Designing personal travel adventures, one masterpiece at a time
Author: The Art of Travel Company
Paula Iwanski is the lead travel artist, Virtuoso Wanderlist and Scotland Specialist and founder of the Art of Travel Company an affiliate of Odyssey Travel. Having planned vacations for her discriminating family of six, she's traveled to 39 states, multiple Caribbean Islands and European countries and wanted to share her passion and expertise in travel. A Veteran of the United States Air Force with over 20 years experience in marketing, sales, and event planning, she has learned the intricacies of niche travel markets. Working with Fortune 500 companies, and for the iconic media brands Islands, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Caribbean Travel & Life, Scuba, Sport Diver, SAVEUR, Field & Stream, and Outdoor Life magazines, she’s traveled the world turning every experience into her own travel masterpiece. Fueled by the passion to design individualized, unique travel experiences, Paula selectively crafts each itinerary, getting to know you personally, understanding your mood, to create your own collection of travel and vacation adventures.
The Art of Travel Company, LLC, of Orlando, Florida recently joined forces with the Travel Advisor Group and Valerie Wilson Travel. This affiliation pairs the intimacy of a local, veteran and women owned, Orlando, Florida business, with the expertise of the Travel Advisor Group and the big agency buying power of Virtuoso’s Valerie Wilson Travel (VWT).
The synergy combines the best of all worlds–trusted expertise in travel and the personal service of the Travel Advisor Group and the power of access® that Valerie Wilson is synonymous for. This affiliation allows the Art of Travel Company to bring their clients the most exclusive and ultra-customized experiences using trusted global connections established throughout the years in luxury travel.
“Our goal at the Art of Travel Company is get to know you personally, to understand your “travel mood” and to selectively craft an adventure to suit the moment. I’m so excited to partner with Travel Advisor Group and Valerie Wilson Travel. They are like-minded brands who focus on service excellence and share a passion for travel. I know it will strengthen our ability to ensure the best possible experiences for our clients,” said Paula Iwanski, founder and Luxury Travel Advisor at the Art of Travel Company, LLC.
The Art of Travel Company, LLC is based in the Lake Nona area of Orlando, Florida is a veteran and female owned and operated boutique travel agency. Masters in the art of luxury travel, they specialize in custom European itineraries, Scotland and Ireland, the Caribbean, luxury golf and fishing and vow renewals.
These days flying during the pandemic can be extremely stressful. Will the plane be full, what are the rules for quarantine, mask wearing, etc., and am I officially allowed to travel to my destination? We’ve flown a few different airlines recently to different parts of the country and thought we’d share some things you need to know now to help you navigate through all the changes.
Not All Airlines are Created Equal
It’s really important you review your airline’s policies regarding COVID. For example, Southwest and JetBlue are currently blocking the sale of center seats, but airlines like United, American, Frontier and Spirit are not. All are requiring you to wear a face mask and if you do not comply, you will not be able to fly. There are some taking temperatures before you board, while others are only requiring you to read the statement about COVID and agree not to travel if you are exhibiting any symptoms. To find out about your airlines policy, simply visit their website and the COVID information is typically listed on the homepage.
You Can’t Get There From Here
The best way to get anywhere by plane is nonstop, but flight routes have changed dramatically. There are not a lot of nonstop options, especially if it’s not a major hub like New York, Atlanta, Chicago, etc. Many times there is just one a week from the major airports (take JFK to Cancun for example) where there used to be multiple daily flights. In other areas of the country, where at least some existed per week, they no longer offer many nonstop options. If you do decide to book something, chances are it will change multiple times before you actually fly or it could cancel altogether. Most places now require a connection or two before you get there. The important thing is to research before you book as you may need an entire day to get to where you’re going since nonstop flights and routes have significantly changed or been reduced.
If you’re one of those people who prefers to get to the airport early, have a cocktail and some dinner, you will have to rethink your strategy. It varies by state, but many of the airports have few concessions open and bars are closed. The planes are not serving food or cocktails either, so don’t plan to partake in JetBlues snack basket for example, or if you’re Mosaic, their free cocktails, because most airlines have shifted to a sealed bag with a snack and a water handed out during flight. If you’re one of the lucky ones to find a bar serving cocktails in an airport, even though they give it to you in a to go cup, you will not be allowed to take it on the plane, so don’t even think of adding one more to your tab before you close out, unless you have enough time to drink it at the gate. And for those shoppers in the mix, many of the airport shops are closed too with the exception of Hudson News.
