Fly to Kona and Drive to the Luxurious Sheraton Kona Resort to Start Your Underwater Adventure

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Manta rays are amazing and curious creatures. People are fascinated by their opposing nature of ominous looks, and sweet dispositions.

Sheraton KonaThe Sheraton Kona Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii pays homage to these gentle giants by providing a viewing area for visitors at the resort’s Rays on the Bay restaurant.

05-22-110-IMG_9641From the restaurant’s lookout, the magnificent and mysterious creatures can be seen gliding in the night ocean far below.

03-20-108-IMG_9617Guests can also attend a complimentary lecture about the manta rays arranged through the resort’s front desk.

11-24-083-IMG_3752The resort can also organize a water adventure to view the manta rays up close from a local tour boat named the Hula Kai – an opportunity we eagerly welcomed.

Swimming with the manta rays

Like whales, manta rays eat plankton. The plankton are attracted to light and that is the secret to successful manta viewing from the Hula Kai. Our excursion went like this:

04-21-109-IMG_9621We boarded the nearby Hula Kai at sunset and moved just off shore of the Sheraton Kona.  We donned wetsuits, googles, and a snorkel provided by the concessionaire. We were given a quick course on manta watching, which is done from a horizontal position floating on one’s stomach and holding fast to a length of 3” diameter buoyant pipe – set out from the stern of the boat much like a floating rectangle.

08-15-IMG_3722Soon darkness was upon us, and the Hula Kai engaged underwater illumination used to attract plankton to the site. We entered the water by ladder and positioned ourselves around the floating pipe. We looked down into the clear bay water and breathed through our snorkels.

Our bodies were made buoyant by the wetsuits, so maintaining our balance was not difficult. It did not take long before the first of six manta rays appeared from out of the shadows – and the fun began.

01-12-IMG_6907Manta rays are big, but harmless to humans. They, like the whale, are filter feeders. Mantas are fish related to the shark, but have no bones, teeth, barbs, or stingers. However, they do have size – up to 2,000 pounds – which they use in a very good-natured way.

Manta rays are often given names by the crew of the Hula Kai. Each ray has distinctive “spots” that make identity possible.  The same rays tend to return for evening dining and playing with the snorkelers and divers.

For a period of about one-hour we watched these graceful giants do underwater summersaults just below us – performing like rolling acrobats with gray tops and white underbellies.

Although touching the mantas is not allowed, the creatures have no such restrictions. Frequently, one or more of the rays did a graceful roll just under a snorkeler and purposely pressed its sleek white underbelly along the length of the viewer’s body – an exciting encounter that will be remembered by anyone that experiences it.  The top of a ray feels like sandpaper, and the underside is as smooth as velvet.

Tempus fugit, so do it while you can

Sharkgroup1200For nature and adventure lovers, snorkeling with the manta rays in the back of the Hula Kai in Kailua, Kona is right up there with diving with the reef sharks in the Bahamas, and snorkeling or diving with the sting rays at Stingray City in the Caymans.

Click *here* to read our story and see pictures of the beautiful Sheraton Kona Resort on the Big Island, and *here* to check out the resort’s website. To read about all the services offered by the company that operates the Hula Kai Manta Snorkel, click *here.*

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff, shark picture by Wayne Bayliff, Manta Ray pictures courtesy of Sheraton Kona.

You can see the world with Google Maps. www.maps.google.com

We flew to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines

Combine St. Regis and Kaua‛i for an Unforgettable Hawaiian Holiday

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27-view4Often referred to as Hawaii’s “Garden Island,” Kaua‛i is a lush tropical paradise of towering cloud-crested green summits. The island has 50-miles of sandy beaches perpetually polished by translucent waves. It was undoubtedly the perfect island for the legendary St. Regis brand to open one of their unparalleled luxury resorts.

Behold the majestic north shore

04-vThe Hawaiian St. Regis Resort at Princeville is surrounded by five verdant mountains overlooking the beautiful Hanalei Valley and the breathtaking Napali Coast.

44-view7No wonder Hollywood picked nearby Lumaha‛i Beach to film scenes for Rogers and Hammerstein’s immortal “South Pacific.

Kaua‛i’s north shore is also home to Makana Mountain, better known as the mystical Bali Hai in the movie. In this case, the real thing is more alluring than the illusion.

Kaua‛i is everyone’s dream-scene of a protected rain-forest Pacific Island paradise, and having chosen it, the St. Regis is now the preferred glamour address for the elite Hawaiian vacationer.

A royal beginning

The location of the St. Regis in Princeville was named after the “Prince of Hawaii,” the official title of Prince Albert Edward, born in 1858 to King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, and godchild to Queen Victoria of England. Kamehameha IV and his family vacationed in the area in 1862. Sadly, the young prince died that same year, but out of respect, the area has retained the legacy name.

Arriving at the St. Regis

Our arrival felt like the beginning of an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The elegant ambiance of the resort lives up to its reputation and was immediately evident.

03-a3The reception area is part of the larger lobby, and the eyes are drawn every which way to accommodate the combined spectacle of luxury and scenic beauty.

The check-in was effortless, and the staff exhibited the training and courtesy that is the hallmark of the St. Regis brand.

A legacy of distinction

John Jacob Astor IV, opened the first St. Regis Hotel in New York City in 1904. Forty-nine openings later, the brand has retained its well-deserved image of sophistication and the reputation for successfully catering to the old (and new) aristocracy and its many fascinating personalities.

The butler did it

Each suite at the St. Regis has a butler to cater to the guests’ every wish. During our stay, our butler proved to be an invaluable resource about navigating around the resort and the island of Kaua‛i in general.

