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I once asked a well-heeled traveler where she would recommend I stay in Bora Bora, and she replied ‘wherever is newest.’ There seems to be a lot of wisdom in a statement like that as even the highest rated properties start to not look so good with age. At this point I could digress and start a whole new conversation, but let’s stick to how this applies to hotels shall we?
I chose to stay at The Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island of Hawaii, both as a function of finances and because I’m always tempted by a property that has just undergone a major renovation. However, I couldn’t leave my choice to chance, so I called the P.R. team at the Fairmont and asked them to send me photos of the newly revamped rooms as they hadn’t yet put them on their website. The pictures and the deal through the platinum American Express card were enough to lure me, as well as another family that traveled with us.
Upon arrival we were given kukui nut leis. My friend and I took one look at each other and both laughed that we had officially traded the land of the Four Seasons and their fragrant tuberose leis, welcome guava juices and cool towels, for nuts on a ribbon.
I had joined the Fairmont Presidents Club before arrival, a free membership that gives you discounts on property as well as free resort Wi-Fi and other perks. I checked in at the Presidents Club desk while my friends hit the standard reception. After 5 minutes they were headed off to their upgraded partial ocean view (thanks to platinum Amex) and I started to sweat while the newbie behind the desk tried for another 20 minutes to find me a room that didn’t require changing rooms halfway through my 10 day stay. After a bumpy start, my daughter and I finally made it up to our pristine room overlooking the golf course with the ocean beyond. Things were starting to look up.
Tip: book the North Tower
I’ve been staying at the Four Seasons in Maui for two decades and have visited the Four Seasons Hualalai several times over the last eight years, including one memorable trip where Dan got the Bends. If it were a romantic (and expensive) vacation I was after, I would go Four Seasons all the way. It’s comfort at an entirely different level. I love that the Hualalai property is vast with several two-story buildings and multiple pools effectively carving out a honeymooner and family paradise all in one. I love the fitness center with its Zumba classes and lap pool as well as its general store and washer/dryers throughout the property.
The Fairmont Orchid is also a vast property with some distinct benefits, most notably a swimmers’ beach complete with paddle board and snorkel rentals, as well as kids’ activities like palm frond weaving. I loved the beach and the pool scene more than I expected I would, and I delighted in the many waterfalls and colorful birds around the 30 acres. I also availed myself of complimentary (through FPC) BMW bikes and discounted tennis clinics (also through FPC). By day six I was really digging my morning tennis drills with Leanne and was thinking about how soon I could return.
The great thing about an island vacation is that you can pack light! Calypso is my go-to sundress. I’ll wear one pool or beachside by day and dress it up with an Alexis Bittar gold cuff and some strappy sandals for dinner. A fab bikini is a must (I’m partial to Eres), as well as wide-brimmed hat and plenty of sunscreen. And I practically live in Havianas! They’re super comfy and infinitely wearable. From our Spring/Summer Stephanie Johnson line, I’m loving our Tucson Desert Beach Mat and coordinating Mary Alice Tote, as well as our clear Miami and St. Lucia bags. I fill them with sunscreen, hair ties, and other poolside essentials, and I can see exactly what’s in them!
Want more Hawaii? Stay tuned for Destination Hawaii, Part Two for tips on things to see and do, best spots to sample delicious cuisine, and even a whale-watching adventure!
I’ve been hanging at home this winter catching up on the latest Ina Garten recipes but couldn’t resist a trip out west with friends to ski. I’m an Aspen girl but jumped at the chance to give Utah a try. They say Deer Valley is for the pampered set so my expectations were high. After five days of comparing every last detail to Aspen/Snowmass, I’m pretty sure my traveling companions wanted to throw me off the high speed quad. Truth is: it took me about five days to really appreciate what Deer Valley has to offer.
We rented an amazing townhouse at the base of the mountain. We shared with friends, cooking most dinners at home with a glass of wine in hand, a fire roaring and children underfoot. Wearing my pjs and reading by the light of the fire is my ski trip fantasy.
I checked out The Montage, The St. Regis and The Stein Eriksen Lodge. I would stay at any of these fab resorts. Ski-in, ski-out, each serves a delicious skiers’ buffet lunch and is nestled into the mountain. As a rule, Deer Valley is more accessible than Aspen via direct flights into Salt Lake City and therefore makes it a perfect weekend destination. Despite a great kids ski school and a family friendly reputation, DV felt more like a lovers’ long weekend retreat. Any of these hotels will do the trick.
