WhereDaily - at home Hawaii style

February 22, 2010

Specialty Lodging has been part and parcel of the Hawaii resort landscape since the start of the condo craze in the 1980s. As high-rises went up around Waikiki and the value of beachfront property in this island state skyrocketed developers quickly found a market for efficient residential towers selling along side fancy hotel spreads. With Outrigger came the popularizing of these condominium quarters as leisure vacation spots that could be rented with the same ease as hotel rooms, and indeed, a new vacation genre was born.

"We have found our condominiums to be especially popular with families," notes Nancy Daniels, spokesman for Outrigger Enterprises. "Cooking 'at home' can mean savings of up to $100 a stay for a family of four, and those savings can be put toward other island activities. Also, keeping snacks in the fridge for after the beach or pool, packing picnic lunches to take on daylong excursions, or cooking dinner and eating on the lanai are all great ways to stretch a family's dining budget."

The company also promotes the condo inventory for girlfriend getaways and bachelorette parties and has found a good marketing angle for those who want to pack light and avoid extra baggage fees. In-suite washers and dryers can become another money-saving amenity.

Condominium options are to be found throughout the Hawaiian archipelago in all manners of configuration and cost. Companies such as ResortQuest specialize in offering owned vacation residences to travelers of all kinds, be they families, business travelers or honeymooners. Destination Hotels and Resorts also brings a variety of vacation options to travelers and has been seeing much interest in its top-tier Wailea Beach Villas on Maui where sumptuous homes come with dedicated butler service. Rates and packages all around remain significantly lower than in previous years.

High-style Luxury Living

Wailea Beach Villas brings 98 penthouses and villas ranging in size from 1,900 to 3,100 square feet with two and three bedrooms, large lanais with built-in barbecues and ocean or garden views. Villas have private plunge pools and outdoor showers and personal butler, personal au pair and in-room spa treatments can be had for the asking. Rates start at $975 per night for a two bedroom garden penthouse. (866) 901-5207.www.waileabeachvillas.com.

Ritz Carlton Kapalua
This Maui classic comes with 445 remodeled guestrooms and the addition of one and two bedroom Residential Suites, all with new furnishings and amenities, including dark wood floors, flat-screen televisions, new marble bathrooms, Hawaiian inspired artwork and spacious lanais. Count plush robes, Bulgari bath products and high-speed wireless Internet into the amenities. Kapalua, Maui. Residential one-bedroom villas start at $545 per night. (808) 669-6200, www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/KapaluaMaui.

Trump Waikiki
The $700 million Trump Waikiki, opened last year as the newest property to grace the crowded Waikiki beachfront bringing 464 units ranging from studios to three-bedroom penthouses that originally sold for $400,000 to $9 million. Units have kitchens with Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances but 24-hour room service and concierge is also available. The property touts a full-service spa, an elegant two-story lobby, signature restaurants, glass elevators, infinity pools with cabanas and lavish waterfalls in a building soaring 38 stories above the Pacific. Rates start at $425 per night.
 (888) 877-8693, www.trumpwaikikihotel.com.

Ho'olei at Grand Wailea
The legendary Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa on the Wailea coast of Maui opened a residential gated community known as Ho'olei adjacent to the Grand Wailea Resort. This is the first opportunity for guests to stay in a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath townhouse and enjoy access to all the amenities of the Grand Wailea Resort, including the Canyon Activity Pool, Spa Grande, myriad fine dining options, Camp Grande, and Wailea Golf Club. Guest quarters range from 3,200 to 4,000 square feet, and each two-story town home features a private interior elevator, attached garage and an oversized Great Room with vaulted ceilings, floor to ceiling windows and sliding glass doors that open onto a spacious, covered lanai with views of the Pacific or Wailea Blue Golf Course. Rates start at about $1,000 per night. (877) 3-HOOLEI, www.hooleiatgrandwailea.com

Family Freedom in the Islands

ResortQuest might be considered the king of condohotel operations in Hawaii. The company has 26 properties throughout the island state (many are former Aston properties), each with its own personality. They can be as diverse as the Waikiki Beach Hotel with its beachfront tower, complimentary "breakfast on the beach" picnic program and its bright floral room d├ęcor; or the ResortQuest at the Executive Center in downtown Honolulu, where each suite has floor to ceiling pans of the southern sweep of Oahu and amenities perfect for an extended business stay. They can be economical beachfront mini-condos in Kapaa, Kauai at the Islander on the Beach (rates starting at $87 per night) or as exclusive as the Waimea Plantation Cottages, an exclusive oceanfront spread in western Kauai favored by honeymooners and celebrities solitude, privacy and authentically preserved, early century Hawaii sensibilities. (Cottages - studio with kitchenette to three-bedroom, two-bath oceanfront stays --range from $195 to $395 per night). (877) 997-6667,