12-s2Our Bali Hai suite at the St. Regis Princeville consisted of two levels.

31-s8The main floor was the location of the living room, kitchen, dining/meeting room, half bath, and balcony.

11-s1A generous sleeping room and spacious full bath were located on the second floor.

The view from our suite was sweeping and tropical

14-s5From our balcony we had an opportunity to watch the St. Regis staff prepare for a beachfront wedding. Planned nuptials can be attended by five or 500; the St. Regis has the facility to make the event as perfect as a couple can imagine.

The Spa

63-sp1After settling in, we started our decompression in style with a massage at the luxurious Halele‘a (which means House of Joy) Spa located just off the main lobby of the resort.

This is much more than your standard resort spa. It is an 11,000 square foot facility with 12 treatment rooms, and a trained staff dedicated to your relaxation, healing, and ultimate body and mind restoration.

We chose and recommend the stress relieving Lomi Lomi Massage that involves a deep muscle therapy, accompanied by continuous gentle strokes – a technique we have learned to associate with Hawaiian therapists. Oh, so soothing.

Our first dinner at the St. Regis was a memorable occasion

53-kgAlthough we found the on-site Kaua‛i Grill dining room decor to be somewhat understated for a five-star restaurant, the view of Hanalei Bay and Bali Hai at sunset more than made up for any lack in interior motif.

60-kg7The exciting bill of fare at the Kaua‛i Grill is the brainchild of Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a globally recognized Michelin cordon bleu chef. The menu boasts the master’s flair for the French and Asian influence in personally selected appetizers, entrees, and desserts.

The place to start your day

37-m3We had breakfast on the Makana Terrace overlooking Hanalei Bay.

35-m1This is an oasis of tranquility that beckons one to sit back and enjoy the acclaimed scenery while savoring the culinary delights of the local fresh food markets.

34-mThe restaurant so fits its place that it must have been inspired by Kaua‛i itself. If you stay at the St. Regis, don’t miss the day-opening buffet on the Terrace.

Eat at the bar

33-barHere we were offered light casual pub style victuals in a convivial comfy environment. Also, a great place to gather for a cleansing ale before dinner.

21-m8There are five excellent dining venues at the resort – all with fantastic views.

For the golfers

64-golf course St. Regis.jpgThe St. Regis Princeville Resort’s Makai Golf Club is designed by globally-celebrated golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and is an 18-hole championship course complete with lakes, woodlands, and a spectacular view of Bali Hai and Hanalei Bay.

If you go

38-ss2The St. Regis Princeville is a luxurious resort with significant cachet and 252 guest rooms, including 51 premium ocean view suites.

08-poolLook to the St. Regis website at www.stregisprinceville.com to choose from a range of diverse guestrooms to suit your taste and budget.

You will probably fly into Lihu‛e Airport on the east shore of Kaua‛i. If you do, expect a 32-mile drive to the picturesque north shore, and the resort. There are all varieties of available transportation at the airport. A standard taxi will cost just over $100 with tip – and it’s up from there. We reserved a rental car, and were glad we did because there is so much to see on Kaua‛i.

In future articles we will write about the many things to do outside the St. Regis demesne.

45-caveAs a preview, there are watery caves to explore…

IMG_9840and the famous Waimea Canyon to photograph. We will also take you along on a fabulously romantic dinner for two under the stars in the Papa‛i Kilauea Hut at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas.

If you are researching luxury hotels and resorts for a planned holiday in the Hawaiian Islands, you might also like to read our stories and evaluations of these other Starwood properties in Hawaii. Click on any title to read the story.

The Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu

The Moana Surfrider on Waikiki Beach

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii

The Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa on Maui

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

We flew to Honolulu and inter-island on Hawaiian Airlines.

Driving Legendary US 1 to a Special Resort in Key Largo

The Florida Keys offers a multitude of interesting options for places to stay. We found a small resort in Key Largo that was different from anything we had previously experienced. If you like the romance of “Old Florida,” you are sure to love this getaway. 

The Kona Kai Resort

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12-04-10-068-IMG_8253When it comes to family owned resorts we have learned to expect the unexpected. Such properties often reflect the imagination and ingenuity of entrepreneurial owners, and the Kona Kai Resort is the essence of the concept.

11-03-09-062-IMG_8246Owners Joe and Ronnie Harris purchased the two acre Kona Kai grounds in 1991. They immediately began to painstakingly renovate the stunning waterfront property and transform it into a comfortable “Old Florida” resort – a style that is most becoming in the relaxed setting of the Florida Keys.

14-06-12-074-IMG_8259The resort is designed in bungalow fashion and consists of single level guestrooms and one and two bedroom suites that vary in furnishings and views. All 13 accommodations have air-conditioning, ceiling fans, flat panel TVs with DVD players. Suites have CD players and fully equipped kitchens. This is an excellent resort for a stay of any duration.

Enter Eden

10-3-078-130-IMG_8324What sets this property apart is that it is an integral part of an exclusive botanical garden. Starting with mature mahoganies, gumbo-limbos, coconuts, and Washingtonians, the plant loving owners began adding hundreds of new tropical and exotic flora and the Botanic Gardens of Kona Kai was born.

24-21-06-010-IMG_1131Today, guests get to live in a garden that features more than 150 orchid specimens, 42 different species of palms, 25 native plant species, 11 bamboos, 21 grasses, 15 tropical fruiting trees and plants, and numerous bromeliads.

15-07-13-087-IMG_8272New plants are being added regularly.

