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What’s ahead for ultra-luxury lines in 2020 and beyond?

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What’s ahead for ultra-luxury lines in 2020 and beyond?

  As 2020 progresses, travetou looks at the top developments on the horizon for four major, ultra-luxury, oceangoing cruise lines, plus new “threads” for many other upscale lines.
  Late last month, Regent Seven Seas Cruises welcomed its fifth ultra-luxury ship, the new 750-passenger Seven Seas Splendor, into its fleet. Christened at PortMiami by godmother Christie Brinkley, supermodel and actress, this new ship is now sailing the Caribbean and Mexican Riviera with two Panama Canal crossings planned, before it repositions to Europe for the summer season. Lavishly designed and outfitted, Seven Seas Splendor sports more than 500 crystal chandeliers, more than an acre’s worth of Italian marble and a $5 million curated art collection. It also has launched the line’s new Serene Spa & Wellness brand, created for this ship with exclusive treatments that use local ingredients and techniques, based on the ship’s sailing region.
  When it comes to dining, guests have plenty of onboard choices, including Compass Rose, a large specialty restaurant; Pacific Rim, a Pan-Asian restaurant with a mythical dragon greeting guests; the savory Prime 7 steakhouse; Chartreuse, featuring classic French fare with a modern twist; and Sette Mari at La Veranda, specializing in Italian specialties and with over-water alcove seating. The new ship also has three bars and lounges, plus a new signature cocktail menu. New drinks are concocted from premium spirits, fresh ingredients, bitters, purees and reductions. We’d opt for the “Bon Soiree,” concocted with Woodford Reserve (small-batch Kentucky straight bourbon), Chambord and citrus bitters, served in a Coupe glass.
  Culinary buffs can book more than a dozen new culinary classes at the ship’s Culinary Arts Kitchen, which has 18 handson, individual gourmet cooking stations. Among the new classes is “Treasures of the Aegean,” a Greek cooking class showcasing dishes from Corfu, Crete, Rhodes and Santorini; guests learn about local ingredients and Greek island cooking techniques and try out the recipes.
  Suite-wise, Seven Seas Splendor’s 14 different categories of suites range from 307 square feet for a Veranda Suite to a massive 4,443 square feet for the over-the-top Regent Suite. What’s special about that top suite? Most notably, the Regent Suite has a $200,000 Hästens Vividus custom hand-made mattress, so guests should get a good night’s sleep; plus, it has an in-suite spa retreat with a personal sauna, steam room and treatment area (with unlimited spa treatments). This top suite also has 270-degree bow views from a humongous wrap-around veranda, as well as a glassenclosed solarium sitting area atop the bridge. Perks for guests staying here include first-class air tickets, service from a dedicated personal butler, plus a car with driver and guide for customized touring in every port.
  But wherever guests stay on either the new ship or other Regent ships, through March 31, guests in all suite categories can take advantage of a valueadded offer, “Celebrate Luxury Perfected,” to honor the new ship’s arrival. Guests can receive up to $1,000 in onboard credit per suite on 90 different voyages in 2020 and 2021.
  Fleet-wide between 2021 and 2022, Regent Seven Seas will introduce 27 new ports of call, a record 116 overnight stays and first-time sailings for Seven Seas Splendor in northern Europe and the Baltic and for Seven Seas Explorer in Alaska. Guests can expect new immersive land programs, new shore excursions (such as new “Go Local” tours in Alaska) and access to newly announced UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan, Portugal, Italy and beyond.
  More highlights? Look for the line’s first Black Sea sailings since 2014 with calls in Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine, as well as a return to the Seychelles, Mauritius and Réunion in the Indian Ocean. One new voyage to Antarctica will sail near Deception Island, Paradise Bay and Half Moon Island, plus Regent Seven Seas will introduce three new Grand Voyages; one will combine northern Europe and the Mediterranean on Seven Seas Splendor.
  Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020 is Crystal Cruises, well-known to luxury travelers for the oceangoing Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. The line’s big news this year, though, is the August 10 maiden voyage from Tokyo of the new 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, Crystal Expedition Cruises’ first expedition ship, a PC-6 rated, all-veranda suite vessel.
  Polar region travel certainly is growing in popularity across the globe, with Virtuoso recently citing “Cold is Hot” as a top global cruising trend. Schedules extending through 2023 are up online for Crystal Expedition Cruises. Its voyages are split into three types Remote Expedition, Cultural Discovery or Destinations Exploration. Crystal Endeavor will call at Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Antarctica via the Ross Sea (rare for an expedition vessel), the Arctic, Russian Far East, Northeast Passage, western Africa coast and many more remote spots.
  Each voyage will sail with a 25-person expedition team that, varying by voyage, could include polar scientists, geologists, marine biologists, wildlife experts, culture / heritage notables and others. They’ll lead expeditions and lecture in the ship’s Crystal Cove, a gathering lounge / bar for cocktails and entertainment, too. For guests with an exploring bent, Crystal Endeavor will carry kayaks, 18 Zodiacs, one seven-guest submersible and two Alana Airbus H135 helicopters. During warm weather expeditions, guests can also use snorkeling gear and stand-up paddle boards. What’s nifty? Imagery from the underwater world will be transmitted back to the ship from a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV); it will appear on guests’ in-suite TVs and the Cove’s LED screen.
  But this ship will exude ultraluxury, so guests can also expect roomy public spaces, a full-service spa and salon and six dining venues, including Michelininspired dining at Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s Umi Uma & Sushi Bar. Crystal Endeavor’s all-veranda suites will have kingsized beds, heated storage (for drying parkas) and pampering butler service. One service plus? The onboard guest-to-crew ratio will be an impressive one-to-one.
  Largest and most lavish of all suites is the 1,290-square-foot Expedition Suite (EX category), a combination of Expedition Penthouse and a Deluxe Suite; it has two bedrooms, spacious living and dining areas with butler prep space and a veranda. Another good high-end option is the 1,130-square-foot Owner’s Suite (OS category), a two-bedroom suite, also with a dedicated dining area and butler’s prep space. In all suite categories, Crystal Endeavor’s guests will have spa-like bathrooms with heated floors, plus the latest technology in their suites, including streaming interactive TVs and bed-side iPads.
  Separately, within the classic fleet, Crystal has developed three enticing shoreside programs for the upcoming Monaco Grand Prix, a Formula One race this May in Monte Carlo. One option is a VIP program that allows cruisers to view both the qualifying day and main race day from the Belvedere Terrace of the Automobile Club of Monaco. A second “Grandstand Silver Package” offers access to both race days with reserved seating and a pit visit, while the third option is the ultimate grandstand experience on race day, with reserved seats in Grandstand K near the start / finish line. The line also plans future voyages to take guests to Monte Carlo during race time. Among them is a 12-day “Grand Prix Riviera Gateway” cruise from Rome to Barcelona on Crystal Symphony, departing May 18, 2021.
  On the upcoming World Cruise front, Crystal’s 2021 World Cruise, “Ancient Dynasties & World Wonders” will set sail for 139 days from Miami to London on Crystal Serenity. Also, on that ship, the 2022 World Cruise will offer five embarkation and disembarkation options ranging from 86 to 116 nights. Among the many voyage “focuses” is a “Polynesia and South Pacific” segment from Hawaii to Tonga, with 12 days at sea, and an “Exploration of the Black Sea” coastal focus, including overnights in Istanbul and Monte Carlo and calls in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania and along the Italian Riviera.
