A Dockside Voyage Aboard the Iconic Queen Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your journey begins

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

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

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

Enjoy the tours and museums

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

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

The Queen Mary at war

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

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

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

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

After the war, it was business as usual

Cary Grant sailed the Queen Mary

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

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

A little known story about a great celebrity

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

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

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

Additional interesting facts and trivia:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Hope and Hollywood friends

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

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

If you go

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

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy 

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

Exploring the Luxurious Naples Bay Resort

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

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

Welcome to the Naples Bay Resort 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On site amenities

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

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NBR Wellness Center

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

Eating at the resort

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NBR Yacht Club

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

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

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

The marina

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

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

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

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

Team building and events

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

Remembering the kids

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

Embrace your Zen

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

Poking around Naples

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

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

Let’s all shop

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

Shopping night

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

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

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Nothing quite like Tin City

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Tin City wharf

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

Tin City shops

Tin City

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

NBR Water Shuttle

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

Do the Glades

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

If you go

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

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

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

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

Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys

Cheeca Resort in the Florida Keys

A Beach Bungalow on Anna Maria Island

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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

A Connecticut Castle Built by Sherlock Holmes

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

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

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

William Gillette

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castle features 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gillette’s Aunt Polly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Seventh Sister Railroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you go

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

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

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

Happy travels!

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

www.visitctriver.com and www.visitfairfieldcountyct.com

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

The Mayflower Inn: The best of Connecticut resorts and spas

The Curtis House: Welcoming wayfarers before the American Revolution

Tidewater Inn: A storybook Christmas in Connecticut

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

Nehemiah Brainerd House: Enjoy the splendid fall colors

Starbuck Inn: The inns by Kent Falls

Hotel Sierra: A budget travelers’ delight

Inn at Longshore: Historic inn in Westport

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

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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

Classic San Francisco Holiday Elegance at the Embarcadero Hyatt Regency

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

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

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

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

The Hyatt Regency goes to the movies

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

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

Deck the Halls

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something new this year

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

Getting around San Francisco during the holidays

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

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

Rooms at the Hyatt 

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

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

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

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

The Regency Club Lounge

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

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

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

A New Year’s Eve place of distinction

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

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

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

Happy holidays and happy travels.

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

Luxury cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

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

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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

Sailing the Coast of Maine Aboard the Mighty Schooner Heritage

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

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

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

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A hearty morning coffee as Heritage gets underway

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

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

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

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

Accommodations aboard a cruising schooner

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

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

Galley helpers welcome

Galley helpers welcome

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

An interview with the two captains

Amiable Captains Linda and Doug Lee

Amiable Captains Linda and Doug Lee

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

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

Clowning with Captain Doug

Clowning with Captain Doug

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

More about the Heritage 

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

Cozy Bunks

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

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

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

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

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

Guests Helping with Mainsail

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

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

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

Sailing the islands of Maine

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

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

Making ready to go ashore and explore an island

Making ready to go ashore and explore an island

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

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

All hail the queen

Heritage in Boothbay

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

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

The crowd cheers the arrival of the Heritage in Boothbay Harbor

The crowd cheers the arrival of the Heritage in Boothbay Harbor

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

A unique vacation

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

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

The lobster bake presented by the crew of Heritage

The lobster bake presented by the crew of Heritage

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

You could get hooked

Relaxing on the foredeck of the Heritage at sea

Relaxing on the foredeck of the Heritage

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

Who should go?

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

The two captains show how it is done

The two captains show how it is done

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

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

If you go

Rockland Headlight

Rockland Headlight

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

Happy travels!

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

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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

The California Gold Country is Bustling with Legends and Stories

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

Our El Dorado experience

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

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

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

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

The wagon ride

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

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

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

The Sportsman’s Hall Restaurant

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

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

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

About the Pony Express

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

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

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

The riders of the Pony Express

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

No saddle bags

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

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

Hard work in the wilderness

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

Short lived

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

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

Last call to service

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

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

Pony Express Letter 1983

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

If you go

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

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Display in Hangtown (aka Placerville, California)

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

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Preparing to enter the Gold Bug Mine

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

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

Happy travels!