The temperatures on the airplanes have been turned up a notch during the pandemic, so it’s been unusually cold. They are not selling blankets and if you don’t dress appropriately, you could find yourself shivering in the seat the entire time. If you are one of those who tend to freeze during flight, make sure you pack a light blanket or sweater and dress for cold weather. It’s chilly up there!
What to Expect at Airport Security
One of the pluses, security lines are usually super easy to get through time-wise and you are now allowed to bring up to 12oz of hand sanitizer with you. This does not apply to shampoo, and other items in your hygiene bag if you travel with a carry on, so make sure you still apply to the 3oz rule to those items. Homeland Security has relaxed the rule for hand sanitizer only.
Know Before You Go
Not only do you need to understand the rules in your local area about mask wearing, what’s open, what’s not and what their policies are for dining and for quarantine, you will need to check your final destination to ensure you are allowed in. States are banning some travelers from other states where there have been a spike in cases or they could require you to self quarantine for 14 days. If you’re planning a visit for just a few days and coming from a state where they may have a ban, it might not make sense to travel there if you have to stay put for 14 days. In the Caribbean, you may be required to produce a negative COVID test within a few days of departure and if you’re planning any European travel, you may not be allowed entry especially if you are from the United States.
When most people think of the Keys, they think of the Florida Keys, specifically Key West, Key Largo, etc., but just off the west coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico hides a little known piece of heaven called Siesta Key. Just an hour south of Tampa and two hours from Orlando, Siesta Key is the perfect get away with white sand beaches, and blue water usually associated with a Caribbean island.
Where to Stay in Siesta Key?
There are all types of accommodations on Siesta Key—vacation rentals—condo’s, villas, Air BNB, small hotels, intimate inns and also some larger hotels. If you prefer to park your car and walk and want to be close to where the action is try and find a place close to Siesta Key Village on the north end of the island. You’ll have easy beach access and you’ll be able to walk to all the restaurants and shops—no car needed. The larger hotels tend to be on the south part of the island, just a short drive away from the village.
We stayed at Siesta Sands—a beachfront resort featuring one and two bedroom condos for rent. The condos offer full size kitchens and you are just steps away from a sugary white sand beach—no cooler packing needed. You can leave the beach and head back for sandwiches at your condo when hunger pains strike. We preferred the convenience of this option. If you do prefer the beach and grab lunch alternative, you’ll want to head to the public beach. There they have the Siesta Beach Pavilion with plenty of public parking, a snack bar and facilities near by.
What to Do?
When you’re not lounging in the water or admiring the gorgeous views of the sea, you can head into Siesta Key Village to shop or grab some eats. There are some fantastic spots depending upon what you’re in the mood for. Here are a few of our favorites:
Meaney’s Mini Donuts—a MUST while in Siesta Key, this coffee and donut shop is the perfect place to start the day. Grab a coffee, some donuts and hit the beach for a morning walk. We highly recommend the French Toast donuts and promise you, you’re going to want to lick your fingers afterwards!
The Lobster Pot—Those of you who are Maine Lobster fans, we have fantastic news! This place boasts fresh Maine Lobsters and take it from someone who grew up in New England, they do not lie. The lobster was delicious and worth getting. We can’t wait to go back.
The Cottage—This place has a great vibe with an eclectic menu, offering tapas style dining and full course options. We snacked on a variety of foods—korean short rib, big island poke, truffle fries (how can you not) and the gorgonzola gnocchi. The lobster maki roll is to die for and they have a really great artisan cocktail menu, highlights include the Patron Silver Cucumberita, and The Perfect Getaway.
Bonjour French Café—We wandered in off the street for breakfast one morning and found this gem of a place! They have delicious crepes, fresh baked French baguettes and croissants and just an all around fantastic breakfast served with fresh fruit. It’s another great way to start the morning and while we know the mini donuts are fantastic too, we do try and maintain a little bit of nutritional discipline while on vacation.
