Playing Tourist in my Own Back Yard – The Olympic Peninsula

Exploring the Olympic Peninsula

When I had some time off a few weeks ago, I took several day trips on the Olympic Peninsula.  It’s sad to say, but I really don’t get out and explore our own local area as often as I should.  I think I take it for granted that I can always do that when company comes to town, or I don’t have other plans, or it’s a nice sunny day and a friend might want to do something fun.  I decided that since I was off work and most other people were working, the weather was fabulous, that I would go exploring.

I live in Tacoma, so I started by heading over the Narrows Bridge towards Gig Harbor.  I always love the view from the Narrows.  Following Highway 16, I went past Gig Harbor and Port Orchard, turned onto Highway 3 going North at Bremerton.  I took a detour to drive through Poulsbo because I hadn’t been for years.  This is a pretty little town with lots of shops and restaurants and I filed it away for a day when I can make it my destination.  At Port Gamble I turned West onto Highway 104 and crossed the Hood Canal Bridge.  Hood Canal Bridge    Hood Canal Bridge

What a beautiful drive so far!  Incredible views of the water, lots of trees, and very little traffic.

I took another detour into Port Ludlow because I had heard about The Resort at Port Ludlow but had not seen it for myself.  I stopped in and the front desk people were kind enough to let me take a look around and even gave me keys to look in 3 different rooms.  This is a lovely resort right on a marina with beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains, Admiralty Inlet and the mouth of Hood Canal.  The Inn at Port Ludlow has just 37 rooms and suites; they have meeting space for up to 60, and would be the ideal setting for an intimate, waterside Wedding.  It would also be a great romantic weekend getaway location for guests from the Seattle / Tacoma area.  The Fireside Restaurant is warm and inviting, and weather permitting; you can sit out on the deck.      There is a beautiful lawn area on the water side of the resort with chairs and benches; I could see myself sitting out here enjoying the sun and salt air with a good book for a few hours.  One of the meeting rooms looks out onto this view; it would be hard for me to keep focused on business details while looking across this beautiful expanse of lawn.

The rooms are beautiful, with fireplaces, mini-fridge, and large bathrooms with jetted tubs, oversized robes and fabulous views.  I toured a suite that had a huge deck and fabulous view.  The bedroom itself was a little small, but the living area, huge bathroom, and incredible deck more than made up for it.  I also toured 2 Queen Rooms, one with a full bay view and one with a partial view.  These rooms were spacious with a seating area by the fireplace, and the bathroom could be opened up to look out into the room – opening it up even more.

Queen Suite

The staff was very friendly.  The Port Ludlow Golf Club is right there and they offer packages including golf.  They also offer spa treatments right in your guest room.  And the rates are very affordable, starting as low as $129 per night.

Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula

After my tour of The Inn at Port Ludlow, I headed up to Port Townsend.  The Wooden Boat Festival was going on that weekend, so the town was crowded.  I was fortunate to find a parking spot on the street for 2 hours, and set off on foot.  This is an historical town with beautiful architecture was founded in 1792; it is full of shops, restaurants, museums, parks and more.  I was pretty hungry by this time, and wanted to eat where I could look at the water.  I wandered into the Belmont, which was established in 1889 and has a restaurant and hotel. The food and service were very good, although the restaurant itself looked a little tired.  The view was fantastic, and I would recommend eating here if you’re visiting Port Townsend.

After lunch, I wandered around, in and out of shops, took some pictures of the fabulous old buildings, and was intrigued to find a couple of interesting little hotels.  The Swan Hotel is right on the marina and offers wonderful views of both the Olympic and Cascade mountains as well as sea views.  They were completely full so I wasn’t able to see the rooms, but from the outside it was very inviting.  Their sister hotel, The Bishop Victorian Hotel & Gardens is located a couple of blocks inland in the Downtown Historic District.  They, too, were full, but the owners were very inviting and gave me some information and history on both hotels.

Depending on the time of year you visit, you might see whales, bald eagles, and deer.  There are some great wineries in the area, for those wine connoisseurs out there.  There are numerous events and festivals happening throughout the year, including Farmers Markets.

I timed my drive so that I would hit rush hour in Bremerton on the way home.  My advice would be either plan to stay at least until after dinner, or even better spend the night or even a weekend.  You really need that much time to explore this area.