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

Discovering a luxurious hideaway in the California Gold Country

A budget friendly excursion to the California Gold Country

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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

Cheeca Lodge and Spa: A Tropical Superstar Resort in the Florida Keys

The Cheeca Lodge and Spa has welcomed guests to the sunny isle of Islamorada in the Florida Keys since 1946. Through the years, it has earned a reputation as a world-class oceanfront resort with breathtaking views and extraordinary luxury amenities and service. Here’s what we discovered.

We were about one hour and twenty minutes south of Miami on the Overseas Highway when we spotted the inconspicuous signage for Cheeca Lodge at Mile Marker 82. The modest highway introduction made us wonder if Cheeca Lodge would live up to the stellar reputation on which we based our reservation. Our answer was waiting at the end of a long driveway in the form of the front entrance to Cheeca, and the blue Atlantic beyond.

This was the Florida Keys, and we should have taken our cue from an earlier experience with the modest highway frontage for the luxurious Little Palm Island Resort. There are many elegant surprises behind the lush tropical vegetation that lines the busy main thoroughfare in the Keys. Cheeca Lodge was no exception.

Luxury awaits on Islamorada

Before we could unlatch our seatbelts, a pair of smiling attendants were opening our auto doors. We were ushered into a breezy lobby area where a waiting receptionist offered us each a chair.

Check-in was over in minutes and we were on our way to 110, our spectacularly furnished West Indies style tropical suite that was front and center to the most colorful ocean you can imagine.

Guestroom 110 had warm mahogany furniture, and floor to ceiling glass walls that overlooked the pristine beach and swaying palms.

We turned on the ceiling fan, drew back the glass doors and nestled into the deck chairs on our private lanai. As we took our first deep breaths of relaxation, we simultaneously noticed the open-air spa tub – complete with privacy curtains.  What a marvelous innovation.

We bounced on the bed – it was perfect. There was a giant plasma-screen TV, wireless internet access, and the modern bathroom boasted an ocean-view glassed-in rain shower – yet another superb amenity.

This is a perfect vacation setup for a stay of any duration.

Look around

Management had arranged a tour for us, and there was so much to see. From six tennis courts, to waterfall pools, a snorkeling lagoon, a nine-hole pitch-and-putt golf course, complete fitness center, an adult lap-pool with private cabanas, and an iconic wooden fishing pier.

All beautifully laid-out in a calibrated strategy to produce a comfortably luxurious oasis in a spectacular 27-acre ocean-front setting with lush tropical gardens.

Cheeca captures the charm of old Florida in a trendsetter setting

The resort also provides all the equipment necessary for total vacation immersion. There are sea kayaks, fishing rods, bicycles, shade cabanas for your beach chair, etc., etc.

Famous Islamorada

All fishermen know that Islamorada is the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.” It deserves that famous tag because of the wide variety of angling options. Pursue the elusive Bonefish on the flats, or the mighty Tarpon on light tackle – it’s all there. Care for something a little bigger? The Sailfish in the deep waters off Islamorada’s islands are waiting for your challenge.

One of the first famous people to stay at the early resort was President Harry Truman. Other celebrities that have slept here and fished the abundant waters off Cheeca are Edward R. Murrow, Jack Parr, Paul Newman, Ted Williams, Jack Nicklaus, and George H.W. Bush, to name just a few.

After the tour

We took a stroll on the resort’s trademark wooden fishing pier. Followed by several hungry pelicans, we wished we had some fishy treats we could toss to them.

The Pioneer Cemetery

After the pier walk we spotted what appeared to be an old cemetery not far from the water’s edge – an odd sighting in a luxury resort. The picket fenced patch turned out to be the Pioneer Cemetery, the final resting place for Islamorada colonizers of the late 19th century.

The old cemetery was once bordered by a small schoolhouse and church that were destroyed during the big hurricane of 1935, but some tombstones and a statue of an angel survived the storm – enough relics to keep the old cemetery a worthwhile curiosity on the outskirts of this famous resort.

Just for kids

Our wandering eventually took us to Camp Cheeca, a wonderful supervised activity area for the kiddies between five and twelve years of age.

Kids get to play in the camp hut, explore and discover beach treasures, go fishing on the old pier, and splash about in the pool. A great experience for the children, and a much appreciated break for parents.

