Hot Travel Picks




On Top of the World – 78° Latitude

Svalbard-1Svalbard, Norway. Many people have never heard of this destination, but not for long. Adventurers, explorers, voyagers and lovers of beauty will be flocking here ultimately. This archipelago of islands is the world’s most northern and widely accessible destination. It is actually located 400 miles north of mainland Europe. The settlements and towns are the most northerly populated areas on the planet. Longyearbyen, the main town was our destination. We made our base camp at the Svalbard Hotel, modern and Scandinavian chic, for some of the most incredible adventure activities you could possibly partake in. The friendly and knowledgeable staff was very helpful in accommodating all of our questions and needs.

We traveled here in the summer, but great winter trips are also fantastic. During the summer months, Svalbard experiences the midnight sun, which lasts from late April to the end of August. This means that there is no darkness. It takes a while to get used to and sometimes you need to check your watch to make sure to go to sleep! The winter months have the Polar night, which is a period from the end of October to the end of January. The sun does not rise during this time. At first the terrain may seem desolate and rugged, but it grows on you as you begin to experience this unparalleled beauty. The hard angles of the glacier formed mountains that jut up towards the sky beckon you to explore more. On a sunny day, the area takes on a surreal glow with the Advent fjord glistening wherever you look.

There are so many incredible adventure choices; it is hard to decide what to do. But, we opted for some great things on the agenda. To begin your adventure on Svalbard, it is great to take a 2 hour taxi tour to get your bearings. This is very informative and gives you insight into the local culture, the renowned University and the mining activities.

Another excellent way to achieve a good understanding of the area’s history is a trip to the beautiful and award winning Svalbard Museum. The museum features an excellent collection of the areas ecosystem and a depiction of the historic whaling industry and the fur trappers. We were honored to have the actual sculptor, OddJorgenson as our esteemed guide. His particular insight into the area was very inspiring and the exhibits have a very fluid and modern twist, yet capturing the feeling of the area.

Day one was a five hour kayak trip on the Advent fjord. This was a terrific workout as well as an incredibly scenic view of Longyearbyen and the surrounding wilderness. We pumped our oars religiously across the fjord, landed onshore and proceeded to hike a ways up the beach. This rocky beach is a living monument to the previous occurrences and business in the area. Everything must remain untouched, by law. We actually found a
piece of a German WW2 plane! A few minutes farther up the path was our campsite, where we had a great and warming light lunch before paddling back to town! We caught a glimpse of several reindeer grazing on the tundra nearby. So serene!

Day two was really something else! It was a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) tour to Isfjord Radio. We donned our very warm survival suits, yes, survival suits, in case of an unlikely emergency. Our guide, Martin did everything he could to make us relax and feel as comfortable as possible. We hopped onto the RIB and went flying off at a high speed to the arctic fjords! We stopped at a ghost town, abandoned years ago as well as Barentsburg, an
authentic Russian mining town. This town has about 300 people living there, isolated, with only boats or snowmobiles as a way out. Our next stop was to pick up a couple of intrepid adventurer/fishermen that had been camping in a small cabin for a week. They were in such a remote area; it was hard to believe they stayed there for so long, so far from civilization. As it turned out, one of them was the Norwegian sculptor, Odd Jorgenson.

Our destination was the former communications station of Isfjord Radio. No longer necessary for communications after the fiber optic cable routing several years ago, this is a true living museum. We had to stay close together in a group as there was a strong possibility of a polar bear sighting! Yes, there are over 3500 polar bears in Svalbard! Sadly, we did not spot one, but we did see more reindeer grazing in the distance. As we removed our survival suits to prepare for our lunch, we were blown away by the stunning and modern interior of the hotel! Yes, Isfjord Radio has been painstakingly renovated into a hip and stylish hotel only accessible by boat or snowmobile in the calm waters, a tremendous amount of birds and vistas that had turquoise water with glaciers in the background. It just doesn’t get any better than that!

Svalbard-2Day three was our last day for adventure. We began the day with donning more heavy gear and had a brief safety course by our guide Martin from the day before. We were off to an ATV exploration of the wilderness near Longyearben. We revved up the engines and took off down the empty streets until we veered off to the old mining roads. As we traversed high up the mountains, the views became even more sensational. We stopped at a terrific husky compound that had over 120 dogs and puppies!

That afternoon we spotted a pod of 50 Beluga whales in the harbor. It was an unbelievable sight! They swam very close to shore and were so beautiful, white and playful. Many of them had babies swimming alongside of them. It was really something else!

We ended our adventure with a 3 hour ride on Icelandic horses to the tip of the peninsula. These Icelandic horses are very tough and do not mind the colder weather. Shorter than some of the horse breeds in the US, these trusty steeds are really fun to ride. It was a peaceful and sublime way to end the trip as the clouds formed a misty goodbye.

