Travel

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/.

The ultimate packing for Patagonia guide

There’s one thing you should know about me. I don’t like cold weather. I mean, I abhor (and that’s a strong word) being cold. But when a destination calls that’s a bucket list experience, how could I say, “no?” So when the invite to visit Patagonia came, I began ferociously reading everything I could get my hands on about packing for Patagonia. One thing that was clear in everything I read? Pack for 4 seasons, no matter how many days you’ll be there. Patagonia has a very unique climate and can experience wild temperature swings, strong winds, and simultaneous sun and rain. 

So how’s a warm weather take-me-to-the-beach type of girl supposed to pack for this trip? My winter coat is 20 years old and (ahem) way out of style. My ski gear (I haven’t skied in 10 years) was purchased long before my menopausal muffin top appeared. But being the OCD planner I am, I did my research, connected with a few of the best outdoor outfitters, and lo and behold, I managed to have the perfect gear for my week in Patagonia. 

I would be staying at Patagonia Camp, the uber-luxe yurt resort. If you don’t know what a yurt is, it’s essentially at tent. But think about a tent that’s more like a 5-star hotel suite. So here are my tips for packing for Patagonia.

What I packed for Patagonia:

I kept reading about wind pants in my research and I was clueless. So I went straight to the outdoor source, REI, and they graciously offered up these rather comfy REI Co-op Screeline Hybrid pants that are yes, wind resistant, but honestly, just fun pants to wear anytime. The description says they’re “crafted for high-performance hikers and climbers.” Yeah, that’s not me, but truth be told, I wore these pants every day of my trip. They were not only a great fit, but did the job of keeping me warm on even our windiest days. As I was packing for Patagonia, these were the first item in my bag!

My suggestions for packing for Patagonia
My REI hybrid pants and Flash 22 backpack – don’t leave home without it!

Duluth’s Flexpedition Pants were my back-up pants, you know, for when my first pair needed a rest or rinsing. These pants were a bit stretchier, which certainly came in handy for the amazing meals at Patagonia Camp. I loved being able to roll up the cuffs on a sunny day as I stripped away layers.

Consider the four seasons when packing for Patagonia
Layering was critical to ward off the cold. I had my Obermeyer base layer tights underneath my Flexpedition pants on our coldest hiking day.

Of course, layering was the key to the game in terms of planning for unexpected weather. 

Depending on the day’s forecast, I started with a short sleeved or long sleeved cotton underlayer. But my staple was Obermeyer’s Lilia Fleece jacket. I specifically chose a fleece with a hood just as an added layer of protection, and since I would be layering, I wanted one that didn’t fit too snuggly. And yes, I’m wearing this bright orange jacket in every photo taken that week.

Packing for Patagonia doesn't have to be stressful
My Lilia fleece jacket that was perfect for warmer days. I lived in it all week!

On the coldest and windiest day of expeditioning, I was glad I had Obermeyer’s baselayer tights. I was a bit concerned about having two layers around my muffin top waistline, but the yoga waistband made for a comfortable fit.

My husband offered me his backpack but I wanted something a bit more fun and colorful for photos. I chose the REI Co-op Flash 22 Print Pack in a floral pattern. I mean, it’s all about appearances, right? It was lightweight and held all of my gear for the day, especially my “just in case” layers and my stash of granola bars and chocolate, you know, in case I got lost in the desert.

And speaking of getting lost, my fear is dying of thirst. So I kept my trusty Takeya Insulated Water Bottle with me 24/7. And I like my water cold. Icy cold. So I loved that this water bottle kept ice frozen all day. And yes, I may or may not have put wine in it as lunchtime. 

I’ve been investing in my face lately (read into that what you like) so I wanted to be diligent about keeping the sun off of it. I ordered this sunhat with a strap to ensure it stayed on during windy conditions. 

Because I’m not that hearty of an outdoors person and I was terrified of getting sore, blistered feet, I was very careful in selecting my hiking shoes. I tried on dozens of pairs and much like my wedding dress, I just knew when I found “the one.” (I guess I should say the same of my husband.)  I ordered these Columbia waterproof hiking shoes from Zappos. One day, we hiked to a waterfall and ended up in a bit of mud, but the shoes did their job and kept my feet warm and dry. 

If you’d like to read more about my experience in Patagonia, be sure to read my articles on Lonely Planet and Orbitz.

Thanks to REI, Obermeyer and Duluth for helping to outfit me for my trip.