A Little Maui News

You may have heard that Hotel Hana Maui, Maui’s most isolated resort on the east coast of Maui, has transformed itself and is now called Travaasa Hana.  This 70 room resort is under new ownership and management and has upgraded its guest rooms.  I would choose to stay in a Sea Ranch Cottage with sweeping views of the Pacific, but you might prefer one of the bungalow-style Garden Suites.  The restaurant menu focuses on local organic cuisine, with traditional Hawaiian dishes as well as elements of Asian and Old World European Cuisine.  Some of the signature dishes are Pohole Fern Shoot Salad, a native Hawaiian favorite; fish wrapped in Ti Leaves; fish smoked with guava and mango wood; Lilikoi Mahi with Hawaiian sweet potato and ginger lime coconut sauce; and an Open-faced Smoked Chicken Salad Sandwich on house-made bread with a locally grown sprout salad.  Darn, now I’m hungry.  The Spa also uses local plants in their treatments.  There are many activity programs that are included in your room rate such as cooking classes and yoga on the beach.  You can also choose a plan that includes meals and even a spa treatment.  If you’re looking for a truly relaxing and authentic Hawaii vacation away from it all, this is the spot.

If you prefer not to be quite so isolated, there are plenty of interesting, fun resorts around the island.  In the Kapalua area you might want to check out the Kapalua Villas.  They have a new lecture series where you can learn about Hawaii’s marine life.  Ke Kani O Ke Kai (Voices of the Sea) is led by a local marine biologist on the first Monday of each month.  Did I mention that this is free?  If you love food and wine, you will want to plan your vacation for next June to coincide with the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival.

You could combine your Food & Wine vacation with some offerings from the Maui Film Festival which is also held in June, over in Wailea.  Some of the fabulous resorts on this part of the island are the Grand Wailea which is always a favorite with families because of the wonderful Wailea Canyon Activity Pool, they have also redone their Spa Grande.  On the 20th of each month the resort hosts a free fair in the spa’s lobby with discounted spa products, beauty demonstrations and prizes!  The Four Seasons Maui has a fantasy tennis camp, a wellness series featuring physical & spiritual practices.  The Wailea Beach Marriott has added the Akamai Business Center, a 690 square foot business center that can take care of pretty much any of your copy, print, and shipping needs – as well as offering short time rentals of computers, copiers and printers – which makes it the perfect location for your corporate retreats.  And of course, one of my favorite resorts, the Fairmont Kea Lani is in Wailea.  This area boasts some fabulous golf courses, restaurants and shopping. 

Kaanapali is probably the most well known of Maui’s resort areas.  Numerous resorts are located on this beautiful beach, and you are close to Lahaina.  The Kaanapali Beach Hotel bills itself as “Hawaii’s most Hawaiian Hotel”.  They have Hawaiian Cultural activities and entertainment daily; the staff sings when you arrive; they use the Hawaiian language around the resort and in brochures and more (they actually say there are 110 reasons they are the most Hawaiian).  If you stay in Kaanapali you will want to be sure to eat at Aloha Mixed Plate – right on the water with wonderful, affordable specials every day.

What’s New with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines?

As part of my continuing travel education, I attended a breakfast seminar this morning put on by my local business development managers for Royal Caribbean and Azamara Club cruise lines.  Wow!  Do they ever pack a lot into 1 ½ hours.  There is a lot of cool, new stuff happening with RCCL and I’m happy to be able to share it with you.  I’m only going to hit the highlights. 

If you are into cruising, you probably have heard of the new Oasis class ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.  RCCL is doing Royal Enhancements on all of their ships, and so far have completed 3.  They will be rolling this out onto the rest of the fleet over the next 3 years until all the ships have the most popular features.  They even upgraded the Oasis of the Seas with the Dreamworks Experience which was previously only available on the Allure.  Plus they added a 3D movie theater. 

