Archive for the Category »Beaches «

  Hotel of the Week: It’s a Winner Despite the Reader’s Choice Award – in Belize

Trip Advisor just came out with it’s Reader’s Choice awards for 2014…. Which means Trip Advisor users rated their top 25 favorite hotels, cities, islands, etc.

This is a catchy way to highlight certain destinations that’s for sure, and it alerts the traveler to new places. However, treat these and all “awards” like you would perfume: Smell it, but don’t drink it.

See… I did a story recently on “Travel Detective,” the travel news show on PBS stations. I reported about the exaggerated reviews discovered on Trip Advisor. As a matter of fact, my production team and I submitted false reviews to see if they would get published, and they were.  I also report in my story that sometimes hotel guests were offered upgrades in exchange for a review on Trip Advisor.

So – absorb these awards with that knowledge. Also – the award winning recipients, while may be great places, might not be THE place for your tastes.

Ambergris Caye, Belize from

Ambergris Caye, Belize from

With that being said, the island that did get top honors for Best Island is very pretty… with some of the most gorgeous waters I’ve seen. It is
Ambergris Caye, Belize Cayes.

Belize is a country on the northeastern coast of Central America. It is bordered on the north by Mexico, to the south and west by Guatemala, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize.

Cayo Espanto Resort, Belize from

Cayo Espanto Resort, Belize from

I stayed there when I was shooting one of my favorite shows for the Travel Channel – “Islands For Rent” and the resort? Cayo Espanto.

Caye Espanto Private Island Resort

Caye Espanto Private Island Resort

The resort stands out in my mind because after I was greeted by the staff all lined up on the dock, I rarely ever  saw another human the entire time I was there.

Cayo Espanto Villa in Belize

Cayo Espanto Villa in Belize

My husband and I stayed a few extra days after my shoot, and I can attest to the the “private” in “private island resort.” It feels more like you are renting a small guesthouse on a deserted island, rather than staying at a hotel.

Cayo Espanto Villa from

Cayo Espanto Villa from

There are only 7 guest bungalows, some right on the beach, 6 of them with private plunge pools…

Private dining on our deck

Private dining on our deck

Ours had a private deck where breakfast…

Cayo Espanto private dining

Cayo Espanto private dining

and dinner were served.

Kayaking, from

Kayaking, from

You can lounge around all day… or kayak, and dive.

Dive or snorkel with the rays

Dive or snorkel with the rays

A thrilling experience for me – I went scuba diving with manta rays….

Fishing in Belize

Fishing in Belize

And fishing too.

My crew and I at Cayo Espanto

My crew and I at Cayo Espanto

My crew and I experienced some of the bluest water we’ve ever seen.

There is a spa too… and the resort will set up a private picnic for two at a neighboring island. The chef made fresh ceviche in front of my eyes.

Xunantunich Ruins, Belize from

Xunantunich Ruins, Belize from

In terms of sight seeing, there’s not much to do. You can take a charter tour to the main land of Belize and see the ruins and a jaguar reserve (which sounds pretty cool!) but that’s extra…. You pretty much have to be the type of person who is able to relax to come here, and you’d better like your travel companion. It’s a good place for honeymooners if a quiet island with no nightlife is your thing. It is easy to travel there – less than two hours from Miami and Houston.

Other islands on the Trip Advisor list strike me as just as pretty also…. Bora Bora? Of course! But if you do want something very different – more quiet than the larger resorts, in an area with very little development – than you may want to look into Cayo Espanto if you have a big pocketbook… prices per night are around $1600.

  A Few Entertaining Things Parents Should Pack This Summer #summertravel

Now that airlines are charging extra for checking bags, we need to be smart about how we pack – and especially how much we pack.

Parents particularly have to put more thought into this – not only do we have to pack the necessities, but we have anticipate just the right things to keep the kids entertained whether it be on a plane, in a car, or during downtime in a hotel room.