23-20-05-009-IMG_1130Each guest of the resort also has a unique opportunity to take a self-guided tour of the gardens, or a 90-minute “Transforming Your Understanding of Plants” tour guided by one of the credentialed staff at the resort.

25-22-07-012-IMG_1133The garden is a veritable walk through time with plants that can be traced to the Age of Dinosaurs. Joe and Ronnie have focused their garden around the science of Ethnobotony, the study of the relationship between people and plants. They want to provide their guests and visitors with a better appreciation of the role that plants have played in the development of human life.

New PictureTo that end, the Kona Kai Gardens sponsors a successful annual environmental outreach program for kids that offers students in the upper Florida Keys the opportunity to research and analyze environmental topics, and appreciate the beauty and importance of plants in nature.

The Gallery at Kona Kai

17-14-21-134-IMG_8328The Harris’ interests are not limited to the earth sciences; they have also used their Key Largo resort to showcase original works of art in the Gallery at Kona Kai.

16-08-14-094-IMG_8283The Gallery is where incoming guests register, giving all an opportunity to peruse the interesting art exhibits and purchase the many unusual specialty items found in the guestrooms.

Choosing a suite 

Lest we forget that this wonderful botanical and artistic enclave is also an extraordinary resort of the first order, let’s look at the hospitality aspects of the Kona Kai Resort.

01-01-01-58-IMG_1081When we were shown the Pineapple Suite we loved it.

04-2-014-064-IMG_8249We had a view of the waterfront, and were just steps away from the sparkling pool and hot tub.

07-09-15-099-IMG_8288We felt right at home the moment we entered the suite through the living room door.

08-10-16-106-IMG_8295Additional facilities

27-24-31-048-IMG_8534The Kona Kai swimming pool and hot tub is pictured above.

13-05-11-073-IMG_8258There’s also a tennis court, kayaks and paddle boats – the use of which is complimentary for guests. Dolphins and Manatees are seen just to the front of the Kona Kai beach, so keep a watchful eye.

Scuba divers will be happy to know that the resort provides equipment lockers, and a fresh-water soak and equipment wash down tank. Diving in the famous John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is just minutes away at Mile Marker 102.5.

Eating

The area around the resort has many dining venues, and there is a supermarket near the property for those wishing to cook in their suite’s kitchen.

Sunsets

19-16-26-275-IMG_8469The resort offers some of the best sunset watching in the Keys.

For more information

The Kona Kai website is *here* There is also a website specific to the gallery at www.g-k-k.com. Each site has information you will want to read if you are planning a trip to the Florida Keys.

If you go

03-02-08-061-IMG_8245Take the Overseas Highway – US 1 South into the Keys for approximately 30 miles – watch for Mile Marker 98 in Key Largo. Then watch for the oval Kona Kai Resort sign on your right. You have arrived, have fun!

African Queen

2-1-028-028-181-IMG_8375By the way, the resort is not far from the dock of the authentic African Queen. Fans of the 1951 movie starring Hepburn and Bogart, won’t want to miss an opportunity to see and take a ride on this historic boat – we photographed our adventure on the “Queen,” and our pictures and story will be published soon.

Other Key information

You will also benefit by checking out general visitor information about the Florida Keys at www.fla-keys.com

As you head further south on Overseas Highway US 1, you will find two uber-luxurious resorts, one on Islamorada, the other just off Little Torch Key. We have visited both these properties, and you can click on their names below to read about them.

Cheeca Lodge and Spa – Marker 82 – in Islamorada

Little Palm Island Resort and Spa – Marker 28.5 – island is off Little Torch Key

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff. Photo of children on stage courtesy of Kona Kai Resort

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Enjoy the Luxurious Little Palm Island Resort and Spa on Your Drive Through the Florida Keys

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Tired of run-of-the-mill luxury vacation destinations? Looking for something extraordinary and exotic for that very special occasion? Driving through the Florida Keys, we discovered a world-class tropical resort that will have you talking about your getaway for years to come. Here’s the story of Little Palm Island.

Driving south from Miami, it took us about 2-hours to cover the 120-miles to Little Torch Key and to reach mile marker 28.5 on scenic US1. There we found Pirates Road and the Little Palm Island Welcome Station (aka resort check-in and transport dock).

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The vibe for this destination resort is South Seas Island elegant and the Welcome Station fits right in. The Station building is a high-peaked thatched roof structure that is nestled against a lazy mangrove lagoon. The lagoon is where passengers board the shuttle boat to the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.

As we entered the door of the Station, we were greeted by a Little Palm Island employee who quickly and efficiently arranged for our luggage to be removed from our auto and placed on a bell cart to await transport to the island.

Registration was an unfussy affair that was made enjoyable by a complimentary beverage – we chose a refreshing rum punch – very tasty. Check-in went quickly – no doubt attributable to the fact that there are only 30 guest quarters at the Little Palm Island Resort.

giftshop shore

We parked our rental car in the lot adjacent to the Station, and proceeded to the Gift Shop, which was chock-full of interesting objects including sundry headgear and upscale clothing.

It was a beautiful day, so we lounged on the outdoor patio while waiting for our motor launch ride to Little Palm Island. There are just two ways to get there – boat or seaplane. The island is only 3-miles from the Station, and the launch departs hourly, so the choice of transport was an easy one.

Everything done in style

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At first glance, we thought our transportation to the island was a sleek 1930s Chris Craft motor launch – but it wasn’t. In reality, it is a 1990s built replica that looks and sounds like the real thing.

