About Terry Denton

Inveterate traveler, proficient writer, avid golfer, unremarkable person. Co-owner of Travel Leaders / Main Street Travel of Fort Worth, Texas · http://www.travelleaders.com/fortworthtx

Crème de Riviera Nayarit: The Top Five Resorts

Are your ready for a little creative crème with your morning Mexican coffee?  Today we are adding another installment to our Crème de Mexico series.  Yes, it is entirely appropriate tomexican coffee do the happy dance . . . assuming you remain fully clothed, of course.  This is a family blog site, after all.

Just as Cancun has the Riviera Maya  (or Mayan Rivera, as you prefer) to its south, Puerto Vallarta has the Riviera Nayarit (or Nuevo Vallarta, as you prefer) to its north.  As is the case with Cancun, you fly into the respective region’s main airport, in this case Puerto Vallarta, to reach the bordering destination.   If that explanation isn’t clear on the first read, try another Mexican coffee with a small shot of tequilla and I am sure it will become instantly lucid.

The Riviera Nayarit is one of Mexico’s most exciting emerging destinations worthy of its own full exploration.  Perhaps I can spare you a little time in trying to ferret out the top five resort options for your first, or next, visit as the case may be.   My list is both authoritative and definitive (or at least it seems so to me after following my own advice in the preceding paragraph).   So what are the top five resorts in the Riviera Nayarit?

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit

Grand Velas ResortsI think I see a pattern emerging here.  This property’s equally sultry sister, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya, made my Crème list for the Mayan Riviera area a few weeks back.  (See a list of all the previous Crème posts at the end of this particular masterpiece.)

This incredible resort is the only all-inclusive resort in the Mexican Pacific to be awarded Five Diamonds by AAA . . . a feat almost as impressive as the laminated balsa wood award I received recently for the most inscrutable travel blog in cyberspace.)

Grand Velas Riviera NayaritI  have mentioned frequently on this blog that I place a personal premium on pampering.  Thus, to qualify as a leading resort, it simply must have a leading spa.  This one does . . . literally.  It is home to a Leading Spa of the World!   Condé Nast Magazine, whose exacting standards in such matters almost rival my own, recognized them as a “Most Excellent Spa Hotel.”  If you long to be caressed and mollycoddled by the best (and what self-respecting bon vivant doesn’t), make  the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit your next stop.

The St. Regis Punta Mita

St. Regis Punta MitaThe next two resorts on my list already have an esteemed place on the virtual bookshelf of this blog.  In each case, you need merely to don your cybersuit and transport over to the following link to read all about my recent visit to this incredible place:  The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort: Seriously Secure!   

Follow this link to  read about another great spa, the Remède Spa, sumptuous dining options and another of my favorite topics, world-class golf courses.  This property is about as posh as it gets.

Marival Residences Luxury Resort

There is so much to love about the Marival Residences Luxury Resort starting with the fact that, while most all resorts have beaches (beach resorts anyway), the Marival Residences have their own exclusive VIP Beach Club.   Picture yourself relaxing in one of these beach chairs pictured below.  Find yourself coveting a quesadilla?  Craving a cold Corona to quietly quaff?  Before that thought is fully formed, an attentive (and apparently psychic)  waiter is delivering your preferred refreshment.

Marival Residences VIP Beach ClubAs a matter of fact, I love this place so much that, a while back, I took my entire extended family on a multi-generational  experience of the first magnitude. Naturally, as a compulsive chronicler, I wrote a couple of blog posts about the experience. They were called  Bridging The Generations Down Mexico Way  and Build A Travel Bridge To Somewhere.   Read those two posts and not only will you learn a great deal of helpful information about this unique resort but you will undoubtedly learn way more than you ever cared to know about me and my progeny!

Four Seasons Punta Mita

Take a look at this picture because it represents the most difficult decision you will have to make all week at Four Seasons Punta Mita.  “That hammock looks so inviting but is it really worth the energy to get up out of this chair to walk the three steps over there and lie in it?  Oh well, I do have the rest of the afternoon to decide.”

Four Seasons Punta MitaAs relaxing as that sounds, let’s be honest.  It might be a little risky for some of us Type A’s to try and decompress all at once.  I personally would be afraid of contracting the psychological equivalent of the bends.  We titans of industry require a little activity before we start the unwinding process.

So is there anything to do at the Four Seasons?  Nothing . . . unless you want to count, as they do ” . . .some of the best snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing, surfing and golf in theFour Seasons Tail of the Whale world.”  I range between a novice and a non-participant in the first four activities in the list but I am a self-designated expert when it comes to quality of golf venues.  I would give the Pacifico course, with its world famous third hole called “The Tail Of The Whale”  (click on the picture for the full effect), six stars out of a possible five.  I am throwing in the extra star for the incomparable service rendered from the time you enter the pro shop until your golf shoes are handed back to you at the end of the round looking better than when you bought them!

If you rightly equate the Four Seasons brand with delivering guest experiences “beyond compare”, a visit to the Four Seasons Punta Mita should only burnish the brand’s already stellar reputation.

Villa La Estancia

Villa La Estancia dining at nightWhen you vacation at a deluxe resort, you expect dining options commensurate with all the other lavish amenities.  This is one area where this property shines.  La Parrilla Restaurant is the casual, poolside option when you are craving a mid-day wrap or  a bracing Mexican ceviche.  La Casona, the Mexican steakhouse with its selection of Kobe beef, offers a choice of either indoor or outdoor dining. Deluxe Superior Room   Villa La Estancia Three Bedroom Suite

Regardless of the number of guests in your party, the Villa La Estancia has a room category to fit your need.  They have deluxe superior rooms; one, two and three bedroom suites and even Penthouse Suites.

