From Hawai’i to the coasts of California and Florida, Trendsetter Merilee Kern offers her top Luxe List travel picks to wash away the winter blahs.
With America having suffered a pretty harsh winter from coast to coast, would-be wanderers are rejoicing as the weather warms and vacation venues beckon with stellar offerings. In fact, industry growth this travel season is indubitably (and understandably) poised to impress, as outlined in the Skift Global Travel Economy Outlook 2019 and numerous other reports.
But as the hospitality trade has exponentially upped their game across the board, it’s getting much more difficult to hone in on travel destinations and service purveyors worthy of our hard-earned dollars, and, more importantly, treasured down-time.
With that in mind, here’s an assortment of travel purveyors that’ll pamper you with a purpose.
Fairmont Kea Lani Maui
First, we’ll start all the way out in the west most United States—a journey across the Pacific Ocean—to the uber-fabulous Fairmont Kea Lani Maui, Hawai’i’s only all-suite and villa luxury resort. They’re currently offer discerning travelers an expertly curated and indulgent itinerary featuring Maui’s most luxurious experiences through its “Luxe Villa Adventure” package. This elite bundle features a sumptuous stay in the resort’s exclusive collection of residentially appointed two- and three-bedroom private villas boasting 1,800 and 2,200 square feet of living space, each replete with the creature comforts of home. This includes a full gourmet kitchen with appliances and service ware, dining area, outdoor barbecue grill, multiple flat screen TVs, walk in closets, oversized marble bathroom and large soaking tubs. They each also boast a sizable private, furnished courtyard with plunge pool for a more secluded respite from their numerous large-scale community pools with cabanas (one adult-only).
However, that’s just the beginning of this sumptuous stay. Travelers reveling in the richness of this celebrity designed package will also enjoy a signature in-villa barbeque by a private chef, with options for the desired menu items. For my visit it was surf and turf all the way (Black Angus beef filet with grilled lobster tail), served with a savory tomato shrimp penne dish, wasabi-laced potato salad, grilled island-grown asparagus and wild mushrooms all finished with a delectable crème brûlée. The package also proffers two Willow Stream Spa wellness experiences, plus access to other spa amenities like steam rooms, saunas, various Hawaiian rain experience showers and a heated stone mud bench and foot bed. Rounding out this incredible package is the private yacht charter aboard ‘Satisfaction’—Maui Yacht Charters’ 58-foot power yacht. On my recent excursion on this three-bedroom nautical beauty, I nibbled on cheese and charcuterie as a pod of migrating whales escorted our ship out to sea for a memorable Maui sunset.
Speaking of Hawaiian vacations, I do want to make a quick mention about Hawaiian Airlines because they’re really going above and beyond with incredible guest services, making them my favorite way to fly to Hawai’i. Beyond the engaging and warm hospitality they are known for at each touchpoint, once on board a Hawaiian Airlines aircraft, their signature in-flight hospitality engages throughout experience with a friendly celebration of the culture, people and Aloha Spirit of the Hawaiian Islands. On a recent flight I was nary in my seat for a few minutes when I was offered a delicious guava mimosa from an extremely affable flight attendant.
In striving for excellence, this airline shares the tastes of Hawai’i as the only domestic carrier to serve complimentary meals to guests in all cabins on transpacific flights that are designed exclusively by Chef Lee Anne Wong. Definitely a unique and tasty benefit there! In the first class cabin, a representative, amply-portioned brunch menu includes the infamous pre-departure signature Mai Tai cocktail; beverage service with Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts; a first course of seasonal fresh fruits and warm croissant with butter and jam; a main course of Shiitake mushroom, sundried tomato and cheese quiche; and a dessert course of chocolate hazelnut cheesecake offered with coffee, tea and liqueurs. Speaking or first class, Hawaiian Airlines’ unique “Bid-Up” program allows guests to bid at their discretion for first class upgrades, starting around $245—a bid I successfully “won” at that low starting rate for what was a highly enjoyable voyage.
Heading to Hawai’i? Check out our review of The Laylow Waikiki Hotel here!
Hawaiian Airlines is giving away a trip to either Hawaii or Boston, you choose. Enter here!