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Before we knew it, we were being whisked away by a uniformed four-stripe captain in a classic motor yacht to an offshore island paradise.

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As we approached the dock of the lush palm-laden island, we would not have been surprised to see Tattoo in his little white suit shouting “De boat, de boat.”

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Instead, we were greeted by a very cordial island guide in smart tropic attire. He told us that our luggage was already waiting for us in our elevated thatched palm roof “Sandpiper” suite. The bungalow suites are harmoniously named after tropical birds – and that is so very fitting in this Audubon haven.

Speaking of birds

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One of our first introductions was to “Spencer” a dominant gray heron and distinguished character. Spencer lords over the shallows of the island.

Our guide told us that Spencer could be occasionally cranky and territorial when it comes to other “big” birds eyeing his island for a roost. Later in the day, we were privileged to witness Spencer doing a ceremonious roust of a very big and lanky white crane.

Five acres of paradise

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We toured the entire Little Palm Island in about 45-minutes. The meandering manicured white sand paths and thick tropical landscaping are ingeniously designed to ensure bungalow privacy.

During our walk, we passed by the Spa Terre, the Library, the Zen Garden, the splendid outdoor pool, the outdoor chess set, the island gift shop, and the bar and restaurant.

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Guests have free access to fishing rods, kayaks, beach boats, small sailing crafts, and romantic double umbrella shaded lounges that are strategically placed throughout the island.

Harry and Bess

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There is much ado about the Trumans on the island, including two full-length oil paintings of the famous couple in the Library. The pride stems from the president’s affinity for the isle when it was a private fishing resort.

Admiral Bill “Bull” Halsey was one of the many famous island guests of the Trumans after the War.

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Another president and Navy veteran, JFK was on Little Palm in 1962 to watch the filming of PT109 – a movie about his heroic exploits aboard a PT boat in the Pacific during WWII.

Cue the deer

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Just when we thought we had seen everything imaginable on this contemporary Fantasy Island, a tiny-toddler of a Lilliputian creature walked onto our white sand path. Here before us was a Key Deer fawn – so cute – and quite tame.

Before long, the fawn’s mom came along, happy to join in the photo op.

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The Key Deer is an endangered species native to the Florida Keys, and the Little Palm Island mini-herd swims over from a neighboring island – maybe to nuzzle the various celebrities that populate the resort from time to time. It is illegal to feed these little guys, but a joy to commune with them.

Photographing our hut-suite

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Each room in the Palm Island bungalows is like a character in a play. When combined, all the clever little things inside the suite add to the ethos of high living in paradise.

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Our suite was #23, The Sandpiper Suite, and it is very much like the other bungalow suites on Little Palm – a good thing because all 30 bungalows were occupied. We only had an opportunity to photograph the inside of the suite where we stayed.

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All the bungalows are South Seas castaway dream homes with a dash of British Colonial charm.

Each thatched roof suite-hut is outfitted with a well-appointed living room with comfy woven-seagrass sofa and chairs, a softly humming ceiling fan, military style birding binoculars, a stand of old-fashioned umbrellas, and a replica antique telephone with which to communicate with the Quarterdeck (Concierge).

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In the evenings, the large bedroom in each bungalow is softly lit by a simulated-candle that enhances the romance of the lavish room by casting exotic shadows on the wooden beams above.

Your sleeping comfort is guaranteed by an elegant and uber-comfortable king four-poster bed complete with decorative netting and zephyrous ceiling fan.

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Our suite also had a soaking tub, a large modern shower, and an attached outdoor bamboo shower room.

Of course, all the suites are fully air-conditioned. This is what present-day tropical luxury is all about.

Relax

Little Palm Island is a place of leisure. Go fishing, kayaking, listen to the birds or the quiet lap of the sea against the shore.

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Wait for a Key Deer to entertain while you sip a soothing beverage on your veranda, in the garden, or by the pool. Lounge on the beach or on one of the wooden walkways overlooking the sea – there are no bad choices on Little Palm Island.

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Relaxation sometimes requires help. That is why the suites do not have Wi-Fi service, TVs, or off-island telephones – and there are no children allowed on the island.

If you must

If you are a tech-junkie some of the above might make you nuts, so there is limited Wi-Fi service in the Library, which is also called the Great Room. If you look hard, you will also see a flat screen TV among the books and games – it is the only one on the island.

The Spa Terre

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Unlike many spa experiences that are a singular event in a busy day, the Spa Terre experience becomes an essential part of your total day on Little Palm Island.

We selected the ancient and deep Sacred Stone Massage – but perhaps you would rather a soothing massage on a table in the shallow water of a secluded beach.

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Whatever your choice, you can continue the bliss by immediately entering the warm and tranquil sea or nearby island pool.

Follow your dip with a shaded rest on one of the islands many comfortable lounges or couples hammocks.

Now is the time for a contemplative assessment of the joys of living. Little Palm Island is about Elysian serenity – your personal Shangri-La.

Dining on the Island

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Food plays a role of cardinal importance at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.

Savor a focused cuisine of Latin ingredients and French techniques. The menu created under the influence of Corporate Executive Chef Luis Pous, and enhanced and orchestrated by Executive Chef Brendan Mica and his team is nothing less than superb.

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Need we say more than Zagat rated the Little Palm Dining Room as the third best dining facility in the United States, and number one in the state of Florida.

The menu choices are both sophisticated and approachable, and reflect the location and relaxed atmosphere of Little Palm Island.

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For our appetizer, we chose a uniquely presented shrimp cocktail.

