reinterpreted) motto: “Where the Boys Are.” That 1960 movie about a gaggle of Midwestern college girls who came to Florida’s Gold Coast for unfettered fun inspired countless spring break pilgrimages to Fort Lauderdale.

 

Winter months see fewer visitors, even though temperatures hover around 75 degrees. A recent spate of luxury hotel openings has transformed a once-uninspired beach town into one of South Florida’s most sophisticated destinations.

 

These days, a more fitting mantra for Fort Lauderdale’s sun-spackled stretch of endless waterways (more than 300 navigable miles in total) would be “Where the Boats Are.” With 100 marinas and boatyards and more than 40,000 resident yachts, it makes sense that the city has also been dubbed the Venice of America. Wherever you find a perch along the waterfront, a wake will surely roll your way.

 

WATERY WAYS

The best way to get your feet wet is to hop on the Water Taxi, which plies the Intracoastal Waterway and New River, making 13 stops from the Galleria Mall and Las Olas Boulevard to the Convention Center. The most impressive stretch of the Intracoastal is known as Millionaire’s Row, showcasing manicured properties with lavish mansions and yachts moored out front.

 

Ride the Water Taxi to the end of the line and get off at Riverwalk, which hosts the Urban Market every Saturday, selling everything from handmade soaps to Peruvian street food. The waterfront esplanade runs alongside several downtown highlights, including the Museum of Discovery & Science, home to an IMAX theater and the largest living Atlantic coral reef in a museum, and the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, displaying works by American Impressionists and visiting Latin American artists.

 

The Jungle Queen offers several fun family outings to explore the area’s waterways, with the requisite touch of kitsch that makes it a local institution. Every evening, the two-story riverboat leaves the Bahia Mar Beach Resort on a tour of the river and canals, ending at a private riverside location where a buffet and alligator show are on the menu. It’s a sit-back-and-soak-it-all-in kind of affair, with the captain providing commentary along the way.

 

PEDALING AND DOG-PADDLING

For something less sedentary, rent a beach cruiser bike from Fun Rentals for a few hours to explore the 2 miles of promenade along the ocean. The showers every few blocks make a cool-off swim in the ocean all the more appealing.

 

Another prime place to take a dip is the W Fort Lauderdale hotel, where Sunday pool parties, open to the public, draw hipsters to what’s arguably Florida’s sexiest pool (in the hotel’s lobby, you can peer through portholes cut into the ceiling above for views into the pool).

 

Pedaling back south, turn west at the Las Olas Bridge to access the Finger Islands—narrow residential streets with names like Isle of Venice and Fiesta Way. Here, canals that were dredged in the 1920s are lined with a patchwork of old Florida bungalows (disappearing fast) alongside enormous Spanish Mediterranean mansions.

 

Take a break at Colee Hammock Park, just off Las Olas Boulevard, where kids kick soccer balls and families picnic and strum guitars under banyan trees and rustling palms.

 

SHOPPING THE BOULEVARD

The city’s most sociable street, Las Olas Boulevard, is lined with establishments that range from diners and trendy restaurants to needlepoint shops and European couture. Seek out shops like Blue, the outpost of Key West jewelry designer David Symons. His organic pieces are displayed alongside eclectic beach finery such as colorful sarongs from Kenya. During the 1970s, the owner of Moda Mario dressed the stars of Miami Vice. Nowadays, the real-life yacht set stop by for prêt-à-porter European clothing and hard-to-find brands for men and women. Celebrity of Las Olas is a sure bet for swimwear, with an ever-present sale rack of good buys. And follow the scent of molten chocolate to Kilwin’s, an ice cream and candy shop whose peanut-brittle waffle cones take the cake.

 

If you’re visiting on a Sunday, be sure to hit the Gourmet Farmers Market. Residents catch up on neighborhood news while browsing the handful of tented stalls. Though the range of products is small, the quality is high: The guacamole guy pounds his dips to order, with a mortar and pestle used by the indigenous people of Colombia. From Argentinean empanadas filled with ham and cheese to ceramics from Provence, the items for sale here are as diverse as Fort Lauderdale’s residents.

 

Tony Kantorski pulls his red pickup truck alongside the market every week. In the back are coolers holding grouper filets, Key West pink shrimp and a Florida favorite: stone crab claws that he’ll crack open for you with the back of his ice scoop and serve with a spot of lemony mustard sauce. You’ll get about 6 big claws for $10, a bargain compared to restaurant prices. It’s a high-life indulgence served in laid-back Florida fashion—much like Fort Lauderdale itself these days.

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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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Something for Everyone in Mazatlan


Chad K

Mazatlan’s economy is based on two primary industries: tourism and fishing. Visitors flock to the city to enjoy its beach front resorts and hotels, which have most of their rooms featuring westward views, showcasing sights of the beaches, the ocean, and stunning sunsets. Fishing in the area is primarily for shrimp and tuna, meaning that local restaurants have the freshest ingredients for entrees with those favorites.

Beyond the beaches, tourists often are drawn to Mazatlan for two main features: the famous Malecon and Old Town.

Mazatlan’s Malecon is a promenade that hugs the coastline for many miles. Guests can traverse the Malecon in open air taxis that usually feature friendly and informative drivers who will point out the sights that you won’t want to miss. These include gazebos, photo locations, bars amd clubs, shops, monuments, and street vendors.  There is a fun and safe buzz about the Malecon in the evenings, and these open air taxis are a great way to fully enjoy the action.

Old Town Mazatlan is a major draw for tourists, featuring the famous Cathedral and the Plaza Machado. The Plaza was built in 1837 and features strong French and Spanish influences. Guests that enjoy outdoor dining at Pedro y Lola often comment that the architecture above and around them reminds them of places such as New Orleans or Paris. Street vendors and artists showcase their wares on the plaza, usually at very cheap prices. The Mazatlan Cathedral faces the Plaza Principal in Old Town. Built in 1875, it features high, twin towers, a dramatic interior, and beautiful statues.

