Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Girls & Family Holiday Getaway to Orlando

A holiday getaway to Orlando has become a family tradition for the past three years.  My nieces and nephews start asking about our upcoming adventure in August, so there is quite a bit of pressure on “Aunt Casey” to deliver a stellar and unforgettable Christmas vacation. 

This year, the ‘moms’ in the family opted to change things up a bit with our own (and childless) Girls Getaway to Orlando before the rest of the family arrived.  With two Scorpio birthdays and two Sagittarius birthdays, we decided this adventure would be our own birthday celebration and Merry Christmas to us.

My mom, Jeri, as well as sister-in-laws Merideth and Carly plus Ann (Carly’s mom), all set out for a
full night away at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando.  We checked in around noon, enjoyed lunch at Wreckers Sports Bar (with vino) and then headed to our afternoon of pampering at Relache Spa, which is located inside the hotel.  I opted for the Botanical Body + Scalp Massage and the Signature Botanical Facial.  The massage was great, but the facial, by Sarah, was the best I have ever had.  My skin is still glowing and my husband even noticed the day after.  After our rest and relaxation in the spa, I did some Christmas shopping in the spa gift shop and returned to our room to get ready for dinner.

We had reservations at Old Hickory Steakhouse located just below our rooms.  We started with a few
bottles of Meiomi wine, a favorite of all of ours.  We followed that with some incredible steaks, salads and soups, as well as the amazing sides the restaurant offers for the table to share. After our servers presented us with a special dessert to commemorate our birthday celebrations, we returned to our rooms to rest for our big holiday shopping extravaganza the next day.

After fueling up at the Gaylord’s coffee shop, The Cocoa Bean, we caravanned to the Mall at Millenia where we spent the next six hours power shopping for Christmas.  After getting most of what we needed, we traveled home to unload our goods and get the family ready for the rest of our holiday getaway.

Just a few days later we returned to Orlando with five adults and six kids under the age of six.  Yes,
we were outnumbered, but we felt as though we had a good handle on the situation with this being our 3rd annual holiday trip as a family.  We arrived at the Renaissance Orlando Sea World, which is conveniently located just across the parking lot from the park entrance.  We unloaded our vehicles, packed up our warm clothes and drove to the Gaylord Palms for our annual visit to ICE!, which is going on until Jan, 4, 2015.

After a quick dinner at Wreckers Sports Bar (we are now regulars), we bundled everyone up, got our 
blue ICE! coats on, and stepped into the 9 degree winter wonderland known as ICE!  This year’s theme is The Nutcracker as Clara and her Nutcracker Prince experience a magical adventure in more than TWO MILLION pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures and four fun slides. Visitors can relive favorite scenes from the classic ballet, accompanied by the original Tchaikovsky score.  This indoor winter wonderland also  features: six individual rooms depicting the story of The Nutcracker and The Frostbite Factor, which is a live carving zone you can watch the carvers in action.  The final room is a breath-taking nativity scene carved from crystal clear ice.  New this year is the snow tubing, which our older kids enjoyed. Also new is On the Blocks ICE! Bar where visitors 21 + can 'chill out' at On The Blocks—the exclusive bar inside ICE!. Adults 21 and over can upgrade their ICE! experience to enjoy a adult beverages. We kept it kid friendly this trip, and headed back to our hotel with an exhausted bunch.

On Saturday, the kids woke up excited about our adventure to SeaWorld.  The park transforms to a
wintery wonderland itself and offers special holiday activities such as Santa’s Fireside Feast, Shamu® Christmas Miracles, O Wondrous Night, Winter Wonderland on Ice and THE POLAR EXPRESS Experience.  We enjoyed the dolphin show, petted stingrays, visited the shark encounter, as well as the penguins where Yale and Miles (both 1 year old) got to ride side-by-side in their first amusement park ride.  We also watched the sea lion movie and got to see a lot of marine life up close and personal.  After afternoon naps, the kids enjoyed decorating cookies in the lobby of the Renaissance.  They had fun and, of course, ate them right away.  We returned to SeaWorld for Santa’s Fireside Feast, and all of the kids got to tell Santa what they wanted to Christmas. 

