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10 Hotels Outside the Box

   

Whether they are five-star hotels or no-tell motels, most of the 4.8 million guest rooms in the United States have something in common – they all have four walls. Your basic box.

Here are several properties where you can stay that take you far outside that box, including covered wagons, lighthouses, teepees and even a giant beagle. So when you’re ready to think outside the box when it comes to accommodations, check these places out.

Wagon Camping at The Rock Ranch

Conestoga wagons at The Rock Ranch

Slumber like the pioneers when you stay in a covered wagon at The Rock Ranch. This 1500-acre cattle ranch, about 1 ½ hours south of Atlanta, has eight Conestoga wagons, the kind the 18th- and 19th-century pioneers used to cross the U.S.

Each wagon has four sets of bunk beds and comes with lanterns, firewood, picnic tables, port-a-potties and drinking water. Wagons are $225 and you can add on hot dog dinners at the campfire, a story teller or even an astronomer for an additional fee.

Teepee Camping at North Georgia Canopy Tours

A teepee at North Georgia Canopy Tours

A teepee at North Georgia Canopy Tours

For a glimpse at how the Cherokee Indians lived, stay in a teepee in Lula, Georgia, about an hour north of Atlanta.

North Georgia Canopy Tours has seven teepees named after the seven clans of the Cherokees. These teepees have features those Native-Americans never saw, including HVAC, lighting and electrical outlets.

Rates for a couples’ teepee start at $90; $119 for a family. Linens are provided, and you can order breakfast for an additional fee.

Treehouse in Atlanta

A three-room treehouse in Atlanta

A three-room treehouse in Atlanta

If you’ve been to the Magic Kingdom, you’ve walked through the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse. Well, this is even better because you can actually stay here.

This three-room antiques-filled treehouse is right near Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead, but nestled in the woods so you’ll feel like you’ve really gotten away. You can walk to several restaurants and the Food Truck Park. Listed on airbnb.com for $350 a night.

Banning Mills Treehouses in Whitesburg, Georgia

Treehouses at Historic Banning Mills in Whitesburg, Georgia

Treehouses at Historic Banning Mills in Whitesburg, Georgia

Go ride the world’s longest zipline at Historic Banning Mills, then stay up in the air when you settle in for the night in one of these cozy treehouses. Each treehouse has a king bed, fireplace, bathroom and deck overlooking the Gorge. Rooms are accessed by a Sky Bridge, so if you’re scared of heights you may want to cross these off your list.

Rates start at $209, which includes a country breakfast in the morning.

Jules Undersea Lodge in Florida

Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida

Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida

Yes, you can be like the Little Mermaid and actually stay under the sea at Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo Undersea Park in Key Largo, Florida. It’s the world’s only underwater hotel. You can get SCUBA diving training here, which you need to visit because you have to dive down 21” just to enter the lodge.

The package for two is $400 and includes pizza delivery dinner, breakfast, snacks and dive gear.

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel in Chattanooga

A room in a train car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo

A room in a train car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo

Relive the glory days of travel by train when you stay at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel  in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can stay in one of 48 Victorian train car hotel rooms in Terminal Station, which was saved from the wrecking ball by local businessmen who turned it into the popular hotel. It’s may be a bit touristy, but it’s so great they saved a beautiful train station. Rates start at about $180.

The Shady Dell Trailers in Arizona

A 1949 Airstream at The Shady Dell in Arizona

A 1949 Airstream at The Shady Dell in Arizona

Airstream trailers are back in vogue. Now you can stay in a vintage Airstream or one of nine other travel trailers from the 1940s and 1950s at The Shady Dell in Bisbee, Arizona.

The Shady Dell opened in 1927 as a stop on Highway 80, which runs from Savannah, Georgia to San Diego, California.

Rates start at around $90. Trailers comes equipped with small fridge, linens, towels, dishes and a percolator with coffee.

Rose Island Lighthouse in Rhode Island

The Rose Island Lighthouse in Rhode Island

The Rose Island Lighthouse in Rhode Island

Guests can actually operate the lighthouse when they stay at the Rose Island Lighthouse on an 18-acre island near Newport, Rhode Island. The lighthouse, built in 1869, is still a working lighthouse.

Overnights guests have two options. You can stay in the bedrooms of the 1912 lighthouse museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, after it closes for the evening. You just have to remake your bed by 10 AM when it opens the next day.