Fairmont Grand Del Mar San Diego
A touch northward in San Diego lies the incomparable Fairmont Grand Del Mar. As one of only 11 properties in the world with a trio of Five-Stars, and named the number one luxury resort in California as voted by TripAdvisor travelers, Fairmont Grand Del Mar captures the elegance and comfort of an old-world Mediterranean estate paired with impeccable service and unrivaled luxury. Magnificently situated on 400 acres in a pristine coastal canyon just five miles from the Pacific Ocean, this architecturally-breathtaking resort features luxurious treatments at its Five-Star spa and exquisite dining at Addison under the direction of celebrated Relais AND Châteaux Grand Chef William Bradley. Quite notably, Addison is Southern California’s only Five-Star and Five Diamond restaurant where guests can enjoy elegant fine dining and creative contemporary cuisine.
The lavish, Addison Mizner-inspired resort is well-suited to San Diego’s warm climate and outdoor lifestyle, with an abundance of activities like golf at the city’s only Tom Fazio-designed course, tennis, hiking and four sparkling pools (with one adult-only). After sunset, Club M provides nightlife and entertainment just steps from the resort’s 249 elegantly-appointed guestrooms and suites. Accommodations feature spacious marble bathrooms with deep soaking tubs, expansive balconies and terraces and spectacular views of the resort gardens, Grand Golf Club or Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. Here you can relax, soak or dine in the comfort of your private and tranquil Southern California retreat.
InterContinental San Diego Hotel
Also in the most southern city in California, the InterContinental San Diego hotel awaits. Having just opened in September 2018, this scenic Bayfront property has brought a new wave of sophistication to the downtown area while creating a social epicenter for locals and travelers, alike. The 400-room property is located on the historic grounds of Lane Field—the San Diego Padres’ former baseball stadium from 1936 through 1957. From my corner suite, I was able to enjoy the glow of fiery SoCal sunsets because all of the chic and sophisticated accommodations here feature full-length, floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the bay—oft also with the famous San Diego skyline and iconic Coronado bridge in view.
Location-wise, this property is perfectly situated for those wanting to get out-and-about on the town. The InterContinental San Diego Hotel is just steps away from the Embarcadero, which docks both the famed USS Midway and Maritime Museum of San Diego, plus several cruise ship ports. It’s also close to downtown hotspots, including Little Italy, the San Diego Convention Center, Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village and more. Guests can enjoy spectacular dining experiences at the hotel, which boasts San Diego’s only Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, as well as Vistal restaurant, which serves coastal California-inspired cuisine spearheaded by award-winning chefs.
Theatre Box San Diego Dining & Entertainment Complex
Speaking of downtown San Diego, when you’re in the area you’ll do well to hit Theatre Box—San Diego’s new dining and entertainment complex that occupies one city block, two stories and 73,000 square feet in the famed Gaslamp Quarter. The first phase unveiled TCL Chinese Theatre’s first eight-theatre, luxury dine-in cinema, where guests can order sashimi, personalized boxes of candy, cocktails and more at just the push of a button from the comfort of their individual cushy leather recliners.
The adjoined Sugar Factory retail and café offers over 500 types of candy, a gelato bar, house-made doughnuts and a vast array of other tantalizing treats. In the evening the Sugar Factory American Brasserie is a must, as this glamorous, high-energy restaurant is known for extravagant dishes and drinks like Rainbow Sliders, Insane Milkshakes and Smoking Candy Goblets. Then there’s the Chocolate Lounge, an intimate 21-and-over lounge featuring chocolate martinis, chocolate fondue and other sugar-spurred decadence galore. Nick Cannon’s Wild ‘N Out Sports Bar and Arcade as well as Pitbull’s rooftop lounge, iLov305, will reportedly open as part of a second phase.
Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula
Next, for a spirited respite is the one-of-a-kind Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, California, which recently completed a $300 million expansion making them the largest west coast casino-resort property. Their beautiful two-story spa and salon, the largest in the Temecula Valley, was just rated Four-Stars by Forbes Travel Guide—not surprising since their unique treatments are all inspired by native botanicals and elements from the local area. This 25,000 square foot sanctuary of luxury, wellness and serenity is designed for year-round rejuvenation of the mind, body and spirit, boasting luxurious treatment rooms and relaxation areas with panoramic views of the surrounding hillside. Its numerous amenities, such as steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools, a fitness facility and outdoor patios, are specifically created to offer an intimate escape into wellness and tranquility.