You need not take my word on this property.  Just take a look these intelligent young peopleVilla La Estancia Yoga who are obviously head over heals (or would it be heels over head) in love with this property.

Having just read this exquisitely written synopsis of the best of Riviera Nayarit, I have total confidence you are clamoring to read the other posts in this series.   If so, you have only to follow the links below for more rip-roaring good fun.

Crème de Los Cabos: The Top Five Resorts

Crème de Cancun: The Top Five Resorts

Crème de Riviera Maya: The Top Five (or so) Resorts

I would love to hear your opinion on these two questions.  Which of the four Mexico destinations that I have treated so far is your favorite:  Los Cabos, Cancun, Riviera Maya or Riviera Nayarit?  Also, which of the twenty plus resorts we have highlighted is your personal choice?  The best answer will be awarded a free lifetime subscription to Travel By Terry (my lifetime, not yours!).

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The Windsor Court: English Charm Just Five Minutes From The French Quarter

I have remarked upon this irony before that we in the travel business routinely live like commoners yet occasionally travel like royalty.  I just returned from a business meeting in New Orleans where for twenty-four all-too-fleeting hours, I felt like the good princes William and Harrys’ little known and older . . . OK, much older . . . brother.

If you are planning a trip to New Orleans and fortune has been relatively kind to you, you would be doing yourself a monumental favor if you let me book you into the Windsor Court Hotel.   To be perfectly honest, before my trip I was not familiar with this gem.  However, being an inveterate Anglophile, from the second I walked into the lobby they had me by my waistcoat fob pocket.

Windsor Court Hotel ExteriorIf you too are a fan of most everything English, you should return to the link I have provided (after you have read this blog post in its scintillating entirety, of course) and take a few minutes visiting the hotel’s photo gallery.  If you are not totally enthralled by the images then you are clearly missing the “thrall” gene.

This hotel has recently undergone a $22 million restoration.  As they say on their website, “Windsor Court is restored.  Renewed.  Refreshed.”  Ironically, that precisely sums up how I felt after spending just 24 hours there!  Do you happen to know offhand (if you do, I am impressed) how many hotels in New Orleans have both four diamonds from AAA and four stars from Forbes?  The correct answer is just two and Windsor Court is one of them!

Windsor Court LobbyOne of the first things you notice when you walk into the lobby, once you able to tear your eyes away from the spectacular classic furnishings, is that seemingly every wall throughout the hotel’s public areas is adorned with gorgeous original English art.  I was told that there are more that eleven million dollars in original art pieces without one reproduction.  One of my great regrets was that, due to the brevity of my recent visit, I did not have time to download their smart phone app that gives you a self-guided museum-like tour of all the art works.  That would have been a blast.  Oh well, next time.

My room at Windsor CourtMy room at Windsor Court

Next we come to the sleeping rooms and here I need your advice, dear reader, on a rather delicate matter.  Tell me honestly, do you think I may have crossed the line when I sent my dear wife, left behind at home to keep the cogs of industry turning, this text message along with the pictures above?  “I suppose I can make do with this room.  I just need to remind myself I will only be here one night.”

I am thinking perhaps so since her reply referenced the strong opinion that, were there any justice left in this world, I would gag on a plate of rancid Étouffée before experiencing a slow and extremely painful demise.   OK, that wasn’t exactly what she said but after a few fleeting decades of marriage I have astutely learned to read between the lines.   Note to self:  Sometimes it’s best to keep these serendipitous little treats to oneself.

Another huge regret was that there was no opportunity to experience Windsor Court’s high tea.   Just High Tea at Windsor Courtlooking at this picture I am flooded with memories of the times I have taken high tea in London, Australia and even Kenya.   I never feel quite so civilized as when munching on a scone stuffed with clotted cream and strawberry  preserves and sipping an Earl Grey tea with my right pinky extended in the most pretentious, and uncharacteristically effeminate, fashion imaginable.

Time fails me to talk about their spa, the various dining options, their wedding program and so much more.  So instead, I direct you to their website, Facebook page, Pinterest site, and a delightful five-minute Video which includes some nice New Orleans jazz music.

Bottom line, if you are planning a trip to New Orleans and you want to make the trip truly memorable, plan on staying at the Windsor Court Hotel and count on enjoying the most worthwhile five minute walk in New Orleans!

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The Gilted Edges Of Murray Gardiner

If you have long since fallen under the seductive spell of Travel By Terry (and if not, I know a great African witch doctor I can recommend), you will know that I have a category on my blog called Backroom Banter in which I offer up the insights of leading travel industry luminaries.  Check the list of previous posts in that category and you will discover just how high the bar is set for admission.   I myself have been rejected . . . twice!

I mention this to say that although you may not have heard of Murray Gardner, don’t let his modesty and low profile mislead you.  When it comes to the dark continent, there is no brighter beacon than Murray Gardiner.  As you read his thoughtful answers to my marginally intelligent questions, you will realize that Murray has a sterling pedigree, a first-rate education, an enviable record of accomplishment, an insightful view of the Africa market and a strikingly beautiful family as you can clearly see for yourself.   Add to that, day by day he is building a lasting legacy of accomplishment.

Murray Gardiner family1)  What was it like growing up as an offspring of Adrian Gardiner, one of the true pioneers of African conservation and game reserve development?

It was exciting.  It was great to be part of something special and I am very proud of what my Dad has achieved.  It is also tough at times as my brother and I have big shoes to fill.  My Dad has been very supportive of what I have done with Giltedge and equally proud of my achievements.

Giltedge Africa 2)  With your father’s enterprise, The Mantis Collection, so broadly involved  in boutique hotels, game reserves, ski lodges and chalets, and much more, what made you decide to focus on building a premier destination management company?