  Heading into 2020, Silversea Cruises plans to introduce not just one but two snazzy new ultra-luxury ships. An all-suite sister to Silver Muse, the new 596-guest Silver Moon, will join Silversea’s classic oceangoing fleet this summer and begin sailing the Mediterranean. Then it will cross to the Americas in November and operate voyages to Central America and the Caribbean, before circumnavigating South America and visiting 20 countries between January 7 and March 17, 2021. Starting in July, the much smaller, 100-guest Silver Origin, a new expedition vessel, will begin sailing Galapagos Islands’ voyages year-round, replacing Silver Discoverer there.
  Look for Silver Moon to be christened in Trieste, Italy on August 5 by Gaia Gaja, known as the “Queen of Barbaresco.” Deeply rooted in Italian culinary and wine traditions, Gaja is her family’s fifth generation to own and manage the Gaja winery, producing fine Italian wines since  1859 in the small Italian town of Barbaresco. Her background dovetails nicely with the debut of Silversea’s new Sea and Land Taste (S.A.L.T.) program launching on Silver Moon. That new program will help guests “travel  deeper” into a destination by elevating the food and wine experience. New onboard spaces will include the S.A.L.T Lab, S.A.L.T. Bar and S.A.L.T Kitchen, and Silver Moon’s guests can expect new “local tastes” gastronomic experiences, cooking classes, expert presentations, a guest research area and much more.
  On Silver Moon, guests will notice redesigns of the Dolce Vita lounge, Connoisseur’s Corner, Pool Deck, and the Spa and Fitness Center, as well as space / design changes at the Kaiseki restaurant and La Dame, the latter of which will gain new Lalique crystal panels and a Lalique wine selection, too. Top digs? We’d choose the Owner’s Suite, a stylish apartment that can be reserved either in a one-bedroom configuration of 947 square feet to 1,055 square feet, including the veranda, or a two-bedroom complex encompassing 1,281 square feet to 1,389 square feet, including the veranda. The onebedroom has a separate living room, bedroom with spacious master bathroom (with a separate tub, shower and dual sinks), while the two-bedroom adds the adjacent suite, a good option for two couples traveling together or a family group.
  Eco-friendly in design, Silver Origin will couple an expedition product with pure luxury. Guests can expect butler service for all suites and very high crew-to-guest and Zodiac-to-guest ratios. Public spaces designed by HBA Miami will reflect the Galapagos’ natural environment, but also offer bright, colorful motifs and regional accent materials. Onboard “expeditionary” spaces will range from Basecamp, home to a large, interactive digital wall, where guests can access destination pictures, videos, excursion previews and scientific presentations, to the Explorer Lounge (the place for briefings and lectures) with a large video wall and wide HD screens in different seating areas. Suite design is by GEM Design for Cruise Ships, the same team that created the suites on Silver Muse. Silver Origin’s top suite category is the Owner’s Suite with panoramic views, but every suite has a private balcony and certain suites have an innovative Horizon Balcony, convertible from a closed floorto-ceiling window to an open-air viewing area. A first for Silversea: Select suite categories will have an ocean-view bathtub, as well as an ocean-view shower accessible from the balcony.
  The new Silver Origin’s construction was possible through the line’s 67 percent ownership by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which had another shipyard slot after delivery of the new Celebrity Cruises’ Flora,  a Galapagos expedition ship launched last year.
  Separately, Silversea recently announced a new 59-day “Grand Voyage Mediterranean 2021” to 17 countries, sailing September 8, 2021 on the newly refurbished 388-passenger Silver Shadow. In Korcula, Croatia, guests can view a traditional sword dance, while in Odessa, Russia, they’ll listen to an operatic performance, savor canapés and sip champagne at the city’s opera house.
  Port calls will also showcase multiple ancient cultures via calls in Istanbul, Turkey; Malta; Athens and Santorini, Greece; Tunisia to see the ruins of Carthage; and many Italian ports. Guests will also go ashore in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and the Canary Islands. For added value, Silversea is also offering all Grand Voyage Mediterranean 2021 guests the following: roundtrip economy-class air, $1,000 per guest onboard credit, exclusive shoreside events, overnight pre-voyage accommodation, luggage service, complimentary laundry service, a visa package, complimentary Wi-Fi and private transfers.
  Another new ultra-luxury vessel, Seabourn’s 264-passenger Seabourn Venture, the line’s first purpose-built expedition ship, will debut in June 2021. Hospitality design icon Adam D. Tihany is creating all indoor and outdoor guest spaces, including suites, lounges, dining venues, the spa and fitness area, outdoor deck areas and the popular Seabourn Square multi-purpose space. A second, yet-to-benamed sister expedition vessel will debut in spring 2022.
  Seabourn Venture’s guests can have the closest access to water for marine and eco-views by heading to the foredeck outside the Bow Lounge on Deck 6. Luxury Travel Advisor can’t wait to see the “Constellation Lounge,” located up high and far forward with 270-degree views. Sporting starfocused décor and carpeting, it should be a comfortable, “cocooning” space for guests to have optimum views of scenery and wildlife. For explorations beyond the ship, guests can head out with double sea kayaks, mountain bikes and e-bikes, along with 24 Zodiacs and two submarines.
  For accommodations, we’d reserve a pampering Penthouse Spa Suite, which has all Penthouse Suite amenities, additional “Spa & Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil” amenities, including a selection of teas and fresh juices, and, most notably, provides easy access to onboard spa and wellness facilities. Top suites onboard are the Deck 7 Owner’s Suites, No. 700 and No. 701, with more than 1,023 square feet of total space, including a 484-square-foot veranda.
  During its maiden season in northern Europe and the Arctic, Seabourn Venture will operate 10-to 15-day voyages to Norway’s Svalbard and the North Cape, Iceland, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago in Nunavut. We like the large number of maiden calls, including Scoresby Sound, Greenland within the world’s largest and longest fjord system and Sermilik Fjord in southeastern Greenland with icebergs that flow from multiple glaciers at its head into the Denmark Strait. Along Svalbard, if conditions permit, the ship also will sail along the North Polar ice cap, home to polar bears, whales, seals and rare Arctic birds.
  During a maiden call at Pond Inlet, Nunavut, the Northwest Passage’s eastern entry point, guests can possibly spot narwhals and beluga whales, not to mention millions of nesting birds at Bylot Island. In October 2021, Seabourn Venture then  will sail south to Bermuda, the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. One new locale is the Pio XI Glacier in the Chilean Fjords; it’s the only Patagonia glacier that’s growing not shrinking. At Puerto Natales, Chile, active guests can opt to climb Dorotea Hill, heading for a look-out where they possibly could spot nesting condors.
  Starting in late 2021, Seabourn Venture will visit Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands for 11- to 22-day sailings during Antarctica’s “summer season.” Depending on weather / anchorage positions, Seabourn Venture could call at remote Saunders Island, the site of Port Egmont, the first British settlement in the Falklands established in 1765, as well as at remote Steeple Jason Island, home to the Earth’s largest colony of blackbrowed albatrosses. At West Point Island, guests could meet the Napiers, the isle’s only residents (whose great uncle established a farm there in 1879).
  Since getting to the wilderness isn’t always easy, on select Arctic and Antarctica itineraries, Seabourn’s guests will fly into a designated city with an included hotel overnight stay and charter air to the embarkation port the following day, as well as having a charter flight upon disembarkation to connect with a larger airport for the flight home. This is offered for Seabourn Venture’s voyages embarking / disembarking in Longyearbyen, Norway with air to / from Oslo; Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, with air to / from Reykjavík, Iceland; and Ushuaia, Argentina, with air to / from Buenos Aires.