Add in world class golf, beautiful weather, sunset cruises, various children’s activities and you’ll see there is something for everyone in Mazatlan.

For the next two weeks we will be sharing stories and photos from RCI subscribing members that have also visited Mazatlan. Be sure to check back soon!

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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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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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Most Beautiful Sunset


Most Beautiful Sunset

This photo was taken on the resort's beach and was one of the most beautiful and romantic sunsets we have ever seen.

-Paul W. from Arena, WI

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Puerto Vallarta – The Convergence of Contrast


Jozef WPuerto Vallarta, a city rich in culture and excitement, is a wonderful location to relax while still offering the opportunity to experience adventure. What strikes me each time I visit Puerto Vallarta is the meeting of opposites.

It has always fascinated me that a location so well known for Mexican culture can also feel so American. Puerto Vallarta is one of the top spots abroad, where some Americans choose to settle down after retirement. This speaks to the fact that many of the people in Puerto Vallarta speak English, as well as, Spanish. There are also many American-style stores and restaurants to enjoy.

However, if you are looking to experience traditional Mexico, head into town. There you will find Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, which was constructed in the 19th century. Near this church you will find an open air market to shop for local crafts. Don’t forget to head a bit southwest of the church to find the newly remodeled Malecon, a boardwalk in Puerto Vallarta. The Malecon is teeming with life, from shops to live statues to impromptu fire shows… the Malecon offers it all!

Puerto Vallarta is located on Banderas Bay, the third largest bay in Mexico. You can swim in the warm ocean water, as most of the resorts are located on or near the beach. You will also see cruise ships docking into the ports, which can make for a nice evening activity, watching as the sun sets on the horizon.

Another benefit of Puerto Vallarta is the easy access to the ocean while still maintaining the enjoyment of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The Sierra Madre Mountains are within easy access if you’d like to add some adventure to your trip. There are opportunities to partake in adventurous activities such as ATV riding and hiking. Spend the day in the lush mountain jungles as you explore the rivers and trails that Puerto Vallarta has to offer.

Want to hear more? Come back to the RCI Blog this week, where we will be sharing stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who have visited Puerto Vallarta as well.

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Once In A Lifetime


My boyfriend of three years and I decided to take a spontaneous vacation in July. We were in our early 20's and living together for a little less than a year. We found a fantastic deal and booked a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Our excitement was palpable.

As a young couple in love, off we went to Cancun International Airport on our first trip to Mexico, to an all-inclusive resort and to a beach not on the US eastern coast. We were thrilled to just be away together in such a lovely place.

After settling into a room, squeezing in a little pool time, and enjoying a delicious dinner at the buffet, we decided to take a walk on the beach. Hand-in-hand we went as we took a seat on two loungers under a tiki hut. The stars twinkled above us on this dark night, the ocean lapped the sand, and we enjoyed the silence that surrounded us in this peaceful moment.

I said to my boyfriend, "What a perfect place, what a perfect dinner, what a perfect night." At that moment he replied "It's the perfect time for me to ask you to marry me." I stared in awe as he got down on one knee and opened up a box showing my sparkling engagement ring. I smiled and cried tears of joy as I replied "Yes!” We shared an emotional and happy moment under the romantic sky.

As it turns out, he had done an impressive job asking my parents for their permission, receiving the delivery of the ring, and getting through the airports' security and customs departments. I was excited, beaming, and still in shock when we went to the lobby. We celebrated with champagne as we watched the live Mexican band play along with couples and children dancing about...

We immediately got moved to an oceanfront room and spent the rest of our vacation in bliss as we relaxed, got massaged, sunbathed, dined, drank, danced, and laughed together. During our remaining days, we frequently visited Jack and José who shared in our happiness as a newly engaged couple and new timeshare owners. This was a very special vacation for us and I will never forget the once in a lifetime memories that were created at Ocean Maya Royale.

-Erin D. from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

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Playa del Carmen is like Paradise


SoniaThe first time I ever visited Playa del Carmen, I immediately fell in love with this magical little town by the beach.

As you walk down the streets in beautiful Playa del Carmen, you will see “locals” from all around the world that decided to stay here for good after vacationing in paradise themselves.

There is nothing like spending the day at the beautiful and famous Mamita’s Beach. It is one of the best beaches in the world. There is plenty of fun to be had for everyone visiting.

Staying in downtown Playa del Carmen is your best bet to experience everything the town has to offer. You will find everything you can think of from local restaurants that serve the best Mexican food throughout the region to upscale gourmet restaurants, led by internationally recognized chefs. There are also small hotels and luxury resorts, as well as cozy little bars and huge night clubs, such as the famous Cocobongo. Everything is right here!

Make sure to stop at Quinta Avenida, located on Fifth Avenue. There are people walking down the street all day long shopping, sipping coffee, eating ice cream, enjoying a cold drink, sitting at the bar or restaurant and going to church.

If you enjoy sports, there are plenty of activities to try during your visit: fishing, snorkeling, and a lot of other water sports are very popular.

There is also a ferry for those that would like to visit La Isla de las Golondrinas (Island of Seagulls) located on Cozumel Island just 25 minutes away. Here you can explore some of the biggest coral reefs in the world.

Whether it’s day or night, there is always something going on in Playa del Carmen. And if you visit, you will have the time of your life right here, and who knows … maybe you will end up becoming a local too! Come back to the RCI Blog this week to read stories and see photos from RCI Subscribing members who vacationed in Playa del Carmen.

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