Or you can stay as a keeper for a week or a night, but you’ll be put to work with chores and record keeping starting at 7:30 AM. Rates start at $175 for a bedroom

Winvian Helicopter in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

Interior of the Winvian Helicopter in Connecticut

Interior of the Winvian Helicopter in Connecticut

This 1968 Sikorsky Sea King helicopter at Winvian Farm used to carry members of the Coast Guard and now hosts guests in its cockpit where you can watch a movie, hang out by the wood-burning stove or seat yourself in the pilot and co-pilots seats to live out your own high-flying fantasy.

The 890-square-foot helicopter is housed inside a cottage as is the king-sized bed for when you retire for the evening. Rates start at $459.

Dog Park Bark Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho

The Dog Bark Park Inn, a bed and breakfast in Idaho

The Dog Bark Park Inn, a bed and breakfast in Idaho

If you’re goin’ to the dogs in Cottonwood, Idaho, you’d be staying inside the world’s largest beagle. Chainsaw artists Frances Conklin and Dennis Sullivan starting carving wooden dogs years ago, with the beagle being the first breed as they considered it the most politically correct. You never ready anything bad about the beagle hurting anyone.

With the money they earned, they carved Sweet Willy, a 30-foot dog that is also the bed and breakfast that sleeps four at The Dog Park Bark Inn. Guests enter this unusual accommodation from a second-story private deck. Rates start at $92 and include breakfast.

Kokopelli’s Cave in Farmington, New Mexico

Kokopelli's Cave in New Mexico

Kokopelli’s Cave in New Mexico

It’s a cave 70’ below the surface, but with a gorgeous view of sunsets over La Plata River valley. Kokopelli’s Cave is 1700 square feet and includes master bedroom, living room, dining area, full kitchen, two porches, bathroom with rock walls with a waterfall shower. You won’t find a thermostat though – the cave stays between 68-73 degrees year round. Rates start at $280.

Historic Inn and Southern Soul Food: A Stopover in Richmond

   

If we added it up, we spent about two days in Richmond this weekend, on either side of a reunion trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. And it didn’t cost a thing. Well, sort of.

The Linden Row Inn in downtown Richmond, built in 1817 and operated as an inn since the 1980s.

The Linden Row Inn in downtown Richmond, built in 1817 and operated as an inn since the 1980s.

Flights from Atlanta to Charlottesville can be hundreds of dollars more than flying to Richmond, where we rent a car and make the easy 70-mile drive over. So we decided to spend the night there Thursday, then most of the day Sunday before our late evening flight. And what we spent probably equaled the amount we saved on airfare. Or at least, that’s the story I’m sticking to. No need to get out those calculators, right?

With no agenda and no goals, (a life philosophy I hope to adapt one day) we were free to wander the cobblestoned streets of this almost 400-year-old city, down by the James River and across a pedestrian bridge to the 540-acre wood-covered Belle Isle. Now a popular city park, it formerly housed a fishery, a village and a prison camp for Union soldiers during the war.

The tulips were in full bloom at Maymont Gardens, a popular park in Richmond.

The tulips were in full bloom at Maymont Gardens, a popular park in Richmond.

Another top-rated attraction is Maymont Gardens, where we spent a few hours Sunday strolling through the gardens and viewing the wildlife. With free admission, these gardens were filled with picnickers, children tumbling down grassy hills and couples lounging on blankets on a gorgeous, sunny day.

Here are few more suggestions if you visit the historic town of Richmond. Read the full post »

The Masters Pimento Cheese Recipe

   

My dad has had Masters tickets for decades and loved making the trek to Augusta National every year. When my mom was still alive, he would sometimes take her although her interest was mainly in how pretty the azaleas were.

I finally had my own Masters experience a few years back and while I’m not a big golf fan, loved attending this iconic event. I stood about six feet from the (pre-sleazy) Tiger Woods and enjoyed hiking the impossibly green, perfectly manicured course from hole to hole, checking out the vast variety of clothing, which for men ranged from khaki shorts and polo shirts to … khaki pants and polo shirts.

One of the best reasons to go to the Masters Golf Tournament. Pimento cheese sandwiches.

One of the best reasons to go to the Masters Golf Tournament. Pimento cheese sandwiches.

One of the best parts of attending, of course, is enjoying the dirt cheap food and beer. I don’t think the menu has ever changed much and includes barbecue and egg salad, ham and turkey sandwiches. Prices range from $1.50 to $3.00. Beer ranges from $4 for domestic to $5 for imported. That’s right — you can get a sandwich and beer for less than $6.

