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SPIDER-MAN: Turn Off the Dark is Spectacle to See on Broadway

by Eric Leiberman

Spider-Man makes his New York debut. © Jacob Cohl

The reason that Broadway theater has such appeal is that it is live, immediate, and anything can happen. In contrast, movies are all illusion.

SPIDER-MAN Turn Off the Dark which opened June 14 at the Foxwoods Theater (finally and for real after months of previews and a “re-imagining”) brings the best of both experiences together: it is like sitting inside a 3-D movie – and with all the thrill and excitement of the immediacy of a live performance. The fact of the matter is that this show is not traditional Broadway. It feels more like Cirque du Soleil.

Beyond theater, it is spectacle such as Broadway has never seen before, and probably never will again for its complexity and cost, which at something like $65 million is twice the previously most expensive musical to produce (“Shrek-The Musical”), and more on par with a blockbuster movie than a musical that has to be seen live, 8 times a week, to recoup its investment and $1 million/week operating cost. It is, in fact, a new category of “mega-musical.”

The uniqueness in the annals of Broadway musicals is significant enough to bring people to see it, but what people are really coming for is the risk: the risk as a Broadway business venture in this economy, and also because of the daring stunts on stage.

Because of accidents that took place in the first incarnation of SPIDER-MAN (prompting jokes that people were coming to the musical like watching a car wreck to happen), the stunts have been curtailed, but we still found this aspect of the show absolutely thrilling.

Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in a scene from "SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark" © Jacob Cohl.

The flying sequences are what make SPIDER-MAN so original (and expensive). Men in bright-colored costumes fly what feels like a mere five-feet above my head. My girlfriend tossed and turned in her seat, throwing her hands over her head because she was actually afraid that one of these guys could fall on her. Sweat from the villain of the story drips down on the audience as he swings overhead chasing SPIDER-MAN. This is exciting because it is real. It doesn’t matter that you see the wires. It doesn’t at all take away from the amazement of it all. And the props and sets are an obvious mesh of reality and comic book.

SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark finds a fresh way to tell a story inspired by over 40 years of Marvel comic books. The musical follows the story of teenager Peter Parker, whose unremarkable life is turned upside-down, literally, when he’s bitten by a genetically altered spider and wakes up the next morning clinging to his bedroom ceiling. This bullied science-geek suddenly endowed with astonishing powers soon learns, however, that with great power comes great responsibility as villains test not only his physical strength but also his strength of character. That’s the story, but the challenge is bringing this to the Broadway stage.

SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark hurtles the audience through a thrilling experience in ways never-before-dreamed-possible in live theater.

A scene from "SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark" © Jacob Cohl

But after a record-breaking 180 preview performances, when reviewers derided the show, SPIDER-MAN was reimagined by a new team, Philip William McKinley – a director whose credits include several versions of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth” as well as The Boy From Oz and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a writer of both plays and comic books (Fantastic Four and Spider-Man comics, “Big Love”).

Besides the daring-do of the aerial spectacles, and sets that seem to have popped out of a comic book, SPIDER-MAN is also notable for featuring music and lyrics by 22-time Grammy Award-winners Bono and The Edge of U-2, who had never written for musical theater before, and that in itself adds to the intrigue of seeing the show. Much of the music sounds like some of the classic rifts and Bono voice that made U2 an international sensation. In fact, in a lot of the songs, you can almost hear Bono singing and not Reeve Carney. I don’t think that Bono and the Edge were meant to write Broadway music. But some of the tunes are catchy and some of the duets are very beautiful. And the messages of the music and show are accessible and even valuable for younger viewers.

The original direction was by Tony® Award-winner Julie Taymor, who was Broadway’s darling in the way she brought “The Lion King” to life (as well as Across The Universe, Frida). She also co-wrote the book with Glen Berger.

But the real stars of SPIDER-MAN are the creative team who manage to bring a two-dimensional cartoon to life: Daniel Ezralow (Choreography and Aerial Choreography), Chase Brock (Additional Choreography), George Tsypin (Scenic Design), Academy Award®-winner Eiko Ishioka (Costume Design), Tony® Award-winner Donald Holder (Lighting Design), Jonathan Deans (Sound Design), Kyle Cooper (Projection Design), Julie Taymor (Mask Design), Campbell Young Associates/Luc Verschueren (Hair Design), Judy Chin (Makeup Design), Scott Rogers (Aerial Design), Jaque Paquin (Aerial Rigging Design), Howard Werner (Media Design), Louie Zakarian (Prosthetics Design), David Campbell (Arrangements and Orchestrations), Teese Gohl (Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements), Paul Bogaev (Music Producer), and Kimberly Grigsby (Music Direction and Vocal Arrangements.

Patrick Page steals the show as the villain, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in "SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark" © Jacob Cohl

The complete cast includes Reeve Carney asPeter Parker/Spider-Man, Tony® Award nominee Jennifer Damiano as Mary Jane Watson T.V. Carpio as Arachne, Patrick Page as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, Michael Mulheren, Ken Marks, Isabel Keating, Jeb Brown, Matthew James Thomas, Laura Beth Wells, Matt Caplan, Dwayne Clark, Luther Creek, Kevin Aubin, Gerald Avery, Collin Baja, Marcus Bellamy, Emmanuel Brown, Jessica Leigh Brown, Daniel Curry, Erin Elliott, Craig Henningsen, Dana Marie Ingraham, Ayo Jackson, Joshua Kobak, Megan Lewis, Ari Loeb, Natalie Lomonte, Kevin Loomis, Kristin Martin, Jodi McFadden, Bethany Moore, Kristen Faith Oei, Jennifer Christine Perry, Kyle Post, Brandon Rubendall, Sean Samuels, Dollar Tan, Joey Taranto, and Christopher W. Tierney.

SPIDER-MAN will appeal to the most avid theater-goers who will appreciate it for its historic nature, but especially the not-your-average theatergoer. And I can guarantee that kids everywhere will be begging their parents to take them. The show is surely a bit gimmicky. But there are flashes of emotion in the powerful performances of the leads (particularly Jennifer Damiano, who was nominated for a Tony for her performance as Mary-Jane and Patrick Page as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin .

The show will likely neither make or break your heart, but it may be the most fun you’ll have on Broadway this year.

Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in a scene from "SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark" © Jacob Cohl

Music from SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark has just been released by Interscope Records. With 14 original songs co-written by Bono and The Edge for the Broadway production, SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark, the album is produced by Steve Lillywhite. Songs are performed by members of the cast including Reeve Carney, Jennifer Damiano, T.V. Carpio and Patrick Page, with contributions from Bono and The Edge and music performed by the production’s orchestra. The lead single, “Rise Above 1″ performed by Reeve Carney featuring Bono and The Edge, and produced by Alex Da Kid, is available for purchase now on iTunes and Amazon.

SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark is playing at the Foxwoods Theatre (213 West 42nd Street), Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Tickets are now on sale through October 2, 2011, with group tickets on sale through January 8, 2012. Tickets are priced from $67.50 – $135 for weekday performances and $67.50 – $140 for weekend performances and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com or by calling (877) 250-2929. Tickets are also available at the Foxwoods Theatre box office, which is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Sunday, noon – 6 p.m. See the website, spidermanonbroadway.marvel.com.

Wednesday, 6 July, 2011

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© 2011 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visitwww.examiner.com(In National)www.examiner.com(Long Island). Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com

MOHEGAN SUN: LUXURY HOTEL ADDS NEW DIMENSION TO PREMIER ENTERTAINMENT DESTINATION

By Karen Rubin

The kids are away. Work is at a summer pace. Have I got a great getaway place for you: Mohegan Sun, the stunning and stirring gaming destination in Connecticut that features a fabulous luxury hotel and spa and an incredible atmosphere. And if you want to bring the kids along, that is fine, too, since there are wonderful diversions including arcade, supervised care for infants as young as six weeks and supervised activity program for children up to 12 years old, incredible shops, indoor pool, and the superb attractions of Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium about 20 minutes away.

Mohegan Sun is the very opposite of Las Vegas glitz and Atlantic City schmaltz. This is a gaming resort with soul and spirit. The resort is owned by the Mohegan Tribe and operated by Sun International (which also owns and operates the Atlantis on Paradise Island, Bahamas). It is set on 240 acres on the Mohegan Indian reservation in Uncasville, along the banks of Thames River, surrounded by forest.

You will be awed by the architecture and design elements: these are actually faithful and respectful of native traditions. Everywhere you look, there are fascinating features that seem to tell ancient stories.

Those who have visited Mohegan Sun’s first casino, the Casino of the Earth, which opened in 1996, will be amazed at its evolution into a major entertainment, meeting, shopping, gaming and resort destination with the completion of a $1.1 billion expansion (the largest private development project on the East Coast these past two years). It now offers a 1,200-room luxury hotel, a 20,000-square foot world-class spa by Elemis, a shopping area with 40 distinctive shops and restaurants, a 10,000-square foot indoor pool, three entertainment venues including a 10,000-seat arena, 300-seat Cabaret and a 350-seat Wolf Den (where there is free nightly entertainment, right in the middle of the Casino of the Earth).

Mohegan Sun has already been discovered by meeting planners who take advantage of more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting and function space, including the largest ballroom (40,000 sq. ft.) in the Northeast and two professionally managed business centers (there is even golf nearby).

Gaming Par Excellence

 

I have to say that I am not a huge fan of casinos but I adore the ambiance of Mohegan Sun and didn’t mind dropping a few bucks worth of quarters in the slots (who knew there were so many different varieties?). I am intrigued to watch others and there were so many different styles of gaming: pai gow poker (a Chinese form of poker with tiles instead of cards), with $100 minimum and $3,000 maximum stakes. Casino of the Earth has 180,000 sq. ft. of gaming space featuring 3,600 slot machines, 192 gaming tables (blackjack, with some tables at a $5 minimum), craps, roulette, poker, Caribbean stud poker, Keno and baccarat. There is a non-smoking area, Hall of the Lost Tribes, with about 600 slot machines. Casino of the Sky offers 115,000 square feet more of gaming space.

Indeed, Mohegan Sun is now the second largest casino in the world-but you would not even realize it, because instead of being football-field sized casinos, the two casinos are separated by a stunning interior mall of intriguing shops and restaurants, and the casinos themselves are broken up with gorgeous architectural and design features.

 

One of the drop-dead gorgeous features is the centerpiece of the Casino of the Sky, Wombi Rock. This is a three-story high crystal “mountain” crafted of alabaster and more than 12,000 individual plates of hand-selected of onyx from quarries in Iran, Pakistan and Mexico, which were transported to Carrera, Italy and fused into glass. The “mountain” peaks appear to glow from within, and reach to the “sky” created by the world’s largest, fully functional planetarium dome, providing ever-changing cosmic displays.

When I ascended to the top (where there is a stunning martini bar and separate private seating areas with just a couple of plush high-backed red velvet chairs, looking down on the sea of slot machines and gaming tables), you feel this rush as if you actually have climbed a mountain, look into the stars, and feel what seems to be cool mountain breezes. The lighting (which everywhere in Mohegan Sun is dramatic), here is like moonlight. The planetarium dome incorporates cutting-edge fiber optic technology to project displays of constellations, sun cycles and stirring clouds as they would appear on a late summer night.

The design elements are chosen specifically to honor the Mohegan heritage. For example, in Mohegan tradition, rocks are not merely inanimate objects, but have the life force of beings. Tribal lore, the cosmos and nature’s elements-earth, wind, fire and rain-are transformed into awe-inspiring designs and environments throughout the complex. Even the passage, the Trail of Life, that connects the two casinos is designed as a Tree of Life, with roots symbolizing tribal elders, branches that reach to the sky and support exquisite, back-lit canopies of hand-strung beads. The Trail of Life incorporates suntrails, or curved life paths walked in traditional Mohegan life. In the center isTaughannick Falls, a 55-foot high indoor waterfall flowing down to Chahnameed’s Island (named for a historic Mohegan figure); the falls represent a treacherous crossing point during the tribe’s migration.

 

Just across from the falls, there is River Blue, a towering, 10,000-pound glass sculpture by world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly. The 2,500 richly colored glass components were hand-blown by a team of artisans in Seattle, then assembled onsite to create a stunning masterpiece, soaring 25 feet high.

You will no doubt notice the gray wolf (animated) atop a rock at the entrance of the Casino of the Earth. In the Mohegan language, Mohegan means “wolf people” and sun means “rock.”

Mohegan Sun Hotel

The opening of the Mohegan Sun Hotel, only this past spring, gives the gaming center a whole new dimension. You enter the 35-story three-winged tower, one of the tallest buildings in Connecticut to a dramatic lobby in a simulated cedar forest, with water gurgling in reflecting pools, light dancing through canopies of beaded crystalline leaves on trees that reach toward luminous sky lights. The ceiling is ringed by birch bark, evoking the feeling of a longhouse.

Designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates, the 1,200 spacious guest rooms (including 180 suites) are a minimum of 450 sq. ft. and provide luxurious bathrooms, deluxe bedding and linens, three two-line telephones with dataports, a full-size working desk area with ergonomic chair, and Playstation. The level of guest services (and security) is exceptional (including the free valet parking).

The hotel offers a full-service Elemis Spa, with 15 private spa-therapy rooms, a relaxation area, hair and beauty salon. There is also a fitness center ($15 a day for guests). There is also a 10,000 square foot indoor swimming pool and juice bar (music is piped in adding to the pleasant atmosphere).

There is every kind of dining, from casual to gourmet, from sports bar to romantic. Indeed, Mohegan Sun does an exceptional job of appealing to just about every age and cultural taste as well as palate. Gourmet dining is available in Bamboo Forest, a sophisticated Asian restaurant; the Longhouse, a fine-dining steak house; Pompeii and Caesar, a gourmet Italian restaurant; The Cove, a full-service restaurant where you can select from menus of the three restaurants; Rain, a 100-seat fine-dining restaurant featuring live piano music; Michael Jordan’s Steak House; and Todd English’s Tuscany, serving old-world Italian cuisine.

Casual dining selections include Big Bubba’s BBQ; Jasper White’s Summer Shack featuring New England-style seafood; Michael Jordan’s 23 Sportcafe (hugely fun and the hangout for the 20-somethings); Mohegan Territory, open 24 hours and Fidelia’s, also open 24 hours and providing room service (with a huge selection at moderate prices).

Specialty dining is available form Ben & Jerry’s; Brew Pub; Chief’s Deli, a fabulous New York-style deli (best corned beef sandwich I’ve ever had), Poker Bar and Bow & Arrow Sports Bar.

In addition, there are two buffets (Seasons and Sunburst), two food courts and four coffee places including Starbucks.

Shopping

 

Shopping here is actually an event. This is not your typical stuff but retail shops that are as entertaining.

We found the first Farmer’s Almanac Store, loaded with country-style stuff collected from a variety of vendors; the Nostalgia Store, which sells collectibles such as autographed photo montages (Marilyn Monroe, Errol Flynn, Lucille Ball, Three Stooges, the Beatles); Discovery Channel Store; OdySea (the entrance is a massive aquarium); Jaboola, featuring handcrafted furniture and accessories from Israel; Jewelry Nirvana, offering one-of-a-kind jewelry and accessories from the Orient; and Trading Cove, a Native American shop, among others.

Entertainment

Mohegan Sun offers a variety of entertainment venues. The 300-seat Cabaret showcases cabaret and comedy performances in an intimate atmosphere, and has hosted Tony Bennett, Nell Carter, Hal Linden and Mary Wilsen.

The 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena has hosted Gloria Estefan, Janet Jackson, Aerosmith, Julio Iglesias and features sports events, as well.

Wombi Rock has a lounge and dance floor on three levels.

The 350-seat Wolf Den offers free nightly entertainment for guests 21 and over. There have been entertainers from almost every musical genre including pop, country, rock, alternative, big band, jazz, R&B and folk, all at no cover charge and no minimum (and if you can’t get a seat, you can stand at the outside and see and hear just as well). It has hosted such acts as Blondie, the Go-Gos, Jon Secada, Glen Campbell and Joan Jett.

Kid’s Quest

Kids enter a tunnel of neon lights to Kid’s Quest, a family entertainment complex just steps from the retail promenade. It is staffed by licensed professionals who are trained in first aid and CPR. There is a separate area for babies as young as six weeks old (Lil’ Dippers), and supervised activity area where we were able to see youngsters up to 12 years old actively engaged and many counselors participating.

There is an indoor playground with slides, ladders and tunnels, a gym with basketball, volleyball, hula-hoops, parachute play, jump rope.

There is also a video arcade with nonviolent games (children who are not part of the supervised activity program can use these, but those in the program can play for free).

The area also includes a high-tech café, Karaoke star stage, Kids Quest recording studio, Barbieland (a master planned community of Barbie and her friends), and Construction Quarry with Legos.

Each child is checked in by an associate with pertinent information entered into a computer. A photo ID must be presented upon pick-up in order for the child to be released.

Kids Quest is open from Sunday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, Staurday and holidays from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. (reservations strongly recommended, 888-226-7711, or 860-862-8150). The cost is $7 per hour for children over three years old; $7.50 per hour for children six weeks to three years.

Area Attractions

Mohegan Sun is superbly situated in the heart of some of Connecticut’s most compelling tourist attractions.

Mystic Seaport, displaying America’s maritime history, and Mystic Aquarium, combined, would take a full day to visit.

There is also the Carousel Museum of New England in Mystic (displaying 70 antique carousel horses);Children’s Museum (Niantic); Old Lighthouse Museum (Stonington, where you can climb to the tower of the 1823 lighthouse for a panoramic view of Long Island Sound; Historic Ship Nautilus & Submarine Force Museum, the first nuclear-powered submarine can be visited at Groton; Tantasquidgeon Indian Museum, Rte 32 in Uncasville, has a collection of artifacts of the Mohegan Indians.

Also, Gillette Castle State Park (East Haddam); Monte Cristo Cottage, the boyhood home of playwright Eugene O’Neill (New London); Nathan Lester House, an 18th century farmhouse and museum on 100-acre site crossed with hiking trails; Thomas Lee House & Little Boston School (Old Lyme); Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center (Mystic), offers seven miles of hiking trails in a 125-acre sanctuary; Millstone Nature Trail at Millstone Nuclear Power Station (Waterford).

There is also the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Ride, a 2 1/2-hour trip on a 100-year old steam train and riverboat (Essex); Capt. Bob II cruise boat, out of Groton, and Capt. John Nature Cruises out of Waterford.

Golf is available at the Pequot Golf Club, Stonington; Shennecosset Golf Course, Groton; Cedar Ridge Golf Course, East Lime; Chanticlair Golf Course, Colchester; Elmridge Golf Course, Pawcatuck; River Ridge Golf Course, Griswold, and Norwich Municipal Golf Course.

For further information about attractions, contact Connecticut Tourism at http://www.ctbound.org/.

Getaway Packages

There are various packages available that feature deluxe guestroom upgrade, special welcome gift, discounts on meals, entertainment and attractions.

Legendary Escape package includes a $15 coupon per person for food and beverage plus $10 gaming coupon; rates start at $154.38 per night, double occupancy.

Couples Spa Package is $306.80/couple, includes a well-being massage in the spa, and full access to spa activities and fitness center (a single’s package is $231.80).

