Villa Vizcaya: Don’t Miss This Downton Abbey of the Tropics

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/

Why Everyone Loves Carmel-by-the-Sea

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.

Hofsas amenities

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/

An Extraordinary Vacation at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay

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.

Ho’ola Spa

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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 Fish, located 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/

Cruising With An Inspiration Named Julia

On a recent Panama Canal cruise on the Holland America ms Amsterdam we met a most extraordinary passenger with a remarkable past. Her name is Julia.

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We do not usually write about fellow travelers, but Julia is exceptional for several reasons that stirred our interest and imagination. Julia’s most noteworthy characteristic is that she belongs to a growing number of active seniors who demonstrate the ability to live long and travel – disregarding statistical realities along the way.

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Julia was born in 1919, and she easily makes the case that 95 is the new 75 as she nimbly navigates cruise ship passageways without the help of cane or walker. If you have aspirations of travelling long after retirement, Julia’s story is great encouragement.

A memorable life

Born just after WWI, Julia grew up and lived in London where she married in December, 1939 – just after the start of WWII in Europe. Her husband was a medical doctor involved in the war effort, and Julia – although untrained at the time – became a medical assistant who did suturing and wound control during the dark days of the London Blitz.

Like the survivors of the infamous European camps, Julia is one of the remaining few that can give firsthand adult testimony of the horror of the Nazi bombardment of London for 57 consecutive nights in 1940 and 1941. She still gets teary-eyed when relating poignant tales of the human tragedy and loss of life – which she tells in a crisp British accent and with the riveting clarity of a youthful reporter.

After the war

London was devastated by WWII and many British professionals immigrated to other countries to make a living. Julia and her husband planned to seek their fortune in the United States. Unfortunately, there was a long waiting list to enter the US immediately following the war, so they accepted a medical position in Manitoba, Canada while they waited for approval to enter the United States.

Julia on the Queen Mary

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Their journey to North America began in 1948 when they boarded the original ms Queen Mary in Southampton, England for a voyage to New York City.

After clearing US Customs and Immigration on Ellis Island, Julia and her husband – with two children and a nanny in tow – drove to Canada from New York. They spent eight years in Manitoba before being invited to take up a medical post in the state of Idaho in 1956. They loved living in Idaho.

Julia was widowed in the 1990s, but her and her second husband Don live part of the year in Idaho to this very day.

A love for cruising

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Julia has amassed an amazing 3,000 days (yes, that’s over 8-years) and over 250,000 miles at sea over the last 30-years, many of those days on around the world cruises on Holland America – several on the Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

In her global travels she has visited a remarkable 291 countries, and showed us the documentation to prove it.

Because of her extensive travel, Julia has acquired a keen understanding of the struggles of ordinary people and the less fortunate on our planet. She told us several engrossing stories about meeting strangers that subsequently had an influence on her life.

Back home in California and Idaho, Julia helps those in need, and has been the president of her local American Heart Association, and founder of a non-profit organization dedicated to the comfort of the victims of heart disease.

Looking to the future

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Because their annual world cruise is a predictable event, Julia and Don have created some routine pastimes as they circle the globe on ships. One particular pleasure is their reserved seating at the Sydney Opera House.

As soon as they learn the date their annual ship will arrive in Sydney, they immediately go online to book reservations for the opera. Because of the early status of their cruise bookings (they are already signed-on for the 2015 world cruise on Holland America) they have been able to reserve the same seats at the Sydney opera for the past 20 years.

Cruise Champions

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Julia and Don are extremely outgoing, and great ambassadors for the cruise lines. Julia has lunched with Micky Arison, the past CEO of Carnival Corporation – the parent of many popular cruise companies. She also knows many of the service crews and officers on their ships.

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When we interviewed Captain Fred Everson on the Amsterdam for a future story about our Canal cruise, we mentioned meeting Julia, to which he immediately responded, “Isn’t she the very best?” Indeed she is.

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We left Julia and Don in Ft Lauderdale at the end of our wonderful 17-day Panama Canal cruise – our two new friends were continuing on.

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The ms Amsterdam started its 114-day 2014 Grand World Voyage the next afternoon – with our favorite couple securely on board and looking forward to their adventures. Click on the link to view their itinerary.

Bon Voyage Julia

Happy travels Julia and Don!

Click *here* to read Wayne and Judy’s story about the adventures of the historic Queen Mary now a famous hotel/museum permanently docked in Long Beach, California. 