The best places for wellness travel in Mexico

I thought I was taking care of myself. My friends and my kids kept asking, “Are you okay? Are you taking care of yourself?”  I always replied, “Of course.” But did I really know what “not okay” felt like? Apparently not, because late one night I would call my daughter and tell her I was having a heart attack and that I need to go to the ER. The difficulty breathing, the tightness in my chest, the haziness. Four hours later, the doctor, after a battery of tests and hearing my personal situation, would proclaim that I was having a panic attack.  That’s when I decided that embarking on wellness travel in Mexico might be a good idea.

One year ago, my mother suffered a brain aneurysm and for the past twelve months, my life has been consumed with her care. I left my home, and my husband, in California to move to Florida to be with her. When I wasn’t at her bedside, I was busy mothering my high-maintenance (but lovable) young adult children, serving PR clients, flying across the U.S. to see my husband, and apparently not taking care of myself. 

So an invitation to experience wellness travel in Mexico caught my eye. I knew I needed to press the reset button on my mind, body and spirit. Despite the daily schedule of events that started with a 7:30am workout (I am NOT a morning person) and “light“ spa meals, I knew I needed to reestablish some healthy habits so I signed up for a solo adventure.

Twice a year, Villa del Palmar Beach Resort & Spa at the Islands of Loreto hosts a wellness week. It’s in a remote part of Mexico’s Baja peninsula where the desolate desert opens up to expose a beautiful waterfront resort. I arrived to my room and was surprised to find a rather spacious one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, living room, and oversized balcony looking out over Danzante Bay. But the best feature just might have been the open-air soaking tub that looked out over the bay. After living in a tiny Los Angeles apartment, I’ve come to appreciate the joys of bathtubs. 

First, those of us participating in wellness week would meet our team for the week – Claudine, the spa director; Chef David Fuertes from Los Angeles who would be preparing healthy, and in some cases, vegan meals; Rebecca Broxterman, a celebrity fitness trainer; and Beth Manos, a yoga instructor and wellness coach. I was excited for a little tough love.

Our first day started bright and early with a 7:30 hiit workout in the gym with four stations of exercises. I thought I was in fairly decent shape going into this, but the circuits proved me wrong! It felt good to sweat, breathe heavy, and I actually embraced the post-workout soreness. After a light and healthy breakfast, and the requisite green smoothie, we headed off for a meditation and yoga class. I’ve been trying to get into a better meditation practice and I’m a true yoga junkie, so I welcomed this part of the day.

Our days would continue with the early morning workouts followed by meditation and yoga, mixed in with plenty of healthy meals, including some cooking demos. And yes, cocktails flowed freely – we were at a luxury lifestyle resort after all.

But the best part of each day was certainly the spa’s hydrotherapy room. It generally takes about an hour to go through the seven stations, but I managed to spread it out to two hours every day, taking full advantage of the wellness and detox properties. It’s a mix of hot and cold experiences intended to get your blood circulating, detoxify your body and provide deep healing relaxation. Just what the doctor ordered! There are jacuzzis, a dry sauna, steam room, cold plunge pool, salt bath and aloe bath.

We were encouraged to stay active during the day so afternoons were open for paddle boarding, kayaking and biking. Villa del Palmar is home to one of the most scenic golf courses, TPC Danzante Bay, which for non-golfers like me, offered great hiking trails with some spectacular views.

As my experience with wellness travel in Mexico came to an end, a number of people that were part of the wellness week commented how different I looked at the end of the week from when I arrived. I took no offense. I knew I had arrived looking tired, haggard and disconnected. But I left with nothing but a renewed sense of self and the concept of “put on your own oxygen mask first.”  

On the plane trip home, I took up the task of reorganizing my day to make me a priority. I no longer wake up and check email or Facebook. I’ve always put off my workout until later in the day and too often, work or other responsibilities get in the way and it never happens. So even though I’m not a morning person, I now make a workout part of my morning routine. And it feels good to get it out of the way. I take longer to drink my coffee, enjoy a longer walk with the dog, and don’t let my to do list get in the way of meditating and journaling. In fact, I don’t even turn on my computer until after I’ve fully savored my me time, followed by a visit with my mother. Thanks to that hydrotherapy room and a few purchases from the spa, I’ve turned my bathroom into a mini-spa and my bathtub is certainly getting its own workout. 

Sometimes, it just takes a jump start, like a wellness week, to reboot your schedule and your motivation. I figure I’ll be due for a tune-up in about six months. At another luxury resort, of course.

Staying healthy on a cruise is easy.

