Black Friday = Big Savings at The Somerset

The reverse lap pool and infinity pool at The Somerset, with the Atlantic Ocean in the background.

The reverse lap pool and infinity pool at The Somerset, with the Atlantic Ocean in the background.

“I just want to go somewhere and chill,” my husband said as I probed him for what he wanted to do for his birthday. Which was also our first vacation of the year.

We ended up at The Somerset in Turks and Caicos, and couldn’t have made a better choice. Although we are both on our laptops as I write this, we have mostly managed to stay off of them. And on the beach. Or a boat. Or at the pool.

Our one-bedroom ocean view villa is huge, with a giant balcony, 1.5 bathrooms, full kitchen and free wifi. Staying at The Somerset includes a complimentary continental breakfast at the restaurant, The Pavilion, Monday night manager’s cocktail party, complimentary bicycles, snorkeling equipment and Caicos Kids Club.

Our balcony, where I've spent a lot of time this week mastering the art of The Chill.

Our balcony, where I’ve spent a lot of time this week mastering the art of The Chill.

There are always plenty of chairs with umbrellas available on the beach, with friendly staff members to set up towels and provide cold water. The Somerset is on Grace Bay Beach, recently voted the #1 beach in the world by TripAdvisor.

We’ve taken walks on the beach, ridden our bikes out to dinner, snorkeled and chilled out. A lot.

With a Black Friday special,  now through November 30, save 35 percent on three nights or more for travel through May 31. (It does exclude December 22-January 2 and the month of March.)

Make reservations by calling 844-819-7025 or booking online at TheSomerset.com using promo code BF2016.

 

5 Reasons to Be Grateful You’re American

My guest blogger today is Chris Butsch, who just wrote a book on happiness, “The Millennial’s Guide to Making Happiness,” now on Kickstarter. Order today and get your signed copy by Christmas.

For those of you struggling to find happiness in today’s election results, I wanted to offer the five things I thought about during Gratitude Meditation this morning. Perhaps they’ll help you remember how truly awesome it is to be among the 4% of the world living in America.

mgmh_3d_final_quotemarkedit1) We have clean drinking water. When I’m thirsty at home, I fill a glass from the fridge. Worst case; I’m on my bike and have to use the fountain at the park that randomly shoots like a fire hose into my face. Finding water never interrupts my daily routine. For over a billion people, it does.

2) We have the freedom to explore other countries. I’ve visited over a dozen countries without a second thought. My friends Deng and Tar, Millennials from Vietnam and China respectively, either can’t afford to leave due to their country’s weak currency, or their governments won’t let them. As Americans, we have the freedom to explore the rest of the planet.

3) We have health care. While it may not be affordable for many, at least it’s there. Millions of people around the world don’t have access to basic pain relief, whereas I can Google my symptoms and get Airborne from a Rite-Aid just down the street in minutes.

4) We have safe roads. Sure, we may have flipped the bird to a jerk in a Silverado once, but those occasions are rare. In general, we commute from A to B OK everyday on roads, and in cars, designed to maximize our safety. That’s simply not the case in most countries, like in Libya, where road fatalities are 7.3 times as frequent as they are here.

5) We can be with our loved ones whenever we want. If you’ve never heard the excuse “I can’t afford to see my family for another year,” go to China, where 163 million migrant workers work 70+ hour weeks in the city just so their child can be raised by their grandparents in the countryside. If they’re lucky, they’ll see their family once a year. Meanwhile, even for the American working class, our infrastructure allows for easy nationwide travel, so loved ones are never out of reach.

Before wrapping up, try picturing your life without ANY of those five things, and slowly grant them back to yourselves, and always remember, America is a fertile breeding ground for happiness.

 

Best Face Forward: Skin Care Lines

Words used in this blog I didn’t know existed as a child: collagen, exfoliate, anti-aging, décolleté, micro-emulsion

Oh, if only I’d known about using daily sunscreen when I was younger. Growing up in the South, we spent months every year playing kickball, softball and lounging by the pool, not a lick of Coppertone in sight.

Fast forward and now skincare is a more primary concern, and I don’t step outside to my mailbox without a proper layer on sunscreen on my face. And a daily skincare routine has become a bit more complicated than lathering on the Noxzema. Close your eyes and you can still smell that distinctive odor, can’t you? I opened a jar in the car on a road trip once, and my dad immediately made me put it away and rolled down all the windows to rid the car of its penetrating fumes.