They have upgraded the Freedom of the Seas and the Liberty of the Seas with the following:

  • Dreamworks Experience (this does not include as much as the Oasis & Allure, but still a fabulous experience for the kids.)
  • 3D Theater with First Run movies.
  • Outdoor, Poolside movies.
  • The Cupcake Cupboard
  • Vintages Wine Bar
  • Royal Babies & Tots Nursery (for 6 mos. – 3 YO, babysitting for $8 per hour, 3 – 1 ratio kids/staff.  You know you want a romantic evening without the kids!)
  • Enhanced Wi-fi throughout the ship.
  • Digital Wayfinder System (touchscreen system – type in your room # and find out the quickest way to get there.  Find out what’s happening & where right now.  What restaurants have no waits and much more!)
  • Chefmakers Cooking Academy– classes such as Knife Skills, Small Bites & Cocktails, Quick & Easy Fish, Wine & Dine, Spa Cuisine, Kids with Kids Baking and more.  (This is one of my favorite enhancements, right after the Digital Wayfinder)

The next ship to be done is the Radiance of the Seas.  It will have many of these same features, but it will also have many new dining venues such as the Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse, Rita’s Cantina, Giovanni’s Table, Quill & Compass Pub and more.  They will also have a Chef’s Table experience for a maximum of 14 guests where the chef will create a 5 course meal paired with wine.  They’ve also added a few new cabins.  Next will be the Splendour of the Seas – and then the rest of the fleet. 

Azamara Club Cruises doesn’t have the dramatic ship upgrades that their sister Royal Caribbean does, but they WOW you with the experience.  They offer unique itineraries offering cultural immersion and experiences; an informal, country-club atmosphere; fabulous regional cuisine and wines; more overnight stays; 45% of their port stays are until 8PM or later; 694 passengers to 408 crew members with 70% of the rooms having balconies; few children because there are no childrens programs, and more inclusions and amenities in the price such as:

  • Gratuities (dining, bar & housekeeping)
  • Bottled water, sodas and specialty coffee & tea.
  • Select vintage red & white wine at lunch and dinner.
  • Self service laundry
  • Concierge service.

Suite guests get even more inclusions including Butler Service and Complimentary Specialty Dining.  They have some incredible new itineraries for 2012, and some fabulous specials including discounts for booking air with their Choice Air program (same, or better, rates as you will find published on other sites); 50% off select shore excurisions; some great single occupancy discounts and more. 

Azamara also offers great Golf  Themed itineraries where they have paired with PerryGolf.  You can play spectacular, challenging courses in countries such as Spain, Italy,France, Portugal, Wales and Ireland.  They even have a cruise planned to coincide with the 2013 British Open.  The Golf Package includes too much to list here, but some highlights. 

  • Green fees & Confirmed starting times (including cart and gratuities)
  • Practice range & range balls where available
  • All golf bag handling between ship & golf courses and onboard club storage in a secure location
  • Full time Golf Manager throughout the voyage
  • Cocktail parties, Golfer’s social events onboard, 2 special onboard dinners, and special events for non-golfing guests.

The package offers one price for golfers, and a reduced price for their guests who can still attend all the social events onboard.

Azamara also has cruises for Carnival and New Year’s Eve in Brazil, the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and more special events.  They will take care of tickets and transportation for you for these events.

Royal Caribbean and Azamara Club Cruises really can take you to the world – Caribbean, Europe, Asia and more.  Let’s get cruising!

Sandals in St. Lucia

St. Lucia is so lushly alluring that France and Britain fought over her for over 150 years, finally coming under British rule, but still retaining a French influence.  From the twin peaks of Les Pitons, the sulfur springs reknowned for their restorative powers, the abundance of the lush rainforest, the fiery passions of its ancient volcano, to the charm of Marigot Bay where “Dr. Dolittle” was filmed – St. Lucia is a dazzling Caribbean paradise that casts her spell of romance and adventure at every turn.

Sandals Regency La Toc, “The Emerald of the Caribbean” is set on 250 acres of lush, tropical, hilly terrain plus a dramatic ocean bluff, which overlooks the amazing half-mile cove beach of white sand and turquoise waters. 

You can choose from one of 19 room categories in the Piton Villa Suites, the Emerald Village, or the Sunset Bluff Suites featuring the incredible Millionaire Suites.  Sandals Regency La Toc has the most plunge pools of all the Sandals resorts.  There is a 9 hole golf course on site with complimentary greens fees.  9 restaurants, 10 bars, 3 swimming pools, and of course, a Red Lane Spa.