Sunset is a Must
Whatever you do on Siesta Key, you must take the time to watch the sunset each night—they are spectacular! And, thanks to Mother Nature, no two of them are alike so if you miss one, I guarantee you won’t see another one like it.
Pack up a bottle of wine, your favorite snack foods and beach chairs and take a walk or drive to Patriot’s Pier. Every night at sunset, they pay tribute to our military. Everyone gathers for the singing of the National Anthem (no great voice needed) and after the flag is being folded, they end with Taps in honor of the fallen. If you a patriotic person at all, I guarantee it will bring a tear to your eye.
Whatever you decide, Siesta Key, Florida is the perfect long weekend or week long vacation getaway. It’s perfect for couples, a girl’s weekend, or big family trip. There is plenty to do and see not only on the island, but around the area as well. Our adventure lasted three short nights, but the pace was slow, relaxed, and easy offering much needed rest and relaxation and we can’t wait to go back!
There are three islands off the southern coast of Thailand—Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Most people think of Thailand via Bangkok and scenes from the Hangover Movie, but these islands are far from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s an entirely different atmosphere filled with amazing restaurants, gorgeous beaches (many with few people), and a host of options for resorts. It’s an island vibe with a cross between Scandinavian design, marries Caribbean with a bit of Hawaiian Polynesian thrown in.
There are places you visit that change you forever and Thailand is one of those places. I have to admit I really didn’t know what to expect from my travels there and what I found was absolutely incredible—from the country, to the food and the culture—it really is worth the trip. Thailand is definitely a place that has a bit of everything to offer.
The spa on the hillside
Beautiful empty beaches
Private plunge pool at Anatara
I really loved this little island and enjoyed our stay at the Anatara Rasananda Resort. You fly into Koh Samui and you’re transferred via the hotel high-speed boat to the resort (about a 40 minute ride). When you arrive, the staff is waiting on the beach to greet you. It’s a wonderful way to start your vacation.
The resort itself is a perfect blend of luxury and island nature. In the morning, you can grab a table for breakfast right on the beach and then meander up the hill to the spa situated amongst the boulders for a traditional Thai massage. They have beachfront accommodations or you can opt for being just off the beach with your own private plunge pool. Breakfast is included at the resort with fresh juices and infused waters each morning. There is also a cute little village within walking distance you can explore on your own and shop.
Koh Nang Yuan
Koh Nang Yuan is an island national park. It’s the perfect day trip and a great place for snorkeling in calm waters. You can also hike up to the highest point (not too strenuous of a hike) for some incredible views. Beach towels are not allowed on the sand as they impact the island’s natural habit, but they do offer chairs for rent and bathroom facilities. There is also food available for purchase. I highly recommend the coconut water, served fresh in the coconut—cool, refreshing and hydrating on a hot day.
The view at Blue Water
Delicious Pad Thai
One thing I love about these islands is they are close enough, you can island hop. Each is maybe at best, an hour boat ride. We didn’t spend a ton of time on Koh Tao, but on our way back from the National Park, we stopped there for lunch right on the beach at Blue Water. The food was fresh and delicious and every time I think about the pad Thai and ginger tea with honey, my mouth starts watering and you certainly cannot beat the view!
Room at Six Senses
The resort pool at Melati
Colorful, delicious food at Six Senses
Koh Samui is the largest of the three islands and is home to the Samui International Airport offering flights to Bangkok and Hong Kong so big planes do land there. It’s also home to a variety of accommodations including Six Senses Hideaway Samui, known for sustainability, the more modern, Melati Beach Resort and Spa, and the luxurious Kamalaya, a wellness resort offering health and wellness programs including electronic detox, stress and burnout, and emotional balance to name a few.
Luxurious sea villa at Kamalaya Resort
Simple bungalow at Vikasa Yoga Retreat
This is an island that offers many options—yoga retreats like, Vikasa featuring Yoga classes and teaching certification, traditional Muay Thai boxing, beaches, nightlife and shopping. We dined at Coco Tam’s right on the beach and I highly recommend their signature dish. It’s worth every bite! It’s also a great place to watch the sunset.
