U.S.

Omni Amelia Island Resort and Omni Jacksonville Hotel Reopen and Introduce Enhanced Health and Safety Measures

In addition to Omni Hotels & Resorts’ brand-wide safety program, the properties are following local mandates and guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (May 21, 2020) – Omni Amelia Island Resort and Omni Jacksonville Hotel have proudly and safely re-opened their doors. As part of reopening, the hotels are following new protocols and safety measures put in place as part of Omni Hotels & Resorts’ brand-wide program, Omni Safe & Clean.

The program is part of the hotel brand’s new “Stay A Part Of” campaign. Even with empty hotel rooms and closed doors, Omni Amelia Island Resort and Omni Jacksonville Hotel were determined to demonstrate how the true meaning of hospitality transcends physical barriers. At a time when the world is being told to socially distance and physically stay apart from one another, Omni has launched its new Stay A Part Of campaign to encourage guests and associates to Stay A Part Of what matters most during this unprecedented time. The spirit of this campaign laid the foundation for Omni as its associates worked diligently to adapt traditional hotel operations for reopening in a post COVID-19 world.

“While our doors have been closed, we have worked tirelessly to ensure we can provide our guests a safe stay when they feel comfortable returning,” said Peter Strebel, president of Omni Hotels & Resorts. “I think we’re all really craving togetherness right now and we look forward to hosting families and friends again, allowing them to make memories together that will inevitably be a little sweeter after all of this time apart.”  

Omni Safe & Clean guarantees that Omni Amelia Island Resort and Omni Jacksonville Hotel will Stay A Part Of Safety with new guidelines including:

  • All associates will wear masks and gloves and will be subject to daily health screenings, including daily temperature checks
  • Check-in and -out process will be limited or contactless wherever possible
  • Room keys will be disinfected
  • Additional staff members will be scheduled to clean high-traffic areas
  • Additional guest sanitizing stations will be added throughout the hotel
  • Lobby furniture will be repositioned, allowing for social distancing
  • High-touch areas will be cleaned and disinfected every hour
  • Room service/housekeeping will deliver items to guests without contact
  • Elevated disinfecting will take place after each guest’s stay
  • High foot traffic areas will be designated as one-way passages and include wider aisles wherever possible
  • Physical distancing indicators will be placed on the ground at key waiting areas such as hotel check-in, event registration, hostess stations and food lines to help attendees maintain necessary distance

Additionally, the hotels are committed to Stay A Part Of Hospitality through various aspects:

  • Stay A Part Of TravelOmni is offering Select Guest members (or new members), a 30 percent discount on best available rates on new bookings made now through September 5, 2020, for stays now through September 12, 2020. Offer is subject to availability with more information located HERE.
  • Stay A Part Of CommunityIn partnership with Feeding America, Omni helps provide one meal for every completed stay through its Say Goodnight to Hunger programOmni is committed to helping local communities during these trying times, and donations will be doubled for any group bookingsmade throughout the summer months.

For more information or to book accommodations, visit omnihotels.com/hotels/amelia-island and omnihotels.com/hotels/jacksonville.

About Omni Hotels & Resorts

Omni Hotels & Resorts creates genuine, authentic guest experiences at 60 distinct luxury hotels and resorts in leading business and leisure destinations across North America. With more than 25 iconic golf courses and 16 award-winning spas featured in dynamic locales nationwide, every Omni proudly opens its doors to share the true spirit of its destination. Reflected through local color, personalized service, unique wellness options, signature restaurants and creative culinary offerings, Omni leaves a lasting impression with every guest and a heightened level of recognition and rewards delivered through its Select Guest loyalty program. As a founding member of the Global Hotel Alliance, Select Guest is further expanded through the DISCOVERY® loyalty program offering members additional global benefits. Omni is committed to reducing hunger and is on a mission through its Say Goodnight to Hunger initiative to provide millions of meals each year for food banks to feed children, families and seniors in communities in which it operates. Omni Hotels & Resorts is the official hotel of the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions. For information or to book accommodations, visit omnihotels.com or call 1-800-The-Omni.

HAWKS CAY RESORT WILL REOPEN ON JUNE 1, 2020

The iconic Florida Keys resort is set to begin welcoming guests with new safety protocols

DUCK KEY, Fla. – May 21, 2020 – Hawks Cay Resort will reopen its doors on Monday, June 1, 2020, when the Florida Keys reopens its border to visitors. In compliance with state and local government reopening requirements in the Florida Keys, the resort will open at a limited occupancy and with a long list of new health and safety procedures. 