Sanctum Inle Resort Myanmar

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Sanctum Inle Resort Myanmar

  Sanctum Inle Resort is on the shores of Lake Inle in Shan State, smack in the middle of Myanmar.      The lake is one of the country’s top attractions with visitors flocking here to enjoy its stunning nature, fishing villages on stilts, floating gardens and colorful markets and to marvel at the skill of the local fishermen who use just one leg to row their flat-bottomed boats.
  The nearest airport is Heho and it has regular one-hour flights from Yangon, which is Myanmar’s main point of entry (and just an hour’s flight from Bangkok and three from Singapore). The resort is a 45-minute drive from Heho Airport, but a more colorful way to make an entrance is to hop into the private long-tail boat in the town of Nyaung Shwe and get your first taste of Inle’s serene beauty before alighting at the resort’s private jetty.
  Nestled under the Shan mountains, and with gardens sloping down to the lake, Sanctum Inle Resort (011-959-252-818-800) comes as a real surprise because, unlike the many lakeside properties with typical local thatched roofing, this sprawling property is a sophisticated mix of Mediterranean villa and medieval monastery. Think romantic loggias, brickwork arches and a shady cloister with a fountain.
  Our Provost Junior Suite, in one of the five two-suite villas in the mature gardens, was No. 410 and measured 710 square feet. With a comfortable sitting area on one side and a desk on the other, these suites have long bathrooms with dual sinks, a bathtub and a shower. Hidden under tall trees, these villas are beautifully secluded, yet they are just a short walk from the infinity pool and the facilities in the main building.
  For partial lake views ask for Villas 405 and 406, and there are two Provost Junior Suites in the main building with even better views of the lake. Families will like the 10 rooms connecting with Provost Junior Suites and the 10 connecting Cloister Rooms.
  There are 78 standard Cloister Classic and, slightly larger, Cloister Deluxe rooms in the Cluster Buildings. The difference between the categories of rooms and the 15 suites lies in their size. They all have similar high ceilings with fans, minimalist natural dark wood floors and handsome furnishings designed by local craftsmen, with private terraces and arched windows adding a serene monastic ambiance.
  The two Abbey Suites, Nos. 506 and 509, are in the main building and have stairs from the living area up to the main bedroom with wrap-around windows and expansive views of the lake. The largest suite is the Sanctuary measuring 1,615 square feet. It has garden and mountain views and two master bedrooms, each with its own bathroom.
  For guests who do not like to work in their rooms, the Chapter House is an inviting business center with the atmosphere of a cozy private club. With shelves of books and comfortable armchairs, it’s a real hideaway from the outside world.
  General manager Baptiste Cabarry (baptiste@sanctum-inleresort.com; 011-959-252-818-800) told us there are so many things to see and do on the lake that our three nights were not really going to be long enough, and that this is why many guests are repeat visitors.
  Baptiste was right. Talking with hotel manager Ei Ei Thet (fom@sanctum-inle-resort.com; 011-959-252-818-800), whose team does all the things the best concierges do, we discovered the lake is very large and that getting around by boat takes time which is, of course, the charm of Inle.
  Departing from the resort’s jetty in a long-tail boat an extra-long canoe with an outboard motor and up to six comfortable armchairs a day on the lake is spent visiting crafts workshops on stilts. It is fascinating to watch the villagers make cheroots, work silver and gold and weave beautiful textiles from the fibrous stems of the lotus flowers that grow in the lake. 
  There is also time to meander along narrow canals around the floating tomato gardens that are anchored to the lake floor with long bamboo poles and see the Intha fishermen who row with one leg, thereby leaving their hands free to cast their conical nets.
  Good to know: At 2,900 feet above sea level, temperatures at the lake are cooler than in other parts of the country and, in January, can drop to the low 40s at night.
  Rather than heading out, we decided to dine in-house at The Refectory. But first we headed for the Cloister Bar. It has a good selection of Myanmar-brewed beers and wines, and we enjoyed a glass of crispy white, which the barman told us was produced in a vineyard just up the road.
  The Refectory spills out onto a wooden deck and also serves à la carte breakfasts. On the menu there were many Myanmar fish and meat curries, a fine choice of western entrées and organic vegetables and salads. We chose the most famous local dish, Shan Noodles smothered with a tomato and meat sauce, which was absolutely delicious and the closest thing you will find to a Bolognese in Southeast Asia.
  Inspired by the local cuisine, we decided to find out more and Ei Ei suggested Min’s Cooking Class (myominhtun2008@gmail.com). Min and his wife May, who are former guides and speak excellent English, pick guests up at the resort’s jetty with their long-tail boat and take them across the lake to local markets to buy the ingredients for lunch.
  The classes for up to six people are in their picturesque little stilt house in a quiet spot on the lake. Lunch consists of up to 10 different dishes that the guests cook, under Min’s professional guidance in the small but efficient and spotless kitchen. The group then sits down to enjoy the food on the outdoor deck with its beautiful views of the lake and the Shan mountains. Note: Cooking ability is not required; some of the dishes are vegetarian and all are fingerlicking delicious.
  There are many attractions around the resort. The Red Mountain winery is a short taxi ride away, or an uphill climb on one of the Sanctum’s bicycles. It serves red, white and rosé wines by the bottle and the glass as well as local dishes. Ei Ei and her team can arrange sunset cocktails on the lake and trekking excursions into the Shan mountains. There is horse riding not far away and, if your clients are history buffs, they should devote a day to the Kakku temple complex near the town of Taunggyi to admire the thousands of 16thcentury Buddhist pagodas.
  To chill out, there is the Sanctum Spa (spa@sanctum-inleresort.com) with a fitness center and six single and one couple’s treatment rooms. We had an invigorating Myanmar massage and were told they use 100 percent natural Azial and Natural Rendezvous products, and that the tamarind used for the signature Tamarind Scrub is harvested in the gardens.
  Cabarry told us the resort fills up fast for the Christmas and New Year period, and also for the October Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival and for the Fire Balloons Festival in November. Tip: To avoid disappointment, especially for these colorful traditional festivals, encourage your clients to plan their stay well in advance.
  Foodies will want to try out  the many specialty restaurants in the area, and for genuine local cuisine Cabarry recommends The Great House (011-959- 899-445-275) and The Bamboo Hut (011-959-263-304-121),  which are a 10-minute drive from the resort.

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VIP Universal Orlando: Insider’s Guide to Booking the Best Suites, Restaurants and the Parks.
  Universal Orlando Resort has grown tremendously over the last few years thanks to the incredible popularity of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, new attractions at Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and the addition of Universal’s Volcano Bay water park in 2017. Onsite lodging options in partnership with Loews Hotels & Co., will total eight properties with 9,000 guestrooms by the end of this year. Just back from a recent visit where we hung on for dear life at the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, laughed on Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, splashed around Volcano Bay, toured all the top hotel suites, and ate our fair share, we’ve boiled down the best of the best depending on VIP type: Suites, pools, spa and fitness, restaurants and the theme parks.