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Our main courses consisted of Key West Lobster accompanied by sweet corn, apples, fennel, onions, and Caviar Beurre Blanc and

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Rosemary Braised Short Ribs with a lavish medley of aged white Cheddar, creamed potatoes, mushrooms, truffle, and crispy shallots.

The night is young

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As guests opened and closed French doors between the restaurant and adjoining lounge, we could hear barely audible conversations and laughter.

Even with the doors closed, we enjoyed the faint familiar tunes being played by an entertainer on the lounge piano.

An after dinner digestif, accompanied by the murmured tinkling of piano keys in another room – and a sky full of seemingly touchable stars – it does not get more romantic than this.

The late Paul Newman, and Marvin Hamlisch relaxed in this restaurant – we suspect they were equally captivated by the setting.

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If you go

Little Palm Island Resort is the Florida address of the elite traveler. It has a cachet that will appeal to those with discriminating travel tastes. We recommend it to anyone wanting to experience the luxury of exclusive private island vacationing.

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For more information about availability, services and rates, look at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa website at http://www.littlepalmisland.com/

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Luxury Vacationing at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay

You can’t drive to it, but many airlines can get you to the location of the elegant Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay in Hawaii.

This luxury resort is steeped in Hawaiian history and legend, and is home to the sociable denizens of the deep – the ever entertaining Manta Rays of Keauhou Bay.

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We touched down at the Kona airport on Hawaii, the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, frequently referred to simply as the “Big Island.” The first thing we noticed from the aircraft window was the vast expanse of black volcanic rock that is visible throughout the island landscape. This is the “newest” Hawaiian island, and the volcanic action is evident everywhere.

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We enjoyed the scenes of local village life and the stories told by our shuttle driver during our brief ride to the Sheraton Kona Resort. Our driver Tomas was native born, and like most Hawaiians is justly proud of his state and heritage.

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The entrance to the Sheraton Kona is dramatic with its signature lava rock formation. Stunning views invite your gaze to shimmering water on two sides of the resort.

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The topography is quite different from any other resorts we have written about. The deep blue-ocean and azure-bay are a perfect contrast for the lush green gardens of this exquisite Sheraton property.

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Check-in was a brief formality and we were off to the Deluxe Executive Suite number 2325, our elegant home during our stay on the island. In our opinion, this is the best suite in the resort. Enjoy it if it’s available.

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A view with rooms

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Our first observation upon entering our collection of rooms was the huge outdoor patio we found behind the suite’s floor to ceiling glass doors. Huge is not an exaggeration, this was undoubtedly the largest patio we have had anywhere, and what a view…

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– with Keauhou Bay to the front, and the vast blue Pacific on the left.

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We would have been content to spend our entire visit lounging on the patio, but there is so much more to see in the fusion of energy and elegance at this beautiful resort.

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The rich botanic ensemble on the 22-acre site offers photo opportunities at every turn. We strolled the entire campus and it was all impeccably maintained.

Wedding plans

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The resort’s quaint bayside chapel is a favorite wedding venue on the Big Island, and for good reason – quiet, private, and perfectly situated near both ocean and bay. Looking for a memorable wedding venue? This is it.

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Very near the chapel are the remnants of an ancient Hawaiian village, which was once home to kings and queens. Here there is reverence for the land and culture. Lily Dudoit, the resorts Cultural Director provides a complimentary tour where she talks about the property’s ancient past – don’t miss it.

Captain Cook landed nearby

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Lunch at Kealakekua Bay

We took a boat ride to neighboring Kealakekua Bay, a sacred site to the ancients of Hawaii. The very name means, “Pathway of the Gods.”  In 1779 Captain James Cook sailing on the HMS Resolution arrived on this site to the welcome of what was estimated at 10,000 natives visiting Kealakekua Bay to celebrate a festival to the gods.

By sheer coincidence, Cook sailed into the bay during the festivities, so it was perhaps not so unusual that the Hawaiian celebrants thought him a god and lavished gifts on Cook and his crew. However, within a month, the natives realized that the captain and his men were all too human, and in a dispute over gifts, Cook and four of his men were killed in a skirmish on February 14, 1779.

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Today, a monument stands at the site where Captain James Cook died. The nearby bay is a vibrant marine park well known for its water clarity and abundant sea life.

Eating at the Sheraton Kona

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There are several worthy restaurants at the resort, but our favorite is Rays on the Bay.

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Bite into an appetizer as you begin to relax in congenial company. Rays blends an al fresco ambiance with a world-class dining experience that excites and delights the palate.

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It is a celebration of the region’s produce in a striking setting with panoramic views. Wait for sunset, the open ocean grandly defines the horizon of Rays on the Bay.

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The famous restaurant overlooks Keauhou Bay and features a unique Manta Ray viewing area. To our knowledge, this is the only restaurant in the world that can boast evening viewing of the graceful acrobatics of the gentle giant rays.

The Manta Rays

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After seeing these beautiful creatures – whose wingspan can sometimes exceed 15-feet, we were eager to get in the water to watch their nightly ballet close up. The hotel arranged for us to join Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides aboard their 55’ catamaran, the Hula Kai. We will write about our up close adventure with the manta rays in a future article.

Don’t forget the Luau

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You don’t want to visit Hawaii without partaking in this true Hawaiian feast rich in culture and traditional songs, dances, and chants. The Sheraton offers a weekly Luau Dinner and Show – a bountiful buffet of Kalua Pork, Lomi Salmon, traditional Poi and much more. Take it in, it’s the ticket to the best of all things Hawaiian on the Big Island.

Ho’ola Spa

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Featuring a full line of therapeutic massages, specialty massages, facials, body treatments, the Sheraton Kona Spa is an important part of relaxing and rejuvenating at the resort.