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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

A Dockside Voyage Aboard the Iconic Queen Mary

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The great ship Queen Mary has been part of Southern California’s treasures since the City of Long Beach acquired her in 1967. Long Beach then spent several million dollars to prepare her for the waiting public. Her grand California debut was on May 8, 1971.

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The Queen Mary is a remarkable floating hotel, complete with 314 comfortable guestrooms and suites – all of which were first class cabins when the mighty Queen sailed the seven seas.

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There are also six fine restaurants and a splendid gallery of shops and boutiques.

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During her days on the North Atlantic, passengers enjoyed an indoor swimming pool.

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Many post-WWII brides came to the US in cabins like these

Shipboard activities now include several interesting tours, and top-notch museum attractions.

Your journey begins

Opening the door to a Queen Mary guestroom is like taking an imaginary step back in time. Some of the original metal fans that cooled passengers before the advent of air-conditioning are still affixed to cabin bulkheads. The old salt-water bath fixtures are still present and decorate the seafaring bathrooms.

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Each guestroom has updated curtains, beds, and linens to complement original portholes, light fixtures, and paneling. All cabin/guestrooms have been meticulously restored to earlier times.

Some of the interior cabin hardware and wooden furnishings confirm their age – and to nostalgia buffs – that adds to the ambiance. Every piece of furniture has a thousand stories hidden in its historic facing – if only it could talk.

Enjoy the tours and museums

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A walk around the ship is testament that the Queen Mary is the world’s largest art deco museum. Her chambers and passageways are lined with examples of 1930′s art and exotic woods – some no longer available on the world market. Best of all, she exudes the unmistakable aura of the historic times in which she lived — when the abundantly rich, and calamitously poor, worked together to forge a new world.

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Our sojourn on the Queen Mary was inspirational, and Mr. Will Kayne, the Queen’s acting Captain and resident historian brought each period of the ship’s history to life as we toured her well preserved interior. Mr. Kayne is a genuine student of the Queen and remembers so many interesting historical details that he could fill captivating volumes. It was a privilege to have him guide us through time aboard the great ship.

The Queen Mary at war

We were fortunate that the Winston Churchill Suite was available for our visit. Sir Winston made three crossings on the Queen during World War II. A reliable source confirmed that Mr. Churchill used his suite’s bathtub – partially filled with sand – as a scaled replica to help plan the D-Day landings with members of the Allied staff. To spend time in the very place where such epic discussions took place is a rare honor indeed.

We asked Mr. Kayne why Winston Churchill did not choose a war ship to cross the Atlantic in those troubled times. “The answer is quite simple.” He went on to explain, “At the time, the Queen Mary was nicknamed the ‘Gray Ghost’ because she was painted completely gray and hard to see, and at 28.5 knots (32.8 mph), she was the fastest ship on the seas.

IMG_3761She was so fast, that she frequently sailed without an escort and out of convoy.”

In general, the Queen played a large part in the outcome of the Second World War. She carried nearly 800,000 troops to the European Theater, and so demoralized the German high command that Adolf Hitler put a price on her head. He would pay the equivalent of $250,000 and award the Iron Cross to the U-boat captain that could find and sink her. Miraculously, she made 72 wartime crossings without an enemy engagement.

After the war, it was business as usual

Cary Grant sailed the Queen Mary

The Queen Mary was the favorite mode of transportation across the Atlantic for the famous, and the rich and powerful for 30 years. She had three levels of service. First, Second, and Third class. Each level of service had distinct amenities and separate gathering rooms. First-class passengers were accorded the most space and luxury. The largest room on the ship was the first-class grand salon, which was three decks high.

Ship’s passengers enjoyed a variety of shops, a two level indoor swimming pool, salon, nursery, library, kennel, and several outdoor deck sports.

A little known story about a great celebrity

One of our favorite post-war stories aboard the Queen involved one lovable and flamboyant Wladziu Valentino Liberace. Liberace was already a famous entertainer in 1956. In that year, he was ticketed in first class and sailed during a difficult New York to Southampton crossing. All on board that particular voyage learned what his friends already knew – Liberace was a warm and generous human being.

The maestro, who was one of the highest paid entertainers in the world during the ’50s, offered to play a free engagement aboard the Queen. The beneficiaries of his kindness were to be the least affluent of his shipmates. He would entertain and play one night, but only for the third-class passengers.