Getaway Package includes $70 per person in food and beverage credits plus $15 in gaming credits per person, starts at $272.40 ($362 in summer).

Romance package includes $100 in food and beverage credits, $20 per person in gaming credits and a bottle of champagne and keepsake candy basket, starts at $372.40 (as high as $542.65 in summer).

Mystic Places Package includes two tickets admission to Mystic Aquarium or Mystic Seaport, and $10 per person in food and beverage credit, priced at $208.80 per couple, year-round.

The Mohegan Sun is less than a 2-� hour drive (take I-95 north to Exit 76/I-395 North to exit 79A, Route 2A East).

For further information, contact Mohegan Sun, 1 Mohegan Sun Boulevard, Uncasville, CT 06382, 888-226-7711, www.mohegansun.com.

Pix1 The casino floor at Mohegan Sun, a major gambling resort destination in Connecticut (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

Pix2 World-renowned artist Dale Chihuly’s “River Blue,” a towering, 10,000-pound glass sculpture is one of the gorgeous design features in the Mohegan Sun mall (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

Pix3 Wombi Rock, a glowing, three-story high crystal “mountain” crafted of alabaster and onyx, provides unique lounge spaces (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

Pix4 Trail of Life: Mohegan Sun incorporates stunning art and design features which pay tribute to Mohegan Indian traditions, even in the walkway that serves as a shopping and dining mall (© 2005 Karen Rubin).
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© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

TASTE OF SEBASCO: CLASSIC RESORT IS TOAST OF MID-COAST MAINE

Ideal for Families, Weddings, Reunions, Corporate Groups

By Karen Rubin with
David Leiberman & Eric Leiberman

Can’t get enough. Must come back for more.

Like the most addictive treat, you simply can’t get enough of Sebasco Harbor Resort, classic in its tradition, making it novel today.

Sebasco Harbor Resort, on the craggy shore of mid-coast Maine, has that rarest of qualities: the ability to appeal to anyone, from the poshest sophisticate to the purist nature-lover, from the youngest to the oldest, from those seeking nothing more than a tranquil place to read beside the water, to those can’t sit still.

I am thinking this as we set out in kayaks on a velvety surface, the last rays of sun fading into orange and purple, and the moon just beginning to rise.

Setting out for the moonlight kayak expedition (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

I am thinking that no billionaire could have a better moment than this.

Our moonlight paddle was the perfect cap to a perfect day of golfing, massage, sailing, and a dinner to delight an epicurean.

I was hooked, as so many families before us have been, who have come year after year, generation after generation since Nate Cushman first opened the Sebasco Lodge in 1930. One family has held its annual family reunion here for 50 years, taking over the 10-room Early Bird cottage.

It was after midnight when we arrived at Sebasco Harbor Resort the night before – disappointed we had missed the Friday night lobsterbake. But minutes after registering and arriving at our room in the Lighthouse, a boxed dinner of delicious wraps arrived at our room.

And what a room! The Lighthouse was built in the 1940s to serve the Midcoast harbor, and now it beckons vacationers with comfortable accommodations in a spectacular setting. It is reportedly the only Lighthouse in America that offers hotel-style accommodations and resort amenities. Our room has a picture window and sitting area facing the marina. Though it was late and we had been traveling for hours, we couldn’t resist going down to the dock.

It takes about two minutes – the smokey smell from a fireplace mixing with the salty smell of the water, seeing the bright light of the moon reflected on the water, the quiet, rhythmic lapping of the water against the rocks, seeming to sparkle in the light, the silhouette of pine trees, the boats bobbing, the creaking sound of the dock, stars so bright you feel you can pluck them from the sky, the cool, fresh air – to know the feeling of perfect peace and feel all the hassle of everyday simply melt away.

We were back on the dock at daybreak – the pure light bringing out colors as it intensifies – with the boats in the harbor, fishing villages up and down the shore, islands, and you soon appreciated what has brought artists like Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer to these shores.

In the daylight, I could see what has been bringing back generations of families – 575 acres tucked at the western side of a peninsula facing Casco Bay (making for incredible sunsets), an enclave of cottages and lodges that make for an unusual variety of accommodations, set in a kind of campus compound, magnificently landscaped with gardens.

There is room to roam around – the self-contained compound is ideal for kids – and plenty of places to be together – in lovely lounges in the main (historic) 1929 hotel, a gazebo (equipped with Wi-Fi) on the croquet lawn, by the Olympic-sized saltwater pool (biggest in the state of Maine), a conference center, and in the Observatory of the Lighthouse – like a secret place with lounge chairs and window seats and 360-degree views.

There were three weddings and a family reunion going on the weekend we were there – the place was packed – and yet it did not feel crowded at all.

In the fall and spring, the focus turns to corporate groups – retreats, incentives, meetings. The resort is ideal – because of the activities (golf, a new full-service spa, sailboat, and excursion boat, even an indoor bowling alley), meeting venues, and abundant opportunities for themed events as well as team-building activities, geared to groups of 10 to 250 people. Imagine playing “costume golf” or night golf (the balls and tees are lighted).

And then we discovered the activities: a wonderful (and challenging) nine-hole golf course suitable for tournament play ($27/round); a three-hole lake golf course perfect for families ($10 for unlimited play), tennis courts, canoes on a lake; a fitness center; mountain bikes available for rent, and kayaking center. There are also hiking trails on Mt. Merritt and around the property. (Sebasco is within the town of Phippsburg that has some of the finest walking trails in Midcoast Maine.)

From the marina, there are delightful two-hour sailing excursions on the Magic, a magnificent Tartan 41 Sloop, and trips on the Ruth, a 38-foot vessel that was launched for Sebasco in 1935, making it one of the oldest continuously operating passenger vessels on the coast of Maine.

The Ruth offers nature cruises, a Maine lobstering experience (you follow a lobsterman along his trap hauling route and get to handle lobsters), and a pirate adventure (offered at least twice weekly, involving a hunt for lost treasure, and pirate Kevin and his parrot. The 24-passenger vessel is also available for private charters, for family trips, wedding parties and corporate groups.

Paddling in the moonlight (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

And then I discovered the Quarterdeck. Step across the portal and you feel you have stepped back to the 1940s. The piece de resistance is the vintage candlepin bowling a game that is distinctive to Maine – with four lanes (75 cents a string to play). There is also plus ping-pong tables, billiards, table shuffleboard, video games and (what could be better?) a juke box. The Quarterdeck is generally opened in the evening, 7:30 to 10 p.m. (or when it rains).

Similarly, The Clipper House – an old fashioned, woodsy looking theater with stage, which was famous for its theater productions, is used for staff shows and special functions (for much of this summer, there is an Elvis Impersonator – and not just any Elvis Impersonator, but a Mainer who was the 2002 “Best Elvis Impersonator in the World”. After that, there is a stand-up comic.

While parents are at the show, kids get to enjoy “Rock n’ Bowl” in the Quarterdeck.

New Fairwinds Spa

This summer, the resort “is harnessing the power of the sea and surf” to reinvigorate guests with an all new waterfront luxury spa.

The Fairwinds Spa offers traditional and leading edge spa services in a spectacular waterfront setting that enhance personal treatments with sea views, fresh salt air breezes and the relaxing rhythms of tide, plus a meditation deck and a Jacuzzi deck that overlook the harbor.

The Fairwinds Spa offers treatment rooms for massage, aromatic hydrotherapy, wraps, salon services, and personal training in Yoga, Pilates, lifestyle education. There is a luxurious Sea Breeze spa suite, for couples and private spa suite with a fireplace, large enough for an entire bridal party or gals getaway.

The spa consulting firm, WTS International, developed treatments in keeping with the resort’s natural setting, such as seastone massage, and Wild Beach Rose Hydrating Cocoon that takes advantage of the locally abundant Rugosa Roses, and a seasonal body buff that changes with the seasons.

In addition to the Spa, there are five all-season luxury suites in the Fairwinds “Cottage” created especially for guests who are seeking a spa-focused vacation experience, including complimentary upgrades to in-suite spa treatments.

“From brides and bridesmaids to wind-weary sailors, the Fairwinds Spa will be a haven of comfort and rejuvenation,” Smith says. “Today’s vacationer expects to have the opportunity to experience top quality spa services, and we will now offer the only full-service waterfront resort spa in Midcoast Maine.”

Kayaking in the Moonlight

Oh, to be at Sebasco Harbor when the moon is full.

We had been initially enticed to the resort by the idea of kayaking, and there are several excursions available each day including a sunset paddle, but we were fortunate enough to be at Sebasco Harbor for this very special moonlight kayaking trip.

We had gathered at 8 p.m. – I was pleased with the safety precautions and the preparations that Scott, who runs Seaspray Kayaking, provides. There are wetsuits available (it can get chilly on the water). We are each given an orange glow stick to attach to the port side of our paddles, and he has us counting off numbers and instructs us on what we should do in the unlikely event that somebody falls out of the kayak.

It is about 9 p.m. – the sun just about down, when we set out together, the darkness descending as the moon was rising. Our excitement builds as we make our way through the moored boats and into the open water, and then through a channel between two islands.

We come to a secluded island where Scott and his guides help us out of the water (we don’t even get feet wet). Within minutes, he has a bonfire going, and we settle around, sitting on lobster traps and rocks, cooking s’mores and telling stories. And I am thinking about all the people for whom this scene, with Scott, sitting around the campfire and paddling in the moonlight, becomes one of their favorite stories.

Seaspray Kayaking, which operates from the resort, offers numerous kayaking expeditions during the day – including new kayak fly-fishing (that trip departed at 4 a.m.). There is also a kayak school, including lessons in the saltwater pool, a smooth freshwater pond for practice and a protected harbor with access to Casco Bay (888-349-SPRAY, 207-443-3646, www.seaspraykayaking.cominfo@seaspraykayaking.com).

Golfing at Sebasco

David takes a shot on Sebasco Harbor Resort's signature #2 hole (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

The Sebasco nine-hole golf course is a delight with substantial challenge. The signature #2 hole uses the sheer beauty of the scene – looking out to the bay – to compensate for the extreme frustration. Not just short (only 145 yards from the black tee), narrow, not just hitting over water and calculating for wind, but the green is on a tiered elevation (more like a miniature golf hole), backed by woods.

The #3 hole, a par 5, 471 yards from the black tee, is a dogleg left but first you have to make it over the wetlands; then you have to aim your second shot toward the right of the fairway because everything slopes left towards the tree line. The par-4 #7 hole, 400 yards, also requires accuracy rather than power. You can certainly enjoy this course over and over ($27/nine holes, $10/cart but most people seem to use a hand cart; a Golf Plan allows for unlimited play, and includes breakfast and dinner, at $78 per person, per day).

The resort also has a beautiful three-hole Lake Course that is ideal for families. These holes are wide and therefore relatively forgiving (if you account for the fact you are playing around the water hazard). Unlimited play for $10/day.

The resort also makes available canoes on its lovely Wah-tah Lake.

In the afternoon, we embarked on a two-hour sailing excursion on “The Magic,” captained by Phil, who practically grew up on the dock because his father had worked at Sebasco, as well. This sleek ocean racer has been in the Bermuda race at least twice. Phil picks up on our questions to tell pleasant anecdotes and give interesting information.

Our two-hour sail takes us in and around the small islands, and into the nearby fishing village, where we spot a Bald Eagle in a tree and a seal. Neil takes the helm for a time and Phil helpfully gives him tips on sailing.

Phil isn’t the only one who has this passionate connection to Sebasco. Owen and John Totman, have been working at the resort for 49 & 50 years, and run the Repairatorium – the resort’s maintenance hub. When Smith wanted to replace The Clipper with The Pilot House on the waterfront and was faced with having to knock the vintage wooden building down, they said, “The Totman Brothers can move anything.”

They acquired Air Force surplus hydraulic lifters used to lift the Saturn Rocket, for two cents on the dollar, and them mounted on trailer rigs, and sure enough, moved the entire building to the center of the village, where today it provides this wonderfully atmospheric venue for stage productions and events (square dancing would be perfect).

Revered Tradition

Campfire on a deserted island, in the moonlight (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

Sebasco Harbor Resort has been welcoming the public since Nathan Cushman purchased the property from Freeman and Jenny Merritt who owned the Rock Gardens Inn (actually still functioning) in 1928. When he opened the resort in 1930, Cushman’s vision was to create a “village style resort” that encouraged recreation as opposed to the more sedentary resorts that were typical of that era. His model also included both modern and rustic accommodations; and it is a tribute to his vision that the resort continues to thrive as a recreation centered vacation destination with a diversity of architecture in a harbor village setting.

Two generations of Cushman ownership were followed by two generations of ownership by the Dana family; and in 1997 the resort was purchased by Bob Smith.

Smith, who began his career in hospitality in 1974 working as a porter for the Holiday Inn in Portland, clearly has a keen appreciation for Sebasco’s tradition. In the years since, he has spent $12 million in modernizing, upgrading, updating amenities, adding programming and extending the season of the resort into the spring and fall, but he has preserved the essence. He laughs that he would get flack from some of the regulars just for replacing a “ratty” couch, because it was part of what was familiar. But you can still find the grandfather clock in the Great Room of the Main Lodge, which dates from the 1930s.

And heaven forbid he end the Monday Night Bingo in the Clipper House or the Sunday afternoon cocktail reception or Wednesday tea.

The connection to history adds to the atmosphere – there is a wall of all the brochures that Sebasco has used over all these years, a veritable timeline of tourism promotion; the pro shop at the golf course has old photos and a plaque listing all those who have hit a hole in one, and there is a wonderful photo in the original hotel, from when people would harvest ice from Cornelius Pond (now called Wah-Tah Lake).

In 2006 the new Harbor Village Suites added 18 luxury units in the heart of the village, they blend in perfectly with the cottages and lodges, and are winterized. In all, about 33 units are now geared to year-round use. Smith notes that being 12 miles out to sea, Sebasco is cooler in summer and milder in winter than even Bath or Portland.

 

Activity Program

What makes Sebasco so special, though, are the program of activities that are reminiscent of the days when people would come to such resorts for the entire season.

Families are invited to join other families in “camp-style” activities such as nature programs, pirate cruises and crafts, evening campfire; there are also kids-only activities that allow parents to get in a round of golf or a spa treatment.

During July and August, Camp Merritt offers full-day programs for children ($4/child, and each day offers different activities that families can enjoy together, or separately.

Friday’s schedule starts with morning stretch and fitness, a kayak excursion, a round-robin tennis tournament, a “Birds of Prey – New England’s Majestic Raptors” program, presented by the Chewonki Foundation; a croquet clinic; a scenic van tour of Phippsburg; a scenic lunch cruise on the Ruth; a kayak excursion; ice cream making; an “exploring sealife” program with naturalist Ronnie Kamphausen; a lobsterbake and contra dancing.

Saturday’s activities include morning stretch and fitness, guided beach kayak excursion, make your own tie-dye t-shirt, cruising on the Ruth, sunset kayaking excursion, family campfire and sing along.

Sunday begins with morning stretch and fitness, a traditional Blueberry pancake breakfast on the pool lawn, a kayak rolling class in the pool, a scenic harbor and nature cruise on The Ruth, horseshoes, a golf clinic, a kayak excursion, a croquet clinic, a welcome reception (complimentary hors d’oeuves and cocktails); a grand buffet in the Cornelius Room. In the evening, the Quarterdeck recreation center is open from 7:30 to 10 p.m.

There is so much going on, in fact, that families find it hard to leave the property. A family we met from New York, for example, said they had spent 10 days here last year, and came back for seven more this year. “Did you get to the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland?” I ask, thinking this is a great excursion, about 1 1/2 hour away. No. “Did you visit Boothbay, such a charming village?” No. It turns out they never left the property last year – there was so much to do, but this year, they were resolved to go into Bath. And it is true, there is easily enough to keep you occupied.

Early morning light: Sebasco Harbor Resort's new waterfront spa in the trees (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

The best excursion is only a few miles from the resort, to Popham Beach State Park -a sprawling, scenic, three-mile long expansive sandy beach at the mouth of the Kennebec River, from which you can see small islands (two lighthouses), just off shore (when the tide is out, you can walk across to the island); seals gather here.

You can walk for miles, taking a turn and walking along the beach to the Civil War era Fort Popham (or, as we did, park at the fort, and walk up the beach, past the old Coast Guard station and around to the state beach because the parking lot did not open until 9 a.m.). The Fort was built to protect the shipbuilding industry upriver in Bath, and the state capital at Augusta. The fort, which gets about 100,000 visitors a year, is presently closed for renovation.

Indeed, there is rich history here: the Popham Colony was founded in 1607, 13 years before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. They built the 30-ton Virginia as the continent’s first ocean going ship, launching Maine’s shipbuilding tradition. However, the colony did not survive. Artifacts from archeological digs being conducted by Jeffrey Brain of the Essex Peabody Museum in Salem, sponsored by the Maine State Museum, are on display through October at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, where they are reconstructing the Virginia in public view (www.popham400.org).

There is a lot to do – with Rockland, picturesque Boothbay, and Bath so accessible from the resort. In Rockland, a must-see is the Farnsworth Museum, famous for its collection of Wyeth family artists, and the Maine Lighthouse Museum, and is a port for many of the historic Maine Windjammers (making Sebasco Harbor a great combination vacation with the three or six-day cruises, 800-807-WIND, www.sailmainecoast.com).

In Bath, just 20 minutes away, there is the Maine Maritime Museum (which is displaying an exhibition of artifacts from archeological digs at Popham Colony), and a historic district with captains’ homes. Wiscasset, named the “Prettiest Village in Maine,” and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The resort is only 35 minutes from Freeport, a shopping mecca with L.L. Bean (open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year) and numerous outlets. Sebasco Harbor Resort is one hour from Portland, with the Portland Museum of Art and the Portland Observatory.

There is also a Coastal Maine scenic train ride, traveling between Bath & Wiscasset to Brunswick & Rockland, with a luxury dining car (also available for private charters). Sebasco has created a package, “Maine Coast Rail & Art Excursion” that combines the rail trip and four-hour visit to Rockland, with a two-night stay at the resort, breakfast, train fare, transportation to/from the Bath Depot and admission to the Farnsworth Art Museum (from $215).

The resort is also a superb combination with Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, about 2 1/2 hours away.

Eleanor Roosevelt, in fact, would stay over at Sebasco Harbor Resort with her mother-in-law, en route to Campobello.

A Taste of Sebasco

Dining at Sebasco is designed with the multi-day vacationer in mind, and there is a surprising variety of dining venues and even themed dining events.

The Pilot House offers waterfront bistro dining with a “resort casual” atmosphere that belies the high level of service and the excellence of the menu. At night, the sunset views as you dine are unbelievable.