It was hard to leave Svalbard. The beauty of the area grows on you like a feeling of repose and contentment. You understand why people live here, in this rugged, yet sophisticated destination. It is not what you expect; it is much better. That is the cool thing. Svalbard is a place of solitude, inspiration and nature beyond compare. We hope to visit again soon! SUSAN SHORT


Enjoy the Comforts of Home

Lake Buena Vista Resort VILLAGE & Spa

LakeBuenaVista-1Let’s face it, a cramped hotel stay, no matter how luxurious the resort may be can be trying, even for the most seasoned travelers. Sharing bathrooms with a teen is also not the most enjoyable, regardless of how sweet they may be for the most part. Enter in the Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa. This sprawling property is more like a condo complex disguised as a hotel. Each “room” is a suite and they offer one to four bedrooms with several bathrooms and a full kitchen. For families travelling with small children, or any children, this set up is ideal.

No need to look too much further for entertainment as well. The lushly landscaped buildings surround a lagoon style pool with a giant shipwreck floating in the center. Known as a pirate ship wreck water park, the kiddos will be in heaven frolicking around the zero entry tot pool. Older kids can shoot off the water cannons and ride the giant slide and grab a bite to eat at the pirate ship as well. Adults can sip their favorite beverage at the poolside tiki bar and relax in one of the many hammocks beckoning them in the sultry breezes. Every now and then they can dip their toes into the many hot tubs on site.

But, this was not in the plans for me. I had something much better on the agenda; a fantastic 90 minute four hands massage and relaxation treatment at the Reflections Spa-Salon. This is a world class facility with 10 treatment rooms and just about any spa service one could imagine. I could only focus on one thing..the divine four hands massage. It began with a peaceful setting in the lovely stress free relaxation room. I was then guided to a beautiful room with a very large Jacuzzi tub in the center. I soaked away all the stress of the week for about 25 minutes before the massage began. The massage itself was something that I have not received before. Two therapists work on you at the same time. It was amazing! I felt like a new person and had a tremendous amount of energy for the rest of the day. This is a treatment that is not to miss…I would highly recommend it for anyone.

The resort is conveniently located right next to a brand new outlet mall with some very interesting shops. When you check in, they give you some additional saving coupons..and some of the deals are fantastic. Many European travelers take advantage of a new service that allows you to check your bags at a store in the mall, thus avoiding any baggage hassles at the airport. It seemed like a great service.

Last but not least, the resort has a concierge that sells all tickets to any of the theme parks. This is a great service as well, saving time and the lines. There is also free shuttle service to the parks from the lobby. The Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa is a lovely home away from home with something for everyone. SUSAN SHORT

Fishing expedition to Svalbard


Svalbard is a unique destination offering true arctic wilderness. It is one of the most fantastic fly fishing areas in the world. In the late summer, the fish known as Ishavsroye follow the rivers to the sea to eat and gain strength for the cold and dark winter. With fish up to 16 pounds in great numbers swimming the clear rivers, and the most beautiful scenery you can imagine, combined with the posibility of meeting the polar bear, Svalbard feels like a superb choice for a fishing expedition.

The two of us grew up near a beautiful river in southern Norway. Before school…after school…sometimes instead of school. As we grew older, new rivers and lakes were discovered as well as fly fishing. Many fishermen would say that when you start fly fishing it is like starting fishing for the first time again.

So one day, we were ready for our first fishing trip to the promise of Svalbard. After nearly missing the first flight and then enduring a two-hour delay before the next flight to Svalbard, we were in our lifesuits and on the way, leaving civilization behind. The midnight sun and quiet sea made our flight time trip really easy, and we landed near an old trappers’ cabin, ”Russekeila,” at 5:00 am and then had to maneuver our boat safely across the river delta into the lagoon with the tide.

FishinginNorway-2Having lived and worked at Svalbard earlier, we had two friends, still living there, to guide us. They are both experienced fishermen, and they had found a cabin to stay in. Four men with lots of stuff in a 12-square-meter hunting cabin – meant for one person – felt like a four star hotel compared with sleeping in a tent as we normally do on this kind of trip.

Less than half an hour after setting foot on the shore the first fly was in the water. No sleep, no food, just the burning fishing fever, kept us going for several hours up and down the beautiful riverbanks with the loaded 44 magnum in our pocket in case we ran into a polar bear. We eat fish, but the polar bear will eat us, so the guns are really necessary out there. And you have to keep one eye on the river and the other on the surrounding landscape in order to get food, not become food.