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to set new habits at home. There’s always the distraction of dirty laundry, the dog who wants to play ball or that friend who drops by (thankfully so) with a bottle of wine ‘just because’. I’ve been in a bit of funk lately, shuttling back and forth across the country to help care for my mother who suffered a debilitating stroke, while I juggle work and parenting requirements of my high-maintenance (but quite lovable) children. So I wondered about staying healthy on a cruise and using one to regain my physical and mental health.

I felt like it was time to get serious about a little self-nourishment, inside and out. My husband and I were invited by Carnival to experience their Carnival Splendor cruise along the Mexican Riviera, with destinations I had never visited including Cabo and Mazatlan – as well as Puerto Vallarta, my favorite Mexico vacation spot. I’ve done my share of cruises but I thought being held captive (albeit a willing one) at sea for seven days, seemed like the perfect opportunity to escape, unplug and reset my mind and body. Here’s what to know about staying healthy on a cruise:

1. Yoga

I’m a yoga junky but don’t get to the studio nearly as often as I’d like. Those pesky things like household chores and client meetings seem to always get in the way. I generally put on my yoga gear first thing in the morning and too often, I find myself still in it at 5pm, without so much as one down dog. But now that I was at sea for a week, I had no excuse. As hard as it was, I rolled out of the my comfy rocking cradle every morning to attend the scheduled yoga and pilates classes. It energized and motivated me for the rest of the day.

2. Eating healthy

I know what you’re thinking. It seems counterintuitive – eating healthy on a cruise, known for their oversized plates and all-you-can-eat buffets, but it was a great opportunity to challenge myself and reset my eating goals. I was thrilled to see that the ship offered a wok station where I could load up on stir-fried veggies, an Indian cafe where the food was some of the best I’ve had, and a burrito bar with grilled veggies. I chose a small desert plate or cereal bowl for my meals and steered away from the large platter-sized plates. I wake up craving sugar and at home, too often opt for an overly sweet breakfast bar or my comfort-food-go-to of French toast. But on the ship, I loaded up a bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruits and I’m confident I’ve reset that breakfast switch, especially since this hearty meal kept me fueled until well after lunch.

3. Moving

As a writer, I spend most of my day sitting. And despite my fitness tracker telling me to get up and move, I don’t always comply. But a 951-foot long ship means you’re going to be doing a lot of walking (sadly, I lost my Fitbit just prior to the cruise but I’m quite sure I got in all of my steps daily). My cabin was far forward, so to hit the gym, spa, pool area or dining, I had quite a walk. And with 3,000 others on board, I often chose to take the stairs rather than wait for an elevator. Note to self: next cruise, choose a cabin far forward or aft to hit your step goals!

4. Spa

I unapologetically spent too much time (and money) at the spa. And I deserved a little self-indulgence. The relaxation room on the Carnival Splendor was my happy place. I’d often arrive rather early for a treatment and just get my zen on as I lounged on one of the teak beds draped with fabric, staring out over the ocean with some fruit water in hand. Reflexology, a hydration facial and Swedish massage were just what the doctor ordered to remind me that health starts from the inside out.

5. Alone time

I’m an out-of-the-closet introvert. I relish my alone time so I let the other 2,999 people on the ship get off to wander the ports, while I stayed behind and enjoyed the ship to myself. I had my own personal pool boy, waiter and bartender where I could nap in the sun, and find a little creative space. 

6. Unplug

Being miles and miles out at sea doesn’t give you much choice other than to put those devices away. The wifi was a bit spotty but I came to realize it was a gift from the gods. I mean, why do I need to read my 100+ daily emails while I’m on a luxury cruise ship in the middle of the ocean? What can’t wait til I’m in port or at home? I’m a recovering social media junky so I really appreciated the inability to interject my opinions into the latest political debates on Facebook. There’s something very deeply cleansing about logging off for a week. 

7. Sleep

I don’t even have to tell you how easy it is to catch up on your sleep as the motion of the ocean lulls you to sleep every night. The stress of my mother’s illness has stolen my ability to sleep through the night as I’m riddled with worry. But thanks to a few windy nights and the sounds of the ocean slapping the side of the ship, not to mention a surprisingly comfy bed, I actually slept quite well. 

I’m thinking this needs to be an annual sabbatical for me, boarding a cruise ship where I can challenge my mind and body to press that reset button and recommit to healthy habits.

Thanks to Carnival for hosting my husband and me on the Splendor!

taking a family trip to the Great Barrier Reef

It’s on many bucket lists. A family trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is after all, the largest living thing on Earth, even visible from outer space. The reef is made up of over 2900 individual reefs, 600 continental islands and 300 coral cays.