We could not have asked for a better holiday getaway to Orlando.  The staff at the Renaissance was extremely accommodating and helpful.  The wait staff in the hotel’s Tradewinds Restaurant was warm and friendly and tolerated our rowdy bunch both Saturday and Sunday mornings. On our final morning, Ana brought all of the kids souvenir stuffed dolphins to take home.  Tommy named his Finny!

Our third year of holiday memories has been completed.  My brothers and I with their wives are so
happy this is something our kids will grow up doing and remembering together each year.  

Many thanks to the Gaylord Palms and the Renaissance Orlando SeaWorld for helping us create lasting memories.  We thank you so much!  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fantastic Finds from Fairmont

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts continues to highlight some of the brand’s best offers across North America through “Fantastic Finds.” Available until December 31, 2014, these deals cater to every type of traveler to offer a collection of unforgettable getaways with spectacular savings. Guests booking the “Fantastic Finds” at any of the following properties will receive 20% off the best available rate and a complimentary room upgrade upon check-in. 

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu welcomes guests to experience the delicious flavors, spectacular views and the abundance of activities available in the picturesque region of Charlevoix, Quebec. Hit the slopes of nearby Mont Grand-Fonds or Le Massif de Charlevoix, or spend the afternoon relaxing and unwinding at the full-service Amerispa.

Conveniently located on the shore of the Ottawa River half-way between Montreal and Ottawa, the world's largest log castle represents the 'True Canadian Experience'. The resort distinguishes itself by the myriad of activities available on site, including cross-country skiing, dog-sledding, and tubing. 

Set in an affluent enclave and part of the Mayakoba resort community, Fairmont Mayakoba—an exclusive, AAA 5-Diamond Award and Rainforest Alliance Verified resort— offers many one-of-a-kind activities, including on-property boat tours, watersports, freshwater pools, beach, kids & teens clubs, spa, golf and world-class restaurants.

Enjoy a round at the Turtle Hill Golf Club – home of the Grey Goose World Par 3 Event – or relax at the Willow Stream Spa. With 9 dining options, impossibly pink sand beaches, and holiday activities abound, Fairmont Southampton is the perfect retreat close to home.

Located just steps from Navy Pier, The Magnificent Mile, the Theater District and world renowned museums, Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park is the perfect place to call home. Dine in the award-winning Aria Restaurant, savor the sensation of wine, cheese, and chocolate at Eno Wine Room or indulge in a luxury spa experience at mySpa. 

It’s always summer at the Fairmont Newport Beach! Located just minutes from shopping, beaches, theme parks and more, discover the warm Southern California hospitality and sunny climate year round. Relax at the hotel’s sky-deck pool, tennis courts, fitness center and spa.

At Swissôtel, guests enjoy a view of Chicago that is second to none. Luxurious accommodations overlook the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, and the hotel’s convenient downtown location allows guests to explore The Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier, ice skate in Millennium Park and visit world-class museums. *Swissôtel Chicago is part of the Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts collection of hotels - a sister brand of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

De-Stress: Tips for Drawing the Best Bath Ever

With winter in the air and the stress of the holidays just around the corner, there is no better way to relax
than with a bath.  
Immersing the body in water has been medically proven to be a very relaxing, therapeutic and a complement to a healthy lifestyle or those in need of improved well-being, this is why at Lapis Spa in the Fontainebleau Miami Beach offers water therapy in various ways and at varied temperatures.  The deep muscle relaxation associated with a good hot bath helps to reduce cramps, tension headaches and improves muscle elasticity. The process is similar to a massage and beneficial for everyone from athletes to those who sit at a desk all day.  It has even been said that taking a bath takes you back to a time when you were in the womb thus creating a comforting and relaxing environment. So, next time you have a stressful day draw a bath and use the tips below from Josie Feria, Director of Spa at Lapis, The Spa at Fontainebleau  to create the ultimate soaking experience. 

