Getting there CAN be half the fun!

On April 20, 2012, in Air Travel, Europe, by Rosemary

I do happen to believe that air travel can still be a fun and exciting way to get from Point A to Point B.

My husband and daughter getting ready to enjoy a fabulous Virgin America flight!

In fact, my vacation officially starts when I take that first step down the jetbridge to my aircraft..You can smell a little jet fuel, hear the sounds of the luggage carts loading bags and my excitement builds and builds!  Granted, in recent years not all my flight experiences have been fabulous.  With TSA patdowns, awful airport food, delays, cancellations and taking off my shoes (!!) getting ready to to go on vacation seems like more of a punishment rather than part of the journey.

 

This is why I consciously try to choose my flight not based on the price of the ticket, but by the perceived value of the experience.  Many people are intimidated by purchasing air travel – and therefore don’t know any other way to shop other than price alone.  However, with ancillary costs often hidden from the average traveler, it can be difficult to know what you’ll be paying exactly.  So, what else should you look for when shopping for a flight?

1) Can I get a nonstop flight for the same price or within 120% of a flight with a layover?  Flying nonstop often is the best way to ensure a good flight experience.  No missed connections, no long layovers with only Cinnabon for company, no wasted time in transit.  Granted, many people don’t have this option all the time, which leads to my point #2…

2) If you have to make a connection, make sure the connection time is appropriate for the airport and for your sanity.  If you’re connecting in Atlanta, a 30 minute connection will be impossible without Superman’s cape.  However, if you’re connecting in a smaller, more compact airport such as Monterey, California, this would not be a problem at all.  Conversely, if you have a layover of 5 hours in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you’ll likely be exhausted from staring at the snow for that long.  My rule of thumb is that I like a layover of roughly 1.5 hours for a domestic connection and 2.5 for an international connection.  More or less than this will cause unnecessary stress and/or endless boredom.

3) Size matters!  If a few flights are similarly priced and you can’t decide which one to book – look at the aircraft type.  Some planes have 2×2 seating, others have 2×3, 3×3, 3x4x3, etc..If you want to sit with your 3 traveling companions on your flight to London, make sure to book yourselves on a 777 with 4 seats across, or a A380 with a 2×2 so you all have a window or an aisle.  If you can book a widebody aircraft such as a 767 over the long, narrow 757, that will make for a much more enjoyable flight.  2 aisles are always better than one.

4) Finally, not all airlines are created equal!  You can have 2 flights that have the same price, the same itinerary, the same aircraft, but operated under different airline companies.  I guarantee you will have 2 very different experiences based on the airline you choose.  Make sure the airline corresponds to your needs.  This may mean they assign seats in advance at no extra charge.  This may mean they don’t charge for checked bags.  This may mean that they have a mobile app that allows you to board the plane without a paper boarding pass.  This may mean that they have an on-demand entertainment system allowing you to choose to watch what you want, when you want.  It could be a combination of all of these items and more.  Ask friends and family for their experiences, ask your travel professional for recommendations.  Don’t assume that a flight is a flight is a flight. Your flight is the beginning and end to your vacation – don’t leave it to chance, and don’t buy your ticket by price alone!

When it came time to choose my flight to Paris, I used all the above criteria to choose my Air France flight.  My traveling companion and I have great seats (that we didn’t have to pay extra for) on a large, new aircraft, we get free checked bags, we are flying nonstop, we get free champagne and we paid a lot less than I expected!  Will it be perfect?  I hope so.  I’ve done what I can to make it so.  However, I know that I only have so much control over the situation, and will make sure to go with the flow to ensure I arrive in Paris well-rested and ready for adventure!

Have a great airfare tip to share?  Leave your fabulous ideas below!

 

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Seaside romance in Playa del Carmen

Last month, I had the good fortune to be able to spend a week in one of Mexico’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities – Playa del Carmen.  Set along the Yucatan coastline, just south of Cancun, this energetic city has all the magical ingredients needed for a romantic getaway.  Yet, it was instantly clear that Playa lends itself well to Destination Weddings as well. 