The ship’s crew was ordered to move the grand piano from its prominent position in the first-class parlor to the relatively small and stuffy third-class sitting room. Lee, as he was known to his friends, pulled out all the stops. Everyone present said Liberace’s exalted performance was the highlight of his or her voyage on the Queen Mary. It is reported that all had a grand time – but no one as much as the gracious Liberace himself.

Additional interesting facts and trivia:

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The Queen Mary has a 118-foot beam, and that is too wide for the Panama Canal.

She is 182 feet tall, which is about seven feet higher than Niagara Falls.

The Queen is almost twice the tonnage and 136 feet longer than the ill-fated Titanic.

Her full name is RMS Queen Mary - the RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship.

In July 1943, she carried 15,740 troops – a standing world record for most passengers on a ship’s voyage.

The headline entertainer on the Queen’s final passenger voyage in September 1967 was Johnny Mathis.

The last Master of the Queen Mary was Captain J. Treasure Jones. He eloquently summed up her existence when he said, “She breathed, she had character, she had personality. She was above all else the closest ship ever to be a living being.”

Bob Hope and Hollywood friends

When you are in Southern California be sure to go to see this fascinating attraction. Make reservations and spend the night if you can. Who knows what famous persons may have slept in that very cabin? There are also reputed to be over 600 ghosts that haunt the ship. Perhaps one is awaiting your visit?

If you liked the Queen Mary you will also like Catalina Island.

If you go

The Queen Mary is located at 1126 Queen’s Highway, in Long Beach, CA. 90802.The toll free phone number is (877) 342-0738. Check here for more information about visiting the ship.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy 

Photos © Judy Bayliff. Old B&W photos courtesy of Queen Mary

Exploring the Luxurious Naples Bay Resort

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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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NBR Wellness Center

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.

Shopping night

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.

NBR Water Shuttle

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/

A Connecticut Castle Built by Sherlock Holmes

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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.

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!

For more ideas about what to see and do in central and western Connecticut check out these two websites:

www.visitctriver.com and www.visitfairfieldcountyct.com

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.

Classic San Francisco Holiday Elegance at the Embarcadero Hyatt Regency

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San Francisco is always a great place to spend any holiday. Among the city’s legendary hotels, the Hyatt Regency stands out for spirited yuletide activities. Here’s a little history and some good reasons to plan a stay at this famous hotel during this merriest of seasons. 

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The hotel is just steps from the iconic Ferry Building on San Francisco Bay that miraculously survived the Great Earthquake of 1906. The Hyatt Regency opened at the foot of Market Street in 1973, and is itself a survivor of a great quake – the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that destroyed the nearby Embarcadero Freeway that separated the hotel from the waterfront for almost two decades.

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When the double-deck Embarcadero Freeway was removed in 1991 it opened up the Hyatt to the bay. The San Francisco Hyatt Regency, which was hailed as a marvel in architectural design in the 1970s, is now the centerpiece luxury hotel to an amazing revitalization of the waterfront.

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We were at the grand opening of the Hyatt Regency back in 1973. It was then, and still is today, a fusion of energy and elegance. It remains a breathtaking experience to simply stand in the towering innovative lobby – the largest according to the Guinness Book of World Records – and watch the glass missile like elevators zip between floors.

The Hyatt Regency goes to the movies

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The Hyatt Regency San Francisco offers its own special atmosphere. The famous lobby “starred” as the atrium in the fictitious Glass Tower Building, in the movie the “The Towering Inferno,” and was the cause of Mel Brooks’s acrophobic experience in “High Anxiety.” The hilarious scene provided the audience an appreciation for the angst of looking straight down 17 stories inside a building.

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Several other film makers have used the famous atrium, and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco is still in demand by movie makers interested in capturing the lobby’s visual enormity and inimitable vibe. 

Deck the Halls

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On November 22nd, the Hyatt will put on its traditional holiday dress and light its magnificent 30-foot Christmas tree. That date coincides with the celebration of outdoor lights that will illuminate the four buildings of the nearby Embarcadero Center.

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The Center’s more than 70 elegant shops and 31 restaurants are already preparing to tantalize throngs of holiday revelers.

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Outside, the Holiday Ice Skating Rink will magically reappear like Santa for its annual visit.

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Inside, the Hyatt Regency will feature 300,000 cascading lights in the atrium lobby along with its traditional Snow Village chock full of motion oriented toy-joys for every age.