  • Use Scented Bath Oil- Choose scented bath oil; floral scents like lavender, jasmine, iris and rose are associated with relaxation and can help to ease you into a relaxing state quicker. Add oils to the tub when the bath is halfway full, this will help them disperse evenly throughout the water.

  • Bath Temperature- A warm bath is best for relaxing the body.  Ideal water temperature for a warm bath is 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to use your wrist, not your hand to test the water since your wrist is a better gauge of how the water will feel once your entire body is submerged.

  • Body Scrub- Most people are used to being active all the time, so when they get in the tub their minds start racing and they become unable to relax. Gently massaging your body with a sponge and body scrub will help engage your mind as the scrub buffs away dryness and leaves your skin supple and moist.

  • Closing Your Eyes- It is important to close your eyes during the bath to enter deep relaxation, so anything that forces you to keep your eyes closed is a great.  Try cold cucumbers, an icy compress or eye pads which have been soaked in chilled chamomile tea.

  • Bath Salts- Tough workout? Bath salts are like external muscle relaxants. If you have soreness, pain or swelling, bath salts reduce inflammation and stiffness, and help detoxify skin and increase circulation which helps to ease tension and revitalize the body

  • Candles- Bright bathroom lights tell your body its go-time — not bath time. Instead, light a few candles and place them around the room and on the edge of the tub.

  • Cold Water- If you’ve set your water temp right (somewhere between steamy and very warm), you should be feeling quite toasty in the tub.  A warm bath raises your body’s core temperature, so you’ll start sweating. Before getting into the tub, set a bowl of ice water and a washcloth next to you and use it as a cold compress on your forehead or the nape of your neck to help keep you refreshed throughout the bath time.  I also grab a tall bottle of San Pellegrino and force myself to drink the whole thing to hydrate.

  • Bath Robe/ Nice Bath Sheets- Nothing jolts you out of a Zen state like going from a warm, luxe bath to a measly, threadbare robe or old dingy towel. Get a plush terry cloth robe or fluffy towels that allow you to feel warm and comfortable. 

  • Relax afterwards- Leave the smart phone alone for an hour or so and just enjoy time for yourself.  Get a glass of tea and read or listen to music.  Want more coziness? Heat a towel in the microwave and wrap around your neck and take a deep and well-earned nap.

  • Multitask - Make the most of your bath by using the time to also give yourself a face and hair treatment. Both the skin and hair respond very favorably to the moist environment created by a steamy bath.  To cleanse your face, apply a clay mask to the skin avoiding the eyes, allow to remain on the skin for 7-10 minutes then remove gently with wet washcloth. Need to soften and hydrate your hair? Apply conditioner or hair mask to wet hair then cover in plastic cap and hot towel and allow the conditioner or mask to remain on hair for duration of bath for 15- 20 minutes.  Wash and rinse thoroughly.

  • Music- Play relaxing music to sooth your mood and aid in the process of relaxation. Visualization is also a great tool to enhance relaxation in the bath. Complimented by music visualization exercises can transport you to your own private Nirvana.  Caribbean beaches anyone?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Skip The Store & Score Cyber Monday Travel Deals

Black Friday has evolved into a Thanksgiving tradition of hitting the stores immediately after filling up on turkey and standing in long lines to save on the year’s best deals. However, with the simple click of a mouse, savvy in-the-know travelers can save big with the following Cyber Monday deals—no long lines required! 

Florida:
Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys has launched a special Black Friday sale available for 72 
hours only starting on November 28. Travelers can save 25 percent off on guestroom and villa accommodations during stays of two nights or longer starting from November 30, 2014, through June 4, 2015. This offer is subject to blackout dates and is based on availability. To book, click here.