I think it was a natural fit.  My Dad knew a lot of people in the industry, which helped open doors in the early days.  Mantis Collection also needed a vehicle to get bums in beds, so Giltedge certainly helped with this.  However, it is important to understand that we do not send business to Mantis to make sure their beds are filled.  We always create an itinerary that fits our clients’ needs and that often includes non-Mantis properties.  I also wanted to create my own legacy.

3)  How did your stint working for an internet company in London and as a publisher of Murray GardnerGiltedge magazine prepare you for the work that you are known so widely for today?

I think it certainly helped me understand how international companies operate.  It also gave me the opportunity to travel and understand the challenges one faces when travelling on a long haul route.  Through publishing a travel magazine, I was able to meet some key people in the industry who were instrumental in helping Giltedge grow into the company it is today.

4)  Giltedge Africa is unique in that it has both inbound and outbound divisions and has a significant focus on incentive and golf travel as well.  Would you give our readers a quick overview of the various markets Giltedge Africa serves in Southern and Eastern Africa?

Our core markets for clients travelling to Africa are USA, Canada, UK, Scandinavian Countries, Australia, China and New Zealand.  We have full presentation in both the USA and Sweden.  The countries we send clients to include: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Seychelles and Mauritius.  With us having an office in South Africa, we contract directly with most properties, which allows us to offer very competitive pricing.

Giraffe5)  Where geographically do you spend the bulk of your time these days and what facet of your business demands most of your personal attention?

After a 3 year stint living in the US, I am now spending 70% of my time back in Cape Town.  If I am not there, then I am in Austin, TX, which is Giltedge’s US hub.  As our business covers all aspects of travel – FIT, group, incentives, corporate travel, golf, etc. I am very involved in the business development of all these divisions within our company.

6)   What is your vision for tourism in Africa for the coming decade and what are the greatest challenges you see to realizing those goals?

The current challenge is most definitely Ebola.  One does not know how this is going to affect our tourism business over the coming year.  Communication with clients is key at this stage and we all need to be marketing our destination more than ever.  With the South African Rand at its weakest against the US dollar in several years, it is an attractive cost effective destination.  With some of the best hotels and game lodges in the world, we would like to see Southern and East Africa become one of the tourist hot spots worldwide.

lions7)   I have saved what may prove the most difficult question for last.  What is the best personal travel experience you have every had and why?

I think every travelling experience within Africa is unique and life changing.  Certain things appeal to each individual, family or group.  We pride ourselves in creating trips of a lifetime, so we listen and get to know our clients before creating an itinerary.  With me spending more time in South Africa, I am excited to be able to go out and experience more amazing properties.

Thanks Murray for stopping by Travel By Terry and sharing your wisdom.  (Dear reader, despite what you might assume, Murray agreed without the involvement of any incantations, spells or potions by my trusted African medical consultant referenced above.)

Just so you know, you haven’t heard the last from Giltedge and The Mantis Collection or from me, for that matter.  I have already written a post on the Zambezi Queen which I invite you to peruse at your leisure.   It is my full intention to introduce you to many more masterpieces in this coveted collection in the days ahead.

Quantum of the Seas: Dining, Diversion and Difficult Decisions!

Back when the book I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas Anthony Harris was all the rage (I know, I am dating myself), I ran I'm OK You're OKacross this little ditty.

“I’m OK, You’re OK, OK is what we both are,
But as between the two of us, I’m more OK than you are.”

That fairly well sums up my misguided, even slightly delusional, outlook on life.  “Keep moving, nothing abnormal to look at here, Bub.”

However, I will be the first to admit that I do have a slight psychic tic when in comes to making decisions.  Thank goodness men’s attire has become less formal.  You have no idea how much time that has saved me standing in front of my impressive rack of neckties in the morning unable to pull the trigger.

If you share this particular character flaw, you may need to solicit a little professional help in planning out your Quantum of the Seas vacation.  (Our folks are excellent at helping with that, by the way.)  To shamelessly paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous quote about Russia, the Quantum of the Seas offers choices, wrapped in options, inside of alternatives!  Fasten your seat belt because we are about to go around the ship in 800 words.

DYNAMIC DINING

Quantum Restaurants First, you must grasp the concept of dynamic dining which, fortunately, is so strikingly simply that even I got it on the first try.   The concept is to offer a mind-boggling array of delectable yet distinctive cuisine within an alluring variety of settings and ambiance served up when and how you choose.  For the first time on a cruise ship you have ultimate flexibility and control of your dining decisions.   For someone who can’t touch their toes with a yardstick and whose life has been careening like a steel ball in a pinball machine for decades, flexibility and control would be nice!

There are eighteen dining venues from which to choose.   What is particularly exciting is that, in addition to the specialty signature restaurants you have come to expect, there are five unique full-service restaurant options that are all complimentary and sans reservations!  Those are American Icon Grill, Chic, Silk, The Grande Restaurant and Coastal Kitchen.  To learn about some of the other eighteen options, simply click here .

Quantum Celebrity ChefsAnother exciting aspect of dynamic dining are these three celebrity chefs:  Jamie Oliver (Jamie’s Italian), Michael Schwartz (Michael’s Genuine Pub) and Devin Alexander  (Divinely Decadence at Solarium Bistro) all working their magic under the watchful eye of Cornelius Gallagher, Director of Culinary Operations at Royal Caribbean International.

If you would like to watch a brief video that perfectly encapsulates the themes I have just been sounding, simple click here.

DRAMATIC DIVERSIONS

For some people a perfect vacation is defined as doing nothing.  I think Royal Caribbean must have had a completely different set of folks in mind when they built the Quantum of the Seas, i.e., the ones whose definition of a perfect vacation is doing everything!  If the ultimate aim of taking a vacation is to escape the ordinary and experience the extraordinary, this ship has struck a center bulls-eye.

What kind of diversions would you find on the perfect cruise ship?  Hmmm . . . let’s dream a moment.

