A Whale of a Good Time on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico

 

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The next time you get tired of winter, book a flight to La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. During the months of January through April, the weather in La Paz is absolutely perfect, and it is a wonderful time to take the opportunity to get up close and personal with gray whales and their calves.

Getting there

La Paz has its own airport, but the bigger Cabo San Lucas airport to the south has more flights and services.

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When we arrived in Cabo, we took a taxi for the almost three-hour scenic ride on Mexico Route 19 from Cabo to La Paz – the road was good and we zipped right along.

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It does not take long to confirm that Baja California is indeed a desert, and we found ourselves imagining that the thousands of cacti along the highway were humorous stick “characters.”

Route 19 runs parallel to the pristine sandy beaches of the Pacific for about 50 miles north of Cabo and before cutting east across the peninsula to La Paz.

We stopped only once for a bite to eat in the small town of Todos Santos on the Pacific side of the peninsula. We ate at La Coronela restaurant in the Hotel California. We dined in the hotel’s comfortable courtyard, the food was excellent – and the beer was ice cold.

 The city of La Paz

La Paz is a city on the Sea of Cortez with some 200,000 residents, but much of the tourist activity is near the water where La Paz’s flavor takes on the vibe of a prosperous seaside village.

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Traffic wasn’t bad coming into town along the shore and picturesque La Paz Malecón, so we reached our hotel in short order.

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The Hyatt Place is a new hotel in the exclusive Costa Baja area of La Paz.  It’s right in front of a marina that is home to magnificent yachts from around the world. The hotel rooms are spacious and modern, and each booking comes with a tasty hot breakfast with eggs your way, pancakes, fruit, juice, coffee, etc.

Our videographer friend Richard Williams was on the trip, and put together a creative film clip about the Hyatt. See it *here*

Up in the morning

It was breakfast at sunrise and into a van for the 170-mile drive across the Peninsula, to the Pacific side and Puerto Lopez Mateo.

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The journey took about 3.5 hours, with a brief stop for a delicious lunch (we had fresh fish) in the small town of Constitucion.

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When we arrived at the whale watching dock in Puerto Lopez Mateo, we were anxious to don our life vests, board our boat, and be introduced to the mighty gray whales that were waiting for us in the inlet.

About the whales

Every year,  traveling at speeds of about 5 miles per hour, 10 to 15 thousand gray whales make their way from the freezing waters of Alaska’s Bering Sea along the Pacific Coast of America to the warm waters of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. It is here that the female grays bear their calves.

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There are only three places in the world where gray whales give birth, and all of them are in Baja, Mexico. After birthing, the mothers and their offspring stay in the safety of the lagoons for several weeks in order for the mothers to teach their newborns to feed, swim, and socialize with other whales.

The male grays leave Baja first, and by April the majority of the whales are on their 5,000+ mile trek back to Alaska.

An organized adventure

State and federal licenses are necessary to go whale watching in Baja. Your tour company will instruct you on how to obtain them.

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Only guides who have been tested and certified in the nuances of protecting the whales can lead a tour that intends to get close enough to touch the gentle giants.

Our tour boat, like all the others in the fleet, had to pass a passenger safety inspection.

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There is a limit to the number of boats that can congregate in a given area, which assures that the whales are not threatened, and have ample room to maneuver.

About our tour boat

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The whale encounter boats are called “pangas,” and are 22-feet long. They are specifically designed for the purpose of whale watching.

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Jose, from the Cortez Club, led our tour and helped us into an uber-clean panga that easily and comfortably seated the eight people in our group. The quiet outboard motor moved us briskly along the placid water of the lagoon as we searched for whales.

The weather was a pleasant and dry 78 degrees, and when we stopped to visit with some grays, there was just a slight chop on the water.

Calling the whales

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Jose advised that by slapping the water on the side of the boat we would attract whales, and sure enough it took just minutes of splashing before a 50 foot long, 70,000 pound gray whale, accompanied by her calf, decided to play.

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The photo above shows a baby whale approaching a neighboring panga.

At first, it was a bit disconcerting to watch this shallowly submerged creature, the size of a school bus, bearing down on the center of what felt like our quickly shrinking panga.

However, in every case, the breathing bus slowed to a glide as it neared the boat. At that point, the whales cruised closely along-side, and we quickly comprehended they were encouraging a friendly pat on the head.

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As they approach, the whales might do a shallow dive under the boat only to appear on the other side spouting plumes of water high into the air – what fun for them!

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Be sure to keep your camera lens protected for the duration of these momentary monsoons.

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Sometimes, mom will hang back and watch her calf interact with the excited guests, but most of the time she is right there in the thick of the action – getting her own strokes.

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During these encounters, there is no doubt in any passengers mind that these are highly intelligent mammals that fully comprehend their enormous power and prowess.

What a thrill

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It is all very exhilarating, and any concerns of personal safety are quickly dispelled as everyone lunges to get in a back slap, head pat, or a chin tickle on the gigantic mama whale or her frolicking 20-foot calf.

This is fun of the first order, time passes quickly, and it never gets boring. Some people laugh, some scream like they are on a roller coaster, and some cry with joy over the spiritual connection they feel with these magnificent animals.

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Eventually, and probably when mom thinks that junior has had enough attention, she heads off towards open water.

Several whales gave us fluke or tail waves as they departed – maybe it was coincidental, but we choose not to think so.

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It is safe to predict, that all the thousands of people that experience this annual celebration of life and nature become life-long advocates for the complete banning of whale hunting. These gentle denizens of the deep, who are so much more powerful than we mere mortals, deserve our ultimate respect and protection.

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We heartily recommend this adventure for anyone yearning to fully experience the beauty and grandeur of nature – on a very large scale.

For more information about whale encounters and the other wonders of La Paz, check out this website: www.en.golapaz.com/

Be sure to view our friend Richard’s film clip about our whale encounters. Click *here*.

For other exciting sea adventures, see our stories about:

Shark diving in the Bahamas

A night encounter with giant Manta Rays in Hawaii

Diving in a submarine in the Cayman Islands

Sailing the coast of Maine on a magnificent schooner

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

The National Automobile Museum In Reno, Nevada, is the Home of the Famous 1907 Thomas Flyer

We found an American treasure in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada. 

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Hidden in plain view among hundreds of classic cars is the 1907 Thomas Flyer, the winner of the first and only Around the World Auto Race.

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After decades of neglect, in 1964 the dilapidated Thomas Flyer was painstakingly restored to her original condition by forty car craftsmen in the Harrah’s Classic Car Museum workshop.

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The project took six weeks and the end result was the Flyer, exactly as she looked, when she crossed the finish line in Paris on a hot summer day in July, 1908.

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Today, this matriarch of motor cars sits silently in the National Automobile Museum. However, if you stand before her and close your eyes – you can imagine the roar of the 350,000 people cheering her as she crossed the finish line in Paris.

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Listen quietly for the exhilaration of the crowd at the huge Manhattan ticker-tape parade held for her and her drivers on their victorious return to New York City.

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Feel the vibe of a quieter time in the company of President Teddy Roosevelt at his summer White House in Sagamore Hill, Long Island – she was there for all of them – over a century ago.

The amazing story

Interested in boosting circulation in the early part of the 20th century, the New York Times and the French Le Matin newspapers conceived and sponsored an arduous automobile race that would start in Times Square in New York City, and end in the City of Light, Paris, France – a total distance of 22,000 miles across three continents.

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Four countries rose to the challenge, and on February 12, 1908, six automobiles representing France (3), Italy (1), Germany (1) and the United States (1) headed west on a route to Chicago, San Francisco, Valdez, Seattle, Yokohama, Kobe, Vladivostok, Omsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Berlin, and on to Paris.

The torturous race was won in five-months and 19 days on July 30, 1908 by the United States entry.

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The race was started in winter so the competitors could drive across the frozen Bering Straits, but the weather was so bad in Alaska that the course was re-routed back to Seattle, where the cars were shipped across the Pacific to Japan and on to the continent of Asia.

The Great Race of 1908 was the first time an automobile had crossed the United States in winter, and is the only global race of its kind on record. The feat has never been equaled, and it was undertaken at a time when there were few paved roads and no roads at all in many parts of the world.

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The winning driver of the Thomas Flyer was George Schuster, a mechanic with the E.R. Thomas Motor Company, of Buffalo, New York. George died in 1972, but not before seeing his beloved and restored Flyer placed in the Reno museum.

Legacy

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The publicity from the punishing 1908 race is given credit for the advancement of the motor car as a dependable means of transportation, and for instigating plans to pave roads and provide automobile road services in many parts of the world.

The Flyers present home

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The National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada is home to the Thomas Flyer and more than 200 other beautifully crafted and renowned motor cars that make up the history of the automobile.

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Among other famous cars to grace the museum are James Dean’s 1949 Mercury from “Rebel without a Cause”, Elvis Presley’s Cadillac Eldorado, James Garner’s Oldsmobile 442 from the Rockford Files. Frank Sinatra’s 1961 Ghia L6.4, John Wayne’s 1953 Corvette (too small for Big John), and John F Kennedy’s 1962 Lincoln Continental.

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The museum also houses the trophy won by the Thomas Flyer Team in 1908. It is the world’s heaviest sports trophy and weighs over 1,600 pounds.

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The museum is located at the corner of Lake and Mill Streets in downtown Reno. Don’t miss it.

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Get more information from www.automuseum.org

Happy travels!

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While in Reno, we stayed at the GSR, Grand Sierra Resort and Casino. Great gaming, entertainment, and restaurants that we will present in upcoming articles.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com

A Visit to the Historic Captain Jefferds Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine

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This was our first visit to the Captain Jefferds Inn and the famous coastal community that is home to the Bush family retreat on Walker Point.

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Long before news of presidential visits put quaint little Kennebunkport on the global tourist map, it was a favorite vacation spot for local New Englanders.

Pounding ocean waves, with seagulls gliding over sand and rocky shores all entreat the visitor to savor the sights and sounds of Kennebunkport, and we were glad to be there.

It was raining

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We ran from our rental car to the safety of the dry front porch of the Captain Jefferds Inn. It was a torrential downpour, but the warm welcome from Innkeepers Sarah and Erik Lindblom immediately brightened the otherwise gloomy day.

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They have enthusiastically greeted guests to the inn for more than a decade and obviously enjoy the activity.

Recommended by a friend, we found the inn to be the perfect elixir for a tiring and wet 2-hour drive from Boston.

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Our one-night stay at the Captain Jefferds Inn provided all the comforts one would expect from such a highly rated B&B in an area of many exceptional B&Bs and hotels. Perhaps it’s the friendly competition that keeps the area’s inns so special and inviting. Whatever the reason, we found this inn exceeded all our expectations for comfort and hospitality.

A step back to an elegant time

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The Lindbloms have scrupulously maintained the aura of a home once the domain of a sea captain and his family. Captain Jefferds built his home with the smartness and efficiency of a sturdy New England sailing ship. There’s even a removable railing on the stairs to assist in the repositioning of furniture between the multiple floors.

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Our room was well appointed with cozy furnishings and a warming fireplace – just what we needed to beat a late October chill. The bed was the perfect balance between support and indulgence, with linens that embellished the vibe.

Pet friendly

Captain Jefferds has considerately reserved five rooms for those who wish to travel with their pets. Located aside the main house, there is a smaller building, which was once a carriage house.

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The just-right furnishings add to the charm of these spotlessly clean and elegantly relaxed guestrooms.

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A screened porch, reminiscent of a lake house, overlooks a park like setting and completes the charm of the surroundings. It just doesn’t get any better than this for our furry best friends.

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Meet Kathleen — she is the summer/fall Assistant Manager, who gave us a splendid tour of the inn. A practicing nurse, she lives and works in Florida during the winter. Like the other staff at Captain Jefferds, Kathleen is full of energy and interesting insights about the Kennebunks.

Where we ate

Our innkeepers recommended David’s Kpt Restaurant for our evening dining. We gathered up an umbrella and walked the few blocks from the inn to the center of the little village of Kennebunkport.

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We had filled up on the delicious never ending fresh baked cookies and other goodies laid out at the Captain Jefferds’ sun room, so were not interested in a large dinner. We skipped what looked to be an excellent selection of soups, salads, and appetizers at David’s, and went directly to the main plates.

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The skewers of shrimp and scallops were delicious, and an unusual pairing of pork tenderloin, bacon, and balsamic apples, accompanied by maple mashed sweet potatoes and spinach was a savory treat. We were so content after our entrees that we passed on dessert, but did enjoy a warming espresso before heading back to the inn.

A breakfast to remember

We write about the best B&Bs, so we often experience sensational breakfasts. Notwithstanding previous enjoyments, the Captain Jefferds Inn served one of the finest gourmet day-starting meals in our recollection.

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The table was a picture of country food-service sophistication, and the seated breakfast guests anxiously awaited the arrival of whatever produced the tantalizing aromas wafting from the nearby kitchen.

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Once the serving commenced, the table discussion quickly turned to praises for each of the three-courses served to the delighted patrons.

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Dan, the inn’s convivial chef, made an appearance to check on the acceptability of the food. We think he knew the answer – and seemed to relish the well-deserved applause.

After breakfast, it was time for us to press on to our next lodging in Maine, but before we left we wanted Sarah and Eric to know that we would be describing our experience with tributes.

If you go

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The 16-room Captain Jefferds Inn is on the corner of Pearl and Pleasant streets just a little south-east of Kennebunkport’s town center. Check out their website at www.captainjefferdsinn.com

Unfortunately, the heavy rain precluded our visiting and photographing the many sights that bring the tourists to Kennebunkport, but we plan to remedy that happenstance on our next visit to New England. In the meantime, here’s a website of local images by Robert A. Dennis.

To learn more about Kennebunkport, look at http://www.kennebunkport.org

More Maine

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If you think you might like to sail the coast of Maine on a grand tall schooner, read about our adventure here.

Happy travels.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Chuggin Along on the African Queen

As we travel, we check off places that are on our Bucket List. Being film buffs, many of the things on our list are related to movies we have seen over the years.

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We recently checked off another “to do” from our list by skippering the authentic “African Queen,” the boat made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in the 1951 Academy Award Winning film of the same name.

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The “Queen” is presently docked at a destination also made famous by Bogart in the Florida Keys, Key Largo

Finding the Queen

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We happened upon the African Queen quite by accident. We were in the Keys doing research for articles about luxury resorts and “old Florida” accommodations. A list of those articles follows this story.

The Florida Keys are fun strips of coral sand islands connected by 42 bridges and the Overseas Highway, US 1. They stretch for about 120 miles south into the Atlantic Ocean below Miami, Florida.

The Keys are ripe with salty myths and legends, and stories of true adventures like the finding of millions of dollars in sunken treasure on the Atocha. There are also unusual stories like those about Ernest Hemingway’s house of many cats in Key West.

All the excitement in the Keys make them an apropos home for the iconic African Queen.

The Queen’s history

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The Queen had an interesting past long before she came to the attention of John Houston who immediately wanted her for the movie he was directing in the Belgium Congo. She was perfect for the role of the African Queen – just beat up enough to look the part, and just seaworthy enough – to run long enough – to finish the movie.

The vessel was built in 1912 in Lytham, England, where she was named the Livingstone. Her first job was to carry cargo, hunters, and missionaries on Lake Albert and the Victoria Nile in east Africa.

Houston found her in 1951. She was sufficiently worn by then, and perfect for the material role of the African Queen in his epic adventure.

In 1968 the boat was moved from Africa to the United States by a San Francisco restaurateur. He planned to charter the famous boat to tourists.