Hawks Cay Resort, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts and an AAA Four-Diamond award recipient, is the premier destination in all of the Florida Keys for outdoor fun. Alongside the emerald waters of the Atlantic Ocean, guests enjoy offshore, flats and backcountry fishing; diving; kayaking; kiteboarding and stand-up paddleboarding programs; the Cliff Drysdale tennis program; Segway tours; and the only resort-based Dolphin Connection program with complimentary daily viewings. The 60-acre resort boasts 177 guestrooms and 225 two- and three-bedroom villas, a full-service marina, four restaurants, saltwater lagoon, five swimming pools, kid and teen clubs and the award-winning Calm Waters Spa. For more information visitwww.hawkscay.com.

Caribbean:
On Cyber Monday only, Plantation Beach Villas in Tobago is slicing an extra 10 percent off already-discounted winter rates, resulting in a total savings of 20 percent. This offer is valid on stays from December 20, 2014, to April 30, 2015, and includes the first dinner and first breakfast as well as a fresh fruit basket, cold beers, soft drinks, juices and milk. In addition, Plantation Villas will also offer a 10 percent discount on the Island Girl Catamaran, plus a free day of car rental for every seven days booked from Sherman's Rentals through the hotel.  For more information, email plantationbeach@tstt.net.tt, call (868) 639-9377 or visitwww.plantationbeachvillas.com.

Castara Retreats in Tobago is cutting rates by up to 25 percent for bookings of eight nights or longer. Guests who stay in June or September 2015 will receive 20 percent off while guests staying in July or August 2015 receive 25 percent off. Castara Retreats is a highly-rated eco-resort located between the Caribbean Sea and the Rainforest Reserve on a hillside above Castara, a working fishing village on the northwestern coast of Tobago. For questions and booking information email Lorna atrelax@castararetreats.com or visit www.castararetreats.com.

Guests can stay three nights and get the fourth night free at Grafton Beach Resort in Tobago. For travel December 1 through December 20, 2014, rates start at $150 per night. For travel from December 21, 2014, through April 30, 2015, rates start at $188 per night. The 106-room resort features awe-inspiring views of the Caribbean Sea, a swim-up pool bar, an onsite dive center, a business center and four restaurants and bars. For booking information, email sales@graftontobago.com or visitwww.graftontobago.com and use booking code FBFREE5.

Tobago’s adults-only resort, Le Grand Courlan Spa Resort, is offering one night free for every two consecutive nights booked. Rates start at $188 per night for travel December 1 through December 20, 2014, and $225 for travel from December 21, 2014, through April 30, 2015. The 83-room luxury resort is a tranquil sanctuary featuring breathtaking views of Stone Haven Bay and a long stretch of soft, sandy beach. For booking information, visit www.legrandtobago.com or email sales@legrandtobago.com and use reference code FBFREE6.

This Black Friday through Cyber Monday, Viceroy Anguilla is offering guests the option to “linger longer” with a complimentary fifth night. The “Linger Longer” promotion is available for stays through September 20, 2015, and is subject to availability and blackout dates.
Situated on 35 acres, the Viceroy Anguilla boasts two white sand beaches, a glimmering saltwater infinity pool, and three resort pools. The resort features five dining options and a range of cuisines, including Middle Eastern, Asian, and American seafood and steak. Two-level villas of four and five bedrooms overlook the bay, while private residences offer the option to call Anguilla home. For further information or to book, visithttp://www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/anguilla/reservations/special_offers/linger_longer.