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It will also snow inside the Hyatt Regency all through the holiday season. Yup, you read it here.

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Guests and visitors can look forward to Holiday Happy Hour(s) for the thirsty in the lobby level Eclipse Lounge, and a Breakfast with Santa at the hotel’s Eclipse Restaurant. There’s too much planned activity to report it all in this short story, so check with the hotel for a complete list of holiday activities.

Something new this year

The holiday light displays from the entire Embarcadero complex will provide an enticing visual segue to the fantastic light show on the nearby and new San Francisco Bay Bridge – don’t miss it.

Getting around San Francisco during the holidays

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The Hyatt has enviable access to all Bay Area public transportation, including MUNI, BART, bay ferries and San Francisco’s historic streetcars. The California Street Cable Car line stop is almost on property, and is well known to be a location where riders can gain easy access to the popular streetcars.

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If you are driving to the city, The Hyatt Regency is very close to generous parking facilities in the four Embarcadero Buildings.

Rooms at the Hyatt 

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Although the San Francisco Hyatt Regency celebrates 40-years in 2013, she is still the grand dame of Market Street and one of the finest luxury hotels in the City.

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Our comfortable suite at the Hyatt was furnished with trend-setting contemporary décor,

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and had a veranda with stunning views of the Ferry Building and bay beyond.

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We also had an excellent perspective of the Transamerica Pyramid and the annual ice skating rink in Justin Herman Plaza.

The Regency Club Lounge

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When you make reservations, be sure to ask about the top-floor Regency Club Lounge.

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Once a revolving restaurant with 360 degree views of the city and bay, the Lounge is now private space reserved for select guests of the hotel.

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While we were there, the Club Lounge was offering a buffet of delicious victuals, and an assortment of wines and beverages – a nice way to start the evening. Lounge guests also enjoy hors d’oeuvres, nibbles, and an upscale continental breakfast.

A New Year’s Eve place of distinction

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The Regency Club Lounge is a terrific spot from which to watch San Francisco’s grand New Year’s Eve Fireworks celebration. The Club is an elegant and warm alternative to the crowded streets, and this year the hotel is offering a New Year’s Eve Regency Club Package.

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The special offer includes a luxury room in one of the hotel’s top floors plus private access to the panoramic Regency Club Lounge. Additionally, each guest will receive a complimentary cocktail, a champagne toast at midnight, a scrumptious appetizer and dessert buffet, and even free valet parking. Now that’s the way to spend New Year’s Eve – safe and snug in the San Francisco Hyatt Regency.

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For more information about holiday festivities or to make reservations at the Hyatt Regency go to their website at www.sanfranciscoregency.hyatt.com

Happy holidays and happy travels.

You might also like these other San Francisco stories by Wayne and Judy:

Luxury cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

Three great reasons to book your next cruise out of the Port of San Francisco

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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

Sailing the Coast of Maine Aboard the Mighty Schooner Heritage

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The wind roars through the sails and the sea sweeps the decks and all would be mariners get the thrill of a lifetime racing the waves in the open ocean.  For a truly unique vacation that the entire family will enjoy – try a tall ship adventure.

Boarding any great sailing ship is like taking a giant step back in time. Life’s tempo changes the moment you set foot on the weathered deck and hear the sheets lightly tapping high in the rigging.

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Serenity replaces stress as you listen to the quiet creaking of the wooden giant quiescent in a slightly undulating sea – but hoist the sails up the masts and point her into the wind, and that serenity becomes instant exhilaration as the mighty ship moves forward and the bow begins to plunge into the oncoming ocean.

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A hearty morning coffee as Heritage gets underway

That unique experience was familiar to countless sailors when the tall ships ruled the seven seas – and now it can be yours to share by signing on for a cruise aboard one of Maine’s historic coastal schooners.

The idea for our trip started at a breakfast discussion with friends at a nearby seaside restaurant. We all agreed that taking a holiday aboard a cruising schooner would be great fun. We had heard of the Maine Windjammer Association, and found their website at www.sailmainecoast.com.

After some investigation, we decided a one-week cruise on the “Heritage,” one of the ships in the Windjammer Association’s 10-schooner fleet, would make a perfect holiday.