Here are some items that have worked for me -

1) Sports equipment – but small sports equipment!

A soft football, a blow up beach ball, and even a skinny plastic bat that all fit into one bag we checked turned into hours of wiffle ball and volleyball on a patch of grass at our hotel. (Take out the bat and it can all fit in a carry on.)

We had kids from around our resort join our games. You may be surprised how kids can turn one ball into hours of fun.

2) A portable audio amplifier headphone bundle -

Portable amplifier and headphone bundler

This is key for a plane where you have mnore than one child and can’t turn up the volume on a lap top. With this gadget, up to three kids can all watch a movie from the same laptop with headsets.

The main device plugs into a laptop, and  headphones plug into device  to deliver audio to whomever wants to watch and listen. It costs around $20, the one I have  is by Bustaroo.

3) An electronic reader – if your kids are old enough to have their own reading device, make sure they download the books they want BEFORE the trip. Remind them, because they don’t always think of those things. If you don’t you’ll have to pay the WiFi fee at your hotel when they realize they don’t have the books downloaded.. Sometimes Starbucks and McDonalds, where you can get free WiFi, don’t work either – trust me, I’ve tried.

4) If you are staying at a beach resort, find out if they have boogie boards, or snorkeling gear on hand… and if so ask if it costs anything to rent them during your stay. I try to avoid surprises. One resort I just visited charged $30 a day for a boogie board – that’s about as much as one costs at Costco.  Not exactly family friendly pricing but they know they have you once you are there.

If you have more than one child, and plan on being on the beach, it pays to pack your own boogie boards and snorkel gear. For three kids it would have cost $450 for five days – and only $50 round trip to check in the boards either in a big bag or duct taping them together depending on which airline you fly.

Hope you are all off to a great summer!!! Please let me know about your travels.

  Hotel of the Week: A Caribbean Resort Doing the Right Thing for Stranded Honeymooners

When the time came to return home, how many of you wished you could have extended your honeymoon? Well, for the Larson couple , that fantasy became reality this week. Their flights were cancelled because of the East Coast storm, so they were, as they put it, “stuck” at their honeymoon resort in  Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic !

Punta Cana, Domincan Republic.

Punta Cana, Domincan Republic. From

Punta Cana is on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic – it a Caribbean hotspot for Europeans, and increasingly for Americans. The area is known for its expansive white sand beaches, and large all-inclusive resorts. Still a developing country, it is not advised to drink the water there.

Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe, from

The Larsons were staying at the Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe, which Trip Advisor ranks as the #27 top resort in Punta Cana….which shows you just how many resorts there are on this stretch of beach! The Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe was given four stars by Trip Advisor travelers.

I admit I am not familiar with the resort, but was happy to hear about how the hotel treated the lovebirds. They gave the newlyweds a break on their hotel room the extra nights they stayed until they could catch a flight back home. The couple was charged $200 a night for a “Club Premium Junior Suite,” which according to the website, could normally cost $560, depending on the season. The bride was very happy with that act of good business and accommodations – “Club Premium” status comes with a whole host of perks :)

Let me begin by saying the Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe is HUGE. There are shuttles  to get you around the resort . If you are considering staying here, room location is key: Try to book close to the action, but far enough that you still have some peace.

The activities here spark  my interest – I like a vacation with a mix of fun, interspersed with down time to read, relax, and reconnect. (Beautiful beach anyone?) There’s golf, mini-golf for the kids, kayaking, scuba diving (and classes for it too,)  tennis, windsurfing, sailing, …and did I mention a semi-professional baseball field in case you packed a glove?

There are four pools, with one specifically for younger children – Kids are welcome here, and the resort offers a children’s program. But adults – there is also a casino and nightclub. Sounds a little like Vegas on the sand!


We are entering high season…Dec-April, when flights and rooms are more expensive – going in November is a smart move….and according to the Larsons, not a bad way to spend a honeymoon :) Best wishes happy couple.