Skip the holiday shopping lines and box wrapping by giving a gift of fun in the sun. Ocean Club Resortslocated in Turks and Caicos, invites guests to take advantage of their Cyber Monday special. Guests who book from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST on December 1, 2014, will receive every fourth
night free on stays from May to August 15, 2015. Please note this offer excludes studio accommodations at Ocean Club West. To book, call 800-457-8787.
Ocean Club Resorts, comprised of two all-suite properties, is the perfect home away from home with spacious accommodations ranging from studios to three-bedroom suites. Guests can do as much or as little as they desire at the resort, from exploring the coral reef on a snorkel excursion to lounging under one of the resort’s signature pink beach umbrellas to learning how to stand-up paddle board. For more information, please visit www.oceanclubresorts.com 

Mexico:
The all new, all-suite Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is offering a Black Friday through Cyber Monday sale. Rates start from $259 for a Junior Suite, including taxes. Guests also receive one complimentary bottle of tequila, one massage for two, and
daily a la carte breakfast for two. This special offer is valid for stays from November 1, 2014, through December 18, 2015. The special rates are non-refundable and non-transferable. Blackout dates apply.

An affiliate to the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World collection, Grand Residences features sprawling suites designed as private residences, blending all of the comforts of home with the luxurious amenities of a five-star resort. Nestled in a private enclave between scenic Riviera Maya and bustling Cancun, this exclusive hideaway is ideally located between the world’s second largest barrier reef and a tranquil nature preserve. The resort sets the new standard in luxury beachfront living:  spacious suites, all with private outdoor terraces and many with private Jacuzzis; gourmet dining; a world-class spa and salon; personalized beach and pool service; and much more. Book online at http://www.royalreservations.com/resorts/grand-residences.php.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Travel + Leisure - America's Best Cities for Girlfriend Getaways

Travel + Leisure readers ranked the best cities for decompressing with your gal pals, while also
partaking in shopping, yoga, gallery-hopping-and perhaps a cocktail that tastes like a candy bar. 

The article featured yours truly, Casey Wohl, The Getaway Girl®!
Click here to read. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Girls Getaway to Carmel-by-the-Sea

A place with “by-the-sea” hyphenated in its name must be quintessentially charming. At least that
was my mindset visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea for the first time, and the miniscule Californian coastal town doesn’t disappoint. There are no spotlights or neon signs, no addresses and no postal delivery. On residential streets there aren’t even sidewalks, so we literally needed a flashlight to find our way back to our cottage.

Get to know Carmel
This haven for artists, writers and eccentrics has been home to John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair, and Jack London. Presently, Doris Day and Clint Eastwood call Carmel home. Eastwood was even the mayor from 1986-1988. Thank goodness he overturned a law outlawing ice cream. I would have voted for him based solely on that! The town even requires that anyone wearing “shoes with heels which are in excess of two inches in height and less than one square inch of bearing surface upon the public streets and sidewalks” have a permit! Carmel-by-the-Sea has certainly remained trapped in time, as quirky as when it was founded in 1902.

Since Carmel is only one square mile, everything is within walking distance. The population of less than 4,000 supports a community of more than one hundred art galleries, 50 restaurants and as many cottages and inns to stay in. It’s no surprise that visitors from around the globe are the lifeblood for this precious town. You can undoubtedly uncover plenty to do just wandering on your own, but if you’d like a tour, Carmel Walks offers a great primer. For a more culinary-focused adventure, Carmel Food Tour features seven food and drink tastings in a three-hour walking tour. Our guide, Staci, was fun and engaging, and happy to provide recommendations for dining in Carmel outside the tour. Winos will enjoy the Wine Walk Passport, which allows you to try flights at any nine of 14 tasting rooms, including Scheid Vineyards and Caraccioli Cellars, a couple of my favorites. Pace yourself and do the wine walk over the course of two or three days or the imbibing will catch up to you!

Luxe Life
The pinnacle of luxury in this laidback oasis is L’Auberge Carmel, a charming Relais & Chateaux property first built in 1929. I’m greeted with frothy rooibos-infused iced tea before crossing the courtyard to my antiquated but homey room. Supple caramels on the desk seem like an apropos welcome to Carmel.