Quantum North StarThe perfect ship would have an “intimate, jewel-shaped capsule” that gently ascends over 300 feet above sea level offering “breathtaking views of the ocean, the ship, and the exciting destinations.”   That would be North Star.

Quantum SeaPlex                                                       The  ideal ship would also have a magical indoor space where you can indulge in your favorite activities like crashing bumper cars, roller skating like we did way back when, shooting a little hoops with a pick-up team or attending a circus school where you learn the ancient craft of the flying trapeze.  I know, let’s call it SeaPlex!

Ripcord by IFly

As long as we are brainstorming, let’s go way out on a limb.  In fact, forget the limb altogether.  Let’s create a way to experience the exhilaration (or in my case, sheer terror) of skydiving without committing the insanity of jumping out of a perfectly sound plane!  You will be floating on air in no time . . . literally . . .  thanks to Ripcord by iFly.

I promised you 800 words and I am getting perilously close.  I haven’t even mentioned Two70, Dreamworks, the Royal Loft or Music Hall.   If you have been paying attention, as I know you always do, it has no doubt begun to dawn on you.  If your humble scribe can’t decide which features to highlight, how are you going to figure out where to eat and what to do?  Not to worry, mon ami.   We have an army of people (OK, probably more like somewhere between a squad and a small platoon) that are eager to assist you.  You aren’t alone in your quest for adventure.

And with that, this is the 800th word: Cheers!

The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort: Seriously Secure!

For those not familiar with the roller coaster existence led by your favorite travel agent (whoever he or she may be), this particular post should provide a window into all of our kaleidoscopic lives.  You see, dear reader, we are always bouncing between feast or famine, prince or pauper, hero or zero depending on the mood / magnanimity of our suppliers and travel partners at any given moment.

St. Regis Punta MitaAs I pen these words, I am returning from a very enjoyable Travel Leaders owner’s retreat at the new Iberostar Playa Mita Resort just north of Punta Mita, Mexico. On a free afternoon, I decided to do a personal site inspection of the St. Regis Punta Mita Resort. (More about the resort momentarily).  I had the Iberostar sales manager contact the St. Regis sales office to set up a tour of the property.  I hopped in a taxi and ten minutes later found myself at the enclave’s imposing security gate. I could tell immediately from the body language and skeptical expression on the guard’s face that gaining access was not going to be your proverbial Sunday school picnic.

In the interest of brevity I will spare you the more gruesome details but suffice it to say it PUnta Mita, Mexicotook twenty arduous minutes of wheedling, begging, invoking the name of Yasmin (my contact), calling back to the Iberostar, trying to call the front desk of the St. Regis (all using the saintly taxi driver’s cell phone) and praying fervently to St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers (and hopefully travel agents) . . . keep in mind that I am not even Catholic!  I later learned that the security at the St. Regis is rather legendary owing to the fact that Enrique Peña Nieto, the current president of Mexico, is a frequent guest.

I did eventually breach the ramparts and was given a delightful tour by Karla Villaseñor.  The equally  gracious Yasmin, as it turned out, works at the golf course where I was first deposited and not at the resort.  (If you want to finish this blog while you are still young, don’t even ask how I ended up there.)  At the conclusion of the tour, Karla asked if I need a ride back to the Iberostar.  One snap of her fingers and a Cadillac Escalade magically appeared to whisk me back to my hotel, at no charge I might add. When the doorman at the Iberostar who had sent me off a couple of hours earlier opened the door to my chariot, he broke out in spontaneous laughter. “Senior, you left in a taxi and return in a Cadillac!” Ah, Jose, now you understand the life of a travel agent.  Our lives are spent either in first class or conversely, if not being thrown under the bus, at least hanging partially out the side of one.

THE ST. REGIS PUNTA MITA RESORT

St. Regis Punta Mita GroundsThe first thing you notice about the St. Regis is the impeccable taste (check out the pictures above). You don’t need a degree in interior design to realize that the folks who built this masterpiece obviously knew someone who has several. The furnishings, the wall treatments, the art work all exude an impressive refinement. That same flair applies to the landscaping and horticulture. This thoughtful combination creates an ambiance that soothes the soul moments after arriving.

Remède Spa

All three or four of my regular readers know that I am a pushover for a great spa.  In fact, more than once during a relaxing full body massage I have had to be pushed over just so the masseus could work on the other side.  St. Regis is justifiably famous for their Remède SpaFor those considerably more refined than I, you will recognize the Remède, Bliss and Decleor line of spa products which they offer. 

St. Regis Punta Mita Remede Spa I was particularly impressed by the outdoor treatment options which provide striking views of the gorgeous landscape mentioned previously.   Of course you will find a sauna, steam room, fitness center, salon, Jacuzzi and all the other accoutrements you would expect in  a world class spa.

Guest Rooms

For a property that only has 120 rooms, there is quite the variety of options.  These include deluxe rooms, junior suites, deluxe suites, luxury one-bedrooms and two-bedroom suites and, of course, a presidential suite.  I think even my slower readers can guess who is one of the frequent occupants of the “Presidential” suite.   It is good to rule a country!

Below are pictures of one of the Luxury Suites.  Check out the view from the private pool!

St. Regis Punta Mita Luxury Suite 1   St. Regis Punta Mita Luxury Suite 2

St. Regis Punta Mita Luxury Suite 3 St. Regis Punta Mita Luxury Suite 4

Divine Dining

Those same three or four devotees of this blog referenced above know well that if there is anything I like even better than having my entire body slathered over with priceless oils,  it is sating my seemingly endless appetite.  What my palate may lack in cultured refinement is more than made up for in boundless appreciation.  At St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, trust me, there is plenty to be thankful for.