  Endless Summer: Keep Those Flip Flops On – Beach Tips

Labor Day has passed, but I refuse to start thinking of leaves changing color… harvesting grapes… or -sigh- snow boots. I am not quite ready for the new season… so if it’s OK, I will hang on to the last bits of Indian Summer.

Which means… there is still time for the beach! As a matter of fact, in many parts of the world, this is a nice time to be at the beach. Crowds have died down..and beach resorts go on sale! According to a 2006 report, Hawaii hotel rooms fall an average of $15 a night during the fall – when the weather is still great there. Beach rental home prices are better – Cottages on Balboa Island Ca fall hundreds of dollars a week.

For young families whose children aren’t in school yet – this is fantastic news.

Pacific Park, Santa Monica, CA

For an active family beach outing, there are boardwalks, and amusement parks which are fun for families… and less crowded now. If you can, plan your trip before or after lunch -meals at these parks can be way overpriced. Some of the rides offer amazing views of the beach!

For some of the best boardwalks:

There are so many helpful apps for your day at the beach – which are really more useful now, when the conditions aren’t quite as predictable. Below are some of my hand-picked beach apps to help you maximize the end of the season sand between your toes.

Coronado, CA

More than 5000 beaches are at your fingertips. The database also has user-submitted photographs and reviews… and is helpful when you want to find a family friendly beach instead of a party.

Dude – View daily surfing reports and live streaming cams to see what’s going on at a particular moment.Find the nearest breaks and and check out the conditions.

Swim Guide

Swim Guide is another beach-finding tool, but broader. Instead of limiting results to sand and surf, you can also find lakes, rivers and parks for all your fun outdoor activities. It offers water quality information (avoid the polluted waters—) and presents real-time water conditions.

80 degrees in September? You’ll find out here if it’s a beach day or not.
Look out for your coastal location and find all the weather information you’ll ever need. You’ll get a 3-day forecast, air and sea temperatures, tidal times and wind speed and direction. It also displays times for sunrise and sunset so you can bring that bottle of wine for those gorgeous Indian Summer sunsets.
EWG Sunscreen Buyer’s Guide
by Environmental Working Group
It is nice to have this info at your fingertips… a list of sunscreens and all their ingredients. EWG recommends those with the best protection, and smallest number of chemicals.

Beach House Design
by Ariane5
Ok – you got me. Not really crucial for a day at the beach… but perhaps instrumental for those sun-induced day dreams. Bring it on.

  Hotel of the Week: On the Best Beach in the Country

It’s August….but not too late to get your summer travel game on!

Actually, the end of August – beginning of September is my favorite time to travel. Gorgeous vacation weather, and many school-age children are back in the classroom, so less crowds.

KEY for my hotel of the week: Hotel del Coronado in Southern California’s San Diego area. The beach upon which is sits was just named the best beach in the country by Dr. Beach – it is usually on the top beach list, so it’s merits are nothing new – but since it was named in 2012′s  top spot, the hotel staff told me there was a bigger marketing effort. And boy -did it work.

I was there this summer  – and it was CROWDED! The hotel is huge anyway – with some —— rooms. You can’t completely feel like you are “away” with so many people around – just so much hustle and bustle. But kudos to the incredible hotel staff for not letting it ruffle their feathers at all. The service was top notch, and they didn’t miss a beat, which would be easy to do with so many others whom to cater.

The beach is beautiful, albeit crowded   – the hotels sits on a public beach – it didn’t bother me as much because I am used to So Cal crowded beaches.

Hotel del Coronado Beach Villa

If you haven’t been to this legendary hotel , it is worth a visit. It was named a national historic landmark, and has seen the likes of dignitaries, and celebs like Marilyn Monroe. The hotel went through an upgrade, so even the rooms in the Victorian building are modern. There is also the Tower building, and the Beach Villas – If you can afford it, the Beach Villas are mini houses right on the beach, and THE way to go. It feels less crowded when you are staying there.