A few weeks later, we flew to PortlandMaine and hired a car for the two-hour drive to Rockland, the home port for the Heritage. We arrived on Sunday evening, just in time to go aboard. Ready for our six-day sea adventure, we grabbed our gear and carefully walked down the aluminum gangway to the waiting schooner. Captain Doug greeted us, and told us where to stow our gear.

Accommodations aboard a cruising schooner

After a brief discussion with Captain Doug, we were invited to follow a crew member below to see our quarters. We held fast to a shiny brass handrail and descending 15 steep and narrow steps to the cabin deck.

The Heritage has space for 30 passengers, and ample crew. She is an authentic coastal schooner built with the passenger, rather than cargo in mind. Consequently, she is on the high end of the cruising schooner ‘comfort’ scale.

Galley helpers welcome

Galley helpers welcome

Returning topside, Captain Doug oriented the entire complement of guests on the ship’s safety features, the location of the three passenger heads (toilets), and the site of the ship’s single shower room and cozy galley/dining room with its wood burning stove.

An interview with the two captains

Amiable Captains Linda and Doug Lee

Amiable Captains Linda and Doug Lee

The Heritage is the brainchild of the two Captains Doug Lee and Linda Lee. Already seasoned masters while in their 20′s, the young seagoing couple decided to build their own large cruising schooner from the keel up. It took one year to plan, and four years to construct their dream.

Launched with significant fanfare on April 16, 1983 at the historic North End Shipyard in Rockland, Maine, the 95 foot, 165-ton Heritage is now the second largest coastal schooner in the Maine Windjammer Fleet.

Clowning with Captain Doug

Clowning with Captain Doug

The Lees’ have been sailing the coast of New England for over 30 years. They are a virtual treasure store of nautical history and marine lore. They are “sailing legends,” and with their heavy accents, never fail to entertain their guests with whimsical New England jokes, and interesting sea stories.

More about the Heritage 

Small round skylights installed in the main deck floor just above each guest cabin provides light in the daytime. There are small electric lights for night reading. Converters are available for charging shavers, digital cameras and the like.

Cozy Bunks

Several cabins have bunk beds, others a small double bed. Two cabins have private toilet facilities.

There is enough head-room to stand upright in all the guest quarters, and each cabin has a small hot and cold water sink, and just enough room to store gear for a week of sailing. There are no TV’s aboard, so it is a good idea to pack a good book or two.

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These guests are charting a course for the day’s sail

A roving, a roving, and a roving we will go 

We sailed with the tide early Monday morning. To get into the spirit of the voyage, the passengers are encouraged to participate in the first hoisting of the mains’l.

Guests Helping with Mainsail

Rope in hand, the crew leads in the seagoing pulling chant “…way haul away, way haul away together, way haul away, way haul away Joe.” It’s a very big mainsail, and before long everyone has caught on to the rhythm, and is heaving-ho and singing the melodic refrain as the huge gaff works its way up the mast.

By the end of the first day, the crew makes certain that you have a working knowledge of the nomenclature of the various parts of the ship. From that point on, the crew and the turn-of-the-20th century gas-powered donkey engine took over the daily tasks of lifting the anchor and hoisting the sails.

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However, any passengers wanting to experience the daily rigors of able-bodied seamen are allowed to continue to help the deckhands and galley crew. Surprisingly, many continued to volunteer for the work.

Sailing the islands of Maine

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The ports of call for each cruise are different depending on the prevailing winds and weather – and what events may be taking place along the coast of Maine. Most weekly cruises cover approximately 125 nautical miles, and all sailing is done in daylight hours.

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There are some 3,000 rocky islands off the coast of Maine, and each night the ship is comfortably anchored in a quiet cove near some remote spruce-capped granite island, or in a charming harbor near a seaside village or town.

Making ready to go ashore and explore an island

Making ready to go ashore and explore an island

Access to the islands and ports is always available by ship’s skiff and Captain Doug’s personal 12-foot sailboat that has been in his family for 40 years.

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There are photo opportunities at every turn of the helm. The islands are rich in color, and the sunsets are spectacular. Lighthouses glisten, and great birds and sea creatures are visible throughout the day.

All hail the queen

Heritage in Boothbay

We were fortunate to book passage for the week that Maine celebrated its “Windjammer Days” in Boothbay Harbor. Several hundred small boats jammed the harbor as their occupants came to marvel over the beauty of the many tall ships participating in the annual festivities.