The Queen changed hands again in 1970 when she was purchased for the price of her boatyard bill, and moved to Oregon where she was successfully chartered a few months out of the year. Finally, on to Florida for an attempt at year-round chartering – that failed.

In 1982 she was born again as a tourist attraction at the Holiday Inn in Key Largo. About that time, she also made her re-entry onto the global stage and toured around the world in ports such as Sydney, New York, and London.

The news of her re-emerging travel and popularity caught the eye of Kate Hepburn who was said to be “delighted” that the old Queen had been saved, yet again.

A new life

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Finally, in 2012, on her centennial, the most recent revival of the African Queen was completed by a new operator Lance Holmquist. She needed a new boiler, her steel hull required fortification, and her engine needed rebuilding. The work was a labor of love for Lance, and the Queen now delights vintage boat and film buffs once again.

Our wish came true

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We took the helm like Bogart and Hepburn and chugged the little 30-foot boat through the canals of Key Largo and out into the open ocean. This was high-exhilaration for two old movie buffs.

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As we approached the Queen’s home-dock at the Marina Del Mar, adjacent the Holiday Inn, Lance gave us the final thrill when he let loose the Queen’s shrill steam whistle. There is no mistaking that sound heard so many times in many places over the last century.

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Check off one more from the Bucket List!

If you go

For more information about tickets for the daily cruises on the African Queen located at Mile Marker 100 in Key Largo, look at the website here. www.africanqueenflkeys.com

Note: The African Queen is a true relic, and she wouldn’t be “authentic” if she was spit-polished. So, don’t wear your Sunday best if you plan to board her.

You will also benefit by checking out the general visitor information about visiting the Florida Keys at www.fla-keys.com

The Keys are full of luxurious and unique places to stay. Here are three stories to read about some we have visited.

Kona Kai Resort

Little Palm Island Resort

Cheeca Lodge and Spa

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Vintage black and white photo courtesy of United Artists

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

An Extraordinary Experience at a Princess Chef’s Table

 

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Dining at a Chef’s Table should always be a titillating treat of tantalizing tastes. Traditionally, a Chef’s Table is located in the kitchen – where the guests can watch, and “ooh” and “ahh” as the Chef and his/her team work their culinary magic. That was not how it was at the Table of Chef Ottavio Bellesi aboard the Golden Princess – and here’s why.

From the beginning

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Soon after boarding the Golden Princess in San Francisco, we had a meeting with the ship’s Maître d’ Hotel, Neville Saldanha, to discuss our dining preferences.

After learning that we were writing about the cruise, and knowing that food is always a popular subject with prospective passengers, Mr. Saldanha suggested that we make reservations for one of the two Chef’s Table events planned for the sailing. We quickly agreed, and a few days later our invitation was in our stateroom mailbox.

A dining we did go

On our assigned night, we gathered just outside the galley entrance with the four other lucky couples that would share our table. There we donned freshly laundered white lab coats and were led into the sparkling kitchen.

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Our first stop was the sink, where each guest was required to wash his/her hands before proceeding into the galley’s inner sanctum.

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After the salubrious ceremony, the Maître d’, Neville, introduced us to our grand host, Ottavio Bellesi, the Executive Chef of the Golden Princess. Together, they described how the evening would unfold.

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First, a toast of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut to celebrate the event.

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Then appetizers like Lobster Margarita with Avocado and Mango, and Fontina Cheese and Black Truffle Mini Quiche.

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While noshing on our hors d’oeuvres, we will watch the artistic galley staff create ice carvings, and ingenious fruit and vegetable table settings.

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Followed by a brief tour of the kitchen to look over the shoulders of the culinary crew preparing and plating the meals for the sitting dinner passengers.

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All the above will culminate in a procession into the main dining room where our specially prepared, multi-course dinner will be served.

Chef led tour

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Right on schedule, Chef Bellesi began to lead our walking tour of his vast stainless domain.

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During our sparkling wine toasts, we realized THIS Chef’s Table was not to be like any other we had previously experienced. Not only would it be conducted by a great Italian Chef – but one who was also an extraordinary entertainer with a gift of contagious laughter.

Chef Bellesi’s cheerful laughter was so genuine, and totally disarming – that there was no escaping his charm. Within minutes, he had all of us wrapped around his little finger, and totally absorbed in his every word.

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To make the situation even more hilarious, Neville, the Maître d’, was the perfect comic foil for Ottavio’s Italian-accented antics. He was Martin to the Chef’s Lewis, Abbott to his Costello, and Hardy to his Laurel. The ad hoc comedy team of Bellesi and Saldanha had us in stitches throughout the evening.

We learned and we laughed

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Our two hosts exhibited a high-knowledge of food and wine. The chef added to the group’s understanding of the evolution of Italian cuisine from the basics of simple fresh ingredients to contemporary flavoring techniques.

Italian chefs often work with fewer ingredients and less elaborate preparations than others, making the quality of the ingredients of paramount importance. Chef Bellesi explained how the composition of Italian-style grand cuisine becomes richly enhanced when blended with traditional Italian techniques of “cucina casalinga,” or home cooking.

On to the table

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A notable aspect of Italian dining is that the first course is frequently a filling dish like risotto or pasta. So it was at our table as we were presented succulent marinated poached Halibut atop a generous portion of Porcini Mushroom Risotto.

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Soon after an Amalfi Lemon Sorbet…

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came the Lobster Thermidor…

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and a Filet Mignon Rossini, accompanied by a delectable truffled herbed Rack of Lamb, Mustard Hollandaise, Rosemary Jus and Lemon Butter Fondue, Roasted Parisienne Potatoes, and Sautéed fresh market Vegetables.

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The above preceded Potted Stilton with Port Wine reduction and Walnut Bread, and all was finished-off with a delicate Marble Chocolate Semifreddo with a Raspberry soft center, topped off with a meaningful coffee and Chef Ottavio’s…

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home made Biscotti & Amaretti. What an incredible feast!

Not an easy task

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A Chef’s Table is an elaborate undertaking that puts a strain on a kitchen’s resources and staff. In restaurants, the event often takes place after the nightly kitchen rush.

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In that regard, we found our lavish affair to be a testament to Chef Ottavio’s ability to create, organize, and coordinate the serving of our event – while his galley team was seamlessly providing superb service to the main body of 1,000+ passengers in the busy dining room around us. Amazing!

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Abetted by many of his key staff, Chef Bellesi personally crafted our special Chef’s Table menu, and remained involved in the preparation and presentation of the feast from appetizer to desert.

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Along with the ship’s Maître d’, the head Sommelier was there to describe the exactly paired wines that were selected for each of our courses.

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At the end of our fabulous gourmet adventure, each participating couple received a hard-cover copy of, “Courses – A Culinary Journey,” autographed by Neville and Ottavio, along with a group picture – and the ladies departed with a rose. This was an affair to remember.

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Considering the investment in food, wine, supplies, and key staff time, we cannot fathom how Princess could make a profit on what each of the ten guests paid for the evening’s Epicurean enjoyment.

We rarely mention prices in our articles because prices change, but we found it amazing that our 3-hour gourmet spectacle cost us less than US $100 per person. Certainly, all the participants will talk about their bon vivant adventure with friends and family for years – and that may just be what Princess has in mind.

If you ever have an opportunity to participate in a Chef’s Table on a Princess Cruise ship – by all means, take it!  Seating is limited so apply early to avoid disappointment.

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And if the uber-funny pair of Bellesi and Saldanha should happen to be on your ship, absolutely do not miss their afternoon cooking demonstrations.

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There is so much more to them than cooking.

For more information about Princess Cruises click here.

Happy travels and bon appetit!

Suggested reading regarding Princess Cruises by Wayne and Judy:

The Sweetest Suites for Two Aboard the Golden Princess

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

Three Great Reasons to Book a Cruise Out of San Francisco 

Saved by a Princess on the Tasman Sea

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

It’s a Wonderful Life in Wellsboro, PA

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Wellsboro, PA reminds us of the quality of life and friendly folks of Bedford Falls depicted in Frank Capra’s classic 1946 Christmas flick, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

For one thing, Wellsboro has a wide grassy median down the center of Main Street (like in the movie), and rows of romantic old Victorian gas lights that lend a warm glow to the quaint town at dusk.

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In our opinion, like Bedford Falls, Wellsboro is a great example of the best of 1940s Americana. Safe, clean, with well-maintained stately homes set back from wide streets lined with elegant elms and maples. Close your eyes, and you could easily be in a landscaped New England village illustrated by Norman Rockwell.

Outdoor paradise

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Wellsboro is a rural small town with lots of outdoor activities. The two we found most interesting were the lovely park overlooking the Pine Creek Gorge a.k.a. the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, and the nearby Pine Creek Trail.

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We visited the Gorge at Colton Point State Park overlook, where it’s an invigorating one-mile hike down to the bottom of the canyon via the steep Turkey Path Trail. The journey is worth the effort to experience the waterfalls and breathtaking views.

Not your western canyon

Very different from the Grand Canyon of Arizona, the Tioga County Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania is a dense forest. It is a sportsmen’s paradise with kayaking, canoeing, fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and hunting – all easily accessible.

Where hunting is still a family affair

Pennsylvania has more than 17 million acres of forests shared by the residents at little or no personal expense. This is fishing and hunting country, and local children are taught to respect firearms at an early age.

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Hunting is a time honored tradition in Pennsylvania, and the state’s sensible conservation rules keep the animal populations robust, healthy, and well managed – and the residents well fed with tasty game recipes!

A fabulous multi-use trail

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The Pine Creek Rail Trail was once a roadbed for lumber and coal trains, and later for tourist excursion trains – however, the railroad ceased operations in 1989. Subsequently, state, railroad, and community officials cooperated in removing the tracks and transitioning this beautifully scenic rail-bed into one of the premier bike and equestrian trails in the country.

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The trail is 62-miles long with only a 2% grade over the entire distance. A well-maintained base of hard-packed gravel is waiting for all outdoor enthusiasts – free of charge.

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Hunters, joggers, equestrians, and bicyclists all share the Pine Creek Rail Trail with mutual respect.

Eating in Wellsboro

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There are more than a half dozen fine restaurants in this little town, but be sure to drop by the famous Wellsboro Diner for a delicious breakfast, or a sizzling burger and fries with a homemade peach pie chaser.

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There is something special about an All-American diner. The sight of one brings smiles and visions of hearty heartland foods like a hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy, and a chilled chocolate malt from a stainless steel blender – all at sit-down prices that everyone can afford.

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The 600 or so authentic American Diners remaining in the nation are an important part of our heritage. A place where folks from all walks of life sat side-by-side and talked about important matters – like the weather and the Babe’s latest stats. A hot cup of java awaited every after movie date, and everyone had a favorite seat at the counter.

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Operating in the same location since 1939, the highly successful porcelain-enameled steel Wellsboro Diner seats about 100 and is the perfect fit for its downtown setting. Do not miss it!

Where to stay

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There are several delightful places to stay in and around Wellsboro, and a reader recommendation led us to a true gem.  The Bear Mountain Lodge is a wonderfully rural and luxuriously rustic log-cabin inn with four well-dressed guestrooms. The minute we walked through the door we felt at home.

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There is a well-stocked kitchen with gratis munchies, drinks – including Keurig coffee, and fruits for all the guests. The in-room refrigerator is also full of goodies.

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Our “Whitetail” suite was extra-cozy, and had a spacious bathroom furnished with delightful locally made soaps and potions.

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Amiable owner Jim Meade, converted his custom home into this unique guest lodge in 2005.

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The Bear Mountain Lodge is tastefully decorated with dozens of woodsy furnishings, all adding to the exclusive hunting lodge ambiance.

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The thickly treed grounds are well-maintained and the innkeepers invite guests to enjoy the wilderness and its inhabitants. There’s even a bike barn on property for those wanting to try a ride on the local trails.

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Sherri, the lodge hostess, was blowing leaves off the driveway when we arrived. She keeps the elegant inn uber-clean and neat-as-a-pin the year round.

The lodge is just minutes from town, but if you would prefer to stay right in the heart of Wellsboro, Jim Meade has the answer.

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Check out his Bear Mid-town Lodge at www.131mainstreet.com and look at the bottom right side of the website to see all three of Jim’s properties.

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All of Jim’s Wellsboro lodgings are excellent and warrant our enthusiastic two thumbs up rating. His Bear Meadows Lodge is pictured above.

If you go

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Wellsboro is located in beautiful north-central Pennsylvania, just south of the New York state border. 

Bear Mountain Lodge is at 8010 Route 6, just west of Wellsboro, and within 5-miles of everything mentioned in this article. Here’s a map.

Click here for additional details about Bear Mountain Lodge.

Get local tourist information from the Tioga Visitors Bureau at www.visittiogapa.com/

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Judy’s Holiday Suggestions for the Travelers on Your Gift List

In 2014, Wayne and I tested samples and reviewed books from eleven companies that sent us products. I have six recommendations for you.

Recommendation #1

 Travel sleep aids from Cabeau

My husband and I like delightfully cushy items like the Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Neck Pillow. It has helped us sleep on long flights and enabled delightful naps on deck chairs on cruises.

Combine it with the Cabeau Midnight Magic Sleep Mask engineered to fit around the bridge of your nose for 100 percent darkness – it really works.

We have tested, like, and recommend both products for the travelers on your list. You can check-out and purchase these and all the other products at the company website at www.cabeau.com

Recommendation # 2

Travel DVD Acorn_Holiday14_

On the road or at home we are burned-out by dumb-down American TV. We were pleased to find that there are still fine entertainment alternatives from Britain.

In addition to Downton Abbey, during 2014 we found several worthwhile and provocative mystery series offered by our friends across the pond. Thought provoking rather than mind numbing selections such as Midsomer Murders, Prime Suspect, Murdoch Mysteries, George Gently Mysteries, MI5, and Rosemary and Thyme.

Hook up with any of the above and your interest in the TV medium may be renewed.

These sophisticated Who Dunnits make excellent gifts for ardent mystery lovers and many are available at Acorn TV. Video purchases can also be made here.

Recommendation #3

Travel and learn a language

I must disclose that this is the only product on our list that I have not personally tested. My recommendation is based solely on a multilingual friend’s experience. He emphatically believes this specific language learning program, designed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur is the best on the market. Wayne and I thought it would make an interesting gift for certain people, so I decided to add it to my holiday list.

The program is used by U.S. government agencies and global corporations. The program is also backed by a 60-day guarantee, and is said to require only 30-minutes of study per day. It concentrates on words and phrases you are likely to need to converse in the chosen language – giving you the vocabulary, grammar, and native-like pronunciation. The way the program is set up, you actually learn by having a conversation in the new language.

Worth a look-see for the people on your list that have expressed an interest in learning another language. You can find more information about the program, and order it at www.pimsleur.com

Recommendation #4

Travel Route 66 For your book reading friends:

TRAVEL ROUTE 66 is a guide to the history and sights along the famous “Main Street of America.” Written by Route 66 expert, Jim Hinckley, this full-color guidebook offers interesting historical insights about the famous highway.

The book points out the many attractions along the route in each state, and also recommends dining and lodging stops. All material is supplemented with great new and classic photos.

Did you know Route 66 runs through eight states: Arizona, California, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas? The book is arranged with a chapter on each state and describes all with accompanying new and vintage photos.

If you have driven Route 66, as we have, or are just interested in some great nostalgic Americana, you can order Hinckley’s book *here*.