It is a wonderful family hotel with plenty to do. My kids and I spent hours boogie boarding – the waves are perfect for young kids – not too big….makes it a little harder for adults to be carried on the wave however!

The sand on the beach is litter free…. and fine.  One of my favorite hotel services are the sand caddies who set up your beach chairs and umbrellas. One less thing to carry!

You can also rent these very touristy-but adorable bikes where the whole family can pedal. Just down the boardwalk from the hotel they rent for $20 an hour – good deal for an hour of trolling around the cute island of Coronado. There is a little village, and some beautiful homes to see.

There is a nice pool, with a pretty deck above for sunset cocktails. Be warned: the pool is not so quiet – there is a band that struck up the party music (think Jimmy Buffet) in the early afternoon.

A nice perk you  might be lured to try: setting up s’mores on the beach after dinner. The staff will build a bonfire, and provide all the tools. Make sure you have time to enjoy this – it is expensive – $150 for a family of five (that includes tip.)

Don’t miss the breakfast buffet – kids are only $5! It is one of the best I’ve had….. but then again I like a little south of the boarder flavor with my eggs, and proximity to Mexico is seen here. Salsa, guacamole, and chilaquiles along side the omelet bar.

Make sure you allow enough time here to unwind…there is so much to do it can take two days to find your rhythm. And be sure to check out the website for special packages!

  Hotel of the Week: Beach Chic with Awesome Location in Southern California

I had lunch recently with an old college friend who drove up to LA for business. Coincidentally we dined at an old college haunt (Toppers) that has been turned into one of Los Angeles’s hippest restaurants and hotels: The Penthouse in the Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica.

For design-crazed travelers like me, you will appreciate the eye candy this hotel offers. The restaurant is ethereal… a lot of sheer white, with private booth seating overlooking a tremendous view from the top floor of the hotel.

Penthouse Restaurant, Huntley Hotel

California’s coastline here  is always mesmerizing.

The bar is sexy, and always hopping. The Penthouse got voted best decor in the 2010 Zagat Guide… so you be the judge.

Huntely Hotel, Santa Monica CA

The lobby greets you with panache – you are excited to be there right away. It is an eclectic mix of organic woods, with whites and textures – contemporary elegance.

Huntley Hotel

The rooms are more toned down, and some offer views.

Besides the cool design, the location of the Huntley is a strong point. Tucked away in a quiet residential street of Santa Monica,  guests are just walking distance from the beach, shops, and great dining – without the traffic or hubbub that usually accompanies the beach on a summer day.

Right now the Huntley is running some specials – Book two nights and get a third night free… or stay a weekend (one night has to be Sunday) and get 25% off. I always try to stay mid-week or Sunday nights in general for  a better deal.

On that note -  I leave you with one last glance of our Santa Monica coastline. Doesn’t it just scream SUMMER???

  Hotel of the Week: Bungalows Just in Time for Summer

Aaaah. Sometimes it is better not to speak. Or in this case, write anything. These photos are breathtaking enough… if you’ve never stayed in an over the water bungalow, put it in your life’s list. It is one of my favorite places to spend a warm, tropical night… falling asleep to the sound of waves below you.

Here are some beauties : consider it inspiration for your summer travels. Have a great weekend.

Four Seasons Bora Bora

Four Seasons Bora Bora

Moorea la Ora Beach resort

Le Tahaa Island Resort Spa

Four Seasons Mauritius

Bora Bora

  Bikinis in Burma

Burma/Myanmar,  has probably not been at the top of your travel list. Until recently, this South East Asia country was boycotted by travelers because of a hard line military government, that disallowed opposition to its rule. Economic sanctions have been in place for decades.

But now, the Burmese democratic opposition is supporting responsible travel to Burma… (avoid tourist establishments with ties to the govt.) & the boycott: lifted.

On the way to Burma

So it’s time to go!