With the arrival of the New Year, our thoughts turn to shedding those few extra pounds, eating healthier, exercising and our next vacation. With exceptional health and wellness options allowing you to escape the craziness of life and leave your cell phone behind, Thailand has it all. From the mountains of Chiang Mai, to the urban city life of Bangkok and the slow, island pace of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, it’s a life-changing adventure with an amazing culinary scene. When I got back to the United States, I kept telling my husband I felt like all the food I was eating was dead compared to what I ate in Thailand, and I eat vegetables and fruit regularly. Everything was just so fresh, and the presentation alone was a photograph every time!
Six years ago, my husband and I moved to Florida and left behind our family and friends along with all the Christmas obligations. What amazed me is how I never realized you cram all these visits, seeing everyone into just a day and half– Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. While it can be fun, it can sometimes be exhausting.
Moving changes all that. Suddenly, there are no obligations and you have a chance to reinvent the holidays without offending anyone. Don’t get me wrong, you do miss your family and all the traditions surrounding the holidays, but it’s really exciting making new traditions.
I’ve personally always wanted to go away for Christmas—to actually wake up in a different country on Christmas morning, celebrating the holidays outside of the United States. Travel opens up your eyes to so many things, but seeing how a country celebrates Christmas is something we don’t often think of doing. And, since I started the whole Scotland thing with Sarah a few years ago, I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather continue the adventure with!
I first visited Edinburgh, Scotland in 2014 when Paula invited me as a plus one on an international business trip. She suggested a train ride from London to Edinburgh where we could explore the city for a long weekend. On the way to the Boston airport, my mother called and casually mentioned my great-grandmother was born in Scotland. She offered her date of birth and suggested I stop at a genealogical society to find out more information on her. I was stunned as I have always considered myself Polish by heritage, but quickly took what little information she had, and stuck it in my purse. I forgot about it until we arrived in Edinburgh and walked right by Scotland’s People: a Genealogical Research Center, on the way to our hotel. This began my personal journey into my Scottish genealogy. Over the years, I spent time searching for information on a family history I didn’t know I had and developing an interest in a country that draws me in, like it’s calling me home.
Deciding to spend Christmas in Edinburgh with my family was appealing, although I had my reservations. Traveling during a major holiday can be stressful and I was concerned my children would be disappointed we weren’t following our traditional Christmas schedule. Edinburgh turned out to be a fantastic way to re-energize our family bond, discover new traditions and explore a fairy tale like landscape. Edinburgh Castle is always within the eye’s periphery when in Edinburgh and the gothic silhouette of the city is the perfect place to recapture what is magical about the holidays.
Edinburgh has a large German style Christmas Market that begins weeks before and ends just after Christmas. We spent time exploring the vendor stalls, riding Carnival style rides, drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate made with real Bavarian melted chocolate. We ate German sausage and Scottish meat pies, and enjoyed being serenaded by traditionally dressed bagpiping buskers.
Christmas Eve dinner was spent at The Witchery: a uniquely decorated medieval restaurant, rich in history and within the shadows of Edinburgh Castle, followed by a stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens, decorated with millions of twinkling lights. Ticket holders walk through the displays as Christmas music plays in the background, and Santa and his helpers are seen preparing for what will be a long night.
Christmas Day was spent lounging in front of our hotel provided personal Christmas tree (it was a complete surprise), opening gifts from the stockings I brought and hung in our lounge room. It was a mild, sunny day, and we hiked to both Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill: two popular and scenic over looks in Edinburgh. Although most of the city was shut down: no public transport was available; the city was still alive with people, enjoying the beauty of The Royal Mile and other major landmarks that make Edinburgh so special. Tourist shops were open for business, as well as a wine shop and several takeaway restaurants.
My son and youngest daughter asked if this year we could celebrate the holiday with a few of the traditions we enjoyed in Scotland. I just bought a set of Christmas crackers and am researching where to buy a few Christmas Crowns.
These are a few of our Favorite Festive Things to do In Edinburgh:
With the holidays fast approaching, many travelers will take to the skies for what is the busiest season for travel. So what do you do if your travels require you to take a long haul flight (seven hours or more)? How do you survive a plane ride that long? Take it from us professionals, in order to survive; you have to have a strategy.