“Hawks Cay Resort has a longstanding commitment to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our guests and staff, and that hasn’t changed,” said Hawks Cay Resort Vice President and Managing Director Sheldon Suga. “As we all respond to the changes and challenges of COVID-19, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our core values of safety and customer service.”  

Following guidelines issued by public health agencies and the American Hotel Lodging Association, Hawks Cay has implemented a series of new cleaning and social distancing protocols including, but not limited to:

  • Health and wellness checks for staff with an “approval to serve” sticker displayed on name badges 
  • Digital menus accessible via guest smartphone at all restaurants
  • Limited seating at dining outlets and new takeout package options
  • Facemasks are required for all staff and guests
  • Increased cleaning frequency in all public spaces
  • Guestrooms will be cleaned and sealed before guest arrival and daily housekeeping will not be available
  • Social distancing in all public areas

For a more detailed list of safety and cleaning procedures, please visit www.hawkscay.com/covid-19.

“We look forward to seeing guests back at our pools and dining in our restaurants, but it will be a different experience as we adjust to social distancing measures and other cleaning protocols,” continued Suga. “We know it’s going to be an adjustment for our guests, so we’re doing our best to ensure that we’re giving our guests a place where they can feel safe and still have fun, which is what everyone needs right now.”  

Hawks Cay has released several new promotional offers in time for summer travel such as the Advance Purchase option that provides a savings of up to 25 percent and a Drive to Duck Key package to encourage road trippers with a discount and resort credit. For more information or to book your stay, visit www.hawkscay.com

About Hawks Cay Resort

A recipient of the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award and a member of the Preferred Hotel Group Lifestyle Collection, Hawks Cay Resort is located on Duck Key in the Middle Florida Keys. Situated roughly halfway between Key Largo and Key West at mile marker 61, this 60-acre, tropical destination is easily accessible by car, boat or plane yet feels worlds away from everyday life. Alongside the aquamarine water of the Atlantic Ocean, guests enjoy offshore, flats and backcountry fishing; diving; kayaking and standup paddle-boarding programs; Cliff Drysdale tennis program, and the only resort-based Dolphin Connection program with complimentary daily viewings in the continental U.S. The resort boasts 177 guestrooms and 250 two- and three-bedroom villas, a full-service marina, six restaurants, saltwater lagoon, five swimming pools, kid and teen clubs and the award-winning Calm Waters Spa. For more information, please visit https://www.hawkscay.com/.

weekend trip to Whidbey Island

Now that the kids are out of the house, my husband and I are always looking for easy weekend escapes and romantic getaways where we can totally unplug and relax. I haven’t spent much time in the Pacific Northwest, save for a quick trip to Seattle, so we decided to take a weekend trip to Whidbey Island in Puget Sound.

Getting there is a bit of an adventure unto itself, taking a shuttle from the Seattle airport to the ferry. But as soon as I stepped onto the ferry, I knew this place was going to be something special. It’s true what they say that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey, especially given the views on the ferry to Whidbey Island. Having grown up on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, I had not seen such amazing water and island views in decades.

So here’s the perfect itinerary for a weekend trip to Whidbey Island.

Day 1:

If your weekend trip to Whidbey Island is a romantic getaway, stay at the Inn at Langley. From the moment you open the door to your room, the only way I can describe it is “breathtaking”. This quaint island inn offers rooms and suites with 180-degree views of the Saratoga Passage and the Cascade Mountains. Rooms are exceptionally spacious and all offer a large outdoor balcony, a jetted tub with a water view and a cozy wood-burning fireplace. Enjoy your jetted tub and wood-burning fireplace. For me, it’s often the little extra thought and extra perks that properties offer guests that win me over. The Inn at Langley certainly knows those perks from a bathscape that includes a candle (with matches) and bath salts to the large array of free snacks and drinks. 

Day 2:

Breakfast

Before you head out for the day of your romantic getaway, enjoy one of the best breakfasts that you’ll find quite memorable. An upscale buffet breakfast is served in the open kitchen and includes local delicacies like fruit tarts and veggie-filled quiches. Trust me, you don’t want to miss the breakfast. Chef Matt Costello has been at the Inn for 14 years and is now a business partner and owner. The terrace outside the restaurant is a beautiful English garden, with a plethora of fresh herbs, tended by his wife.

Chef Matt also serves dinner at the Inn three nights a week. The menu? Whatever was fresh in the garden that day. The restaurant seats just 24 people as Chef wants to create an intimate dinner party atmosphere, so you’ll want to make reservations for the three hour feast. The cost is $160 per person but well worth it.

Be sure to check out the Inn’s special packages for some great experiences and rates.