Sandals Grande St. Lucian is set on its own peninsula surrounded by spectacular Caribbean views, from both sides of the resort.  From the moment you enter the 3 story open-air lobby, you are overcome by the stunning views of Rodney Bay.  Elegant sitting areas invite you to relax and enjoy the cool ocean breezes. 

Among the 16 room categories at this resort, you can choose an exotic swim-up room where you can stp from your living area into the clear waters of a lagoon pool.  Or maybe a Rondoval Suite would me more to your liking, offering a unique indoor/outdoor experience.  With 8 restaurants, 6 bars, 5 swimming pools, and complimentary golf at Sandals Regency La Toc, everything you need is right here.  Continental breakfast room service is available to all guests at Sandals Grande St. Lucian.

Sandals Halcyon Beach is the 3rd Sandals resort on St. Lucia.  This intimate, quaint and romantic resort has just 169 rooms, and is a low rise resort offering a laid back, tranquil and casually elegant experience set in tropical gardens.  With full exchange privileges at the other 2 Sandals resorts, you get all of the amenities of the larger resorts, with the intimacy of a small resort.  Sandals Halcyon offers St. Lucia’s most impressive dining option – The Pier Restaurant set out over the water.  There are 3 other restaurants, 7 bars, 2 swimming pools.

Remember, with full exchange privileges at all 3 resorts, you have 18 dining options, complimentary golf and complimentary shuttle service between the 3 resorts.

Sandals Grande Ocho Rios

This is one of the most romantic of the Sandals resorts, set on the incredible stretch of beach called the Caribbean Riviera.  This resort encompasses 100 acres and includes exotic gardens, gorgeous beach, a Grande Promenade stretching out over the sea, and a hidden grotto pool tucked into the shade of a secluded garden. 

You can enjoy complimentary golf at the Sandals Golf & Country Club located here, as well as not one, but TWO Red Lane Spas.  You have your choice of an incredible 11 restaurants and 10 bars, 7 main pools, 93 villa pools, 22 whirlpools.  There is a scuba diving center, Rock Climbing Wall, and 22 room categories.

The Ciboney Villa Suites are nestled among lush tropical trees and flowering plants and offer the exclusivity of a private villa with all the advantages of a world class resort.  These are perfect for a private party – many villas feature 4 luxurious bedrooms and a private pool.  The Romeo and Juliet Suites are perfect for Honeymooners, each with a private pool. 

This resort offers a vacation with everything – spa, beach, pools, sight seeing, shopping, and golf.  There are fabulous tours available including the a trip to Nine Mile – Bob Marley’s birthplace, Dophin Encounter, Jamaican Bobsled experience, or a Bicycle Adventure in the Blue Mountains.

Renewed my Certified Sandals Specialist

I attended a Sandals Workshop last Thursday to maintain my Certified Sandals Specialist status.  I love these workshops because they are so informative keeping us updated on what is new at each of the 22 resorts on 6 islands that are under the Sandals umbrella.  I thought I would share a little information about each resort with you because not everyone realizes that this company offers something for almost everyone.

There are 13 Sandals Luxury Included properties which cater to couples and stress romance; 4 Beaches Luxury Included properties which cater to families, singles and groups; 2 Royal Plantation resorts which offer a luxurious, boutique style resort; 2 Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts which make Paradise affordable; and the Royal Plantation Villas – Butch Stewart’s private estates which he makes available for rent, old world Jamaican charm in a luxurious and pampering environment.

All of the Sandals branded resorts include water sports, both motorized and non-motorized.  Some resorts offer more than others, some of the most popular are water-skiing, snorkeling, kayaking, Hobie Cat sailing, Glass-bottom boat tours, windsurfing, Aquatrykes – and best of all, Scuba – up to 2 dives a day for certified divers.  You can get resort-certified at most resorts and dive once a day.  Golf is included at some resorts.

Sandals is a great place for a Destination Wedding.  Sandals has teamed up with Martha Stewart and currently offers 6 different Wedding Packages, from the Beautiful Beginnings basic package which is free at most resorts, to the Island Paradise which offers a true Caribbean Sunset Wedding experience.  Brides choosing this package get priority for the prime time sunset times.  There are also Renewal of Vows packages available.  These packages are available at all Sandals and Beaches properties. 

I am going to give a brief update on each property in the next few days, so keep checking back to read about your favorite!