The Lighthouse (right), the Pilot House (left) and The Ruth, as seen from the deck of the Magic (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

The dining experience takes you completely by surprise – it is New England fare reinterpreted with more worldly and eclectic seasonings that only enhances the freshness of the seafood, meat, fruits and vegetables. Steamed mussel appetizer (an enormous portion), were succulent, served delectably simmered in white wine with onions and black pepper; the Pilot House Roasted Corn and Lobster Chowder and the Organic Carrot and Ginger Soup were pure perfection. Fire Roasted Sirloin Steak was served with a salsa of thyme-pimento-chutney. Lobster America’s Cup is an open shell lobster simmered with leeks, tomatoes and fresh tarragon. The Penobscot Bay Seafood Potpourri consists of shrimp, haddock and sea scallops, seasoned with tarragon, mushrooms, lobster cream sauce with dry sherry. There is also an extensive wine list

The Ledges, next door, offers seaside pub fare indoors or on the harborside patio, and is open until the wee hours.

The Pool Lawn is where there are the weekly lobsterbakes and traditional Blueberry Pancake Breakfasts; it also provides a lovely harborview setting for weddings and special functions.

The Cornelius Room is a grand dining room from the golden resort era that works well for weddings and special events.

The Clipper affords rustic charm for casual special events or themed parties (1940s, square dancing).

There is also a small Patio Caf for ice cream and snacks, right on the Village Green.

Sebasco Harbor Resort offers an MAP option, an inclusive breakfast and dinner program, at $48 per person, per day (no charge for children under 10 ordering from the children’s menu). This makes a lot of sense, since the resort is fairly isolated, and the food is absolutely superb (you can also pay as you go at the restaurants).

Moonlight, Magic & Romance

It is easy to see why Sebasco Harbor is so popular with weddings – it is absolutely idyllic, with endless possibilities for gatherings – from a lobsterbake rehearsal dinner, cocktail party, white linen formal dinner for up to 240 guests in the Cornelius room, a cruise on the Ruth, a round of golf, or a bridal party spa get-together. A wedding planner is available to assist in organizing the event, at no extra charge. (The pricing for a destination wedding is advantageous as well – the formal dinner might be $100 per person, compared to $250 to $300 in New York.)

A “Lighthouse Romance Package” brings together the elements of a romantic getaway starting with fresh flowers and a welcome gift, overnight accommodations in the Lighthouse, dinner for two at the Pilot House, and breakfast for two the following morning. Guests are encouraged to arrive early and make the most of the resort’s extensive grounds and amenities including the all-new Fairwinds Spa. The Lighthouse Romance Package starts at $275 per couple per day.

The Lighthouse offers 10 rooms. In addition, there are 23 cottages with one to 10 bedrooms (the largest cottage, Early Bird, is like a railroad car with 10 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms and a great room, which is ideal for family reunions); a traditional main lodge with 37 rooms; and 18 luxury suites in two Harborview View lodges, and five luxury waterfront suites in the Fairwind Spa.

Early morning light from Sebasco Harbor Resort's dock (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

Nightly summertime rates for accommodations range from $209 per guest room in the Main Lodge to $2,090 for the 10-bedroom room Early Bird cottage that sleeps 20.

A senior rate is available (age 60 and above) at 10% off the room portion for Main Lodge accommodations; there is also a 10 percent discount on lodging for stays of seven days or longer.

Sebasco Harbor Resort, in Sebasco Harbor Estates, is three hours by car from Boston (about 7 hours from New York’s metro), and less than an hour’s drive from Portland’s International Jetport which is served by major airlines including Jet Blue (the hotel provides shuttle transportation). For reservations or information, call 800-225-3819 or visitwww.sebasco.com.

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© 2007 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com

FINDING LOVE IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES

Use the World Wide Web to Gift-Wrap a Romantic Rendezvous, for a Valentine that Lasts Forever

By Karen Rubin

Romance is in the air… and on the web. You may not be able to fulfill a wish to lasso the moon, but you can lay the world at your love’s feet. And while flowers die, chocolates get consumed, the memories that come from sharing some enchanting experience together, are treasured for a lifetime.

Of course, romance-like beauty-is in the eye of the beholder. An eight-foot high champagne glass whirlpool bath might be romantic to some, a cozy mountaintop inn might be romantic to others, while still others might swoon at the life-altering adventure of a safari or the indulgence of an extravagant spa where you can enjoy a couples massage.

Whether you are planning a spur-of-the-moment romantic getaway–perhaps to some perfect place to pop the question (10 percent of all proposals take place on Valentine’s Day)–or giving the gift of a future rendezvous, here are some suggestions for fulfilling that Valentine’s Day wish:

Lovetripper.com

Arguably the world’s foremost experts on romantic travel are Paris Permenter and John Bigley, a husband-wife team of travel writers who travel the globe in search of the world’s most romantic places (we actually traveled with them on the Acadian Railway, a North American attempt at an Orient-Express-style luxury train). Since 2000, the couple has produced Lovetripper.com, a website which offers over 5,000 online pages covering romantic getaways around the world, updated daily, on all types and styles of travel. Recently, we asked them what they see as trends in “romantic travel”.

Paris: “More couples are realizing the need for romantic travel as part of their everyday life, not just for a special occasion such as a honeymoon or a major anniversary. One-night getaways and weekend trips are a growing trend as couples take a break from the stress of their lives with a trip that’s easy both on the time and the financial budgets.”

John: “Couples are also realizing that they can combine a romantic getaway with a family trip. The growing number of family-friendly resorts allows couples to share a vacation with their children but, thanks to supervised children’s programs, also have private time to reconnect in a romantic setting.

For the penultimate in romance: a sea cruise where you can dance, enjoy spa treatments, fine dining, interesting sightseeing. Here, dancers swirl to a Latin band in the Boleros nightclub on RCL's Enchantment of the Seas (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

“There’s also a growing trend for a romantic getaway to be whatever it is the couple wants, whether that’s a traditional sun and sand vacation or something else. Couples are seeking more remote destinations for adventure travel as well as sightseeing and spa vacations. It’s all about doing what makes the two of you happy, whether that means lying on the beach, learning a new sport together, or taking a cultural excursion.”

Paris: Vow renewals on vacation are becoming increasingly popular with the continuing interest in reconnecting. Couples can make the vow renewals as elaborate or as simple as they choose. Some invite family and turn the event into a destination wedding; others opt for a very simple beach ceremony. Since you’re free of the legalities that are involved with a wedding, the planning is very simple and the event can often be a spur-of-the-moment decision. We just returned from Couples Ocho Rios in Jamaica and had a vow renewal on the beach. It was simple and very special.”

Their site is probably the best single source for getaways of special interest to lovers in search of a honeymoon, a destination wedding, or a weekend away any place in the world. This site also features travel news of special interest to romantic travelers. You’ll find information on new resorts, renovations, and special packages. One channel of Lovetripper features the Romantic Travel Directory, a fully-searchable, custom-programmed directory. Listings include romantic accommodations, destination wedding planners, wedding professionals, travel agents specializing in romantic travel, cruises, and more. Visit www.lovetripper.com.

Here are some other ideas and sources-a virtual “Yellow Pages” for romantic travel, if you will:

Historic Hotels Set the Mood

I am an absolute sucker for elegance and charm, heritage and architecture, gentility and grace as manifested by the members of Historic Hotels of America, a collection of 210 distinctive properties (many known by the moniker “The”). And these days, they often come with spas, fine dining, and all the accoutrements of luxurious pampering. Here is just a taste of the winter packages offered by Historic Hotels that will definitely set the mood:

What could be more perfect on the holiday that is synonymous with the aphrodisiac properties of chocolate than staying in the historic hotel that is synonymous with chocolate: The Hotel Hershey, Hershey, PA is offering “Heavenly Hershey” that stresses the de-stressers of its world-class spa. This delicious experience includes deluxe accommodations, a Spa Rain Shower, 20-minute traditional massage and $225 credit per person to be used toward other spa services or products. (Through Apr. 13; $418 per night double occupancy; three night minimum, 800-HERSHEY, www.hersheypa.com. ).

A charming hotel any time of the year, those for whom food is the way to the heartstrings, can take advantage of Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston’s special “Celebrity Chefs” program and learn the fundamentals of cooking from some of America’s greatest chefs. Each two-hour class features specialty preparation, wine tasting and discussion. Package includes overnight accommodations and two tickets to the Celebrity Chefs culinary program. (through Feb. 25, $259 per couple, per night, 617-267-5300).

For many, you only have to utter “Cape Cod” to be transported to a state of ecstasy. The glorious Chatham Bars Inn lets you escape to the beauty of Cape Cod, without the crowds and tourists. Stroll the windswept beaches, relax in front of a roaring fire, enjoy a majestic sunset and breakfast for two in the ocean view dining room. Winter Escape for Two is offered through Mar. 31, from $230 – $580 per night, double occupancy (800-678-8946).

Cranwell Resort Spa & Golf Club, Lenox, Mass., offers a majestic setting on a former estate with a view of the Berkshires, a phenomenal spa, cross-country skiing (the only place that actually makes snow, and just a short drive to Jiminy Peak downhill ski area). The Romance Package, available through Apr. 30, includes overnight lodging, candlelight dinner, champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries, full country breakfast and use of the spa.(from $329 per couple midweek. $369 per couple weekends (800-678-8946).

Escape with your sweetheart with this special two-night package at a grand, Gilded Age resort hotel on a private island on Lake George in upstate New York. The Sagamore, at Bolton Landing, lets you stay in the historic hotel or the Lodges, enjoy a three-course dinner, chocolate amenity upon arrival and welcome wine reception for the Sweetheart Getaway (available Feb. 10-12, $202 per person, double occupancy but a romantic getaway any time, 800-678-8946).

Enjoy a comfortable stay at a classic New England inn, located just a stone’s throw from Newport’s “First Beach.” The Inn at Newport Beach’s Newport Getaway, available Feb. 15-April 1, includes overnight lodging, continental breakfast, two tickets to your choice of a scenic tour of Newport or the famous mansions tour. $85 pp/dbl for one night and $130 for two night stay Sun. – Thurs., $99 for one night and $158 for two night stay Fri. and Sat. (401-846-0310).

Relax in a warm and cozy room at the Providence Biltmore after a fun-filled day of ice skating at the Bank of America’s outdoor skating rink. Stay warm with a complimentary coffee at the hotel’s own Starbuck’s coffee house. The “Skate & Stay” Package, available through Mar. 31, includes accommodations, ice skating admission, skate rental and Starbucks coupon. Deluxe accommodations are $179 per package, $199 for a junior suite and $219 for a premium suite (maximum four persons, 800-678-8946).

Realize a skier’s dream come true – crowd free slopes, a hearty meal in cozy surroundings, a relaxing soak in a Jacuzzi and a peaceful slumber. You’ll find all that and more at the Equinox Resort & Spa, Manchester Village, Vt., this winter. The Stratton Ski Package, available through Apr. 15, includes three nights’ lodging, breakfast daily, complimentary use of the Avanyu Spa fitness facilities and a three-day lift ticket to nearby Stratton Mountain (From $109 per person, per day, Sun. – Thurs., $149 per person, per day weekends and $249 per person, per day on holiday weekdays and weekends, 802-362-4700).

The ambiance of the Hotel Monaco, Washington DC, is enough to make you swoon (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

Experience the stunning monuments of the nation’s capital like you’ve never seen them before in a hotel with a stunning ambiance. The Hotel Monaco has a “Monuments by Moonlight” Package that includes deluxe accommodations for two, private evening limousine tour of the monuments, his and hers keepsake cashmere scarves and a bottle of champagne. (Ongoing; from $244 per room, per night for deluxe accommodations, 202-628-7177).

Stay in the historic Hotel El Convento, walk in the steps of the Conquistadors and discover Old San Juan, a 16th century Spanish colonial city, during an entertaining, historical and cultural walking tour. Your guide will narrate pirate stories, legends and historical facts as you explore twelve famous and infamous sites in the old city. Package features deluxe accommodations, use of fitness center, hotel signature bag, complimentary afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres as well as the walking tour. “A Walk Through History” is offered through Apr. 30 ($320 per couple, per night; minimum three-night stay, double occupancy, 800-678-8946).

National Trust Historic Hotels of America (HHA) is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. HHA has identified 210 quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic architecture and ambience. Packages are listed on the National Trust Web site at www.historichotels.org and some can be booked through HHA at 800-678-8946 (look for the icon).

Luxuriate Together at a Spa

Are you looking for a romantic spa? A little corner of paradise for a sexy weekend getaway? Here are the top ten romantic spas in the United States, ranging from big city-spas to island getaways, according to about.com’s spa specialist, Anitra Brown:

Calistoga Ranch, Calistoga, California, “a sleek, sexy hideaway for lovers”; The Royal Palms Resort & Spa, Phoenix, is a Spanish Mediterranean estate with an original 1929 mansion and 117 casitas and guestrooms and the Alvadora Spa with fountains, fireplaces, a Watsu massage pool, and a seductive, spacious indoor/outdoor Acqua Dolce couples’ compound; Spa at The Mandarin Oriental, New York City, on the 35th floor of the luxurious Time Warner center, has a seductive couples suite with an antique Chinese bed, private steam shower and fireplace, tucked away in the Asian-inspired spa; One & Only Palmilla, Los Cabos, Mexico, a 172-room resort in Los Cabos that can arrange a Latin guitar trio to serenade you on the beach, or, in the Casa Gardenia suite, a personal butler to serve dinner on the moon-lit patio, its 22,000-sq. ft. spa features 13 spa villas that are the ultimate in privacy and intimacy; The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, South Carolina, with Spa treatment rooms that have verandas and outdoor baths; Mauna Lani Spa at Mana Lani Resort, Big Island, Hawaii, has 335 rooms, most overlooking the ocean, and five butler-serviced bungalows, and a spa that looks like a small village of thatched roof huts, with exotic treatments like the Ginger Honey Body Therapy and an open-air lava sauna; Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, Arizona, has a spa that features The Sanctum, a stone-wall hideaway couples can rent for the hour or half-day and enjoy the vitality pool, deluge shower and fire pit.

Also, she recommends, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, Little Torch Key, a hidden treasure in the Florida Keys accessible only by boat or seaplane, offers just 28 private bungalows (guests have to be at least 16 years old), canoeing, diving, sailing and fishing and Spa Terre, specializing in luxurious Indonesian treatments; MacArthur Place Inn & Spa, Sonoma, California, a Victorian inn on 300 acres with gardens and orchards and suites and cottages that offer two-person hydrotherapy tubs, fireplaces, sitting areas, and patios or balconies overlooking the gardens, its Garden Spa features treatments inspired by wine country, like grapeseed scrubs; Mirabeau Inn & Spa, Skaneateles, New York, an intimate retreat with 34 chateau-style rooms overlooking gardens, each with a fireplace and a bath big enough for two, offering treatments like the Orange parfait – a milk bath scented with orange blossoms. For further information, visit Anitra Brown’s Guide to Spas on about.com: http://spas.about.com/od/spareviews/tp/romanticspas.htm ).

Just about anything and everything you wanted to know about spas and spa destinations is available from SpaFinders, and their superb site, www.spafinders.com. You can find suggestions, details and descriptions, learn about trends (such as pre-nuptial bachelorette parties, couples massage), make bookings and purchase travel packages.

SpaFinders also makes it easy to purchase gift certificates that can be used at hundreds and hundreds of spas. For Valentine’s Day, Spa Finder is offering free ground shipping on orders of $100 or more, and you can send a Valentine’s Day or spa-themed e-card for free. The certificates, accepted at thousands of spas worldwide as well as locally, come in an elegant envelope, accompanied by a Directory of Participating Spas (www.spafinder.com ).

Romantic Resorts

Sandals, a collection of 11 all-inclusive resorts, has built a reputation on being for couples only resort. Here, it is important to note that “all-inclusive” means that just about everything is included-all meals, snacks, unlimited premium brand drinks, unlimited scuba diving, sailing, water-skiing, snorkeling, golf (not caddies, which are mandatory and extra), land sports, airport taxes and tips; spa treatments are at an extra charge. The resorts are in Jamaica (Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril and Whitehouse); St. Lucia (Castries, Grande St. Lucian, Sandals Regency); Royal Bahamian, in Nassau, Bahamas (voted best Caribbean resort by Conde Nast Traveler); and Antigua.

The Sandals Antigua Caribbean Village & Spa, has earned titles such as “Most Romantic Resort,” “World’s Leading Honeymoon Resort,” and the Five-Star Diamond Award. Set on Dickenson Bay, the island’s best and most famous beach, it offers the charm of a quaint Caribbean village accompanied by the refined luxuries of a world-class all-inclusive. For the ultimate in personalized indulgence, you can select suites that include the services of a personal butler.

For further information and pricing, visit www.sandals.com.

Another on the list of “top ten most romantic resorts in all the Caribbean,” historic Nisbet Plantation Beach Club is a spacious resort on 30 acres of lush palms and tropical flowers, with its own private beach. It is situated on the incredibly beautiful and easily accessible Caribbean island of Nevis, part of the two-island federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. A honeymoon/romance package (gift certificates available) lets you wake up to breakfast in bed, served with champagne your first morning on Nevis; for the rest of your stay, enjoy breakfasts al fresco at its beachside restaurant, Coconuts; a romantic gourmet dinner right on the beach, five gourmet multi-course dinners in Nisbet’s old plantation Great House as well as daily Afternoon Tea, plus a 2-day car rental to explore the island. The package also includes sailing cruise, lunch at Sunshine’s (taxi service included), and two deep massages (starts at $2395 per couple depending on accommodations and season, 800-742-6008, www.nisbetplantation.com.

Caesars Pocono Resorts has built a reputation as a couples all-inclusive, famous for the heart-shaped bath for two (invented in 1963) not to be outdone by the seven-foot tall Champagne Glass Whirlpool Bath-for-Two (invented in 1984). Located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, the resorts contributed to establishing the Poconos as “honeymoon capital of the world.” The group consists of three couples-only resorts — Cove Haven (Lakeville, PA), Paradise Stream (Mount Pocono, PA) and Pocono Palace (Marshalls Creek, PA) — and one family resort — Brookdale (Scotrun, PA) – all featuring distinctive accommodations and popular all-inclusive packages (don’t even ask about the gift shop!). Special winter weekday and weekend rates are available at www.CPResorts-Specials.com. Caesars Pocono Resorts also offers the Key Around Club that lets you stay at one resort, and play at all four. When you check in, you automatically become a member of Caesars Pocono Resorts Key Around Club for your stay (800-233-4141. www.CaesarsPoconoResorts.com).

Romantic Retreats

There are literally thousands and thousands of inns and bed-and-breakfasts. How do you decide which provide the right ambience and amenities for your perfect getaway? Fortunately, there are several sources eager to share:

The elegant boutique Hotel Monaco offers a special Romance weekend with a moonlight limousine tour of the capital's monuments (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

American Historic Inns, Inc., publisher of more than 2.5 million bed and breakfast guidebooks and the companion website iLoveInns.com, has announced its picks for the 2006 Top 10 Most Romantic Inns, based on numerous attributes, including a sense of place, luxurious decor, hospitality and overall romantic mystique. Picks for 2006: Inn at Bowman’s Hill, New Hope, PA; Sea Crest By the Sea, Spring Lake, NJ; Santa Ynez Inn, Santa Ynez, CA; Savory Inn & Cooking School, Vail, CO; Adobe Grand Villas, Sedona, AZ; Bissell House Bed & Breakfast, South Pasadena, CA; Brampton Inn, Chestertown, MD; Washington Plantation, Washington, GA; Grand Victorian Bed and Breakfast Inn, Belliare, MI; Butler House on Grand, Des Moines, IA.