Spa

Treat yourself to a treatment at the Inn’s spa before you head off for a day of wine and spirits tastings. The spa (currently under renovation) hails itself as a “healing sanctuary where the forest meets the sea.” Many of the treatments are inspired by the water using ingredients like mud, seaweed, and Himalayan Salt Crystals. Two of the spa’s signature packages include:

  • The Saratoga Passage – Let us transport you away from the stress and cares of your day to the “healing waters” of our signature treatment. This ultimate Sea Flora experience launches from the shore with a Renewing Seaweed Body scrub (dry room only), continues to flow on with a 60-minute Relaxation massage with Sea Flora’s Sea Silk Body Massage Oil Blend, and brings you to your final destination cocooned and resting in a Nourishing Alaria wrap. Great for those with sensitive skin or who prefer aroma-free. You’ll be glad you made the journey! 150 minutes – $385
  • Ila Chakra Wellbeing – As exquisite as it is holistic, this bespoke treatment – tailored to the needs of each individual – works on the muscles, lymph and nervous system as a whole. Based around seven blends of chakra-balancing essential oils, each unique ritual involves deep relaxation of the nervous system, sensuous lymphatic drainage, subtle healing of the chakras and the pouring of warm oil over the third eye to restore and relax every sense. Ends with a scalp massage. 120 minutes – $325

Wine and Spirits Tastings

Spoiled Dog Winery is a small family-owned winery named for the owners’ Australian Shepherds, Sami and Brix (I’m guessing most winery dogs are spoiled). They make handcrafted wines using their estate grown Pinot Noir grapes and produce a number of award-winning wines using grapes sourced from around the state. Be sure to check the website for tasting times and special winemaker dinners.

Whidbey Island Winery is the oldest winery on the island. The owners have planted grape varietals from the cooler parts of Europe that mirror the climate of Whidbey Island. They also produce plenty of reds using grapes sourced from around the state.

You’ll want to visit Whidbey Island Distillery just so you can say you watched whiskey being made in a bunker. This is a true family-run business. Owner Steve Heising grew up in Saudi Arabia and watched his dad distill his own spirits. He wanted to run a business with his own two sons so he designed and built his own stills and today, runs the distillery with his wife and sons.  They produce rye whiskey and liqueurs using local berries – blackberry, boysenberry, loganberry and raspberry. Their blackberry liqueur is among the highest rated in the world and was awarded the prestigious Platinum Medal (98 points) by the Beverage Testing Institute.

Dinner

For an authentic rustic meal, plan an evening at Orchard Kitchen, where dinner is served by a husband and wife team, in a true family style manner. Arrive early so you can stroll through the onsite garden where virtually all of the restaurant’s meals originate. Dinner is only served on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and reservations are a must. 

Our menu included:

  • Salad of Ebb Tide beets with blue cheese, grilled sweet onion and baby arugula paired with 2016 Patsch Zweigelt Rose from Austria
  • Crispy skin Wild Columbia River King Salmon with Scarlet runner & sweet corn succotash paired with 2014 Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais
  • Braised beef tortellini and roasted eggplant caviar with fresh pomodoro sauce and basil pesto paired with 2014 Le Sang des Cailloux “Doucinello” from France
  • Ebb Tide strawberries and crispy meringues with creme Fraiche ice cream and Florentine cookies paired with 2015 Santa Julia Late Harvest Torrentes from Argentina.

Orchard Kitchen also offers cooking classes.

Day 3:

Explore the farms

There are miles and miles of rich farmland perfect for exploring on a weekend trip to Whidbey Island.

Glendale Shepherd Farm is home to 60 milking sheep that are a mixture of European East Friesian and Lacaune dairy breeds, crossed with a variety of North American breeds. Glendale, under the helm of Stan and Lynn Swanson, uses only the finest quality non-GMO hays and natural grains to supplement the goats’ diets, resulting in a rich, sweet, Grade A milk free from antibiotics, additives and preservatives. The Island Brebis, Glendale’s flagship cheese and 2014 Good Food Award winner, is a whole sheep’s milk tomme that is aged from 6 months to 1 year.

Glendale also offers a farm stay camping site that is available to book through Hipcamp. There’s also a newly refurbished studio apartment that is available through Airbnb.

Eckholm Farm is a small, family-owned bee farm near Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Bruce Eckholm was a software executive who gave it all up for a more relaxed lifestyle and embarked on a deep education in beekeeping. He has multiple hives spread throughout the Reserve giving the bees diverse nectar sources. Bruce takes samples from each of the hives and sends them off for pollen analysis which identifies the different floral composition of each honey. Each jar of honey lists the varietals of the nectars, much like a wine label.