Here are three skincare lines I’ve tried recently to partially recapture that soft skin of my youth.

The starter kit from Auspect.

The starter kit from Auspect

Auspect: The Auspect skincare line comes from Australia, which has one of the harshest climates in the world. I tried the starter kit with four products called total clean, exfol+, vita C and hydrate plus. ($110)

The products include an easy-to-use daily care regimen card that told me which products to use and in what order for day and for night.

During a recent mini-facial, the aesthetician had told me I needed to include more vitamin C in my skincare, so I was thrilled to see these. I loved the cute packaging and how easy the products are to use. They have pumps, which makes it easy to dispense the products, and they don’t leak when I travel.

The dual serum from Babor. Which sounds like something out of a spy movie you use to knock someone out, then wake them back up.

The dual serum from Babor. Which sounds like something out of a spy movie you use to knock someone out, then wake them back up.

Babor: Another line I’d never heard of, as they don’t carry it at CVS, Babor was introduced to me by a hotel where I stayed. Two different times. I tried not to think too much about why two different places gave me anti-aging products – I’ll just go with it.

I tried the anti-aging eye cream ($125) and the anti-aging dual serum ($265). They both feel good upon application and my skin feels softer. Are they taking years off my appearance? Maybe so. Or it could be I look better because two of the four lights over my bathroom mirror are burned out.

The pink collection from Flawless Finish, which looks like it should be in a museum.

The pink collection from Flawless Finish, which looks like it should be in a museum.

Forever Flawless: These products are packaged so beautifully, you’ll want to give them a spot of prime real estate in your bathroom. I sampled three products from the Pink Diamond Collection, which includes collagen boosting cream, a reconstructive mask and infused collagen serum.

Diamonds, you may ask? I know they are supposed to be our best friend, according to Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, but don’t we prefer to flash them from a finger or peeking out from our ample cleavage? (I use the term our loosely)

Seems the Forever Flawless research team found that extra-fine natural diamond powder gently exfoliates the top layer of the skin. That allows the vitamins, moisturizers and other goodies to penetrate our skin better to do their job.

The products look pretty and made my skin feel really soft. And I feel elegant just opening the packages, something my Noxzema never did for me. Luxury has its price, however. My collagen products are $699 each. It seems rejuvenating our aging skin is not an inexpensive process.

I loved how every one of these products made my skin feel and look. And none of them smell like Noxzema.

 

Go on Vacation: Adopt a Dog

 

Caldwell makes a new friend at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Caldwell makes a new friend at the Inn by the Sea.

Call it the ultimate souvenir. Some guests at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, are going home with more than a seashell or a locally purchased trinket. They are taking home a new member of the family.

The inn partnered with a local dog rescue firm in May 2015 to help rescue dogs find permanent homes. A dog comes to stay at the inn and hangs out behind the front desk of this charming New England inn. Guests can take the dog out to frolic in the large grassy area in front of the hotel, or even down the boardwalk for a walk on the mile-long Crescent Beach.

It doesn’t take long for someone to fall in love and check out with more than just the bill for their stay. Since starting the program, more than 63 dogs have found permanent homes.

On my recent trip there, I met Caldwell, a young puppy who looked right at home snoozing on his bed behind check-in. I saw him later running around in the front yard, and heard one guest lamenting that if she had driven there, she would adopt him

My guess is he’s already found his new home, to be replaced by another young pup.

One Ocean Resort: Jacksonville Getaway

The One Ocean Resort in Jacksonville, Florida

The One Ocean Resort in Jacksonville, Florida

Seems my husband’s car is spending more time at the airport parking lot than at home as he travels for business. And I’ve added my share of miles to my frequent flyer accounts this year. But together? We haven’t had more than a four-day weekend all year. And with no beach trip we were really missing having our toes in the sand and a cool adult beverage in our hands.

We still didn’t pass get past the four-day mark, but we did have a wonderful late summer weekend getaway to Jacksonville. Our stay at One Ocean Resort was relaxing and rejuvenating. We felt no pressure to do much of anything, and met that goal nicely, spending a lot of quality time on our 7th floor balcony taking in the view of crashing waves and changing tides below.

The enchanting entryway to Azurea at One Ocean Resort

The enchanting entryway to Azurea at One Ocean Resort

We parked our car when we arrived, and didn’t get back in it until we left three days later. With lots of restaurants just a short walk away, we were covered for meals. The first night we dined at Sliders Seafood Grille, where we had excellent service and two delicious entrees, including its signature dish of butternut grouper, which earned a place on our most beloved dishes.