Somewhere in the Andaman Sea..far far from home.

I just went with four girlfriends… although we saw this undeveloped country from a unique perspective: from a boat in bikinis almost 24/7.

Yes, I visited the mainland town of Kawthoung…

Mergui Archipelago, Burma

but I spent most of my 8 days cruising the some of the hundreds of islands in the Mergui Archipelago  in the Andaman Sea, just off the coast of Burma.

How you travel there is up to you. Staying on land: it is very rough. Gotta be careful about what you eat… it is very primitive and raw – not many places like this left in the world. Very little internet service – it is reported on that one tourist at a hotel tried sending a photo via email and was charged $2000. The govt reportedly views all emails as well. But – the things to see on land are incredible.

By sea: Gorgeous. Peaceful. And I admit – totally decadent. Not many people can afford to charter a yacht and do this.

Having said that, going by sea is a subject about worth learning…. There are responsible tours that don’t  have ties to the govt & help locals. These tour groups can assist you plan and even charter your own yacht.

We had a fantastic guide with us the entire time and felt completely safe. The locals we encountered were kind and happy to see us -

some invited us into their homes…

and the fishermen invited us on their boats.

It is an utterly different world, and snatched a piece of my soul.

To travel by boat, you get to visit places where there are no other tourists… we didn’t see any at all, except a Russian dive boat, and probably saw total about 40 other people/locals the entire time we were there.

We were anchoring at uninhabited islands… stand up paddling every morning to a beautiful sunrise…

walking every day on virgin sand littered with whole, unbroken shells.

Our favorite we named ‘Sand Dollar Beach” because curiously enough, only sand dollars littered the shore.

And did I mention oh so blue turquoise waters?

We sailed near dolphins…

and witnessed sunsets that would make even non-believers faithful.

Another advantage of the boat: We also felt safe eating the food because our crew stocked it form safe sources.

In my upcoming posts I will highlight specific islands or attractions from my trip. This is just a brief overview.. I know I can’t do this trip justice, but I will try. :)

If you are at all interested in exploring this region of the beautiful world, here are some sources – I can’t recommend them personally because I’ve never used them, but it is a place to start. Like I always say, “Dream Big.”

Some of the yachting companies I’ve researched charge around $1800 per person for 7 nights… that includes food and water activities – no entry visas, etc. The fuel is really expensive, so with the price of gas going up, so may your chartered yacht experience.

Also a good current resource is

I didn’t find our own government’s website to be as current.

  The Psychological Benefits of a Great Island Vacation

I have researched the archives of Psychology Today, but haven’t found any studies that  prove one can reclaim  him or herself on a deserted island. There… with nothing but the sound of the waves crashing and the exotic birds calling.

But I don’t need an academic to tell me that because I have lived it with each island I visit. The latest: a group of isolated islands off the coast of Myanmar in Southern Asia. Just me, four girl friends, & a yacht for nine glorious days.  There is nothing like being on the water for clearing the mind.

The whole Myanmar experience  – well, that’s a whole ‘nother crazy great story. But right now, I am still very Zen, so I need to share with you the importance of truly getting away – disconnecting – and making sure it is for a long enough time. I have found published proof for that. Here is why the experts say it’s valuable to travel:

1) Practice MINDFULLNESS – According to a statement by Oregon psychologist John Christensen, mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking. (An island is ideal for this – there is not much else to do!!! You just need to get over the hump of doing nothing.)

Christensen describes it as being fully present to yourself, your travel companions and your environment. It’s a way of both simplifying your vacation and recharging your mental batteries to better cope with day-to-day stress. Mindful vacations can make everything seem less important than the task at hand. We are so used to being connected – how important is it really to always check your email and news, or have a fax near you?

2) The vacation hangover can last!!! I am still practicing mindfullness at home  – each morning I spend moments focusing on the positive and being grateful. It is amazingly powerful. I can’t tell you how many times since I’ve been home that I thought the world around me just needs to chill. Call it Island Syndrome.