Beachside weddings at the El Taj

For most Americans, Cancun is an easy destination to get to.  In fact, even here in California, it was an enjoyable 5 hour nonstop flight on Virgin America Thus, your guests will find it easy to say YES to attend the wedding!  While there are so many resort areas to choose from, Playa del Carmen’s easy 45 minutes from the airport, combined with its fashionable 5th Avenue, gorgeous beaches, easy ferry to Cozumel and fantastic lodging choices make it such an perfect destination.

Beachfront, family-friendly Gran Porto Real

One consideration with most Destination Weddings is that you want all your guests to have plenty to do while they’re with you. They are taking time off from work and their lives to be with you on your special day, so you want them to have a great time, don’t you?  In Playa del Carmen, you have all the beach activities that you could possibly want, from fishing to snorkeling to sunbathing, yet amazing shopping on Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) just 2 blocks away.  This is a perfect town to explore on foot, with most of the town within easy walking distance.  When the sun goes down, there is a club, restaurant and lounge for every taste and budget, all, once again, within walking distance. 

Sophisticated restaurants line Quinta Avenida

If you’re up for adventure – there are so many activities to choose from.  To the south you have Xcaret eco park, Xplor adrenaline park, the ruins in Tulum, swimming with the dolphins in Puerto Aventuras and Xel-Ha eco park. To the north, you have the excitement of Cancun, and other nearby adventure parks, such as Selvatica.  Don’t miss the opportunity swim in a cenote!  They’re all over the area, and besides being gorgeous, they’re so refreshing to jump into on a hot day.  Most tour companies include transportation with admission, so there’s no need to rent a car, also making it easier on your guests.

So, the largest concern most people have when planning a Destination Wedding is the location.  Luckily for you, Playa has beachfront locations perfect for a romantic ceremony, yet you can also have get married in a chapel or at a cenote.  One of the most beautiful locations I visited was Al Cielo, a beachfront location just south of Playa del Carmen with a small, palapa style restaurant perfect for a beachfront reception. Elegant food paired with a stunning location makes for an easy choice. 

No matter the size of your group, there are accomodations to suit everyone.  From the opulent Royal Playa del Carmen all-inclusive resort, to the Condo Hotels boutique collection of resorts, there is bound to be the perfect gathering spot for all your pre-wedding events.   One gorgeous penthouse unit at the El Taj has a rooftop deck complete with outdoor kitchen and private chef for an intimate rehearsal dinner for 40.  If you need accomodations for families or couples traveling together, you can even rent out the resort at any one of the Condo Hotels properties, making your Destination Wedding a private affair for you and your guests.  They have accomodations ranging from 1 bedroom suites to 3 bedroom penthouses, with kitchens that can be stocked for you upon your arrival.  If you prefer a an all-inclusive resort for couples, the Royal, while beachfront, is just 2 blocks off 5th Avenue, so you get the beach and the city all in one vacation.  If you have children attending, and still want an all-inclusive option, the Gran Porto Real is a great beachfront option as well.

The private, penthouse lounge area at El Taj

If you’re thinking about getting married in Mexico, I can’t recommend Playa del Carmen highly enough!

Rosemary Danielsen

Romance Specialist

A sunny day on the Kalalau Trail - courtesy of Kauai Explorer

Jackie and Karson looking relaxed!

I recently worked with an adorable local couple to create their perfect honeymoon in one of my all-time favorite spots – Kauai!  Kauai is called the Garden Isle because of its drop-dead gorgeous, verdant surroundings.  Jackie and Karson Swedberg wanted to spend 2 weeks taking in all that this tropical paradise had to offer, so we crafted a romantic, yet very active, Hawaiian honeymoon which suited them perfectly.

They spent one week in a private cottage along the North Shore of Kauai, just past Hanalei.  With a 2 minute walk to the beach, their cottage was a quiet and romantic pied-á-terre from which to explore the North Shore.  And explore they did!