The 2005 Top 10 Most Romantic Bed and Breakfasts list included: Mansion at Judges Hill, Austin, TX, that was built as a wedding present in 1900; the Inn at Vaucluse Spring, Stephen City, VA, country inn surrounded by one hundred acres of rolling pastureland; Cliff Park Inn, Milford, PA, a hideaway tucked away on 500 wooded acres; Mill House Inn, East Hampton, beach retreat where visitors can enjoy world-class restaurants, shops, spas and breathtaking sunsets; Adair Country Inn, Bethlehem, NH; Wine & Roses, Lodi, CA, a California wine country gem that has attracted the likes of such visitors as Margaret Thatcher and Martha Stewart; Murchison House, Wilmington, NC; Alma del Monte, Taos, NM; The Brumder Mansion, Milwaukee, WI; and Swann House, Washington, DC.

Iloveinns.com is a fabulous site where you can find inns based on attributes, purchase gift certificates, join a travel club, find special packages and discounted rates-and if you really, really fall in love with an inn, this Valentine’s Day, you can find an inn to purchase.

Romantic America.com lists only those Inns that are deemed to qualify as “Truly Romantic”, “The Perfect Choice for Romantic Weekend Getaways” as determined by author Ken Christensen in his travels, or by trusted visitors to these fine Bed and Breakfast Inns. The web site offers personal reviews by the Author and extensive information about experiences that singles or couples can share while traveling (http://www.romanticamerica.com/news/index.html ).

Another site, Best Romantic Inns Bed lists romantic getaways worldwide to Bed and Breakfast Inns, Country Inns, Small Hotels and Resorts. This bed and breakfast directory offers a wide range of accommodation styles, both in the country and in the city. http://www.bestromanticinns.com/

Select Registry represents 400 country inns, B&Bs, and unique small hotels, from California to Nova Scotia. It was founded in the late 1960s by Norman Simpson, known as the “father of Country Inn travel in America” for his pioneering book, “Country Inns and Back Roads.” The site offers a trip planner, suggested itineraries, a way to build your own, as well as the opportunity to purchase gift certificates..http://www.selectregistry.com/

On a Plane, on a Train….

Enter a world of romantic getaways with Orient-Express Hotels, Trains & Cruises.

For many, romance means a quaint bed-n-breakfast inn, such as in the historic district in Cape May, NJ,. Several websites can direct you to those rated as "most romantic" (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

Orient-Express, best known for its famous European train, the Venice Simplon Orient-Express, offers a one-stop shopping place for anything romantic-whether it is a romantic weekend getaway, a vacation of a lifetime, a special gift or a destination wedding or honeymoon.

You can plan your romantic getaway in North America, Great Britain, Europe, Africa, Australia, South America, Southeast Asia, Caribbean and Mexico, at the click of the mouse. Romantic Breaks, Romantic Getaways, Romantic Journeys, Romantic Beaches. From the top of Table Mountain, the bar car aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to Australia’s Blue Mountains, these are truly some of the world’s ultimate and romantic destinations.

The Orient-Express site, www.romanticgetaways.orient-express.com , will enable you to buy gift certificates, plan a wedding, even help you plan your proposal (check out “Romantic Ways to Propose”).

CruiseMates

For the best low-down on cruises (including cruise reviews by passengers, ship description and cruise itineraries, news about ships and cruising), visit www.cruisemates.com.

Cruisemates’ Editor-in-Chief Anne Campbell has compiled her list of “Most Romantic Ships Afloat”. In the mid-price range, she recommends the 1,950-passenger Millennium (Celebrity Cruises); 1,970-passenger Coral Princess and its sister ship, Island Princess (Princess Cruises); in the mid-price to luxury, her picks are the Star Clipper and Star Flyer (Star Clippers), authentic design clipper ships but, she warns, only recommended for those who have their sea legs; Wind Spirit and Wind Star (Windstar Cruises), 148-passenger motorized sailing ships; and in the luxury category, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony (Crystal Cruises), full size ships with around 1,000 passengers who like to “dress to the nines”, Seabourn Legend, Pride, and Spirit (Seabourn Cruise Line), 208-passenger luxury ships that are “the next best thing to a yacht” and which also boast the best itineraries (Central America, Asia, Europe, South America).

Pure Luxury

For many, romance is synonymous with indulgence, extravagance and luxury. For all things luxurious, check out Luxury Link.

Founded in 1997, Luxury Link is the world’s premier online luxury travel resource. Showcasing more than 1000 extraordinary hotels and resorts, cruises, tours and villas in more than 60 countries, Luxury Link provides unparalleled access to exclusive offers and insider tips for the sophisticated traveler.

Known as the Key West of the Northeast, Cape May, NJ, is famous for its unobstructed sunsets (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

You can bid for travel packages through an auction system; purchase price-fixed products and “best buy” deals (so it only seems extravagant); customize a program; and purchase gift certificates.

For example, “buy-now” deals for romance include: four-nights in one-bedroom suite, private chef, private boat and captain at Coral Gardens, in the Turks & Caicos; three nights in a chalet, breakfast, gourmet dining, and Energy Clinic access at Takaro Peace Resort in the wilds of New Zealand; three-nights stay, romantic dining and Swedish massage at Domaine de Valmouriane in St. Remy de Provence (888-297-3299, www.luxurylink.com ).

For tours that look extravagant but are price conscious, consider the Valentine’s Escapes from Gate 1 Travel which is offering specially priced value-priced flings for two to Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna or any of 15 romantic international destinations. For example, a six-day getaway to Amsterdam including airfare from New York is priced from $399.

Prices are per person, based on double occupancy, and include roundtrip airfare, accommodations, and daily breakfast. Escorted tours also include a tour manager and sightseeing. Low-cost add-on air fares are available from cities nationwide. Packages can be customized with a wide selection of moderately priced sightseeing excursions. Airport departure taxes, fuel surcharges and security fees are additional and range from $70-300 per person, depending on the destination.

Gate 1 Travel offers other Valentine’s specials to London, Paris, Prague, Budapest, Barcelona, Vienna, Paris, Florence, Athens, Rio and Dublin as well as many other destinations.

If it is too late to take advantage of the Valentine’s departures, this well-respected tour operator offers excellent value and well-run programs year round. As a member of the United States Tour Operators Association, Gate 1 Travel protects consumers’ payments through the USTOA Travelers Assistance Program. For details and reservations visit www.gate1travel.com , call 800-682-3333; or contact your travel agent.

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© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

BELFRY INNE PROVIDES SPECIAL ENTRÉE TO HISTORIC SANDWICH

Reincarnation of a former church is in perfect spirit of Cape Cod’s first settled town/

By Karen Rubin

We had already come to appreciate Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusett’s first town, for the richness of its history, literally displaying the span of America from Colonial times through the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Age, the Gilded Age, and even the Depression. This time, though, we came to appreciate Sandwich as a community once again on the rise, but one that is also a living link to those forebears.

What made the difference, this time, is staying in a piece of that history: the Belfry Inne and Bistro. The owner, Christopher Wilson, is in the best tradition of the “Ten Men of Saugus” who founded Sandwich in 1637 and the stream of entrepreneurs who followed, like Thomas Dexter who started the Grist Mill in 1654 and Deming Jarves who revolutionized glass-making with his factory, in 1825.

The inn is on Jarves Street where Wilson is literally resurrecting the landmarks to pivotal times in Sandwich, and in the nation.

After spending 10 years in the world of banking, estates and trusts, Wilson came to Sandwich with a dream of opening a bed-and-breakfast. He found a ramshackle, tumbledown former 1879 rectory and its neighboring 1902 de-consecrated Roman Catholic church. After spending some $790,000, turned them into the Belfry Inne and Bistro-at once a dramatic and yet whimsical place to stay and one of the classiest places to dine on the Cape.

Re-christened The Abbey, it offers six rooms, each named for a day of the week, each exquisitely and dramatically hand-painted and decorated with Victorian period furnishings. The “Friday” room has dramatic stained glass window depicting Gabriel the Archangel, deep rose burgundy and gold-starred walls, and Queen pew bed, Aubusson tapestry coverlet, two-person whirlpool, fireplace, balcony, AC and TV; “Saturday” has magnificent stained glass window of Michael the Archangel, a balcony with southern views, two-person whirlpool, deep purple striped walls, a King pew bed with blue tapestry bedding, TV and AC. “Tuesday” has blue walls with marbleized medallions and a magnificent circular stained glass compass window, Queen pew bed with woven Belgian blue and gold tapestry facing a gas fireplace, Victorian armoire, two-person whirlpool and shower, stained glass windows surrounding the tub, and a southwest-facing balcony, AC and TV.

 

The one-time parsonage, a lovely Victorian with multiple gables, windowed turret and wrought iron decorations, was christened the Drew House, with nine guestrooms, all named for family members, including two family suites (the Kristina Drew room on the third floor has an 1840 ball queen mahogany bed, sitting area, and hand-painted bureau, large skylight, cable TV and air-conditioning; a bath with shower and separate two-person whirlpool). Each of the rooms is individually furnished, with had-painted furniture, antiques, Oriental carpets. Leneel Drew Room

Our room, The Lee Room, was spacious and comfortable with a porch, stained glass window above the bed, a Chinese rug and sitting area, ceiling fan as well as air-conditioning. The John Drew room has a queen four-poster mahogany bed facing a gas fireplace and a bath suite with double Jacuzzi; the Sara Drew on the third floor, has an iron headboard king bed facing a gas fireplace, skylights, a bath with five-foot soaking tub and glass-enclosed shower.

Wilson also acquired the Village Inn, a bed-and-breakfast next door to The Abbey. The charming 1830s Queen Anne-style building offers eight, country-style rooms, with gleaming chandeliers and mirrors, wood floors and country-style furniture. The Village Inn is ideal for families or for groups who want to take over the entire house.

 

Guests of all three inns are served breakfast each morning in the Bistro-a marvelous buffet of eggs, pastries and breads, fresh fruits, cereals.

Also, Tuesday through Saturday evenings, the Belfry Bistro serves sumptuous dinner creations of Brazilian-born Chef Argos Pilo, who offers “fusion” cuisine while showcasing the Cape’s seafood tradition: creamy clam chowder with fresh herbs; lobster bisque topped with cr�me fraiche and chives; lobster and scallops wrapped in phyllo bundle bag with a lobster cream sauce; Breast of Duck saut�ed served with wild mushroom risotto, baked spiced apple and a roasted shallot port reduction; Atlantic Salmon encrusted with pistachios, pan seared served with buttermilk chive mashed potatoes and a pistachio cream sauce; Filet Mignon with jumbo shrimp, saut�ed spinach, mascarpone mashed potatoes served with a red wine sauce; New Zealand Rack of Lamb roasted in a deep brown garlic sauce made with white wine and shallots, creamy garlic mashed potatoes; Swordfish center cut pan seared encrusted with black and white sesame served with sticky purple rice and a blood orange sauce; Bouillabaisse, a m�lange of seafood, including gulf shrimp, mussels, clams, lobster and scallops in a light tomato garlic saffron shellfish broth; and Veal Chop stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese, sun dried tomatoes and spinach served with Dauphinoise potatoes and a Madeira mushroom sauce. Lighter fare menu is available.

The Belfry Bistro specializes in intimate dinners for two or elegant affairs for up to 120 people, and, particularly given the ambiance, has proved immensely popular for destination weddings. Tented lawn and garden parties for 150 can be accommodated, dependent upon season and weather. The Inne hosts elegant weddings and corporate events. Weekends, there is soft piano music.

The acquisition of the Village Inn will make it possible for Wilson to build a heated, 20 x 40 ft. pool, which he hopes to have in by next summer.

Belfry Meetinghouse.

Now Wilson is again working his magic on one of the most storied landmarks in the village: the First Church Meetinghouse..

The scaffolding rises way up high, near to where the elevated belltower of the First Church Meetinghouse begins. A workman is painstakingly repainting the clapboard siding. Inside, new two-by-fours frame the new configuration of what will be rooms..

 

This was the site of the original First Parish Meeting House, built in 1638 and the first public building on Cape Cod, and served as a literal meetinghouse, simultaneously, of the town hall of Cape Cod’s first settlement and the place of worship for three different denominations..

Three different structures have occupied the site-the present one has stood since 1830..

Over the years, the town hall moved out, reflecting separation of church and state, then, gradually, the denominations moved to other quarters. Since 1965, the majestic, yet graceful structure was a doll house museum, Yesteryears, and finally, even that function ended. When we last visited Sandwich, it was cracked and peeling, boarded up and decaying. Wilson bought it at auction and saw it through its reincarnation as The Belfry Meetinghouse..

The Belfry Meetinghouse is geared for longer stays-such as weekly business retreats or monthly family vacations. Measuring more than 7,000 square feet, comprises five one-bedroom suites, dining area, and kitchen and meeting space..

Guests enter through a marble entryway and climb 15 stairs to enter the grandiose main space, where the eye is pulled upward to the newly painted tin ceiling with its handsome center chandelier. The original altar is enlarged and raised two feet above the main floor. A semicircular sitting area with wood-burning fireplace invites repose, reflection and contemplation. Light diffuses throughout the magnificent polychrome stained glass fenestration.

The main floor features a library with Internet access, fax capability and additional home office fittings, entertainment and dining areas. A ‘personal chef’ is available to serve occupants and their guests from the open kitchen dining area…

 

The former choir loft has been reincarnated as a gallery sitting area. Horse hair plaster was removed from interior walls, revealing the original etched glass windows beneath, letting sunlight stream in. A winding, three-story staircase gives access to the bell tower which has a new exterior viewing aerie..

Guestrooms are named for historically significant dolls (hearkening to its former use as a doll museum) and feature whirlpool tubs, TV/DVD, HVAC, CD players and sitting areas with refrigerator and bar. Beds are dressed in only the finest textiles. The master suite-950 square feet in all-is accoutered with a king size bed, dressing area and palatial bath and offers a panorama of the first floor from its veranda doors. Four additional bedrooms and a movie or presentation area are located on the main floor..

In restoring The Meetinghouse, Wilson is painstakingly preserving one of the most sentimental symbols of Sandwich: the black-faced clock..

In 1765, Reverend Abraham Williams became pastor, bringing with him a 19-year old black slave named Titus Winchester. Reverend Williams died in 1784, freeing Winchester in his Last Will & Testament in recognition of Winchester’s many years of faithful service as church caretaker..

Winchester went to sea as a steward and, when he died in 1808, left his entire estate- approximately $3,300-for the purpose of purchasing a clock for the Meeting House “so that it would ring for many years to come in memory of his former master.” The clock became to be known as “Old Titus” to the people of Sandwich..

Winchester was so respected by the Sandwich townspeople, that he was interred in the historic cemetery in a tomb very near Rev. Williams that has the longest inscription of any of the gravestones (it refers to him as a “servant” rather than a slave). (The Old Town Cemetery, which dates from the 1660s is fascinating to visit; the tombstone art and inscriptions speak volumes about the people and the times in which they lived.)

During the Portland Gale, a severe winter storm in 1878, the church steeple was toppled and the Winchester clock and tower were destroyed. A new steeple was built in 1881 with funds donated by Jonathan Bourne, a whaling tycoon who was born in Sandwich. The original clock was replaced with the present four-faced clock ‘for the entire town to see’ and a bell, cast in 1854, was also placed in the steeple. Now Wilson is restoring the clock and the bell

The story of the First Church Meetinghouse is consistent with the character of the Sandwich, which has gone through many transformations since the Ten Men of Saugus settled here in 1637. For, at a time of Puritan repression, Sandwich was an ecumenical place, welcoming Quakers (since 1658) when they were shunned from other communities, and where Indians were allowed to worship

The Town of Sandwich does not present itself all at once, but rather, reveals itself in fragments-quietly, it speaks volumes, and is most deserving of a lingering, studied look..

There is so much to do: the Town Beach, Heritage Plantation, the Dexter Grist Mill, Hoxie House, Thornton W. Burgess Museum, Sandwich Glass Museum, Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen, Aptucxet Trading Post, and Cape Cod Canal, even before venturing further about on Cape Cod, such as to Wood’s Hole. For further information about Sandwich, 508-833-1632, http://www.sandwichma.org/.

The Belfry Inne & Bistro lets you, for a time, become part of this community, staying in a place that was very much part of its history. Just walking or biking about, you come upon the most intriguing aspects (just walking up School Street you see wonderful architecture). Wilson is encouraging longer stays, with packages that give a 10 percent discount on stays of three nights; and a fifth night free when you stay four nights. Concierge services are available to arrange golf at Golf at Sandwich Hollows (guests get preferred tee-times), whale-watching excursions from Hyannis, admissions to Heritage Plantation..

The Belfry Inne & Bistro is open year-round; September and October are actually ideal times of the year to visit; rates are lowest from November-April. There are seasonal celebrations at Thanksgiving, Christmas (though the dining room is closed on Christmas Day), Easter and such. Contact the Belfry Inne & Bistro, 6-8 Jarves Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 508-888-8550 (main number), reservations 800-844-4542,www.belfryinn.com , e-mail: info@belfryinn.com Check the website for special deals..

Photo captions

Belfryinne-dining 
The Bistro of The Belfry Inne (© 2006 Karen Rubin)

Sandwich-steeple
The historic clock and bell on top of the historic Meetinghouse, enduring symbols for the people of Sandwich, is atop The Belfry Meetinghouse, a lodging and meeting place (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

Belfryinne-abbey
The Belfry Inne, a former Roman Catholic church and rectory, offers a distinctive atmosphere and great dining (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

Sandwich-gristmill2
The Dexter Grist Mill, originally built in 1654, is just one of the historic attractions all within the walking village of Sandwich, Cape Cod’s first settled town (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

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© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

HOTEL MONACO IS PERFECT FOR WEEKEND GETAWAY TO DC

Grand, historic, stylish ambiance is ideal for weekend of intrigue & discovery.

By Karen Rubin

The Hotel Monaco proved ideal in every way for our weekend of intrigue and discovery in Washington D.C. Our central purpose for this visit was to investigate the new International Spy Museum and this stellar attraction is just steps away from the Hotel Monaco’s front door. But what was entirely unexpected was how perfectly the atmosphere of the Hotel Monaco (which opened at about the same time as the museum) blended with our purpose, and how perfectly its location, putting us within walking distance of everything on our agenda, facilitated our trip.

On top of that, the gracious service, pampering amenities, and distinctive elements (like goldfish which became our pets for the weekend), made our stay at the Hotel Monaco so much more than mere accommodations. Our stay at the Hotel Monaco, which earned the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award this year, was truly an experience in its own right.

 

The Hotel Monaco occupies an impressive National Historic Landmark structure, the former General Post Office. Dating from 1842, it was the first marble building in Washington DC. What was remarkable was how the parent company, Kimpton Boutique Hotels, has turned cold marble (albeit breathtakingly beautiful) and cavernous corridors and ceilings into this warm, colorful, retro ambiance, evocative of 1930s Art Deco (but on closer inspection, the colors, patterns and furniture style are modern). The hotel’s logo helps contribute to the 1930s feel, and the gracious service makes you feel you absolutely have been transported back to some other place and time. I fully expected to see Agatha Christie’s 1930s detective Hercule Poirot bob around a corner.