After a wonderful reindeer dinner made by Jorn – who happens to run the best resturant in Longyearbyen – we passed out in our sleeping bags and slept for 10 hours straight.

Filled with eggs, bacon and fresh motivation, we started for the river … and the secound day the magic fish appeared. We only caught two but the power and the beauty of the fish stunned us as much as the beautful landscape. The celebration dinner by Jorn, with traditional Norwegian rib from sheep – usually served for Christmas — was the perfect end to a perfect day.

FishinginNorway-3The Russian coal mining city of Barentsburg is close. On the third day a group of five Russian men from the mining company adminstration and Consulate came to fish in the same lake and river. The Russian cabin is fewer than a hundered meters from Russekeila so we spent the evenings around the campfire drinking vodka, disscussing politics and fishing. Even during the cold war, the contact between Norwegians and Russians has always been friendly on Svalbard.

The two locals had to take the boat back to work, so they left us with a satelite phone and a promise that another boat would come pick us up on Thursday. Sure enough, after a day of bad weather, the boat was there. In less than 15 minutes of packing and cleaning the cabin, we were on our way back to Longyearbyen.

The boat that picked us up held four passengers, a young Norwegian couple and an American woman and her son. Stopping for lunch at Isfjord radio, we started talking to these people and got to know Susan and Greg from Florida. She was a publisher and was writing a story for her magazine about Svalbard so we spent most of the stay in Longyearbyen with them and had a wonderful time.

FishinginNorway-4The day before we left, more than 100 white whales came into the fjord and Svend picked us up and took us to a point where we could see them only a couple of meters away. It was a beautiful finale for a beautiful trip to see these majestic, totally white, animals swim by.

This memory will stick as clearly as the childhood memories from the river we grew up with and next year we will hopefully go back and make another one.


Deer Valley Resort • Solden: • St. Anton:
Other Important sites:

Odd Jorgensen

An Interview with Odd Jorgensen

What inspires you the most?

Nature has always been most inspiring to me, most of all the moments of awareness I get when I feel totally present as a part of the greatness of the earth.

How did you create the installation for the Svalbard museum?

My main focus was on the sculptural parts of the exhibition, so I had to dive into the historical background of Svalbard and its wonderful nature to reproduce the mining situations, a hunter’s cabin and various animal models.

What materials do you prefer working with?

To me wood is the best material to work with because it puts you on a test every time. It`s a live material that you have to work with, not against. Clay, you can shape anyway you want, but wood will allow you to shape it within its natural form.

Do you have any shows or installations coming up in the next year?

My last year has been mostly about building my own workshop and studio to be able to work in better facilities, so I will hopefully be back sculpting this fall and have an exhibition next fall.

What type of music do you listen to?

To me, there are only two kinds of music, Pink Floyd and all the others. I listen to various music from folk to opera, bands and artists come and go. Pink Floyd is always there and always will be.

What was the largest piece you have done and what is its size?

The largest pieces I have been working on are almost six foot Viking Kings. I’ve created four Kings so far, and I will make eight more. The block of wood I start with is about 700 pounds and when I am done there is about 200 pounds left. So when the full statue is done, I will have made a lot of firewood too.

What advice do you have for aspiring artists/sculptors?

Stick to what is in you. Too many creative young people are pushed into various styles that either their teacher likes, or the critics like. Take charge of your own direction and find your own style. We are all originals. Don’t end your career as a bad copy of someone else.




. . . incredible alpine scenery, snowcapped peaks,fresh mountain air and excellent creature comforts . . .

The Austrian Alps: reality is more stunning than pictures in a magazine or on TV. The country is physically breathtaking, with incredible alpine scenery, snowcapped peaks, fresh mountain air and excellent creature comforts– a legendary location for a perfect holiday. Do not let the flying time put you off; it is a relatively easy connection through Munich and a short drive to some of the most exciting scenery and adventures that you will ever experience.

Seeking as much adventure as possible, we began our journey in the Austrian Tirol region, which is one of the most mountainous and picturesque areas of Western Austria. Many people hike the “hut to hut” routes, stopping in authentic farmhouse “huts” for great Austrian food and hospitality.

First on the program was a day at the extreme sports water park of Area 47, the ultimate outdoor playground. Located on a class 4 and 5 river, it features just about any kind of thrill. A climber’s paradise, the thrill park features 30 different sports activities. On our agenda was the High Ropes Course Air Trail. This “Stairway to Heaven” is definitely not for the faint of heart or for anyone afraid of heights. It is 27 meters up, under a bridge and a crazy, thrilling, unbelievable climb. We did almost the entire course, which is a great workout as well.

