Some Like It Hot; Some Like It Cold
Spectacular vacation destinations for whatever's your pleasure, temperature-wise.
Beach or Ski?
The Eternal (Vacation) Question
The Warm Spots
Three variations on the timeless allure of warm sun and cool ocean
Bermuda, the Endless Honeymoon
By Steven Irving
I last visited Bermuda on my honeymoon. It rained the whole time. A bad omen? Apparently not, since I returned—28 years, two months, and three days later—with the same wife. This time the weather on this skinny, fishhook-shaped island (actually a conglomeration of more than a hundred coral islands and islets) was mostly warm and sunny. That made it easy to focus on Bermuda’s excess of flowers (as rich a concentration as I’ve seen anywhere in the world), its perfect beaches and warm ocean waters, its unabashedly pink buildings, and its relaxed yet somewhat elegant style. Said wife and I have had some disagreements over the years—on the proper ratio of relaxed to elegant, for example—but in our reaction to this island we exhibited an almost unprecedented degree of unanimity: both of us expressed a preference for never leaving.
We encamped at the Elbow Beach, which is shockingly unpink (“canary yellow” the guidebooks suggest). The hotel, which sprawls about as much as it is possible to sprawl on a narrow island, is run by the Mandarin Oriental hotel group—always a good sign if you prefer your escapes classy but unpretentious. Some ratings: breakfast buffet—tropical-dream level; Seahorse Grill—first rate; Mickey’s Beach Bar and Bistro—wish the maitre d’ had a better plan for handling the dinner-time rush; two-hour massage at the Spa—“heavenly” (note, I cannot personally vouch for this rating, which is from my wife); our suite—tropical dream, plus.
That spacious, exuberantly air-conditioned suite featured its own secluded patio and a view of the turquoise waters. (On Bermuda, to be sure, you’re never too far from turquoise waters.) The distance from king-size bed to perfect beach was approximately 72 barefoot steps. (The designation “perfect,” for the record, is bestowed only if sands are unblemished, bikinis are in fashion, and the amount of sand covered by towels or beach chairs is small.) The tennis courts—the wife in question thought we should take up the sport again—were only 134 sneaker-clad steps from our suite. (Okay, so I didn’t really count them.) And golf, I concluded based on all the other evidences of luxury, must have been somewhere in the vicinity, too.
Bermuda, for those poorly grounded in latitude or tales of mysterious disappearances, sits by its lonesome in the Atlantic about as far north as the Carolinas. That means, for those grounded in nothing, that it is not in the Caribbean, nor part of the
We had, of course, lost the weather bet on our first visit to Bermuda. When the sun had deigned to peek out for a few hours, my honeymoon partner and I had done what everyone does: we’d rented a motor scooter. The decades have apparently given us the courage to stand out from the crowd. On our second visit to the island we became more or less the only tourists on a hot, humid day to rent bicycles (the kind you propel yourself by moving your legs)—a move made even more daring by the fact that this particular wife had nearly collapsed twice during that exercise in batting a tennis ball back and forth, and her always-game husband had aggravated some sort of long-standing arm injury in the process of returning the very first serve. Still—ever plucky—we found our way to an often shady railroad right-of-way (the Bermuda Railway Trail) and glided along on our clunky mountain bikes at what for a moment or two there almost felt like a brisk pace. Nothing wrong with working up a good sweat, we told ourselves. And if we had been zipping hither and yon on motor scooters like everyone else, would we have stumbled upon the spectacular rocky seascapes of Astwood Park, where we rehydrated with bottles of complimentary hotel-room water and fruits pinched from the breakfast buffet?
In the evenings, we did concern ourselves with what everyone else concerns themselves with: eating well, which is not much of a challenge in these parts. Nevertheless, our search for the perfect Bermudian meal uncovered some deep and intriguing ironies: the fact, for example, that with turquoise waters everywhere there is still not a lot of native-born fish to eat. (Food which has undergone a longer flight than you have is by definition imperfect.) The authentically local rock fish I hazarded at Elbow Beach’s otherwise quite impressive Seahorse Grill suffered from being on some sort of health and fitness menu.
We did better on that score, actually, at the faux-Italian Little Venice Restaurant and Wine Bar in Hamilton, where at least three varieties of fish had been caught off Bermuda, not Boston. Mine, a variety of sea bass as I recall, was well prepared.