This is not just any landmark building. Constructed from 1839 and 1842, it was designed in part by the 19th century architect Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument. It was considered one of the most stylistically advanced structures in Washington DC. Regarded as avant-garde for the time, Mills patterned the building after the first marble building in Rome, the Temple of Jupiter. The architects who created this building also designed the U.S. Treasury Department, and U.S. Patent Office (recalling that much of Washington D.C. had been burned by the British in 1812). The style was to fill entire blocks with colonnaded government office buildings, like stone temples. More than a decade later, Thomas Walter, one of the architects of the U.S. Capitol, created the design for an extension on the north side of the building, which was completed in 1869.

It was in this structure that the U.S. Postal Department began a number of innovative programs such as home mail, delivery across the country, registered mail, the Pony Express, and money orders. Over the years, other government services that occupied the building included the Tariff Commission, a variety of federal departments, agencies, bureaus and services.

The Hotel Monaco has many distinctive features that contribute to a most unusual and delightful stay. To begin with, it has a Guppy Love program: you can actually request a companion goldfish be delivered to your room for the duration of your stay… at no charge. We had two: Nebert came swimming around a model of the Capitol Building; the other fish, lapped the White House in his bowl. Put into the context of how frenetic and stressful the nation’s capital is for the legions of lobbyists, lawmakers, perhaps a spy or two who I suspect are among the Hotel’s clientele, you cannot imagine how restful and homey having these goldfish around were.

Indeed, considering how sophisticated and refined the Hotel Monaco is, it is remarkably pet-friendly (not to mention child-friendly), which also helps to make the hotel inviting and warm. Pet-friendly reaches new heights here: your pet receives a registration card upon arrival; once checked in, the hotel delivers food and water bowls, a bottle of Evian water, an information card with local veterinarians and pet sitting services, a map of great dog walks in the neighborhood and a special treat. The front desk even keeps a stock of complimentary disposable dog walking bags and room service menu offers food for pets.

People guests are also pampered. I love that the hotel serves complimentary coffee from 6:30-8:30 a.m., complimentary wine is served in a gracious lobby lounge from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Other amenities that make for an exceptionally pleasant stay include the in-room coffee maker with Starbucks coffee; a newspaper is delivered to the room daily; there is maid service twice daily; linens, pillows and comforter are incredibly luxurious; there are plush terrycloth robes and Aveda bath products; a minibar and in-room safe; 24-hour room service; overnight shoeshine and laundry service available. A concierge is on staff to assist in making visitor arrangements.

Guests can also take advantage of a high-tech fitness center with individual plasma screens on the equipment, in a decent-sized room. For those who want an indoor pool, one is available at the nearby YMCA.

Here’s another unusual feature: among its 184 guest rooms and 16 suites are 20 “Monte Carlo Tall Rooms,” customized to best accommodate taller travelers. These spacious guestrooms include an extra-long (90 inches) king-sized bed, high ceilings and a raised showerhead (other amenities include complimentary high-speed Internet access, in-room refrigerators stocked with gourmet treats and bars that include a martini kit, CD stereo, and television with Nintendo and on-demand movies).

We stayed in one of the six Robert Mills Suites that honor the original architect of the Washington Monument, the US Department of Treasury Building, and the Hotel Monaco’s own historic Tarrif building. With corner locations, these graciously appointed suites feature vaulted 20-foot ceilings with stunningly ornate moldings and over 600 square feet of space. Suites include a private bedroom with king-sized bed, spa tub, and separate shower. The living area accommodates up to seven guests, a couch that converts to a queen-sized bed, a second television, and a DVD/CD player with surround sound.

Beautifully appointed Majestic Suites, located on the fourth floor, can be converted into one- or two-bedroom suites. Majestic Suites each feature a dining table for six guests and sitting area for six. Other features include a full bathroom, couch that converts to a queen-sized bed, CD stereo, Nintendo and on-demand movies, and complimentary high-speed Internet access. With the connecting bedrooms – which offer king-sized beds in each and a spa tub in at least one (bath salts provided) – these spacious Majestic Suites accommodate up to 20 guests for a reception.

The guestrooms feature the original vaulted ceilings at extreme heights of 12 feet and more. What could be an institutional look has been softened and warmed with an eclectic mix of neoclassic and modern furnishings. In a playful nod to the nation’s capital, a bust of Thomas Jefferson can be found overlooking each guestroom (he is the patriarch of American architecture and was a good friend of Robert Mills).

The décor is an absolute triumph. Beverly Hills designer Cheryl Rowley has created an exceptional interior design that complements the building’s original architectural flourishes while infusing it with modern comfort, and a somewhat whimsical, yet high style that can only be called “beguiling.” The décor succeeds in its aim to evoke the romance of travel and worldly sophistication in a plush, yet comforting environment-like the visually stunning, beautifully furnished grand living rooms with fireplace and multiple conversation areas. Registration desks are playfully modeled after a classic steamer trunk. Classic lines and designs mingle with a whimsical, urbane style. The colors are vibrant and rich–like giant red lanterns that hang like chandeliers. Furnishings are soft and velvety, plump, tucked and tasseled (even the room numbers have tassels hanging). Original art incorporates themes of travel, time, music and literature. Everywhere you look, there is something to catch, and play, with your eye.

The hotel offers a bustling, 174-seat restaurant and bar, aptly named Poste-Moderne Brasserie, located adjacent to the hotel in the historic courtyard (you reach it through a historic carriageway portal on 8th street). It features a striking exhibition kitchen, and in warm weather, outdoor seating in the courtyard.

The hotel’s Paris Ballroom was originally a library created by the Post Office General. Among other distinguished rooms, the Athens Room’s expansive windows provide vistas of the courtyard and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, directly across the street (though presently closed for renovations).

Ideally Located

Indeed, the Hotel Monaco proved superbly located. What I loved, particularly, was that the hotel was walking distance to everything we wanted to visit on this whirlwind weekend.

Arriving in the late afternoon, we were still able to visit the National Archives, a mere few blocks walk (past the Navy Memorial). It is a short walk to the Mall and the Smithsonian Museums: including the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History, National Air and Space Museum, the ice skating rink and carousel, Washington Monument, the FBI Building (now closed for renovation, it used to offer a marvelous exhibit and tour) even the White House and Capitol Hill was within walking distance (enroute, you will be able to visit the Newsmuseum, under construction).

Walk in another direction and you are cattycorner from the MCI Center (like Madison Square Garden); a couple of blocks from Chinatown, and a short walk to the Convention Center (where we happened upon a health and fitness expo), and a score of pleasant restaurants (we loved the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant just across the street from the International Spy Museum).

Hotel Monaco is six metro stops from Ronald Reagan National Airport, just seven walking blocks from Union Station.

And of course, the Hotel Monaco is just steps away from the International Spy Museum, which figures into its International Spy Museum package, which includes deluxe accommodations for two, two adult tickets to the museum, and a spy amenity (from $189). A Family Affair Package includes deluxe accommodations for two; pay-for-view movie; $10 mini bar credit (from $169); a Monuments By Moonlight Package (capitalizing on the romantic allure), provides deluxe accommodations for two, private evening tour of Washington DC monuments, complimentary bottle of champagne, his and hers cashmere scarves (from $419). Special Delivery Package features accommodations, room service continental breakfast for two, complimentary parking (from $179). All guests also receive complimentary morning coffee service and complimentary evening wine hour.

Hotel Monaco is a member of Kimpton Boutique Hotels, almost all of which are housed in historic structures. In Washington DC, these include the Hotel George, Hotel Helix, Hotel Madera, Hotel Route and Topaz Hotel, and boutique hotels in Aspen, Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Silicon Valley and Vancouver B.C. Other four-star Hotel Monacos that are part of the Kimpton Group are located in New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Denver and Salt Lake City Kimpton offers a Loyalty Rate-that is, substantial discounts-when you have visited one of the hotels. For information on how to join, visit www.kimptongroup.com, or call 800-KIMPTON.

For more information, contact the Hotel Monaco, 700 F Street, NW, Washington DC 20004, 877-202-5411, 202-628-7177; www.monaco-dc.com.
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© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

MORRISON-CLARK INN: CHARM, ELEGANCE OF VICTORIAN MANSION IN NATION’S CAPITAL

By Karen Rubin

A wonderful way to enhance the experience of being immersed in history in the nation’s capital is to stay in a historic property of incomparable charm.

The Morrison-Clark Inn is very different from Washington D.C.’s many hotels, even those with historic roots. In the first place, the inn, a member of Historic Hotels of America, is more like staying in an elegant Victorian mansion home, than a hotel.

It is warm and welcoming (especially during the holidays), after dashing about the city and visiting such majestic buildings and heralded halls of power and heritage. For families introducing their children to such imposing and important places, the inn offers an opportunity to return to a cozy environment and scale down the pace. The inn may be historic, but rather than being austere, and forbidding, it is a portal to the past.

The Morrison-Clark Inn, a Historic Hotels of America member, is like staying in a mansion home. Step across the portal into its story (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

Like so many of the Historic Hotels of America, a membership of some 200 hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity, architecture and ambiance, the Morrison-Clark Inn has a wonderful story that you simply step into once you enter its door.

In 1864, businessmen David Morrison, a developer who made his fortune selling flour and feed to the U. S. Government during the Civil War, and Reuben Clark, who became wealthy through land investments, owning a grocery store, and serving as Washington, DC’s jail commissioner, each owned a new, elegant townhouse in a posh neighborhood.

A later owner of Clark’s house added a Chinese Chippendale porch and a Shanghai roof after visiting the Orient.

In 1923, the Morrison home was acquired by The Women’s Army and Navy League and converted it into an inexpensive place for America’s enlisted men to stay while in Washington, D.C. First Ladies traditionally presided over the military club, hosting teas and fund-raisers to maintain its operations.

First Lady Grace Coolidge headed the receiving line when the facility first opened in 1923, and Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy were also active in the organization.

In 1943, at the peak of World War II, the efforts of these women provided beds for more than 45,000 visitors and served nearly 85,000 meals. It became known as the Soldiers’, Sailors’, Marines’, and Airmen’s Club after 1954.

During its 57-year history, the facility grew to include the Clark home, underwent name changes to accommodate airmen, and in 1972, expanded its mission to serve female members of the armed forces.

When it was converted to the Morrison-Clark Hotel, the 19th century mansion was lovingly restored in 1987 by William Adair, who supervised renovations of the White House under Mrs. Kennedy. He preserved the distinctive historic exterior with its exquisite red-tiled Shanghai roof and the Chinese Chippendale porch, and many of the interior details of the building, including lofty, medallioned ceilings, four pier mirrors, and Italian Carrara marble fireplaces.

Oh to be in Washington for Cherry Blossom time! How delightful to stroll around the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Monument (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

Staying here is to experience a peace and graciousness in counterpoint to a city where power veritably pulsates. It is no wonder that corporate titans and VIPs choose to stay here rather than the big convention hotels that cater to the Convention Center just a couple of blocks away.

The Inn offers all the modern amenities and services – from wireless Internet access and a full range of business services in a 24-hour business center, to in-room spa services by Relax & Rejuvenate including massage therapy, event planning and catering, a sophisticated restaurant; complimentary access to Vida One Spa & Fitness Center, located in the Verizon Center building within walking distance from the hotel, complimentary coffee. It also offers parking (valet at $26/day or self-park at $23/day) and sedan service. The Morrison-Clark also can arrange for child care services.

We loved that it was walking distance from just about everywhere we wanted to visit – the White House, the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, including the National Museum of the American Indian (see Discovery, October 12). It is also walking distance to the International Spy Museum, the National Portrait Gallery (only recently reopened) and National Archives. The Metro station and Convention center are only a few blocks away.

The National Mall, with the Capitol Building in the backdrop, is walking distance from the Morrison-Clark Inn (© 2007 Karen Rubin).

The Morrison-Clark Inn features 54 guestrooms, which are individually decorated in neo-classical or French country styles. The rooms are equipped with balconies or bay windows and feature Victorian antique and reproduction furniture, premium bedding, one-line speaker phone with voicemail and data port, mini-bar, hair dryer, and a complimentary copy of the Washington Post. Deluxe Rooms have either one queen size bed or two twin beds.

Standard Rooms are decorated with traditional armoires and desks as well as custom-designed, hand-crafted pieces; complemented with muted taupe furnishings; Victorian Rooms are exquisitely appointed with turn-of-the-century antiques, chandeliers, and richly hued draperies, these rooms also feature decorative fireplaces and balconies; Parlor Suites are two-room suites featuring traditional French-country warmth, including pine armories, wicker furnishings, handsome quilts, and a pullout sofa in the living room.

Our room, one of the Victorians, had high ceilings, a refrigerator, and though it overlooked New York Avenue, was quiet.

The 75-seat restaurant is renowned and has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, Gourmet, and the Zagat guide. Chef Janis McLean delivers tantalizing, Southern-influenced cuisine (Chesapeake Oyster Stew with melted leeks and Virginia country ham; Crab Cakes with a local recipe were on a recent dinner menu) — in an elegant atmosphere featuring ten-foot gilded mirrors, Italian Carrera marble fireplaces, and a tranquil veranda and courtyard. Its a wine list has been recognized with The Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” for five years running.

On Sundays, brunch is served in the outdoor courtyard, featuring selections such as Chesapeake Eggs Benedict and Whole Wheat Waffles served with Fresh Berries, Strawberry Syrup, two eggs and Applewood Smoked Bacon ($35 with champagne, $30 without).

The Morrison-Clark Inn is due to be expanded – it is acquiring a historic church located next door, which will be converted to rooms and event space.

Packages available include a Weekend Getaway, featuring early check in and late check-out, complimentary full American breakfast ($159); and a Centuries Package, featuring accommodations in a Victorian room, complimentary welcome drink in the drawing room, complimentary dinner in the Morrison Clark Restaurant, available Monday through Thursday ($229). The Holiday Homecoming package, available through much of winter, includes breakfast with accommodations. Check the website for more packages and special.

The company that owns the Morrison-Clark also owns the Henley Park, an English Tudor-style building built as an apartment house in the 1900s, which was restored and now operates as a European-style hotel; the Hotel Lombardy (21st & Pine), and the Washington Plaza, a modern hotel with 350 rooms and a pool (guests at the Morrison-Clark can use it).

Morrison-Clark Historic Hotel and Restaurant, 1015 L St NW, Washington D.C. 20001, 202-898-1200, 800-332-7898, www.morrisonclark.com.

Historic Hotels of America is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Historic Hotels has identified more than 200 hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity, architecture and ambiance. To be selected for this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old, listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places or recognized as having historic significance. A directory of member hotels can be purchased for $4 by sending a check to National Trust Historic Hotels of America, P.O. Box 320, Washington, D.C. 20055-0320. Rooms at any of the member hotels can be reserved by calling 800-678-8946 or at www.historichotels.org.

Thursday, 3 January, 2008

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© 2007 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com

SANDPEARL RESORT, CLEARWATER BEACH, PROVES BEING GREEN CAN FEEL G-O-O-O-D

Clearwater Beach’s first new hotel to open in 25 years aims for LEED certification

By Karen Rubin

The Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach on Florida’s Gulf coast is proof that a resort that is ultra luxurious, elegantly designed, can still be green, and that green feels very, very gooood.

The lush setting - and eco-friendly - pool and beach at The Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

You realize you have never felt what it is like to swim in a pool without chlorine, the water purified instead through an ozone process. The water feels lighter, softer, you don’t get that stinging chemical in your eyes, or get that sour metallic taste.

Or what it is like to sleep on sheets that don’t have that musky smell of chemical additives like softener and bleach because they are washed with another ozone process that cleans with cold water.

Sandpearl Resort – Clearwater Beach’s first new beachfront hotel to open in 25 years when it opened its doors in August 2007 – is also the first in the Southeast to be built to LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) standards. It has just been admitted to the Florida Green Hotel Association.

And the greater beauty is that guests experience how you can be green without giving up “quality lifestyle” – a message that they can take back to their homes and hometowns.

Elegant but comfortable, the interior decoration at The Sandpearl manifests nature imagery and themes (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Education is a big part of the mission of LEED-certification, and we take advantage of the regularly scheduled LEED “back of the house” tour with Brian Grant, director of engineering (free, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m.)

What goes through my mind is how accessible such “sustainable” systems are – things that can be installed in homes (certainly new-builts), in businesses and in government buildings – and I imagine how people will leave this tour and become an engine for change.

But for most, the first impression is how awesomely beautiful, how gracious the service, how comfortable it is to be at the Sandpearl.

The interior design is exquisite – sophisticated, classy, with colors, textures and patterns that remind me of the naturalistic influence of Japan and Egypt – yet comfortably casual, capturing the feeling of a beach locale.

Ah, the beach. Sandpearl has a 700-foot expanse of the soft-powder white sand Gulf Coast beach, and a lagoon-style beachfront pool, lushly landscaped, with private cabanas, which you see immediately through the wall of windows in the lobby.

Sandpearl Resort's naturalist Marianne Klingel leads a morning beach walk (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

There is an open, airy, and light feeling throughout the hotel, and in the 201 standard guest rooms – most with balconies.

We are in one of the 52 one and two-bedroom suites, located on the top two floors of the resort. Our one-bedroom works out great for our family – spacious, with kitchen and laundry facilities, and a fold-out sofa bed in the living room.

There is 11,000-square feet of spa, fitness center and beach club space, and here, there is a novel approach: the Spa at Sandpearl has no boundaries. Instead, the “spa” program is integrated into day-to-day resort life – influencing the restaurant menu, guest-room amenities, and programming. You can get an ocean-side massage, a facial that incorporates extracts of powdered pearls, and a massage that utilizes crushed pearl paste and a variety of water therapies and touch therapies, spa programs like sunrise and sunset rituals (yoga, meditation, tai chi, $15/session), Expression through Dance (a movement ‘art’ class for fun and fitness), Moonlight and Nature Walks, and a variety of fitness programs, including an early morning beach walk.

The dining choices at Sandpearl are wonderful. Caretta on the Gulf, its signature restaurant, offers seasonally inspired cuisine reflecting South American, Caribbean and other international influences. Perched two levels above the beach, with indoor and outdoor seating, it offers views of brilliant sunsets, and also serves as a casual place to enjoy breakfast and lunch.

The Ceviche and Raw Bar offers a daily selection of fresh local seafood, and a wood-burning oven for rustic dining selections. A wine room provides an intimate space for special events and tastings and offers an extensive collection of wines from around the world.

Holding a moon snail collar in her hand: Sandpearl's naturalist Marianne Klingel leads a morning beach walk (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The Marketplace is a pastry and coffee bar that offers a casual menu.

The poolside Tate Island Grill provides a laid-back setting for casual cuisine. At dusk, the pool deck transforms into a beachside lounge, with tropical music, and at night, you can linger around a beachside fire pit.