Jackie on the Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail is an 11 mile hiking trail that leads from Ke’e Beach to to Kalalau Beach.  It is the only land access point to the Na Pali Coast.  The Na Pali Coast is one of the most remote and spectacularly-beautiful places on the planet, let alone Hawaii.   The Swedberg’s enjoyed the Na Pali by foot, yet there are a few other ways to visit this unbelievable place.

Two other popular expedition options are by sea and by air.  Blue Hawaiian Helicopters can take you on an hour flight high above the cliffs of the Na Pali.  Your soar above the jagged cliffs until you reach the Wettest Spot on the Planet – Mt. Wai’ale’ale.  This spot gets over 450 inches of rainfall a year.  There are emerald shades of green as far as the eye can see.

Another closer-to-earth choice is an all-day rafting, or catamaran tour which will take you in and out of the cliffs of Na Pali to see these towering giants.  You can snorkel the crystal-clear waters off the coast, land on a remote beach to enjoy a leisurely lunch, or just listen to the sounds of IZ Kamakawiwo’ole on the raft as you explore this garden paradise.

Waimea Canyon

The Swedberg’s also spent a week camping at Kokee State Park on Kauai’s West Side. This State Park is adjacent to Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.  The early morning mists that gently hug the volcanic peaks gives the canyon an otherworldly quality.  The fog lifts to reveal a colorful canyon meant to be photographed.  If you don’t camp at Kokee State Park, the Canyon is also accessible by car and allows day visitors.  This is a great excursion also if you arrive via Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of America, as the canyon is an easy drive from the pier.

If you’re not in the mood to camp, or if you visit during the rainy season, two fantastic full-service resorts are the Grand Hyatt Kauai and the St. Regis Princeville.  With each resort situated on opposite sides of the island, you might be tempted to split your stay with one week at each.  

Peaceful Kalapaki Bay, Kauai

Have Jackie and Karson inspired you to take on the Garden Isle?  Feel free to comment below!

I recently sent a couple to New York City to celebrate a milestone birthday.  Knowing this couple well, and our mutual admiration for all things delicious, I recommended a Food Tour of New York for them.  With different options to choose from, such as the Chinatown Walking Tour and the Greenwich Village Walking Tour, it can be difficult to decide which tour to take!  They even had the option of participating in a private tasting event, such as the Japanese Tapas Tasting Event.  I know I had a difficult time deciding when my husband and I visited New York for the first time!  However, my favorite tour is the original Greenwich Village Walking Tour.

Delicious arancini!

On this tour, your small group gathers in the late morning in Greenwich Village and gets ready for a fun day visiting mom and pop eateries, ethnic specialty food shops, and more.  Not only does the tour walk you through one of New York’s most famous and historic neighborhoods, you also get to taste the food that makes New York one of the finest culinary cities in the world.  On our tour, we sampled amazing cheeses, flaky cannoli, the most divine arancini (that I have tried to replicate many times!), authentic gyros, and many more delicious bites.  We held hands, and fed each other as we strolled the streets of Manhattan.  Especially as a newly-married couple, this tour is a fantastic way to discover new foods and perhaps learn something new about your partner.  When Mike and I tasted our gyros, we found out that we both dislike lamb – something we didn’t know about each other before.

We prefered the pork gyros.

Each Food Tour of New York is executed with enthusiasm and passion by its fantastic guides.  You get to know a little history, a little culture and yes – a little romance!  Who can tour an old, Italian neighborhood in New York and not feel romantic?  I did recommend that my clients take the tour early on in their visit, so they can re-visit a favorite spot, as we did with the arancini!  As a travel professional, I highly recommend these tours (with reservations made in advance) for an authentic, and extremely fun urban outing.

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In recent weeks there have been numerous news articles regarding violence in Mexico.  Stories in the Los Angeles Times (January 14, 2010), report that not only is violence in border towns increasing, certain tourist areas, such as Acapulco, are being affected as well.  Additionally, major cruise lines based in California have pulled ships from Mexican Rivera routes, amid tourist safety concerns and other considerations.  This week I even read a report from a fellow travel professional about violence against a ship’s officer in Mazatlan.  As you can imagine, all of this news is disheartening, to say the least.