This extreme sports day deserved a fabulous place to unwind in the evenings. So, the glorious Aqua Dome was definitely the destination. The combination of the Alps/Tirol location and thermal spa is extraordinary. The hotel is a stunning modern design that features everything a fitness enthusiast would want or need. The thermal spa dome resembles a glass crystal and features two separately-heated indoor pools…not to mention three apparently floating “bowl pools” outdoors that resemble giant martini glasses!

Parting from the Otzdal Valley and the Aqua Dome was sweet sorrow, but we had plans to move on to the legendary Kitzbuhel. Renowned for the Hahnenkamm race as well as Snow Polo, this glorious five- star town is a place to be seen. There are many four- and five-star resorts as well as smaller pensions.

There are thousands of hiking routes, a few of which we were lucky enough to experience. A view is around every corner, with sensational mountain air filling your lungs. A new sport has been developing and it is for anyone who would like to cover a distance without training for a triathlon – E-biking that gets you up those pesky hills without taking in all the air available! We had a great time tooling around town and exploring the stunning golf course areas as well as a nearby lake.

If these activities are not your bag, there’s fantastic shopping in elegant shops. Now we had to leave a fantastic area once more and hopped on an efficient train to the fabulous town of Zell Am See/Kaprun. Situated on the crystal-clear Lake Zell, it’s a magnificent resort area. The Kitzsteinhorn glacier glistens in the summer sun. We chose to ride the Porsche-designed cable car to the top of the Schmittenhohe, at an altitude of over 2000 meters. Here you can hike or bike amazing trails with a view of the lake and the alpine meadows.

We also had the thrill of a lama trek. These gentle pack animals make great travel companions and are super-sweet in temperament. Guided by local resident Burgi Englacher, we trekked up to the Sigmund-Thun Gorge, a fairly steep trail to an alpine stream. We then put stakes in the ground for our lamas and actually dipped our feet into the icy cold water!

Needing some serious rest and relaxation, we hung our hats at the sister property of the Aqua Dome, the Tauern Spa. It was hard to imagine that we could be more awestruck by a resort, but this place impressed us deeply. Its spectacular modern architecture is the perfect base camp for any and all expeditions into the Zell Am See-Kaprun area. Hotel guests are treated to access to the private Panorama Spa with its out-of-thisworld skyline glass pool at the very top of the resort. The “water world” area has multi-faceted activity and relaxation pools and a terrific childrens’ area with water slides and 13 different saunas and steam baths.

The last leg of the trip was a quick excursion to Salzburg. Steeped in culture, history and music, this town of Mozart is a rich cultural experience. It’s a baroque jewel on the edge of the Alps that is known for historic spots such as the Mirabell Palace, Getreidegasse and Mozart’s birthplace, the Hohensalzburg Fortress and the Cathedral. Guided by a wonderful guide, Astrid, we walked through the narrow, cobblestone streets and alleyways to a magical place seemingly out of a movie set. That evening we attended a wonderful Mozart Dinner Concert, a gala event that included live opera.

It is hard to say goodbye to such a complex, erudite and beautiful country as Austria. Perhaps the word Servus would sum it up…it means something like Ciao in Italian. Or, maybe we should say “Auf Weidersehen…farewell, until we meet again in beautiful Austria.” SUSAN SHORT


Support your hometown airport is the new buzz. Our local gem, the SRQ airport, is unveiling a new campaign to promote usage of this fabulous resource. Many folks are under the misconception that flying out of the SRQ airport is more costly, yet it is actually only a fraction higher…on average, less than $28 per round trip fare.

Some of the latest news regarding flights:

  • New JetBlue service daily to La Guardia in New York
  • Additional Delta service to Atlanta
  • United daily to Chicago, ORD starting in November
  • Delta double daily service to La Guardia in New York beginning December 15

Many people do not realize the economic impact of a local airport such as SRQ. The facility drives the employment of over 11,000 individuals. It also generates over $100 million dollars in economic activity.

The new campaign is focused on restoring “leakage” from other nearby airports. This type of leakage costs local jobs, costs local businesses loss of revenue and takes taxes away that truly benefit our community.

The pledge program is quite interesting; it encourages businesses and individuals to:

  • Check SRQ first for air travel
  • Support the airlines which serve Sarasota/Bradenton
  • Pass the word to inbound travelers that “SRQ is the airport of choice.”
  • Ask others to pledge their support

We at Family Beautiful, in all of our worldly travels support SRQ! For more information, check the website, or email

A lot of people were wondering if I was crazy to go to Kashmir helicopter skiing after a fabulous winter in St Anton. St Anton, in the heart of the Austrian Alps, is surely one of the world´s best ski resorts. We got huge snowfalls in December and January, and my friends and I went skiing as often as we could.