Outrigger Hotels has a separate Condominium Collection that is added to its booking inventory in 14 resorts throughout the islands. The Kanaloa at Kona, or instance, perched atop an outcropping of lava rock overlooking Keauhou Bay, presents a gated oceanfront resort with 86 one- and two-bedroom units on 17 acres. Each comes with a full kitchen, washer/dryer, and large lanai. The site offers tennis, golf, three swimming pools, oceanfront lodging, complimentary wireless Internet access in public areas and a convenient location near shopping and snorkeling spots. Rates start at $145 per night with a two-night minimum. (800) OUTRIGGER (688-7444), www.outrigger.com.

Destination Hotels and Resorts brings its specialty lodging collection to Maui in the form of eight choices, each with its own benefits, price points and location. Nightly rates run the gamut, from $180 to $2,300 and offer fully equipped and spacious living quarters with access to tennis, golf and ocean. Several packages can be booked with these accommodations, including the Wailea Springs Savings package (stay between April 12 and June 24, 2010 and receive a comped luxury car rental plus 30% off the best available rate). Other specials in place include a Winter 35% Discount through March at participating properties; Fifth Night Free; and the Maui Mystery Package that starts at $180 per night and comes with an upgrade. (866) 384-1365, www.drhmaui.com.


Passport Tips

Traveling outside the US soon?  Here are a few tips to make your journey run smoothly:

  • Check your passport expiration date.  Some countries and airlines will not let you travel if the expiration date is within 6 month's of your RETURN date.  And don't expect the airlines to help you out if you get to your destination and the officials will not let you enter the country.  You could end up buying a very expensive one way ticket home.
  • Always travel with a copy of your passport data page in a secure location, it could help if you lose your passport.
  • Register your trip with the US State Department before you leave.  If you do lose your passport it can shave days off of the time needed to get a replacement.
  • Whenever possible leave your passport securely locked in your hotel safe.
  • When entering some countries or registering at hotels, you may be asked to fill out a police card listing your name, passport number, destination, local address, and reason for traveling. You may be required to leave your passport at the hotel reception desk overnight so it may be checked by local police officials. These are normal procedures required by local laws. If your passport is not returned the following morning, immediately report the impoundment to local police authorities and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
  • As more and more people need a passport for travel expect long lead times, as much as 4 to 6 months.  If you do get into a bind and need a passport in a hurry use a service to expedite receiving your passport like A Briggs.
  • If you are going to need a travel visa stamp from the country you are visiting be sure to verify the requirements.  Some countries will allow you to get a visa stamp at the airport, like Turkey, but some countries require that you have the entry visa stamp before you travel.
  • Make sure you have enough space/empty pages in your passport for your trip.  If you need extra pages this can be done through the US Department of State or a passport service.
  • Rules and laws are always changing so be sure to visit the US Department of State Passport page to review all the current requirements.
How do I travel?  I always have a paper copy of my passport, ID, and credit cards, front and back in case I lose them and need to contact the bank or State Department for a replacement. I always register with the State Department if I am traveling outside the US and I make a note of where the closest US Embassy or consulate is located.  Once you create a profile updating it is easy.  I keep scanned copies of all my documents in a secure online storage site so I can access them anywhere I travel.  I always notify my credit card companies and cell phone provider that I will be traveling so they do not put a hold on my credit cards or stop my cell service.


Visiting Cuba (legally)

Americans may be surprised to learn that you can travel to Cuba legally, and that Europeans and Canadians have been doing so for years.  This is a great article take from the Matador Abroad website.