One of the beauties of travel is that you can step outside your “normal routine” and experience a culture unlike your own.  This is one of the alluring qualities of Mexico. So, close, yet a world away.  Yet, will these recent events stop people from traveling to Mexico?  Surely in California, where Mexican cruise options are dwindling, fewer people will be able to enjoy a Mexican vacation.  However, some recent arrivals to the Mexican vacation market, may indicate that these troubles will not be long-lived.

This month, Virgin America will begin service to both Los Cabos and Cancun.  One of my favorite air travel providers, Virgin America’s entry into the Mexican vacation market will begin to ferry thousands of Californians south-of-the-border.  Also a bright spot in the Mexican vacation market is the return of Disney Cruise Line to the Port of Los Angeles.  The Disney Wonder will sail the Mexican Riviera this winter and spring, before it spends its summers in Alaska.

As shown in the H1N1 scare in 2009,  vacationers do stay away when there is trouble in Mexico.  Tourism numbers dropped in 2009 and have yet to fully recover.  This has made Mexico a value for many honeymoon couples to maximize their budget.  In fact, millions of US citizens do safely visit Mexico each year.  In every major US city, violence does occur on a daily basis.  Yet, as a travel professional, I continue to recommend the beauty of New York at Christmastime, the excitement of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, or your once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon to the sunny beaches of Mexico.

As with every destination on the planet, there will be some modicum of risk.  Savvy travelers follow State Department guidelines and practice the same safety measures abroad as they do at home.  You may be on vacation, yet treat your common sense like your American Express card – don’t leave home without it.

There are many times throughout the year when one is encouraged to re-evaluate who we are, what we do and if we could improve ourselves by making a change here or there.  The start of a new year is one of those times.  So, here we are 10 days into  chilly January, and I have taken some time to think about my business and its direction. 

Having worked with many happy couples this year, I am convinced more than ever that even if the economy is still weak, people’s desire for romance is just as strong as ever.  Details over flowers, cakes, dresses, etc..are all a distant memory after the ceremony, yet once the dust has settled from the big day, you are left holding the hand of the one you love.  Whether it’s young love, an old-but-still-smoldering love, or somewhere in between, helping couples create precious memories is a “job” that I wouldn’t change for the world. 

Out of the many travel-related specialties that I could have chosen, I relish the one that seems to have been tailor made for me – romance travel.  As a woman who adores her husband, would do anything – go anywhere- for him, I understand wanting to continue, maintain and support that kind of relationship throughout one’s life.  Creating one-of-a-kind romantic travel memories is one of the best ways to do that.  Some couples struggle with where to go, what to do, or how to make those magical moments ”happen”.  This year, some of those couples:

  • Were married at sea in pristine Alaskan waters
  • Were married on a stretch of deserted beach in Mexico
  • Spent their honeymoon on a private island in the South Pacific
  • Renewed their vows on a Hawaiian island surrounded by beloved family
  • Spent their ten-year anniversary in a short-but-”suite”  cruise getaway
  • Spent their honeymoon on a wine tour of Italy
  • Got engaged at Walt Disney World underneath a fireworks-laden sky
  • Celebrated an empty-nest by taking their first tour of Europe together

And many, many more!  Looking back on all the fantastic memories of working with my happy couples, I couldn’t imagine any career more fulfilling than this.  I wonder where my clients will be traveling to this year, and what memories they’ll be making in 2011!

If you’re considering a romantic trip this year, don’t put it off.  Take the time to celebrate having this amazing person in your life!  If you’re short of ideas, or nothing sounds “just right”, drop me a note.  I love taking a glimmer of an idea and turning it into a fantastic trip you’ll never forget.   

PS – Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.  I’ll be in Las Vegas with some tasty surprises for my husband.  What are you doing to make this holiday a little spicier-than-usual?

 

What a “Suite ” Life on NCL Epic!

On November 30, 2010, in Caribbean, Cruises, Norwegian Epic, by Rosemary

The Suites and Villas Complex sits atop the Norwegian Epic.