Just for adults

They were all occupied during our visit, so we couldn’t photograph the interiors, but Cheeca has a number of couples-only Beachfront Bungalows. These private bungalows have fashionable island décor, vaulted ceilings, and intimate balconies with a chaise lounge built for two.

Food at Cheeca

We were hungry after our meandering. Cheeca has three restaurants and two lounges to satisfy any guest’s desire for pub-grub or a gourmet feast fit for the most discerning foodie’s palate.

Light fare at the Tiki Bar on the sand was just what we wanted – not too much – so we would have an appetite for the main event at the Atlantics Edge Restaurant after sunset.

Fresh fish extraordinaire

The menus at Cheeca are designed to reflect the location and the relaxed, but elegant atmosphere at the resort. We chose our dinner from a lavish medley of delicacies from the sea. We started with Cheeca Conch Chowder featuring savory tender Conch with succulent Corn in a savory broth.

We skipped the salad and went directly to the sea once again for our main courses of Baked Halibut with Beluga Lentils, Sautéed Squash, Herb Spaetzle, and Caviar Beurre Blanc.

Our other selection was Guava Glazed Mahi with Coconut Herb Rice, Tempura Baby Bok Choy, drizzled with a delicious Coconut Curry Sauce. Both these principal dishes were outstanding.

Sweets in the tropics

Hummingbird Cake is Cheeca’s Spice Cake with Bananas, Pineapple, and Pecans – all well frosted with a delicious Cream Cheese Icing. The presentation was too artistic to disrupt early in the enjoyment – so we waited to perform our magic until we were down to our last few bites of cake – then we made the Chocolate and Honey Apricot Drops completely disappear.

The Cheeca Spa

The Spa has seven treatment rooms and a fully equipped fitness room – all surrounded by tropical landscaped gardens, shimmering pools, and cascading waterfalls. We indulged in a delicious Sea Breeze Massage, an oceanside deep kneading under a palm covered hut where we were lulled by the rhythm of waves softly touching the sand and seagulls effortlessly soaring above. This is serene isolation and rejuvenation – Cheeca style.

The unusual name

In case you are wondering about the origin of the resort’s odd name of “Cheeca,” here’s the scoop. The Twitchell family owned the property in the 1960’s. The Twitchell’s daughter Cynthia was an heiress to the A&P grocery chain fortune and had a great influence on the resort. Cynthia had a nickname of “Chee.” Chee married Carl – and there you have it!

If you go

The resort is located at 81801 Overseas Highway, Mile Marker 82, Oceanside, Islamorada, FL 33036

It’s best to make reservations to avoid disappointment. Cheeca is sought after for weddings and corporate affairs as well as romantic and family vacations. You can get all the information you need from their website at www.cheeca.com

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

Happy travels!

Here are two more articles about elegant Florida properties by Wayne and Judy:

A Beachy Keen Hideaway on Florida’s Gulf Coast

Relaxing in Luxury on Little Palm Island

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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

Holman Ranch and Vineyard: Early California Charm for Memorable Occasions

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The Holman Guest Ranch in Carmel Valley, California, dates back to 1928 and was originally on 1500 acres of rolling hills and indelible vistas.

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Through the years, the ranch had several owners and has evolved into a prestigious venue for special events. Its current 400 acres of natural grandeur is more than ample to provide space and satisfaction for all that visit.

The history

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In the early days of the ranch it was a privileged enclave for the rich and famous who hunted the abundant small game, birds, deer, and the infamous wild boar of California.

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If you have not seen one of these beauties up close, you can’t appreciate their fierce appearance and disposition. Purportedly, they are a tasty treat when grilled over an outdoor fire. Small groups of these wild pigs still roam the hills and forests of the ranch and are hunted by archers.

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During the Golden Years of Hollywood, the ranch was frequented by movie moguls and actors.

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Charlie Chaplin is said to have practiced new routines in the building which was once a stable, then a theater, and now the Charlie Chaplin Game Room.

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The ranch walls are full of pictures of Hollywood luminaries such as Theta BaraClark GableGene AutryVincent Price, and William Holden to name a few.