Aubergine is hands down the most exquisite dining experience in town. The table next to me was a couple from Mexico celebrating their 25th anniversary. They weren’t even staying in Carmel but drove two hours from San Francisco, which doesn’t exactly have a shabby dining scene.

At Aubergine, I had the best abalone of my life – tenderized and served with briny seaweed, sea foam
and smoked avocado – capturing the essence of the ocean in each bite. Other seafood highlights included kumamoto oysters with ossetra caviar and Japanese snapper served simply with baby bok choy and blood orange sauce. Executive Chef Justin Cogley and Chef de Cuisine Aaron Koseba are masters at procuring the best fish and complementing it with simple, bold accents to let the ingredients speak for themselves.

Relax – live in the moment
The Refuge offers a zen-like experience that is very different from a traditional spa. You can get a massage here, but no facials, body treatments or nail services. Instead, the focus is on the health benefits of a hydrothermal cycle and there is a silence rule throughout the facility to encourage deeper relaxation.

You begin by heating up in a Eucalyptus steam room or Finnish dry cedar sauna for five to 10
minutes before plunging briefly into a cold pool, then relaxing for 15 minutes near the outdoor fire pits or in a zero gravity recliner before exploring the thermal waterfall pools. It’s rare to be given step-by-step instructions on how to behave at a spa – I’m used to freely exploring on my own. However, the cycle did get my heart rate up and I felt invigorated after repeating it a couple of times. Plus, the cycle relaxes muscles, flushed toxins from the body, boosts the immune system and is even supposed to increase metabolism. What’s not to like?

With a now lightning fast metabolism, head to Grasings for dinner. The abalone here is delicious as well, served over a vibrant salad of mixed greens, haricot verts and pomegranate seeds and scallops and wild-caught sea bass are deftly prepared too. For somebody as environmentally conscious about seafood as myself, it’s a dream to be eating local seafood in Monterey, where chefs are just as careful about sourcing.

For breakfast or lunch the next day, La Bicyclette, a bustling, rustic European café, is a sure bet with
a weekly rotating menu of specials. The wood-burning oven pizzas are a staple and although flavors may change, the butternut squash purée with arugula and speck ham and the local mushroom and caramelized onion pie are to die for.


Although there is so much to do to keep you busy, take some time to relax and live in the moment. If you see a passageway and you wonder where it leads to – take a wander. Give yourself time to sit on one of the many benches scattered around town and soak up the sun and people (and dog) watch. Frolic on the beach and wiggle your toes in the Pacific Ocean. Don’t turn on the news, leave your worries at home and feel the joy of being alive.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago currently contributing to the Girls Getaway Guide. To find out more about Amber, visit www.AmberGibson.com. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Getaway

Ever thought about attending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?  The NYLO NYC’s Parade Pack makes that trip easy and fun! Ideally located within walking distance of all the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade action, the Upper West Side boutique hotel is offering a complimentary Parade Pack for all guests staying with them from November 26-27, 2014.

The perfect take along snack pack for anyone attending this year’s parade, the NYLO Parade Pack includes:
  • A NYLO-branded thermos filled with guests’ choice of hot cocoa or hot cider
  • A variety of breakfast treats, including fresh apple cider donuts, KIND Bars, apples and more
  • HotHands hand and feet warmers
  • A map of NYC, highlighting the parade route and designated balloon blow-up locations
For guests that wish to take a Parade Pack with them to watch the balloons be blown up the evening before the parade, all Parade Packs will be available for pick-up at the front desk beginning at 3pm on Wednesday, November 26.

In addition to the Parade Pack, NYLO NYC is offering a variety of packages during the Thanksgiving holiday, including:
  • Dog Days @ NYLO in partnership with Rachael Ray Nutrish, which waives the $40 dog fee and includes a package of Rachael Ray Nutrish Mini Soup Bones, a bag of Rachael Ray Nutrish Savory Jerky, a NYLO-customized bone shaped bag holder, toy and a map of the best dog-friendly activities and parks in the neighborhood