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We chose the Lomi Lomi Hawaiian Massage because we wanted to experience the promise of utter relaxation for the body and spirit conveyed in the traditional Hawaiian massage technique of long, rhythmic, and deep kneading strokes that ease muscle tensions. We found the therapy to be just as advertised and most invigorating.

Something for everyone 

Within the resort confines, time and space are often given over to quieter activities like learning the art of Lei making.

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Not everyone has the grace of the locals, but that should not stop the lady guests from trying their aptitude for the hula at the free classes.

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There is also regular Yoga, and aqua Yoga in the resort’s inner pool, and a twice-weekly 2-mile hike to the Lekeleke Hawaiian burial grounds where a famous Hawaiian battle took place many centuries ago.

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Teens are kept gainfully occupied with their own private club called the Club Le‘ale‘a, and there is a 14,000 square-foot wandering pool with one of the largest water slides in Hawaii – special fun for kids of all ages.

Calling all conventioneers

The Sheraton Kona Resort rates a big “Wow,” when it comes to meeting space and conference accommodations. The resort has bragging rights to the largest meeting facility on the Kona Coast – 10,000 square feet. When you add up the available meeting rooms on the property, you have a total of 20,236 square feet of awesome indoor space to hold a memorable event.

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Like an out-of-doors meeting environment? How about 89,000 square feet of rolling landscape overlooking Keauhou Bay and the beautiful Pacific?

We toured all the meeting facilities and were greatly impressed. The hotel even has an event planner’s rewards program.

For the golfers

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The Kona Country Club bordering the resort has two 18-hole courses that are being renovated. They expect to open to the public in late summer of 2014. In the meantime there are many other available links throughout the island.

Venturing outside the resort

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If you decide you would like to reach out beyond the resort via auto, there is a rental car office adjacent to the well-stocked sports outfitter called the Flying Fishlocated on the second floor. However, before you buckle up, inquire about when the next presentation of “Journey around Hawai’i Island” will be held. If you can wait, a resort specialist will save you some time and cover the best places to visit and most popular things to do on Hawaii.

If you go

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The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is one of our recommended “destination” resorts.

With over 500 guest rooms you can choose from a range of bedroom types to suit your dreams and vacation budget.

Because there is so much to enjoy at this property, be sure to thoroughly peruse the resort’s website *here*. additionally, check out this great little video tour provided by the resort.

Luxury in Hawaii

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is a Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide property. We favor and have written about other elegant Starwood properties in the islands. Click on the hotel name to read our story: Royal Hawaiian – Moana Surfrider – Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa.

Beyond the resort, the Big Island has many spectacular attractions and natural wonders. High on the list is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, the black sand beaches, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing. To learn more about the island of Hawaii look at this informative website.

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Aloha, and happy travels!

We flew to the Big Island on Hawaiian Airlines.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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Cheeca Lodge and Spa: A Drive to Paradise in the Florida Keys

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The Cheeca Lodge and Spa has welcomed guests to the sunny isle of Islamorada in the Florida Keys since 1946. Through the years, it has earned a reputation as a world-class oceanfront resort with breathtaking views and extraordinary luxury amenities and service. Here’s what we discovered.

We were about one hour and twenty minutes south of Miami on the Overseas Highway when we spotted the inconspicuous signage for Cheeca Lodge at Mile Marker 82. The modest highway introduction made us wonder if Cheeca Lodge would live up to the stellar reputation on which we based our reservation. Our answer was waiting at the end of a long driveway in the form of the front entrance to Cheeca, and the blue Atlantic beyond.

This was the Florida Keys, and we should have taken our cue from an earlier experience with the modest highway frontage for the luxurious Little Palm Island Resort. There are many elegant surprises behind the lush tropical vegetation that lines the busy main thoroughfare in the Keys. Cheeca Lodge was no exception.

Luxury awaits on Islamorada

Before we could unlatch our seatbelts, a pair of smiling attendants were opening our auto doors. We were ushered into a breezy lobby area where a waiting receptionist offered us each a chair.

Check-in was over in minutes and we were on our way to 110, our spectacularly furnished West Indies style tropical suite that was front and center to the most colorful ocean you can imagine.

Guestroom 110 had warm mahogany furniture, and floor to ceiling glass walls that overlooked the pristine beach and swaying palms.

We turned on the ceiling fan, drew back the glass doors and nestled into the deck chairs on our private lanai. As we took our first deep breaths of relaxation, we simultaneously noticed the open-air spa tub – complete with privacy curtains.  What a marvelous innovation.

We bounced on the bed – it was perfect. There was a giant plasma-screen TV, wireless internet access, and the modern bathroom boasted an ocean-view glassed-in rain shower – yet another superb amenity.

This is a perfect vacation setup for a stay of any duration.

Look around

Management had arranged a tour for us, and there was so much to see. From six tennis courts, to waterfall pools, a snorkeling lagoon, a nine-hole pitch-and-putt golf course, complete fitness center, an adult lap-pool with private cabanas, and an iconic wooden fishing pier.

All beautifully laid-out in a calibrated strategy to produce a comfortably luxurious oasis in a spectacular 27-acre ocean-front setting with lush tropical gardens.

Cheeca captures the charm of old Florida in a trendsetter setting

The resort also provides all the equipment necessary for total vacation immersion. There are sea kayaks, fishing rods, bicycles, shade cabanas for your beach chair, etc., etc.