Not your ordinary resort

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The Holman Ranch is not a resort in the usual sense of the word – instead, it is an exclusive event destination where guests rent out the entire facility for multi-day affairs or single-day off-site occasions. The ranch ensures intimacy by hosting only one event at a time.

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This unique hospitality model affords those that engage the ranch a feeling of privacy and stewardship of an authentic Spanish Colonial 18th century stone-walled hacienda – with oodles of jaunty western furnishings.

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It comes complete with ten ranch-style guest rooms,

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an inner Spanish courtyard with fountain,

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an executive board room,

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grand parlor,

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and even a quiet chapel.

Modern comfort with old-world ambiance

We found that all the ranch’s facilities are impeccably maintained and have modern amenities like flat screen TVs, Wi-Fi, and state-of-the-art audio visual apparatus.

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When not busy with happenings, the resort is dominated by a tranquility that is only disturbed by leaves rustling in the breeze and the recurrent melodies of tribes of tiny birds and black and yellow bees.

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In such circumstances, a nap by the resort’s pool is the perfect elixir for urban stress.

Catered affairs

The ranch does not have a restaurant, but that is compensated for in the business model. The owners have a preferred list of caterers that work with the ranch on a regular basis.

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For our event we enjoyed a flawless roast chicken dinner accompanied by several bottles of Holman Ranch varietal wines – all served by A Moveable Feast on one of the hacienda’s charming stone terraces.

Also, if guests prefer to arrange for their own cooking in the extensive caterer’s kitchen, that is an agreeable option. Proprietors Nick Elliott and wife Hunter Lowder are dedicated to working with their guests to provide the ultimate in flexibility to enhance an unforgettable experience.

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The couple has extraordinary credentials because Nick is an experienced winemaker, caterer, and an ordained minister, and his wife Hunter is a seasoned event planner and restaurant manager. If you would like a turnkey wedding, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Estate winery

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The Holman Ranch Estate is building a reputation as a winery of note in an area of significant wineries located within the bountiful Carmel Valley Appellation.

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Currently with 19-acres under vines they hand harvest and cellar their wines in the ranch’s modern wine cave. We took the tour, and can recommend it to all wine aficionados.

On an annual basis, Holman produces about 3,200 cases of Pinot NoirPinot GrisChardonnaySauvignon Blanc, and Rosé of Pinot Noir. The owners share their limited treasures with Holman Ranch guests, Estate Wine Club members, visitors to their tasting room, and wine connoisseurs from around the world.

Broad appeal

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If you are planning an event of any duration such as a wedding, picnic, charity event, banquet, executive retreat, company meeting, networking get together, or team building endeavor, we suggest the Holman Ranch is the right place to make it memorable.

For more information about the Holman Ranch and what they offer, view their website at www.holmanranch.com

If you go

The Holman Ranch is a pastoral treasure located at 60 Holman Road, just 12 miles from scenic California Highway 1 and just off Carmel Valley Road. Famous Carmel-by-the-Sea is an easy 20-minutes away, and Big Sur is 35 miles southwest of the ranch. Pebble BeachCannery Row, and the Monterey Peninsula are also easy drives.

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The Holman Ranch Office and Tasting Room is just minutes from the ranch at 19 E. Carmel Valley Road, Suite C, in Carmel Valley, CA 93924. In addition to fine wines, be sure to sample their very special hand harvested, cold pressed, extra-virgin olive oil – it’s delicious.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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

Celebrating 50 Years of the Magnificent Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa

Those of you who have frequented the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui over the years will remember the queen of Ka‘anapali Beach – the Sheraton Maui.

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The hotel was new and glamorous in 1963. Back then, it was sitting quietly alone near the legendary and now famous lava jetty called Black Rock. It has been 50 years, and you should see the resort now!

The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa

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Renovated many times through the decades, this classic Hawaiian resort still sits on 23 acres of pristine sand and tropical landscaping and overlooks the island of Lanai, just a short sail to the west.

Warm trade-winds float through the 508 spacious rooms and suites – most of which face the ocean.

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The Sheraton is a landmark destination resort on Maui that has gained in stature as the island has developed around it.