But my favorite is the pimento cheese sandwich, available for $1.50. While some people consider golf to be a high-brow sport, pimento cheese is definitely not. Let’s start with the bread. No fancy-pants multi-grain, artisan loafs here. It’s white. (I’m resisting the urge to make a comment about the attendees at the tournament.)

As for the recipe, well, there seems to be some mystery around it and no one has the real, true, official Masters recipe. Apparently it has been the source of controversy, leading to Pimento Gate in 2013.

So a man in Aiken, SC made the sandwiches for years. Then the golf club switched vendors, and peeved about losing the business, Mr. Cheese Man wasn’t about to share the recipe. The new vendor tried to recreate it, but had trouble finding the exact right cheese.

They finally found the correct cheese by going to the man’s suppliers for mayo, pimentos and cheese. But there was still a secret ingredient missing. The recipe they have today is as close as they can come.

It’s like the recipe for Coke, reportedly locked in a vault. And Google turned up more several varieties, all claiming to be close to the real thing.

I even saw some versions with blue cheese, which I can’t believe is in there. That’s too fancy and too expensive to be sold for $1.50 alongside egg salad. So I’m going with this version adapted from www.theteesheet.com. Because these folks put a lot of time and thought into it. And because it has processed American cheese in it. That just seems right.

The Masters Pimento Cheese Recipe

  • 6 ounces processed shredded yellow american cheese. If you can only get sliced, just chop it up
  • s6 ounces shredded swiss cheese
  • 2 ounces pimentos chopped up and some of the pimento liquid
  • 2 generous tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • dash of hot sauce to taste
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) of heavy cream (optional)
  • salt and pepper (optional)
  • white bread
  1. Put shredded cheeses and chopped pimentos (with juices) in a bowl. Add the mayonnaise and cream. Mix with a spoon or spatula. If it’s not easy to spread, add a bit more calories. I mean mayonnaise and/or cream.
  2. Add hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Spread on two pieces of very white bread.

Serving size: 2-3 sandwiches

Calorie Count: You do not want to know. Just look at the ingredients. Forget about that and just enjoy.

The Wonder List: Venice

   
These tourists came prepared with their matching boots to handle the rising waters in Venice.

These tourists came prepared with their matching boots to handle the rising waters in Venice.

A few years ago, I was thrilled to introduce my husband to the magical mystery tour that is the city of Venice. I wanted him to see it before it we needed rain boots and possibly a kayak to navigate through St. Mark’s Square.

Venice is one of my favorite cities. Which doesn’t make me unique. The city welcomes more than 20 million visitors a year and tourists outnumber the locals 600 to 1.

Is the City of Water in danger of being trampled by these millions of tourists and destroyed by rising tides? Bill Weir, host of a new show on CNN called The Wonder List with Bill Weir, takes a look at the future of Venice in an episode this Sunday at 10 PM.

Other episodes of the new show will include travels to the Galapagos Islands, Ikaria, India, the Swiss Alps, the Dead Sea and the Everglades.

As reluctant as I am to add yet another show to our growing listed of DVRed titles, this one rates the space. For a preview of the episode, click here.

 

 

Handbags that Give You a Charge

   

We’ve all had that moment, right? You’re in the middle of that clever tweet, funny text message exchange or capturing a photo of something amazing. And, …. your battery dies. Here’s a trio of cute bags that charge your phone, ensuring you won’t be left, well, in the clutch.

 

The Clutchette

The Clutchette

The Clutchette

I wish my lifestyle allowed me to only carry this darling little clutch. It has room for essentials, but I always seem to need more, with glasses, a big wallet, yada, yada, yada. But it’s perfect to throw in my larger bag, and when I’m dining in a hotel, I can carry this with me to the restaurant to hold my hotel key and phone.

It’s made of soft vegan leather, has a detachable strap and polka dot interior. It’s compatible with most USB devices and can charge your smartphone once. $49.99 at www.chicbuds.com

 

The Mighty Purse

The Mighty Purse

The Mighty Purse

A friend told me about the Mighty Purse awhile ago, but it was out of stock for some time. Now available, this cute faux leather clutch comes in a variety of colors. It works with any device that uses a micro USB and can recharge your smartphone up to 2 times. The interior includes a coin compartment, hidden cable compartment and credit card pocket.$99.99 on Amazon.

 

The Everpurse

The Everpurse

Everpurse

The most expensive option, Everpurse is also the largest and has no cords to bother with. It works by simply placing your phone on a charging mat ($59) overnight.