Dominating the lobby – and the second thing you see after gazing to the pool and beach – are two large murals by local artist Christopher M. Still, commissioned by Sandpearl. “Return to Picnic Island” and “Beneath the Waves” evoke the nostalgia of two families that return year after year to Picnic Island (as Clearwater Beach was called by early visitors), a feeling that is infused throughout the Sandpearl. All the symbols of the murals are authentic – gleaned from research into the Scharrer family and the shells, marine and bird life to be found on the beach – and are even life-sized (for the underwater scenes, the artist took waterproof paper and sat under water). There is a theme of return, and continuity from past to future generations. The Sandpearl is very much a place that you would enjoy coming back to, year after year, and is forging the traditions that accompanied resorts of bygone times.

The Sandpearl is successfully continuing traditions and starting new ones. For example, it has nightly sunset celebration, with a chosen guest ringing the dinner bell saved from the former Clearwater Beach Resort (which occupied the site before the Sandpearl). The first guest to ring the bell was the actual boy depicted in the painting. There are also campfire storytelling and sing-alongs and treasure hunts. Each day, there is a schedule of programs and recreational activities.

Enjoy the festive beach environment at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Indeed, rich programming reinforces the sense that Sandpearl is a true resort.

Some of the special eco-tours that families will enjoy include a Behind-the-Scenes Tour at Clearwater Marine Aquarium ($75 for a family of four); a combination Clearwater Marine Aquarium Tour and Kayak trip ($65/adult, $150 for a family of four); a visit to the Suncoast Sunbird Sanctuary ($10, with half donated to help the birds); and a trip to Honeymoon Island Birding Trail, Beach Shell-n-Swim ($50/adults, $125 for family of 4). Other enrichment programs that are offered include “Marine Discovery,” a private boat tour of Mandalay Channel to observe wildlife; Astronomy Night enables guests to use a telescope with an expert astronomer; and Moonlight Nature Walk in the company of a naturalist gives you insight into nesting sea turtles.

The Sandpearl also offers a supervised children’s activity program, Camp Ridley, for children 5 to 10. Each day has a different theme, like “Nature Day,” and “Around the World Day.”

The Sandpearl Resort is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts (www.preferredhotels.com).

Tasty tropical drinks and succulent seafood with a water view are joys of dining at Jimmy's (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

For more information, rates and packages, contact The Sandpearl Resort & Spa, 500 Mandalay Avenue, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767, 727-661-2425, 877-726-3111.www.sandpearl.com.

Wining & Dining

Island Way Grill presents a stunning, contemporary and sophisticated ambiance – clean lines, lush plantings, gorgeous glass objects, the raging wood fire. The menu is Asian fusion, with an influence of Caribbean and Floridian food. So you have Thai high Mussels and Lollipop Conch fritters, Vietnamese King Crab rolls, and scallops seared in a wok with galangal, black vinegar and sweet citrus sauce; entrees like Macademia Nut crusted Mahi Mahi, wok-fried whole yellowtail snapper, Szechwan Pepper crusted tuna. The steaks, though, are amazing – prime beef, aged in a temperature-controlled aging room, grilled over an open pit fire. A 20-ounce Korean BBQ T-bone marinated in a concoction which includes (and this is the secret ingredient) Cola Cola and kiwi provides a memorable feast ($22.95). A 32-ounce porterhouse, at $30.95, is an absolute bargain.

The desserts are to die for (those who can’t decide can take the chef’s dessert sampler of crème brulee, molten lava chocolate cake and key lime pie, $7.95). But for me, the marvel was a red raspberry sorbet that tasted as if the sweetest, purest fruit had been infused with ice (20 Island Way, 727-461-6617, www.islandwaygrill.com).

Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber Restaurant has been a Clearwater Beach landmark and family owned since 1948. The atmosphere is casual and the menu is a combination of new and traditional dishes, with the emphasis on “homemade.” We go with the Fresh Florida Black Grouper, which is cooked to perfection. Another traditional favorite is Back-To-the-Farm Chicken, prepared from a “secret” family recipe.

Tasty tropical drinks and succulent seafood with a water view are joys of dining at Jimmy's (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The real surprise here is the Beachcomber’s award-winning wine list – 600 different selections from a 20,000-bottle inventory! We learn that Bob Heilman has his own vineyard, FoxyRock, in Oregon. We sample Bob & Sheri’s 2005 Estate Pino Noir. (His other establishment, Bobbie’s Bistro, on the marina, is even more wine-oriented and does tastings). (447 Mandalay Avenue, 727.442.4144,www.heilmansbeachcomber.com).

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, a beachside restaurant and bar overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, has the perfect atmosphere for families (and is around the corner from the Sandpearl Resort). It is colorful and fun, and serves many styles of seafood, steaks, burgers, with a few Mexican, Jamaican and Floribbean items for good measure. Popular items include Cajun Grouper Sandwich (grilled with Cajun spices), Rockaway deviled crab cakes, Oysters Rockaway, she-crab soup, and coconut shrimp. The music starts up at 7:30 p.m., adding to the beach-party feeling. Frenchy’s actually has four locations (7 Rockaway Street, 727-446-4844,www.frenchysonline.com).

We had seen the distinctive yellow umbrellas of Jimmy’s Fish House and Iguana Bar from Little Toot on our Dolphin Encounter, and now, we are dining al fresca with a prime view of the Bay, Little Toot and other boats and the occasional dolphin. One of the few places where you can dine on the water, this is another festive, “happening” place, and one of the best places for families to enjoy sunset dining. There is live entertainment nightly from 7 p.m., and weekends from 2-6 p.m., as well. It offers steaks, pasta, sandwiches, and seafood and is known for the crispy fried shrimp, served in a Thai peanut sauce over a crispy noodles ($9.95) and clam chowder – as thick as stew with clams, potatoes, vegetables, dill flavor (Jimmy’s Fish House and Iguana Bar, 521 S. Gulfview Blvd, 727-446-9720).

Clearwater Beach is just only 30 minutes due west from Tampa International Airport.

The best time to visit Clearwater Beach is October through December (except for the holidays) when there is that optimum combination of low rates and low humidity, but there are also great rates and wonderful weather February through May.

For further information about attractions, packages and events contact the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, 1130 Cleveland Street, Clearwater, FL 33755, 888-425-3279 or 727-461-0011,www.visitclearwaterflorida.com, or email info@clearwaterflorida.org.

See: Clearwater Beach and Soooo Much More

Monday, 11 August, 2008

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© 2008 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit us online at www.travelwritersmagazine.com and at www.familytravelnetwork.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

THE WATER CLUB SETS NEW STANDARD OF SOPHISTICATION IN ATLANTIC CITY

Hot, cool, hip, and posh, new boutique hotel is also ultra-luxurious

By Karen Rubin

It’s hot. It’s cool. It’s hip. It’s posh. Its chic. And it’s so far beyond what Atlantic City has been, it might as well be in a different time zone.

The indoor pool at The Water Club (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The Water Club, fresh from its grand opening this summer, is the most refreshing change in Atlantic City since, since… since its sister hotel, The Borgata Hotel & Spa, opened in 2003, bringing a Las Vegas-style destination-resort concept to Atlantic City.

Together with The Borgata, The Water Club brings the hope for the beach resort’s renaissance as a destination, rather than a bus ride to the gambling tables.

The two hotels, together with the massive casino-entertainment-and dining complex between them, form their own destination – an “island” surrounded by highways and overlooking a bay (with a view of Atlantic City’s wind turbine farm).

The $400 million, 800-room Water Club is Atlantic City’s first “boutique-lifestyle” hotel, offering a personalized guest experience within a distinctively cosmopolitan setting. You could easily imagine celebrities and power brokers feeling very comfortable here.

The Water Club is also billed as Atlantic City’s first luxury hotel built in the era of casino gambling but without a casino. In actuality, Water Club shares a massive casino/entertainment/dining complex with its sister hotel, The Borgata.

But unless you take that walk through the lobby down a short promenade of six exquisite, high-styled boutiques, you could easily enjoy Water Club as a boutique resort-style hotel with a world-class, two-story spa, five indoor and outdoor pools, and and state-of-the-art meeting and function facilities.

A one-to-one employee-to-guest ratio means service that rises to the level of pampering and begins with a valet taking the car and an “Ambassador” who checks you in curbside with a hand-held device.

The Water Club's dining experiences are all designed by chef Geoffrey Zakarian of Manhattan's Country and Town, here doing a cooking demonstration (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The Water Club continues the precedent of an upscale, sophisticated, cosmopolitan hotel set by The Borgata. When the 2,000-room Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened in 2003, it was the first new Atlantic City casino in 13 years, and the first to present a Las Vegas-style destination with entertainment, celebrity chef restaurants, lavishly appointed guestrooms, and exciting nightlife options all under one roof.

“Within a few short months of opening Borgata, we realized the need to expand our product offering to accommodate the high demand and understood that there was a untapped niche in the market for a cosmopolitan hotel experience in Atlantic City,” explained Larry Mullin, President & Chief Operating Officer for Borgata at the opening of The Water Club in June. “We are confident that not only will the addition of The Water Club firmly position Borgata for long-term success, but will lead Atlantic City as it evolves into true travel destination.”

The connection to Las Vegas is no surprise. The projects are a joint venture between Boyd Gaming and MGM Mirage, and with The Water Club, brings the total investment into the resort destination to $1.7 billion – leading Atlantic City in its development surge, which includes over $10 billion in capital investments planned within the next five years (including another 4,000-room MGM hotel on the site). The hotel was conceived as an exclusive extension to the Las Vegas-style Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Just steps away from Borgata’s gaming, dining, nightlife, and entertainment options, The Water Club combines elements of Borgata while delivering a personality all its own.

But rather than merely expand The Borgata, the decision was made to create a second hotel with a distinct personality.

“The Water Club’s personalized service, sophisticated style and unique brand of comfortable luxury will offer guests the feeling of an exclusive retreat, without being excluding,” said Drew Schlesinger, VP and General Manager for The Water Club. “In crafting The Water Club experience, we drew inspiration from the style and intimacy of boutique hotels in cities like Miami and New York, while still affording guests the ability to enjoy Borgata’s entertainment, world-class restaurants, nightlife and gaming.”

‘Immersion’ Motif

What impresses you (especially if you have been to Atlantic City’s boardwalk, with the Caesars, the Trumps, Resorts International) is the elegant design not seen before in this city, the quality of the materials, the sophisticated styling.

The Los-Angeles based design firm Laurence Lee Associates, has created an exquisite atmosphere using naturalistic themes and materials, much in the style of (what I call) Asian-moderne, with the motif of “immersion” – immersion in water, immersion in indulgence – as the over-arching motif.

Stunning décor and stylish treatments enhance the ambiance in the Water Club guestrooms (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

In the hotel lobby, limestone columns, and plush handmade rugs punctuated by rich splashes of color are interwoven with gentle water features to create alluring spaces that soothe and revitalize. As you go around the hotel, you see different patterns of stone (collected from 40 different countries) and grain of woods that form artful patterns, palm trees and bamboo grace the interior landscape, stunning art work including Chuiluilly glass.

Floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the hotel’s 43 floors present striking views of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding bays, while the five pools offer sanctuaries of renewal and relaxation. The hotel’s lobby lounge, The Sunroom, is a sun-filled space with cascading water that flows along a curved 50-linear-foot blue stone wall and into a tranquil reflective pool. In the evening, The Sunroom transforms into a sultry hideaway with intimate seating areas set amidst a winding stone pathway and lush landscaping that can be enjoyed for drinks and conversation.

Outdoors, guests are introduced to two heated infinity-edge outdoor pools. Surrounding the 400-jet pool, a wooden deck features soft sand with Teak chaise lounges and cabanas. Inside The Water Club, a 42-foot high glass ceiling canopies the hotel’s two infinity-edge indoor pools with plush beach chairs and lofty palm trees that evoke the feeling of an outdoor setting. The indoor pool area is complimented by an intimate bar with poolside service and large Jacuzzi.

The Water Club’s 800 guest rooms, including 760 Clubrooms, 3 levels of suites, and 3 residences, provide upscale amenities and stunning design. Warm Earth tones mix with subtle yet striking bursts of color. A scarlet throw blanket adorns a plush cream-colored chaise lounge, while woven, ultra soft, Egyptian cotton linens combine hues of brown, beige, and deep turquoise.

Each guest room is outfitted with a 40″ LCD Sony Flat Panel TV, iHome Alarm Clock with iPod docking station, wireless high-speed Internet access, and IP Phone. Black and white photographic artwork, L’Occitane amenities, his and hers bathrobes with matching slippers, woven, 400 thread-count Egyptian cotton linens, and oversized, glass-enclosed showers with therapeutic showerheads provide an intimate, soothing atmosphere.

You will likely swoon over the quality of the plush robes, towels, even the bathroom glass that is utterly gorgeous – and everything you see, including the sheets, the slippers left by your bed, and even the pillows – can actually be purchased in the Cameo store downstairs.

The Water Club’s suites are spacious and stunning, and come with butler service! plus showers large enough for two people, and are equipped with a media-rich mini theater, a 70-inch Sony LCD HGTV with surround sound, wet bar and panoramic views of the ocean and bay. Both the two-bedroom Viceroy and Social Suites and one-bedroom Harbor Suite offer designated spaces for in-room massage therapy treatments.

The Water Club’s three residences are modeled after chic, New York-style lofts. The Residence on 34, located on the 34th floor, is a two-bedroom duplex with grand piano, fireplace, and spa room, while the two-bedroom 4,500-square-foot duplex Residence on 36, offers a pool table, fireplace and entertainment center. The 3,000-square-foot, Residence on 38 is a single-floor suite with one bedroom, wet bar, and spa room.

The "third-eye" treatment at Immersion, the Water Club's spa (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

For many valid reasons, The Water Club sees itself as appealing to destination weddings, bridal or bachelor party getaways, as well as for high-level corporate retreats, incentive programs and board meetings.

Immersion – A Spa With A View

Located on the 32nd and 33rd floors, Immersion – The Spa at The Water Club, is a globally-inspired, 36,000-square-foot retreat with floor-to-ceiling windows, 180-degree ocean views; a 25-yard infinity-edge lap pool; 16 ‘experience’ rooms, a 1800-square-foot, state-of-the-art fitness center with TechnoGym equipment; and gourmet spa menu.

The spa, which is available exclusively to Water Club guests, is the epitome of opulence and luxury, and is like a resort-within-a-resort, with a private lounge (separate ones for men and women), 80-foot lap pool, fitness center, in addition to the 16 treatment rooms. Spa guests can use the exclusive facilities for the entire day.

Not only is the spa for the exclusive use of Water Club guests, but there is an extra $30 charge even for guests to use the spa pool and fitness room.

The 36,000-square-foot spa, Immersion blends natural materials with a modern design, including a river rock archway with cascading water; slate, green marble, stone and glass detailing; and lush indoor greenery. Immersion’s crowning feature is a spacious, two-lane, 80-foot-long infinity-edge lap pool with horizon and Atlantic Ocean views and 42-foot ceilings with floor-to-ceiling glass panels.

Sixteen experience rooms cater to today’s spa trends of longer (80 and 110 minutes) and more personalized services (and cost $250 each).

Two of the treatment rooms are deluxe couples’ suites with oversized Japanese-style Hanoki soaking tubs and 180-degree views; two are Vichy shower wet rooms with heated Hamam tables; four are skincare-ready rooms; and two are individual suites with dedicated private showers and Jacuzzi tubs. Immersion also offers three soft-pack floatation device tables, designed to increase product absorption by 30 percent. Pairs can experience this service side-by-side.

An "in-tandem" treatment at Immersion, the Water Club's spa (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Additionally, The Water Club has 28 deluxe suite accommodations with a dedicated spa room ready for body treatments, massages and facials for a private in-room spa experience.

Immersion’s spa director Brennan Evans, who is also the director of spa operations at Borgata’s Spa Toccare and formerly the spa director at the esteemed Canyon Ranch Spa, created the service menu to suit the spa enthusiast who not only wants medi-spa options, but also desires “a quick fix and spa indulgences without downtime.” Immersion satisfies with “high tech, high touch” experiences, which last a minimum of 80 minutes and feature leading spa industry products, including Naturopathica, Intraceuticals, Spa Visions, Jamu, True, Academie Scientifique and Tara Spa Therapy’s Ayurvedic line.

For example, intraceuticals, involve oxygen infusion, which plumps up and hydrates the skin without an injection or redness (which is why is popular with popular with “red carpet” celebrities.

In another room, we see a fine stream of herb infusion oil being dripped on the “third eye” – to calm and relax – which is followed by scalp, hand and foot massage.

Another room offers heated hammam table, from Germany, made completely of jade marble.

What impresses is the selection of methods from around the world and with different cultures.

Immersion’s signature services include the Immersion Rainforest (110 minutes), which starts with an exfoliation and mud wrap of Black Silt Clay containing herbal extracts of Indian Sarsaparilla, Plantain, and Echinacea, and then a rinse in a Japanese-style Hanoki soaking tub filled with rare essences of Bourbon Vanilla, Massola Bark and Linden Blossom. The experience finishes with a pampering full-body deep tissue massage.

Nightlife is plentiful at the Water Club: here, a band rocks at the Gypsy Bar (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

In addition to the pool, the spa includes a state-of-the-art Techno Gym-equipped fitness center with ocean views that also overlooks the pool area; a men’s and a women’s lounge featuring cold water plunge pools along with Jacuzzi and steam rooms.

A gourmet spa menu has been created by New York City’s Country and Town Chef/Owner Geoffrey Zakarian. Continuing the personalized focus, guests are given the opportunity at check-in to select their dining option, which is served poolside, or while relaxing in a spa suite. Spa cuisine is served in three Geoffrey Zakarian designed bento boxes.

Spa menu selection include super food lunch boxes with options like a roast turkey wrap with arugula, and cranberry relish, a string bean and almond side salad with yogurt dressing, quinioa, shallots, pine nuts and sherry vinegar, served with a blueberry parfait filled with crushed pumpkin seeds. The Spa also offers guests a chocolate and tea service for before and after treatments to provide the ultimate experience in decadence.

A delightful surprise is Acai – a spritzer of sparkling water and berry juice from Brazilian rainforest, high in anti-oxidant.

Spa Immersion offers fitness classes and personal training sessions for $120/hour. To visit Immersion, spa clients must be guests at The Water Club. For guests opting out of a spa service, a $30/day fee is charged for use of the fitness center and pool. All packages and services include a 20 percent service charge (visit www.thewaterclubatborgata.com, or call 800-800-8817 for reservations).

Dining Experience

The Water Club’s dining experiences are all designed by chef Geoffrey Zakarian of Manhattan’s Country and Town, in his first venture outside New York City, who creates and oversee all food and beverage hospitality for the spa, pool, special events and in-room dining.

The selections are completely unexpected: Tuna Tartare with green apple and flat bread crisps; Grilled Organic Chicken with smoked mozzarella, pesto and arugula and rosemary foccacia; and a Curried Taro Turnover with pork, daikon and lemongrass, guests will enjoy soaking up the atmosphere, which is inspired by Miami’s South Beach and features lush landscaping, sand and private cabanas.

The Water Club is billed as a non-gaming hotel, but steps away is the stylish Borgata casino (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

A novel twist is the emphasis on in-room dining, especially for breakfast, rather than going to a hotel restaurant (since the hotel restaurants are really all in the Borgata).

