Passion on a Plate in Savannah

Will Herrington in the kitchen at Kitchen 320 in Savannah

“This tomato tart means a lot to me. This is my mother – this dish takes me home,” said Executive Chef Will Herrington as he set down yet another of our multi-course Southern-themed dinner at the new Kitchen 320. Home isn’t too far away for this talented chef, who is from south Georgia and is now heating up the kitchen with dishes from his childhood at the signature restaurant for B Historic Hotel in Savannah, Georgia.

The tomato tart with Vidalia onion and crust flakier than a southern debutante was the best I’d ever had, which was followed by delicious Georgia white shrimp, sweet tea chicken wings and skirt steak.  (“This dish is my daddy and me cooking outside together.”)

Breakfast dishes define decadence with items like pecan-crusted French toast, country ham pancakes and eggs Benedict served on a buttermilk biscuit with tomato jam and blueberries. Every dish I had here was memorably delicious, made even more special when served with the passion of the chef behind it all.

 

Leap of Faith in Cancun

I figured gravity was on my side as I lowered myself into a cave. Just don’t expect me to be able to climb out of one.

“Just jump away from the platform and lower yourself slowly into the cave,” the guide said. Like that’s the easiest thing in the world. Caves kind of creep me out in the first place, so I was all on board with the slow part. But that meant I was entirely relying on my upper body strength, against my personal policy.

Harnessed and hardhatted, our group was at the start of a tour of the Cenote Maya Park in Cancun, led by Alltournative Tours. I held my breath, jumped and was thrilled to find myself not plunging into the dark cave below. I slowly let out the rope that took me gently down.

 After that the rest of the afternoon was the type of adventure I could handle. We floated through the cool waters in the cenote, a sinkhole formed when limestone collapses to expose groundwater. We ducked under spectacular stalactite formations, lit up with the lamp of our guide Riaz. At one point, we stopped to gather around on a rock to witness a shaman perform an authentic Maya ceremony.

 We went from below ground to far above the trees when we climbed towers to zipline through the forest, much easier for me than rappelling into a cave. Our day concluded with a delicious traditional Mexican lunch of soup, chicken, beans and empanadas.

6 Reasons to Use a Citypass

A view of San Francisco I took from the de Young Museum.

When I was in college, my friends laughed at my coupon-clipping mother when she bought me an expensive dress for a wedding. “She saves money on cans of tuna, then buys you that dress?” they said.

It made perfect sense to me. Save money when you can, and spend it where you want. So when I travel, I’ll find the cheapest coach fare available, even if it means leaving for the airport in the pre-dawn hours. And I often take my own food onboard. But then I can justify buying that one-of-a-kind handcrafted necklace in Santa Fe.

That’s why I love the CityPASS, a discount coupon booklet available in 12 cities.

Purchase the CityPASS for your destination, which is good for nine days from the first time you use it. They are good for several attractions, and in some cases, for transportation. For example, in San Francisco, the pass includes unlimited transportation for seven days on cable cars, buses and all Muni trolleys.

  1. You’ll save money.

That’s the prime reason many people purchase these popular discount booklets. On my recent trip to Chicago, a CityPASS booklet was $98. If I had purchased entrance fees separately, I would have spent $207.95.

I could save 53 percent on entrance fees to five attractions per person. My husband and I could use that $200+ in savings to go out to dinner. Or maybe even do a little shopping on the Miracle Mile. Continue reading

The Travel 10: Tips, Trips, Trends & Deals

 

It’s not Venice, but hey, Scottsdale is beautiful too. The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch—Arizona, has four gondolas.

Introducing The Travel 10 with 10 Tips, Trips, Trends and Deals

  1. 1.33 Billion

That’s how many wings Americans are projected to consume during this year’s Super Bowl. I’m too lazy to do the math, but that sounds like a few dozen per every person in the country.

If you’re one of the lucky ones heading to Houston this weekend to catch the biggest sporting event in our country, check out 5 Things to Do in Houston.