In the morning you just slip your phone in an interior pocket and it can charge your phone up to two times. Use it as clutch, wristlet or crossbody. It comes in black, sapphire and nude. $249.

 

 

Airplane Gadget I Will Not Buy

   
The B-Tourist, currently in the design phase.

The B-Tourist, currently in the design phase.

It’s possible I missed out on some amazing conversation/opportunity/life-changing event by not chatting it up with people around me on airplanes. But I figure my odds of that happening are about .05%, while my odds of some chatterbox boring the eyes out of my skull stand at 99.95%. So I maintain an avoid-talk-at-all-costs policy when I’m flying. The only exception is within five minutes of landing because there is a definite end to the conversation.

Generally, just reading my iPad is enough to ward off any attempts to engage me. When I really need to avoid conversation, like with scuzzy people with outstretched hands on the subways, I employ the “I don’t speak English” excuse.

I can’t think of any scenario where I would carry on this item, the B-Tourist. Made of a stretchy fabric that you loop around the seat back in front of you and your headrest, it allows you to create a bizarre cocoon-like environment. A selling point is the side pocket where you can store your phone, earbuds or snacks.

But let’s discuss a few logistical considerations. How do your seat mates get past this thing – by doing the limbo? How do flight attendants serve a drink to the guy with the window seat? And what about the poor fella sitting in front of you? His head is gonna spring right back into his lap if he tries to lean back on the headrest.

It’s not yet available for purchase but has been designed by Gal Bulka and Idan Noyberg. Until then, you could create a reasonable facsimile with a plus-sized tube top from Wal-Mart. Or not.

Findable, Foldable Luggage: Lipault Suitcase

   

Foldable luggage. Just like adding wheels to suitcases, I’m wondering — what took so long? Why did we spend years walking lopsided while lugging those heavy-even-when-empty Samsonite monsters?

When we were looking at a new home to move into, there was one big consideration when considering space. Where would all the suitcases and travel-related paraphernalia go?

UnknownWe found ample room in the 4th floor furnace area, which the HVAC guy was audibly displeased about and grunted his way around to check the unit. So it’s not ideal. And if you live in a smaller space or don’t want to devote a major percentage of your storage space to housing suitcases, you’ll want to check out the line of foldable luggage from Lipault, one of France’s leading luggage brands.

The collection has a variety of pieces, including satchels, duffles and business bags. I have the 22” wheeled carry-on, which holds just as much as my regular suitcase. But when it’s not in use, it folds down to just 4” wide so I can easily slide it under my bed or along the side of a closet.

The other benefit is the bright color. While I love my black Tumi suitcase, I have to resort to attaching various eye-catching accessories to it so I know it’s mine when it’s winding its way slowly along the baggage carousel. I have accidentally grabbed other people’s bags before I saw the yellow polka-dotted ribbon that identifies mine.

With the bright teal-colored Lipault suitcase, there’s no danger of that. I’ll be able to spot it from across the terminal. And I imagine that would also deter possible luggage thieves, as it’s so easily spottable.

So the French seem to bake better bread, raise children better, not get fat better and now they’ve done luggage better? I’m not ready to concede on all points, but this suitcase? Well, it’s a keeper.

On sale now for $129.99 in teal, purple, navy, tangerine and espresso.

Yoga and Wellness Retreats

   

 

Yes, these retreats really are called Yoga for Bad People

Yes, these retreats really are called Yoga for Bad People

Yoga for Bad People

Praia Do Rosa, Brazil; March 9-16 and 16-23, 2015

This company with the fun name has a unique mission: to lead weeklong wellness retreats around the world that encourage quiet time — and infuse them with physical activity and nightlife. The programs include vinyasa-style classes set to music that ranges from Outkast to Zeppelin, daily meditations, and other activities depending on the location. In Mexico, the retreat is at Playa Loma Bonita Villas where activities include surfing, horseback riding, stand up paddle boarding and nightlife. The Brazil retreats are held at Pousada Casa Do Ceo, where you can also take a samba lesson, hang-glide or go horseback riding. Rates, which include accommodations and all meals in Mexico and most meals in Brazil, start at $1,700 for shared accommodations.

 

Yoga on the deck at Anamaya

Yoga on the deck at Anamaya

Anamaya Resort Yoga & Adventure Retreats

Montezuma, Costa Rica; Ongoing

Taking a deep breath during yoga is more relaxing and healing when you can enjoy the ocean views and warm sea breezes from one of two yoga shalas at Anamaya Resort. You’ll feel even more cleansed as you indulge in gourmet organic food in a toxin-free environment in this remote rainforest setting. When you’re not in the downward dog or warrior pose, wander over to the three-tiered waterfall with natural pools to swim and dive, have a treatment at the spa, take a healthy cooking class, go horseback riding or journey to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches at Montezuma and Santa Teresa. Rates start at $795 for a week in shared accommodations.