The Heritage, moving into the congested port under billowing sails, was the grand guest, and the high point of the final day. Ship’s horns and blaring whistles welcomed her like royalty. Just as pretty as you please, and without the benefit of power or pilot boat, Captain Doug sailed the mighty schooner into the bustling harbor.

The crowd cheers the arrival of the Heritage in Boothbay Harbor

The crowd cheers the arrival of the Heritage in Boothbay Harbor

As the colossal Heritage came to rest, the crowd roared its approval and appreciation of the captain’s amazing display of seamanship in piloting the mighty ship to her place of honor.

A unique vacation

A windjammer cruise is much akin to camping with the addition of breathtaking sea views. ‘Luxury’ is not in the wind jamming ‘glossary of terms’. However, there is ample shelter, and the food is good and plentiful. Meals are included and are greatly enhanced by homemade bread, and cookies fresh from the wood burning stove.

Weather permitting, many meals are served buffet style on deck even while under sail – and sometimes enjoyed at a noticeable list to starboard or port.

The lobster bake presented by the crew of Heritage

The lobster bake presented by the crew of Heritage

The gastronomical highlight of every cruise is the “lobster bake.” This is an all you can eat lobster and corn-on-the-cob extravaganza prepared by the crew on the beach of one of the islands.

You could get hooked

Relaxing on the foredeck of the Heritage at sea

Relaxing on the foredeck of the Heritage

Doug and Linda boast that over 60% of their annual passengers are returning guests. Out of the 19 passengers on our voyage, only four of us had not previously sailed on the Heritage. In fact, several couples had been aboard for more than 10 cruises. Our fellow guests ranged in age from their mid-30′s, to one couple in their early 80′s.

Who should go?

Vacationers seeking a real-life adventure; sailors of small boats who love the tall ships and are keen to hear the howl of the wind in the gigantic sails – and ordinary landlubbers who are ready for a week full of fun and the occasional thrill of a deck awash in salty brine.

The two captains show how it is done

The two captains show how it is done

If you are reasonably fit, and want a vacation that is truly out of the ordinary, a windjammer cruise is worth considering. It is like no other vacation on earth – or sea for that matter.

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For more information look to the Heritage website at http://www.schoonerheritage.com

If you go

Rockland Headlight

Rockland Headlight

Rockland, Maine is home to the famous lighthouse and where you board the Heritage. It is a 78-mile drive along scenic Highway 1 from the Portland Airport.

Happy travels!

If you would like to read other nautical stories by Wayne and Judy click on the links below:

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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

The California Gold Country is Bustling with Legends and Stories

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The Gold Country of California provides tourists with a wealth of vacation opportunities. Here’s another segment of our adventures in this fascinating part of America.

Our El Dorado experience

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During our last visit to the Gold Country, we were fortunate to attend a special dinner at the historic Sportsman’s Hall Restaurant in woodsy Pollock PinesCalifornia – home and headquarters of the National Pony Express Association.

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El Dorado Rose Sharon McDavid and JIm Swigard of the Pony Express Association

At the dinner we were in the elegant company of the El Dorado Rose and some of her court, along with the Director of Tourism for El Dorado County, and two El Dorado County Supervisors. They were all excellent ambassadors for El Dorado County, and great people with which to share a wagon.

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Karen Klemic of the USDA and County Supervisor Ray Nutting were our terrific guides

The wagon ride

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Our day included a guided tour and transportation to dinner via a vintage horse-drawn wagon that clopped along the celebrated Lincoln Highway and the Pony Express Trail on route to the landmark Sportsman’s Hall.

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Heading for the site of the Bullion Bend Stage Coach Robbery of 1864

The congenial District Archaeologist of the USDA, Karin Klemic provided captivating facts about the great Eldorado National Forest that surrounded us. This densely wooded park is a destination that every wilderness loving family should have on its future vacation calendar.

The Sportsman’s Hall Restaurant

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This celebrated restaurant is a showplace of Pony Express paraphernalia – and was the main Home Station for the Pony Express in California back in 1880.

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It was also an important stagecoach station for food and refreshments along what is today’s California Highway 50 and the old Pony Express Trail.

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The feature speaker at our dinner was the very impressive and entertaining president of the National Pony Express Association, Mr. James Swigart. After Mr. Swigart’s enthusiastic talk, the audience was ready to saddle up, and ride like the wind in the next annual Pony Express Re-Ride from Missouri to California.