  1. The $14,000 Question

Feeling confident she’ll say yes? Go for the proposal/travel package at the St. Regis Residence where a butler will assist you with the proposal, you’ll enjoy dinner prepared by the St. Regis chef and then be whisked away first class to the Bahamas for a two-night stay in the Albany resort. Must book by Feb. 7 and available only on Feb. 14.

  1. It’s Getting Hot in Here, But I’ll Leave on All My Clothes

Leave your clothes on when you fly Virgin Atlantic after you enroll in the airline’s TSA Precheck program. It’s the first UK airline to participate in the program and it’s only available on direct flights from the US to the UK.

  1. Don’t Go Chasing Hurricanes

According to HomeAway’s 2017 Trend Report, the five destinations with the biggest percentage increase in demand for vacation rentals are … ready for this?

Hurricane, UT; Sautee Nacoochee and Cleveland, GA; Bay Area, CA; Waco, TX and Utica, IL

If anyone has a clue why you want to go to Hurricane, Utah, please fill me in.

  1. You Had Me at Hyatt

Make like a Parisienne and tie a lock on a fence, cruise in a gondola, stroll on a river walk or indulge in sky-high views at Hyatt Regency hotels with romance packages for Valentine’s Day. Check out resorts in Denver, Clearwater Beach, the Hill Country and Lost Pines in Texas, Gainey Ranch in Arizona and in Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. Continue reading

5 Things to Do in Houston

In honor of the Falcons trip to Houston, I’ve updated my article on Houston.

“I’m going to write a blog called ‘Houston Doesn’t Suck,’ my daughter declared as she was preparing for her move to this much-aligned Texan town a few years ago.

It’s true that Houston has suffered an image problem, perhaps due to its sprawling size, lack of zoning and reputation as an oil-and-gas focused town. But Houston isn’t the same place it was a few years back. On a recent visit, I met designers, architects, tour guides, restaurateurs and bartenders and heard from all two recurring refrains: “Everything has exploded in the past five years,” and “We’re so much more than oil and gas.”

Anvil opened in 2009 as Houston’s first bar devoted to the classic cocktail. (Photo by Julie Soefer Photography)

There’s been an explosion in the arts, food and fashion scene and the city is undergoing unprecedented growth with 26 projects under construction and 20 more in the planning stages. With more than 2.1 million people, Houston is the second fastest growing city in the country, not far behind New York.

So maybe it doesn’t suck to live there any longer. But how about to visit? I’m among the many who have predicted that Houston is going to be our next It City. Here are 5 reasons you’ll want to check it out for yourself.

  1. 10,000 Drinking and Dining Options

Possibly the most diverse city on the planet, Houston has no ethnic majority and around 100 languages are spoken here. All those cultures translate to the availability of just about any type of food, with more than 10,000 food and drinking establishments.

I started my trip with drinks at Anvil Bar & Refuge, the first bar in Houston dedicated to the classic cocktail and a James Beard Award nominee. Good luck with making up your mind from its 100 enticing-sounding concoctions in categories like Bitter & Bold or Tropical & Tiki.

We followed that with dinner at Underbelly where Owner/Executive Chef Chris Shepherd buys whole animals directly from farmers and processes them in the butcher shop at the back of the restaurant. The menu changes daily, but some items include charcuterie, chili marinated flank steak and seared snapper. Continue reading

Best Frequent Flyer Programs

Frequent flyer miles in my accounts help me fantasize about my next vacation.

I love collecting frequent flyer miles, almost as coveted as money in the bank. Being based in Atlanta, I tend to rack up miles on Delta more than any other airlines.

That’s good news for me, as a study done by WalletHub compared the top 11 major airlines in the country using 23 metrics. These included black-out date policies, the value per mile, whether miles expire, the number of daily flights and number of destinations served.

The study rated Delta as number one for the second year in a row – woo hoo! One of the best things to me about Delta is that it’s one of only two airlines where miles don’t expire due to inactivity in your account. (Note to self: check those miles on United Airlines!) The other is JetBlue.