 

 

Yoga at the Westin Verasa Napa

Yoga at the Westin Verasa Napa

The Westin Verasa Napa Girls Getaway Weekend

Napa, California; March 5-8, 2014

Wine has long been touted for its health benefits, including helping the heart. So a weekend devoted to wine, women and wellness seems like a natural fit — and what better place to host this perfect girlfriends’ getaway than Napa Valley? The weekend starts off in grand style with a four-course dinner at the Michelin Star restaurant La Toque, with wine pairings featuring wines produced by female winemakers. Get a jump on the day Friday morning, March 6, with a walk or run around downtown Napa with the Westin Verasa Napa’s running concierge or take a yoga class. Later in the day enjoy wine tasting and an evening wine tasting reception. Check out a makeup demo presented by 29 Cosmetics, attend a cleansing workshop, or just enjoy the heated saltwater pool. Room rates start at $159; activities start at $5.

A version of this article appears in the Holiday issue of Travelgirl magazine

2 Florida Favs: Sandpearl and Longboat Key

   
A night view of the pool at Sandpearl Resort. Guests often linger around a firepit on the beach where they can enjoy making S'mores.

A night view of the pool at Sandpearl Resort. Guests often linger around a fire pit on the beach where they can enjoy making S’mores.

Sandpearl Resort is a four-diamond luxury resort in Clearwater Beach with gorgeous wide beaches, a lovely spa and a warm welcome accompanied by a glass of Champagne at check-in.

Guests can enjoy lounging in Adirondack chairs and making S’mores over the fire pit.

Close by is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where we met Winter, whose story inspired the Dolphin Tale movies.

We explored the town of Clearwater on two wheels when we set off on the 7.5-mile Segway Adventure along the boardwalk, over the Clearwater Memorial Causeway.

The relaxation room at the  spa at The Resort at Longboat Key Club, where I enjoyed an excellent massage.

The relaxation room at the spa at The Resort at Longboat Key Club, where I enjoyed an excellent massage.

I hadn’t picked up a tennis racquet since the 20th century, but the pros at The Resort at Longboat Key Club near Sarasota, Florida had me back in the swing of things in no time. Healthy travel is a particular focus at this four-diamond resort, which offers wellness packages that include a nutritional consultation, health-focused meals, spa treatments, and classes outdoors and in the newly renovated Mind & Motion Studio.

Guests can also enjoy exercising while playing any of the 45 holes of championship golf, strolling along the beach, or exploring the many shops and restaurants of charming nearby St. Armands Circle in Sarasota.

Invite Us to the Instagram Party!

   

We’re the kind of people who show up pretty much on time for a party. And even though my husband often says, “Let’s stay just a little while,” we are usually making one last toast with the host and among the last to leave.

When it comes to new social media, however, I’m generally a little late. I kinda kept waiting for this “Twitter” thing to disappear so I wouldn’t have to add yet another method of writing to my increasing portfolio. But I finally caved in, took two young women in my husband’s office to lunch and asked for a tutorial over chicken curry sandwiches.

Travelgirl in new to Instagram. Please follow us!

Travelgirl is new to Instagram. Please follow us!

That’s been a few years now and I love sharing my life and travel trips in less than 140 characters, and am thrilled when I’m retweeted and followed. A major coup was when Taye Diggs followed me. But then I read that he follows close to 50,000 people so I’m not so special after all.

But the comedian Mike Birbiglia (@birbigs) did retweet me once and I forever count that as a coup.

Now, it’s time to Instagram. Yes, I know I’m late but I hope I can still join the fun. I’ve been on it a while but not really active. I’ve been the one standing in the corner picking all the cashews out of the nut bowl, while everyone else has been connecting, sharing, filtering, cropping, commenting and having all the fun.

I just started officially handling all the social media for Travelgirl magazine too, and we didn’t even have an Instagram account. We do now but we need more followers.

So I’m asking to jump into the party. Follow us and we’ll follow you back, and let the fun begin!

Instagram @JanSchroder

Twitter @GirlontheGoJan

Instagram and Twitter @Travelgirlmag

Next up? Pinterest, of course! www.pinterest.com/travelgirlmag