Choose Your Seat Wisely
Before you even get on the plane, the seat assignment is key. We all wish we could afford business class or first, but when that isn’t in the budget, choosing your seat wisely will help ease the pain of sitting in it for a long time. Seat Guru is great for picking out the best seat by flight number and is our go to for seat selection, but we are big fans of the two-seat row. It’s not always available on every flight, but it’s ideal especially if you are traveling with a significant other. It’s an aisle and a window with no chance of having a stranger in the seat in between you, and makes for a more enjoyable flight when you can stretch out together. It’s about as luxurious an experience as you can get in economy class.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
This is an absolute must. We recommend layering here because we all know flights can be very cold at times. And, if you’re one of the unfortunate souls to be stuck in a center seat between two bodies, it can be very warm. The last thing you want is to be wearing something uncomfortable for hours on end.
Bring Plenty of Reading Material
Now is the time to catch up on that stack of catalogs you’ve been meaning to look through or those magazines you just haven’t had the time to read. You can pack them and if you don’t want to keep, you can discard before you get off the plane. Most airlines have entertainment on board, so there will be plenty of movies, TV shows, etc., to watch on your flight, but we recommend having a combination of things to do. It helps break up the flight–especially if it is 12 to 15 hours or more. Pick a book to download or buy one to carry—now is the time for a great story because not only will you have the flight there, but don’t forget about the flight back.
Organize Your Laptop
If you are bringing your laptop or even your iPad, take this time to organize all your files, delete things you don’t need anymore, etc. I once organized my entire laptop on a 5 hour non stop flight. It’s something we never make time for, but really needs to be done and provides a great sense of accomplishment when you do.
Carry On Your Bedtime Routine
When it’s time to go to bed, we all have our routine—wash our face, brush our teeth, put our pajamas on. Have a strategy for your “things to do time”, but when it’s time to get some shuteye, it’s important to follow your typical routine and make sure you pack those items in your carry and they’re easily accessible. If you decide to use a sleep aid, make sure you try it out at home first, especially if you’ve never used it before. The last thing you need is to be super knocked out or groggy when you finally get to your destination.
Make it a Spa Experience
Flying is very dehydrating to the skin and body, so you make sure you drink plenty of water on your flight. There are socks you can buy to moisturize your feet and you can purchase a travel mask featuring hydrating ingredients to leave you feeling refreshed and your skin looking amazing when you get off the plane. We used one on our long haul flight to Thailand. It’s a sheet mask you simply lay over your face (it has eye holes so you can see). Our flight attendants were so impressed they all kept coming over asking us about it. We used Hydrate by Peach and Lily and they have other ones as well.
When it comes to a long haul flight, the most important thing is to get creative and be comfortable. You can pack a deck of cards, write a good old-fashioned letter to a aging relative (they will really appreciate hearing from you), do a word search or channel your inner child and buy a new coloring book and crayons. There is no one to judge you. And, who cares really? What are the chances you’ll ever see these people again?
During our holiday trip to Scotland, Sarah and I were disappointed to learn our Edinburgh Pub Crawl was cancelled. It was one of the top things we were looking forward to, so we each took to the Internet to create our own list of traditional as well as interesting pubs in Edinburgh. What resulted was an eclectic mix of old and new and a super fun night out in Scotland!
We started off the night at Panda & Sons. By day, this actually looks like a Barber Shop on the outside (we actually walked by during our food tour), but in reality is a secret craft cocktail bar modeled after the prohibition era speakeasy that requires prearrangement to get in. You even enter through a bookcase door! The cocktail list is extensive and they do offer light appetizers. It’s definitely a local place and worth a stop. Try the Birdcage Cocktail. It’s really quite the presentation.
Everyone who knows me, understands I am a big fan of the Tiki Bar and when I found out there was one in Edinburgh, I knew we just had to go. It’s quite the contrast in this medieval city and the minute you walk in, no matter how cold it is outside, the décor instantly warms you. Full of colorful lighting and totem poles, it transforms you to a tropical location. The drink menu does not disappoint and it was a great place to get one of our fave’s—the mojito. They have the best rum selection in the city and a full menu. You can tell by the smiles on our faces, it was a favorite amongst us all.
This is a very traditional Scottish Pub built in 1867. It’s a quiet, quaint, local place. The one thing it has going for it, (and the reason we stopped here) is because it is the one of the only pubs in Edinburgh that has a fireplace. We didn’t hang here long, but we managed to score a seat right in front of the fire. The drink prices were really reasonable as well.