HOTEL OPTIONS

  Here’s the scoop on the Universal Orlando Resort hotel categories: Value, Prime Value, Preferred and Premier. The Premier are the  most luxurious, and happen to be the original three onsite resorts, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort; all include early park admission and Universal Express Unlimited passes for hotel guests. (Both benefits reduce waiting time at the parks and are worth their weight in gold for stays of several days.) The convenient boat and shuttle systems allow easy movement between hotels, parks and Universal’s CityWalk, so groups with various budgets can work well, and this means you are spoiled for choice when it comes to dining at the various properties.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando

VIP Type:
Inter-generational families with  grandparents in tow.
  A replica of Portofino, Italy, the original onsite 750-room luxury property just celebrated 20 years. The vibe is traditional Italian charm, with soothing shades of terracotta and yellow in the public spaces, while newly refurbished guestrooms (just finished this month) have bold strokes of Mediterraneaninspired design with blue accents, pops of playful patterns and crisp white linens. Rooms are situated around a pretty piazza overlooking the lagoon, where you can easily grab a free boat to the theme parks and CityWalk or enjoy a pleasant 15-minute walk along the water. Staying here is a taste of la dolce vita the sweet life.
Top Digs:
  The Presidente Suite, at 2,725 square feet, sits on the top floor, overlooking the water and piazza, and comprises a large, open living room with two sofas, a dining room for 10, an office area, kitchenette, spacious King bedroom and marble bathroom with soaking tub. It can connect to a Club Double Queen room for additional 490 square feet.
For Families:
  There are 18 Despicable Me-themed kids suites; each have a traditionally decorated king bedroom attached to a kid’s room with two twin beds, which look like Minion missiles from the movie jawdroppingly adorable. Insider Tip: The best  Despicable Me suite is No. 3541 located in the west wing, conveniently near the water taxi dock; it’s one of the few with full balconies overlooking the harbor. Our second choice is No. 1550 in the east wing located in a quiet area with picturesque views of the harbor and a small Juliet balcony.
Pool and Spa:
  There’s a fantastic family pool with waterslide and a game room nearby, if kids have energy after the parks. Parents are well looked after at the poolside bar and restaurant. Cabanas are available to rent; plus, there’s an adults-oriented pool (they do a fair number of weddings and high end groups). The hotel’s Mandara Spa has 16 treatment rooms, including two couple’s rooms, a co-ed hydrotherapy pool and a full  gym. Top Treatment: The Fire & Ice massage, which is a hot stone contrast therapy that uses heated basalt stones and a refreshing gel to detoxify the body the perfect soother after lots of rides and walking in the parks.

Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando VIP Type:

Music-loving Millennials with or without their kids.
  The party atmosphere hits as soon as you enter the Hard Rock Hotel: There’s an impressive fountain of guitars in the front, décor pops with modern furnishings and bold colors everywhere, and music is always playing. There’s also a newly renovated Velvet Bar in the lobby. The 650 guestrooms are in a U shape around the pool and many have park and CityWalk views. The location is arguably the best of all the onsite hotels, as you are about a five-minute walk to the entrance of Universal Studios Florida and CityWalk.
Top Digs:
  The 2,000-square-foot Graceland Suite, complete with baby grand piano, is made for entertaining. The main living space overlooks the pool and has ample seating on two curved sofas, a dining table for 10 and a bar area. Off this main space is a kitchenette, a private workout room with a Peloton bike and the master bedroom with a king bed, a stunning, marbled bathroom with a soaking tub, fireplace, separate shower and dressing room. This room can connect to another queen bedroom (with a rollaway) to sleep up to seven people.
For Families:
  The 800-square-foot Future Rock Star Suites, which debuted in 2017, will thrill even the most jaded tweens and teens a standard king bedroom is connected to tricked-out kids room with two twin beds, complete with pop star memorabilia and a liquid stage in front of an image of screaming fans. We loved Room No. 2068, which had a mural of Christina Aguilera, one of her stage outfits and sparkly lights on the ceiling. There’s a shared bathroom with separate shower and tub.
Pool & Fitness:
  The heart of the property, the pool has a twisty water slide, two Jacuzzis, ping pong tables and, for VIPs, private cabanas that can be reserved; these come with TVs, a fan, fridge and waiter service. The hotel’s Bodyrock fitness center is large and well equipped; it was busy with ripped dudes and buff gym bunnies.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando

VIP Type:
Couples who want a romantic holiday in Tahiti, but have kids, so they’re going to Orlando.
  You feel South Pacific vibes as you stroll through the open, airy and newly transformed lobby that surrounds two sculptural elephants frolicking in a palm tree-shaded fountain. The largest of the premier properties, Royal Pacific’s 1,000 guestrooms have a tropical feel with floral murals and fresh pops of blue and orange; many offer incredible views of the zooming coasters at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The lobby has just been renovated at the end of 2019 and the Orchid Court Sushi Bar is serving up inventive rolls (we loved the Tropical Roll with shrimp tempura and jalapeno) and the largest menu of Japanese beers, sake and whisky in Florida.
Top Digs:
  The two Presidential Suites are 1,340 square feet, with options to book second and third bedrooms for a total of 2,010 square feet. The main living area has a large, square dining table for eight, an L-shaped sofa and kitchenette. The décor is very modern in tones of gray and blue. The master bedroom is spacious with an equally impressive bathroom with a double walk-in marble shower. Insider Tip: Of the two Presidential Suites, we prefer the park views from No. 3728 on the top floor.
For Families:
  Kids sleep with the dinosaurs in the Jurassic World Kids Suites; beds look like gyrospheres gliding through the prehistoric jungle and connect to a king bedroom, each with its own TV, plus a shared bathroom.
Pool and Fitness:
  One of the most impressive features of the resort is a massive lagoon-style swimming pool with a sandy beach and fun, organized poolside activities for kids, including ping pong tournaments, water volleyball, hula hoop contests and more. Book VIPs a private cabana with a TV, fan and fridge to enjoy all that’s going on, but with your own space.