Saturday night we dined at One Ocean’s beautiful fine dining restaurant Azurea.  We dined on coconut and lime lobster bisque, a ribeye and sea bass. All yummy, although the chef informed us a lot of the menu will change in the next few weeks.

Feeling a need for a break from rich food, we had lunch the next day at North Beach Fish Camp. We got our ceviche fix, and two variations of tuna: seared yellow fin tuna with a sesame salad and an Asian chopped tuna salad. Healthy and delicious.

Deadlines, what deadlines? I can truly relax in a spa, Champagne glass in hand with a view of the ocean.

Deadlines, what deadlines? I can truly relax in a spa, Champagne glass in hand with a view of the ocean.

I spent a blissful couple of hours in The Spa at One Ocean, which has the best view from its relaxation room ever, the Atlantic Ocean from the second floor. It’s almost enough to just sip tea and sit here. Almost ….

My two-hour Citrus Sensation treatment included a massage, scalp treatment and full body exfoliation followed by a vichy shower to wash it all away. Now I know what strawberries feel like at the bottom of the colander when I’m rinsing them off.

At over a five-hour drive, a trip to Jacksonville does involve time in the car. But it was a perfect weekend getaway, and one we vow to repeat at least once every year.

3 Fun Fashion Finds for Travel

Here are a few items that will be finding their way into my suitcase or carry-on bag. In addition to meeting my first criteria for travel clothing of “doesn’t wrinkle-ever,” each of these items can also be worn in multiple ways.

The Razorback Tank dress from Orgotton

The Razorback Tank dress from Orgotton

  1. Orgotton Dress, $88

Last week we went straight from kayaking on the Chattahoochee River to dinner at our friends’ house. I needed something I could pull out of a bag and change into quickly.

This Razorback Tank dress from Orgotton was perfect. I threw it on and felt stylish and comfortable. The fabric is a super soft mix of bamboo, cotton and spandex. The fit is flattering and it’s not too short for me in the front. I would also wear this as a bathing suit cover-up or even to sleep in. Orgotton has a large collection of dresses and separates, all great for travel.

Oh, and if you plant the cute tag that comes on the dress in a sunny spot, you’ll be rewarded with wildflowers!

 

The Armagami shawl can be worn 15 different ways.

The Armagami shawl can be worn 15 different ways.

  1. The Armigami Shawl

Touted as the “Shawl That Does Not Fall,” the Armigami was created by two sisters who wanted a sarong they didn’t have to tie and a wrap that didn’t fall off their shoulders. With a few strategically placed buttons, the Armigami they created fits the bill.

The Armigami comes in 17 colors, from basics like black, white and denim, to ombre, lace, stripes and even rainbow sherbet. Prices start at $64.

 

 

Not, it's not a crop top, but a layering piece called The Halftee.

Not, it’s not a crop top, but a layering piece called The Halftee.

  1. The Halftee

Fall in Atlanta is all about layering, but I don’t like that bunched-up look around your middle you get sometimes from piling sweaters on top of shirts. That’s where the Halftee comes in. It looks like those popular-because-of-Britney-Spears crop tops, but they aren’t designed to wear on their own, but rather as a laying piece.

The Halftee comes in styles that include turtleneck, sleeveless, shortsleeve, longsleeve and lacey versions and in up to eight colors, depending on the style. Prices start at $8.50.

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

Yes! Voice-Activated Hotel Rooms

I loved my room at this property in Playa del Carman. But the off switch on the nightstand didn't work, and I had to cover it up with bath towels.

I loved my room at this property in Playa del Carman. But the off switch on the nightstand didn’t work, and I had to cover it up with bath towels.

I stayed in a charming hotel housed in a former monastery in Avignon, but encountered an issue the monks never had to deal with. I couldn’t turn out the lamp by my bed.

At another property in Mexico, the beautiful nightstand lit up, a fun feature during the day. But when the off switch doesn’t work at night, not so much. I had to pull out all my bath towels and drape them over the nightstand so I could sleep.

At a hotel in Seville, I had to call the front desk to send someone to show me how to turn on the TV. I’ve also frozen/been overheated in hotel rooms because I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the thermostat. Or in some cases, couldn’t locate it in the first place.

Those problems will be a thing of the past if other properties follow the example of Aloft Hotels and its new program that’s been referred to as “Project: Jetson.”