3Sisters Farm is a fifth generation working beef farm, now run by the three great great granddaughters (sisters) of the original farmer in 1910. Jennifer, Jessica and Roshel (the 3 sisters) all graduated from college with differing degrees and came home to run, and expand, the farms. Today, 600-acre farm, produces grassfed beef, pork, lamb, chicken and eggs. They raise all of their own non-GMO feed. The 3Sisters Market, a short drive from the farm, is a great place to pick up local artisan goods.

Relax

After a busy day spent visiting the farms, enjoy a bottle of wine on your deck at the Inn at Langley. In the evening, be sure to enjoy the whirlpool tub in your room with a full view of the Puget Sound.

Getting there:

Fly into Sea-Tac and then take the Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle to the ferry. Visit this link for more details on getting there.

An Elkhart Lake vacation is so peaceful

Whether you’re empty nesters celebrating your newfound freedom or someone just looking for a great destination where you can plug and while away the afternoons together, I may have found the Holy Grail in an Elkhart Lake vacation. As we drove past vast, wide open spaces on the one hour drive from Milwaukee airport, I could literally feel my shoulders drop and my breaths lengthen. Within minutes of arriving on the lakefront, I knew this place was going to be special.

As I stood at the water’s edge taking in the scattered lakefront homes and stillness of the environment, I felt like I had just stepped onto the set of Dirty Dancing, the old school family summer vacation destination. I knew my Elkhart Lake vacation was going to be memorable. There was nothing but silence, save for the lone fisherman in his canoe and a paddleboarder exploring a nearby cove. I mean, where can you go these days where and find such solitude? The lake has only 970 full-time residents so it’s not unusual to find yourself alone on the waterfront, especially during off-peak seasons.

First, let me tell you a little bit about the history of Elkhart Lake. The Native Americans who first settled in the region, and named the lake for its shape resembling an elk, believed that the water had curative powers. German entrepreneur Otto Osthoff and his wife, Paulina, moved to the lake for its healing powers and in 1886, opened the Osthoff Resort where for decades, it survived as a gambling haven and a Prohibition-era hideaway for gangsters. Don’t you just love places that have such history?! In the 1950s, the resort changed hands and became a theatre arts camp for children of wealthy Midwest families, where its arts influence is still prevalent today. In fact, a few of the business owners I met along the way attended the theater arts camp as children and have such an affinity to Elkhart Lake, that they returned and built businesses. Many of the resort’s summer vacationers are also adults who spent time at the camp as children.

The Osthoff Resort, despite its luxury amenities and AAA Four Diamond status, really felt more like a cozy retreat and proved to be the perfect place to leave my cell phone behind as I headed out to explore the lake. It’s the best place to stay on your Elkhart Lake vacation.

Spa – The Aspira Spa at the Osthoff Resort offers treatments that are reflective of the history of the area, many incorporating Native American practices and ingredients. They’re all designed to encourage living in the present moment and heighten your spirituality. There’s a Yin Yang massage, chakra balancing massage, and the one I opted for, the “Mind, Body & Spirit Alignment”. It’s described as a “mix of intuitive massage, Reiki, reflexology and craniosacral techniques that balance the body’s energy centers.” It was simply amazing! And there’s a beautiful meditation space in the center of the spa where you and your spouse and contemplate your empty nest time together.

Golf – I started playing golf about 20 years before my husband took up the sport, but I quit playing when the bambinos came along because what Mom can take off five hours to play golf? So one of our goals as empty nesters is to start playing golf together, something we’ve only done a handful of times in our 28 years of marriage. Fortunately, Elkhart Lake has a great golf course for duffers and pros alike.  Quit Qui Oc is a 27 hole course run by Todd and Rachel Montaba. The course had been in Rachel’s family for decades and the couple has turned it into a beautiful place to spend the day. And they’re both golf pros who offer instruction for those of use feeling a bit rusty.

Wine tasting If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know that wine is a central part of my life and travels. And even this tiny hamlet in rural Wisconsin can not escape my need for a wine adventure. Vintage is owned and run by Jaclyn Stuart, a sommelier who caters to the locals and vacationers with a selection of 250+ handpicked wines from around the world. If you’re in need of a gourmet gift, this is the place with a selection of Wisconsin cheeses, gourmet chocolates, olive oils and vinegars bottled in-house, and other artisanal trinkets.

Cooking is such a great couple’s activity so spend a day at the Osthoff Resort culinary school L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School. Under the direction of the resort’s Chef Benjamin Sommerfeldt, you can prepare an elegant multi-course meal together and learn a few new culinary skills along the way. Many of the ingredients come straight from the resort’s garden so be sure to take a little side tour.