Pechanga also now boasts 1,090 rooms and suites (including 568 new AAA Four Diamond accommodations), a huge nearly 200,000 square foot casino (with over 4,000 slot machines, 154 table games, a non-smoking poker room with 38 tables, a trendy Bingo hall and more), and “The Cove”—its 4.5 acre pool complex that is open year-round. There you’ll find three pools, including a zero-edge Main Pool that features a swim-up bar, a family pool with two waterslides and a splash pad and five spas, cabanas, fire pits and live entertainment. Their golf course, Journey at Pechanga, is challenging and exciting, as it’s built around ravines and the mountainside.
When hunger strikes, guests can partake in any of the property’s 12 on-site restaurants, including the AAA Four Diamond-rated Great Oak Steakhouse offering superb 100 percent Prime Black Angus beef and many creatively inspired dishes amid a wine list recognized by the editors of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. Its Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar, helmed by Chef Kiyokuni Ikeda, who once worked under Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, is another not-to-be-missed epicurean experience. For some fun nightlife, Pechanga also has a comedy club, theater and rooftop nightclub and lounge where you can dance the night way to DJ beats. There’s truly something for everyone at this remarkable resort.
The Portofino Hotel & Marina Redondo Beach
If marina vibes are more your thing, the Portofino Hotel & Marina Redondo Beach—one of many distinctive hotels helmed by Noble House—is a perfect respite for both leisure and business travelers. Having recently completed a multi-million dollar renovation, this picture-perfect property proffers authentic Southern California lifestyle in a casual, nautical-chic environment replete with maritime, yacht and seascape visuals evoking a true sense of place. The Portofino boasts breathtaking Pacific Ocean and King Harbor views from sunsets and sailboats to dolphins and pelicans—all framed in the floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies allowing you to bask in the beauty that is Redondo Beach. King Harbor is also home to its own colony of California sea lions, with many rooms offering front-row viewing of the mammals frolicking, feeding and basking in their natural habitat.
The Portofino offers unique amenities, including BALEENkitchen, nationally recognized for serving eclectic cuisine amid stunning marina views. It’s ZAGAT-rated as “One of the Top 10 Best Restaurants for Waterside Dining in LA.” To this I can attest, having reveled in multiple gourmet dining experiences at the eatery, which far transcends that of a typical hotel haunt. Between meals you can take a dip their heated pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean and work out in their state-of-the-art fitness center with treadmill, elliptical trainer, recumbent bike, free weights and more. One must-do whilst partaking in The Portofino: enjoy their complimentary Beach Cruiser bikes for a ride along the local oceanfront path that runs for over 27 miles up to Malibu! Complimentary bike locks, baskets, helmets and children’s bikes are also offered based on availability. There’s also wireless, high-speed Internet access available in the guest rooms and public areas and a 24-hour business center. Whether you visit The Portofino for work or play, the newly renovated sun-splashed waterfront guest rooms and suites, which feature a casual beach look incorporating hues of blue, yellow and white, are a perfect setting for an unforgettable reprieve.
The Georgian Hotel Santa Monica
Continuing north to sunny Santa Monica is the famous Georgian Hotel—a truly unique oceanfront oasis that exudes 1940’s Old Hollywood glamour. As part of Pacifica Hotels portfolio, the largest owner and operator of boutique hotels on the Pacific Coast, it’s a must-visit venue for those looking for a quintessential California hotel experience. Adjacent to one of the best beaches in Los Angeles, The Georgian is a historic hotel with 56 guest rooms and 28 suites plus ocean view dining, making it the picture-perfect location to catch spectacular sunsets while sipping signature cocktails. Art deco-adorned accommodations offer ample amenities like plush bedding, in-room mini bar and complimentary Wi-Fi to boot.
Gastro-wise, guests can dine in style for breakfast, lunch, happy hour or dinner at its on-site Veranda Restaurant for a memorable beachfront dining experience. There, patrons indulge in its globe-hopping, chef-driven, contemporary menu that features breakfast favorites, coastal California cuisine, Mediterranean-fusion tapas and indulgent desserts. During the day, bask in the beautiful Southern California sunshine and absorb the sounds and sights of the Pacific while enjoying High Tea on The Veranda Terrace. Just steps from the famous Santa Monica Pier and storied shopping at the Third Street Promenade, at The Georgian you’re assured a charming stay with classic Hollywood ambiance near all of the beach action.