Top Insider tip for all premier hotels:

  Book Club Level, included in some suite bookings but not all, so check. All three properties offer Club Lounges staffed with concierges and have plentiful food service throughout the day, an incredible value for families as the breakfast and happy hours offer tasty and convenient food service no waiting, just help yourself.
BEST EATS
  There’s a mix of top national restaurants, including Bice for Italian and The Palm for steak and lobster, plus truly unique, innovative yet family-friendly restaurants at the different hotels. We love: Mama Della’s at Loews Portofino Bay for family-style Italian (booking is essential, as it’s very popular with locals as well as hotel guests); The Kitchen at the Hard Rock for yummy twists on American comfort food (think: spicy fish tacos, Asian chicken salad, mile-high cake); and the newly renovated Orchid Court Lounge & Sushi Bar at Loews Royal Pacific with views of the parks for expertly executed sushi, sashimi, Japanese whiskys and Asian-inspired cocktails. Not to miss: Various themed music and food events; they are fun and the food is surprisingly well done. These include the Wantilan Luau at Royal Pacific Resort and Velvet Sessions (they get name acts for intimate lobby shows Spin Doctors and The Psychedelic Furs played recently) and Wine Riffs at the Hard Rock Hotel, plus Harbor Nights, featuring wines, small plates and live music on the piazza at Portofino. For little ones, head to one of the three seatings of the character breakfast every Saturday in the Tahitian Room at Royal Pacific.
VIP THE PARKS
  Like anything popular, the parks get crowded but you’d never know it when you are on a VIP Tour Experience; choose from joining a group tour (max 12 people per guide) or getting your own private guide for the day it is the most efficient way to see the parks, Our guide Kelly was incredibly knowledgeable about everything from the rides to the restrooms she took us through secret entrances and “employee only” sections that allowed us to surreptitiously enter rides without waiting. Guides guarantee you VIP entrance to 10 of the top-tier attractions; we were also able to do rides we loved several times in a row. No doubt, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been a huge boon to Universal Orlando. These areas in both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are the busiest, and the latest attraction, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which opened in June 2019 where you “fly” on a motorbike-styled roller coaster deep into the Forbidden Forest was our favorite ride. For the best way to book, contact the VIP Call Center at 866-346-9350.
  The other big news is Volcano Bay, Universal’s water theme park with 19 unique attractions from plunging slides to massive inner tubes to lazy rivers. They were all good, wet fun. Go VIP with a two-story private cabana for the day, decked with padded lounge chairs, a stocked fridge, fruit and snack basket, and towels, plus concierge service with an exclusive menu of food and drinks delivered directly to the cabana. To book, call 877-801-972.

Caribbean Family Resorts

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Caribbean Family Resorts

  The Caribbean always makes for a great family escape. With plenty of sun, myriad resorts and easy connectivity, it’s a no-brainer. The only difficult part: Deciding which hotel to book. Luckily, Travetou has rounded up three options that were among the most popular when we asked our advisor friends who sell the destination.

The Landings Resort & Spa

  Located on the northeastern tip of St. Lucia, where many of the island’s resorts can be found, is The Landings Resort & Spa by Elegant Hotels. We love that the resort offers a “Luxe at the Landings” package, which includes helicopter transfers from Hewanorra International Airport, meaning your vacation gets started all that much sooner. (Car transfers can take about an hour-and-a-half, due to the airport’s location in the southeast.) But that’s not all! Guests, as part of the package, also receive a private yacht charter to the Pitons of Diamond Falls (we’ve made a similar boat ride the approach to the Pitons from the water are absolutely unbeatable!), along with lunch onboard and, later, a private sunset dinner.
  While the Pitons are just about synonymous with St. Lucia, Diamond Falls are a bit of a hidden gem. Located in the Diamond Botanical Gardens (the oldest such one on the island), it’s not a strenuous hike to reach the payoff in fact, it’s as simple as walking down the maintained paths (great for families with young children). Note that you can’t swim in the pool at Diamond Falls, but you may bathe in the warm mineral pools in the Botanical Garden or at nearby Piton Falls. Another activity in the area for families suggested by The Landings is a tour of Fond Doux Estate, a working plantation where cacao is processed. Who doesn’t love chocolate?
  Guests looking to get off property, without straying too far, might consider Pigeon Island. It is home to a historic naval garrison, museum, beach and hilltop lookout. Good to know: It’s also an easy hike to reach the hilltop lookout.
  If parents are looking to sign up for a spa treatment (there are no options for children), The Landings Resort & Spa has the Landings’ Kid’s Club, which provides fun, educational experiences for children. The complimentary program is available for kids between four and 12 years old, daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  Now, about the spa: Be sure to book a room with an outdoor hydrotherapy terrace. The Lucian Paradise (available in 60 or 90 minutes) is the signature treatment. The full-body massage uses light- to medium-pressure for a soothing application of local coconut milk followed by local coconut moisturizers that smooth, soften and tone your skin. Reserve your treatment at least 24 hours in advance.
  The Landings Resort & Spa has 85 suites, which range from one to three bedrooms. The Beachfront Villa Suites have the best views. These suites are staffed with a personal butler who is on-call day and night. Bedrooms have en-suite marble bathrooms, while suites also have living and dining areas, full kitchens and washer and dryer. Good to know: The two- and three-bedroom suites have an optional private plunge pool.
  A popular dining experience at the resort is the in-suite dining in which a private chef will prepare a gourmet meal in the suite for you. The Landings also hosts a Caribbean Beach BBQ every Saturday night; guests can expect fire-eating, limbo dancing and a bonfire, in addition to Caribbean cuisine.
  Note: Saint Lucia will be introducing a tourist accommodation fee to be used for destination marketing and development. As of April 1, 2020, stayover visitors to Saint Lucia will be required to pay an accommodation fee on their nightly stay on the island. All accommodation providers on the island (including hotels, guest houses, villas and  apartments) will be required to collect from stayover guests $3 or $6, respectively, on a nightly rate below or above $120.

The Palms Turks & Caicos

  If you’re looking for a beach vacation, worldfamous Grace Bay Beach on Providenciales is hard to beat. Don’t overthink it and book a stay at The Palms Turks & Caicos.
  Like The Landings, The Palms is an allsuite property, with its 72 accommodations ranging from one to three bedrooms. The top digs are the Ocean Front Penthouses, available in all room sizes. The master bedroom has a king-sized bed, an en-suite with an array of quality bathing products and its own private outdoor Sun Suite with an outdoor shower for the ultimate pampering experience (love it!). The second and third bedrooms come with a king-size bed and full-size sleeper sofa, while the gourmet kitchen has a range of professional appliances. In-room amenities include custom, hand-tufted bed linens, a private washer and an espresso  maker, among others.
  Good to know: The Palms’ chefs are oncall should you want to dine in the privacy of your suite or host a dinner party (traveling with another family, perhaps?). Your entire meal will be prepared for you on-site and served to you either in your dining room or private balcony.
  We’re told the Conch Kritters Club is popular with younger guests. Open to kids, 12 and under, there is a clubhouse for indoor fun and a range of beach toys and floats for outdoor activities. A fitness center and floodlit tennis court are also open to families traveling with kids and teenagers.
  Note: For families with very young children, babysitting services can be arranged with 24 hours’ notice and cribs are available. Families can also hit the water by themselves. The Palms offers complimentary nonmotorized water sports for guests of all ages to enjoy Grace Bay; options include Hobie Cat sailboats, kayaks, paddle boards, snorkeling gear and more.
  Or, while the children are spending some time at the kid’s club, parents can head to The Palms Spa. Guests can opt for stand-alone treatment rooms, each accented with a water feature by day and fire feature by night, or in the garden where tented cabanas provide an alternative setting for island-inspired treatments. Two over-the-top spa suites are also available for couple’s treatments. There are four signature treatments; highlights include hand-crushed local queen conch shells and sea salt, aromatherapy, therapeutic massage techniques and two masseuses working in sync.
  Should you be traveling with teens, who can handle dinner on their own for a night, one popular activity for adults (only) is moonbathing. The nighttime experience includes mini-spa treatments and after-dinner cocktails and snacks on lounge chairs right on the beach under the bright Turks and Caicos stars. Sounds good to us!
  Led by executive chef Lauren Callighen is Parallel23, the upscale, signature restaurant. The venue has full-height French doors and a high-tech display kitchen with a woodburning oven so diners can enjoy the theater of food preparation. Menu options include coconut-marinated conch ceviche, pan-roasted sea bass and 25-day-aged ribeye steaks. There’s even a kid’s menu with favorites like penne pasta, macaroni and cheese, quesadillas, grilled Caicos grouper and grilled chicken.