But the trip to Kashmir was already planned. “Heliskiing” is, as anyone knows who has done it, the ultimate thing to do as a skier. I have been to Canada, Russia and New Zealand heliskiing and of course in Austria. To take a ´Chopper´ ride to a peak, then ski down back to the valley in untouched snow, is a major kick, a dream for any skier!

I flew from Innsbruck March 2 via Frankfurt to New Delhi. It was 78 degrees Fahrenheit in Delhi, and it felt weird to be thinking that tomorrow we would be skiing in cold temperatures. My friend Bruce, who flew from London, met me in Delhi. In the morning we met the rest of the group and flew to Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir on the Indian side. A bus picked us up and took us to Pahalgam, a small town at the bottom of Himalaya.

Flory Kern, a German mountain guide with a lot of experience of helsikiing, plus two other guides, had a meeting with us at arrival. We were informed about safety, the helicopter, and of course about the snow conditions. Everyone in the group, only nine persons, was more than excited. It had been snowing altogether more than nine meters since early November, so we did not have to worry about bad skiing conditions.

Then the big disappointment: no way to fly because of bad weather. Bruce and I took a walk in town, sad to see the poverty, how people were living, kids running around in the snow in slippers without socks, but with big smiles and happy moods. Maybe they are even happier than our kids, who have IPhones and Playstation and more.

Next day was another no-fly day, so we visited a sun temple. The third day, finally! Real nice weather, blue sky and fantastic snow. Our first flight was up to 3700 meters, and we were like little kids at Christmas. We could blow the snow away from the ground, that’s how dry and cold it was up there.

There were some real steep parts where we had to be careful and make short turns and some open spots where we could ski nice, fast, long, wide turns. The snow was at times so deep that we could hardly see anything.

In one of the steep parts, I caught a very small avalanche and lost one ski. I was more or less just surfing with it, nothing much to talk about, but I thought, what on earth do I do if the ski is gone? Bruce was behind me, picked up the ski and we were able to keep on skiing.

We had about four hours of great skiing when all of a sudden, strong winds started to blow around us. The heli had to fly down to the valley in a rush, but we were left there to get down ourselves! The situation was not scary, but we were happy that we were not even higher up. After dinner we all went to bed early, with big smiles on our faces.

Day 6 was the best of them all, crystal clear blue sky, the wind absolutely still, the helicopter with the Swiss pilot waiting. We had several trips up to 4780 meters, skiing down to 2200.

Next day, the guides said it was going to be another fantastic skiing experience…but we all know how quickly the weather changes in the mountains, and that last day was no exception. Still, I’d recommend heliskiing to anyone reasonably skilled on skis!

Gunnar Munthe

It is the idea of the extraordinary that moves us to travel. The feeling of escape and the refined luxury of a life lived in some new, exotic locale. All can be found at the legendary Buccaneer Hotel on the sublime island of St. Croix. Located in the U.S. Virgin Islands, this gem of a property is every wonderful experience all rolled into a stunning, but not sterile, package.

The Buccaneer has been a grand dame of a resort for 65 years. Her storied history has many a tall tale and has seen some of the most famous stars and dignitaries over the course of time. Family-owned and -managed, it posseses elegance and old world refinement, plus that perfect touch of Caribbean flair. Everyone whom you come in contact with is super personable, without being phony. It has just the right amount of friendliness without being intrusive.

Some of the celebrated history of the hotel includes the fact that the owners did not know they were pioneering the tourism boom in the 50s and 60s. When they first opened, they were considered excitingly modern, as they were the first hotel in the Virgin Islands to have screened windows, hot water and actual closets to hang clothes in…not armoires.

Now, guests including myself can luxuriate in fabulously-appointed rooms or suites fit for the grandest of tastes. It is certainly fun to think of the adventure that it was not such a long time ago. Treating guests as if they were on a plantation is still felt as you meander through the 340-plus-acre property. It features an 18 hole, gorgeous golf course, eight tennis courts, three beaches, fitness center, idyllic spa and 138 elegant guest rooms. They cater to families and have an excellent kids’ club with all kinds of interesting things for the younger set to do. Once you arrive at the Buccaneer, it is very hard to leave the premises, even for an excursion.

But we opted for a great sailing day to the glorious Buck Island. Caribbean Sea Adventures provided the large catamaran on which we sailed off into the turquoise waters of St. Croix. The crew expertly guided us to the marine sanctuary of Buck Island, where we embarked on a fantastic snorkel adventure. We traversed over brightly-colored coral reefs, looking at amazing sea life including parrotfish, wrasse, and dorys and just about anything you might imagine in an aquarium. I was even lucky enough to see a large sea turtle. The brilliant color of the water combined with the dazzling array of fish was a memory that will last a lifetime.

