Themed Girls Getaways

Now here's a novel idea for that next trip with gal pals: themed girls getaways. The upshot is to get creative when getting together with friends and make the trip memorable and a hoot to boot! Read the full list via the link, but here are the highlights. Love them all.

  1. TV show themes: Think Charley's Angels (mystery dinners, etc.) or "split into tribes and pull a Survivor." Perhaps Saturday Night Live skits and performances instead of charades?
  2. History: Think about decades (20s flapper, 60s hippie, 70s disco, 80s valley girl) or go way, way back in time to the Renaissance or ancient Egypt with room for creative costumes.
  3. It's a small world: Budgets can be tight, so rather than blowing your whole savings on one trip, rent a vacation home and pick a country or region and cook meals from Italy, France, Mexico, Thailand. You can also choose the appropriate music and activities to match the culture.
  4. Out of this world: Space is vast, and so are the possibilities with this theme from Star Trek to superheros!
  5. Classics: Put a new twist on classic themes such as carnivals (games?), westerns/cowgirls (pie-throwing contest?), or pirates (treasure hunt?).

Any other great ideas out there?

Source: GirlTrip

 


10 Best Holiday Shopping Spree Trips

For the ultimate girls getaway with a mission, I say take your gal pals to a town full of entertainment and plenty of good shopping to give a little something unique for Christmas this year. Find the perfect gift for your sister, mom, friend, cousin, boyfriend, husband, and so forth. Getting away before the holidays (when sales are on, travel deals abound, winter temperatures are at bay) can be worth the trip.

1. New York City

  • For him: The basic I Love New York t-shirt or luxury items such as shoes that turn into roller skates or a watch that doubles as a remote control (for the James Bond in your man).
  • For her: A handbag from a discount shop or designer shirt from quaint boutiques. Heck, if you can swing it, drop the credit card at a 5th Avenue store.

2. Los Angeles

  • For him: Universal Studios paraphernalia for the kid in him or hat that makes him feel like the fly boy he wants to be. If he likes fine arts, grab him something from a museum or gallery. Or get your picture taken by his favorite Hollywood star handprint and frame it.
  • For her: Anything from a store on the fancy, famous Rodeo Drive such as designer jeans or sunglasses the size of her head would be good. You'll feel like a star shopping and she'll feel like a million bucks receiving.

3. San Francisco

  • For him: Go glam with original art from Sausalito, or buy Ghirardelli chocolates. If your man is an earthy dude, find a trippy tie dye Grateful Dead t-shirt, a drum, or incense. Wine from Napa Valley (to grab on a leisurely day trip) is always a good gift as well.
  • For her: Again, go glam with original art from Sausalito, or buy Ghirardelli chocolates. If your female friend is earthy, find Haight-Ashbury District candles, incense, a woven purse, patchouli oil, the works. There are also outlet stores downtown for more "typical" shops. Wine works wonders for women as well.

4. London

  • For him: Find the rare book or gift he loves at flea markets in areas such as Notting Hill. Bring back some of the best tea from Fortnum & Mason (arguably the world's most expensive and best grocery store for specialty foods).
  • For her: What's not for her in London? Flea markets with jewelry, books, household items, scarves, etc. And shopping boutiques and high fashion stores. Then there's always Fortnum & Mason for cookies, pates, teas (expensive but worth it!).

5. Chicago

  • For him: Cubs, White Sox or Bears paraphernalia (jersey, balls, bat, mug, etc.) if he's a sporto; if he prefers fine arts, the Chicago Art Museum is world-renowned and the gift shop has a bevy of nice gifts (I can attest).
  • For her: Home to the Magnificent Mile, Chicago, does indeed have magnificent shopping such as numerous department stores (Lord and Taylor, for instance) and shops for everything from leather gloves to perfume to cashmere wraps.

6. Washington, DC

  • For him: Smithsonian books or paraphernalia from the museums, books for the history buff, or a framed photo from your trip to the U.S. capital. Sunset from the Lincoln Memorial looking toward the U.S. Capitol includes the reflecting pool and Washington Monument - a classic shot with your signature all over it.
  • For her: Antiques and collectibles at the weekend Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, non-fiction books for the history buffs, arts and crafts at either the flea market or any of the numerous art galleries or museums.

7. Whistler, BC

  • For him: Any ski gear possible (guys dig this), including poly shirts for insulation. Find stores with sales if need be as there are plenty of shops at this big ski resort with Blackcomb village and Whistler village.
  • For her: Ski-themed t-shirts, ski gear or just about anything goes. Whistler has a slew of different shops such as soap shops, coffee houses, and more.