 

Recommendation #5

Travel with Route 66 TV SeriesTo accompany the TRAVEL ROUTE 66 book, you may have friends on your list who would appreciate the complete ROUTE 66, TV Series offered by Shout!Factory

This year we completed the last of the 116 episodes of the popular series from the 1960s. Bring your portable DVD player and watch all the episodes as you travel.

The complete series is available as a 24-DVD box set from Shout!Factory. The show starred Martin Milner, George Maharis, and later Glenn Corbett, and boasts exciting adventures shared by a pair of good buddies as they drove their Corvette convertible across the country on Route 66.

The series featured and introduced many well-known stars including Barbara Eden, Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff, Burt Reynolds, Cloris Leachman, Ed Asner, James Caan, Joan Crawford, Julie Newmar, Lee Marvin, Leslie Nielsen, Martin Sheen, Peter Lorre, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Rod Steiger, Ron Howard, Suzanne Pleshette, Walter Matthau – you get the picture.

Click on the title above for information on how to own the complete set. A great gift for Corvette fans and old TV show buffs!

Recommendation #6

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Many people use a heating pad for various muscle aches from time to time. The Sunbeam Renue is the best we have tested. First, it is a logically designed wrap that fits comfortably over the shoulders and high on the neck to provide soothing, stress-relieving heat therapy.

Use it in the office or at home – lightly weighted edges hold the wrap in place. There are four personalized heat settings for “just right” comfort.

The Sunbeam Renue wrap is easy to care for because the soft microplush fabric is completely washable.

An excellent and useful gift for the entire family.

NOTE: The wrap has a magnetic clasp to hold it comfortably in place so it is not suitable for persons with pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillators, or internal insulin pumps.

You can order this product directly from Sunbeam *here*.

Happy Holidays

Wayne and I wish you all the Happiest of Holidays, Best of Health and Happiness, and Happy Travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Take Amtrak to Santa Barbara and Enjoy a Car Free Holiday

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We had not been on a train in years, so when invited to experience a weekend getaway on the rails that was “drive free,” we jumped at the opportunity. The adventure entailed making our way to the Diridon Train Station in San Jose, California, and boarding the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight train bound for Santa Barbara. Here’s how it all went:

Checking baggage

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Coast Starlight passengers are allowed to check two bags each, with similar baggage restrictions to those of the airlines. However, our visit was a short getaway so we planned to carry our two small bags to our compartment.

Off we go

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Our Amtrak Coast Starlight train departed on time at 10:07am. We booked a “roomette” accommodation in what is called a Sleeping Car. The roomette amounted to a small compartment with two facing cushioned chairs that recline into a bed. There was also an upper drop-down bunk bed enclosed in the ceiling for the use of a second passenger. We had a nice window to enjoy the view, and there were curtains and a door to shut out the world if we so desired.

We found the biggest advantage of a roomette over a set of less expensive coach seats during a day trip is the privacy for conversation and making phone calls.

Travel comfort

Train travel can be bumpy, but the bouncing around is part of the fun and experience.

The Coast Starlight is one of the longest ocean-view train rides in America. There are a number of venues from which to watch the numerous passing landscapes between San Jose and Santa Barbara.

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We spent most of the day in comfortable swivel chairs in the upper-level Pacific Parlour Car. Wide windows gave us first-class views of the abundant scenery.

This car also has a lower-level theater where first run films are featured.

Eating on the train

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Sleeping Car passengers receive complementary meals and can reserve eating times in either the Pacific Parlour Car, or Dining Car. The train’s *menu* is more than adequate and includes sandwiches, fresh fish, salads, several daily entrées ­– including their famous steak in the Dining Car.

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We tried a number of offerings from the menu, and highly recommend the Angus burger – it’s full-flavored and delicious.

Hello Santa Barbara

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Our Amtrak train arrived at the Santa Barbara station on-time at 5:55 pm. The station is small, and was quiet upon our arrival.

It was a short distance to our downtown lodging at the Santa Barbara Hotel on State Street. It felt good to stretch our legs and walk the four blocks from the station to the hotel.

The Hotel Santa Barbara

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Centrally located in downtown, the Hotel Santa Barbara is a quaint boutique style hotel with an interesting history. Originally built in the late 1800s, the hotel was destroyed in the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake. It was quickly rebuilt and became a luxury accommodation for the likes of Clark Gable and Carol Lombard who were frequent guests.

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Slowly losing traction over the years, the hotel was again revitalized in 1996 when the 75 room establishment became the elegant focal point for the renaissance of downtown Santa Barbara.

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Today, the quietly sophisticated hotel offers small groups a place to stay and meet while visiting the many attractions of the city.

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After settling into our comfortable and spacious guestroom, we took a walk along State Street and window shopped the many specialty retailers that line the cosmopolitan thoroughfare.

Our full day in Santa Barbara

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It was a typically beautiful Santa Barbara morning, and after a filling Continental Breakfast provided by the hotel in their spacious Mediterranean lobby, we began to think about the best use of our day.

As part of the Car Free program, the hotel provides tickets for the scenic Santa Barbara Trolley Tour, but a friend had suggested the best way to see the downtown area of Santa Barbara, and to enjoy some of the local cuisine, is by foot on a food tour. It was a good suggestion.

The Santa Barbara Food Tour

We signed up for the Lower State Street and Funk Zone Food and Culture Tour offered by Savor Santa Barbara Food Tours. Our tour started in Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant on W. Montecito Street.

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Claire Ihlendorf-Burke, our congenial guide, handed us a menu of delectable south-of-the-border treats. We chose the beef tacos.

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Not expecting a large amount of food on a tour, and certainly not expecting the biggest and best ever tacos, we tucked away all of the plenty that was offered in short order. The only problem was that this was the first “tasting” on the tour, and we had no idea how we could possibly eat anything more that day – but, somehow we managed.

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We were able to scrape the bowl of delectable lobster bisque at the Enterprise Fish Company,

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and enjoy the grape’s bounty at the Santa Barbara Winery in the hip, but understated Funk Zone section of Santa Barbara.

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What saved us from intake overload were the short walks between the seven sample foods and beverage stops. The entire tour takes a little over three hours and covers about two-miles.

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Claire knows her city well, and she showed us the interesting back streets, urban wine trail, and fine examples of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, for which the city is famous.

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Our tour ended at McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, an artisan creamery with delicious sweets.

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We highly recommend this tour as a great way to learn about Santa Barbara, sample some great food and wines, and get some non-threatening exercise.

Our final day in Santa Barbara

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Before boarding our train to return to San Jose, we took a walk to see the Santa Barbara Courthouse and Sunken Gardens on Anacapa Street. It is worth a visit…

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and the view from the clock tower is breathtaking.

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We also enjoyed the colorful farmer’s market that literally took over State Street the morning of our departure. The market provides residents and visitors an opportunity to purchase farm fresh produce of the highest quality.

For the economy minded traveler

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In terms of space and seats aboard the Coast Starlight, coach accommodations are akin to First Class space aboard most domestic airlines.

A nice accompaniment to the Amtrak Santa Barbara Car Free getaway is the many establishments that provide discounts to Amtrak ticket holders. Get a list of who is participating from www.SantaBarbaraCarFree.org. The website also provides insight into what is available to do while in Santa Barbara.

There is so much to do and see in Santa Barbara and we could only scratch the surface within the confines of this article. You will just have to check it all out for yourself. You will be glad you did.

If you go 

The Coast Starlight runs daily between Seattle and Los Angeles.

Airport connections are available from Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles.

Amtrak offers free city guides and walking tours, which you can find *here*

For more information about what downtown Santa Barbara has to offer click *here*

Look *here* for information about the Hotel Santa Barbara.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

A Hawaiian Sea Adventure to Remember

Coming face to face with a giant manta ray is the thrill of a lifetime.

Manta rays are amazing and curious creatures. People are fascinated by their opposing nature of ominous looks, and sweet dispositions.

Sheraton Kona

The Sheraton Kona Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii pays homage to these gentle giants by providing a viewing area for visitors at the resort’s Rays on the Bay restaurant.

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From the restaurant’s lookout, the magnificent and mysterious creatures can be seen gliding in the night ocean far below.

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Guests can also attend a complimentary lecture about the manta rays arranged through the resort’s front desk.

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The resort can also organize a water adventure to view the manta rays up close from a local tour boat named the Hula Kai – an opportunity we eagerly welcomed.

Swimming with the manta rays

Like whales, manta rays eat plankton. The plankton are attracted to light and that is the secret to successful manta viewing from the Hula Kai. Our excursion went like this:

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We boarded the nearby Hula Kai at sunset and moved just off shore of the Sheraton Kona.  We donned wetsuits, googles, and a snorkel provided by the concessionaire. We were given a quick course on manta watching, which is done from a horizontal position floating on one’s stomach and holding fast to a length of 3” diameter buoyant pipe – set out from the stern of the boat much like a floating rectangle.

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Soon darkness was upon us, and the Hula Kai engaged underwater illumination used to attract plankton to the site. We entered the water by ladder and positioned ourselves around the floating pipe. We looked down into the clear bay water and breathed through our snorkels.

Our bodies were made buoyant by the wetsuits, so maintaining our balance was not difficult. It did not take long before the first of six manta rays appeared from out of the shadows – and the fun began.

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Manta rays are big, but harmless to humans. They, like the whale, are filter feeders. Mantas are fish related to the shark, but have no bones, teeth, barbs, or stingers. However, they do have size – up to 2,000 pounds – which they use in a very good-natured way.

Manta rays are often given names by the crew of the Hula Kai. Each ray has distinctive “spots” that make identity possible.  The same rays tend to return for evening dining and playing with the snorkelers and divers.

For a period of about one-hour we watched these graceful giants do underwater summersaults just below us – performing like rolling acrobats with gray tops and white underbellies.

Although touching the mantas is not allowed, the creatures have no such restrictions. Frequently, one or more of the rays did a graceful roll just under a snorkeler and purposely pressed its sleek white underbelly along the length of the viewer’s body – an exciting encounter that will be remembered by anyone that experiences it.  The top of a ray feels like sandpaper, and the underside is as smooth as velvet.

Tempus fugit, so do it while you can

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For nature and adventure lovers, snorkeling with the manta rays in the back of the Hula Kai in Kailua, Kona is right up there with diving with the reef sharks in the Bahamas, and snorkeling or diving with the sting rays at Stingray City in the Caymans.

Click *here* to read our story and see pictures of the beautiful Sheraton Kona Resort on the Big Island, and *here* to check out the resort’s website. To read about all the services offered by the company that operates the Hula Kai Manta Snorkel, click *here.*

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff, shark picture by Wayne Bayliff, Manta Ray pictures courtesy of Sheraton Kona.

You can see the world with Google Maps. www.maps.google.com

We flew to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines

Try Long Beach, California for Exciting Family Fun

Recently, we had an opportunity to experience Long Beach, California, in depth – the transformation of this city over the decades is nothing less than astonishing.

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What was an unremarkable middle class town has magically morphed into an exciting convention and vacation destination that rivals the best of what other Southern California beach towns have to offer.

Note: Everything you will read about our Long Beach holiday is available for your enjoyment. We have provided green links to each topic. Just click on a link for more details about the subject.

We started out at SFO

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Our Long Beach adventure began with a flight from San Francisco on Jet Blue airline. This was our first experience on the airline and it certainly will not be our last. We found that on our flight, the extra leg room in standard economy was enough to make Jet Blue our new coach-class favorite over the ever-shrinking, sardine-like seats we are all too familiar with on our United and American flights out of SFO.

Additionally, we liked the fact that there was no charge for our checked luggage.

As long as Jet Blue provides these benefits we will be “True Blue,” when it comes to flying coach.

LGB is a delightful airport

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We relish flying into small town airports, and although Long Beach is certainly not a little town, the LGB airport has a small, open, easy-going vibe.

Stay at the Westin

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Within minutes of our arrival at LGB we were relaxing in our room at the Westin on Ocean Boulevard.

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The hotel is close to the Queen Mary and many of the other attractions on our itinerary.

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After getting settled we were off for a tour of the Queen Mary led by Honorary Commodore Everette Hoard, followed by dinner aboard…

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at the Sir Winston’s restaurant.

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What delicious French Onion Soup!

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Our main course was classic “Surf and Turf” that was cooked to perfection.

About the Queen

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The city of Long Beach went into promotional overdrive in 1967 when it acquired the iconic RMS Queen Mary.  Like the city itself, the Queen has known good times and bad, and through it all has become a symbol of pride and enduring strength in America.

Highly visible in Long Beach Harbor, the Queen Mary humbly accepts daily accolades for her beauty and durability, and for those who know, for her valiant courage.

When launched in 1936, the Queen was the fastest ship afloat. During WW2, she made 72 wartime crossings of the treacherous Atlantic and was the prize never won by Nazi U-Boat captains determined to sink her for the Fatherland and Adolf Hitler.

During the war, Winston Churchill said he felt as safe aboard the Queen Mary as he did in Parliament.

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Churchill’s comfortable suite on board the Queen is now part of the array of staterooms available by reservation at the Queen Mary hotel. A stay on this venerable ship is an extraordinary historical privilege.

A few years back, we stayed at the Queen Mary hotel. If you would like to read about that experience on the famous ship click here for the story.

Morning on the water

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The following day we toured Long Beach Harbor on the Triumphant of Harbor Breeze Cruises.

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This is an excellent way to see all that the waterfront of Long Beach has to offer. Harbor Breeze also offers whale watching cruises.

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Next we strolled around Shoreline Village with its many interesting shops, boutiques, and attractions.

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Our walk ended with a seafood lunch at the famous (and delicious) Parkers’ Lighthouse.

Afternoon at the Aquarium

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Our afternoon at the Aquarium of the Pacific proved it to be a family attraction we could highly recommend.

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Exhibits were both entertaining and educational.

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Great fun for all ages.

Final day

The following morning we had breakfast at The Attic on Broadway. The cuisine was unique and tasty.

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How about a Bloody Mary with bacon and a pickle?

Tour with Pedego

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It was a beautiful Long Beach morning so we signed up for an electric bike tour along the ocean bike path. Our host was Pedego Electric Bikes.

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This is an excellent way to view the 5.5 miles of manicured sand and shoreline residences along the beach.

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The bikes were all in super shape, and depending on your shape, you can pedal or leave the pedaling to the Pedego.

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The outing was great fun, and there was an outstanding group of participants.

Time for culture

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There are plenty of indoor activities in Long Beach and in the afternoon we left the sun to visit the Long Beach Museum of Art.

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We were captivated by the exhibition Baroque Sensibilities by Sherrie Wolf.

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The museum changes exhibits regularly, so keep an eye on their website.

Back in time

A quite unusual attraction that is not highly publicized is Long Beach’s 4th Street, a.k.a. the “Retro Row.” It is comprised of several blocks of funky little boutiques, antique, and pre-owned clothing shops that will take you back to mother’s time – or maybe your time, if you recognize lots of the habiliments. Locally owned restaurants and wine bars add to the joy of meandering.

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The Rows landmark 1920’s Art Theatre hosts events such as contemporary and vintage films and live concerts.

A little touch of Venice 

Our next Long Beach adventure had us back on the water.

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Gliding along the waterways of Venice, Italy is one of our fondest memories, and we had an opportunity to reminisce in Long Beach on a romantic gondola ride thru Naples Island with Gondola Getaway.

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We watched the sun surrender to the Pacific – a perfect ending to an exceptional day.

Last supper

Our last dinner on this getaway was at the Boathouse on the Bay. The water oriented restaurant was busy on a balmy Long Beach evening, and the service and food were as advertised i.e., excellent.