How To Travel to Cuba Legally As An American

Traveling to Cuba legally as an American is possible, if slightly complicated. Here are some ways you can make it work.
While it’s still challenging to travel legally, President Obama has eased some of the restrictions and opened up some opportunities. Having just returned from the island, I can attest that the process involves months of planning, tons of paperwork, and plenty of waiting around. But it’s a worthy process for those who are concerned about traveling illegally through a third country and facing the possibility of a hefty fine upon return.
The first thing to know about legal travel to Cuba is that there are two licenses: a general license and a specific license. Traveling under general license is the easiest because you don’t have to ask the government for permission, but you can be asked for documented proof from your trip that shows you traveled under that category.
An extensive list of travel categories is available on the MarazulGlobal Exchange or the Center For Cuban Studies.
El Nicho Falls
Some of the categories for legal travel to Cuba are:
Family Visits: This falls under general license.
Professional Research or Attendance at a Conference: This is a general license available to full time professionals provided they spend the majority of their time in Cuba conducting research. This can involve site visits, attending lectures, and other academic endeavors.
The majority of group travel opportunities fall under this category. Some examples of current opportunities are “Reality Tours” that explore everything from alternative healing to music offered by Global Exchange, and a teacher’s delegation being put together through the Center for Cuban Studies.
Journalists: Full-time journalists that work for a news gathering organization can travel to Cuba under general license. Freelancers writing articles on Cuba can obtain a specific license provided they have a publication history.
Study Abroad: Specific Licenses are granted for undergraduate and graduate study abroad programs lasting longer than ten weeks. There are a multitude of American universities currently offering programs in Cuba. Presbyterian College’s program is available to students from any university.
Humanitarian Projects:Under a specific license, groups can take donations and engage in humanitarian trips. Most of these trips are carried out by religious groups such as the Cuba-America Jewish MissionPeachtree Presbyterian Church, and several others. The Cuba AIDS Project also takes small groups interested in HIV/AIDS outreach.
It’s unfortunate that a decades long political battle deters Americans from visiting Cuba, because there is so much to be learned on both sides from an interaction between Americans and Cubans. Jumping the hoops to travel legally might be worth it for interaction with a place most Americans see only through the media.


Hawaii - Classic Vacation & Starwood Sale

Classic Vacations, a preferred tour supplier to Hawaii is having a special sale.  Please call or email for more details.




WhereDaily - Calistoga, Napa's Wonderland

Calistoga: Napa's Neverland

February 8, 2010

People head to Calistoga for its waters - hot and mineral-heavy straight from the roiling pulp beneath the mighty San Andreas. But people head to Calistoga Ranch Resort for the high-ticket R&R.

While the town of Calistoga is locked into the turn of the (last) century - easy streets, original Victorian domiciles and a mish mash of small town stores and funky '60s-style motels, each featuring is own signature of mineral pools and baths - Calistoga Ranch Resort is an assortment of suites, villas and some kind of California magic that would be bedded comfortably in the pages of Sunset Magazine, if not Travel & Leisure. The resort sits about five miles outside of town (and four miles from post St. Helena) in its own canyon in the Mayacama Mountains on the upper edge of Napa. A visitor can take in all of it - the platinum pampering and award-winning dining of the resort, the wine sampling from wineries along the Silverado Trail, the quiet tone of the town, the mineral mud and hot pool soaks offered by vintage motels on nearly every corner, and even a two-room town museum attached to an original residence.

The resort wedges into a mountain crevice on 157 acres shaded by oak trees, fed by mountain waters and surrounded by hiking trails. Its 48 rooms feature such amenities as outdoor deck showers, private wooden Jacuzzi tubs on hidden patios, outdoor fireplace, platters of fruits and cheeses paired with wine, French Press coffee and a plumped up bedroom set that belongs in Province.

The Spa scene compliments the layout with a waterfall hot tub overlooking the creek, treatment rooms with private spas, private wooded balconies to soak in the setting, and a menu of organic healing treatments. Stargazing into unblighted skies is an unexpected extra.

Naturally, romancing couples find much to love here and Calistoga Ranch Resort is kindling it all with ... well, a package. A Rest & Renew Valentine's Day package is a simple affair: Arrive between February 12 and February 16 for a complimentary upgrade to Spa Lodge accommodations as well as dinner for two en suite or at the Lakehouse Restaurant, or a $200 spa credit and complimentary soak in a private mineral pool. The two-night package runs about $1,760 per couple.

In addition, the resort runs an on-going escape package Sunday through Thursday starting at $635 per night (through March) with confirmed accommodations upgrade and breakfast for two each morning.

Please contact me for more information.