St. Regis Punta Mita Restaurants

Click on the image above to read about each of these incredible venues!

Glorious Golf

Reverse the order of these three aspects that I have detailed above and you have pretty much constructed my definition of a perfect day in paradise.  Start with a round of golf at Pacifico (with a magical birdie on the “Tail of the Whale” hole, of course), follow it with a full body massage at Remède Spa and crown the day with a relaxing dinner at Carolina Restaurant.

St. Regis Punta Mita GolfSt Regis Punta Mita Resort bills itself as an emerging paradise.  I would not quibble with the paradise part for even a second but it seems pretty darn “emerged” to me.  If you are looking for a vacation spot where you will have a wonderful time AND feel completely secure, take it from someone that knows and visit the incomparable St Regis Punta Mita Resort.

Note:  If you tuned in expecting another post in my series on the Quantum of the Seas, simply consider this a brief hiatus.   Come back soon and I promise you will find another highly anticipated chapter in that riveting series!

Quantum Of The Seas: Smartest Ship On The Seas Six Ways To Sunday

I have an embarrassing admission to make.   I have long harbored a secret (note I did not say laudatory) desire to be widely recognized by my associates as “the smartest person in the room.”  It has taken quite some time, intensive therapy and, it goes without saying, a mountain of irrefutable evidence for me to arrive at last to a place of serene acceptance.  I now freely acknowledge that the only time that phrase can be applied to me with complete veracity are those occasions when I step into a my hall closet to retrieve my wind breaker.

By way of stark contrast, Quantum of the Seas is indisputably “the smartest ship on the seas” six ways to Sunday.  If you are unfamiliar with that idiom, basically it means “every way possible, thoroughly, completely.”  (If you are a linguistic junkie like me, click here for a full explanation of why there are six ways to get to Sunday.)

Quantum of the Seas in Papenburg

As mentioned in my previous post, I was an eyewitness to the Quantum of the Seas reveal held in the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany on Monday, August 25th.  If you would like to view the full-blown (full-blown as in the one-hour, twelve plus minute) version, pop some popcorn, pour yourself a giant root beer float, fully extend the Lazy Boy recliner and click here.  It is very entertaining, actually.  If, however, you prefer the Denton abridged version, succinctly summarized and meticulously hyperlinked,  read away.

SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY

1)  SMART Check-In

Royal Cabibbean's SMART check-inAs explained by Richard Fain, RCCL’s Chariman and CEO, the first inclination was to make check-in easier.  The second thought was, “Let’s just eliminate it.”  I like the way these people think!

The process begins with entering all your documentation online at home before you even begin your trip (but after you have booked it with a travel professional).  You can even take a selfie and upload your own picture.  You will then receive digital boarding confirmation.  When you get to the ship, you print out a boarding pass and a crew member simply swipes your passport and scans your bar code as you board the ship.  The goal is “sidewalk to shipboard” in ten minutes.

Would you like to know more about the RFID (radio frequency identification) luggage tracking system that allows you to know when your luggage has been delivered to your room?  Are you eager to learn about RFID WOW bands, i.e., wristbands that facilitate navigation of the ship and onboard purchases?  Read More

2)  SMART Concierge

Smart concierge Again, this process begins at home with Royal Caribbean’s newly updated Cruise Planner.  Some people are spontaneous free-spirits that like to be blown along like a leaf on a blustery fall day.  OK, that would not be me.  I am more the type that gets very anxious just after lunch if I don’t have a clear plan for dinner.

Cruise Planner was designed for type-A’s like me who want to scope out the many dining options within “Dynamic Dining” (more about that next post), evaluate options for shore excursions and book my pedicure (just kidding, I am more of the full body massage type).  But what about when you get on the ship?  Someone should come up with an app for that.  Oops, RCCL just did.  It is called Royal IQ and it does amazing things.  How amazing?  Read More

3)  SMART Connect

Quantus of the Seas Smart connectAnyone who has ever cruised knows just how frustrating an issue connectivity has always been on every cruise line, including Royal Caribbean.  You could spend a nice down payment on a Harvard education just trying to connect.  Of all these six ways to Sunday innovations, the one I am about to describe will undoubtedly be the biggest game changer of all.

Royal Caribbean has partnered with O3b, a fascinating company in its own right, to deliver connectivity that is several times faster with hundreds of times the bandwidth than has been possible in the past.  This is done by means of a satellite directed beam that literally follows the ship along its route.  This means you will be be able to stream videos, Skype, Facetime and perform all the other functions you are used to on land.

Before we leave the subject of technology, by way of an insight into the soul of Royal Caribbean and not just bits and bytes, Richard Fain announced that RCCL is giving every crew member on every ship in the fleet a Windows tablet amounting to over 40,000 free tablets!  These hard-working folks spend months away from their families and these tablets, combined with the improved connectivity, will mean the world to them in terms of staying in touch.

If you want to be blown away (figuratively, of course), just watch this video.  View More

4)  SMART Experience

OK, fair warning.  It is not going to be possible to treat this subject in any detail here.  WeTwo70 Nighttime 2 are talking Two70, robotic entertainment, virtual balconies, North Star, RipCord by iFly, SeaPlex, bumper cars, roller skating, Bionic Bar and much, much more. But if you come back soon . . . I have always longed to have a repeat visitor . . . I promise we will explore both entertainment and dining in great detail.

For now I will simply mention that Two70 is one of the most amazing venues ever created on land or sea.  The name comes from the floor to ceiling glass windows that offer a 270 degree panoramic view of the surroundings; windows that can transform themselves into giant screens.   Eighteen 8k hi-def projectors will be able to create an amazing ambiance turning the room in a matter of seconds into a rain forest or a famous cityscape.