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Our entrees consisted of the biggest-ever and perfectly prepared King Crab Legs accompanied by a chopped cucumber sprinkled with dill and drizzled with a light vinegar – a brilliant pairing of tastes.

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We can also recommend the tasty sea bass on potato mash amidst a savory sassy mix of carrots, peas and green beans. Delicious!

Things to know before you go

Long Beach boasts 345 days of sunshine and it is cold at 50 degrees in January, and hot when it’s 83 degrees in August and September. How great is that!

The outdoor activities in Long Beach are numerous and include fishing, harbor cruises, kayaking, rollerblading, biking, horseback riding, tennis and of course, golf. If that weren’t enough, windsurfing, scuba diving, parasailing, water skiing, whale watching, and sailing are also available. Whew!

There are over 5,000 hotel rooms in Long Beach, and 17 hotels that have complete meeting facilities. The public transportation is unsurpassed, and with all the available activities, Long Beach is a spectacular convention town.

As evidenced by its many nightspots and hip restaurants, the city has become an exciting destination for younger tourists.

There’s a lot to do and see in Long Beach. We recommend a visit. You will not be disappointed.

For additional information check out www.longbeachcvb.org

If you go

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Long Beach is 22-miles south of downtown Los Angeles and is well serviced by the airlines and the California Freeway System.

Happy travels.

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Cannery Row on Monterey Bay is an easy 2-hour drive south of San Francisco. Two good reasons to add Monterey to your northern California holiday are that it is a breathtakingly beautiful part of the Golden State, and it is far less commercial than San Francisco. It’s a great place to enjoy some quality down-time during your vacation.

A brief history of Cannery Row

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Oil made whales the Monterey prey of choice for fisherman until Kerosene was introduced in the late 1800s. At that time, the local fishing industry made a quick turn to sardines, and the first cannery opened in 1902 along Ocean View Avenue – now Cannery Row.

From that date until the 1960s the fishermen and businessmen of the “Row” didn’t realize it, but they were systematically fishing themselves into oblivion by overtaxing the schools of mature sardines needed to reproduce and replenish the early abundant harvests.

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The last sardine catch and pack on Cannery Row took place in 1964 on the site of the now famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Inspired by John Steinbeck’s celebrated story, Cannery Row is visited annually by scores of vacationers from around the world, and it is well worth a prominent place on your vacation schedule.

It’s fun to share the planet

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Cannery Row is not only a tourist’s mecca, it has also become a conservationist’s Disneyland. There’s the spectacular Aquarium, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which can be enjoyed by tour boat, sail boat, kayak, or row boat.

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On land, tourists can comb the waterfront, whale watch, otter watch, seal watch, bird watch, and people watch. Cold water SCUBA divers also get to fish watch. There are a whopping 26 species of marine mammals, and 345 species of fish residing in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary.

Also in the area

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Golfing and touring at Pebble Beach, Carmel, and Pacific Grove are minutes away,

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and the Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove is open to the public and is a great place to get a feel for a lighthouse keeper’s life in earlier times.

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Point Lobos State Reserve with its fantastic views of the Pacific is also in the neighborhood.

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In the area, we also visited the fabulous Holman Ranch and Winery, and *here* is that story.

Where to stay

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There is no shortage of great places to stay on and near Cannery Row. We chose the Monterey Bay Inn right on the “Row.” It is the first hotel on the water when driving east.

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The Inn’s appeal includes being slightly away from the center of the hub-bub, where most of the tourists congregate. Yet, it is just a short walk to all the interesting shops that line the Row.

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The views from the Monterey Bay Inn are impressive – especially if you are lucky enough to reserve an end room with a balcony over the water. We recommend room 320 if it is available. (that’s 320 just under the roof canopy above)

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The Inn is adjacent to San Carlos Beach Park, where visitors can picnic and stroll the beach. The park is also an excellent entry point for kayaks and SCUBA divers heading for a swim with the fishes among the ever-swaying orange and brown kelp beds.

Cannery Row eateries

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The area is awash in excellent restaurants, but there is one in particular that deserves a feature story, and that is what we plan for the legendary Sardine Factory on Wave Street.

The Sardine Factory is a world-class restaurant that is also an uplifting All-American success story. It’s about two ordinary guys that started with nothing almost 40-years ago, and today are recognized by presidents, the movers and shakers of industry, and scores of celebrities in the restaurant and entertainment world.

It’s also a tale of tradition, values, honesty and integrity – subjects that are too often forgotten in our confused times.

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So look for our story about the Sardine Factory in the near future. It is good press that will inspire you – it did us.

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The Monterey coast and Cannery Row are California treasures that should be explored and enjoyed by all lovers of the sea, nature, and fine food – definitely worth putting on your getaway list.

Happy travels.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
Photos © Judy Bayliff
You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com

Our Panama Canal Christmas Cruise Aboard the Amsterdam

We live in California and two of our best friends reside in Florida. We wanted to visit them during the holidays, but didn’t want to endure the stress and aggravation of crowded airports and airplanes – so an opportunity to sail from nearby San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale through the Panama Canal was especially appealing.

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Our cruise was an anomaly for a Holland America Panama Canal Cruise because the usual port of embarkation for the Canal trip is San Diego. However, it was our good fortune that the Amsterdam had been in dry-dock in San Francisco for a two-week spruce-up before our cruise.

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That meant a few hundred lucky passengers got to see the dramatic glow of the San Francisco skyline during departure – we picked up the majority of the passengers for the Panama Canal Cruise two-days later in San Diego.

Size matters

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Our last few cruises were on much larger ships, those with capacities over 2,500, so a ship that holds 1,380 passengers and a crew of 607 felt compact, and just a little cozier because of it.

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The first thing we noticed upon boarding the Amsterdam is that her color schemes are nicely subdued and her décor is a bit more refined than found on some of the newer ships. Of course, being a member of the Holland America fleet, she is elegant and uber-clean.

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At the heart of the Amsterdam is the Planeto Astrolabium, a magnificent three-story structure that tracks constellations, and the planets.

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The Planeto Astrolabium is also the ship’s hub for customer service activities, and the area to find a bevy of nearby exclusive shops.

Cruising in comfort

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The Amsterdam’s suites are sophisticated and chic.

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They are comfortable, classically elegant,

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and successfully avoid being trendy and thematic.

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They also reflect the natural allure of privacy at sea in graceful surroundings.

Repeat cruisers

We learned very quickly that many of our fellow passengers were not disembarking along with us in Florida. Rather, they were continuing on for the 114-day round-the-world cruise. The Grand World Voyage itinerary is sailed by the Amsterdam, and a stalwart group of Holland America loyalists make the annual voyage. We did a story about one charming lady who is among those habitual world cruisers, and you can read about her *here.*

For those interested, the 2015 Grand World Voyage begins on January 5th and departs from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Cruise included holidays

Our trip encompassed both Christmas and New Year’s Day.

By Christmas Day passengers and crew alike were in a festive mood – a wonderful holiday spirit that was most evident at the crew’s inspirational holiday program entitled “The Sounds of Christmas Carols.” Hundreds of passengers genially joined in the crew’s evening group-sing.

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The merriment continued right through an impressive shipboard New Year’s Eve celebration at sea.

The seasonal gatherings aboard the Amsterdam helped form a genuine bond between passengers and crew – all from different countries, cultures, religions, and life experiences – quite marvelous to be part of it.

An amazing crew

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The staff on Holland America ships hail mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines, but on our cruise there were also crew members from 32 other nations. All were accommodating and friendly – a sure sign they were happy at their work, and with their employer, Holland America.

Meet the Captain

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Like all the other ship’s Masters we have interviewed, Captain Fred Everson set his sights on a life at sea from a very early age – he had a great mentor – his father was a captain on cargo ships. He subsequently attended and graduated from Holland’s maritime academy in Rotterdam, and joined HAL in 1980.

Everson told us, “My main concern as the Captain of the Amsterdam is the safety and pleasure of my passengers.” The captain informed us that Holland America has installed and is now testing the first thermal imaging system designed to immediately detect a person who may accidentally fall overboard.

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When asked what he likes best about his job, Captain Everson answered, “It offers me an opportunity to see the world.” His professed favorite place is Antarctica, “I love the remote grandeur, topography, and animal life.”

With a work schedule of 3 months on and 3 months off, Captain Everson has ample time to indulge in his favorite pastime – motorcycle trips from his home base in Del Ray Beach, Florida. He has logged over 150,000 miles on motorcycle tours of North America.

When Captain Everson retires he plans to continue touring, “There’s so much I haven’t seen.” A few years back the captain purchased an RV to assist him in his roaming. Happy motoring Captain!

Eating aboard the Amsterdam

We found the quality and presentation of food aboard the Amsterdam to be up to the usually delicious Holland America standards.

La Fontaine Restaurant

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The main dining room is the two-story La Fontaine Restaurant and is well designed with numerous windows for abundant natural light during day-time meals.

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Our table was next to one of the windows so we enjoyed constant vistas of the sky and sea while dining.

Lido Restaurant

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Many of our breakfasts were taken at the informal buffet-style Lido Restaurant,

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where we savored made-to-order omelets and a wide variety of meats, cheeses, cereals and fresh fruit and juices.

Specialty Restaurants

The Canaletto has introduced a new menu featuring Italian family style dining with some toothsome recipes.

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We relished our starter of Vermouth Braised Clams with spicy chorizo, garlic and basil.

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The Rigatoni with Italian sausage, Kalamata olives, and a spicy and delicious tomato sauce was a perfect pasta choice.

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The large plate entrée was a tasty Grilled Lemon-Thyme White Sea Bass with roasted fingerling potatoes, shaved fennel, and orange-olive salad.

Everything was delicious, however we found it unusual that no breads or rolls were served at the Canaletto, an Italian restaurant. Perhaps that has changed – we hope.

The best steaks and seafood

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The Pinnacle Grill is romantic and intimate and the favorite rendezvous of beef and seafood lovers. We were happy to learn that Holland American serves only seafood caught in a sustainable manner.

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A Caesar Salad prepared at the table was an excellent opener,

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followed by Dungeness Crab Cakes with spiraled shaved cucumber and sweet chili-mustard sauce. Outstanding!

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The filet mignon was a perfect size for a four-course dinner and was prepared with sun-dried tomatoes, and the master chef’s green peppercorn béarnaise sauce and maître d’ garlic butter.

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We finished with Baked Alaska a la Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream flamed with Bing cherries jubilee. OMG!

Terrace Grill

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After shamelessly feasting for days on end, it was nice to occasionally take a breather and enjoy a simple old-fashioned hamburger, hot dog, or slice of pizza. The Terrace Grill poolside was a welcome, albeit brief departure from lavish dining. May we recommend an ice-cold beer for accompaniment?

About the cruise itinerary

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Our Panama Canal voyage on the Amsterdam started on December 18, and took 17 days, and covered 5,914 miles. The same trip was an arduous 13,715 miles before the advent of the 50-mile long Panama Canal.

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The Amsterdam stopped at six countries between San Diego and Ft. Lauderdale. Ports included Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Corinto, Nicaragua; Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica; Cartagena, Columbia; and Georgetown, Cayman Islands.

The ports we favored were Cartagena, and Georgetown, but of course, the highlight of the cruise was passing through the historic Panama Canal.

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In a future article we will write about all the ports of call on the Holland America Panama Canal Cruise and include a summary of the exciting history of the Panama Canal.

An all-day event

It takes about eight-hours to transit the canal’s three locks and navigate the lake that lies between the locks and seas.

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The passengers were up at the crack of dawn to watch the Amsterdam approach the first lock,

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and be tethered to the electric locomotives that guided her seemingly effortlessly through the narrow Miraflores Locks.

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Once the Amsterdam was released from the second locks into Gatun Lake, passengers had several hours to observe the dark and mysterious waters and dense sweltering tropical jungle from on-high aboard the ship.

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Everyone watched as the liner glided along patches of small uninhabited tangled green islands – all safely visible from the glass enclosed and air-conditioned lounges and public spaces on the Amsterdam.

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Our minds wandered and considered the lives of the thousands of diggers who suffered (an estimated 25,000 died) to conquer this hostile wilderness for the betterment of mankind. How fortunate we are to be able to witness the engineering marvel they created.

Check out the related video below for a brief depiction of the passage.

by HollandAmericaFan

Don’t miss it

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A trip through the Panama Canal is one of the most interesting cruises on this planet. We recommend it highly.

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For more information about Holland America cruises, itineraries, and specials, look at their website at www.hollandamerica.com

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Combine St. Regis and Kaua‛i for an Unforgettable Hawaiian Holiday

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Often referred to as Hawaii’s “Garden Island,” Kaua‛i is a lush tropical paradise of towering cloud-crested green summits. The island has 50-miles of sandy beaches perpetually polished by translucent waves. It was undoubtedly the perfect island for the legendary St. Regis brand to open one of their unparalleled luxury resorts.

Behold the majestic north shore

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The Hawaiian St. Regis Resort at Princeville is surrounded by five verdant mountains overlooking the beautiful Hanalei Valley and the breathtaking Napali Coast.

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No wonder Hollywood picked nearby Lumaha‛i Beach to film scenes for Rogers and Hammerstein’s immortal “South Pacific.

Kaua‛i’s north shore is also home to Makana Mountain, better known as the mystical Bali Hai in the movie. In this case, the real thing is more alluring than the illusion.

Kaua‛i is everyone’s dream-scene of a protected rain-forest Pacific Island paradise, and having chosen it, the St. Regis is now the preferred glamour address for the elite Hawaiian vacationer.

A royal beginning

The location of the St. Regis in Princeville was named after the “Prince of Hawaii,” the official title of Prince Albert Edward, born in 1858 to King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, and godchild to Queen Victoria of England. Kamehameha IV and his family vacationed in the area in 1862. Sadly, the young prince died that same year, but out of respect, the area has retained the legacy name.

Arriving at the St. Regis

Our arrival felt like the beginning of an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The elegant ambiance of the resort lives up to its reputation and was immediately evident.

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The reception area is part of the larger lobby, and the eyes are drawn every which way to accommodate the combined spectacle of luxury and scenic beauty.

The check-in was effortless, and the staff exhibited the training and courtesy that is the hallmark of the St. Regis brand.

A legacy of distinction

John Jacob Astor IV, opened the first St. Regis Hotel in New York City in 1904. Forty-nine openings later, the brand has retained its well-deserved image of sophistication and the reputation for successfully catering to the old (and new) aristocracy and its many fascinating personalities.

The butler did it

Each suite at the St. Regis has a butler to cater to the guests’ every wish. During our stay, our butler proved to be an invaluable resource about navigating around the resort and the island of Kaua‛i in general.

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Our Bali Hai suite at the St. Regis Princeville consisted of two levels.

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The main floor was the location of the living room, kitchen, dining/meeting room, half bath, and balcony.

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A generous sleeping room and spacious full bath were located on the second floor.

The view from our suite was sweeping and tropical

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From our balcony we had an opportunity to watch the St. Regis staff prepare for a beachfront wedding. Planned nuptials can be attended by five or 500; the St. Regis has the facility to make the event as perfect as a couple can imagine.

The Spa

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After settling in, we started our decompression in style with a massage at the luxurious Halele‘a (which means House of Joy) Spa located just off the main lobby of the resort.

This is much more than your standard resort spa. It is an 11,000 square foot facility with 12 treatment rooms, and a trained staff dedicated to your relaxation, healing, and ultimate body and mind restoration.

We chose and recommend the stress relieving Lomi Lomi Massage that involves a deep muscle therapy, accompanied by continuous gentle strokes – a technique we have learned to associate with Hawaiian therapists. Oh, so soothing.