Other good news is that three of the 10 largest airlines offered more rewards in 2017 than in 2016. I was also surprised to find out that eight out of 11 airlines do not impose blackout dates – I just assumed there was no way you’d find a flight on major holidays. Then again, with just a few week’s notice we flew to Paris one year for Thanksgiving on frequent flyer miles. But I figured that was just because France isn’t top of the list for Thanksgiving travel.

Use this custom calculator to determine your best frequent flyer program.

Another benefit is that 45% of airlines will give you credit retroactively up to 12 months after your flight. Not that they make this an easy process. I did this once with Delta and had to fax in several pages of documents,which I believe is their way of cutting out the number of people willing to go to the trouble. So I traveled back to the 1980’s to find a place to actually fax something, Seriously, a fax?!

So how much extra are flyers willing to pay to reap those precious points? Aaron Hackett, a lecturer in marketing in the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech says airline rewards programs have significant influence on consumers’ behavior. When he asks his undergraduate and MBA students, how much more they are willing to pay, they typically respond around 20%. That’s a hefty amount for anyone, and especially for a college student.

To find out the best program for you, try this Custom Calculator. Just put in the amount of money you spend on air travel per year, and find out which program is best for you.

Check out the full report here.

Loma de Vida Spa & Wellness at La Cantera

One of the pools at Loma de Vida spa.

It was the most beautiful bathtub I’d ever seen. Carved out of wood and perched on a deck overlooking the golf course at La Cantera Resort & Spa, the giant curved beauty beckoned me to disrobe, climb in and sink down, wineglass in hand, to enjoy the view of the 550-acre hilltop resort near San Antonio.

But the rainy cold weather, the lack of an invitation and desire to strip down in front of a group kept me clothed and continuing on our tour of Loma de Vida Spa & Wellness. This enchanting 25,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor space just opened last fall and we were touring one of the two Sky Loft suites with magnificent views of the hill country of Texas.

The Gathering Place, with views of the hill country of Texas

The Spa also includes two couples’ suites, salt water pools and three garden cabanas. Add this to your fantasy reel: you can even rent your own private grotto with its own private pool. There’s a full gym to get your workout in, but it was hard to picture myself anywhere other than that tub or sinking down into one of the lounges around a fireplace in the Gathering Place. The views alone would lower my stress.

The exterior of Loma de Vida at La Cantera

“We want people to disconnect to reconnect,” said Maggie Dunphy, Executive Director of Spa and Wellness for Destination Hotels and La Cantera Resort. Count me in – I’ll disconnect from whatever I need to for a day in that place. Even if you aren’t staying at La Cantera, which I suggest you do as it is lovely, you can visit the spa on a day pass. In addition to booking a treatment, check out the spa menu and organic juices at Quenche Juicery.

Top Products for 2016

Some I never could figure out. Some were just kinda meh. Others, I loved. I received several products to review in 2016 for my various outlets, and some I use every day while others make me smile when I pull them out.

Here is my list of favorite products of 2016.

 

Now I put on a happy face every time I travel with this adorable Smiley Luggage from ATM Luggage. It comes in other patterns, but I couldn’t resist this pattern, especially as it serves as a logo of sorts for my son, a millennial happiness expert and author of the book “Millennials Guide to Making Happiness.” Check out the cove and you’ll see what I mean.

 

Oh, how I’d love the adult version of these 1965 VW Camper Van Play Tents, although it’s a bit too expensive just for me to play in. But our future grandchildren will love the pop-up tent from The Monster Factory. The tent is modeled after the 1965 Split Screen VW Camper Van and is stored away in a VW Wheel bag.

I spend a third of my life now with these amazing sheets. These new hyper-cotton Bedgear sheets were developed to have greater airflow and keep your body temperature regulated through the night. All I know is that they are supersoft and make slipping into bed at night even more of a thrill.

 

I love this line of Dune Jewelry that includes grains of sand from your favorite beach, selected from their huge sand bank. Select your sand then the piece of jewelry you’d like, including rings, earrings, bracelets, charms or even a watch.