The driver of the taxi we took back to the airport had moved from Canada to Bermuda some 40 years ago. Perhaps one would tire, eventually, of swimming and lolling about on pure white (why do they call them pink?) sands. And Bermuda is not cheap. That glorious suite at
What You Need to Know:
About Elbow Beach: Rooms at Elbow Beach start at $275 for a single and go up to $4,000 for the penthouse suite. For more information, call (800) 223-7434 or visit www.mandarinoriental.com.
Getting There: Though many airlines offer flights to Bermuda, the best deals can be found at USA 3000, if you don’t mind flying on a Tuesday or Friday. For more information, call (877) 872-3000 or visit www.USA3000.com.
Cruising the Caribbean
By Peggy Intrator
If you’re thinking serene beach vacation, but your teenage travel companions want action, a Caribbean cruise may be the answer.
My teenage son and his best friend had one destination in mind—the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island. The adults (myself and said best friend’s mom) were less keen, more of the beautiful-beach than the all-inclusive-resort types, but in the spirit of trying to accommodate everyone (that is, to avoid the gripes of two hormonally charged teen boys), we booked a cruise on the Mariner of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean International ship. The itinerary included stops on three islands: Nassau (where we figured we’d indulge the boys at the Atlantis for the day), St. Thomas, and St. Maarten.
We flew to Orlando, then caught a shuttle bus to Port Canaveral, where we boarded our mammoth, floating resort (the ship is perhaps the biggest thing I’d ever seen, and I live in a 17-story apartment building).
Our cabins (the moms in one, the kids in the other) were elegant and practical—with a large port hole. As the ship began its graceful glide to the Caribbean, we set off to explore—and found…resort heaven: 15 decks, three pools, several nightclubs and bars, a full-size basketball court, an Internet room, hot tubs, a world-class gym, a spa and solarium, a casino, and even an ice-skating rink. We also found that we shared our resort with 3,835 fellow travelers and 1,185 crewmembers. As I said, big!
The ship’s three-story-tall dining room is rather swanky, reminiscent of the one in the movie Titanic (you’re on a cruise, of course the Titanic comes to mind). Even our striving-to-be-jaded teenage boys were impressed. Dinner, as casual or dressy as you want it to be, is assigned seating; we asked and got to dine at a table for four. If you’ve never been on a cruise, you may be stunned by the amount of food served—and constantly available. You won’t be hungry.
Our kids loved the independence they could have roaming the ship. As far as I could tell (kids only tell you so much), they went rock-climbing, ate, played basketball, ate, found a poker game, ate, checked out the teen club and the video room, ate, and played miniature golf. We moms sat on deck chairs, reading, relaxing and, each evening as the sun set, sipping martinis.
When we awoke the second morning, we were astonished and delighted to see…land; Nassau, in fact. We hailed a cab to the Atlantis. Here’s the boys report on the we’ll-die-if-we-don’t-get-to-go waterslide experience: “The Leap of Faith slide goes straight down the middle of a Mayan pyramid. You push off, drop in a freefall, then shoot through a see-through tunnel in the middle of a shark-infested pool. You go so fast that you’re ejected from the tunnel and land in the pool. Awesome.”
Hard as it is to top that, we moms at least matched it with our stops in
This cruise thing isn’t bad, really. It actually left me with the feeling I look for on a relaxing vacation: relaxed.
What You Need to Know:
We were gone for seven days, and we had two staterooms, an “innie” for the boys and an “outie” for the moms. All included for the four of us, with two rooms, round-trip airfare, and the extras (excursions, drinks, and tips), it cost us about $2,000 per person. We made these arrangements through a travel agent, but we met people who had booked on Expedia.com who were paying $1,000 less for rooms that included balconies.
About Atlantis: Only guests have access to its very guarded pool area (you need a room key to get past the guards). When the hotel is almost full, you can only get to the pool area if you reserve a room, to the tune of $225 for the least expensive one. Some cruises, however, offer “Discover Atlantis” days where guests can use the grounds at cheaper rates.
The Other Side of Mexico
By Nancy Claus Giles
Located on the southern tip of the Baja peninsula where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, the Los Cabos Corridor is a 20-mile stretch punctuated with the historic town of San Jose del Cabo on one end, kitschy Cabo San Lucas on the other, with delightfully decadent retreats and world-class golf courses scattered on the beaches in between. Long a favored haven for Hollywood types (it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from LAX), easterners are now flocking to Los Cabos as an alternative to the overdeveloped resorts on the flip side of Mexico.
