A Memorable Panama Canal Christmas Cruise Aboard Holland America’s 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.

Planning a wedding?

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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 food and 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.

The restaurant so fits its place that it must have been inspired by Kaua‛i itself.

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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 atmosphere. 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.

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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.

Pacifica: A Spirited Coastal Community South of San Francisco

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Suites for Two 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, the 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 the 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 students in the upper Florida Keys 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, 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/

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.

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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/

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.

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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.

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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/

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