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.

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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