City of Anaheim, California
If you’re seeking a fun-filled, action-packed holiday with or without the kids, few if any American locales can compare with the City of Anaheim in Orange County, California. According to Visit Anaheim, the official destination organization for the locale, this storied city welcomes 24.2 million annual visitors and is home to over 150 hotels—from AAA Four Diamond luxury hotels and trendy boutique properties to brand new, all-suite family-friendly hotels—and everything in between. Speaking of families … while it’s no surprise that millennials love to “do it for the ‘gram,” when it comes to travel buddies it’s millennials’ desire to travel with Grandpa and Grandma that may surprise you. According to a new survey from Visit Anaheim, multigenerational vacations are top-of-mind with travelers when it comes to reliving memories, while also creating new ones, with the next generation. The survey, conducted by OnePoll for Visit Anaheim, polled a sample of 1,000 Americans and found that millennial respondents (aged 25-34) lead the category when it comes to wanting more multigenerational trips, coming in at a whopping 83 percent.
According to the survey, fully two thirds (66 percent) of respondents have traveled with three or more generations of their family, making vacations with grandparents, their adult children and grandchildren, a travel trend with no signs of slowing down. In fact, the majority plan on taking more extended family trips. Nostalgia is apparently one of the main reasons the trend keeps growing. Many parents and grandparents love reliving memories. The majority (56 percent) “strongly agree” that multigenerational trips are more special when visiting somewhere their parents or grandparents have been before, and 53 percent report being “very happy” when they take trips to places they’ve previously been with their parents or children.
Dolphin Point Villas, Key Largo
Heading from one gorgeous coast to another, all the way to the southeastern tip of the United States, you’ll find Dolphin Point Villas—Key Largo’s loveliest and most intimate paradise getaway that’s refining the island vacation. This six-villa haven is nested in a seaside enclave and showcases Key Largo’s most spectacular views. The family-owned paradise is certainly a great option for romantic couple getaways or smaller family, girl or guy trips, but given that it sleeps up to 60 people (and can also accommodate up to 100 people) it’s also a perfect location for weddings, reunions or other destination events. Dolphin Point Villas is particularly suited for the discerning traveler who not only enjoys getting off the beaten path, but also relishes the modern comforts of home. The property’s sloping and curving design gives the impression that the villas were uncovered rather than constructed. Its style epitomizes the best of The Keys—casual yet sophisticated. Vaulted ceilings, spacious living areas, wrap around porches and balconies are unrelenting reminders of the ground’s most striking amenity—the storied Key Largo sunset. The property provides privacy from the bustle of the outside world and exposure to The Keys natural elegance, complemented with all the splendor of modern living.
Keep it romantic at the two-story Coral Reef Cottage with its loft-style Master Suite. Bring the family to the Sand Dollar or Tortuga Villas, each with 3,595 square feet of indoor and outdoor living space. The Conch and the Dolphin Villas are great for larger families or group reunions. However, Dolphin Point Villas’ main attraction is The Nautilus House. The five-bedroom home boasts sweeping living areas, a covered porch and a private pool. And don’t worry about a parking spot, bring your boat and tie up at the home’s private boat slip. Whichever you choose, you will enjoy spacious modern kitchens and eating areas, making your toughest decision whether to stay in or dine out. This exclusive location is perfect for laying low, exchanging vows or taking advantage of the many activities that can be arranged for guests, including kayak tours, paddle boarding, fishing charters, scuba diving and snorkeling through the only living coral reef in the continental U.S.
Atlantic Hotel & Spa Fort Lauderdale
Next a touch northward in South Florida is the AAA Four Diamond-rated property The Atlantic Hotel & Spa, which is located right on Fort Lauderdale beach. This luxury all-suite boutique hotel—a member of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts portfolio—is an exceptional oceanfront destination for relaxation and fun-in-the-sun. With unrivaled seaside views, this hotel overlooks miles of golden shoreline. The property has 106 spacious suites, featuring private balconies with panoramic ocean vistas, large marble bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchenette with mini refrigerator, dual stovetop burners and microwave, in-room Lavazza coffee maker and a large desk.