Our first dinner at the St. Regis was a memorable occasion

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Although we found the on-site Kaua‛i Grill dining room decor to be somewhat understated for a five-star restaurant, the view of Hanalei Bay and Bali Hai at sunset more than made up for any lack in interior motif.

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The exciting bill of fare at the Kaua‛i Grill is the brainchild of Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a globally recognized Michelin cordon bleu chef. The menu boasts the master’s flair for the French and Asian influence in personally selected appetizers, entrees, and desserts.

The place to start your day

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We had breakfast on the Makana Terrace overlooking Hanalei Bay.

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This is an oasis of tranquility that beckons one to sit back and enjoy the acclaimed scenery while savoring the culinary delights of the local fresh food markets.

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The restaurant so fits its place that it must have been inspired by Kaua‛i itself. If you stay at the St. Regis, don’t miss the day-opening buffet on the Terrace.

Eat at the bar

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Here we were offered light casual pub style victuals in a convivial comfy environment. Also, a great place to gather for a cleansing ale before dinner.

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There are five excellent dining venues at the resort – all with fantastic views.

For the golfers

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The St. Regis Princeville Resort’s Makai Golf Club is designed by globally-celebrated golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and is an 18-hole championship course complete with lakes, woodlands, and a spectacular view of Bali Hai and Hanalei Bay.

If you go

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The St. Regis Princeville is a luxurious resort with significant cachet and 252 guest rooms, including 51 premium ocean view suites.

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Look to the St. Regis website at www.stregisprinceville.com to choose from a range of diverse guestrooms to suit your taste and budget.

You will probably fly into Lihu‛e Airport on the east shore of Kaua‛i. If you do, expect a 32-mile drive to the picturesque north shore, and the resort. There are all varieties of available transportation at the airport. A standard taxi will cost just over $100 with tip – and it’s up from there. We reserved a rental car, and were glad we did because there is so much to see on Kaua‛i.

In future articles we will write about the many things to do outside the St. Regis demesne.

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As a preview, there are watery caves to explore…

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and the famous Waimea Canyon to photograph. We will also take you along on a fabulously romantic dinner for two under the stars in the Papa‛i Kilauea Hut at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas.

If you are researching luxury hotels and resorts for a planned holiday in the Hawaiian Islands, you might also like to read our stories and evaluations of these other Starwood properties in Hawaii.

The Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu

The Moana Surfrider on Waikiki Beach

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii

The Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa on Maui

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

We flew to Honolulu and inter-island on Hawaiian Airlines.

San Francisco is Fun, and Nearby Pacifica is Breathtaking

Interesting little towns located very near big vacation destinations like San Francisco often go missing from the holiday planner’s radar. In the case of Pacifica, California, that would be most unfortunate.

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Just 15-minutes south of San Francisco on famous California Hwy 1, Pacifica is a great place to enjoy a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of a City vacation. It’s a place to stretch out and watch the waves, and experience the community life of a small Bohemian style California coastal town that marches to a decidedly different drummer.

Gaspar discovers the Bay

A 1200 foot ridge high above Pacifica was the place from which Gaspar de Portola discovered the San Francisco Bay in 1769.

We discover Pacifica

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Being a short distance from our home, we have driven past Pacifica on many occasions, but only stopped once to research a story about the town’s amiable Segway tour operators.

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Our Segway experience proved to be a pleasant day’s outing along Pacifica’s rocky coastline known for great scenery, and we told ourselves that we must return. Recently, we decided to explore what this charming town below San Francisco had to offer by way of other activities, accommodations, and restaurants.

Finding a hotel

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The first thing we looked for was a hotel room where we could hear the pounding surf on the sand. We found the perfect room at the Pacifica Best Western Plus Lighthouse Hotel, which happens to be the only full service hotel on the beach.

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Marty Cerles, the cordial hotel manager suggested mini-suite number 127, and that is the specific room that we recommend if you want the best up-front seat for the smashing surf show.

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We left our window open all night and reveled in the relaxing sounds of the churning ocean and sea birds.

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If you are in budget mode, try the nearby Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel operated by Hostelling International.

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You can stay in former Coast Guard quarters on this historic lighthouse property that boasts panoramic views that a major brand hotel would die for.

Check out the great video below. It pictures the hostel campus and its extraordinary views, and includes many things-to-do while in the area.


More about things-to-do

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Pacifica features everything from world-class surfing, mountain biking, hiking, fishing, scuba diving and hang gliding. This beachy-peach is an ideal getaway for anyone interested in just relaxing or enjoying an invigorating outdoor vacation.

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There are a bevy of quaint shops in Pacifica ranging from specialty shops to service establishments – it’s a great town to meander about and window shop.

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Check with the Pacifica Chamber of Commerce to see when the next outdoor Farmer’s Market will set up shop.

Best restaurants

Our research led us to three restaurants.

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Nick’s Seashore Restaurant at Rockaway Beach was recommended for ocean front breakfast dining. Nick’s has been family owned since 1927. As soon as we entered we knew we had found the local favorite for dining and dancing.

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Our home-style breakfast at Nick’s was a great start to our day.

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Puerto 27, has a relaxed beach community atmosphere. It was a particular delight for our first dinner in Pacifica. It offers something we had never experienced –Peruvian cuisine. We took a taste adventure recommended by Head Chef, Jorge Tupac.

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We ordered the Pescado a lo Macho, a whole fish marinated with Aji Amarillo and crispy fried. It was served with a Seafood Cream Panka Parmesan Sauce with mussels, clams, scallops, and calamari. Not something we would have chosen without Chef Jorge’s suggestion. Turns out, it is off this planet scrumptious. We recommend it highly!

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By the way, be sure to try one of their Pisco Sour Cocktails. We had the Clasico made with 3 ounces of pisco quebranta, 1 ounce of key lime, 1 ounce simple syrup, ½ ounce of egg whites, and a touch of angostura bitters – for novelty, a “27” is neatly frosted on the surface. Yum!

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The Moonraker Restaurant is immediately adjacent to the Best Western Lighthouse Hotel and shares superb views of the Pacific just a few yards away.

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For a dinner entrée, we recommend the Coriander Seared Scallops covered in a sweet corn sauce and served with mashed potatoes and baby carrots.

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After a delightful meal, we enjoyed a savory cup of robust decaf coffee and watched the far away sun slowly slip into the sea. Soon it was dark, and the end of a beautiful day in Pacifica.

Pacifica Pier

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Located at Sharp Park Beach, the 1,140 foot Pacifica Pier opened to the public in 1973.

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It has provided decades of family fishing fun with annual summer runs of salmon and striped bass, and crabbing for delectable Dungeness crabs is allowed during the winter season. The pier is also a good place for spotting whales during their biannual migration.

 

The pier is open all year from 4am to 10pm except during stormy weather. AND – no fishing license is required!

Fit in Pacifica beaches

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Pacifica boasts seven miles of multifarious surfing quality beaches in plain view of the dramatic Pacific headlands where hiking and biking trails lead to scenic overlooks of the crashing surf. These same cliffs are coveted by experienced para-gliders who ride the thermals like so many raptors spiraling in the gentle currents.

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There’s also an Alister Mackenzie designed golf course, public tennis courts, an archery range, horseback riding, biking, bowling, and a free skateboard park with ocean views. Phew!

If Pacifica reads like a great place to prepare for your next marathon, decathlon, or for just getting into better shape, it’s all true.

If you go

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Before you complete your plan, be sure to check out www.visitpacifica.com. The website will provide you with up to date information about what is happening in Pacifica along with a simple map.

Happy travels!

©Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

© Photos by Judy Bayliff

The Best Romantic Suites Aboard the Golden Princess

Our goal in taking a month-long cruise around Hawaii and Tahiti on the Golden Princess was to experience – and then write about – how a major cruise line like Princess caters to its suite passengers. It was one of our most enjoyable projects.

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Suites for two

Over the past ten years, we have photographed and written about suites in B&Bs, hotels, resorts, and on cruise ships. It is our writing practice to always consider our subjects from a “couples” perspective. In that light, we have found many suites to be overly expensive or disproportionately large for two people. However, on the Golden Princess, we found a group of full-size suites that were not only luxurious, but the perfect size for two people on a cruise of any duration.

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After boarding the Golden Princess, an elevator whisked us up eight levels to the Sun Deck where we were escorted along an elegant wood-toned hallway to the Palermo Suite – our home for the next 28 days.

A suite life

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The Palermo Suite, was one of ten new suites added to the Sun Deck of the Princess during a 2009 revitalization.

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There are two entry doors to the Palermo Suite, with a small barrier foyer between. The second door acts as a noise and privacy baffle. Upon entering the living room we were immediately impressed by the polished marble floors and shinning granite counter surfaces.

The walls and ceilings in the Palermo are a mixture of delicately textured golden earth-tone material and light natural woods. Light fixtures and other suite features are of brushed stainless, and the suites well-chosen art is framed in a soft muted gold – perfect for the elegant and airy setting.

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The living area can be separated from the sleeping room by floor to ceiling privacy drapes, and there are large flat panel TVs in both chambers. The living area TV also has a DVD player. Guests can select from a library of recently released or vintage movies, and they are delivered right to your door.

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The bedroom has an ever-so-comfortable Queen sized bed, which can be made into two twins, and the wooden ceiling vault houses a handsome alabaster dome that illuminates the room in a warm and subtle glow.

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Bathrooms on cruise ships are not noted for their spaciousness. However, this style of suite on the Golden Princess offers a sink and toilet room, and another room for a large marble shower and a separate full size soaking tub.

A spacious walk-in closet and an electronic safe are also nice amenities for a long cruise.

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Most couples are not working on computers while on a cruise, but we particularly liked having two granite-topped work spaces for the purpose.

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Handily, one space was also a well-lighted vanity with multiple mirrors – such a help when preparing for an evening of exquisite dining and entertainment aboard the Golden Princess.

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Two sets of floor to ceiling sliding doors provide extraordinary changing views of the islands, and two finished teak deck lounges make for excellent conversation, private reading, and contemplation at sea. 

Other in-room distinctions

The first mini-bar setup is complimentary, and the premium upgrades include fresh flowers, delicious canapés, and special bath amenities. Also, one small, big thing – electrical outlets. Plugs for your electric devices are as rare as Indian Head Pennies aboard cruise ships. Being able to plug in only two devices in a stateroom is normal. In the Palermo suite we had eight outlets. Electric Valhalla!

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The Palermo Suite, along with its nine siblings (Corsica, Florence, Grenada, Malta, Pisa, Provence, Sardinia, Seville, and Tuscany) are not the largest suites on the Golden Princess, but we found them to be a perfect accommodation of size, layout, and comfortable décor for a vacationing party of two.

All in all, the full-size Palermo Suite has about 600 square feet of living space, including the balcony. As a comparison, a mini-suite aboard the Golden has approximately 323 sq. ft., and a balcony stateroom about 250.

Suite privileges

Those that occupy the luxurious full-size suites on Princess ships enjoy amenities and privileges not afforded other passengers. After completely reading this article, you may decide that the roominess of a suite along with the following additional niceties, are sufficient reasons to consider reserving the best accommodations your budget will allow.

Breakfast at Sabatini’s

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One of our favorite Princess full-suite perks is the exclusive and private dining breakfast at the Sabatini’s restaurant.

Every morning, Sabatini’s is transformed from an elegant Italian dinner eatery into an exclusive breakfast retreat for the passengers that occupy the 30+ full-suites aboard the Golden Princess.

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However, not all suite guests take advantage of the Sabatini’s privilege; some prefer the ultimate personal option of suite room service, while still others choose one of the conventional dining forums like the Horizon Court Buffet above.

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The limited number of tables in Sabatini’s provides an intimate setting for a quiet breakfast.

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An exemplary staff of four waiters is orchestrated by a congenial Head Waiter who greets and seats each arriving guest. Food is prepared by three cooks supervised by a Chef de Cuisine.

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The Sabatini’s Breakfast Menu includes everything imaginable for the morning meal, carefully prepared and skillfully presented.

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The artistic presentation may change with the muse of the chef – but is always to the highest culinary standards.

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We generally started out with a wake-me-up Mimosa and freshly squeezed orange juice.

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That was usually followed by a delicious decaf Cappuccino and a warm-to-the-touch baked mini-pastry and a chilled stemmed glass of hand selected berries.

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For our main course we picked from a unique assortment of waffles and French toasts, and the usual varieties of fresh eggs, such as Benedict, omelets, scrambles, etc.

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Even simple cereals are brilliantly presented in Sabatini’s. 

Sabatini’s by night 

Found only on Princess ships, the Sabatini’s restaurant is a specialty Italian restaurant that is open every night to all passengers. There is an additional charge for dinner dining in the stylish and intimate Sabatini’s, but well worth it to celebrate a special occasion – or simply to enjoy truly outstanding Italian cuisine.

More Suite Privileges

VIP boarding

In many ways, Preferred Boarding can be equated to waiting for an airline flight in a private lounge instead of the communal terminal. Preferred boarding means you are the first passengers to board the ship at embarkation, therefore among the first guests to be settled into their stateroom and afforded early access to the delicious buffet that awaits oncoming passengers. There’s always plenty of food for all, but it is a comfort to be at the front of a line, is it not? 

Priority ship to shore tender passes

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Three of the nine ports we visited on our cruise required being tendered to shore. For those not familiar, this is a procedure where the cruise ship does not dock, but rather anchors offshore, or remains stationery away from the land.

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Passengers wishing to go ashore are shuttled by means of motorized launches called “tenders.” The process is called “tendering.”

The act of tendering is very organized, and within a short time a few thousand people can be transferred to the shore with relative ease.

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While general passengers are issued group numbers on a first come first served basis, and comfortably wait for their group to be called to “tender,” suite passengers are afforded a privilege that allows them to board the next available tender, therefore getting them to shore a bit earlier to enjoy the port.

Complimentary laundry and dry cleaning

Although laundry and dry cleaning services are available to all passengers for a reasonable charge, full-suite guests are provided the service as part of their complementary privileges. Should it be your preference, there are also self-service laundry facilities throughout the ship for all passengers.

Internet Café

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For those suite customers who want to keep in contact with the world while at sea, there is a suite internet program for use either in the Internet Café or from any part of the ship when a personal wireless device is used.

Our recommendation

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During our month long cruise on Princess we noted a consistent level of excellent service for every category of passenger aboard. But, the additional perks afforded suite occupants, made a most pleasant journey that much more elegant and enjoyable. Our recommendation – do it if you can. You only live once, and how suite it is!

Happy travels!

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More stories about our 28-day cruise to the South Pacific on the Golden Princess will be forthcoming. For more information about the Golden Princess check out the PDF file *here* For additional information about booking a cruise on Princess look at their website at www.princess.com or call your favorite travel agent.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Sleeping in a Tropical Garden in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys offers a multitude of interesting options for places to stay. We found a small resort in Key Largo that was different from anything we had previously experienced. If you like the romance of “Old Florida,” you are sure to love this getaway. 

The Kona Kai Resort

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When it comes to family owned resorts we have learned to expect the unexpected. Such properties often reflect the imagination and ingenuity of entrepreneurial owners, and the Kona Kai Resort is the essence of the concept.

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Owners Joe and Ronnie Harris purchased the two acre Kona Kai grounds in 1991. They immediately began to painstakingly renovate the stunning waterfront property and transform it into a comfortable “Old Florida” resort – a style that is most becoming in the relaxed setting of the Florida Keys.