3)  If you’re lucky enough to travel abroad, experts say it could help you with creative thinking. Immersing yourself in a different culture can show you there’s a whole other set of customs and ways of doing things. Experts have found it makes people have a more nuanced understanding of themselves. Especially when you have a lot of quiet time, and deep talks with travel companions I might add.

4) Vacations will help you with your job performance: The psychological benefits that come with regular and frequent vacations lead to an increased quality of life and an increased quality of work.  Approaching life with a refreshed attitude gives us the tools to handle whatever comes our way.

I could add more – vacations strengthen relationships, prevent burn out, keep us healthy…. and by the way – they can be crazy fun. Get your travel on…. now. Summer is right around the corner. I know of some pristine islands with virgin sand…

  Hotels of the Week: Those to Watch in 2012

There are so many hotels opening in 2012 – good news for travelers. More rooms = more destinations to explore, & lower prices if there are more rooms than demand.

What are your new year’s resolutions? If to travel fully and transport yourself so completely is one of them, you’ll want to see these special places. Bon Voyage my friends – wake up your passion.

Here are some intriguing hotels that either just opened … or will open in 2012.


On the “off the radar” Turkish Riviera is the new Amanruya. Part of the exclusive Aman Resorts, this hotel on the Aegean Coast is romantic experience.

Amanruya, Turkish Riviera

It is a collection of five-star cottages – each with a pool, private garden, outdoor shower, and lounging pergola. Let it roll off your tongue “I am retreating to my lounging pergola…”

Inside, the design is smashing and classic.

The hotel is on the Bodrum Peninsula…and has a small beach.


Speaking of beautiful beaches, what also comes to mind is the Six Senses Con Dao in Vietnam – a country on my must see list.

This is the first five start resort on these Vietnamese islands – remote, but accessible – just take a 45  minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City.

There are 50 villas on this property – each with it’s own infinity pool… ranging in size from single level to duplex, and one bedroom to four.

Six Sense Con Dao offers water sports, snorkeling, diving, cooking classes, and trips to remote beaches. This will work for Valentine’s Day.


Heading to the country…. we’ve got Castello di Casole in Tuscany. This dramatic 4200 acre estate will open in 2012.

Castello di Casole entices those who would love to vacation among enchanting vineyards and olive groves. The estate has more than 100 acres of organic vineyards dotting its gorgeous landscape.

In addition to vineyard tours, wine tastings, winemaker dinners and events on property with the winemaking team, the resort offers Italian winery tours at some of Italy’s most prestigious wineries.

One can also expand his or her wine cellar, manage a collection and experience the world’s fine wines through the resort’s partnership with specialty wine retailers.

A little bit of luxury in the Italian countryside… and there are residencies too for those looking to spend even more time there.


The British Virgin Islands are near and dear to me… I shot a few shows there and always want to return. Scrub Island Resort would be a good reason!

Ocean view rooms… secluded, crystal clear beaches with seriously turquoise waters.. Can’t ya just feel the gentle breeze? The resort is right ona marina, so for those of you with yachts, ahem,  you are welcome. Water sports abound here, and the resort also hosts weddings.

Scrub Island

The rooms are tasteful and tropical.It is officially an island resort with one of those beautiful ceiling fans.


If you are craving city life, you will get your fill of London this year since this world class city is host to the 2012 Olympics. One new hotel opening is the BVLGARI – classy, but hopefully not too stuffy.

BVLGARI Hotel, London

It is a joint venture between Italian jeweller BVLGARI and Marriott International, located in the Knightsbridge area. The BVLGARI stamp doesn’t mean bling comes with the room, and by the looks of the brand’s design, it is not too flashy. This photo is of a room at the Bvlgari in Milan, since the London hotel is not open yet.

BVLGARI in Milan

As always, happy travels and have a great weekend.