8. Las Vegas

  • For him: Win big and bring him back some dough.
  • For her: Outlet malls galore are here to offer discounts on major clothing, shoe, home and gear labels. Two major outlets: Premium Outlets and Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas.

9. San Diego

  • For him: Get him a couple 22-ounce bottles of micro-beer from local Coronado Brewing Company, and top the gift off with a logo'd pint and sweatshirt.
  • For her: A cuddly stuffed animal from the San Diego Zoo or arts and crafts from boutiques around town. If a Tijuana day trip is on your agenda, there are plenty of arts and crafts to buy in Mexico from wool blankets to woven baskets to sculptures.

10. Denver

  • For him: A classic belt buckle (if he's into that sort of thing) or leather belt for the hidden cowboy within.
  • For her: A nice leather belt is a wonderful gift for women also, but Denver also boasts several boutiques in addition to major shopping stores. And there's always the Southwest art scene if you want to splurge and purchase some hand-crafted jewelry or art.

 


Wine-Tasting Vacations

TripAdvisor issued a list of its favorite "vineyard vacations" - which are, of course, ideal for groups such as extended families (sans kids), girls getaways, bachelor parties, birthday parties, wedding events, or just getaways with friends.

This top 10 list includes all the usual suspects, and a few notable newbies. So raise a glass of chardonney or merlot and bring back new bottles of wine to dazzle your friends (or yourself) when you return from vacation. 

  1. Napa Valley, Calif.
  2. Tuscany, Italy
  3. Bordeaux, France
  4. Santiago, Chile
  5. Sonoma, Calif.
  6. Burgundy, France
  7. La Rioja, Spain
  8. Hunter Valley, Australia
  9. Champagne-Ardenne, France
  10. Constantia, South Africa

 


Spa Trends to Watch

A while back, I posted about vinotherapy (new wine spas) and chocolate treatments. Travel + Leisure now has a list of three new spa trends, all geared around getting back to the basics by being healthy through well-being:

  1. Holistic living: Residential villa communities where people can access spa facilities year-round.
  2. Hawaiian wellness summits: Well-being and healthy lifestyle sessions such as organic cooking demos or "intimate seaside sessions" with local wellness experts.
  3. Bamboo treatments: Crushed fiber from bamboo shoots is being used at eco-friendly spas for treatments.

Take your pick. The evolving spa industry has its choices from detox programs, to quick day spa treatments, aromatherapy, nutrition-based spas, hot stone massages (my personal favorite), indulgent treatments such as wine or chocolate soaks, and new eco-holistic wellness treatments. Spas really are branching out to all kinds of travelers. There's likely a spa service that even the most old-fashioned "I'm not letting anyone touch me who I don't know" grandparent of yours would appreciate.

I say take your pick and stay with a safe treatment within your comfort zone, or branch out and try something new. I'm adding to the above list mobile spas, a growing trend for those who can't seem to make it to the spa, but still crave the pampering.


Best North American Spas 2006

Travel + Leisure released results from its annual readers poll for their World's Best Awards 2006. Since I'm enamored with spas, massages, and the relaxation they offer, I tuned in to the best spas list. There are several awards, all rated by T + L readers, including best destination spas, best Europe spas, and so forth. While those are great for honeymoons and special travel occasions, here are the U.S. and Canada spas that might be a shorter plane ride or drive away and, therefore, a little easier on the budget:

1 Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, Florida 93.36
2 Mandarin Oriental, Miami 90.46
3 Park Hyatt, Toronto 89.80
4 Four Seasons Resort, Jackson Hole, Wyoming 89.58
5 Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek, Colorado 89.58
6 Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, Little Torch Key, Florida 88.99
7 Pinehurst Resort, North Carolina 88.94
8 Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico 88.79
9 Ritz-Carlton, Naples, Florida 88.72
10  St. Regis Resort, Monarch Beach, Dana Point, California 88.71
11 Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina 88.69
12 Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville, North Carolina 88.53
13 Enchantment Resort, Mii Amo, Sedona, Arizona 88.36
14 Four Seasons Hotel, Las Vegas 88.26
15 Auberge du Soleil, Spa du Soleil, Rutherford, California 88.10
16 The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia 88.04
17 St. Regis Resort, Aspen, Colorado 87.76
18 American Club, Kohler, Wisconsin 87.50
18 Four Seasons Hotel, Philadelphia 87.50
18 Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa, Houston, Texas 87.50
18 Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Ojai, California 87.50
22 The Peninsula, Chicago 87.28
23 Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, Florida 87.25
24 Four Seasons Resort Aviara, North San Diego 87.16
25 Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, Vancouver Island 87.04

Spas are an ideal activity for girls getaways, even an option for a guys getaways, or a way to sneak away from a family reunions for solo time. 