Fairmont Royal Pavilion

  In Barbados, the Fairmont Royal Pavilion opened as The Miramar Hotel, which was built in the 1940s as the first hotel to be constructed on the West Coast of the island nation. At this time, the property comprised just 12 rooms. After several transitions, it joined Fairmont Hotels and Resorts in 1999 and was given its current name; guestrooms were most recently renovated in November 2017.
  The hotel is well-situated for guests looking to explore the island. But first, the water. For families who are looking to enjoy the water this is the Caribbean, after all one of the top options is snorkeling with turtles. We’ve done this as part of a catamaran tour (lunch and drinks included) and loved it. Good to know: The artificial reef isn’t far from land. Guests can also opt for jet skiing, single and double kayaks, paddle boats, sea floats, Hobie wave sailboats or stand-up paddle boards.
  To learn a bit more about the history of the island, consider the St. Nicholas Abbey History Tour and Train Ride. At the plantation and museum, the steam locomotive Heritage Train is the newest addition to the property. The narrated tour takes you past the historic St. Nicholas Abbey Great House, around the lake and through the mahogany woodlands. The tour culminates at Cherry Tree Hill, an elevated point offering views of the island’s rugged east coast. Tip: There’s even a rum distillery on property.
  Another way to experience the natural beauty of the island is by a Harrison’s Cave exploration. Families have the option of onehour tram or walking tour; adults can opt for a more extreme three-plus-hour eco-adventure tour (hard hats, head lamps and knee pads included). Note that the last option is available by reservation only.
  For a taste of the local cuisine, a must is the Oistins Fish Fry on a Friday especially if your family loves seafood.
  At the resort, the Beachfront Suite is the top non-villa option. It has pillowtop king-size bed, lounge area with an additional queensized sofa bed; the bathroom has a shower and separate tub. Guests booking this room receive Platinum Fast Track Service, which provides you with your own airport concierge who assists with Customs and escorts you to your complimentary luxury airport transportation. Each Beachfront Suite is inclusive of daily full buffet breakfast and afternoon tea, butler service and your own private beach deck.
  If you’re looking for more space, consider one of the two- or three-bedroom villa options. These rooms also include the Platinum Fast Track Service.
  Good to know: The Palm Terrace Restaurant was renovated this past December and is sporting a new grill-inspired menu. Highlights include the special 32-ounce Tomahawk steak, 16-ounce prime ribeye,  wood-fired shrimp or the spiced lamb chop, grilled to perfection in a Josper oven.

The Alhambra

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The Alhambra

Spain's stunning Moorish palace is adorned with eye-catching Islamic art.
  Known for its perfectly Instagrammable gardens, intricate geometric archways and I bright blue fountains, the Alhambra in the Andalusian city of Granada is one of Europe's finest examples of Islamic art and architecture. But the Alhambra doesn't just offer one castle it has three.
  What began life as a Roman mountain fortress would be completely transformed by the Moorish Nasrid dynasty, whose roots lay in what is now Saudi Arabia. The 12th-century ruler Muhammad I of Granada saw the old Roman fortification's potential, and rebuilt it to overlook the city.
  His successors continued his work and added a palace fit for a king or a sultan. The complex design also included a marketplace, public baths, offices and workshops, essentially making it a city within a city. Decorated floor to ceiling with delicate patterns, Arabic calligraphy and white marble, the Alhambra's Nasrid Palace and its gardens were also kitted out with the latest technology, including an irrigation system for the Generalife Gardens.
  But after the re-Christianisation of Spain in 1492, the new Catholic kings and queens built their own palace on the site, to overshadow the one built by the nation's former Muslim rulers. The Palace of Carlos V's classic Renaissance styling contrasts starkly with the Nasrid buildings, but somehow it works.
  The old city of Granada and the Alhambra absolutely must be seen by anyone travelling in southern Spain, but to make the most of your trip you'll need to plan carefully. Be sure to buy your tickets well in advance, as they only sell a few hundred tickets on the door each day - and people will queue up overnight to grab them. Your ticket specifies an entry time for the Nasrid palaces, but you are free to wander around the rest of the complex at your leisure.
   Once you've made your way past the entrance gates, you'll find yourself in the Generalife Gardens, inspired by the paradise gardens of Persia. You'll discover a huge variety of colourful flowers, flowing water features and shady spots under fruit trees, and you could spend hours here - but you'll have to tear yourself away from it all to visit the magnificent palaces themselves.
  To see how the Christian kings tried to outshine their Arab predecessors, visit the Palace of Carlos V - though you can only explore the inner courtyard. This is a perfect circle, reminiscent of Spain's famous bullrings.
  When your time comes, cross the threshold into the Nasrid palaces, which include the famous Court of the Lions. Look out for gorgeous Arabesque patterns in the doorways all around the palace - the delight is in the detail. Stained glass windows give the palace a burst of colour when it catches the light, and if you peer out of them, you'll see yet more colourful gardens below.
  For a taste of the Alhambra's original purpose, clamber along the battlements of the Alcazaba. an Arab fort built over Roman ruins. When you reach the top. survey the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Alhambra complex and the city of Granada from your vantage point-you'll soon understand why this place has been prized by generals, kings and sultans for centuries.

West Highland Line

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West Highland Line

On this scenic railway journey, you can take a trip through Scottish history.
  It's a trip of only five and a half hours, but this 264-kilometre-long journey from Glasgow I to the fishing port of Mallaig is spectacular Construction began in 1889, with the aim of linking Glasgow to Fort William, but the work was not without its challenges as it crossed remote parts of the windy Scottish Highlands. and the line was not completed until 1894. Conditions were harsh, cold, and lonely. 37 navvies died in just four years. The line was later extended to the coast, and the link to Mallaig opened in 1901.
  After leaving behind the tenements, art galleries and stone streets of Glasgow, the train winds along the 'bonnie banks' of lovely Loch Lomond - Britain's largest body of fresh water - then chugs on to Crianlarich, where a branch line runs to the seaside resort of Oban. The scenery becomes increasingly rugged and further on, past Tyndrum (once the heart of the Scottish gold mining industry) a giant horseshoe curve winds through a glacial valley - a reminder that funds for the construction of tunnels and viaducts were limited, so obstacles (such as mountains) were skirted around instead. After the sleepy village of Bridge of Orchy, the train traverses desolate Rannoch Moor and eventually reaches remote Corrour station, which featured in the film of Irvine Welsh's novel Trainspotting.
  After it leaves Fort William, the gateway to Ben Nevis (The UK's highest mountain), the line passes a number of sites of historic interest. At Banavie, suggested by some as the birthplace of Saint Patrick, the train crosses Thomas Telford's Caledonian Canal, characterised at this point by 'Neptune's Staircase a series of eight locks designed by Telford in 1822. Then comes the glorious 21-arched Glenfinnan Viaduct, constructed in concrete by Robert McAlpine and opened in 1901. Today it's most famous for the starring role it plays in the Harry Potter films, but the viaduct also offers excellent views of the Glenfinnan Monument. This 18-metre-high tower designed by architect James Gillespie Grant commemorates the start of the Jacobite Rising in 1745, when Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard above Glenfinnan. His fight to claim the throne (supported by English, as well as Scottish Jacobites) ended at the Battle of Culloden the following year. A lone highlander stands atop the tower - a reminder that the defeat effectively ended the highland way of life. Further along the route, the train passes Loch nan Uamh from where he escaped to France after Culloden.
  Trains run regularly along the line. In summer a special steam-hauled train, the Jacobite, runs from Fort William to Mallaig (www. westcoastrailways.co.uk) while the luxurious Royal Scotsman train also follows the route (www.belmond.com/royal-scotsman-train).