I never thought I’d abandon my iPhone. But then I got a Moto Z Force smartphone, and it’s adios to Apple. At least for my phone. It has a shatterproof screen and a battery that charges super fast.
This camera takes amazing photos on its own, and then when I attach the Hasselblad True Zoom, one of several “Moto Mods ” attachments that snap on in a jiff, I can take the most amazing photos of my life. Other attachments include a JBL SoundBoost Speaker and Moto Insta-Share Projector. And my cute Kate Spade backup battery snaps right on and assures I’ll never run out of juice. I loved it so much, I wrote an entire blog on it.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

Top 5 Airport Lounges

I found a quiet spot and set up my computer in a cozy nook to get a bit of work done, enjoying a warm cup of herbal tea. I heard the chatter increase a bit, and saw a few people passing by with plates piled with fried chicken. I joined the short line to cruise down the buffet line steaming with hot dishes. On the way back, I passed a toque-wearing chef at a table lining up samples of tuna ahi and other delectables.

I was in the Centurian Lounge of LaGuardia Airport, where the plentiful and delicious food, quiet spaces and peaceful atmosphere were the antithesis of what waited me beyond when I entered the crowded, stress-filed terminals. It is generally with great reluctance that I grab my things and exit, no matter how exciting my final destination may be.

The Plaza Premium Lounge at London’s Heathrow airport was selected as top airport lounge in the world by Priority Pass members. Amenities include private resting suites, shower rooms; a Wellness Spa and a Champagne and tapas Bar.

Ah, the joy of the airport lounge. A much-needed respite from the hassles of flying, some so nice you never want to leave. When we travel on vacation from Atlanta, we allow extra time to enjoy the lounge at Hartsfield – flying is so much more enjoyable after a Bloody Mary or gin and tonic – don’t you agree?

Priority Pass, the world’s largest independent lounge membership program, recently released their list of top airport lounges. These were chosen by Priority Pass members from a selection of 1,000 lounges in more than 500 cities.

Make Yours a Moto

When I travel, I carry a speaker, projector, professional camera, battery pack and smartphone. Together, they are about the size of my wallet.

The secret is Moto Mods, attachments for my Moto Z Force that snap right onto my smartphone, instantly transforming it. They are so easy to use and have changed the way I travel with electronics.

Here are the Moto Mods now available for Moto Z phones. And I’m loving every one of them.

I am taking the best pictures of my life with the Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

I am taking the best pictures of my life with the Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod

Hasselblad True Zoom

Highly valued by professional photographers and amateurs with very deep pockets, (starting price around $12,000!) a Hasselblad camera is now within reach of even casual photographers, like me. This Hasselblad True Zoom has a 10x optical zoom and professional settings. I am taking the best photos of my life, and feeling like a pro. $299.99

The JBL Soundboost Speaker has a great sound.

The JBL Soundboost Speaker has a great sound.

JBL Soundboost Speaker

We used to travel with a separate speaker that took up valuable space in my husband’s suitcase. Now I just pop on the JBL Soundboost Speaker, and voila, great sound no matter whether we’re chilling to some jazz or getting our dance on to some James Brown. $79.99

The Insta-Share Projector lets you project movies right on the wall. Or the ceiling

The Insta-Share Projector lets you project movies right on the wall. Or the ceiling

Moto Insta-Share Projector

I’m hoping to use this clever projector to do a slideshow of photos from my daughter’s wedding at Christmas. The Moto Insta-Share Projector displays images up to 70” on any flat service. You can even use it to watch movies on the ceiling while in bed, a fun way to entertain the kids. $299.99

With my Kate Spade power pack, I never run out of power.

With my Kate Spade power pack, I never run out of power.

 

Incipio OffGrid Power Pack

With all that fun, my smartphone battery can drain pretty quickly. But I stay powered with my Incipio OffGrid Power Pack, which adds up to 22 hours of extra battery life. I have the striped Kate Spade version, perfect for me as I’m a stripaholic. The battery packs come in four other designs. Start at $59.99

You can change the look of your Motorola Z phone with swappable backs.

You can change the look of your Motorola Z phone with swappable backs.

Swappable Backs

I rather like the sleek look of my smartphone on its own, but when I want a change of style, I can easily add a Style Shell from partners like Kate Space New York and Tumi. Start at $19.99

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”