Guests at Starwood properties Aloft Boston Seaport and Aloft Santa Clara can enlist an iPad app using Siri that allows them to turn on/off the TV, change the temperature and turn the lights on and off using voice commands.

Here’s how it works. You walk in your hotel room, where you’ll have instructions on the TV on how to set up the voice activation. Then you introduce yourself to Siri and talk to her long enough for her to recognize your voice when you ask her to do stuff for you later.

In addition to adjusting settings in the hotel room, you can also ask Siri questions like “Where can I get Thai food close by?” or “What time does the aquarium open?’ She’s like your in-room assistant you don’t have to share the bathroom with!

 

Now, if it will just make coffee for me in the mornings.

 

5 Reasons to Love Kimpton Hotels

Posh Parker is Director of Pet Relations at Hotel Palomar San Diego. She spends her time greeting guests, lounging by the pool and hanging at the dog spa. A dog’s life, indeed.

Posh Parker is Director of Pet Relations at Hotel Palomar San Diego. She spends her time greeting guests, lounging by the pool and hanging at the dog spa. A dog’s life, indeed.

I never know what to expect when I open the hotel room door in a Kimpton hotel. This restaurant and hotel group is known for its fun and quirky decorating style, with no hotels the same. Yesterday we opened to door to our room in the Hotel Allegro in Chicago and were greeted with carpet and wallpaper in shades of brown and beige, with a pink-and-green painting provided a large splash of color. Kimpton rooms always make me smile.

This group of boutique hotels has 64 properties in 33 cities in the US and Grand Cayman, with international destinations coming soon. Here are five more reasons it’s one of my favorite hotel groups.

Hotel Allegro is in the theater district, close to shopping and Millennium Park, shopping and the theater district.

Hotel Allegro is in the theater district, close to Millennium Park, shopping and the theater district.

1. Good locations

The Kimptons I’ve stayed in were all within walking distance of major attractions, a huge plus for me. My favorite way to see a city is by foot and I love just walking out the front door to explore.

Yesterday I walked six blocks and was at Millennium Park, passing by several stores I hope to have time to return to. When we stayed at Kimpton Topaz in DC we were two blocks from the Dupont Circle Metro station so we could easily reach anywhere in the city we wanted to go.

We enjoyed a glass of prosecco at Hotel Allegro’s nightly wine hour.

We enjoyed a glass of prosecco at Hotel Allegro’s nightly wine hour.

2. Nightly Wine Hours

Every Kimpton has a nightly Wine Hour in the lobby hosted by a member of the staff. Yesterday I returned weary and overheated after an afternoon of sightseeing, and putting about nine miles on my Fitbit. That refreshing glass of prosecco was a welcome sight, and revived me for our evening out.

A few of the properties have also started a Nightcap Program that includes a small pour of a libation paired with a snack.

3.Kimpton Karma Rewards

Sign up for this free rewards program and you’re eligible for several perks, including free wifi, a $10 bar credit to use in the room or at the hotel bar, and credit towards free nights. You’ll also receive an email for 20 percent off daily rates for stays Thursday to Sunday during your birthday month.

My son and I loved the Hotel Topaz in DC, with its funky eyelash art. It had a separate desk area where I could work while he slept in.

My son and I loved the Hotel Topaz in DC, with its funky eyelash art. It had a separate desk area where I could work while he slept in.

4. Complimentary bikes and yoga mats

Every room has a yoga mat, and select hotels offer yoga classes by the pool or on the rooftop. And all hotels offer complimentary bikes. During a stay at Hotel Monaco in Chicago a few years ago, I hopped on a bike and set off of a ride on the Chicago Lakefront Trail. I had a delightful morning while enjoying the stunning views and getting in tons of exercise.

5. Pet-friendly service

We no longer have a dog (rest in peace, Riley), but if he had traveled with us, he’d be welcomed at any of the Kimpton properties at no charge. Even though he weighed close to 90 pounds. “If your pet fits through the door, we welcome them,” according to the website. Many Kimptons even have a Director of Pet Relations to greet you.

Pick Your Palace: All-Inclusives in Cancun, Mexico

The beach at Playacar Palace Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

The beach at Playacar Palace Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

I can predict with 100 percent accuracy that the first day back at work after vacation I will be a big bowl of grumpy. Returning from a fun trip is always hard, and made so much more difficult if you encountered sticker shock from all the Amex charges you racked up, plus several layers of taxes on your hotel bill.