Are you ready to view another amazing video?  View More

5)  SMART Service

Royal Caribbean has always been renowned for their service but they are adding custom apps that will permit crew members to better accommodate guests’ preferences and peccadillos.  Do you prefer gluten-free dining or your dry martini shaken not stirred (in which case you are having severe James Bond delusions)?  Crew members are now equipped to cater to your every whim.

6)  SMART Sustainability

One of the more interesting aspects of this category was the reveal that this will be the first cruise ship to fully use an air lubrication system where the ship literally floats on a tiny layer of microscopic bubbles which coat the hull and reduce friction.  There are 66,000, give or take, light bulbs on the ship and not one is incandescent.  They even freeze the garbage so it can be recycled upon reaching port versus going into a landfill.

Time has overtaken us.  As I mentioned last time, all the pictures I took on my adventure can be viewed here.  Until next time, travel safe.  Your addiction to these spellbinding posts can be our little secret. Hey, you’re only human.

A Quantum Leap(frog)

Over the past several days, I have been standing in tall cotton . . . as we are wont to say in the south.  Just consider these three fortuitous and unexpected events.  First, as mentioned in my previous post, I was one of five travel professionals selected from a pool of more than five hundred entrants to accompany approximately seventy other folks from the travel industry and the media on a special charter flight to Papenburg, Germany.  Our express purpose was to take a sneak peek at the soon to be launched Quantum of the Seas and later on the Anthem of the Seas.

Miami Air Charte

A quick shout out to Miami Air. The food was both abundant and delicious and the service impeccable. Thanks for a great ride!

Secondly, in the departure lounge, my name was randomly drawn from among the four other contest winners for a seat in business class. Finally, upon arrival, we were dispersed to various small hotels and I was dropped off at the Arkadanhaus Papenburg. This beautiful boutique hotel had only been opened two weeks.  No guest had ever slept in my room which pretty much eliminates all possibility of bed bugs (assuming I am not a carrier, of course!)  and was situated on the canal in the picturesque heart of the city.  Our hotel soon became the envy of the other participants.

Arkadenhaus PapenburgIn some circles of Christian theology, there is a doctrine called “dying grace” which holds that pious Christians who depart this life somewhat precipitously (as opposed to a protracted illness, for example) are often granted a few particularly glorious days just prior to their demise. My wife’s uncle, for example . . .  a true saint . . . was called home during a peaceful sleep following an especially memorable family Thanksgiving gathering a few years back.

Now when you consider that I will soon be boarding a flimsy aluminum tube where I will be careening through the lower levels of the stratosphere at 500 plus miles per hour over a vast ocean, I am sincerely hoping that the items catalogued above merely represent a run of Las Vegas style good luck rather than my personal experience of  “dying grace”.  I’m not quite ready, Uncle Murray!

Starting with the previous post and for the next several, I will devote my modest literary talents to bringing you along on my whirlwind 48 hour touchdown to lift-off odyssey. My challenge will to be to distill a barrel of fun into a few drops of valuable insight. Given the enormity of the task, you will find embedded in some of these posts a very liberal sprinkling of hyperlinks. In that fashion, what catches your fancy here can be perused in detail at your leisure.

Let’s begin, shall we, with the title? Merriam-Webster defines a quantum leap  as “a sudden large change, development, or improvement.”  A quantumKnights gloves leapfrog is both coined and defined by your humble squire as “any sudden large change, development, or improvement that leaves your competition whimpering like a small child lost in the food court of the neighborhood mall.”  Royal Caribbean has thrown down the gauntlet and it remains to other cruise lines to accept the challenge. Those other cruise lines are in the unenviable position of having just watched RCCL vault over them in this multi-billion dollar game of leapfrog as if their feet were planted in concrete.

The remainder of this post, as well as subsequent posts on this subject, will be devoted to demonstrating the veracity of this admittedly bold assertion.

German Engineering

If you want a watch made, you go to Switzerland. If you want a world class ship built, you hire the Germans. You should take a moment and read this brief history of the Meyer Werft shipyard. Upon our arrival, we lunched in a building converted from the former Meyer Werft factory replete with the original moveable cranes overhead.

Following lunch, we toured the Ems PreCab Cabin Factory. Did you know that every cabin Vicki Freed and Terry Denton about to enter the Meyer Werft shipyard(some 2000 or so) will be built as a separate module and delivered to the ship to be inserted into its precise location? Nor did I. They have borrowed from the automotive industry the concept of a slow-moving (v e r y  s l o w  m o v i n g) assembly line where workers sequentially apply their own expertise. The picture on the left is Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services, and your humble servant about to enter the factory.  It speaks volumes about Vicki’s generosity in risking her stellar reputation by allowing her photo to be taken with moi!

Anthem of the Seas under construction

Following the visit to the PreCab factory, we moved over to the Meyer Werft shipyard’s Laser Hall and the Block Assembly and Building Hall where we saw the Anthem of the Seas in an earlier stage of construction. These great ships are built in sections and joined together with a very strong, water-resistant superglue. OK, I made up that last bit.

At 4:00 pm, sensing that sleep deprivation and our forced march were threatening to render us comatose, they allowed us to park our weary carcasses for the highlight of the day, the live web cast “Reveal” staring RCCL’s own Chairman of the Board RichardRichard Fain and David Pogue at the Reveal Fain and technology guru David Pogue. “And what exactly did they reveal?”, I know you are dying to ask.  I will tell you . . . next time.  That is what those in the news biz call “a tease”.   For those who were hoping for a detailed listing of the many virtues of the Quantum of the Seas,  just watch for the next post.  The Quantum tour was day two of our trip.

Here is a quick summary of the remainder of day one. Enjoyed a very nice dinner. Crashed and burned. Awoke half an hour later to the ear-piercing sound of fireworks being set off directly outside my window which thunderous racket in my stupor I somehow wove into a dream about a surprise Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Let’s all pray that part was just a bad dream.