Imagine an exclusive enclave within a mega cruise ship, where you have the serenity and elegance of a six-star resort combined with the excitement and glitz of Las Vegas.  This image will give you an inkling of the juxtaposition of the Norwegian Epic Suites and Villa Complex within the top three decks of this amazing, 4100 passenger ship. 

Once you arrive at the Port of Miami, and you enter the cavernous entrance hall, you suddenly notice the sign that reads “Suite and Villa Guests”.  Once inside, you’re seated and asked for your passport.  Then a friendly crew member escorts you through the lines of people all waiting to board the ship.  Line?  Not for you or me.  We’re suite guests.  And Norwegian Epic’s boarding process starts the pampering off immediately.  Once we’re on the ship, we’re whisked up the priority elevator directly to the Epic Club, where smiling faces lead us right to a table for two by the window.  Buffet?  I don’t think that’s the plan today.

The elegant Epic Club restaurant on Deck 16 of the Norwegian Epic

No, that wasn’t the plan on any day I was on the Epic.  Instead, the Epic Club, the private restaurant for suite guests beckoned for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as it was such a relaxing venue with food that never ceased to delight!  From the first day I dined at the Epic Club crew members addressed me by name, knew not to bring the bread basket, and paced each meal perfectly.  From a smoked salmon frittata for breakfast to seared scallops for lunch and 2 for 1 martinis before dinner, I truly enjoyed every minute I spent in the Epic Club.  Suite guests, myself included, often came to the Epic Lounge before dinner to meet and mingle among the luxurious, yet supremely comfortable surroundings.

The Epic Club Lounge

While I do love Norwegian Cruise Line for many reasons – Freestyle Crusing being one of them – I would never have thought of it as a luxurious experience.  However, when you cruise in a suite or villa, you do get the pampered experience that you might expect of a more premium cruise line.  Between the outstanding butler service to the concierge staff to each and every staff member of the Suites and Villa complex, one gets a sense that no request is too extreme, no wish is out of reach.  When we went to the Cirque Dreams and Dinner show in the Spiegel Tent, there was no need to wait in line.  Florentina, the concierge, simply escorted us to an outstanding table that had me within arms reach of the performers.  Examples of this preferred service went on and on throughout the cruise, often making me wonder how I would re-adjust to real life when the cruise was over.

Even on a sea day, there are plenty of places to relax.

 Another misconception that one gets when thinking about the Norwegian Epic is how large she is.  She is a large ship, holding 4100 passengers.  However, another fantastic feature of the Suites and Villas complex is the private Courtyard area at the bow of the ship.  From this private area, one can swim in the pool or enjoy the hot tubs, work out in the private gym or take a sauna in the private spa treatment area.  When you’re in the complex, it’s as if the rest of the ship doesn’t exist.  You can always find a lounge chair, there’s always someone to bring you a drink, there’s never a rush for a table at breakfast.  Life exists at a much more leisurely pace in the Courtyard, encouraging one to slow down and savor as much of the cruise experience as possible.

An Epic Honeymoon!

On November 30, 2010, in Caribbean, Cruises, Honeymoon, Norwegian Epic, by Rosemary

Kimberly and Rosemary at the Svedka Ice Bar

I had the amazing opportunity last month to sail the brand-spanking new Norwegian Epic to the Western Caribbean.  I spent those 7 days enjoying all the entertaining features that this revolutionary ship had to offer.  From the Svedka Ice Bar to Blue Man Group to the Epic Plunge, I tried to do it all!  However, on a ship that offers over 20 dining options alone, there is no way that I could experience everything this magnificent vessel dangled in front of me! 

I sailed the Norwegian Epic as part of the CruiseOne National Conference, and thus, it was not to be a romantic trip for me.  However, I was fortunate enough to meet a gorgeous couple at our sailaway party who showed me exactly what a honeymoon on the Epic looked like.  My colleague and I had the great fortune to spend a lot of time with this fantastic couple and I was able to talk to Marianne Guenther Bornhoft of Spokane, WA about her honeymoon experience on the Norwegian Epic:

 1) Did you consider any other honeymoon destinations before you decided on the Epic? We considered Hawaii and Mexico because of their proximity to our house. Hawaii was too expensive and Western Mexico didn’t seem as special.