Signature in-room breakfast items such as bagels and scrambled egg sandwich or savory sides of smoked bacon, cheese pork grits, and rosemary home fries or a healthy heart cereal choice of house made granola, organic raisin bran or Kashi GoLean Crunch complemented with soy, whole organic or rice milk and fresh berries on the side.

We enjoyed the unusually prepared Blueberry pancakes, and “Ouefs in plate with cheese” (cheese omelette) with ham and wild mushrooms, served on stunning silverware and china.

Instead of a formal restaurant, The Water Club has casual eateries in the Sunroom and by the pools (a dozen restaurants are just steps away at The Borgata). The lobby-level Sunroom is lush and will make you think you are in Palm Beach, with soaring palm trees and fountain (though the fireplace is a bit jarring). It is set up with comfortable lounge nooks where you can order light breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night snacks.

The two heated outdoor pools are just behind the Sunroom – they have done an excellent job creating a beach-like environment – with sand, cabanas, trees – and shielding the roadways from view. Both outdoor pools -beautiful with the “infinity edge” where water rolls over the side – are reserved for adults.

The prettiest pool (also heated) is indoors, but it is easy to forget that it is actually indoors, except that the temperature is perfectly controlled and there is music. It, too, is lushly landscaped with trees, lounge chairs (each with an orchid placed on a rolled towel). There is an eaterie, here as well, for breakfast and light meals, making it a delightful gathering place.

Happening Place

The Water Club is billed as the first non-gaming hotel to be built in Atlantic City since gaming began, but you simply walk through the small promenade of retail shops, leaving the tranquility of The Water Club, and enter a “happening” place with 161,000-square-feet of casino floor space including 200 gaming tables, 4,100 slot machines, and an 85-table poker room; 12 destination restaurants; 12 retail boutiques; a 54,000 square foot spa; 70,000 square feet of event space; a 2,400-seat Borgata Event Center and a 1,000-seat Music Box theater,

The space is actually gorgeous – not tacky like so many of Atlantic City’s casinos, even the name-brand hotels – and can be enjoyed even if you are like me, a non-gambler.

This is the place to come for dining and entertainment.

Atlantic City's famous beach with Convention Center (at right) (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

There are seven “destination” restaurants to chose from – each exquisite and offering a distinct personality: Bobby Flay Steak famous for its Southwest-style steak and boldly seasoned dishes; Old Homestead Steakhouse, an original, classic steak house; Ombra, a classic trattoria and wine bar; SeaBlue, A Michael Mina restaurant, serving seasonal fresh fish from all over the world cooked over a wood-burning grill; Specchio, featuring modern Italian cuisine with a classical twist; Wolfgang Puck American Grille serving American cuisine; and the newest, Izakaya, A Modern Japanese Pub offering spectacularly reinvented Japanese cuisine within an alluring social scene.

There also are six casual dining options: The Metropolitan, a 24-hour café serving contemporary and classic American foods; Borgata Buffet, a buffet of entrees, snacks and desserts; Bread + Butter- serving sandwiches and gourmet beverages; Risi Bisi serving pizza, Panini and salad selections; N.O.W. featuring Japanese, Chinese, Korean cuisine; and The Cafeteria, multi-concept quick service dining featuring Tony Luke’s cheese-steaks, Ben & Jerry’s, and Panda Express.

Also within this complex (again, just steps away from The Water Club) are four signature nightlife experiences: MIXX dance club featuring renowned DJs; mur.mur, an intimate nightclub with signature bottle service and celebrity DJ’s and B Bar lounge centrally located on the casino floor. My favorite place was the Gypsy Bar, Borgata’s rock & roll and tequila bar featuring live music and eclectic eats. There is also a theater presenting live entertainment.

Shopping as Entertainment

The Water Club’s retail shops warrant mentioning – just six, but each is distinct and in most cases, the only shop of its kind, and really interesting/fun to visit, even if you are just window-shopping (like at Hearts of Fire).

The Water Club is home to the first North American Hearts On Fire store. Hearts on Fire elevated the industry standard in diamond cutting by creating perfect “Hearts On Fire” cut diamonds, which are truly exquisite. The boutique offers an intimate and personalized shopping experience that you would not expect.

Fixation, a Water Club exclusive, featuring top brands of shoes and handbags such as Salvatore Ferragamo, Stuart Weitzman, PRADA, Emilio Pucci, KORS by Michael Kors, Diane Von Furstenburg, L.A.M.B, Longchamp, Juicy Couture, BCBG, Betsy Johnson, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Lacoste, Via Spiga, and Missoni. Fixation at The Water Club, boasting 1,580-square-feet of designer labels, is the only place at the shore to find all of the top accessory designers under one roof. Plush white leather couches complemented by pearlescent silver walls add to the rich shopping experience. Unexpected pops of lime add energy, while black and gray accents keep the overall design grounded. There is also an unexpected range of prices, with sandal flats at $29, up to jeweled sandals at $140.

Hugo Boss at The Water Club features stylish menswear, ranging from classic business-wear and casual sportswear to elegant evening apparel.

The Shoppes at The Water Club also boast the area’s first Just Cavalli boutique, which joins the brand’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue, combining the right mix of high-end retail and luxe lifestyle. Renowned designer Roberto Cavalli’s ready-to-wear collection has a sensual, party infused flair similar to The Water Club. The store successfully caters to women of any age who want “fun” and “sexy”. This is a great place to look for Prom or Sweet 16 dresses (prices ranging from $200 to $300).

Wrap yourself in sensuality at La Perla at The Water Club. Specializing in luxurious intimate apparel, swimwear, and ready-to-wear, La Perla features one-of-a-kind, limited edition items (even a cigarette holder and a gold-plated “dragon bra”, at $1,048). This is really something to be seen. The stunning 1,250-square-foot boutique mixes a cool and calming color scheme of silver and white with warm wooden floors.

Cameo, The Water Club’s signature boutique, is where you can find just about any of the necessities you might have forgotten to pack. But it is also where you can actually purchase just about anything you admired (and wished you could stuff in a suitcase) in your room: bathrobes, slippers, sheets, pillows, towels, even the glass in the bathroom.

Hi-Tech/Hi-Touch

Rolling wicker chairs are an Atlantic City boardwalk tradition (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

You get your first exposure to just how high-tech The Water Club is when you pull up in a car, and the valet checks in the vehicle, and a Water Club Ambassador greets you curbside and checks you in with a handheld device. The device sends information to a second Water Club Ambassador, who arrives with pre-printed keys and a glass of champagne and escorts you up escalator, avoiding a waiting at the front desk

You no sooner enter your room, than an IP LCD TV offer personalized greetings with your name.

Guestroom phones are VOIP (voice over IP), which allows guests direct information from the Internet, view in-room dining information and place orders from the phone; find out the wait time for an in-room dining request, check the delivery status, and advance order an “Express Breakfast” by touching a phone icon. You can also use the phone to check flight status, weather or travel conditions, and locate local restaurants through citysearch.com.

Rooms are equipped with HD television and video on-demand and (for a fee) wireless and wired Internet service. You can also trade-up to “Turbo Service”, to connect to home computers, photos, and videos.

The rooms all have Sony HD LCD screens, iHome Alarm Clock with iPod docking station; even the minibar is equipped with “smart” technology that lets housekeeping know when to replenish items (or what to bill you for).

On the Boardwalk

You can see the Atlantic City boardwalk from the hotel and easily spend the entire time within The Water Club and Borgata complex, but it is tremendous fun to hop a jitney bus for the 15 minute-ride ($2, it operates 24 hours) from the surface parking lot at The Borgata and within minutes, you can be strolling the famous boardwalk.

By day, Atlantic City is still a great beach destination – in summer, some of the major hotels have opened lovely eateries and provide umbrellas and chairs right on the beach; in other seasons, it is still fun to just walk on the beach.

There seems to be a concerted effort to fight back against the forces that would stomp out everything that was charming about Atlantic City. Look a little closely and you will find historic marketers (like along Jones Beach boardwalk) that tell you the history of the wicker rolling chairs ($5/for five blocks), even Mr. Peanut shop, that I remember so fondly from our many family trips when I was a child.

Those famous rolling chairs date from 1877, when the Boardwalk was the “Great Wooden Way, and hardware store owner William Hayday rented wicker wheelchairs for people with disabilities, then a few years later, people started requesting them for a joy ride. (This triggered memories of my younger brother, age 4, saying “beep beep” as we were pushed along the boardwalk).

Enjoy a game of miniature golf on the boardwalk (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The nicest, most charming aspect to the Boardwalk is the miniature golf course that harkens back to Atlantic City’s Victorian glory days, with lovely sculptures and old-time “postcards” at each of the holes. The course is directly opposite Atlantic City’s famous convention center, once the home of the annual Miss America contest. A round of miniature golf should definitely be part of your Atlantic City tradition (Weekdays, 10 a.m. to midnight, weekends until 1 a.m., $8 pp).

You can ride a bike on the boardwalk, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. from April 1-Oct. 31, and 6 a.m. to noon from Nov. 1-March 31.

The boardwalk is fairly tacky – even and perhaps because of the gambling era hotels that seemed oriented to middle America and show the effects of hordes of people.

A pleasant exception is the Pier Shops at Caesars retail shopping mall where one of the pier attractions used to be. The shops and restaurants are great, the atmosphere is fun.

And if you walk through to the pier, you will find yourself out over the ocean with lovely views back up the beach and boardwalk on both sides. Off in the distance is the Steel Pier, now more than 112 years old and still an amusement park.

But to add to the resort-feel of Water Club and The Borgata (and the exclusiveness that maximizes separation of hotel guests from the Boardwalk and the Boardwalk casinos), they offer a shuttle on weekends to Brigateen Beach, on an island surrounded by water and significantly more private than Atlantic City’s beachfront (you have to check the shuttle schedule).

Atlantic City is now the second largest casino-gaming destination in the country, earning $5 billion – after Las Vegas. The take from gaming may actually be greater than what Las Vegas brings in, but Atlantic City, with 15,000 hotel rooms to Las Vegas’ 130,000 – can’t compete in terms of non-gaming revenue.

The Water Club, 1 Renaissance Way, Atlantic City, NJ 08401, 609-317-8888, 800-800-8817,www.TheWaterClubatBorgata.com.

Wednesday, 15 October, 2008

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© 2008 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit us online at www.travelwritersmagazine.com and at www.familytravelnetwork.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

‘GAL GETAWAY’ TO CONNECTICUT’S SPA AT NORWICH INN

Nothing like a trip to a spa to forge memorable bonds

By Karen Rubin

I have known, loved and been close with my sister in-law for decades, but I realized, much to my chagrin, we had never had extended “quality time,” just us, together.

And so, when the opportunity presented to take a “gal getaway” to the renowned Spa at Norwich Inn, in Connecticut, I grabbed at it, knowing the power of travel to forge memorable bonding experiences.

And I was right.

Our “gal getaway” at the Spa at Norwich Inn in Connecticut was full of surprises.

It began with our dinner at Kensington’s – an elegant space with dark-wood paneling, hand-painted floral mural, shimmering crystal chandelier, and music by Pat Mitchell on a keyboard – as we reviewed the menu and found succulent selections – not that thin, watery, bland stuff you might expect from a “spa”.

Here was beef, lamb, chicken, fish, pasta, even clam chowder, all bursting with flavor, with portions big enough to satisfy, so when you leave, you do not have that empty, deprived feeling. Yes, the preparations were designed to maximize flavor with minimum calories – the clam chowder, for example, was creamy enough but thankfully not so rich that you feel guilty with every spoonful (275 calories, 10 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein, 10 grams of carbohydrates).

The Amaretto Shrimp appetizer, as another example, is prepared with a sweet and spicy Amaretto emulsion and finished with walnut crumbs and a light salad of edible flowers (329 calories, 25 grams of fat, 14 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrate).

And the amazing entrees: Lobster Purse – a fresh lobster saut�ed in shallot and Chardonnay cr�me, wrapped in a crepe with braised vegetables, saffron and caviar (510 calories, 15 g fat, 32 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate); grilled swordfish about an inch thick, with a zesty flavor from garlic and citrus, accompanied by grilled zucchini and tomato, with rice pilaf and cucumber-citrus-garlic yogurt aioli (477 calories, 16 g fat, 56 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate).

The combination of distinct flavors is exciting.

Who would have imagined that the prime rib steak would actually come in at fewer calories (499 calories, 24 g of fat, 41 g of protein and 31 g of carbohydrate)?

This was only the first of many surprises during our weekend getaway.

But in some ways, it was not a surprise, but a fulfillment of expectation – being able to share quality time with my sister-in-law, who has been a part of my life since I was 13. It was, in fact, the first time in all these years (I won’t share how many) that I can remember, that we had time just to ourselves. In this, we became part of the growing trend toward “Gal Getaways” – so liberating, empowering and fun.

And we couldn’t have chosen a better place: the Spa at Norwich Inn has become a premiere spa destination, one of the biggest in the Northeast, regularly among the top four spas in the country, and the perfect place to relieve stress that we all feel, balancing work and family.

The setting of the Inn contributes to the atmosphere: set on 43 acres, in the picturesque “Rose of Connecticut” – so-called because from above, the rolling hills resemble petals of a rose – and just a stone’s throw from Old Lyme, where the landscapes were so bucolic as to attract the famous Old Lyme Art Colony of American Impressionists (see Discovery, 9/26). Its grounds abounding with perennial gardens, shimmering ponds, and inviting walkways, oak trees, a reflecting pool, and an oversized deck which are so conducive to relaxation.

The Vitality Vitamin Wrap involves application of anti-oxidant Vitamins A, C, and E-dense cream to the skin, then you are wrapped, cocoon-like, which activates hydration (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

With 100 guestrooms, suites and villas, The Spa at Norwich Inn, a member of Historic Hotels of America, is classy and classic, and quintessentially New England. You are greeted at the door by doormen, and taken to the room by bellmen. Nightly turn-down service includes fresh towels and chocolates left on the pillow. The concierge helpfully makes special arrangements or suggests sightseeing excursions.

We head up to our room – a king-suite – with an amazingly comfortable king-sized bed, and a separate sitting area with pull-out sleep sofa and TV – all classic and restful.

In the morning, we meet ladies doing their “bachelorette” getaways before the big day; bridal parties enjoying the spa before the big event taking place at the inn; couples in their plush white robes, strolling and holding hands while they wait for their treatment; mother-daughters and I am sure there is a three-generational group somewhere. My sister-in-law thinks how fabulous this will be to return with her two daughters.

With men seeing the benefits of stress reduction, they are becoming a growing market for spas, and the Spa at Norwich Inn has catered to this with corporate retreats.

There are at least two wedding parties while we are here, as well, but clearly, the focus of the Inn is on the spa – as you realize when you see men and women wrapped in their plush white robes, everywhere – in the wood-paneled formal dining room at breakfast, in the Ascot’s pub, in the lobby, and not just within the confines of the spa and outdoor patios. It’s a little surreal at first.

I realize when I talk with Betty Loiacono, the Inn’s spa director, that the Inn at Norwich was in the forefront of the now-ubiquitous trend in major spas at resort hotels. The Inn’s spa was one of the first in the East, built 20 years ago, even before the Canyon Ranch opened in Lenox, Massachusetts, when spas were more of an amenity than the central focus of a visit. The Spa at Norwich Inn, now with 30,000 square feet of space and 40 treatment rooms, has become one of the top four spas in the country.

Betty came to the Inn 20 years ago and was here when the spa was first built. In that time, there has been a virtual revolution in spa-going. The focus has also shifted – from weight loss and deprivation, to stress reduction and health.

Then, it was mostly older women, now the spa welcomes teens (as young as 14 with a parent or caretaker, or 16 on their own), and men are coming in growing numbers (Real Men do Spa).

For teens, for example, there are age-appropriate facials, massages and body polish treatments. Therapists have heightened sensitivity so not to embarrass a teenager with acne, and they teach daily facial care – cleaning, toning, moisturizing and using sun-screen. A specially designed “Teen Maxin’ & Relaxin’ Swedish Massage” uses gentle, flowing strokes, delivered with utmost sensitivity (50 minutes, $95).

“It’s a rite of passage. Teens are very savvy about the spa. Everybody is in a white robe – it is an equalizer. It is treating teens with respect, honoring them.”

A Teen spa package provides one fitness class; choice of a Maxin’ and Relaxin’ Swedish Massage or Teen ‘Put Your Best Face Forward’ Facial; and choice of Tip-to-Toe Body Glow or Fab Feet Pedicure or Material Girl Manicure; lunch in Kensington’s Restaurant; and full use of the Spa Facility ($175).

More and more men who appreciate the opportunity to reduce stress, as well. A “Real Men Do Spa” package includes a choice of 50 Minute Swedish Massage, or Men’s Energizing Facial; Choice of “Man Handler” Manicure, or “Man Handler” pedicure; Men’s Hair Cut and Style ; Lunch in Kensington’s Restaurant; Full Use of the Spa Facility ($210).

We also see many couples, both in their plush white robes, strolling hand-in-hand or sitting and quietly talking as they wait to be called in. One of the programs offered is a “Massage Lesson for Partners” where the therapist demonstrates massage techniques and both partners get to practice so the techniques taught may be used at home to generate relaxation and relieve stress (50 minutes, $90). Men are also taking advantage of facials, like the “Men’s Energizing Facial” ($95).

To the extent that disease can be triggered by stress, spa-treatments may be regarded as preventive. In fact, she says, some insurance companies now cover the cost of treatments.

But, she notes, that if you are undergoing chemotherapy, some of the treatments – like those that might move lymph – are not appropriate, or if you are on blood thinners, or have high blood pressure, or pregnant (a Pregnancy massage is offered).

On the other hand, people who are in remission come to celebrate their renewal with children and family.

“It is very healing. It is giving yourself permission to deal with yourself,” Betty says. “It is allowing someone to touch you, to put yourself at peace.”

Connecticut Workout

After breakfast (I request an omelet with cheese, mushrooms and spinach), we go directly to our fitness classes.

There are any number of group classes to choose from during the day -Belly Dancing, Body Definition, Candlelight Yoga, CardioSculpt, Get on the Ball, Hatha Yoga, Limber & Tone, Line Dancing, Making Waves (a water workout), progressive relaxation (all of these are 50 minutes and cost $18).

We opt for the Connecticut Workout, a nonstop cardio workout combining traditional and trendy high-energy movements, followed by Pilattes Mat, which I have come to believe is the best type of conditioning, especially for women at our stage of life. Pilattes focuses on developing strength of “the core” – the abdominals and back muscles that keep the rest of the body in alignment – and on flexibility and balance. This is a way of life that you can take back with you.

There are a limited number of offerings that are complimentary, such as “Fit Tips,” a 20-minute session with the personal trainer in the gym; a 20-minute Meditation session, and a 50-minute 2.5-mile morning walk. But just about everything else is a la carte, even tennis court time ($25 per hour), and a seasonal Devil’s Hopyard Hike (a three-hour trek through a hemlock forest with the scenic Eight Mile River meandering through, offered on Saturdays from May through November, weather permitting, $40).