Sadly, we had to leave the Buccaneer and return home to the U.S. As we watched our last breathtaking sunset from the great house and felt the balmy breezes caressing our skin, we thought, does it get any better than this? Surely not. The Buccaneer has the idea and reality of the flawless, unspoiled vacation down to an unadulterated science. This is the stuff dreams are made of and now memories as well. SUSAN SHORT


Abaco Beach Resort



The authentic Bahamian resort offers guests

the ultimate island escape with the

By Air to Sea Getaway

WHO: Abaco Beach Resort at Boat Harbour

WHAT: From a long weekend to an extended stay, this air-inclusive offer will land guests far from the maddening the crowds of tourists, ensuring the only frenzy they will encounter will be made up of fish! Taking some time off to take off to The Abacos has never been easier as Silver Airways now provides direct, non-stop service from Orlando International Airport to Marsh Harbour, seven days a week.

This offer includes:

  • Oceanfront accommodations for 3, 5 or 7 nights
  • Round-trip airfare on Silver Airways from Orlando direct to Marsh Harbour
  • All taxes and service charges related to inclusions, complimentary Wi-Fi access and use of non-motorized watersports equipment

3 nights: $253 per person, per night

5 nights: $199 per person, per night

7 nights: $176 per person, per night

This offer is based on double occupancy

WHEN: Booking window: June 1 – July 15, 2012

Travel window: June 1 – December 20, 2012


WHERE: Call 1-800-468-4799 or book online at


Free Boat Bahamas Vacation Special

Stay 5 nights at the Abaco Beach Resort and receive a free center console sport boat for 3 days of your stay to cruise the breathtaking Sea of Abaco and all the spectacular private beaches and historic settlements this unique part of the Bahamas has to offer! Kids 12 years and under stay free!

Check out this great package here.

Deer Valley Resort



The country’s Zipline/Canopy tours are some of the best and most interesting in the world. Guided by the experts at Swiss Tours, we were whisked off to adventure. Rainforest Adventures of Costa Rica were our tickets to dramatic scenery and heart pounding excitement. We ascended the rainforest in an open air cable car which provided us grand views of waterfalls and dense foliage. Safety was a paramount consideration for the descent, which was ziplining down the mountain. We were clipped in our harnesses three times, which was very comforting. The adrenaline rush was real as we careened down the lines at fairly high speeds.

In the general vicinity is Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the most-visited tourist destinations in all of Costa Rica. We were treated to some great friends in the form of two-toed sloths high up in the trees, as well as many white-faced squirrel monkeys who were quite clever, hoping to trick unsuspecting tourists out of their food and shiny belongings.

After all of this extreme excitement, Los Suenos had just the cure for excited nerves. The stunning Sibo spa with its Zen-like infrastructure is a retreat from the stress of just about anything. We indulged in a custom 90-minute massage that was close to heavenly.

Many travelers overlook the option of San Jose as a base camp. This is an excellent mixture of South American sophistication and proximity to great jungle exploits. Make sure to check out the Escazu area, newly gentrified and offering upscale cafés and great shopping. The new Marriott Residence Inn is a glamorous retreat smack in the middle of this lively area.

Closer to the San Jose airport is the grand dame, San Jose Marriott, a Spanish-inspired “finca” that is actually on a working coffee plantation. Don’t miss the Kuo spa, designed with the same Zen appeal as the Los Suenos Sibo spa, but with some coffee inspired accents that will blow you away. The grand finale was the “coffee” scrub. This was 90 minutes of coffee bliss and a true antidote to civilization.

It is hard to encapsulate the beauty and diversity of this small country of Costa Rica. Let’s just say that it is very close to paradise found.



Direct Flights from Orlando:

Marriott Los Suenos, San Jose, Residence Inn and Courtyard Inn:

Swiss Tours:


Lauren Bates Photography


Ski Heaven

at The Montage Deer Valley

When we think of the ultimate destination to ski, many locations come to mind. But the standard has been raised several bars with the new Montage in Deer Valley, Utah. Nestled in a canyon and reigning over the luminous white mountains, this elegant resort is more akin to the grand lodges of years gone by. If the stunning location is not enough to get your heart pounding, the proximity of the slopes will surely do the trick.

First and foremost, let’s take a minute to explore Deer Valley as a winter playground. This is at the top of the food chain of ski resorts and very easy to get to. Salt Lake City is only 45 minutes away by highway and is generally free of snow blocking the road system. This is a huge benefit. Deer Valley is a destination resort, just above Park City, and both make great stomping grounds for après ski and fun galore in a mountain town experience.