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The resort is designed in bungalow fashion and consists of single level guestrooms and one and two bedroom suites that vary in furnishings and views. All 13 accommodations have air-conditioning, ceiling fans, flat panel TVs with DVD players. Suites have CD players and fully equipped kitchens. This is an excellent resort for a stay of any duration.

Enter Eden

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What sets this property apart is that it is an integral part of an exclusive botanical garden. Starting with mature mahoganies, gumbo-limbos, coconuts, and Washingtonians, the plant loving owners began adding hundreds of new tropical and exotic flora and the Botanic Gardens of Kona Kai was born.

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Today, guests get to live in a garden that features more than 150 orchid specimens, 42 different species of palms, 25 native plant species, 11 bamboos, 21 grasses, 15 tropical fruiting trees and plants, and numerous bromeliads.

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New plants are being added regularly.

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Each guest of the resort also has a unique opportunity to take a self-guided tour of the gardens, or a 90-minute “Transforming Your Understanding of Plants” tour guided by one of the credentialed staff at the resort.

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The garden is a veritable walk through time with plants that can be traced to the Age of Dinosaurs. Joe and Ronnie have focused their garden around the science of Ethnobotony, the study of the relationship between people and plants. They want to provide their guests and visitors with a better appreciation of the role that plants have played in the development of human life.

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To that end, the Kona Kai Gardens sponsors a successful annual environmental outreach program for kids that offers upper Florida Keys students the opportunity to research and analyze environmental topics, and appreciate the beauty and importance of plants in nature.

The Gallery at Kona Kai

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The Harris’ interests are not limited to the earth sciences; they have also used their Key Largo resort to showcase original works of art in the Gallery at Kona Kai.

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The Gallery is where incoming guests register, giving all an opportunity to peruse the interesting art exhibits and purchase the many unusual specialty items found in the guestrooms.

Choosing a suite 

Lest we forget that this wonderful botanical and artistic enclave is also an extraordinary resort of the first order, let’s look at the hospitality aspects of the Kona Kai Resort.

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When we were shown the Pineapple Suite we loved it.

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We had a view of the waterfront, and were just steps away from the sparkling pool and hot tub.

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We felt right at home the moment we entered the suite through the living room door.

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Additional facilities

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The Kona Kai swimming pool and hot tub is pictured above.

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There’s also a tennis court, and kayaks and paddle boats – the use of which is complimentary for guests. Dolphins and Manatees are seen just to the front of the Kona Kai beach, so keep a watchful eye.

Scuba divers will be happy to know that the resort provides equipment lockers, and a fresh-water soak and equipment wash down tank. Diving in the famous John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is just minutes away at Mile Marker 102.5.

Eating

The area around the resort has many dining venues, and there is a supermarket near the property for those wishing to cook in their suite’s kitchen.

Sunsets

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The resort offers some of the best sunset watching in the Keys.

For more information

The Kona Kai website is *here* There is also a website specific to the gallery at www.g-k-k.com. Each site has information you will want to read if you are planning a trip to the Florida Keys.

If you go

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Take the Overseas Highway – US 1 South into the Keys for approximately 30 miles – watch for Mile Marker 98 in Key Largo. Then watch for the oval Kona Kai Resort sign on your right. You have arrived, have fun!

African Queen

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By the way, the resort is not far from the dock of the authentic African Queen. Fans of the 1951 movie starring Hepburn and Bogart, won’t want to miss an opportunity to see and take a ride on this historic boat – we photographed our adventure on the “Queen,” and our pictures and story will be published soon.

Other Key information

You will also benefit by checking out general visitor information about the Florida Keys at www.fla-keys.com

As you head further south on Overseas Highway US 1, you will find two uber-luxurious resorts, one on Islamorada, the other just off Little Torch Key. We have visited both these properties, and you can click on their names below to read about them.

Cheeca Lodge and Spa – Marker 82 – in Islamorada

Little Palm Island Resort and Spa – Marker 28.5 – island is off Little Torch Key

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff. Photo of children on stage courtesy of Kona Kai Resort

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

A Bird’s Eye View of Fabulous Redondo Beach and Marina

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There are towns that are great for living, and there are towns that are great for vacations. We discovered one of those rare places that is great for both. Redondo Beach, is on the sunny southern California coast just seven miles south of the Los Angeles International Airport. It is a “happy-happening-hideaway” by the sea.

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When it’s hot downtown and inland, LA folks head for the beach towns, which are frequently 10 to 15 degrees cooler. There’s a series of three beach towns north of the beautiful Palos Verdes Peninsula that are great places to enjoy the sea and sand. Making it even better, there’s a paved beach walk called the “Strand” that connects tony Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach with our personal favorite, historic Redondo Beach.

Places to stay in Redondo Beach

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We always prefer waterfront hotels, and the boutique Portofino Hotel and Marina in Redondo Beach is one of our favorites. It is close to King Harbor and the Redondo Beach Pier, both excellent places for a fun date, or family outing.

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Our suite at the Portofino had elegant seashore décor, and it overlooked the breakwater and open Pacific beyond. It was perfect.

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We left our windows open and enjoyed waking to the sound of harbor seals, sea lions, and the call of seagulls. If you relish that kind of ambiance, this is the place for you.

Rather not hear the local wildlife? Ask for a room overlooking the marina where it is quiet except for the occasional gentle tapping of halyards against sailboat masts.

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We had our first breakfast in Redondo at the outdoor patio at the Portofino’s BALEEN kitchen restaurant adjacent to the marina.

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What a splendid way to slowly wake to another day in this little slice of paradise.

The BALEEN is also one of our favorite southern California dinner restaurants. The menu is superb and the restaurant features some unusual and exciting dishes like a BLT Salad of sugar-braised bacon, jalapeno ranch and sherry/bacon vinaigrette dressings. Then there’s their famous Lobster Mac and Cheese (really).

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A great main for REAL meat and potatoes aficionados is the Roquefort Crusted Filet of Beef with whipped potatoes, grilled asparagus, crispy onions, and natural jus. The taste factor on this entrée is off the wow chart! We have eaten at the BALEEN on several occasions and have yet to be disappointed.

A more traditional hotel

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The Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach and Marina is a modern hotel that is a stone’s throw from the Portofino.

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It is also just across North Harbor Drive from the city’s popular Seaside Lagoon Park, a fabulous place for the kids to play safely in the sand and the gigantic salt-water pool. At the time of our visit, the parents looked to be having at least as much fun as the kiddies.

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The Plaza is also near Captain Kid’s Seafood Restaurant and Market – a rustic landmark eatery that serves up a dynamite chowder, and sells the freshest ocean bounty in their market.

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The rooms at the Redondo Crowne Plaza are very spacious with a contemporary flair. Most of the recently renovated 342 rooms and suites have private balconies with water views.

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We tried a 75-minute Swedish massage at the hotel’s Body ETC European Day Spa. Marvelous, and a great way to loosen up for an evening of “clubbing” or dinner at one of the more than 15 local restaurants within walking distance. Redondo Beach offers a total of 200 restaurants and entertainment locations.

By the way

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If you are an event planner, Redondo Beach, and the Crowne Plaza hotel in particular, is the perfect meeting venue. We toured 25,000 sq. ft. of newly designed meeting space at the Plaza that includes three ballrooms, and 12 break-out rooms.

There’s also a spectacular outdoor terrace with a swimming pool and a tennis court that overlooks the Pacific Ocean – a brilliant place for a large social or business event.

Time for lunch

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We were invited to a media luncheon at the H.T. Grill on Catalina Avenue to meet some local business owners who are justly excited about what Redondo Beach has to offer tourists. The Chamber of Commerce did an excellent job of providing us with plenty of subjects that would be of interest to people planning vacations.

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The H.T. Grill proved to be a great place for lunch and we can recommend it.

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Try the Prime Dip of shaved prime rib with a side of horseradish cream and French fries, served on a Milano roll with au jus. Delicious.

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The Grill is located in an area of Redondo known as Riviera Village. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, it was called “Hollywood Riviera” because of the stars who visited the village’s many quaint boutique shops and great restaurants.

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The village is easy-going, charming, and a fine place to walk and shop.

The farmer’s market

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Just outside the Grill they were setting up the Riviera Village Farmers Market – what a treat.

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A great place to browse delectable fresh fruits and veggies, along with local artisan crafts, and finger treats – too soon after lunch, we wish we were at least a little hungry!

Tour the easy way

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Having had previous experience on Segways in Pacifica, California, and Reno, Nevada, we were happy to find South Bay Mobile Tours  just around the corner from the Farmer’s Market. A few minutes of refresher lessons and we were off to see the Strand and oceanfront. This is a quick and easy way to view five or six miles of Redondo Beach attractions.

The Redondo Beach Pier and Boardwalk

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With King Harbor on one side, and miles of beach on the other, the Redondo Beach Pier is the natural epicenter of fun beach activity such as the annual Kite Festival, Sunset Concerts, Classic Car Show, and Winter Holiday Concerts.

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There’s always a wide variety of dining, amusement, and entertainment opportunities.

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We were in town just in time to catch the Pier’s annual Chalk Art Festival.

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Who would have thought that a chalk festival could be so much fun! Folks of all ages sprawled on their hands and knees showing their talents in clever chalk art drawings with dreams of becoming one of this year’s category winners.

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Meanwhile, just behind the artists, the fishing on the pier was proving to be excellent on the slightly overcast day.

After the chalk art

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It was time to eat again. This time we were at Old Tony’s, the iconic pier restaurant that has been operated by the same family for generations. This is the premier historic eatery in Redondo Beach for lovers of fresh food from the sea.

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We filled up on a medley of delicacies from local waters – all delicious.

King Harbor is for lovers of water sports

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Our following day was spent enjoying King Harbor, one of the largest small boat marinas on the west coast, and a favorite “Baywatch” filming location.

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First up was a nature cruise on the Voyager where we had great views of the South Coast shore while navigating through a large school of playful dolphins.

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Next we were on the Looking Glass for an opportunity to see the fishes beneath the waves.

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If we had the time, we would have enjoyed more boating opportunities in the harbor. Friends rented paddle boats and kayaks, and some signed up for sport fishing. Still others took sailing lessons. This place has it all!

Lest we forget 

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The actual beach at Redondo Beach is one of its greatest assets.

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Miles of pristine sand for beach volleyball, and a warm sunny spot to relax after a plunge in the waves. Did you know Redondo Beach was where Hawaiian George Freeth first introduced surfing to the mainland?

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The city keeps the beaches spotless. When visitors are not sunning, the city is cleaning – and they do a superb job.

There is always something going on 

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Whether it’s sport fishing, boating, getting ready for the Super Bowl Sunday 10K Run, or just relaxing in the sand as you wait for the annual Lobster Festival, Redondo Beach is a true tourist mecca.

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For more information about happenings at Redondo Beach, be sure to check out their website at  http://www.VisitRedondo.com

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We love visiting Redondo Beach and its many attractions, and we think you will too! Plan a vacation that includes this wonderful beach community in southern California – you won’t be sorry.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Vizcaya Is A Great Way To View the Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous

Like the grand estates of England, most of the historic baronial manors of America have succumbed to the times and the tax man. However, the evolution has made these grand houses accessible to those of us who could not otherwise presume to personally visualize their grandeur.

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Such is the circumstance of the Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame, as well as the lesser known, but similarly impressive, Villa Vizcaya in Miami, Florida. The villa is now the spectacular Vizcaya Museum and Gardens operated by Miami-Dade County. It is a “must see” for those who appreciate the richness and elegance of a bygone era of great residential architecture, refined furnishings, and horticultural marvels.

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Surrounded by tropical woods and the Bay of Biscayne, this astonishing palace was envisaged by James Deering – a capitalist who made his fortune at International Harvester – to be an Italian Country Estate that looked and felt like it had been four centuries in the making.

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Mr. Deering was captivated by the extraordinary European splendor of the 15th through early 19th centuries, and spent a great deal of money acquiring period artifacts from all over Europe and Asia. When he built his dream residence in Miami, the rooms were designed around his extensive collection of furnishings, rather than the other way around.

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We had the good fortune to tour and photograph Villa Vizcaya uninterrupted. It was an opportunity to experience the palatial serenity of the estate – as the builder and owner must have experienced just before December 25, 1916 – the day Vizcaya was presented to the world.

The opening celebration

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Gondola Poles west of Stone Barge

Befitting the Renaissance party theme, Mr. Deering arrived at Vizcaya in a vibrant gondola like a Venetian Prince. It was a pleasant sunny Christmas day and Italian music wafted in the air. Dressed in Italian peasant costumes, Deering’s friends gaily danced along a waterfront edged with colorful gondola poles. It must have been a magnificent and colorful display. Some of the gondola poles remain, but the celebrants are long at rest.

The name Vizcaya

No one is exactly sure where Deering came up with the name for his grand house, but it would seem reasonable that he named it after the tiny northern Spanish province of Vizcaya, which happens to be on the Spanish Bay of Biscay.

Finding Vizcaya

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Miami visitors approach this hidden architectural treasure by turning off South Miami Avenue on to a winding driveway through a forest of native trees and brush known as the Rockland Hammock. This spate of dense tropical woods essentially hides the grandeur of Vizcaya from public view.

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At the end of the drive there is a parking lot, and it’s a short walk from the lot to the ticket booth, and on to the entry drive leading to the impressive circular driveway in front of the main house.

Behold the villa

The house is structured around a center courtyard with an entrance loggia and ground level arcades to the left and right decorated with fine pieces of Renaissance furnishings.

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At one time, the courtyard was open to the weather, but today it is protected by a glass roof. Air-conditioning was installed in 1986 to help preserve the many treasures inside the mansion.

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Inside the entrance to the villa, visitors are greeted by a 2nd century marble statue of Bacchus, the god of wine, standing above a Roman marble basin.

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In old European villas, many of the sleeping rooms and the kitchen are located off a gallery on the second floor, and so it is at Vizcaya.

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Deering had his main dining room put on the cooler first floor and away from the kitchen, which was serviced by a dumb-waiter from its traditional second floor setting.

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The breakfast room is next to the kitchen and ably blends walls of ship murals with a dominating influence of colorful Chinese figures and furnishings. There is a sweeping view of the south gardens from windows that can slide back into the walls during pleasant days.

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James Deering’s bedroom is like so many of the other rooms – distinctly different and visually interesting in its French Empire styling.

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The highly ornate ceiling and wall décor of the Rococo Music Room came from a palace in Milano.

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The entire inside of the Vizcaya villa is an exciting cornucopia of Renaissance tapestries, and Rococo and neoclassical furniture of every configuration and design.

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The stimulating living rooms are said to have been planned by Mr. Deering to cultivate conversations among his sophisticated guests.

Vizcaya is one of the few grand homes turned museum that has the innovative furnishings of the original owner – the better to define the man James Deering who wanted a home that looked and felt like a 16th and 17th century Italian estate.

The upkeep of Vizcaya

James Deering resided in Vizcaya for only a few winter months out of the year, but the upkeep of the estate required an extensive year round staff. Up to 18 staff members maintained the main house at Vizcaya, and 26 gardeners cared for the formal gardens. Originally, Vizcaya had 180 acres and included a large lake.

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Today, the entire estate covers about 50 acres, and only a few decaying gondola poles remain in a mangrove swamp where a beautiful lake with lush islands once flourished.

The Grand Barge

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The signature architectural statement of Vizcaya is the amazing Stone Barge to the east of the house.

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The barge functions as a breakwater in the estate’s cove between the boat landing and the lattice topped Tea House.