It was the ultimate family vacation. Just the four of us traipsing through Australia. It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip, at least with all of us together, so diving the Great Barrier Reef seemed to be one of those must-do, bucket-list experiences.

For this family trip to the Great Barrier Reef, we took a short flight from Sydney to Cairns to begin our adventure. Stepping off the plane in Cairns, we were quickly reminded what a sub-tropical climate is. The humid heat was almost suffocating. We headed to our hotel and decided to rest up for our big day which included an early morning wake-up call. I think I was the only one a bit nervous about diving as my last experience was, shall we say, terrifying, and involved a surprise face-to-face encounter with a 300-pound grouper in a cold, dark cave.

I had done pretty extensive research on the best locations of the reef to visit and the best dive groups to take you there. We arrived at the dock and boarded our luxury catamaran. I must say,   the precision with which the divemasters boarded and assembled everyone into groups according to skill level was pretty impressive. After watching a few “how to” videos, it was time to sign the waivers and medical forms. I let my college-age kids complete their own forms. My daughter, truthfully, checked the box that she had asthma. My gut told me this could be a red flag and just as I was about to tell her to scratch it out and check “no,” I looked up to see a video playing about the importance of being honest in completing the forms. I secretly crossed my fingers and handed the forms to the divemaster. He took one look at her form and uttered those three crushing words, “She can’t dive.” What? She had endured the 24+ hour plane trip just for this experience. She was devastated. I was devastated. Apparently, the rules prohibit her from diving without a doctor’s note (couldn’t they have told me this when I booked the trip weeks earlier)?

My daughter acquiesced and joined the snorkeling group. With butterflies already doing somersaults in my stomach over the thought of taking my claustrophobic body deep under water, I was tempted to trade in my regulator for a snorkel. But no! I had to overcome my fear of diving and prove to myself that I could do it.

We arrived at our first designated spot on the reef. I was surprised to find that there are many sections of the reef that are visible above water. Those areas are clearly dead but the section just inches below the water line is very much alive. Prior to our trip, I had read numerous articles about the current state of the reef. There’s much debate in the oceanographic and environmental communities about the slow death of the reef. I wasn’t sure what we’d find when we got there, but I’m here to tell you the reef is alive and well and amazing. The reef is after all, the largest living thing on Earth, and even visible from outer space.

After testing out some basic skills underwater, linked arm in arm with my son, we started the downward descent to the reef. I immediately remembered from my first experience diving, how the fear leaves you the minute you see the amazing underwater world. I knew it was going to be beautiful, but I can only describe it as magical. The abundance of bright, colorful underwater creatures was truly astounding. I felt like I was in a real life Pixar move.

We mugged for the underwater photographer and even took a few of our own selfies with our GoPro. Can I just stop and say that has to be the coolest job ever?  I want to be an underwater photographer when I grow up!

The divemaster signaled that we were changing locations in search of sea turtles. We lucked out and as soon as we reached the appropriate depth, an enormous sea turtle swam right under our bellies. They’re even larger than I had expected but the most graceful creatures, and he seemed unfazed by the dozen or so sets of legs dangling above him.

Before I knew it, our thirty minutes were up and I was slightly disappointed that it was time to ascend. We climbed back on board, shed what felt like 50 pounds of cold, salty gear, and with the adrenalin still pumping through my body, I thanked everyone on board for helping me not only get through, but love, the experience. I reunited with my daughter to find that she had actually enjoyed her snorkeling excursion. I decided to forgo my afternoon dive and snorkel with her. As the boat headed to a different section of the reef, one of the divemasters was giving a talk on the best areas for snorkeling and I’m so glad we attended it. While many others went off in organized groups, my daughter and I decided to venture off on our own with no agenda. This proved to be my best decision of the day.

We found a steep wall of the reef and since we separated from the group, we had the entire wall all to ourselves. The fish, coral and living organisms we saw along the wall were (dare I say) better than anything I saw when diving. And without being tied to a dive buddy and regulator, we could get much more up close and personal with the sea life. We spotted eels, angelfish, clown fish, sea turtles, grouper and innumerable types of soft coral.

As the day came to a close and we headed back towards shore, I treated myself to a tropical drink at the bar and sat on deck feeling the greatest sense of accomplishment. Not only because I had conquered my fear, but because I had exposed my kids to one of the world’s greatest wonders, and that we were all able to experience it together. If a family trip to the Great Barrier Reef is on your bucket list, do it!

If you go:

Cairns: http://www.cairnstoday.com.au/

Our dive company, Silverswift: http://www.silverseries.com.au/swift.htm

About the reef: http://www.greatbarrierreef.org/

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