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We have watched this Sheraton resort blossom and become a favorite for generations of tourists. To stay at the Sheraton Maui is like coming home to a rich Hawaiian heritage, and we always find new and exciting things to write about during each visit.

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This tropical vacationland offers something for everyone in the family. In season, you can catch a catamaran right from the beach of the resort and head out to watch the humpback whales as they migrate to their ancestral mating and birthing grounds.

Another activity that originates from the beach in summer is parasailing. Get swept high into the sky and revel in the panoramic views of Ka‘anapali and the mountains beyond. It’s exciting regardless of age.

Explore the underwater world of Maui

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The Black Rock lava outcropping is at the far end of the resort, and is the best venue for oceanic underwater entertainment in the area.

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Known as Pu‘u Keka‘a to the locals, it’s the “in” place to get up-close and personal with turtles, rays and scores of Hawaii’s colorful tropical fish. It’s best to do your underwater activities early in the day – that’s when the sea is most calm and the water clear.

On previous trips we have made SCUBA dives around the jetty, but you can see just as much by snorkeling. If you are not a certified diver, but would like a SCUBA-like experience, try SNUBA.

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SNUBA is similar to SCUBA, but the air tank is not on your back – instead it floats above you on a small raft. You breathe air through a long hose that extends from the air reservoir to a regulator that you put in your mouth – much like a snorkel.

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Since your depth is limited by the length of the air hose, there’s no danger of going too deep, therefore certification is not necessary. The guides teach you everything you need to know. SNUBA is great fun and perfect for the waters surrounding Black Rock!

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Our SNUBA guide was with Shoreline SNUBA Divers

Watch the time honored Black Rock cliff dive

The acclaimed Black Cliff Dive Ceremony has taken place every evening at the Sheraton Maui since its opening in 1963 is a tradition that dates back to island royalty. The story is that Maui Chieftains made ceremonial dives from these same lava cliffs while their admiring warriors looked on.

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We watched the youthful diver start his fire run from the Cliff Dive Bar across the wide lawn and onto the sand that would bring him to the base of the great lava jetty.

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He climbed at a speed indicative of his age and prowess, and was soon atop the rocks lighting a series of torches as he made his way to the place where he would call upon the Gods to watch his entry into the dark water below.

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With a burst of energy the diver reached for the stars, then his outstretched body slowly turned downward toward the sea. He made a perfect entry – all to the wild applause of the spectators.

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A great place to watch the ceremony is from the Cliff Dive Bar. Try the resort’s signature Black Rock Lager and some homemade potato chips while you are there. Tasty!

More for the foodies

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Start the morning with breakfast at the Black Rock Terrace, it has a very nice buffet with all the trimmings – and really great coffee.

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We had lunch at the Cliff Dive Bar and enjoyed the grilled hamburgers and giant chips while watching some kids take their first lesson in the Hula. What a kick.

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There were guests swimming along the lagoon that encircles the bar, and after walking off lunch we joined them in a refreshing swim odyssey through pools, landscaped settings, under bridges, alongside waterfalls and a water slide. This is a splendid way to enjoy a tropical afternoon in paradise.

There’s a luau

The Ka‘anapali Sunset Luau takes place on the Ocean Lawn of the Sheraton Maui. The luau comes with all the time honored trappings of a great Hawaiian celebration inclusive of stories and songs of the islands, and an awesome fire knife dance. A Kalua Pig is roasted in a traditional underground oven, and the event includes an all-you-can-eat Hawaiian buffet, with unlimited drinks. A great family entertainment outing.

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A stroll along the Ka’anapali paved beach path is a great way to walk off a delicious Hawaiian dinner while you check out the resorts, shops, restaurants, and bars.  Mid-way along the footpath is the famous Whaler’s Village – a great place to watch people, window shop, and grab a drink or food. If you forgot to pack anything, one of Hawaii’s ubiquitous ABC Stores is located in the Village.

The Sheraton has shuttle service to the Whaler’s Village and the old whaling town of Lahaina – just 4 miles south of the resort.

Pièce de résistance

For an extra special treat don’t miss the romance of a Sheraton Maui “Dinner under the Stars.” It is an extraordinary romantic event that you will remember forever.

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Our dinner under the stars took place in a quiet corner of the resort, just in back of Black Rock.