This was absolutely the perfect way to cap off the night! Rich in history, the Tolbooth is actually rumored to be one of the most haunted buildings in Edinburgh. It dates back to 1591 when the building was used to collect tolls from travelers entering the burgh.
We happened into the tavern during karaoke night and had a chance to hear some of the local singers. I even managed to get Sarah to drink some whiskey (which she said she’d never do). We danced, we drank whiskey and we laughed. It was a great night of making awesome memories with those you love.
Singapore is a very young country with a booming economy and so much development happening, if you have visited recently, it may be unrecognizable the next time you are there. A relatively small Island off the coast of Malaysia, Singapore has had many rulers, and only became an Independent country 50 years ago. The Singapore of 50 years ago was teetering on the brink of destruction, but in just one generation, they have become one of the richest countries in the world. Impressive sky scrapers and new modern design are weaved into the older, culturally diverse neighborhoods with their own cuisines and decor, including a Colonial District, in remembrance of English colonial rule. While most of the population is of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian descent, English is the primary language. The temperature hovers right around 80 degrees year round, and the sun rises and sets everyday at 7. There are modern amenities , one of the world’s largest casinos, gorgeous resorts with beautiful beaches, world class zoos and jungle safaris, as well as a Universal Studios amusement park. Just a few of their top attractions are:
So many experiences in one destination: The Glitz of Tokyo, a visit to the Serengeti, US quality amusement parks, all encompassing southeast Asian and Indian cuisine in one location, world class shopping, year round inviting weather.
Why is it a hot Destination for 2019:
If you haven’t seen the hottest film of 2018 or read the book, you need to. For Americans, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, put Singapore on our radars.
The Azores, Portugal
These 9 Islands, located approximately 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, are an outdoor enthusiast’s dream destination. Known for its magnificent volcanic landscape, visitors can hike to breathtaking panoramic peaks, swim in crater lakes, explore lava tubes, bathe in hot springs, and discover a variety of oceanic activities, such as boating, snorkeling and surfing. I became interested in visiting the Azores after I discovered there are non stop flights from Boston with a flight time of approximately 4.5 hours and an equally short trip can be easily found from New York City. The descriptions are similar to the Hawaiian Island activity offerings, but Oahu is more of a 17 hour flight time for us. The top attractions in the Azores include:
We love tropical weather and plenty of outdoor activities to keep us busy. One of the most difficult things about family travel is the getting there. These islands are exactly the right balance of close proximity to us, lots of activities, a beautiful location, and affordability.
Why is it a Hot Destination for 2019
Delta recently announced a new direct flight from the northeast, beginning in May 2019. Boston already has a direct flight in place through the Azores own airline, ANA. For those looking for an island getaway with a wide array of outdoor activities and world class cuisine and accommodations, but don’t want the big commitment flying to Hawaii can take, these islands just became irresistible. New York to San Pedro averages just about 5 hours. Hotels average a $120.00 a night and dinner is less than $25.00 per person in the Azores. Compared to Hawaii, this is an incredible steal.
Still thinking about getting away for Thanksgiving? Take advantage of the long weekend (fly on Thanksgiving for reduced fares) and head to the BVI Food Fete Lobster Festival on Anegada in the British Virgin Islands on November 24 and 25th. This annual culinary festival features local spiny lobster prepared by the islands best local chefs from Anegada’s participating restaurants. It’s a fun-filled culinary adventure featuring live music, art from well-known regional artisans and a sunset party, all in the gorgeous setting of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean! With over 60 islands and cays spanning 600 nautical miles, it’s the perfect place for island hopping and there’s plenty to do and see (including the famous Anegada flamingos)—all just a plane ride away!
USVI Ferries depart from St Thomas and St John and BVI inter island ferries depart from Road Town on Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Beef Island
Chill on the beach first of all! Seriously though, we are huge fans of the British Virgin Islands. It’s home to many iconic beach bars–including the legendary floating Willy T (Yes, you read that right. We did say “floating”) and the Soggy Dollar, birthplace of the famous drink the painkiller. If you’ve never heard of these places, they are just a sampling of the many hidden gems in the BVI’s that are bucket list worthy.