Source: Travel + Leisure


Best Spas

Spas offer a respite from daily stress, a transformative means to health, and boost the spirit. Massages melt muscles with seductive aromatherapy, perfect pressure points, and release knots, putting your body and mind at ease. Nothing beats a good masseur or masseuse. For a girls getaway, guys getaway (er, mancation?), or any other trip, here's a list of some of the best spas in the world.

  • Best destination spas ranked by Travel + Leisure's readers in 2004
    Destination spas offer a complete immersion in pampering, with setting, food, ambience, and treatments all aimed at making you feel as relaxed as imaginable (or unimaginable).
  • Best resort spas ranked by Travel + Leisure's readers in 2004
    Resort spas are normally connected to luxury hotels or resorts, often in locations with great natural beauty, offering a wide range of spa treatments.
  • Best spas for hikers by About.com
    For active vacationers who like adventure mixed with pampering.
  • Best spas for detox by About.com
    For travelers in need of a spiritually cleansing or healthy vacation.
  • Best spas on a lake by About.com
    For spa lovers who find as much peace on a lake as during a massage.

But are any of these really the best? Such a subjective word: best. What makes a spa ideal for you? I've heard amazing things about Mii Amo in Sedona, Ariz., but from my personal experience (so far!), the best spa I've gone to was in Calistoga, Calif. Here's why it was amazing:

When I walked in, the clock was at least 10 minutes slow and the front desk clerk smiled, "Welcome. No worries about the time, we're on spa time." My shoulders dropped with relief. No stress here. After calmly slipping into a robe in the dressing room, I drank cucumber-flavored water before the masseuse brought me to my sea salt soaking tub. After the soak, I had the massage of a lifetime. The masseuse was a magician with strong, experienced hands who worked every knot out of my back and shoulders, then had me doing a breathing exercise while she released tension from my neck and left my body and mind dizzy with delight. Being on vacation in Napa Valley also helped with the carefree mood. Still, I highly recommend Indian Springs Spa. As part of your appointment, you even get free use of their outdoor swimming pool. Another cool perk.


Food Tours

I recently wrote about culinary tours and just read a CNN article about the trend in culinary tours and cooking classes, shedding light on why we travel for food. Here are some excerpts about the growing popular movement to experience culinary delights up close and personal while on vacation.

"I think that the foodie market is related more or less to the baby boomer demographic," said Dr. Rich Harrill, director of the International Tourism Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. "You have people who are retiring, people with lots of discretionary time and income, some level of sophistication. They're educated, they're interested in wine, they're interested in food."

The article goes on to suggest that while countries like Italy, France, and Spain are "hot spots for culinary tourism," you don't have to travel too far off the beaten path or make a major time commitment to participate.

One culinary class pupil reminisces fondly, "When you travel through the world exploring food, you get this interesting window about the culture and the environment because food is the bridge between the land and the culture."

Courses are limited to Arizona, Las Vegas, Hawaii, California, Carolinas, Florida, and Mexico but those are golf hot spots anyway. The descriptions, photos, par stats, player ratings all come in handy. But the fact that you can actually book a tee time is highly convenient. Now all you need to do is practice your putt.


Culinary Tours

Food and wine touring is one of the best methods of travel, and a growing trend. You meet locals, often take the road less traveled, taste exquisite regional cuisine, sample rare wines, and try a culture on for size. These scrumptious tours come in all flavors and cater to groups.

Cooking classes abroad

My mom and I participated in a group cooking class while in Florence for a destination wedding. 20 guests from the wedding bonded, made new friends, and spread the spirit of the wedding through the days leading up to the ceremony. With the chef supervising, ingredients prepped, and kitchen utensils at hand, we broke into smaller groups and worked on our respective culinary assignments. Mom and I were with the tort table following a simple recipe for a lemon tort while others prepared a beef entrée, appetizers, and salads. After baking and cooking, we all feasted on our homemade Italian food and drank vino at a big banquet table. Bonus: We all got to take home the recipes and aprons. To this day, it's still one of my most memorable meals. Thanks to Apicius, the Culinary Institute of Florence.

Wine-tasting abroad

The same destination wedding trip to Italy also gave me the opportunity to take a small group wine-tasting tour. We visited quaint, lesser-known wineries and stopped for lunch at a local restaurant in a rural village just outside of Florence. Chianti's 300 acres between Florence and Siena are filled with hills and various wine-growing conditions, producing a range of bouquets. We sampled soft wines, dry wines, and robust wines not marketed in the U.S. Apparently, the American market demands certain grapes and types of wine, but often the local vintners shake their heads in wonder because they know the superior bottles don't sell well on the mass market. Reason alone to do a wine-tasting tour: rare finds. These tours are a great way to meld with the rural areas, sample the fruits of its earth, and pass the time with a little culture.