Danger, danger! That was my thought when the bellman showed me the in-room drink dispenser at Playacar. These are in every room, but I steered clear.

Danger, danger! That was my thought when the bellman showed me the in-room drink dispenser at Playacar. These are in every room, but I steered clear.

That’s just one reason I love all-inclusives. Go ahead — try that exotic appetizer, island cocktail or froufrou dessert — it won’t show up on a bill later making you regret your indulgence. (At least not for the money spent. The calories are between you and your waistline.)

Best Tuesday afternoon ever: fresh ceviche, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a comfortable lounge chair and this view.

Best Tuesday afternoon ever: fresh ceviche, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a comfortable lounge chair and this view.

On a recent trip to Cancun, I visited three gorgeous all-inclusive properties, all part of the Palace Resorts. This hotel group has eight properties, with four in Cancun and one each in Jamaica, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen.

 

A first for me at Playacar: drinking  out of a skull, a smoking drink no less made with mescal and named De La Muerte.

A first for me at Playacar: drinking out of a skull, a smoking drink no less, made with mescal and named De La Muerte.

They all offer a friendly flower/drink welcome at check-in, free wifi, 24-hour room service, gorgeous beachfront locations, nightly entertainment and luxurious accommodations. They have two features I’d never seen before —  a huge whirlpool tub for two (right in your room!), a CHI hair iron and an in-room liquor dispenser. I used two out of three, and kept my distance from the other. And let’s not forget the amenity that really fills me with joy — the swim-up bar. So how do you choose?

My room at Playacar, with another light-up nightstands.

My room at Playacar, with another light-up nightstands.

The best way is to pick on the basis of who you are traveling with. But here’s an important note: whichever resort you are staying at, you have access to the others, with the exception of Le Bianc. A 24-hour shuttle service runs between the properties while a ferry can take you from Playacar Palace to Cozumel Palace. And if you book a five-to-eight night stay, you’ll receive $1,500 resort credit to use for visits to the spa, golf, romantic dinners and tours.

With limiting the choice to the three properties I visited, I’d return to these:

One of the paths to the beach at Moon Palace, soon to the largest resort in Latin America. Like Vegas, but nicer. And on the beach

One of the paths to the beach at Moon Palace, soon to be the largest resort in Latin America. Like Vegas, but nicer. And on the beach

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3 Best Travel Pillows

Freezing my way through yet another arctic plane ride, I asked the flight attendant for a blanket. “We haven’t had those since the ‘80s,” he snapped and scooted away.
It is rare to find pillows and blankets in coach class, and when you do, they are just recycled repositories for germs from passengers past. So I prefer to take my own to ensure a small measure of comfort. These are three pillows I’ve found that are worth dragging around the airport and onto the plane.

The new JetComfy travel pillow attaches to your armrest.

The new JetComfy travel pillow attaches to your armrest.

Jet Comfy

I’d never seen a product quite like this before. Jet Comfy was created by a two gentleman who met in a hotel bar in Tahiti, and after lamenting the uncomfortable flight they had endured, decided they could create a better travel pillow.

This new product is designed to support your neck while in a seated position. The compact pillow extends, then attaches to your armrest where you can adjust it to a comfortable position. It has a removable microfiber cover over 2” of memory foam. As a bonus, it has two built-in power packs for recharging your devices. Comes in blue and grey: on sale for $49.99.

Cabeau-Fold-n-Go-Blanket-Cabeau-Blue-2-1024x1024

The Cabeau Fold ‘n go Blanket is also a pillow.

Cabeau Fold ‘n Go Blanket

Made of high-quality fleece, this blanket wraps me in warmth. My favorite feature is that it’s also a pillow to perch under my iPad on my lap or put behind my back for lumbar support. A Velcro handle makes it easy to attach to my suitcase when it’s not in use. It’s machine washable, a mandatory feature for anything that touches the inside of an airplane. Comes in blue and charcoal for $19.99.

Thanks to the Cabeau Air Evolution I actually slept on my 14-hour plane ride to India.

Thanks to the Cabeau Air Evolution I actually slept on my 14-hour plane ride to India.

Cabeau Air Evolution

I was a bit skeptical about this double-decker inflatable pillow, but I love it. The raised sides offer support for my neck and the removable velour cover is super soft. There’s a media pouch to slip my phone or earbuds in and it folds down into the size of a soda can for easy transport. Comes in grey and blue for $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.”