If you would like to see all the pictures I took on my trip, click here.  Now is your chance to participate by taking this short survey.

Let The Anticipation Begin!

Would you like to hear the Denton theorem regarding a universal trait seemingly shared by every intrepid soul in the travel business?   (By way of  warning, unless you hit delete immediately, you are about to.)  So, here it past-present-future-traffic-sign-on-a-sky-backgroundis.  As much as we enjoy reminiscing about the past and reveling in the present, our secret passion is anticipating the future.

As Edward Streeter put it, “”Travel is ninety per cent anticipation and ten per cent recollection.”  Sometimes this affliction is so acute that we actually catch ourselves in the midst of one glorious travel experience dreaming about the next.  Admittedly, that is a little sad.

But here is another great travel insight (I am just full of them today, or as  some would say, just full of it.).  As much as we enjoy anticipating the next experience, for better or worse, it seldom turns out quite the way we expect.  The brilliant Benjamin Disraeli once observed, “What we anticipate seldom occurs, what we least expected generally happens.”   That, however, is precisely what makes travel so rewarding.  If it were predictable, it wouldn’t be an adventure, don’t you see?.

So what has prompted all this philosophical musing on my part, you may (or may not) be asking yourself.  As it happens, I am brimming over with keen anticipation as I stand on the precipice of another travel odyssey. Frankly, like so many of my travel exploits, I am indebted to one of my favorite travel partners, in this case Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

A couple of weeks back, RCCL announced a contest where travel professionals were invited to submit an essay of 100 words or less explaining why they were “Loyal to Royal”.  I quickly realized that I can100 Words To Wow merely sneeze and expectorate at least 100 words, so I decided to enter.

To cut to the chase, five executives at RCCL headquarters were obviously feeling particularly magnanimous that day because miraculously, I was one of the five winners selected from over 500 entries!. Here is my entry.

Loyalty, like faith, is never sounder than its intended object. No amount of fanatical belief will support a heavy man standing on thin ice. I am “Loyal to Royal” in part because I have confidence in their consistent product, respect for their professional staff and agreement with their strategic vision. A much more important reason for my loyalty, however, is simply that across the span of twenty-eight years the foundation of my faith has never seen so much as a fissure. When one’s own commitment is consistently reciprocated and one’s trust proves entirely justified, loyalty comes very easily indeed!

Quantum of the Seas under construction

The prize was a trip tp Papenburg, Germany to the Meyer Werft ship yard for a sneak peek at the soon to be launched  Quantum of the Seas. The trip will be hosted by Vicki Freed, RCCL’s Senior Vice President Sales and Trade Support & Service and Joanne Schimelman, Vice President of National Accounts.  I interviewed Vicki on this very blog a while back which you can read and listen to here.

As I pen these words, I am wending my way at 30,000 feet to Miami. Tomorrow around 1:00 pm we board a special Miami Air charter for Germany.  I invite you to follow along over the next few days as I chronicle my journey and publicly post many pictures beyond even those on this blog.

In a sense we have come full circle.  I venture forth not knowing who else will be participating, where we will be lodging or the seating configuration of our silver chariot. If you imagine that I find these little gaps in my knowledge disconcerting, you need to go back and reread the first two paragraphs. The mystery only augments the anticipation.

I learned long ago that it is not getting there that is half the fun.  Thinking about being there . . . now that is half the fun!

 

The Zambezi Queen: Humble History, Bright Future!

The Zambezi Queen, for those familiar only with her present glorious incarnation, has a rather intriguing history.  Referring to something that began in the early 1990′s in historical terms probably risks offending professors of classical antiquities but I am not sure how many academicians would openly admit to reading my humble blog anyway.

Zambezi QueenThe ZQ, as she is sometimes affectionately called, was given the original charter to carry guests from Katima Mulilo down the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers and back.  Unfortunately, there was one small miscalculation.  The sheer size of the vessel made navigation difficult and it wasn’t long before the ship was unceremoniously converted into a floating hotel moored to the river bank for the benefit of visitors to the Caprivi Region of Namibia.   This is like imagining a 50′s era Santa Fe Super Chief dining car ending up as a burger joint along a rural Arkansas highway.

Redemption came in 2008 in the form of two visionary entrepreneurs, Tony Stern and Brett McDonald.  Where others saw only fading glory, they saw future greatness.  The redesign and renovations were extensive with an entire new top deck added.  The Zambezi QueenAs is pointed out on the website, “Celebrated South African fashion designer Jenni Button lent a hand in the classic yet contemporary interior with understated muted tones.”  The very bright future was only burnished when the Zambezi Queen became part of The Mantis Collection (a world-class organization you will learn more about in future blogs).

I don’t know if a vessel that claims a total of 14 suites (10 standard and 4 master) qualifies as a small ship or a large houseboat.  (If you are anal about such matters, you can find seven differences between a ship and a boat here.) All the suites share these features:  they are all located on one of the first two decks, they all have floor to ceiling windows offering spectacular views and each has an outside deck where you experience the sights and sounds of Africa first hand.

Zambesi Queen bedroom If you harbor a secret fear that experiencing the wilds of Africa requires compromising your “comfort room” expectations, let me flush away those concerns . . .  so to speak.  As the Zambezi Queen bathroompicture to the left clearly reveals, you will not only enjoy a cabin with a spectacular view but one with an equally remarkable loo!

When we ascend to the upper deck, we find a surprising array of enchanting public areas.  The dining room, the comfortable lounge with unobstructed views and the bar are woven together in a subtle fashion. Speaking of the bar, it is stocked with local and imported wines, beers and spirits with the locally sourced variety of each included in your cruise rate.  As was pointed out above, we have Jenni Button to thank for the impeccable yet understated taste that runs throughout the Zambezi Queen.