Pick and choose your favorite culinary tour. Your body, mind, and gut will thank you for it, and it's ideal for group trips. A few suggestions to whet your appetite:

Wine-tasting tours
Bordeaux wine tours
Napa Valley wineries
South Australia wine-tasting tours (source: travelgirl magazine, Sept./Oct. 2006)

Beer-tasting tours
Guinness tours in Dublin
Anheuser-Busch Brewery tours
Redhook Brewery tours in Washington state (near Seattle) or New Hampshire
Samuel Adams Brewery tours in Boston

Food & culinary tours and classes
Cooking classes in France, Spain, and Italy
Mexican cooking tours

Food & music tours (eat 'til you ache, dance 'til you drop)
Chateau St. Michelle Winery concerts in Woodinville (near Seattle)
Celtic music and food tours in Ireland and Scotland

Taking a culinary or wine tour with family or friends is a priceless experience, great for girls getaways, bachelorette parties, wedding guest activities, and so on.


Group Getaways with Friends

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Traveling is no exception. Vacations are more enjoyable with buddies from college, girlfriends from home, friends from life (soccer or baseball teams), and any other groups.

Reconnect with old friends, reminisce about the good old days, and make new memories that make you laugh 'til you cry with these getaway tips.

Girls getaways
Ladies, start your engines. The games, the energy, the synergy, and the drinks are about to begin. Take a wild or relaxing vacation with your gal pals on a spa getaway, wine-tasting soiree, birthday celebration, or anything goes. Can't go far? Try a mini girls getaway?

Beach getaways
Hit the beach year-round (and more heavily in the summer) at your favorite beach. Try a nude beach, join your friends at your most memorable beach, or find a new beach while on a weekend away. Here are TripAdvisor's top 10 U.S. beaches.

Road trip planning guide
Zoom, zoom. Friends, families, and other vacationers are hitting the highways and dusty roads for campgrounds, national parks, family reunions, and zero obligations. Along with sunblock, prepare for a stress-free road trip with these tips. 10 gas and money-saving tips should help as well.

Golf trip meccas
Swing and putt your way down the fairways, slugging beer and making bets against your comrades the whole time. Golf is a great way to relax and visit with friends while working on your game. Also, here are quick tips for planning a group golf getaway.

Bachelor and bachelorette parties
Are you the best man with no clue how to honor your pal with a party? If the only thing that comes to mind is a stripper, see these bachelor party tips first. Ladies, looking to make the bride smile and proud to call you her friends? Here are helpful hints for bachelorette party planning.

Spa Getaways
Just say ahhhh. Spa vactions are on the rise and spas are increasingly catering to groups (girls getaways in particular). Before you go, brush up on some basic group etiquette (so the spa invites you back!). Try vinotherapy at a wine spa, chocolate massages, or any other spa treatments for you and the gang.

More Tips for Group Getaways with Friends

Best of the Web (Getaway Related Links)


Mini Getaways for Girls

After my recent girls getaway post, I discovered some helpful tips for women who need to get together, but can't travel (whether for budgetary reasons, weather, work, or other mishaps). That shouldn't prevent women from planning outings closer to home, perhaps as a way to discuss longer-term vacations together.

GirlTrip.org has 10 mini girls getaway tips when you're squeezed on time, but still need a time out. Here are my 3 favorites:

  • Mental Health Day
    If everyone's working hard then take a day for hardly working.  Notify all the ladies that you're taking a collective mental health day.  Meet up at the spa, the beach or the best shopping strip in your area and enjoy a day out of the office together.

What a delicious way to spend a day! Mental health days should be more normal for a country built on hard work and two-week long vacations per year (what's up with that?).

  • Friend Spread
    If your friends aren't all as close with each other as you are to them, then bring them together.  Plan a night out with all your gal pals who don't know each other well and get everyone acquainted!

I love this idea. I can't tell you how often I've gone to the movie with my "movie friend" or walking with my "walking friend" or dished on guys with my "gossip boy-crazy friend" or philosophized about the state of the world and the inter-relatedness of chaos and order with my "deep friend" and I've drunk like a fish with my "party friend." Nice to gather them every so often to find the surprising similarities.

  • We'll Always Have Coffee
    When all else fails and you just can't squeeze in a date with the ladies, find a quck thirty minutes for a cup of java or a smoothie.  It just enough time to do some quick catching up while getting out of the house or away from the office for a breather.

Everything's better with coffee. I couldn't agree more.