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View from Tea House to Boat Landing beyond the Stone Barge

Once replete with dense tropical plants and trees – long since vanquished by decades of storms and hurricanes – the stone barge remains a lasting testament to James Deering’s love of the sea.  Deering maintained two yachts at Vizcaya and he wanted to make certain that the water entry to his estate would not be forgotten by his guests. It would certainly be difficult to forget the elaborate stone barge.

The gardens

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Main House from South Garden

The gardens are an oasis between mangroves on the bay-shore to the east and a dense tropical native forest to the west.

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The grounds of Vizcaya were created in the style of famous Italian and French landscapes – a suitable setting to showcase Mr. Deering’s many sculpture treasures.

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Everywhere you look there are wonderful forms and splendid flora, like the impressive 17th century Italian statue of Leda and the Swan.

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Although the aspects are European, many of the garden structures and settings are made from local or materials imported from Cuba, and all the plants were judiciously selected to prosper in the subtropical climate of southern Florida.

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If you go, seek out the Secret Garden on the immediate eastern side of the South Terrace. We found it to be exceptional in its medley of verdant semitropical plants.

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We also enjoyed the unusual grottos guarded by fantastic sculptures of sea deity intricately carved in course coral rock.

A palace out of wilderness

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Main House from Tea House

1,000 workers constructed the forty-room Vizcaya out of a literal jungle. It is all the more incredible that Miami had a population of only 10,000 when the Vizcaya project began.

The end of an era

Jack Deering died in 1925, leaving a cultural legacy of enormous value. Over the ensuing years the family sold off much of the estate’s land in order to maintain the opulent villa and gardens.

In 1945, the family conveyed a large parcel of land to the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine and Mercy Hospital. Finally, in the 1950s, the heirs munificently sold the main house and gardens to Dade County Florida for a minor $1.4 million, and the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was born.

Visit in good company

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan selected Vizcaya as the venue to greet Pope John Paul II. The two men met privately in the Renaissance Hall off the north arcade, and took a private walk through the garden. Later in the day, they addressed the world media from the Garden Mound, a large man made hillock with live oaks and splendid vistas of the estate.

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The Garden Mound is at the far end of the south garden, and where the Garden Room is located.

In 1991, Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, toured Vizcaya and attended a lavish garden party in their honor.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton chose Vizcaya for his First Summit of the Americas meeting. The meeting was attended by 34 national leaders from the Americas and the Caribbean.

Vizcaya has also been the backdrop for many Hollywood films over the years. You might have noticed it in Airport, The Money Pit, Tony Rome, and most recently, Iron Man 3.

So much more to see

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In our article we have only scratched the surface of an amazing visual heritage. There is so much to discover there that is not immediately obvious.

Look *here* for directions and more information about this extraordinary part of American history and innovation in architecture and landscaping. Also, be sure to see the informative video at the top of the article.

Vizcaya is a step across the threshold of time to a golden age when personal luxury in America was a given and attention to detail an expectation.

We heartily recommend a tour of Vizcaya while in Miami.

Happy travels!

Postscript

Vizcaya is like the Filoli House and Gardens in Woodside, California in that neither is on the tip of tourists’ tongues, but both are amazing pieces of early 20th century American history that are very worth a visit when in Miami or San Francisco.

Both estates are designated historic sites of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The gardens are equally beautiful, Vizcaya in French and Italian styles, Filoli in English Renaissance.

Wayne and Judy have written several pieces about Filoli. Read one *here*.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Carmel by the Sea is a Dream Destination

Carmel-by-the-Sea in California, was designed and described by its early settlers as a “Village in a forest.”

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This is a town devoted to the aesthetic arts, and a place where there are few residential sidewalks, street names are painted on vertical wooden posts, and the houses do not bear street numbers.

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Many homes and cottages in Carmel-by-the-Sea are storybook Hansel and Gretel cutesy with sloping roofs, prominent chimneys, and irregular shapes.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, or just plain “Carmel” is a few hours’ drive from our home near San Francisco, so we make it a point to do an annual pilgrimage to the tony-little-town to soak up a few days of sun and mellow sophistication.

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It’s great fun to stroll the streets of Carmel and window shop, and good exercise if you decide to walk down the Ocean Avenue hill to the beach. Fortunately, the temperature in fairytale Carmel is usually like Camelot in May – and that’s important if you are not interested in working up a “glisten” on the return uphill trek from the ocean to downtown.

It is different and everyone loves it

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Carmelians take great pride in the uniqueness of their village, and that includes the uneven sidewalks adorned with twisted tree roots and irregular cracks.

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Because of the risk, it is against the law to wear high-heels in the city limits. However, in deference to California’s political logic, a permit is readily available, free of charge, from City Hall.

Another unusual law was overturned during Clint Eastwood’s one-term stretch as mayor of Carmel in 1986, and that was the ordinance prohibiting the consumption of ice cream on the streets of the village. Free at last – thanks to Dirty Harry.

Carmel is pet friendly

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Dogs have the run of the beach in Carmel, but they behave. It’s as if all the canines know the acceptable limits of frolic in the powdery white sand on the village shore.

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Storefronts provide watering bowls for four-legged residents and guests. Fashionable canines – escorted by their caretakers – readily mix with everyday dogs and their owners at Yappy Hour from 4 to 6 at the legendary Cypress Inn.

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Co-owned by Doris Day, the Cypress Inn is arguably the pet friendliest luxury hotel in America.

Dining in Carmel

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Staci Giovino of The Carmel Food Tour

A very nice way to eat and drink your way through a first-class introduction to Carmel is to contact Staci Giovino of The Carmel Food Tour.

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Staci guided us to and through wine tasting rooms, unique eateries, as well as a lovely cheese fromagerie, and a delicious chocolate shop. Staci did an outstanding job of indulging us with superb selections of comestibles, wines, and sweets. Here are some of the stops on our tour.

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The Cheese Shop in the Carmel Plaza at Ocean and Junipero offers abundant U.S. and international farm and artisan cheeses with an outstanding variety of textures and tastes – each at the peak of development and at the perfect stage to be consumed.

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It makes us wish we could clone this exquisite little cheesery for our very own neighborhood.

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The Casanova Restaurant has the justified reputation of being “Carmel’s Most Romantic Restaurant.” This hidden gem is located on 5th Avenue, between Mission and San Carlos. An old, but lovingly restored house that now bears the trappings of a quaint Belgian farmhouse. Each dining room is like a scene from a play.

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The Van Gogh Room is of special interest because the Casanova owners acquired the authentic dining table from the boarding house where Vincent van Gogh ate his meals while working in Auvers Sur-Oise, France in 1890. Did you know that Van Gogh created 77 paintings between May 1890, and the time of his death in July of the same year? The Auvers Sur-Oise Period is considered by many to be the Master’s finest.

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We sampled some Spinach Gnocchi “Casanova” in Parmesan Creáme Sauce “au gratin” that was off-the-planet – the best we can remember.

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We ate our tasty treat in a room that could have been 200-years in adaption – exquisitely done.

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La Bicyclette Restaurant on Dolores at 7th looks genuinely old country French, and they serve a dynamite pizza lunch that we found entirely memorable and delicious.

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The Mundaka Restaurant on San Carlos between Ocean and 7th features Spanish style Tapas in a Bohemian atmosphere reminiscent of Greenwich Village circa 1960. Very artsy –”cool daddy-o” – and serving the best white sangria we have tasted.

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At the Wrath Vineyard tasting room in the Carmel Plaza at Ocean Avenue and Mission Street we were poured a taste of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah. We found their handcrafted crisp wines to be quite exceptional.

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Caraccioli Cellars tasting room, on Dolores between Ocean and 7th delighted us with a Brut Cuvee that yields a smooth, but exciting finish. Their Brut Rosé sparkling wine has a touch more Pinot Noir than the Brut Cuvee to gain a truly elegant blush with a full fruit flavor. Really, really, excellent sparkling wines. We were sorry to move on, but we will be back.

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Lula’s Chocolate Shop on Mission between Ocean and 7th was our last stop on the tour and came just in time to allay a gnawing chocolate attack.

We sampled the famous Lula Sea Salt Caramels and Nut Clusters loaded with crunchy almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, and pecans – all lovingly dipped in milk or dark chocolate – delectable sweets and treats from recipes that date back to 1945. What a perfect ending to an absolutely delicious day.

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We highly recommend the Carmel Food Tour as an excellent way to familiarize yourself with Carmel history while enjoying the fruit of the grape and foodie pleasures of the village. You walk a little, talk a little, drink a little, eat a little, and start again. It is not a strenuous endeavor.

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Trio Carmel is a specialty Olive Oil & Vinegar Shop

The tour takes about three-hours to cover the 1.5 mile journey through the village’s historic back alleys and gastronomical delights. The Carmel Food Tour website is *here*.

Carmel has upwards of 50 dining venues – we intend to write about all of them, eventually.

Where we stayed

On this particular occasion we lodged at the Hofsas House on San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue. It has the feel of a family owned property, and so it should – owner/manager Carrie Theis proudly declared, “My family has owned and operated the Hofsas House for over 60-years.”

There is an old-world European charm about the place, right down to the Bavarian architecture, and Dutch entry doors in every guestroom.

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The themed art at the House is by Maxine Albro, best known for her 10’x42’ mural on the inside wall of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. That famous fresco depicts agricultural life in California during the Great Depression.

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Although it is called the Hofsas House Hotel, it is difficult for us to internalize this property as a “hotel,” because its character is so much more like a cozy “inn” with 38 distinctly different guestrooms to choose from.

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Our large second-story room featured a “horizon ocean view,” which means you can see the ocean above the treetops. Note: That is as close to an ocean view with waves as you will find in Carmel – there are no hotels on the beach. Near or far, the sunsets from our guestroom window were spectacular.

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The room also had an ample kitchenette had we decided to “eat in.” The complimentary Wi-Fi signal was strong, and the wood burning stove was appreciated during the cool evenings.

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We enjoyed having our Dutch-door open to the fresh air during the day. It just felt, well nice, and it is an unusual amenity.

If you go, ask Carrie about the Hofsas’ Special Offerings. We enjoyed the Champagne and Cheese Pairing presented with engraved keepsake flutes.

Something a bit more unique is their Beach Fire Special, which includes a fire set up on the beach, flowers, s’mores, blanket, flashlight, and a message in the sand – very romantic for that special occasion.

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If you are a golfer, the Hofsas has partnerships with six area golf courses. Many local links have stunning views.

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Every morning there is a continental breakfast with great coffee, local fresh pastries, and fruit – all included in the price of a room – and last, but never least, the Hofsas is pet friendly.

For more information about the Hofsas House visit their website *here*

If you go

Carmel-by-the-Sea is on California Highway 1 about 300 miles north of Los Angeles, and a little over 100 miles south of San Francisco – close to the natural beauty of Big Sur, Pebble Beach, and all the fun activities in Monterey.

There are approximately 45 lodgings, and a total of 1,000 guestrooms in Carmel. Most are within easy walking distance to everything important in the village – like the beach, the downtown establishment of chic shops, and the many heterogeneous restaurants.

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Carmel is a delightful community from every perspective and a nice respite from anyone’s hectic life. We love it.

After you have seen Carmel-by-the-Sea

Just up the road from Carmel in Monterey, you can lose yourself in the fascinating history of the Cannery Row made famous by John Steinbeck. The “Row” is now home to the famous Monterey Aquarium, and just blocks away from the iconic Sardine Factory Restaurant – a great place for lunch or dinner. In future articles we will explore each of these delightful points of interest.

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Planning a big function in the Carmel area? Read our article about the Holman Ranch. It would be hard to surpass this immense and beautiful property for a wedding or other grand event.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Vacationing Like A Celeb At The Sheraton Keauhou Bay, Hawaii

The location of the elegant Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay is steeped in Hawaiian history and legend, and is home to the sociable denizens of the deep – the ever entertaining Manta Rays of Keauhou Bay. 

We touched down at the Kona airport on Hawaii, the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, frequently referred to simply as the “Big Island.”

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The first thing we noticed from the aircraft window was the vast expanse of black volcanic rock that is visible throughout the island landscape. This is the “newest” Hawaiian island, and the volcanic action is evident everywhere.

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We enjoyed the scenes of local village life and the stories told by our shuttle driver during our brief ride to the Sheraton Kona Resort. Our driver Tomas was native born, and like most Hawaiians is justly proud of his state and heritage.

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The entrance to the Sheraton Kona is dramatic with its signature lava rock formation. Stunning views invite your gaze to shimmering water on two sides of the resort.

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The topography is quite different from any other resorts we have written about. The deep blue-ocean and azure-bay are a perfect contrast for the lush green gardens of this exquisite Sheraton property.

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Check-in was a brief formality and we were off to the Deluxe Executive Suite number 2325, our elegant home during our stay on the island. In our opinion, this is the best suite in the resort. Enjoy it if it’s available.

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A view with rooms

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Our first observation upon entering our collection of rooms was the huge outdoor patio we found behind the suite’s floor to ceiling glass doors. Huge is not an exaggeration, this was undoubtedly the largest patio we have had anywhere, and what a view…

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– with Keauhou Bay to the front, and the vast blue Pacific on the left.

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We would have been content to spend our entire visit lounging on the patio, but there is so much more to see in the fusion of energy and elegance at this beautiful resort.

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The rich botanic ensemble on the 22-acre site offers photo opportunities at every turn. We strolled the entire campus and it was all impeccably maintained.

Wedding plans

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The resort’s quaint bayside chapel is a favorite wedding venue on the Big Island, and for good reason – quiet, private, and perfectly situated near both ocean and bay. Looking for a memorable wedding venue? This is it.

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Very near the chapel are the remnants of an ancient Hawaiian village, which was once home to kings and queens. Here there is reverence for the land and culture. Lily Dudoit, the resorts Cultural Director provides a complimentary tour where she talks about the property’s ancient past – don’t miss it.

Captain Cook landed nearby

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Lunch at Kealakekua Bay

We took a boat ride to neighboring Kealakekua Bay, a sacred site to the ancients of Hawaii. The very name means, “Pathway of the Gods.”  In 1779 Captain James Cook sailing on the HMS Resolution arrived on this site to the welcome of what was estimated at 10,000 natives visiting Kealakekua Bay to celebrate a festival to the gods.

By sheer coincidence, Cook sailed into the bay during the festivities, so it was perhaps not so unusual that the Hawaiian celebrants thought him a god and lavished gifts on Cook and his crew. However, within a month, the natives realized that the captain and his men were all too human, and in a dispute over gifts, Cook and four of his men were killed in a skirmish on February 14, 1779.

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Today, a monument stands at the site where Captain James Cook died. The nearby bay is a vibrant marine park well known for its water clarity and abundant sea life.

Eating at the Sheraton Kona

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There are several worthy restaurants at the resort, but our favorite is Rays on the Bay.

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Bite into an appetizer as you begin to relax in congenial company. Rays blends an al fresco ambiance with a world-class dining experience that excites and delights the palate.

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It is a celebration of the region’s produce in a striking setting with panoramic views. Wait for sunset, the open ocean grandly defines the horizon of Rays on the Bay.

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The famous restaurant overlooks Keauhou Bay and features a unique Manta Ray viewing area. To our knowledge, this is the only restaurant in the world that can boast evening viewing of the graceful acrobatics of the gentle giant rays.

The Manta Rays

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After seeing these beautiful creatures – whose wingspan can sometimes exceed 15-feet, we were eager to get in the water to watch their nightly ballet close up. The hotel arranged for us to join Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides aboard their 55’ catamaran, the Hula Kai. We will write about our up close adventure with the manta rays in a future article.