WhereDaily - Top 10 2010 Travel Scams

Top 10 Travel Scams for 2010
January 29, 2010


The top ten travel scams for 2010 are the same top ten travel scams of 2009. There is nothing new under the sun in the travel fraud department - only new players, new places and new ways of playing. Whether the advice comes from the wisdom of trained perps, jaded police or overly concerned parents it has teeth. And it is simply this:

* Do your research, know your prices.
* Keep your valuables on you and safe inside a sealed pocket or inside pouch
* Know the currency and carry a lot of small bills in US denominations.
* Do not step into un-metered or unofficial taxis; do not accept involved unsolicited help; do not act too open, bored or friendly.
* If a gypsy tosses a baby at you, put your hands in your pockets and scat.

Unless, of course, you have nothing to lose. Wandering unfettered through foreign cities has its virtues. The Escape Diva here evaded many scams in her youth as she simply did not have any thing to steal. Even the charming snake handler at Jama-al-Fna Square in Marrakech had been out-scammed when the boa constrictor he placed around her neck -- and would not remove unless paid his ransom --had to chase after this unlikely victim - who refused to pay him anything and started to run off with the snake around her head.

According to such experts as Kevin Coffey,  a former police detective and scam expert as well as others with expert input into the game, the following acts of conartistry contend for the Oscars of travel fraud.

1)    The $500 Travel Agent. This scam has been around since the mid 1990s and offers would-be travelers travel agent credentials for the price of about $500. The credentials are supposed to bring incredible hotel and cruise discounts and a host freebies just for being a part of this bogus "agency." But the days of the agent comps are as gone as brick-sized cell phones and the only benefits here might be the jazzy sales motivation talks and the monthly newsletter.

2)    The Free Trip. Whether you have won a trip to some island in the Bahamas or a gate pass to Disneyland just for picking up your mail or clicking a pop-up box, chances are you will be asked to fork over $100 for an "admin" fee for a trip that does not exist.

3)    The Up Front Cashout. This really did happen - to the Los Angeles Times Travel Editor Catharine Hamm. The editor had wedding plans set for a spot on the island of Oahu. However, a few weeks before the wedding she had to change venues and found the perfect place nearby through research on the Internet. She contacted the leasing agency and the agent asked her to quickly wire the funds - nearly $5,000 - to the "owner's" bank account in Texas, as time was short. After wiring the money, Hamm requested the accompanying papers - which never came.

4)    The Discount Travel Club. Unless this is a club of like-minded pals who want to ski or beach together, the discounted travel promised for the price of admission is likely too good to be true or something you could gain for yourself. Use a travel agent and pay with a credit card. Even if an agent can't cinch that extra $25 off the trip you want, as seen on some fleeting site in the middle of the night, he or she can offer assurances that the room you get is the room you want - on the ocean, not ten blocks away. And should anything go wrong, you're covered. Peace of mind? $25 please.

5)    The Lady with the Baby. This happens in Europe a lot: a gypsy woman carrying a baby in a blanket walks toward you and suddenly tosses the child into your arms. Nearby partners in crime grab your purse, wallet, camera, whatever can be snatched in the confusion and run away, leaving you to care for the doll or log you just caught.

6)    The Newspaper in Your Face. Kids, usually Gypsy children, pass you in a chaos of laughter, conversations and newspapers. While waving the newspapers in your face to block your vision and disorient you, the cagey youths run through your pockets and grab your bag-and everything else they can grab.
7)    Five for Fifty. This bait and switch is common in Turkey where the denominations in questions look similar, but it is certainly duplicated to perfection in other destinations as well - including the cash register at your local 7-11. You get into a cab, get a estimate for a fare, pay the fare when you get there with a 50 note, which the driver drops and exchanges for a 5 and exclaims that you gave him a 5 not a 50.

8)   The English Student. One of the most rewarding experiences of travel is spontaneous interaction and adventures with local residents. Indeed, Escape Diva has discovered hidden dumpling houses in Shanghai, friendly hookah dens in Sanaa, even bohemian coffee houses in Addis Abeba with the help of friendly locals - often students - who want to practice their English. But chances are you will be paying for dinner for your host and several of his friends in the transaction, and even buying his family a few bags of groceries while you are at it.