2) Why did you eventually decide to go on the Epic for your honeymoon? We had always wanted to go on the EPIC after seeing the ads for it almost a year earlier. The price was ok and we had great airline tickets so we jumped at the chance.

 

Marianne and Chris on the beach in Costa Maya

 3) What was the ship what you expected it to be? It felt smaller than I had thought it would be. It was easy to move around and never felt crowded. The other cruise that I had been on- the Valor was nice, but not nearly as nice at the EPIC. Chris went on a Disney cruise before and found the EPIC far superior. We loved the decor, the staff and the people we met on board were so much fun. 

4) What was your favorite experience aboard the Epic? We loved all of the shows-The Blue Man was so funny, Cirque was so mesmerizing and very entertaining, Legends had us singing along and even the special show at Manhattan room was so wonderful. The Club level made it perfect. We loved our unique dining club level. The posh beach club was nice when you depart and you get to view the party above the crowds.  The club lounge was crazily decorated- very Vegas style and the restaurant was so easy and not crowded. The bliss lounge kept us entertained and the Spice H2O party was a good time. We got to be on the Perfect Couple game show and had a great experience.

5) Would you recommend the Epic for  other honeymoon couples?  Why or why not? If you want to really enjoy yourself, meet great people, eat great food, go on water-slides and generally have an EPIC honeymoon, then go for it. You have to go on the club level. Pay the upgrade. It was totally worth it!

 

The Ocean View Bathroom in Marianne and Chris' Suite

6) What advice do you have for other honeymoon couples who may be considering the Epic for their honeymoon?
Get a balcony (at least!) We met a really nice couple who got married the same day we did from California and they went for 2 weeks on an inside cabin. After seeing our courtyard villa- the bride said that she wished they had only gone for a week and paid for a better cabin. We actually did spend a fair amount in our room. From room service for our breakfast to chilling out, it was totally worth the larger space. We had a 2 room courtyard villa. I did the cabin poker run and saw all of the cabins. For honeymoon couples- don’t waste your money on the new wave cabins. Stick to the villas, the penthouse, the spa suite, or the huge owners suite.

I would have to agree with Marianne about the Epic Suites and Villas complex!  I’ll be detailing this exclusive experience in my next post.  If you’re considering the Norwegian Epic for your next romantic trip, I highly recommend it!

Did Chris and Marianne inspire you to try the Norwegian Epic?  Let us know below!

The beauty of Notre-Dame at sunset, courtesy of Avalon Waterways

Yes, it’s true – not every travel professional has been everywhere on the planet!  While I did land at Paris’ Orly Airport for a brief layover in 1997, I’d hardly count that as visiting France!  So (insert French voice here!) it is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that I can now say that I get to really visit France – in just 6 days!

Rumor has it that Paris in Springtime is the most magical of all times to visit the City of Lights.  So, why does the forecast say that rain is here to stay?  Nowhere in my pre-conceived notion of Paris, does it have anything to do with frizzy hair and sopping wet shoes!  How can we picnic underneath the Eiffel Tower in the rain?  Oh, never mind the rain – the trip will be magical nonetheless!  That’s what travelers do – they make do – and we shall!

So, follow along with me on my Aventure française as I take you along on the Avalon Creativity for their Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches Sailing!

 

Celebrate love – even close to home!

On October 6, 2010, in Anniversary, by Rosemary

As luck would have it, my 8 year anniversary came up at an inopportune time this year.  I know that it comes at the same time each year, yet it continually sneaks up on me!  Mike and I each take alternating years planning our anniversary, and 2010 fell in my lap.  The goal is to plan an anniversary surprise for the other person with their interests in mind.  I have no problem planning other people’s romantic getaways because I encourage them to cast off their excuses for why they can’t go away with the one they love.  Alas, my tried-and-true reasons were falling on deaf ears – my own.  So, with only a week to put together a anniversary surprise for my amazing husband, I threw together a short-but-very-sweet wine-themed getaway.