Deer Valley caters to skiers only. This is truly a paradise for those who love to ski in pristine conditions. The ski school has a large number of veteran instructors, including our favorite, Rob Wall, who spent the day with us and has had many great ski days in his 50-plus year career. Deer Valley also has an excellent children’s program that can teach just about any age to ski safely.

There are many different options when choosing a ski vacation, and many folks prefer the do it yourself kind of “roughing it” experience. Not at the Montage. “Roughing it” is barely a passing puff of wind, since the ski concierges do just about everything for you. As you descend the sumptuous hallway into Compass Sports, you realize that things are different here. The friendly staff greets you immediately with iPads in hand to address all of your ski needs. They fit you perfectly with the proper and latest styles of boots and skis, including (this is my favorite) putting on and taking off your skis for you each day. This, by itself, is the ultimate in ski luxury.

Just barely out the door is the lift that whisks you off to a day of ski heaven. And, after the day sadly comes to an end, the Spa and Wellness Center is there to come to your rescue. The 35,000 square foot venue is more of a holistic retreat than a standard spa experience. European in ambiance with mountain flair, this is the ultimate in rejuvenation after a hard day on the slopes.

To top off an already excellent feeling is the s’mores après ski bar. It is open and ready for action in the late afternoon, as the sun sets to a stunning purplish glow, on the loggia overlooking the canyon. The s’mores are insanely good with homemade marshmallows in unique flavors like pumpkin, peppermint, original and chocolate mint. Also, the canine greeter and hotel mascot will usually come out to see the guests, always extracting “oohs and aahs” from the kids.

No trip to Deer Valley is complete without dining at Mariposa. Storied and rightly so, this hot spot is the place to throw your diet away for the evening, and it is Zagat rated and dripping in rustic elegance. Its inspired cuisine is nothing short of divine. It blends classic and modern elements with a touch of western flair. The tasting menu is an excellent choice and also has a vegetarian option.

As your head drops onto the pillow after an exhilarating day of ski bliss, you try to think of how the next day could get any better. And, at the Montage in Deer Valley, your heart just knows that it will.



The Montage Deer Valley:

Deer Valley resort:

Mariposa: or 435-645-6632


A Night in Caracol – All to Yourself

Ka’ana Boutique Resort offers an exclusive Belizean expedition


San Ignacio, Belize – December 2011 – Ka’ana Boutique Resort is offering an unparalleled overnight experience to Caracol, where visitors will stay after dark, exploring the ancient city and listening to legends of times past in the ultimate secluded setting. The overnight adventure includes a private nighttime tour of Caracol, meals prepared by an authentic Mayan cook, and a private room amidst the largest Mayan ruin in Belize.

Arrive in Caracol when the ancient city is empty of all other visitors and embark on a torch-lit private tour of the massive ruins. Josepha, your private Mayan cook, will prepare an authentic Mayan meal over a fire hearth while you drink from clay cups at a table surrounded by genuine Mayan imagery. After dinner, be led to the top of Caana, the tallest temple at Caracol, where wine and cheese will be served as you listen to a local archaeologist expound on the excavation of Caracol, truly immersing yourself in legends of the city. Descend Caana and retire to your room – a replica of the rooms at Ka’ana, complete with a King-size bed, turndown service, candles, and fresh flowers – all without leaving the ancient ruins. Awake to handmade corn tortillas, eggs, and hand-ground Maya coffee before the journey back to Ka’ana.

Overnight_At_Caracol“Over the last couple of years we’ve noticed our guests were active, inquisitive travelers, looking for different and unique experiences which lead to the recent creation of this program,” stated Colin Hannan, director of Ka’ana Boutique Resort. “There is no other tour that engrosses visitors this deep into the Mayan culture, and being able to actually sleep in the timeless city takes the experience to another level. Travelers see what Mayans saw, eat what they ate, and sleep where an entire city lived and died – it’s an unforgettable journey.”

Due to government regulations, access is extremely limited and is only available via special request. A minimum one-night stay with orientation at Ka’ana Boutique Resort prior to Caracol departure is required.

For pricing details or to book this package, please visit or call 1-877-KAANA-21.

