Thursday, November 6, 2014
During my stay at Disney Aulani Resort & Spa, I did venture off property one day for a few delicious hours on Oahu's North Shore. The group and I made a stop to visit some sea turtles, hiked to Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau historic site for scenic views, and then went to Haleiwa for much-needed Matsumoto shave ice and, of course, a stop at the Leonard's Bakery truck (in the K-Mart parking lot!) for some pillowy malasadas, aka Portuguese donuts. (These.)
PHOTOS BY: Me!
MORE INFO: North Shore
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Going to a Disney resort for a spa retreat may not seem like an obvious choice, but the Mouse House is working hard to change that perception. This past spring, I visited Disney Aulani Resort on Oahu to check out and report on its relaxation offerings. The idea is to make spa and fitness a family affair, but trust me when I say that you can easily escape to Laniwai and feel worlds away from screaming kiddos (yours or anyone's).
In fact, at no point in my visit did I feel overrun by children or "Disney," for that matter. I think the resort is beautifully designed...definitely an island vibe, but it doesn't feel kitschy. You can have the full Disney experience if that's what you want - there's a "character breakfast" every morning where Mickey and gang hang - but, in general, Disney Aulani is just a really nice resort. So many places for adults to escape for some quiet time.
It was my first time experiencing the hospitality machine that is Disney...everything that you've heard is true. I had a nightmare of a flight from the East Coast and my travel day ended up being 19+ hours. By the time I finally got to Aulani at about 1 a.m. local time, the overnight concierge, somehow aware of the day's flying mishaps, whisked me right past front desk check-in straight to my room...which was dimly lit and quiet, and obviously prepped for a weary traveler who was ready to crash in a big, comfy bed.
Throughout the rest of my stay, resort employees I came across at the restaurant, on a property tour, and in the spa would greet me with things like, "We're so glad you finally made it after that flight!" and "I hope you were able to get some rest...heard you had a long trip!"
Let me just say that this subtle, but super-effective, level of hospitality doesn't happen without a very organized workflow and careful attention to detail. It makes a big, big difference in a guest's world.
Even with travel delays, I managed to fit in a couple of quiet hours on the beach the next day before the rest of my group got in. Aulani's beach is a quiet cove, lined by a scenic path that's connected to a handful of other resorts in the area. It makes for a really fantastic morning walk. (Two of my favorite snaps from this walk below.)
ANY WAY: The spa! "Laniwai" translates to "freshwater heaven," so naturally there's a big h2o theme. You'll find an outdoor hydrotherapy garden - adults only - where you can dip in and out of vitality pools, minerals baths and rain showers. (Side note: It's also a perfect place to enjoy lunch and maybe even some champagne...OK, definitely champagne.)
You can also book a private 30-minute vitality bath, which includes a personalized DIY body scrub and colorful salts purposely chosen to aid whatever is ailing you. (Jet lag, maybe?) I had a traditional Lomi Lomi Hawaiian massage and a custom facial. What I really like about Laniwai is that the treatments feel like a treat, but they're also designed to be effective. There are no over the top, weird ingredients for the sake of attention...just really good, trusted products and results-oriented techniques and ingredients.
That being said, it's definitely a destination spa. Between your appointments, the outdoor hydrotherapy garden, a really nice salon, delicious lunch and wine, and an all-around calm setting...you could spend an entire day here. Some treatments are pricey, even by Hawaiian resort standards, but you really do feel like you're experiencing a special escape that you won't find elsewhere.
For families, there's The 'Ohana treatment, which is designed for 3 to 6 people and includes a Lomi Lomi massage for all in a private room with its own garden patio. There's also the Painted Sky Teen Spa where kids can get facials, manis and pedis, and dig into some frozen yogurt while mixing up their own scrubs and face masks at a hands-on station. Think of Painted Sky as more of a relaxing teen hangout where they can kick back in their beach gear and "chill" with their friends. (By the way: LUCKY KIDS!)
If you visit Disney Aulani, the early wake-up call for beach yoga is totally worth it. Just get your butt in gear - you'll be happy you did, I promise!
After a few days of surprising quiet and grown-ups only fun, I had to give in to my inner child and take a few photo opps with everyone's favorite power couple. It's their vacation home, after all! What kind of a guest would I be if I didn't say hello?
PHOTOS BY: Me!
MORE INFO: Disney Aulani
Friday, October 24, 2014
Even if you've never heard of the name MacKenzie-Childs, you'd probably be able to recognize some of the brand's bold patterned pottery, especially if you're fond of certain E! and Bravo reality shows. Pieces are handmade in Aurora on a sprawling 65-acre estate, which was once a dairy farm. You can shop the store, stroll some beautiful gardens and even tour the family's old farmhouse.
MacKenzie-Childs isn't exactly my personal style, but I still appreciate the craftsmanship. And, as a person who also appreciates design...and, well, pretty things...I really loved touring the grounds and getting a peek into the farmhouse. Photo opps everywhere! I'd definitely recommend a visit if you're in the Finger Lakes area. It's a fun detour.
PHOTOS BY: Stjepan Alaupovic
MORE INFO: MacKenzie-Childs
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
There are a lot of foodie trails in the Finger Lakes - wine, cheese, chocolate, beer. Did I forget one? Probably! But one of my favorites is the Sweet Treat Trail, which is based in Cayuga County (Auburn, Aurora, Fair Haven, et al) and takes you to some of the smaller, more off-the-beaten-path places. Many of the farms and stands we visited are women-owned and operated businesses, and you know how that makes my little heart sing.