About the Pony Express

Whatever the level of knowledge about the history of the United States – one legend of the Old West stands out and seems to have captured the imagination of every American child – the Pony Express.

The Pony Express was the first expedited mail service from St. Joseph on the Missouri River to Sacramento and the Pacific Coast. Before the Express, mail took over a month by boat, and 24 days by overland stagecoaches between St. Joe and Sacramento. The Pony Express did it in an amazing 10 days.

The daring adventures of the Pony Express riders are the stuff that cowboy dreams are made of. Whether outriding hostile Indians, besting bandits and raging storms, or suffering the torturous heat of the Western desert – these couriers were heroes one and all.

The riders of the Pony Express

The Pony Express recruited young outdoor types (as young as 14) that were slight in weight and understood horses. They preferred riders who were morally sound and God fearing. It is an interesting fact that each rider who signed up for the service was issued a leather-bound bible. Only a dozen of the bibles are known to still exist – one sold in 2007 for just under $39,000.

No saddle bags

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We learned that the Pony Express never used saddle bags to carry the mail. Such bags were too heavy – and difficult to recover and secure from one steed to another in the short time allowed the rider to switch horses. Instead the mail and letters were secured inside four locked pouches stitched onto a “mochila,” which was a lightweight soft leather cover that fit directly over a saddle like a blanket.

At one of the more than 150 home or relay stations, the rider recovered the mochila from his exhausted horse and threw it over the saddle of a waiting fresh mount. The rider then quickly mounted the new horse and sat directly on the mochila thereby assuring the mail was secure and protected for the next leg of the rugged journey.

Hard work in the wilderness

Pony Express couriers rode about 75 miles per day before being relieved and changed horses every 12 miles or so. The route from St. Joseph to Sacramento crossed the states of MissouriKansasNebraskaColorado, WyomingUtahNevada, and California. The route was about 2000 miles long and took 10-days of constant and hard riding. There were approximately 30 riders in the saddle on each trip and from each direction. The Pony Express had a stable of 500 horses, and 500 employees, including station men and some 90 riders.

Short lived

Because the Pony Express has been so indelibly branded in the American psyche for so long a time, it is hard to grasp that the renowned service lasted just one-year and seven-months. It was summarily replaced by the transcontinental telegraph, but not before incubating legends like Buffalo Bill Cody, who at age 16 signed on to ride one of the most dangerous stretches of trail in the Wyoming Territory. Buffalo Bill later re-enacted a Pony Express Relay in each of his worldly famous Wild West Shows of the 1880s through the early 1900s.

The first re-ride of the Pony Express took place in 1923, and there have been many since. The Pony Express has been an enduring symbol of America’s strength and courage, individual heroism, and unfaltering work ethic for over 150 years. If you would like more information about this fascinating icon of the Old West look at http://www.xphomestation.com.

Last call to service

On April 9, 1983 there was a tremendous landslide along California’s American River Canyon. Heavy rocks completely covered Highway 50, the vital link between Sacramento, South Lake Tahoe, and all the small mountain communities between. Postal delivery was stopped by the slide – and April 15th (tax day) was fast approaching.

In less than 48-hours the National Pony Express Association was contracted by the U.S. Postal Service to carry the mail by horse around a 115-mile detour. Some 62 riders participated in the great “Slide Ride” of 1983. They carried more than 60,000 pieces of mail in the six-weeks that the Pony Express was activated. Each piece of mail was postmarked to commemorate the unusual event.

Pony Express Letter 1983

Although not from the great Slide Ride, we were honored to be the recipients of a commemorative letter from the national ride of 1983 (shown above).

If you go

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There is so much to do and see in the Gold Country and along U.S. Route 50.

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Display in Hangtown (aka Placerville, California)

History abounds in the wild-west gold mining towns, parks, museums, and forests.

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Preparing to enter the Gold Bug Mine

There’s gold panning, outdoor events, white water rafting, shopping, fishing and hiking galore. Known for delicious wines and unique eateries, this is a bountiful part of America that is only a few-hour’s drive from bustling San Francisco. We recommend it highly.

For more information about what the area has to offer look no further than the informative website at www.visit-eldorado.com

Happy travels!

If you like this article by Wayne and Judy look below for two of their other stories about the California Gold Country and their suggestions of what to do and where to stay when you visit.

Discovering a luxurious hideaway in the California Gold Country

A budget friendly excursion to the California Gold Country

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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

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