Split, Croatia

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Split, Croatia

  Split, Croatia, lies on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. The Dalmatian capital is known for its beaches and history. Shown here is the waterfront with the Marjan hill in the background.
  Split, Croatia’s Dalmatian capital, might just be the hottest low-key travel destination that travelers of all ages seem to be craving. And why wouldn’t they? There are beaches, fresh fish, as well as history, tradition and restored architecture around just about any corner.
  We visited Split in mid-June and found it to be empty enough that it was easy to see the life of the city, but right before the peak vacation months of July and August. In other words: No long lines or waits just about the perfect timing.
  Descending into Split Airport (Zračna luka Split) is a little treat in and of itself. From high up in the sky, the view is pristine: Coastline, beaches and islands as far as the eye can see, all skewed across the sparkling turquoise gemstone that is the Adriatic Sea. Once arriving in the city center, it’s easy to quickly understand the appeal of the place. After an approximately 30-minute ride, coach buses drop passengers off along the main port. Now that you’ve arrived, let’s cut to the chase: The first thing to do is hit the beach. Bačvice Beach is the livelihood of the city’s seaside culture, with bars, restaurants, clubs and ice cream parlors lining the boardwalk; and then there is Ovčice Beach, which is more secluded and private, though a bit of a further stroll along the coast.
  For a classic and traditional bite to eat, Fife is your calling card. A late-night, reservationonly, buffet-style restaurant seated one block over from the city’s harbor, here hungry travelers can try some of the best traditional Croatian favorites, from a variety of meats and fresh fish to goulash, risottos and the house specialty of pašticada with gnocchi a marinated beef stew made with nutmeg and prunes. For a digestif, try one of the various Croatian rakija, the native drink of choice. Given that this address serves up some of the best of Croatian tradition, visitors can be sure to be seated among locals and tourists alike.
  Day Two, it’s time to head to the heart of it all: Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace, which may as well be a city in itself. Originally created for the Emperor in 295 AD, the old city of Split was constructed for his retirement. The inner workings of the old city are intricate filled with narrow cobblestone streets and high arches and despite their age, are well intact.
  The hyper-center of the old town is Peristil Square, which was originally used for celebrations to honor Diocletian as the living son of Jupiter. Across from the steps of the square is Lvxor Café & Restaurant, rumored to be one of the oldest bars in the city and named for the Egyptian city of Luxor. Several stone sphinxes constructed during the reign of Pharaoh Tuthmosis still sit within the Square, with the one best preserved said to be “the guardian of the imperial square,” as it watches over the city of Split and one of its most historic monuments: Diocletian’s Mausoleum, also known as the Cathedral of St. Domnius. Near the square and the cathedral are the Split Ethnographic Museum (Etnografski muzej Split) and the Split City Museum, both great for tourists curious to learn more about the city’s culture, traditions and history.
  Mazzgoon is the place to eat within the palace’s walls. Located within the heart of the palace, guests can enjoy modern fare on the front terrace while in the company of 16th-century architecture, where live music is often played on the streets. The menu is compiled of a long array of original cocktails and contemporary-style food items, from local cheeses, fish and meats to Croatian-style tiramisu and semifreddo, perfect for cooling off after a long, hot summer day. 
  Craving some nature? Go for a hike through Marjan Forest Park, which sits atop Split city. Along the trails, there are various signs leading to vista points. From certain areas, you may even be able to see across to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is only a three-hour drive east of the city. When it’s time to make the trip back down, stop at Cafe Vidilica. This spot is frequented by many, whether it be for a drink, dessert or quick photo op, as the view of the city below, the neighboring mountains in the backdrop and the sea on the edge of it all is enough to leave one speechless. While nature is on the brain, it is imperative to visit two of Croatia’s most famous national parks: Krka Falls, about an hour and 15 minutes from Split via bus and known for its many waterfalls and crystal-clear swimming holes, and the Plitvice Lakes, which have UNESCO World Heritage status and are situated about three-and-a-halfhours away by bus. Welcoming over 1 million guests per year, the lakes are famous for their breathtaking cascades.
  Meanwhile, back in Split, it’s time to decide where to spend the night. There is the four-star Vida Boutique Hotel, situated, like Mazzgoon, within the confines of the historical center. Set in an ideal location, Vida is only a few minutes’ walk from many tourist attractions, like the Diocletian’s Palace, Marjan Park, the Bačvice beaches and more. This boutique hotel has just 13 guestrooms, making it an intimate choice for travelers. For more details or for booking your stay, contact Meriem Atik (meriem@vidaboutiquehotel.com), the hotel’s managing director.
  Looking for a bit of a  calmer environment outside  of the city center? Try Briig  Boutique Hotel, located right  along Bačvice Beach. There are  a variety of rooms here as well,  but the top-floor Executive Suite  offers a terrace with a built-in, private Jacuzzi. There are also food and drink options on-site at the Median restaurant and the BarCaffe Bar, along with a rooftop pool with views of the Adriatic, a fully equipped gym, and a hotel spa that offers massages and a sauna. For any questions, contact Tea Mateta (info@briig-hotel.com), Briig’s sales and marketing assistant.
  When it’s time for a brief change of scenery, and you’re itching to get off the mainland, take a Jadrolinija ferry to one or several of the various neighboring Croatian islands. There are Brac, which has the best ferry lines to and from Split and is home to the white-pebbled Golden Cape (Zlatni Rat) in Bol, said to be one of the most popular beaches in Croatia; and Vis, one of the smaller of the Croatian islands, easy for getting around and visiting some of the island’s famous bays and coves via rental boat, among others. But there are two islands on the very top of our list.
  Your first stop? Hvar, for top-notch seafood at Konoba Maestro, a little restaurant hidden along one of the elevated side streets of the city’s center, owned and managed by three brothers who go out to find their fresh catch every morning; for some live-DJ action, fun and dancing for all ages at Hula Hula Beach bar, located about 15 minutes away from the city center by foot and situated right on the waterfront; for hiking and incredible views from the top of the city’s fortified Fortica (Spanjola, in local language), or Spanish fortress; and for long, relaxing days a bit away from the buzz of the city spent at the Hvar Ranta beach. For ultimate relaxation, reserve a couple of nights at Adriana, Hvar’s boutique spa hotel located directly in front of the marina and in the center of the old town.
  Three or four days should do the trick in Hvar, then it’s time to hop back on the ferry toward Korcula, one of the smaller, more traditional islands. Making a pitstop here is perfect if Dubrovnik is on your to-do list, as the island is the closest to the southern Dalmatian city and lies between an hour and 45 minutes to approximately two hours and 35 minutes by ferry, depending on the route. But while you’re still in Korcula, visit the house where Marco Polo grew up (yes, the Marco Polo!), walk to the top of St. Mark’s Cathedral for views of the old town, the sea and the neighboring mountainous island of Orebić, and eat dinner at skver, a favorite traditional Dalmatian restaurant to many locals. Stay at The Fabris Luxury Inn in the center of the town and wake up to views of the seaport and palm trees.
  Still craving some relaxing beach days? Not to fear: Korcula has some beaches and ports along the coastline that aren’t too hard to find, despite their quaintly hidden nature. Nevertheless, it’s worth the mini-treasure hunt once in the water, it’ll feel like you are swimming in liquefied jewels, and we’ve got two words for you: Pure bliss.