A special note: If you’re in Elkhart Lake during the holidays, there’s a European-style Christmas market at the Osthoff. When we lived in Milan, one of my favorite winter excursions was driving up to the Christkindlesmarkts in Germany. If you can’t get to Germany, this is as close as you’ll get!

Ideas for what to do in Costa Mesa California

Wondering what to do in Costa Mesa California? I was invited by the Costa Mesa tourism folks to explore the “City of the Arts.” I wasn’t really sure what to expect, thinking it was just another suburb of LA, but as I would soon see, I was pleasantly surprised by this surprising upscale, arts enclave.

I stayed at the Avenue of the Arts Hotel, a Tribute Portfolio property under the Marriott brand, and realized it’s the little things that hotels do that make frequent travelers like myself happy. Within five minutes of getting to my room, the concierge brought me a nice bottle of wine which was certainly the perfect way to welcome me to the hotel. But it was some of the little touches in the hotel room – actual coffee mugs, not those paper to go cups. The bathroom was colorful and stylish with floor-to-ceiling marble and a bright shower curtain. I also appreciated that the bed faced the window instead of a TV sitting on a bureau, with a small couch area that was the perfect space to work. And you know my affinity for music, so the decor was my favorite!

So with a full belly, I took a short walk to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts where I had arranged to see The Scott Brothers House Party live show. Yes, HGTV is one of my guilty pleasures and I do love The Property Brothers. The show was cute, albeit a bit awkward and unscripted, but entertaining nonetheless.

If you’re still wondering what to do in Costa Mesa California? Costa Mesa is famous for its high-end shopping so a quick tour of South Coast Plaza with stores like Hermes, Christian Louboutin, and PRADA, stores I can’t afford, was in order.  The next morning I headed to The OC Mix described as, “the ultimate design and culinary experience, with over 70 carefully curated, restaurants, showrooms and stores” for coffee at the hip coffeehouse, Portola. Definitely a place I need to get back and explore.

Nashville is known for two things – country music and barbecue. But I am NOT a country music fan. I was a fan when I lived in Texas (it would have been quite the travesty if I had not been – there’s two things Texans are serious about, their barbecue and their country music). I digress…

So when I head to Nashville to visit my son, I’m always on the lookout for something to do that doesn’t involve country music. The city is really underrated as a great all-around destination with a tasty culinary scene and some terrific historical sites. And best of all, the town is filled with good old-fashioned Southern hospitality.

1. Visit mansions – Nashville’s historic roots are best explored in the city’s two iconic mansions, Belle Meade Mansion and Belmont Mansion. Belle Meade, meaning ‘beautiful meadow’, was built by thoroughbred horse breeder John Harding in 1807 as a working farm. Take a guided tour of the 34 acre site dedicated to the preservation of Tennessee’s Victorian architecture, history and equestrian history. Belmont Mansion, an Italian villa built in 1853 as a summer getaway for a wealthy Louisiana family, is a must see for anyone interested in Tennessee history, the Civil War, architecture, art and decorative arts.

2. Visit gardens – When you’re feeling the need to walk off some of that barbecue, head over to the Cheekwood art museum and botanical garden where you’ll find an American art collection, flowers in bloom and a sculpture garden.

3. See art – Nashville’s Frist Center For The Visual Arts features a world-class Art Deco collection housed inside an old post office. But the standout attraction here is the hands-on art space where you can roll up your sleeves and create your own art at one of more than 30 stations.

4. See history – Nashville is home to the Parthenon. Wait, what? Yep, Nashville is home to the world’s only full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon, a nod to Nashville’s nickname, ‘Athens of the South’. In the summer, it’s the backdrop for the city’s Shakespeare in the Park series.

5. Eat – Nashville may be in the South but if you come here thinking you’ll be eating collard greens and cornbread, think again. Nashville’s culinary scene is hot as some of the South’s best chefs are settling here and opening nouvelle cuisine restaurants. Make reservations at Little Octopus, Rolf & Daughters or Tansuo. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken is not to be missed – yes, it’s Southern fried chicken dipped in hot sauce – you choose the level of spice.

6. Drink – Visit a real speakeasy, The Patterson House (if you can find it), where bartenders are more like drink curators where they can virtually read your mind and serve up something that suits your palate with ingredients you’ve probably never heard of. Be sure to follow the rules, yes rules posted at the door. And order the sage and rosemary pork rinds.

Where to stay:

I recently stayed at the newly renovated Sheraton Grand Nashville. Learn more here:
Nashville’s Newest Luxury Hotel: Sheraton Grand

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