The view from Pomar Junction.

We are blessed to live in the central coast wine region, where over 100 wineries are within an hour or two drive.  Being oenophiles, I decided to take advantage of the harvest time to savor some of the best this region has to offer.  From the very first wine tasting adventure we embarked on together over 9 years ago, it became clear to me that while my husband could try Pinot after Malbec and then some, I could sip only a handful before succumbing to a very woozy head.  So, I wanted a day of wine tasting that would keep us both in the game with as much relaxation and together- time as possible.  A perfect solution was the Wine Wrangler Adventure Wine Tour!

For 7  hours, we were chauffeured in air-conditioned comfort with 4 other couples as we sampled some of Paso Robles’ finest wines.  We were picked up from our hotel, La Bellasera Hotel and Suites, by John, our guide for the day.  From then on, we held hands as we wound down bumpy side roads in search of fruity reds that would tempt our tastebuds.  All in all, we visited 6 wineries with up to 9 samples at each!  By the time we stopped at Pomar Junction for lunch, I was ready for a break.  We sat outside the tasting room for lunch, and there wasn’t another soul in sight – such a peaceful spot!  This was my favorite stop of the day, not only due to the great lunch included in our tour, but for the charming surroundings, good conversation, and delicious wine.

By the time John brought us back to La Bellasera, we had a case full of wine  and some new friends.  My husband was pleased that he didn’t have to drive all day, and I was thrilled to spend some stress-free time together! We were only 1.5 hours from home, yet it felt like we were an entire time zone away!

Being that we were so close to home, we could have just hopped in the car and driven back to Monterey.  However, being that this was our anniversary, I wanted just a little more together-time.  So, we went up to our suite and took advantage of our en-suite hot tub before dinner.

The lobby of La Bellasera

When I decided to stay at La Bellasera, they weren’t the only romantic hotel in town, yet I was so impressed by the concierge service that I received upon my initial inquiry, that I decided to stay.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Our room was so clean, comfortable, and romantic!  You don’t expect much, coming off the 101 freeway, seeing the hotel across from the Hampton Inn.  Yet once you step inside the lobby, you immediately forget you’re just off the highway.

Aside from the comfortable room, there were amenities that one would expect in a luxury hotel, such as a walk-in shower for 2, impossibly-plush towels and robes, no less than 10 vanity items in the bathroom, a fully-stocked minibar, plus separate fridge, desktop computer with free internet, bath salts by the jacuzzi, etc..that made for a very cozy, romantic stay.  The 42 inch flat screen TV that my husband could watch from the jacuzzi tub was a bonus!

The view from the jacuzzi.

However, the one thing that was a real treat, was the hotel restaurant, Enoteca.  Normally, the words hotel and restaurant don’t equal fantastic dining experience.  Yet, Enoteca was not your normal hotel restaurant.  I made reservations with the concierge prior to our stay, and was pleasantly surprised when we were escorted to our table for two, immediately in front of the roaring fire.  We were seated no more than 3 minutes when we were presented with a surprise bottle of champagne and an amuse bouche.  The evening was getting off to a great start!

The rest of the meal was just as good: an impossibly-thick pork chop cooked to perfection for my husband, and a pan seared halibut with pineapple curry for me. We dined, drank, and dawdled.  It was one of the nicest evenings we’d had in a long time.  Finally, we were the last ones to leave, but not ready to retire quite yet, so we grabbed one of our newly-acquired dessert wines, and went out the doors to the poolside fireplace.

The delicious Enoteca!

Needless to say, we were more than pleased with La Bellasera, and when the time came to leave in the morning, my husband – a man of grudging praise – said, “That was a great place – I can’t wait to come back.”

It just goes to show that a simple, close-to-home getaway can be just what the doctor ordered.  Especially if the doctor’s prescription includes a glass of Zinfandel!

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