Fireside Dining was worth the hype but the accompanying optional sleigh ride wasn’t. If it’s a sleigh ride you want, try Sun Valley or Aspen as this short ten minute ride around the parking lot will likely disappoint. The dining, however, was superb. Imagine a starter course of raclette cheese melted by an open fire with cornichon, fruit and charcuterie. Followed by short ribs, trout, lamb and rosti potatoes. The fondue dessert came three ways: dark chocolate, white chocolate Grand Marnier, and caramel with a buffet of fruit and cakes to dip.
Although the service should have been better at this Four Diamond restaurant, the burger was one of the best I’ve had at the Goldener Hirsch. A favorite for fondue and a busy evening spot, try a relaxing lunch between runs on Bald Eagle Mountain. You will feel as if you’ve been transported to an Austrian village no matter what you order.
Pop into the St. Regis après ski for quite possibly the best hot chocolate bar EVER. I think the secret is in the whipped cream. And did I mention it’s free?
Well, ski, of course! Deer Valley has the requisite ski valet on mountain and great dining options, but what makes this mountain special is the fact they groom nearly 100% of their terrain nightly. Die hards will argue that the snow is drier in Utah than Colorado and they may have a point. Deer Valley also doesn’t allow snow boarders on mountain.
No post about DV would be complete without including a little plug for one of our fave SJ retailers, Splendor, located at the Redstone Town Center in Park City. A cozy apothecary stocking high-end beauty products and boasting a skin bar offering a full menu of treatments, Splendor has been carrying Stephanie Johnson products for years, and is a must-stop if you ever find yourself in Park City!
All of the above-mentioned Deer Valley luxury resorts have great spa options, so indulge in a massage after a day on the bumps.
Deer Valley had me wanting for Snowmass’ wide slopes, mountain maps on every chairlift, and the temperature display at every chair download. However missed these small perks were, I still would hop the four hour flight to SLC for a weekend of guaranteed groomed trails and a greater likelihood of snow. After all it’s about the skiing, right?
I rang in the New Year in Hong Kong, one of my favorite cities. So culturally different from New York, I know I’m not at home anymore when I arrive at CDG and see the familiar surgical masks that many wear on their face, and I pass through the ‘temperature check’ on route to immigration. This time I asked my greeter if people wear the masks to prevent disease as I once heard they do not act as a barrier to such. She confirmed but then surprised me by saying many of the young girls also wear them if they have a pimple outbreak they would rather no one see! Couple that with all the girls at the mall taking photos of themselves in front of every store window, store ad, logoed wall and random orchid, and I know ‘we are not in Kansas anymore.’
In order to keep things fresh I decided to stay at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental. Right out of the gate (literally), they impressed me by having a greeter wait for my arrival on the jetway and efficiently usher me through immigration and baggage claim. Something else I won’t see back home unless of course I’m Reese Witherspoon. (Wink, wink as I recently ran into new mom Reese at JFK.) The service upon arrival was no less exceptional. The rooms – however well-appointed – felt modest compared to my lofty Upper House experience and left me longing for a view. After two lovely days I missed my Hong Kong skyline view and dutifully checked into Upper House on the 47th floor. View? Check.
One thing Upper House lacks is a spa. This is where The Landmark Mandarin Oriental excels. I fully spent the afternoon of New Year’s Eve lounging by the indoor pool and reading the new Tom Wolfe. New Year’s Day was spent having a reflexology treatment and reading in the most sublime relaxation room I’ve ever seen. Heated stone recliners and ‘massage’ chairs in the whirlpool round out the experience. Worth the trip and worth the stay if you don’t miss the view.
Unfortunately I was plagued with stomach issues for the duration of the stay, making a 3 a.m. visit to the hospital for mild dehydration, so I didn’t get to indulge in one of Hong Kong’s best assets: its food. I did venture out for a New Year’s Eve dinner to a local Cantonese restaurant, Island Tang, as it was one of the only spots where I didn’t have to order the price fixe menu. Despite the very ordinary meal of white rice, I loved the art deco ambience and classic feel with servers in white tie.
I’ve been dreaming about the breakfast at Cafe Gray at Upper House for the past year. You can’t beat a homemade ten grain hot cereal with stewed raspberries and a peppermint tea while watching the container tankers and the star ferry cross the harbor from the 49th floor. Good morning Hong Kong!
Don’t miss Yardbird, a Japanese style Yakitori bar just off the Hollywood Road. They offer Yakitori from all parts of the chicken so be sure to try the oyster (the juiciest part) and meatball. The more adventurous among you might like the neck, knee, heart or gizzard. The cucumber salad is a refreshing delight with miso, pine nuts and sesame. Homemade salted peanut butter ice cream with orange zest is the only dessert on the menu (um, yes!). Meet a friend at the bar and enjoy.
I thought I may spend New Year’s Day at Hong Kong Disneyland but alas, my stomach begged me not to. Next trip.