Their skyline and oceanfront view rooms offer sweeping sights of the surrounding area. Choose between the glittering cityscape of Fort Lauderdale or the calming blue waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic Hotel & Spa has gone through great lengths to cultivate an ever-attentive staff that’s devoted to providing superior service and catering to every whim. This is especially true while pampering guests at its award-winning, on-site Spa Atlantic where they use nourishing elements derived straight from the sea to improve skin quality and enhance your well-being. Decompress in its sauna, steam, room and Jacuzzi as a space to relax before and after one of the many treatment services they offer. The options are seemingly endless, with treatments specifically for couples, prenatal, deep tissue and body melt massages. You can glow from within with one of their facials or select a body wrap for head-to-toe treatment. Salon experiences are also offered.
There are multiple dining options at the Atlantic, with fine dining offering fresh dining favorites from the land and sea. Coastal, the signature restaurant of The Atlantic Hotel & Spa, will make your mouth water with Italian-inspired coastal cuisine. The beautiful oceanfront views of the Atlantic Ocean serve as the backdrop for its dining room and patio seating. Led by Executive Chef Rocco Honig, Coastal’s relaxed, yet stylish, dining venue serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour. There, dogs are welcome to join their parents on the patio and dine off their special Atlantic barkBISTRO menu. For more casual fare al fresco, check out SKY Bar on the hotel’s 5th Floor Oceanfront Terrace. It’s definitely “the place to be,” as the 5th floor is also home to a heated outdoor pool, whirlpool tubs, a 24-hour gym, the spa and The Oceanview outdoor social area.
Couturista Travel Fashion-Focused Shopping Excursions
For stylish travel from Miami to Italy and beyond, if you like to shop luxe fashion brands while seeing amazing sights, this is the perfect option for you. Founded by fashion aficionados and travel experts, Couturista Travel is a tour operator offering a series of luxury-curated vacation experiences that focus on fashion and shopping in hotspots around the world like Tuscany, Miami and Mexico.
Upcoming tours like their “Tuscany Couture” trip include stays in luxury fashion-inspired hotels, such as the Ferragamo-owned Gallery Art Hotel, exclusive vineyard tours and VIP access and discounts at the world’s leading fashion retailers. Tuscany Couture gives its guests once-in-a-lifetime, exclusively curated access to coveted shops, including Prada, Gucci, Armani as well as hidden workshops of local artisans. Couturista Travelers also visit fashion museums and enjoy gourmet restaurants. In fact, for the Tuscany Couture adventure specifically, the program includes nine day/eight night hotel accommodations, deluxe private transportation, English-speaking guides, daily buffet breakfast, gourmet meals with wine, shopping tours and fashion museum entrances, winery visits, Aperol spritzes on the river and of course … shopping!
In addition to Tuscany, other upcoming Couturista fashion-inspired vacations include Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende, one of the world’s top locations for refined travel and shopping, as well as Miami in sunny South Florida.
Blacklane Chauffeur & Airport Concierge Service
No matter what region you plan to visit, if you desire reliable and luxurious ground transportation for a flight or any other “around town” jaunts, Blacklane is a true gem. The service alleviates the stress of getting to and from the airport or other destinations while vacationing. This high-quality chauffeur and airport concierge service spans more than 500 airports, 300 cities and 60 countries with fair, fixed and all-inclusive rates. All of their commercially licensed and insured chauffeurs worldwide speak English, track flights and will automatically adjust the pickup schedule if flight arrival changes. They’ll provide up to one hour of free chauffeur waiting time for airport pickups. The driver’s contact information is provided an hour before pickup and, upon guest arrival, they provide a warm welcome with meet-and-greet service complete with luggage assistance. I also love that the company is environmentally conscious, as their rides are carbon-neutral. Fully 30 cities offer Tesla rides, and Blacklane offsets ride emissions in its other vehicles. Book, change and cancel rides up to months or even just one hour ahead at Blacklane.com or through the free Blacklane app.
‘What Should We Do’ Pocket Concierge App
Visitors to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles will be thrilled to learn that Arielle Tepper, a longtime New Yorker and 45-time TONY award-winning theater and film producer, is moving on from showbiz to help locals and visitors to these regions answer the age-old question: “What Should We Do?” She’s launched an elevated, app-based concierge service that answers one of the most pervasive questions among tourists. With this app developed by expert tastemakers, users enjoy a custom experience from start to finish, including planning, booking, logistics and around-the-clock support. What Should We Do leverages an innovative AI technology approach to learn and tailor users experiences based on their demonstrated preferences. It uses this key learning and adaptation to create comprehensive plans from start to finish, resulting in a handy pocket concierge service.
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above may have been provided or arranged at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***