Visit palazzo - lake como

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Visit palazzo - lake como

  Visit Palazzo, the only five-star luxury hotel in the center of the ancient lakeside city of Como, has 18 suites and rooms and affords breathtaking views of the lake and the city.
  The ancient town of Como, Italy keeps getting better, far surpassing the level of hospitality afforded its founder, Julius Caesar. Though there have long been five-star properties in the towns along the lakeside, the city itself only saw its first open within the last two years. The proprietors, the Passera family and its Lario Hotels group, are deeply committed to preserving the lake and the history that surrounds it. (Fun fact: Lario is the other Italian / Latin name for Lake Como).
  Adjacent to the Passeras’ Liberty-style Terminus (four stars) on the lakefront, the newer five-star luxury, Vista Palazzo at Piazza Cavour 24, has taken the group’s hospitality up a notch. Intimate and not too overwhelming, the Vista Palazzo uses subtle touches to gratify a guest’s unspoken wishes (deep bathtubs perfectly aligned to soak in the lake view come to mind).
  Unlike the storied luxury properties outside of the city, this one sits steps away from city center, historic sites, fine restaurants, the ferry port and the silk museum, as well as the designer shops to purchase the ties and scarves Como is famous for.  
  The Lario Group operates four properties in and around Como. Its latest, the Vista, includes 18 rooms and suites in a salmoncolored palazzo (c. 1870); all are furnished with king beds and big marble bathrooms, Nespresso machines, huge, soundproof windows, and the other bells and whistles that allow us to plug in or unplug as needed. The suites have separate living rooms. We especially liked the Corner Junior Suites (Nos. 230, 330, 430; about 500 square feet) with all the windows such a pleasure to enjoy the lake and people-watch while wearing a plush bathrobe and sipping a cappuccino.
  The six Suites are a bit larger, at about 650 square feet. Not to be overlooked is Deluxe Room 407, which has a huge bath and two sets of doors leading out to a large terrace. 
  We indulged ourselves at the rooftop bar for an aperitivo before dinner in chef Stefano Mattar’s Sottovoce rooftop ristorante, one of the only places in the town to offer this kind of panoramic view along with a carefully thought out international menu.
  Another Plus: Vista Palazzo stays open all year. Cristina Zucchi (cristinazucchi@lariohotels.com) is the managing director of the group; contact her regarding all the hotels. The  Vista Palazzo is a member of Small Luxury Hotels.
  For less populated lakeside living, our jet lag was soothed by the calm waters off the balcony of our room at Hotel Villa Flori (four stars). Sometimes lowkey is what we need, and we found it here.
  Between the towns of Como and Cernobbio, this 19th-century villa became a hotel in 1958 and has been renovated several times. Of the 53 rooms, seven are Junior Suites and there is one Gran Lago Suite. Only four rooms are without a view, though they do have a common, shared terrace.
  We found plenty of space and privacy in Deluxe 325, and loved the terrace, with its views of calm water, mountains and Como in the distance. Junior Suite 430 has a large bedroom with triple Palladian windows, the better to see the lake. 
  The Gran Lago Suite is in a separate building, requiring climbing a flight of stairs, which may be an obstacle for those needing accessibility. At more than 2,000 square feet, it has some great benefits: Privacy, a large terrace overlooking the lake, huge living and dining rooms with a view, two-and-ahalf baths, and a king master and twin second bedroom.
  The hotel’s public spaces are intimate and Old World, frescoed and antique-filled. There’s a small spa for massages, a private boat dock for lake excursions by Riva, and the tasty Mediterranean menu at Ristorante Raimondi. Villa Flori provides a very different atmosphere from its Lario Group sisters in Como town. A thought might be to divide a Como visit between the two. The hotel is closed January and February.
  Returning to Como, we renewed our acquaintance with the Albergo Terminus, which we enjoyed back in the 20th century. No matter: The Belle Epoque hotel has been around since 1900 and has held on to its cozy ambiance in this town known for cocooning silkworms. It sits next to its fancier younger sister, the former silk factory-turned-Vista Palazzo, which means it’s on the lake in the center of town. The rooms share similar views and are soundproofed. The Terminus began as a thermal spa and, today, offers sauna and treatments by appointment. It closes in January.
  For a longer stay, the secluded Bianca Suite 501 could be an option. On the top floor, an “angolo” kitchen takes a corner of the living room and there’s a balcony that overlooks both the lake and the piazza below. Note: We thought you’d want to know that the bedroom has glass walls, bringing in light, but reducing privacy within the suite.
  Room 320 is an example of the spacious doubles here, with French doors and a deep tub in the bathroom. Suite 321 has separate living and sleeping spaces.
  We love the Bar delle Terme, both the period feel of the inside and the garden tables in warm weather. There’s a full menu for lunch or dinner, including light choices. Guests often go between the two hotels for meals.
  Naturally, visitors to Italy prioritize food, and restaurants in Como and along the lake are ready for them. It’s a chefs’ town. Federico Beretta reigns at Feel Como, housed in a stone barn. Davide Maci stars at The Market Place in the center of town; Andrea Casali runs Kitchen at the Sheraton with a young, talented team; and Davide Casanchini, formerly at Noma, earned a Michelin star in 2020 at Materia in Cernobbio. We can’t forget Michele Zambanini, who introduced us to the Glacier 51 fish at Veranda at Villa d’Este.
  Shopping in Como is focused on silk, which has delighted visitors for 200 years. Start with a visit to the Museum of Silk to marvel at the process of turning cocoons into fine fabrics and then enjoy the museum store’s collection of scarves and ties. A ferry ride up to Bellagio leads to Azalea, one of our favorite silk purveyors. Of course, wandering the narrow streets of the little  town is a joy unto itself, as is a visit to Villa Serbelloni, owned by the Rockefeller Foundation.
  Boat trips, whether by private Riva or on the ferry, bring guests to the Roman ruins on Isola Comacina, to Villa Carlotta for the exhibits and gardens, and to the many villages that line the lake. The gardens at Villa d’Este are perfect for a stroll after lunch on the terrace. To survey the scene from the mountains above, take the funicular from Como to Brunate.
  Here in Italia, there are the fabulous three Cs: Como, Capri, Cortina d’Ampezzo. We love them all, but we always begin with Como.