Tips & Tricks for Healthy Cooking

The Norwich Inn's Executive Chef Daniel Chong-Jimenez gives a "Tips and Tricks for Healthy Cooking" luncheon-cooking demonstration (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

After our fitness sessions, we take part in a “Tips and Tricks for Healthy Cooking” luncheon-cooking demonstration presented by Executive Chef Daniel Chong-Jimenez on the Garden Patio.

After our dinner at Kensington’s, I was fascinated to hear him discuss cooking techniques that maximize flavor and nutrition while minimizing calories.

As a food scientist, he understands the importance to metabolism of protein, fat and carbohydrates, and the interplay of the chemistry of food to nutrition. He graduated with a Bachelors of Science in animal science from the University of California-Davis, and teaches culinary nutrition at Johnson & Wales in Providence.

It turns out that Chef Daniel draws upon his early training as an animal scientist – an understanding of metabolism and chemistry – and applies this to his culinary art. He also draws from his heritage – Asian and Latino – to produce exciting combinations of flavors and textures.

The menu selections, which are so flavorful, turn out to be loaded with antioxidants.

“Scientific evidence continues to mount that points to Antioxidants as the most important component in the human diet after fats, protein and carbohydrates,” he says. “This menu represents the most Antioxidants I’ve ever used. And I haven’t skimped on flavor – in fact, the opposite is true.”

It’s like being given license to enjoy eating.

For example, the new Baked Portabella appetizer, where the giant mushroom is served warm and crusted with chevre, roasted garlic, roasted shallots and topped with crispy pepitas, organic olive oil and cabernet syrup – the olive oil and cabernet syrup, a reduction of wine made from red cabernet grapes, provide the Antioxidant kick.

The pairings also provide the Antioxidants – the Long Island duck entrée is breast meat seasoned with star anise and hot peppers with bok choy, shitake mushrooms and licorice-root infused duck brother. The Antioxidants come from the mushrooms and licorice root.

Fish oil also is a good source of Antioxidants, so the Cassoulet of Halibut, as well as the Grilled salmon and monkfish saddle also are good sources.

Antioxidants, he said, are important because they can absorb free oxygen radicals, a normal byproduct of human breathing, an essential component of cellular communication, enzyme synthesis and immune defense. But too many of these in the wrong places can have a detrimental effect. They have an unpaired electron that is looking for a “buddy” to bring its energy level to a stable state. If there isn’t a nutrient from a helpful fruit or vegetable or fish oil to pair up with the free radical, it will “steal” a hydrogen atom from a cell membrane to stabilize its energy field.

This can be bad over time, diminishing the ability of the cell to function properly. These cells affect memory, heart, kidney, lungs, thyroid, muscle, bone, skin, and the body ages faster because the cells are wearing out, he says.

But the most important “ingredient” is simply the freshness of the ingredients, he says. The fresher they are, the more natural flavor they impart, and the more healthful they are. So he has cultivated relationships with local farmers and fishermen.

There are many reasons to become a “Locavore” – a person who eats locally grown food. A key reason is that the vegetables and fruit are picked closest to peak, are riper and have ripened naturally, have the most nutrients, are livelier, have been handled by fewer hands, exposed to fewer markets, and doesn’t need to be transported far (burning fossil fuels). And because the taste is so vibrant, needs less added seasoning.

“That’s the secret to the intense flavor,” he says.

So he starts our lunch with a gazpacho soup that has more the consistency of a salad, made with vine-ripened tomatoes from a local farm two miles away that have never been refrigerated, yellow bell peppers, cucumber, onions, olive, sherry vinegar and white balsamic, salt imported from France, and extract of virgin olive oil. It is served unabashedly with bread fried in olive oil (it’s healthy, I am delighted to learn since it is so delicious).

In front of us, he demonstrates how to prepare a watermelon salad with shrimp and scallops with goat cheese and balsamic that you would say to yourself have no business being on the same plate.

As he prepares, he answers our questions – such as the efficacy of eating foods in certain combinations so they metabolize more efficiently (leaving less fat on our bones).

“We are most metabolically active in the early part of the day, which diminishes later and slows down at night. It is better to eat carbohydrates early in the day – pancakes, French toast – but in the evening, eat a lot of vegetables and proteins because the body repairs at night.”

Also, choose high quality protein. Beef and chicken are best that have been fed grass rather than grain (corn), which became the popular method during the Nixon Era because of a surplus of corn, he says. Corn-fed beef produced more marbling, but Americans got fatter, and the animals raised on a corn-diet are stressed.

Grass fed meat is leaner, less marbled, gives off a cleaner smell when it cooks, and shrinks more (because the animal is less stressed).

He says that he likes to serve portions of 6 or 7 ounces – more than the 4-ounce servings at many spas. “It is the amount at which people usually feel satisfied. I learned not to starve my guests. They won’t lose significant weight here, anyway.”

His approach is to give generous portions of protein, and limit the amount of carbohydrates. “30 grams is the threshold where the body feels challenged by sugar load… It’s one of the secrets of the Atkins diet, that proteins satisfy.”

Chef Daniel has been cooking throughout this, and has finished saut�ing the shrimp and now holds up these massive, four-ounce scallops, harvested from nearby Stonington, so are as fresh as they can be. “We buy direct from a fishing family – two brothers and a sister.”

He cooks them over a high flame, not even adding oil, because the scallops release their own oil. He cooks them until they caramelize on each side.

While they are cooking, he turns to arranging strawberries and the shrimp against thick, blockish squares of watermelon, and when the scallops are finished, puts them on top of the watermelon, with a mixture of “micro greens” – arugala, bean sprouts – finally spooning a balsamic reduction of honey, orange and vinegar, on top and finishes with goat cheese (no lactose).

He discusses the difference in salt – he prefers the Fleur de Sel from a marsh in France – and the different taste it imparts to seafood and tomatoes, and in this case, the watermelon. Watermelon, he said, is high in Vitamin C and beta carotene, is naturally sweet, and compliments the protein in the shrimp and scallops.

With vegetables, he says he roasts instead of steams and uses a toaster oven.

When asked how he describes his cuisine, he says, “Fusion. When I look at the dishes I have crated, there is a lot of cultural heritage. I can’t help myself – I know how to play with spices, but enjoy most the Asian, Latino, and French. Lucky for me, these are also the most popular.”

As for cooking for a spa, he says, “it is the quality of ingredients, eating seasonally. There is no substitute.

Chef Daniel offers these demonstrations, “Tips and Tricks for Healthy Cooking: An interactive demonstration and tasting,” each Saturday at 2:30 ($25). People with food allergies are welcomed – he modifies to accommodate (they ask about allergies when you sign up).

Potpourri of Spa Treatments

The historic Norwich Inn provides just the right amount of elegance (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

A similar concept to the “freshness” of ingredients in cooking, and the natural setting is apparent in the spa treatments, as well. The spa takes advantage of its New England ambience, temperate climate and four seasons, manifest in the seasonal treatments.

Fall Harvest selections include a pumpkin wrap, using aromatherapy of pumpkin and spice, mixed into the dead sea salt scrub. This pumpkin wrap exfoliates dead skin cells and provides the ultimate stimulating cellulite reduction therapy. Pumpkin is best known for its high concentration of Beta-Carotene and Vitamin E, two very important antioxidant agents to fight the effects of aging. Rich in minerals, the pumpkin will re-nourish your depleted skin to a vibrant glow. This treatment is followed with an application of our Pumpkin Body Butter (50-minutes $125).

A Cranberry Pomegranate and Pumpkin Facial uses a pumpkin enzyme masque that works to gently digest and exfoliate dead skin cells and impurities as it delivers pumpkin’s botanical benefits to repair the skin. It is followed by a luxurious cranberry pomegranate moisture masque that re-hydrates and plumps tired cells. The facial ends with amino-lift peptide complex that diminishes fine lines, smoothes and firms the skin (25 minutes, $70; 50 minutes, $110). There’s also a Cranberry Fig Body Scrub; Pumpkin Body Wrap; Oatmeal, Walnut and Pumpkin Manicure or Pedicure.

Since Norwich is designated the ‘Rose of New England, the Norwich Native Flower Wrap treatment incorporates floral essences that are indigenous to New England, with Rose being predominant, combined with the benefits of a hydrating body wrap. The purely natural ingredients relax the body and stimulate the senses (50 minutes, $115).

Phytotherapy?

In the afternoon, we get to experience the spa treatments first hand.

I enjoy a phytotherapy massage – essentially two treatments in one, incorporating the aromatherapy of the plant oils, and a Swedish massage.

As I am taken into the room by Heather (that’s really her name), she points to open bottles of so I can choose the aroma for the oil. The aromatherapy is taken into the body through the skin during the massage or body wrap. Each one has a different benefit.

For Relaxation, a soothing blend of ylang ylang, lavender and tangerine, which brings peace and ease to your body, and mind.

For Energy, a stimulating blends of peppermint and rosemary to awaken your senses and invigorate you for the day.

To improve Respiration, a clearing blend of eucalyptus, fir and pine that helps open your lungs and respiratory channels.

For Muscle Relief, a rich warming blend of birch, thyme and juniper that penetrates to help release stress in your muscle and joints.

For a Clear Mind, a warm blend of peppermint and ginger to help settle that wandering mind.

That one sounded interesting, but because I am not fond of the smell of peppermint and ginger, I decide on “Ambiance”, with a blend of orange and geranium, which is supposed to help center my body and mind.

This notion intrigues me. I can’t wrap my mind about what that feeling is supposed to be like – and wonder if I will rise from the table with a focus, purposefulness that I never had before, a sense of what is “right”; a clarity and single-mindedness. And then I wonder what it will feel like when the treatment wears off and I return to myself.

I also wonder if you are drawn to a certain aroma because your body craves the relief it provides, much as you crave foods when you need certain nutrients.

To be honest, the massage was so relaxing, I am not sure I was aware of being particularly “centered”, though I did fulfill my plan to sit and read, swim laps, and explore the property.

Situated near the 17th tee of the Norwich Public Golf Course, the Norwich Inns grounds abound with perennial gardens, shimmering ponds, inviting walkways, oak trees, a reflecting pool enhancing the sense of peace (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

I also wonder whether people are drawn to a certain scent – like they are to certain foods – because of a need for that particular remedy – relaxation, energy, muscle relief, and so on.

Reva does the Vitality Vitamin Wrap that begins with gentle exfoliation with an aromatic natural algae followed by a stimulating and fragrant application of shower gel. After showering, the therapist applies a richly blended and skin nourishing anti-oxidant Vitamins A, C, and E-dense cream. Then, you are wrapped, cocoon-like, which activates hydration.

There is a dizzying array of treatments to choose from (I can see how people can keep coming back just to try different ones).

Thalassotherapy is a thermal algae body mask, rich in nutrients from the sea, is designed to cleanse, tone and detoxify the system, which finishes with an application of the Inn’s private-label Avocado Lotion (50 minutes, $115).

Ayurvedic Mud Wrap is an application of rejuvenating Ayurvedic herbal-based mud imported from India which is designed to gently balance circulation and deep cleanse your system. The treatment finishes with an Ayurvedic oil application (50 minutes, $115).

One of the new Specialty treatments is CranioSacral Therapy, designed to release the tension that has made your tissues tighten up, to allow the body to relax and “self-correct.” The practitioner uses light-touch techniques, freeing the central nervous system. The treatment requires specialized training, so there is limited availability. ($95 or $152).

 

A Coffee Body Polish is designed to awaken your senses with an invigorating 25-minute body polish.�You relax as each muscle is exfoliated with a blend of ground Coffee, nature’s own micro-cellular stimulant; Dead Sea salt, prized for its detoxifying and regenerating properties; and soothing essential oils.� The coffee and salt gently remove dead skin cells and soften rough patches, while the invigorating aroma of rosemary, mint and citrus oils awakens your senses and invigorates your body. An application of Coffee Blossom Essence Lotion is then applied that completes the experience ($70).

The Nirvana combines the Herbal Body Exfoliation with the Shirodarah treatment to create “an Ayurvedic experience for the mind, body and spirit.”It begins with a Herbal Body Exfoliation – a total body detoxifying experience that provides deep cleansing. The powerful combination of herbs and oils is supposed to work to strengthen the immune system and eliminate the feelings of stress and anxiety. Next comes the Shirodarah that begins with a gentle stream of warm herbal infused oil onto the third eye to quiet the mind and soothe the senses. The oil is then massaged into the hair and scalp to nourish the hair roots and condition the scalp ($175).

Rain Drop Therapy uses nine therapeutic essential oils, hot stones on your back and energy work that balance your Body, Mind and Spirit. Oils are dripped ceremoniously ‘drop-by-drop’ down your spine and on your legs. Then, using gently choreographed strokes, the oils are delivered to your system leaving you feeling very relaxed. You are told to avoid alcohol and heat after this treatment ($125).

There is Hydrotherapy, including a Volcanic Mud Bath which utilizes therapeutic anti-inflammatory properties of mineral-rich volcanic ash mud extract; Lavender or Rosemary Aroma-Mineral Bath; and Seaweed Bath, which is rich in trace elements, vitamins and minerals and has healing properties that stimulate circulation, eliminate toxins and nourish the skin.

Various Body Polish Treatments are offered: Coco Mango Body Buff; Crystal Sea Salt Glow; Lavender Salt Polish; Orange Blossom Sugar Polish; Sensitive Skin; and the Teen Tip-to-Toe Body Glow.

There is a choice of facials, from Anti-Aging, to the Antidote for Fragile and Sensitive Skin.

Most intriguing are a Caviar facial that uses Russian caviar, pearl extracts and Excutox ™, a natural herbal topical alternative to Botox®, to smooth wrinkles, improve elasticity and promote cellular activity ($225); and a Champagne facial, designed for mature skin, that uses Champagne yeast extract with a high concentration of Vitamin B Complex and amino acids to stimulate the skin to combat the effects of free radicals ($110).

Men also are getting facials. The Norwich Inn uses its own Men’s Facial Care products to address the specific needs of men’s skin. A thorough facial cleansing and exfoliation is followed by a serum and masque to help calm the skin. A gentle massage detoxifies and enhances tone. $95

A particular novelty is the in-house astrologer and Tarot card reader, Rosemary Williams, who does a basic Astrology reading, baby chart astrology, couples astrology, even relocation astrology (to find out what your life would be like in another town or country), and Tarot Card reading. All 50 and 90 minute sessions end with an optional Tarot Card reading, and each session is taped to take home ($80).

The various spa treatments are offered a la carte, but there are packages:

For example, the Ultimate Day of Beauty includes an 80 minute Caviar Facial; a choice of New England Foliage Manicure or New England Foliage Pedicure; Make-Up Application Service; lunch in Kensington’s Restaurant; and full use of the Spa Facility for the day ($300).

The midweek Personal Escape Plan allows you to customize your stay. for one to four nights, and provides accommodations, breakfast, choice of two spa services and two fitness classes, (from $318 per person per night/double occupancy, and from $397 single).

Besides the full use of the Spa facility, the packages also offer daily complimentary morning walk, FIT TIPS, Morning Meditation, Make-Up Color Analysis Q&A, SPA 101, afternoon tea and scones, and afternoon wine tasting.

Foxwoods Connection

Now completely mellow from our spa treatments (I have also had a swim in the indoor pool), we meet our small group for dinner in the separate stone cottage that once was the clubhouse for the Norwich Public Golf Course, the 17th tee just outside the door.

Indeed, this historic inn, a member of Historic Hotels of America, has such an interesting history.

The pool at the Spa at Norwich Inn(© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Built in 1929 as a civic project of the town, the Georgian-style manor house was for a time a boarding house and the basement was a holding cell. The popular inn passed through a succession of owners and in 1994, was acquired by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which also owns Foxwoods casino (so no surprise that there is a nightly shuttle to the Foxwoods casino).

An infusion of capital resulted in a $15 million renovation, completed in 2000, which enhanced and doubled the size of the European-style spa, and built a corridor connection to the main building; reduced the number of guestrooms to make them more spacious, and included classic appointments, signature toiletries, luxurious robes and CD players. Nestled in the woods are 51 private villas, equipped with wood-burning fireplaces.

Guests can play golf on the Norwich public course, which is PGA-rated, and is absolutely gorgeous, as well as at the award-winning Lake of Isles Golf Course, designed by Rees Jones surrounding the 90-acre Lake of Isles, which also is owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. (A Golf & Spa package includes overnight accommodations at the Inn, golf for one, choice of two spa services, breakfast and dinner for two and other package features (M-W, from $644; Thurs-Sun, $744).

After dinner, we hop the shuttle to Foxwoods’ newest addition, the MGM Grand with its own casino, and are lucky enough to catch part of Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar’s show in the 4,000-seat theater, wander around the casino, and take in the scene and the heart-pumping sound at Shrine, the disco.

The ambiance at the Norwich Inn is so refined, so classy, it is no surprise it is wonderfully popular for weddings (there are two that weekend) for up to 150 people, bachelorette parties, as well as corporate functions and executive retreats (the clearing the mind thing, especially). A wedding coordinator is on staff can plan everything – even an elopement!

There is a ballroom and five different meeting spaces, for a total of 6,500-squre feet, accommodating up to 250 guests. Special activities can be arranged, like corporate stretch, yoga, and even as a novelty, astrology reading.

The services are offered a la carte, but there are a wonderful array of packages which bundle in the kinds of spa, sports activities, dining options you might want.

ReNew You offers a fitness class, a choice of two Spa offerings, lunch at Kensington’s, a spa boutique lotion to take home, and use of the spa facility. ($275 including tax, gratuity and service charge).

Spacation is a weekday plan that offers one fitness class; lunch in Kensington’s Restaurant; A Spa Boutique Lotion- to take home; a choice of Aromatherapy, European Facial, Hearthside Relaxer Massage, Swedish Massage, PhytoTherapy Massage, Pregnancy Massage, Reiki, or Teen Swedish� Massage, Hair Conditioning Ritual; and a choice of Express Facial, Eyebright, Hand Massage, Foot Massage, Spa Manicures, Spa Pedicures, Body Polish, Hydrotherapy, or Salon Wash, Cut & Dry, Wash and Blow dry ($229 with tax, gratuity and service charge; available weekdays; an overnight stay can be added at a discounted rate).

A Country Getaway Retreat includes accommodations; breakfast and dinner; full use of the Spa facility; and Daily Complimentary Morning Walk, FIT TIPS, Morning Meditation, Make-Up Color Analysis Q&A, SPA 101, Afternoon Tea and Scones and Afternoon Wine Tasting (from $150 pp/night/double or $220/single midweek; and $195 or $325 weekends, with a two-night minimum).

For the best value, the best time to come is after labor day, after New Year’s, and in June before the summer rush. Midweek room rates are naturally lower than weekend. You can check the website for special rates at the day spa.

It is easy to reach the Norwich Inn by train from New York City and Boston; to feel as if you have really gotten away, take the Orient Point ferry to New London, where you can arrange a pick up to the spa (11 miles away). By car, it is about 2 1/2 hours from Long Island.

The Spa at Norwich Inn is a member of Historic Hotels of America (www.historichotels.org, 800-678-8946).

The Spa at Norwich Inn, 607 W. Thames Street, Norwich, Connecticut, 06360, 860-886-2401, 800-ASK-4-Spa, www.thespaatnorwichinn.com.

Tuesday, 28 October, 2008

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