For those who place almost as much value on ambiance as taste when it comes to food, you will not be disappointed.  Let me introduce you to your Namibian wait staff.

our-staffNot only will you dine on savory, mouth-watering morsels but your meals will be delivered in a uniquely African manner.   Close your eyes and you would think you were in the heart of Africa.  Oops, that’s right.  You are in the heart of Africa!

The Zambezi Queen experience includes opportunities for bird-watching, Tiger (the aquatic variety) and Bream fishing in season, water based game drives by tender boat and even a visit to a local village.

Bird-watching   Fishing in Africa

African safari   African Village

There is so much more to say about this incredible experience but alas, no time left to say it.  I will just have to allow my feverish fingers to cool down until we meet again.  In the meantime, the obvious solution . . . to me at least . . . is for you to let me assign one of my crackerjack staff (at least I think that’s what I caught them nibbling on) to explain how you can make the Zambezi Queen part of your own bright future!

Napa Valley’s Bardessono Proudly Flies The Green & Gold

Almost by definition, every world-class hotel or resort must have its own unique footprint.  To some small yet meaningful extent, it should be unlike any other place on earth.  Bardessono can claim the rare attribute of having an almost invisible footprint . . . carbon that is.  As I will shortly explain (after a brief disclaimer), this hotel has somehow managed both to raise the bar for green sensitivity and to set the gold standard for seamless service.

Bardessono Inn ExteriorFirst the disclaimer.  Having never lived in California, I am not exactly up to cruising altitude on this whole green thing.  The green with which I am most familiar is the envious green pallor  which washes across my countenance whenever I think about those fortunate folks who are frequent guests at this exquisite inn.  Although, in my own defense, I do drive a Prius and in Texas that alone is sufficient to get you branded a card-carrying tree-hugger.

GREEN

Environmental Responsibility

Bardessono has earned a platinum certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), their highest designation.  In point of fact, they are one of only three hotels in the United States having achieved this rating.  Gratefully, since I have already paraded my woeful ignorance of such matters (see above), I am relieved of the obligation of pretending I understand all that implies.

Bardessono Solar Panels

The hotel has provided an  impressive list of proactive environmental steps on this page on their website which you can peruse at your leisure.   You will find mention of heating and cooling, lighting, low water use, reuse of materials, organic gardens and much more.  As the hotel likes to point out, the various environmental elements are hidden but ubiquitous.  If even that doesn’t quench your thirst, drop me a note and I will send you their sustainability brochure.

Having given that subject its due, let’s move on to a topic with which I am much more familiar, i.e., my shameless embrace of self-indulgence.

GOLD

As you can clearly see from the image on the right, underneath the name Bardessono areBardessono Logo written three descriptive terms:  hotel, restaurant, spa.  In the case of Bardessono, by all rights these elements should be listed individually since each component could easily stand alone on its own merits and, it so happens, each can be enjoyed individually.   Appropriating the outline they have conveniently provided us, let’s take a glance (would that time and space permitted a more robust perusal) at each aspect.

Hotel

Let’s begin with the fact that Bardessono is located in the center of downtown Yountville in the heart of Napa Valley with 62 luxurious guest rooms.  Each and every room was designed for private, in-room spa services.  Have you ever wished following your spa treatment you could just drift away into a prolonged, contemplative trance?  I tried that once after a particularly relaxing massage but the staff eventually . . . and I thought rather rudely . . . insisted I give them their room back.  At Bardessono, it is your room!  More about the spa therapy center in a moment.Bardessono Inn Spa Suite

 If you are the type that likes to know exactly what you are getting, just mosey (a uniquely Texas gait) over to their website and you will find not only a detailed description of Spa Suites, Steam Spa Suites and Tufa Suites, along with their ADA counterparts, but also detailed floor-plans and included amenities.  Every room has either a furnished courtyard or balcony.

Restaurant 

 In most restaurants, everything starts in the kitchen.  In Lucy Restaurant everything starts in their garden.  They like to call it “Garden cuisine that is always in season”.  Click here for a very cool one-minute video interview with the chef, Victor Scargle who is almost as gifted at explaining things as I am.

Lucy's Garden Table

If you want an unforgettable experience, book Lucy’s Garden Table which includes a tour of the garden, a seasonal speciality cocktail and a multi-course meal.  Click on the picture above for a full description.

One of the coolest pages on the entire website, in my never quite humble estimation, is the page that talks about their culinary suppliers and providers.  Who wouldn’t want a “Liberty Duck”, a “Wooly Weeder” open range, milk-fed lamb or a “Broken Arrow Ranch” antelope?  OK, a vegan I suppose.  You got me there!

SPA

The spa menu at Bardessono reminds me of the wine list at the famous Paris restaurant Bardessono SpaLa Tour d’Argent.  For just a moment, I was sure they thought I had asked to see the Greater Paris phone book.

I invite you to download their lovely 12-page online spa brochure (even their brochures are green) and sample for yourself.  You will find numberless ways to be hydrated (in case you are dehydrated) and an equal number of ways to become detoxified (in case you are toxic).   You can even be “waxed” and “polished” if you have somehow lost your sheen, I suppose!  As mentioned above, your spa butler will gladly transform your room (assuming you are a hotel guest, of course) into the perfect spa environment.

I would endeavor to summarize the Bardessono experience had not Jim Treadway, both the General Manager of Bardessono and the Vice-chairman of aptly named Benchmark Hospitality, not already done it so well in this brief video.

Well, I think my task is drawing to a close.  I have presented a compelling case for planning your next trip to Napa Valley, I have elucidated numerous reasons Bardessono should be your next home away from home and finally, after 100 plus blog posts, I hope to high heavens you know by now who you are supposed to call.

So my final bit of advice is go for the gold and make your friends green with envy!