We kicked things off with breakfast at New Hope Mills - homemade pancakes! (OK, OK, and a donut) - and then headed to Bee Attitudes Honey, where I learned more than I ever thought I would about bees from owner Stephanie Williams. Years back, Stephanie received an empty bee hive as a Christmas gift and now she's operating her own 3-acre farm with 23 hives and fields of some of the most beautiful, most deliciously smelling French lavender. Besides honey, she makes and sells tonics, essential oils and salt scrubs from her crops.
Oh, and she does it all from her family's garage. Her kids are learning all about the trade and her daughter even does some of the company's design work. It's all very adorable and inspirational. I loved chatting with Stephanie. She's extremely passionate about the role bees play in nature and about healthy living in general.
Next it was on to Strawberry Fields Hydroponic Farm, where I fell in love with the mother-daughter duo who run the roadside operation. Yes, you read that correctly: A hydroponic strawberry farm. Linda's strawberries were the sweetest I've ever tasted. You can pick them fresh or buy jam, honey and olive oil made from the fruit. The barn store was decked top-to-bottom in Halloween decorations and full of great gift items like wine, cheese and handmade jewelry.
The tour de desserts ended at Owen Orchards with some homemade cider donuts. (More donuts!) Besides being an apple orchard, Owen's is also a farm stand where you can pick up fresh eggs, cheese and produce. We toured the grounds on a tractor and went home with a bushel full (I think? What's a bushel, any way?) of Empires, Cortlands and Jonagolds. It was a quintessential fall experience...I'll honestly never forget it.
Two other places I want to mention that aren't technically a part of the Sweet Treat Trail, but are in the area and absolutely something I'd recommend: Long Point Winery for its attentive tasting room staff and unforgettable vineyard views of Cayuga Lake (I think you can even do a guided boat tour of it and other nearby wineries!), and Springside Inn as a place to stay. Springside is another one of those really special family-owned places where hospitality just courses through the owners' veins. Its grounds are mesmerizing at sunset and the restaurant, Oak & Vine, is delicious and so cozy.
PHOTOS BY: Stjepan Alaupovic
MORE INFO: Tour Cayuga
Monday, October 20, 2014
On our quick overnight in Ithaca last year we stayed at Argos Inn, which remains one of my all-time favorite hotels.
The building itself has been a number of things over the years, including the mayor's mansion and an old Duncan Hines headquarters, before owner Avi Smith took it over and meticulously restored its wood, stone and glass details to create a LEED-certified inn. Avi was born and raised in the area, worked in tech on the West Coast, and then returned to Ithaca to develop a couple of local projects.
He hand-picked every piece you see at Argos Inn, from the doorknobs and sink fixtures to the decorative typewriters and color-coded antique books. Working with all local craftsmen and vendors, he breathed new life into flea market furniture, creating an aesthetic that somehow perfectly balances out old timey accents with modern hues and patterns. I love, love, love Argos Inn. Everything here - the vibe, the design - feels intentional, but not forced. A lot of thought and love went into the inn's development and it really shows!
There are 10 guest rooms, each unique in design but fitting into a handful of themes, as well as a bar and lounge that's open to the public. We visited a couple of weeks before Argos' big grand opening fete, so the bar was still in its final planning stages but it seems as though Avi and crew have beautifully carried out their plans for a local, craft cocktail-focused hangout.
We stayed in the King Slate Room, which I loved (of course) for its sunny closed-in porch with the writer's desk. I'm not one to typically gush about things like bathroom design, but my husband and I still talk about the shower in this room as the prototype to our dream, "someday" home. Every room at Argos has some kind of "wow factor," but two of my other favorites are the Glass Porch Room for its floor-to-ceiling windows and the White Peacock Room because THAT WALLPAPER! (Photo below is of the Grey Peacock Room.)
You get free continental breakfast in the sun-drenched dining room with your stay and Argos Inn is also within walking distance of Ithaca's main drag, which is full of great bars and restaurants. (It's a college town, of course, with Ithaca College and Cornell University close by.) We took a short drive to Buttermilk Falls for a glorious fall foliage hike, but you can also visit the famous Cascadilla Gorge if you have a little more time.
PHOTOS BY: Stjepan Alaupovic
MORE INFO: Argos Inn
Friday, October 17, 2014
I'm the kind of person who thinks it's completely rational to visit multiple U-pick pumpkin patches in a single day.
What, you didn't get enough golden gourds at farm #5?
A table can never have too many miniature squashes, in my opinion.
The drive from Owego to Ithaca has plenty of visitor-friendly farms and we checked out two that I thought were particularly worth a stop: Stoughton Farm for raspberries, peppers, fall mums and a corn maze if you're into that sort of thing. (Grab a bag of homemade kettle corn before you venture in!) Then, Iron Kettle Farm to check out the quirky pumpkin displays and Grandma's Barn gift shop. If you have kids, you'll also love the games and rides...scooters, tractors, a train, "pumpkin sling shot" and more.
PHOTOS BY: Stjepan Alaupovic
MORE INFO: Visit Tioga County