Stunning, I must have used these words a thousand times on my recent trip to Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina. Just 30 minutes from the great city of Savannah, Georgia (a personal bucket list city for me), it was a nice easy drive from central Florida and absolutely, without a doubt worth going to from anywhere in the country. The resort is set on over 20,000 acres and the scenery is just absolutely gorgeous. There is no detail forgotten and just when you think, “It can’t get any better than this,” it does.
The grounds are gorgeous with stunning views and walking trails, enticing you bounce out of bed early to get your morning run or walk in (They even have a running concierge). I selected a trail taking me along the river to a mossy oak covered path of trees. Throughout the property, there are many bridges and quaint spots—like the town center with the picturesque church—perfect for a destination wedding. There is something for the entire family and because of the various types of accommodations and activities, this property is perfect for multi-generational travel as well.
Montage Palmetto Bluff has three types of accommodations—inn guest rooms and suites, cottages/residences and village homes. Guests of the resort can enjoy the entire property and the resort fee includes the use of kayaks and canoes, fishing poles, tennis, croquet use of the pool and spa facility (spa treatments are extra), fitness center and fitness classes and a plethora of activities the resort has to offer. It even includes the gratuities for the bellman, housekeeping and the concierge. The property boasts a Jack Nicholas 18-hole signature, private golf course, so if you aren’t a guest of the resort, you aren’t getting in. (Highly recommended on the golf club menu is the hotdog. It’s all beef, wrapped in bacon and well, shall we say some things are just worth having and this was.) Both golf and bike rentals are available at additional fees.
One of the things that excited me the most was seeing kids riding bikes everywhere. These days’ kids spend a lot of time indoors, so it was really nice to see them out enjoying the day with their families. And, who wouldn’t when you have an awesome bicycle with a bell and a basket? There is also a state of the art bowling alley and a game room on property. Did I mention the awesome tree houses? Just seeing a tree house brings me back to my childhood, I mean, “Who didn’t want a tree house growing up?” There are two of them on property—one more than four stories high with incredible views of the waterways.
We were treated to a tour of the lowlands of South Carolina. (I always recommend to clients to get out on the water if you have the chance. It changes your perspective of your vacation destination.) Our guide, who is also the fishing guide, entertained us with tales from a neighboring island where a landowner had placed buffalo so he could hunt. The problem was, he didn’t realize buffalo could swim and they escaped. Unfortunately for the buffalo, they escaped to a hunting lodge and as a result, one of the buffalo heads can be found inside the restaurant on the property, appropriately named, “Buffalo’s.”
Other highlights include, the island for awesome family days, the homemade hot sauce at Cole’s, the food (delicious), Culinary Heirlooms (local cuisine featured every night at 5 pm for guests to sample), the luxurious and beautifully appointed spa (best facial I’ve ever had), and the s’mores cart. The inn offers fires and s’mores every night with a cart full of homemade marshmallows in different flavors (we were told to try the lemon marshmallow with the dark chocolate) and two different kinds of chocolate. It’s like you died and went to s’mores heaven! “Porching” occurs every day from 3:30 to 5:30pm at the River House where cookies, sweet tea, and lemonade are served and guests can hang out and enjoy the view of the river from their porch rocker. We didn’t have the good fortune to attend this event, but if it is anything like the shortbread cookies we experienced in our room every night, we’re absolutely certain we will not miss it next time.
Montage Palmetto Bluff is a haven for families and couples looking to escape from it all and experience the outdoors. It’s just good old fashioned fun. There is no “I” left undotted, no “T” left uncrossed here. They go out of their way and the attention to detail is unfounded. A little boy I met put it perfectly when I asked him what his favorite thing was he had done there on vacation, “I get to shoot a bow and arrow.” He hadn’t even done it yet, but it was his favorite thing. Montage Palmetto Bluff is just that—it’s your favorite thing to do, even though you haven’t done it yet.
Getting there: Fly into Savannah, Georgia (airport code SAV). Transportation to the resort can be arranged or you can rent a car and drive. It’s about 30 minutes.
Guests of the resort who are the Art of Travel clients receive a room upgrade (subject to availability), a $60 dollar daily breakfast credit per room, and a $100 spa credit per stay.