With a perfect balance of luxury, adventure and relaxation, Ka’ana Boutique Resort is a haven for travelers seeking the ultimate Belizean experience. Located just 70 miles outside of Belize City, Ka’ana Boutique Resort offers 15 first class cottages, two private pool villas, a swimming pool, gourmet restaurant and petite spa. For more information on Ka’ana or to make a reservation, please call 1-877-KAANA21 or visit



Astoundingly Beautiful – Norway



Awe-inspiring, stunning, with breathtaking natural scenery– this is the true Norway. It has the world’s largest and most dramatic fjords, lying in the deepest green valleys you will ever see. It is one of the most incredible destinations on the planet and it is teeming with vistas that can make your heart stop. It is truly hard to describe a visit to this Scandinavian thriller, but I will try. There are many things that most Americans do not know about Norway, among them the fact that people in Norway speak English fluently, and this makes travel quite easy, even on your own.There are so many options, it is difficult to decide where to go and what methods to use to get there. Many people choose to cruise, which is great and popular, but to get the authentic experience, we went the way of the open road. Driving is relatively easy and definitely the best way to see the most heartbreakingly beautiful panoramas you can imagine. If time is not an issue, plan to visit the Northern part of the country, above the Arctic Circle. However, the area of Fjord Norway is a terrific jumping off point and will fill your mind with memories to spare.We began the adventure in Oslo, the capital of modern Norway, a jewel of a city that is crowned with a charismatic new Opera House, designed to mimic an Iceberg. Oslo is home to the Nobel Peace Prize center, and there are many museums housing Viking ships and artifacts as well as priceless art, such as Edward Munch’s, “The Scream”. Oslo is a great walking city, and things are relatively close. Check out the Aker Brygge entertainment district…perfect European hipness along the waterfront.A train journey was the most efficient way to reach our next stop, the fairy tale town of Alesund. Often referred to as the Venice of the North, this perfect place has gorgeous buildings.The Rauma Railway is a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the wildest scenery without hiking an inch. While open all year, the tourist season with guiding in English is from the end of May to the end of August, so plan accordingly. The heights are dizzying, but allow some incredible photos. Alesund is a good beginning for a tour into Fjord country. Barely 2.5 hours away is the world-famous Geiranger fjord, sparkling turquoise water surrounded by snow-capped mountains and lush green fields. We ended our trip at the Union Spa hotel, at the foot of a roaring waterfall. The scene is mesmerizing: you can watch cruise ships come into the small port. Rent a kayak and row to one of seven waterfalls that pour out into the fjord directly from the glaciers nearby.Just up over another mountain glacier and down a remarkable valley is the lovely town of Stryn in the area of Loen. This is a prime location for glacier viewing, hiking, biking and any outdoor sport you can imagine. We hung our hats at the grand dame of a hotel and spa, the Hotel Alexandra. For more than 125 years, this diamond among the mountains has been welcoming guests, including many dignitaries. Its location provides staggering views of the glacier-fed lakes. And its personalized service has been tweaked to perfection for more than five generations. My personal favorite was the warm and welcoming dining room, with a superb and elegant (and large!) buffet for breakfast and dinner. The evening meal is super special and is orchestrated by the resident Maître D, Benny. His warmth is obviously well known and he embraced many of the guests who return every summer.The spa has excellent massage treatments as well as indoor and outdoor pools heated both summer and winter. The spa itself is quite large and divinely well equipped, almost as heavenly as the stunning outdoor locations. We had no time to laze around the pool area, however, because we set off to explore the Briksdal and Kjenndal glaciers. Briksdal has been a tourist attraction of the adventurous kind for more than 100 years. Previously, people who did not want to make the hike were carried by horse and cart to the mouth of this stunning wonder. Now, there are “troll cars” that have greater capacity and are much safer that carry you through the thundering waterfalls directly to the glacier.
Prying ourselves away from this sensational area was no easy task, but the road was calling and so was Norway’s second largest city, Bergen. Different in personality than Oslo, this hip and historic port has been settled for nearly 1000 years. It had been Norway’s largest city until the 1830s, and a major European trading and seafaring norway_2port. Its way of life is preserved vividly near the wonderful downtown open air fish market. This fish market is an event in and of itself, with colorful characters hawking all sorts of insanely delicious salmon, caviar and even reindeer sausage…really!Bergen is also a European city of culture, and has fostered several famous sons such as Edvard Grieg, the great composer, and Ole Bull, the artist. Bergen also boasts an innovative and trendy music and design scene. A highly acclaimed music festival, the Bergen International Festival, is held every year in May and June. Also worth mentioning is the great shopping and equally cool and delightful dining scene. Make sure to stop into Jacob’s Bar and Kitchen, and have their ever-changing menu that includes “bread with homemade fat”!It is so hard to encapsulate a trip of this kind. While Norway is a small country, it has probably the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It may be viewed as a cold and forbidding locale, but it is actually not. The warmer waters of the Gulf Stream keep the coastal areas relatively warm, even in the winter. The diversity and sheer magnitude of the geography, combined with exciting cities that have a distinct European flair, make this a destination that will stay in your heart and mind forever. It may inspire you to be just a little better than you actually are, knowing that a place like this exists on our planet. I can say that I feel honored to have been lucky enough to have travelled there.SUSAN SHORT



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