Don’t forget the Luau

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You don’t want to visit Hawaii without partaking in this true Hawaiian feast rich in culture and traditional songs, dances, and chants. The Sheraton offers a weekly Luau Dinner and Show – a bountiful buffet of Kalua Pork, Lomi Salmon, traditional Poi and much more. Take it in, it’s the ticket to the best of all things Hawaiian on the Big Island.

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Featuring a full line of therapeutic massages, specialty massages, facials, body treatments, the Sheraton Kona Spa is an important part of relaxing and rejuvenating at the resort.

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We chose the Lomi Lomi Hawaiian Massage because we wanted to experience the promise of utter relaxation for the body and spirit conveyed in the traditional Hawaiian massage technique of long, rhythmic, and deep kneading strokes that ease muscle tensions. We found the therapy to be just as advertised and most invigorating.

Something for everyone 

Within the resort confines, time and space are often given over to quieter activities like learning the art of Lei making.

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Not everyone has the grace of the locals, but that should not stop the lady guests from trying their aptitude for the hula at the free classes.

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There is also regular Yoga, and aqua Yoga in the resort’s inner pool, and a twice-weekly 2-mile hike to the Lekeleke Hawaiian burial grounds where a famous Hawaiian battle took place many centuries ago.

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Teens are kept gainfully occupied with their own private club called the Club Le‘ale‘a, and there is a 14,000 square-foot wandering pool with one of the largest water slides in Hawaii – special fun for kids of all ages.

Calling all conventioneers

The Sheraton Kona Resort rates a big “Wow,” when it comes to meeting space and conference accommodations. The resort has bragging rights to the largest meeting facility on the Kona Coast – 10,000 square feet. When you add up the available meeting rooms on the property, you have a total of 20,236 square feet of awesome indoor space to hold a memorable event.

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Like an out-of-doors meeting environment? How about 89,000 square feet of rolling landscape overlooking Keauhou Bay and the beautiful Pacific?

We toured all the meeting facilities and were greatly impressed. The hotel even has an event planner’s rewards program.

For the golfers

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The Kona Country Club bordering the resort has two 18-hole courses that are being renovated. They expect to open to the public in late summer of 2014. In the meantime there are many other available links throughout the island.

Venturing outside the resort

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If you decide you would like to reach out beyond the resort via auto, there is a rental car office adjacent to the well-stocked sports outfitter called the Flying Fishlocated on the second floor. However, before you buckle up, inquire about when the next presentation of “Journey around Hawai’i Island” will be held. If you can wait, a resort specialist will save you some time and cover the best places to visit and most popular things to do on Hawaii.

If you go

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The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is one of our recommended “destination” resorts.

With over 500 guest rooms you can choose from a range of bedroom types to suit your dreams and vacation budget.

Because there is so much to enjoy at this property, be sure to thoroughly peruse the resort’s website *here*. additionally, check out this great little video tour provided by the resort.

Luxury in Hawaii

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is a Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide property. We favor and have written about other elegant Starwood properties in the islands. Click on the hotel name to read our story: Royal Hawaiian – Moana Surfrider – Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa.

Beyond the resort, the Big Island has many spectacular attractions and natural wonders. High on the list is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, the black sand beaches, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing. To learn more about the island of Hawaii look at this informative website.

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Aloha, and happy travels!

We flew to the Big Island on Hawaiian Airlines.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

The Naples Bay Resort: Sure to Please the Fussy

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Some luxury hotels like to be considered “destination resorts,” but few actually fit the bill. The elegant Naples Bay Resort in Florida is the exception that proves the rule – it is a self-contained destination of choice for upscale vacationers.

Situated in Naples, on Florida’s Paradise Southwest Gulf Coast, the Naples Bay Resort is an AAA Four Diamond Award winner that embraces an imaginative leisure and vacation lifestyle in a gamesome backdrop that is second to none.

Welcome to the Naples Bay Resort

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We drove our rental car under the grand port-cochere entrance where we were greeted by a wide smiling and nattily uniformed attendant.

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Handing him the keys we headed inside the building where we found the foyer to be the embodiment of our expectations.

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The registration desk was located in a sweeping and tastefully appointed two-story lobby that oozed richness.

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An open air corridor led us to our large (1000 sq ft) one bedroom villa suite that overlooked the marina and featured an expansive (500 sq ft) veranda – great for hosting a party.

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As an added bonus, had we wanted to sponsor a small social event, there was an extensive gourmet kitchen in the suite.

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The suite’s décor was comfortably Tuscan and perfectly consistent with the hotel’s Italian Village motif.

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The resort has both hotel and cottage accommodations. The hotel has 65 suites and 20 king guestrooms. There are 108 elegant two and three bedroom “cottages” that would be better described as villas – that have the look and feel of exclusive private residences.

On site amenities

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The Club at the Naples Bay Resort, has a complex of well-designed swimming pools including a waterfall and meandering lazy river pool – great for tube rafting through the tropical gardens, a children’s pool, and an infinity lap pool.

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If tennis is your game, you will be delighted with the six lighted tennis courts and the pro-shop. Then there’s a huge state of the art fitness and wellness center, a marina with a shopping and dining promenade, and an amazing Euro-style Spa. Phew!

Eating at the resort

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NBR Yacht Club

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The Yacht Club is an on-site restaurant facility that offers a delicious “Breakfast on the Bay.” Complete with a gourmet buffet, and eggs and omelets prepared by a waiting chef who will fill your request while you watch.

Try a lunch at the BlueWater Bar and Grill located poolside and with a menu that is perfect for your mid-day repast.

The resort Concierge will be happy to help with suggestions and reservations at any of the dozens of fine restaurants that are close to the resort, but don’t miss the popular Bonefish Grill located right in the resort hotel.

The marina

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The Naples Bay Resort is the only hotel complex in southwestern Florida with a complete marina facility that provides a fuel dock, pump-out facilities, laundry service, showers, and other conveniences to all visiting boaters.

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The marina has a Ship’s Store and a Captain’s Lounge, and all guests of the marina also have full access to resort amenities.

Rent a boat from the Naples Bay Marina and cruise out to Keewaydin Island. Accessible only by boat the island’s shore indulges the feet with sugary white sand.

The Naples Bay Marina has 97 slips for overnight, seasonal, and annual rental.

Team building and events

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The resort has almost 3,500 square feet of specialized meeting space spread out among four comfortable venues. Each room is distinctly different in appearance, and the board room is stately and perfect for an executive meeting.

Remembering the kids

There is a pool just for children, and adjoining the Fitness Center is a children’s jungle gym complex where the resort provides Kidz Activity programs.

Embrace your Zen

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After our tour of the resort, a Therapeutic Energy Massage at The Spa was just what we needed. This medium intensity massage focuses on the muscles that carry the most stress – for us, that is usually the neck and shoulders. We could feel the tightness melt away under the skilled hands of our therapists. This is 80-minutes of intense rejuvenation. We recommend this particular therapy for all the sore necks out there. 

Poking around Naples

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The Naples Bay Resort fee includes shuttle service to many of the attractions in the area, including shopping, dining, and beaches.

Naples is a quintessential tourist haven – there is fun for everyone in the family.  From miles of white sandy beaches and a picturesque pier, boating galore, shopping, golf, and tours of the primeval Everglades with all the sounds and colors of the jungle.

Let’s all shop

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You need not leave the resort to find a bevy of boutique shops full of everyday treasures; just walk down to the Resort Marina to find the promenade of exclusive shops and noteworthy restaurants.

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However, if your indulgence requires still more, take a short stroll to the famous Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South districts, or visit the Village on Venetian Bay for a vast array of local boutiques and galleries, as well as the chic shops of the likes of Hermes and Tiffany.

Of course if you are more inclined to shop Macy’s sales, your opportunity for that also awaits in accommodating Naples – and if existential funky happens to be your mood, there is always Tin City.

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Nothing quite like Tin City

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Tin City wharf

An unusual sea-themed, nouveau-rickety shopping mecca is within easy walking distance of the resort.

Tin City shops

Tin City

Appropriately named Tin City, this is the place to find local boat charters and tours, amusing Florida theme shops, and some of the best casual waterfront dining in Naples.

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To leisurely scope out the area, consider the Naples Bay Water Shuttle that departs from the Marina at the Naples Bay Resort. The 45-minute route shuttle allows hop-on-hop-off access to eight tourism locations. A small fee is all that is required to provide transportation for the entire day.

Do the Glades

If you are this close, you must take the short drive to the Florida Everglades. Everglades Area Tours offers guided boat and kayak tours deep into Everglades National Park where you can get up close and personal with dolphins, manatees, alligators, and some of the world’s most exquisitely colored birds. There are also extensive hiking and biking trails in the park.

If you go

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The Naples Bay Resort overlooks beautiful Naples Bay and is just 3.5 miles from the Naples Municipal Airport. The new Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers is approximately 30 miles north of the resort.

If you are looking for a first-class venue for your next high-end vacation, a wedding, or a corporate event, you will not be disappointed in the Naples Bay Resort. Check out their website at www.naplesbayresort.com.

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For more information about things to do in and around Naples, Florida, look at http://www.naples-florida.com/active.htm

If you want to investigate additional one-of-a-kind or upscale lodgings reviewed by Wayne and Judy in Florida, click on the titles below.

Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys

Cheeca Resort in the Florida Keys

A Beach Bungalow on Anna Maria Island

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Sherlock Holmes Built a Castle In Connecticut

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We arrived at Gillette’s Castle, in East Haddam, Connecticut, just as the staff had put the final touches on the holiday trimmings.

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We were almost alone in the vast castle, and as we photographed each room, we sensed an aura of serenity and contentment about the place, possibly actuated by some manifestation of gentle ghosts of Christmases Past – and all the wonderful decorations that surrounded us.

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This is the story of how the castle came to be.

William Gillette

gcmt 3William Gillette was a renowned American actor and playwright who portrayed Sherlock Holmes over 1300 times in stage adaptions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery novels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Gillette’s long popularity on stage, and added fame from starring in early silent films, including one called “Sherlock Holmes,” brought him a commensurate fortune and a desire for off-stage seclusion.

At a point in his career, he looked to bucolic Connecticut for his solitude, and in 1914 he commissioned a strange and mysterious 24-room castle to be constructed on a 184-acre bluff overlooking the Connecticut River.

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Gillette personally designed the anomalous castle and many of its interior furnishings. He called his estate “The Seventh Sister,” because the purlieu was the southernmost of the Seven Sisters Hills that stretch along the Connecticut River Valley. The castle was built to Gillette’s exact specifications and completed in 1919.

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There are stunning views of the shimmering waters of the Connecticut River far below – it is exquisitely serene.

Gillette was a celebrity in many spheres of influence. Stage, radio, film, books, and he held at least five US patents – one for the first sophisticated sound effects machine. Much of Gillette’s creative genius is displayed in his castle. Visitors will quickly see that he took a different approach to defining country living for the aristocracy of his time.

Unique castle features

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William Gillette created what is believed to be the first fire sprinkler systems used in a building. A huge white metal tank containing water was installed in a room high above the main floor and could be activated by a valve that would spray water through pipes installed in the ceiling.

Another feature of the castle is its unique indoor surveillance system. Designed more for fun than spying, Gillette arranged mirrors in the Great Hall so he could observe the coming and going of people in the house from his bedroom.

From his bedroom position he could also see reflections of guests trying to open his mysterious liquor cabinet. Gillette took great pleasure in watching frustrated visitors, and then magically appearing to solve the enigma of the locked cabinet – just as Sherlock Holmes would have done.

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There is much to discover here that is not immediately obvious. It is reputed that no nails were used in the construction of Gillette’s Castle – ingenious if true. Beams are held into place with large iron rods, stone is used as an art form as well as an engineering necessity.

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Light switches are made of carved wood, as are door mechanisms and window blocks.

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Each room in the castle is like a character in one of Gillette’s plays. Light streams through the fretted windows of every chamber, illuminating each to an unusual mood.

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One curious mystery is why Gillette used hospital style white metal beds throughout his castle.

Gillette’s Aunt Polly

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William Gillette registered his cruiser-houseboat in the name of “Aunt Polly” in 1905. He added 40-feet to her length, making her 144 feet long, and she was almost 19 feet wide. She weighed 200 tons, and had all the comforts of a luxury yacht for the time.

The story of the Aunt Polly is as significant in Gillette’s life as was his Seventh Sister estate home.

William Gillette was married only once, and his beloved wife Helen died in 1888, just a few years after the nuptials – they had no children.

After Helen’s death, William secluded himself in Thousand Pines, his 500-acre summer estate in Tryon, North Carolina where he resided off-and-on until 1910. At that time in his life he was suffering from an illness some thought was tuberculosis. A local resident he called “Aunt Polly” nursed Gillette back to health, and as one token of his gratitude he named his cherished cruising houseboat after her.

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It was also at Thousand Pines that Gillette showed his skill at wood carving and his admiration for house cats. Henry Zecher, in his book entitled William Gillette, America’s Sherlock Holmes indicates that Gillette had as many as 75 cats living in and around his dwelling on the estate.

The Aunt Polly was moored at the base of the Seventh Sister for the four-year term of the castle’s construction. Gillette enjoyed living aboard the Polly with his favorite cat “Angelina” who shared a nightly dinner at his table.

The Aunt Polly burned at her dock in 1935, but fortunately several furnishings including a piano were saved and moved to the castle where they are currently displayed.

The Seventh Sister Railroad

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The estate had its own railroad and Gillette enjoyed commanding the throttle and touring guests along three-miles of narrow gauge track at speeds up to 20-miles per hour. After Gillette’s death in 1937, the engine and railroad cars were sold.

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Gillette’s “Grand Central Station” is now a picnic area…

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with stone carvings of Gillette’s beloved cats sitting on the roof. Had the railroad been maintained, it would no doubt add greatly to the attraction of the castle, but at the expense of some wonderful hiking trails that replaced the tracks.

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The state of Connecticut acquired the Seventh Sister estate in 1943 and converted it to Gillette Castle State Park.

Gillette’s Castle is a top tourist attraction in Connecticut. The park’s substantial Visitor’s Center was closed during our visit, but we are told that it is an excellent introduction to the castle and grounds – and should not be missed.  For more information about Gillette’s Castle State Park look at their website here.

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A visit into Gillette Castle is a step across the threshold of time to a golden era where personal luxury was a given and attention to architectural detail a watchword. We recommend the experience hardily.

If you go

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The park is located at 67 River Road in East Haddam, Connecticut.

From I-91S:  take Exit 22.  Route 9S, Exit 7, for a bridge crossing of the Connecticut River.  Follow route 82E and park signs. From I-95N or S:  take Exit 69.  Route 9N to Exit 6 or 7.  For the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, use Exit 6.  Follow Route 148 and park signs. The ferry operates spring through fall.

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Note: The famous Goodspeed Opera House is just across the river and less than five miles from the castle.

Happy travels!

Need places to stay while visiting Connecticut? Read these stories and recommendations by Wayne and Judy:

The Mayflower Inn: The best of Connecticut resorts and spas

The Curtis House: Welcoming wayfarers before the American Revolution

Tidewater Inn: A storybook Christmas in Connecticut

Delamar Greenwich Harbor Hotel: By land or sea the place to be

Nehemiah Brainerd House: Enjoy the splendid fall colors

Starbuck Inn: The inns by Kent Falls

Hotel Sierra: A budget travelers’ delight

Inn at Longshore: Historic inn in Westport

Rock Hall: The best B&B along the backroads of northwestern Connecticut

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff – old photos are retakes of pictures on display in the castle.