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas is brash and modern, with lots of shops, restaurants and bars to entertain you, notably Cabo Wabo (owned by Sammy Hagar from the Van Halen group) and El Squid Roe (a sign outside informs: “Sorry, We Are Open”). Be prepared for the hordes of street vendors approaching you and snapping bracelets on your arm. “Forty dollars,” they start the bidding process. Then $20, then $5. You may not find hidden treasure in Cabo San Lucas, but you will find plenty of serapes, silver jewelry, and bobble-head turtles.
If you want a souvenir with more class than kitsch, check out the Vitrofusion glass-blowing factory (624-143-0120). These guys put on a show, twirling the bowls like pizza dough, then twisting, pulling, and teasing shapes out of molten glass: brightly colored fish and other fanciful creatures, mounds of ball ornaments, glasses, pitchers, and candle
holders all accented with swirls of color, and all at fabulous prices.
Hungry? Mi Casa is an open-air restaurant, festive with bright multi-colored chairs and tablecloths, bougainvillea blooming everywhere in vivid reds and fuchsias. Fans swirl lazily from the thatched roof. Ask for the tasting menu with mole chicken, beef, and pork, enormous corn tortillas, salsas, guacamole, and more heaped on banana leaves and served on a copper tray. Don’t miss the el chile en Nogada, a house specialty consisting of a poblano pepper stuffed with sautéed meats and served in a fresh walnut cream sauce that contains 47 separate spices. A mariachi band strolls among the guests (and the members are not shy about asking for tips). Its sister restaurant in town, O Mole Mio, has 20 recipes for the traditional mole. Eat Cabo-style at the Office on the beach, that is with your feet planted firmly in the sand, as you wash down Baja-style jumbo grilled shrimp with a 16-ounce margarita or two. On Sunday and Thursday evenings, there’s a lively Mexican Fiesta with traditional folk dances, piñatas, and free tequila shooters.
San Jose del Cabo
San Jose del Cabo, on the other side of the corridor, is the flip side of Cabo San Lucas. Quiet and understated, the heart of the town is the Church of San Jose, built in 1904 on the site of the Jesuit Mission dating back to 1730. The 10-block historic district has a colonial ambience with authentic adobe buildings, garden courtyards, and the ubiquitous bougainvillea. In the 1800s, the town was known for its whaling industry. That shut down in the 1960s, leaving tourism as the main attraction. So naturally, there are lots of fun little shops and galleries to explore. Nearby is the San José Estuary that you can explore on foot or by kayak. There are 200 species of birds living amid thousands of palms towering over the flood plain where the river meets the Sea of Cortez.
Nightlife here is limited, but the bar at the Tropicana Inn is lively and is the only place to hear live music in town, mostly salsa and steel bands. Don’t miss the excellent sea bass in cilantro sauce or the coconut and pineapple ice cream. If tequila’s your thing, head to the Tequila Restaurant, an open air oasis that boasts more than 50 brands of tequila to go with its Mediterranean cuisine with Mexican and Asian influences. Salud!
What You Need to Know:
Getting There: Timing and pricing varies, but count on a minimum of seven and one-half hours and a stop between New Jersey and Los Cabos International Airport for as little as $550 per person.
Weather Facts: With 350 days a year of sunshine, the weather is about as perfect as it gets. Rain, when it occurs, is typically from August through early October. A subtropical climate, it’s hot, but with low humidity and sea breezes.
What to Do:
Fishing: They don’t call Los Cabos the Marlin Capital of the World for nothing. September through November is the best time to land a Blue Marlin, although the fishing is fine all year long. Even if you don’t fish, you want to see the iconic El Arco from the water. Located on the southernmost point of the Baja Peninsula where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, the arch stands sentry over pelican and seal colonies.
Whale Watching: The gray whale travels thousands of miles every year to calve along the Baja California coastline. Take a cruise or watch from shore
Diving: Want to get up close and personal with a sea turtle or manta ray? There are six dive sites for scuba fans, with living reefs, sand falls, unique fish, and coral.
Golf: There are eight courses along the Transpeninsular Highway, with more on the way. During the high season (October through June), green fees range from $160 to $250; the rest of the year prices range from $90 to $150, including a cart. The Eldorado is a Jack Nicklaus-designed masterpiece featuring challenging oceanfront holes and stunning desert and sea views. The Cabo Real designed by Robert Trent Jones, surrounds the
Hilton Los Cabos.
Where to Stay:
Hilton Los Cabos Beach and Golf Resort
San Jose del Cabo
Baja California Sur, Mexico
Each of this AAA four-diamond hotel’s 375 guest rooms (including 66 suites) has a private terrace overlooking the water (rooms start at $229, suites at $289).