We arrived at our reserved tropical hut just after the torches on Black Rock were lighted, and the sunset was flooding across the far horizon. Sunset was bitter sweet that evening. The day was perfect, and we did not want it to end.

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Our personal waiter motioned toward a chilled bottle of champagne, and what better way to celebrate a wonderful day – and a magnificent vacation – than with a cold glass of sparkling wine.

The menu

There is a choice of three unique offerings in the Sheraton Dinner under the Stars program. We selected the Moonlit Menu.

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Our Starter was out of this world. It was presented in Ice Pearls, which are large globes of hollowed ice surrounding the most delicious fresh island sashimi, served with a savory wasabi dipping sauce. It was almost too elegant to eat, but we got over it.

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Salad consisted of a floral of upcountry greens with oriental dressing, sour dough Kaiser Bread and whipped Molokai Honey Butter.

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The Entrée was exquisite. Seared filet mignon with crab legs and asparagus, glazed with béarnaise sauce and served with garlic mashed potatoes.

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All this was topped off with what else? Hawaiian grandma’s apple pie and coffee. However, we could have also selected heavenly haupia cake, double chocolate dobash, or Italian tiramisu. We don’t know about the other desserts, but we can certainly recommend the apple pie.

There are only three available outdoor settings for your private Dinner under the Stars. Don’t be disappointed, make reservations early.

If you go

The award winning Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa is on the northwest shore of the island and a 45-minute ride from the Kahului Airport.

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The resort is situated at the northernmost point of three-mile long Ka’anapali Beach. The beautiful silky sand beach is lined with many condominiums, resorts, shops, and restaurants. On the eastern side of the buildings are two of Maui’s ten popular golf courses.

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For more information about the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa visit their website at www.sheraton-maui.com.

While you are on Maui

Maui is an island that was destined to be be a place for recreation and relaxation. See the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala, and view the sunset from the sandy beach of the Sheraton Maui as you watch the Black Rock Cliff Dive Ceremony.

Visit the Maui Ocean Center to learn about those with which we share our planet. Stroll the old streets of Lahaina and spend some time under the historic giant Banyan Tree that shades all who seek it.

There’s much more to do in Maui than we could fit in this article. Visit: http://www.gohawaii.com/maui

Happy travels!

For more of our stories about Hawaii and Hawaiian resorts, click on the subjects below:

The Royal Hawaiian Elegantly Preserves Its Heritage on Waikiki Beach

Reliving the Privileged Past at the Moana Surfrider on Waikiki Beach

Remembering December 7, 1941 At The Pearl Harbor Memorial

Luxury Cruising From San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruises

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Underwater photos courtesy of Shoreline SNUBA

We flew to Maui on Hawaiian Airlines.

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

A Beachy Keen Hideaway on Florida’s Gulf Coast

A pleasant rainy day on Anna Maria Island, Florida

A pleasant rainy day on Anna Maria Island, Florida

The cottages at the Bungalow Beach Resort on Anna Maria Island on the west coast of Florida are special for several reasons. Here’s what we found one rainy day on the fabulous Gulf Coast.

Seeking Old Florida

It was already raining when we made a left turn off Highway 64 in Bradenton and onto Highway 789, the road that runs north and south and divides the island. We immediately began to search for the sign for the Bungalow Beach Resort.

This was our first trip to Anna Maria Island, and for some inexplicable reason we expected the vibe to be a little like Nantucket Island circa1942 – but we were way off the mark. Anna Maria Island is a busy, seven-mile long stretch of sugary sand, restaurants, condominiums, and assorted homes ranging from Early Prohibition to Modern Glass.

It only took a few minutes to realize that the variety of structures on the island all came nicely together in a great place for a beach residence or second home – and where a family on vacation could quickly interact with the sea and sand.

We found our sign

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Between wiper swipes, we managed to identify our destination. At first glance, the property, which is nestled between taller buildings, looked quite small.

It was still coming down when we pulled into the unpaved parking lot that fronts the one-story bungalows. The office faces the street and we made a mad dash through small pools of water in the sand. We hadn’t packed an umbrella, so we got a good dose of Florida’s liquid sunshine on our short trek.