Famous Islamorada

All fishermen know that Islamorada is the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.” It deserves that famous tag because of the wide variety of angling options. Pursue the elusive Bonefish on the flats, or the mighty Tarpon on light tackle – it’s all there. Care for something a little bigger? The Sailfish in the deep waters off Islamorada’s islands are waiting for your challenge.

One of the first famous people to stay at the early resort was President Harry Truman. Other celebrities that have slept here and fished the abundant waters off Cheeca are Edward R. Murrow, Jack Parr, Paul Newman, Ted Williams, Jack Nicklaus, and George H.W. Bush, to name just a few.

After the tour

We took a stroll on the resort’s trademark wooden fishing pier. Followed by several hungry pelicans, we wished we had some fishy treats we could toss to them.

The Pioneer Cemetery

After the pier walk we spotted what appeared to be an old cemetery not far from the water’s edge – an odd sighting in a luxury resort. The picket fenced patch turned out to be the Pioneer Cemetery, the final resting place for Islamorada colonizers of the late 19th century.

The old cemetery was once bordered by a small schoolhouse and church that were destroyed during the big hurricane of 1935, but some tombstones and a statue of an angel survived the storm – enough relics to keep the old cemetery a worthwhile curiosity on the outskirts of this famous resort.

Just for kids

Our wandering eventually took us to Camp Cheeca, a wonderful supervised activity area for the kiddies between five and twelve years of age.

Kids get to play in the camp hut, explore and discover beach treasures, go fishing on the old pier, and splash about in the pool. A great experience for the children, and a much appreciated break for parents.

Just for adults

They were all occupied during our visit, so we couldn’t photograph the interiors, but Cheeca has a number of couples-only Beachfront Bungalows. These private bungalows have fashionable island décor, vaulted ceilings, and intimate balconies with a chaise lounge built for two.

Food at Cheeca

We were hungry after our meandering. Cheeca has three restaurants and two lounges to satisfy any guest’s desire for pub-grub or a gourmet feast fit for the most discerning foodie’s palate.

Light fare at the Tiki Bar on the sand was just what we wanted – not too much – so we would have an appetite for the main event at the Atlantics Edge Restaurant after sunset.

Fresh fish extraordinaire

The menus at Cheeca are designed to reflect the location and the relaxed, but elegant atmosphere at the resort. We chose our dinner from a lavish medley of delicacies from the sea. We started with Cheeca Conch Chowder featuring savory tender Conch with succulent Corn in a savory broth.

We skipped the salad and went directly to the sea once again for our main courses of Baked Halibut with Beluga Lentils, Sautéed Squash, Herb Spaetzle, and Caviar Beurre Blanc.

Our other selection was Guava Glazed Mahi with Coconut Herb Rice, Tempura Baby Bok Choy, drizzled with a delicious Coconut Curry Sauce. Both these principal dishes were outstanding.

Sweets in the tropics

Hummingbird Cake is Cheeca’s Spice Cake with Bananas, Pineapple, and Pecans – all well frosted with a delicious Cream Cheese Icing. The presentation was too artistic to disrupt early in the enjoyment – so we waited to perform our magic until we were down to our last few bites of cake – then we made the Chocolate and Honey Apricot Drops completely disappear.

The Cheeca Spa

The Spa has seven treatment rooms and a fully equipped fitness room – all surrounded by tropical landscaped gardens, shimmering pools, and cascading waterfalls. We indulged in a delicious Sea Breeze Massage, an oceanside deep kneading under a palm covered hut where we were lulled by the rhythm of waves softly touching the sand and seagulls effortlessly soaring above. This is serene isolation and rejuvenation – Cheeca style.

The unusual name

In case you are wondering about the origin of the resort’s odd name of “Cheeca,” here’s the scoop. The Twitchell family owned the property in the 1960’s. The Twitchell’s daughter Cynthia was an heiress to the A&P grocery chain fortune and had a great influence on the resort. Cynthia had a nickname of “Chee.” Chee married Carl – and there you have it!

If you go

The resort is located at 81801 Overseas Highway, Mile Marker 82, Oceanside, Islamorada, FL 33036

It’s best to make reservations to avoid disappointment. Cheeca is sought after for weddings and corporate affairs as well as romantic and family vacations. You can get all the information you need from their website at www.cheeca.com

You will also benefit by checking out the general visitor’s information about the Florida Keys at www.fla-keys.com

Happy travels!

Here are two more articles about elegant Florida properties by Wayne and Judy:

A Beachy Keen Hideaway on Florida’s Gulf Coast

Relaxing in Luxury on Little Palm Island

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

The Best of Connecticut Resorts and Spas

In one way, writing about New England’s unparalleled Mayflower Inn and Spa is probably the easiest assignment of our literary careers. However, finding the right superlatives to describe this extraordinary property was no easy task. Let us start with the first one that comes to mind – incredible!

Nestled in a pastoral setting in rural Connecticut this exclusive 58-acre country manor resort in the Litchfield Hills is an easy two-hour drive and many light-years away from the hustle and bustle of busy Manhattan.

This bucolic countryside has not changed much since General George Washington visited northwest Connecticut in 1781. The unspoiled local towns and area’s authentic Yankee homes and antique shops have given rise to a well-deserved reputation as “America’s Antique Capital.”

It is all about elegance  

Quintessential rustic the Mayflower Inn is not! This once-upon-a-time private boy’s prep school (note the height of the door knob in picture below) was built in 1894 and is now a Relais & ChâteauxMobil 5-star, and Connecticut’s only AAA 5-diamond hotel. The Mayflower offers every imaginable luxury to please the appetites of even the fussiest of bons vivants.