9)   Waiting for the Bus. Whether your adversaries are on bicycle, running through a crowd or offering a friendly dose of help in a bustling bus station, it's your bags they want - not your smiling face. A common scene has travelers waiting for their ride on a street in Barcelona as thieves on bicycles grab a purse from a woman nearby. She screams. The travelers drop their bags and run after the purse-snatchers while cohorts in the shadows run for the bags. Similarly, you are struggling with your luggage at a train or bus terminal. A nice guy insistently offers a hand to help and helps himself to your belongings.

10)   The Cut and Roll. This classic comes from Detective Kevin Coffey who had made a post-department career in lecturing about travel scams and fraud to travel groups and meeting planners. You are on line at the security gate at an airport. Suddenly, one or two people cut in line and get through the scanner ahead of you. They go through your things while you are stuck in place and disappear into the terminal - and out - with your cell phone and your wallet.

Extra Credit - In Paris look out for the "lost ring" scam.  A woman will approach you, bend over and pick up a ring and ask you if you just lost it.  She expects you to say yes, take the ring, and then give her a reward.  This happened to me in Paris by the Eiffel Tower last year.  It was almost comical how text book the scam was.  And no I didn't fall for it!

Safe Travels!



WhereDaily - Morocco

La Mamounia: Still Magnificent
February 2, 2010

If it looks like a movie set, that is because it is. Mamounia has played background to such classics as Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much and Morocco with Marlene Dietrich. And the stars continue to haunt the mosaic-tiled halls: Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Orlando Bloom and Salma Hayek are recent sightings.

But Mamounia's history is much deeper than the fleeting flash of stardom. The circa-1923 hotel in the middle of Marrakech has seen its share of presidents as well: Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt retreated there following a strategic summit during WWII. Today, following a three-year $180 million makeover La Mamounia is again in the spotlight, having opened its intricately carved doors last fall to reveal new interiors of Art Deco and Arabesque by famed French designer Jacques Garcia. 

The property is surrounded by sprawling gardens more than two centuries old. And while the curious can admire the hotel from these vantages, they cannot glimpse the cavernous marble corridors or antique-laden lobby unless they book a reservation - for dinner or the night in one of the hotel's 136 rooms or 71 suites.

Once in, the 27,000-square-foot spa should be sought, if only for a gaze upon the indoor pool surrounded by white couches and golden columns. The hamam lies just below where guests purify from the inside out on heated marble platforms surrounded by mesmerizing plays of ancient zellij design while doting attendants scrub the body until any memory of dirt disappears.

La Mamounia has come up with three exclusive "Unique Experiences" celebrating the mystique of Marrakech all available through the end of June.  From private art lessons with local artists, a helicopter ride through the Atlas Mountains and shopping with the Souk's savviest shopping experts, visitors can have a seamless Moroccan sojourn with a stay in the country's legendary digs.
* Majorelle's Footsteps Experience:
Beginning with a complimentary airport transfer in a ruby red Jaguar guests get a jet-lag massage upon arrival and over the next three days, experience a 90-minute Hamam ritual, private art lessons with a local artist, a guided visit of the famous Majorelle Gardens and a tour of the Marrakech with a professional photographer. In addition, guests have a breakfast each morning, plus a la carte dinners at L'Italien and at Le Marocain, two of Morocco's top restaurants.  Expect to pay around $4,500 per room per couple for three nights.

* Shopping Experience:
Similarly, this option begins with a complimentary airport transfer and a relaxing massage upon arrival. Over the next three days, guests take in the traditional a 90-minute Hamam ritual and then run around the faded pink city in a guided shopping tour of Marrakech that includes a $1,000 credit at selected boutiques at La Mamounia. The Shopping Experience also includes a beauty package: hair brushing and make-up for her, and haircut and shaving for him. Each morning, it's a buffet breakfast, and for dinner, consider cocktails and a la carte dinner at Le Marocain - plus dinner reservations one night at an upscale restaurant in Marrakech. Rates run $5,700 per room, per couple for three nights.

* Morocco by Air Experience:
As with the other experiences, this choice starts with Jaguar or Range Rovers airport transfers and massage upon arrival. Over the next three days, guests enjoy a helicopter ride around the Atlas Mountains and a balloon ride at dawn. The thrill of the heights are complemented by the down to earth pleasures of the 90-minute Hamam ritual - and an added 90-minute Shiseido massage. It's buffet breakfast each morning, as well as a la carte dinner at Le Marocain and another dinner at Le Francais by Jean Pierre Vigato. Prices begin at $10,500 per room per couple based for the three nights.

Please contact me for more information.