Resort's small office

Resort’s small office

It was in the resort’s tiny office that we first realized we were about to take a trip back in time. We just didn’t know what a marvelous journey it would be.

Finding our bungalow

Follow the sandy path

Follow the sandy path

The downpour had subsided during our check in. The puddles where still evident, but the porous earth had soaked up much of the standing water. We retrieved our bags from the trunk of the car and made our way along a curvy sand path toward the beach.

Front row center on the Gulf

Front row center on the Gulf

Our bungalow was number “102” and faced the Gulf. It was just a clam throw away from the waves quietly rolling along the shore.

Pelican heaven

Pelican heaven

The winds were calm, so the sea was tranquil and smelled sweet after the rain. We watched a string of pelicans gliding so low that their wings skimmed the tips of the gentle swells.

Deserted beach

Deserted beach

We looked up and down the shore – except for the occasional clumps of sea oats and palms – it was empty. The uncommon desolation was quite soothing – and we began to relax.

Slice of nostalgia

Cozy cottage

Cozy cottage

The Desoto bungalow was picture perfect and retro-luxurious. Although we had missed the mark about Anna Maria Island, we hit our goal of finding “Old Florida” right here at the Bungalow Beach Resort.

All about style

All about style

We had just arrived a few minutes before, but we were already beguiled by the elegant simplicity of the surroundings. This is a place where tradition pervades – 1930s style.

Flip flops and island milieu

Before long, we were unpacked and uncorked. A fine Pinot Gregio complemented our growing mood of relaxation, harmony, and contentment.

A place to watch the rain roll across beach and sea

A place to watch the rain roll across beach and sea

It started to rain again with the sound of a gentle patter on the porch roof. We quickly settled into the white wicker chairs under the protected patio canopy and watched a symphony of dancing drops on the bungalow railing.

The rain eventually  turned to a slight drizzle, and along with the temperate sea, created an easy environment for libation and laughter – just as it must have done for scores of other couples across the eight decades of the resort’s existence.

Warm thoughts of bygone eras

We speculated about other vacationers enjoying these charming little bungalows in the early 1940s. We supposed how they would have dressed for their trendy beach vacation on Anna Maria Island.

Perfect setting to watch the sunset - but not today

Perfect setting to watch the sunset – but not today

As we pondered the deserted beach chairs directly to the front of our bungalow, we conjured up images of young couples – now old – that once took in the same view, on similar rainy days. Wherever they are, we hope they still remember that dreamy day at Bungalow Beach Resort and smile. We know we will.

Awaiting dreams

Awaiting dreams

Before long, darkness cloaked the Gulf. It was time to end our wonderful day with a restful slumber in luxurious comfort.

Every modern convenience plus sentimental charm

All the conveniences of home

All the conveniences of home

We recommend the Bungalow Beach Resort to anyone interested in a nostalgic private beachfront haven with ceiling fans, window air conditioners, a kitchen, a small pool – and all the contemporary amenities that make for a romantic or memorable family island vacation. This resort is a salute to the past while embracing the new and now. It is all about fun, sand, and sea, but if you are lucky – maybe you will get a soothing rainy day as well.

If you go

Get up front if you can

Get up front if you can

There are 15 bungalows at the resort. See the resort layout map here. Bungalows 101, 102, 104, 105, and 116 all face the Gulf of Mexico and are closest to the beach and water. They are the best vantage points from which to appreciate the outstanding Florida sunsets. These rooms are among the most expensive at the resort, but are well worth the difference in price.

A quiet walk after the rain

A quiet walk after the rain

For more information about the Bungalow Beach Resort and its amenities, as well as things to do in the area, check out their website at www.bungalowbeach.com

Anna Maria is awash in restaurants. We ate at two we can recommend – the City Pier Restaurant and the Sandbar Restaurant and Lounge. A specialty in this area is the Grouper Sandwich – try one – they are delicious.

Anna Maria Island is the northernmost Key (or Cay) along the coastal Keys between Bradenton and Sarasota, Florida. The Gulf of Mexico runs along its western shore, and the Sarasota Bay is to the east. Florida state highway 789, a.k.a. the Gulf Drive divides the ultra-narrow island.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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

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