Mayflower front entrance

The picturesque and spacious scenery surrounding the Mayflower Inn makes its limited hotel capacity of 30 rooms and suites in four buildings even more desirable. Guests have room to stretch and wander – and never feel crowded. Of course, such exclusivity comes at a price, but this resort experience is well worth it and will be remembered for a lifetime.

Allerton Cottage
Allerton Cottage

Our suite was in the Allerton Cottage. Completed in 2005, the Allerton is adjacent to the Mayflower Spa House that opened in 2006. Both are just a short distance from the placid Blue Heron Pond.

We were also within a few minutes walking of the Inn’s historic Mayflower House. This main building has a comfortable registration lobby, several staterooms and suites, meeting rooms, a gift shop, and the Inn’s restaurants and bar.

Each guestroom and suite at the Mayflower is designed to complement the good taste of its patrons. Ultra-luxurious rooms with the warmth of just-right colors abound. There are comfortable feather topped mattress on antique four-poster canopy beds, exquisite oriental rugs, original art, marble baths, and myriad other inspired furnishings.

The Mayflower has artfully created a place-for-living atmosphere in each of its guestrooms that reflects the natural desire for privacy and comfort in elegant surroundings. These are quarters you will not want to leave.

The restaurants

Our visit to the Mayflower took place in the fall when we could enjoy the autumnal colors of New England and the sound of crunching leaves beneath our feet as we explored the grounds of the Mayflower.

We arrived at the Inn in time for dinner, so our first walk was from our quarters to the dining room in the main building.

Entering the lobby of the Mayflower House is like walking into a select portrait gallery with impressive 18th and 19th century oils adorning the walls, staircase, and nearby library.

Passing additional paintings along the corridor to the dining area, one is immediately drawn to the traditionally fine style of the Main Dining Room, and the adjacent Tap Room – a great place to meet or enjoy a beverage and light pub-style meal.

Justin ErminiExecutive Chef at the Mayflower is a virtuoso of taste and culinary presentation. He favors produce, meats, and fish from local sustainable sources and blends all into a chef’s colorful canvas of classically contemporary feasts.

Day Boat Halibut

Be sure to engage the assistance of friendly and knowledgeable Food and Beverage Director and SommelierJohn Ciliberto while looking for the best wine to accompany your mains. The Mayflower has a deep and generous selection of wines.

Food plays a cardinal role in the Mayflower experience. Be sure to partake!

The Spa 

Mayflower Spa House

You know you are about to experience something spiritually uplifting when you first step from the outside and into the blissful registration foyer. Soft mood-enhancing music immediately accentuates and elevates a room occupied with calming shades of whites and tans.

As we stood and stared at the empty reception desk, we began to feel we were players in a fairytale black and white film depicting souls awaiting entrance into paradise.

At first glance, it appeared there were no doors exiting the divine waiting room. On further study, we noted there were indeed doors, but they were frameless, and blended into the walls in the style often seen in classical English manor houses of the elegant Victorian era.

As we took in our surroundings, and listened to the soothing refrains, we would not have been in the least bit surprised if the spa receptionist was to float down from somewhere above on gossamer wings.

This may all seem a little over-the-top when describing a Spa, but you really must see it to believe it.

Garden Room

The epicenter of this 20,000 square foot slice of heaven is the exquisite Garden Room. It overlooks the serene Blue Heron Pond and coppice beyond – the perfect backdrop. This room invites every guest to relax for the duration – whatever that may mean in this setting where time is graciously abandoned.

Romantic Rejuvenation

We could go on and on describing each of the amazing attributes of the Spa House, such as the exotic soaks, scrubs, aroma-therapeutic rubs, massages, Pedi-treatments, facials, yoga, etc., but that would simply take too long. Instead, we suggest you peruse the 21 pages of Spa Offerings provided by the Inn at: http://www.mayflowerinn.com/pdf/spa_offerings.pdf 

Note: Be sure to ask about the indulgent and exclusive five-night Destination Spa Experience!

Connecticut out-of-doors

Blue Heron Pond

Neighboring the Mayflower is the Steep Rock Nature Preserve. This beautiful trust has over 4,500 acres of protected land and awaits outdoor-loving guests. There are scenic hiking and biking trails during the shirtsleeve seasons, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available during the winter months.

Water is another of Connecticut’s natural enticements, and the Shepaug River is less than five-miles from the Mayflower. Also nearby, Lake Waramaug, the Bantam River, and the Housatonic River – waiting for hearty kayak explorers and fly fisherpersons of all ages and skill levels.

Golf and Tennis

The Mayflower has a well-designed putting green, but it does not have its own golf course. Fortunately, there are excellent public courses not far away – the 9-hole Stonybrook Golf Course and the 18-hole Fairview Farms Golf Club.

There is one tennis court on the Mayflower property.

Fitness

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There is a fully equipped fitness club in the Mayflower’s main building, and both indoor and outdoor heated swimming pools on the property.

“The Mayflower Inn and Spa is a luxury New England boutique hotel with historic charm. Whatever your muse, the Mayflower is sure to bestow an unforgettable experience.”

For more information about the Inn and Spa services, visit the Mayflower website at www.mayflowerinn.com, or call 860.868.9466, email: inn@mayflowerinn.com

If you go

The Mayflower Inn & Spa is located at 118 Woodbury Road/Route 47 in rural Washington, Connecticut 06793. It is an easy two-hour drive from the New York airports.

We flew to New York from San Francisco on Virgin America. We find Virgin’s in-flight entertainment to be the best in the sky!

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy (syndicated)

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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