Tropicana Inn Hotel
San Jose del Cabo
You can’t get more authentic than staying in an actual Mexican Indian wood house—and one has been reassembled just for you at the Tropicana Inn. You climb an adobe tower to reach the bedroom in The Troje Suite ($130 a night), romantic netting drapes the bed. The Jacaranda Suite (also $130 a night), though more modern, has a private gated entrance and stone terrace overlooking a fountain, giving the sense of staying in your very own hacienda. There are also 37 standard rooms (from $80 a night).
El Encanto Inn Hotel and Suites
San Jose del Cabo
(210) 858-6649; www.elencantoinn.com
Tranquil, but tiny, El Encanto goes for an upscale rustic look in the heart of town. Accommodations range from $75 for a standard room with two full-size beds to $169 for a pool-side suite (higher during holiday seasons). No onsite food service, but local restaurants deliver.
—Nancy Claus Giles
The White Stuff
These winter wonderlands offer up sensational skiing, fabulous food, and endless opportunities for fun—on and off the slopes
By Peter Bronski
Long before the first snows of the season have blanketed Westchester in a world of white, my thoughts have already turned to one thing: skiing. Fortunately, the Northeast is blessed with many a mountain majesty, complete with superb ski areas and terrific towns that complement the on-slope experience. And conveniently situated within striking distance of it all sits Westchester.
When it comes to finding the best skiing around, one simple rule applies: follow your compass (or in-car GPS navigation system) and head north. And I’m not talking Putnam County north…I’m talking really north. These are not day-tripper destinations, but rather the best bets when it comes to planning the quintessential ski vacation. There may be closer mountains and shorter drives, but if you’re looking for the crème de la crème, the proof, they say, is in the powder.
But it’s not just about the white stuff, and carving turns on the slopes. Let’s be frank for a moment—I have some basic human needs: good food, good drink, lively towns, and a host of off-mountain activities to pique my interest. And the best ski destinations in the Northeast offer the total package. Whether you’re looking for a romantic couples getaway, or a place to plan the family-ski retreat during breaks from school, these winter wonderlands are sure to delight, from the moment your skis hit the slopes in the morning to the moment your head hits the pillow at night (and most anytime in between).
Stowe and Mount Mansfield, Vermont
On the Mountain: Vermont and the state’s iconic Green Mountains may be home to more top-notch destination ski resorts per square mile of mountain than any other state in the Northeast, but if one locale were to epitomize the experience and set the standard for the rest, it would be Stowe (www.stowe.com). Situated on the slopes of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, Stowe’s 485 ski-able acres tower over a quaint rural valley, and are home to more varied and exceptional terrain than most anywhere in the Northeast; just one reason SKI Magazine ranked Stowe the number one ski resort in the eastern United States.
Ride the Four Runner Quad to the top of Stowe, ogling the skiers below you on the infamous Front Four, a quadruplet of expert-only runs that are said to offer up some of the most exciting skiing in the East. Or take the eight-passenger, high-speed Gondola to access an array of enticing intermediate (cruiser) runs. For the novice, an entire mountain—Spruce Peak—is dedicated to easygoing runs.
Around town: When you’re ready for a change of pace, sign up for dog sledding and mush your way through picturesque snow-covered wilderness with the folks at Eden Mountain Lodge (www.dogsled ridesvermont.com) or Green Mountain Dog Sled Adventures (www.dogsled vt.com). If mechanized fun is more your style, Stowe Snowmobile Tours (802-253-6221) will take you through the blue-spruce forests of the Worcester Mountain Range for 20 to 25 miles of thrilling snowmobile excitement.
By day’s end you’re bound to have a hearty appetite, and Stowe serves up an impressive selection of local bistros, authentic Asian cuisine, Italian trattorias, and micro-brew pubs (www.gostowe. com/dining). When it comes time to turn in for the evening, Stowe offers a host of options, from slopeside condos to lovely bed and breakfasts and full-service, four-star resorts. Get in touch with local history at the Stowe Inn (www.stowe inn.com), or pamper yourself at the Stowflake Mountain Resort and Spa (www.stoweflake.com) or the Austrian-style Trapp Family Lodge (www.trapp family.com).
Getting there: By car: Take I-287 East to I-95 North to I-91 North. Merge onto I-89 North in Vermont and take exit 10 for Waterbury/Stowe. Turn right onto VT-100 and follow it north to the