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Finally Not Home for the Holidays

If you’re ready to venture out and hit the road (or the airport) this holiday season, weekend wanderluster and travel fanatic Bridgette West shares some of her favorite places to go when you don’t want to be home for the holidays.

Bridgette West

Los Cabos, Mexico

Located at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, Los Cabos gives you the all-inclusive luxurious Pueblo Bonito resort, spread out over five distinctive properties. My favorite of the five is Pueblo Bonito Pacifica, an adults-only place where you can indulge in comfort. A minimalist haven, Pueblo Bonito Pacifica is a 201 guest-room property featuring soft neutral hues, native wood furnishings, and gorgeous views of the private beach. The property has enhanced amenities on one side of the property, which includes 24-hour butler service and exclusive access to an oceanfront VIP lounge. If you love extra perks like these, be sure to book a room at “The Towers” at Pueblo Bonito Pacifica.

The Pacifica resort offers eight places to wine and dine. If you arrive before your room is available, you’ll most likely be directed to Siempre, an indoor and outdoor delicious Mediterranean-style restaurant that offers a lunch and dinner menu as well as a breakfast buffet. If you love seafood, try Pescados, a casually elegant sushi restaurant. Be sure to make a reservation for the property’s white linen fine dining Peninsula Restaurant, which offers hand-selected recipes and fresh flavors from across the region. There are truly so many great places to eat, it will be nearly impossible to visit all the bars and restaurants, but if you venture off of Pacifica, I’d recommend trying LaFrida Restaurant. Named after the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, LaFrida restaurant means enjoying a unique approach to Mexican cuisine while taking in the Frida-inspired decor, art, and panoramic ocean views. If you are traveling with a large group, you are guaranteed to have a variety of dietary preferences, so I’d recommend visiting the Market at Quivira inspired by the European elegance of the food hall experience. You’ll find everything from Asian to Italian favorites and even an American ‘50s-inspired diner.

As much as I love a relaxing trip and food galore, I also enjoy an excursion or two to explore the various activities the area has to offer. Cabo Adventures offers everything from camel safari rides to ATV experiences, zip lining, snorkeling, and a dolphin swim experience. On my first trip to Cabo, I opted for the Luxury Sailing Cabo Tour and cruised past the famous Land’s End Arch at Lover’s Beach. The tour includes a light snack, lunch, premium open bar, and even a bit of dancing aboard your luxurious French-made catamaran.

If you’re not up for activities and prefer a low-key relaxation experience, be sure to stop at the Armonia Spa at Pueblo Bonito Pacifica. Indulge in body treatments, massage therapies, salon services, and other spa packages. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite take-home gift, the Armonia Spa Air Fresheners available at the spa boutique. My favorite fragrances are lavender and lavender vanilla. 

Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia is the quintessential Eastern Caribbean island paradise home to volcanic beaches, reef-diving sites, luxury resorts, and fishing villages. The unique confluence of Caribbean, African, English, and French cultures creates an exquisite blend of food, music, and traditions that will inspire and enchant the most well-traveled of travelers.

I’m staying at the Royalton Saint Lucia, which is about a 90-minute ride from the airport. It’s nestled in lush landscapes set upon one of the most picturesque islands in the Caribbean. For travelers of all ages, this modern resort features three distinct sections, including a family-friendly vacation experience in the general resort, Diamond Club,™ for a higher level of service with exclusive pool, beach and dining areas, and Hideaway, an adults-only oasis.  

Immediately upon arrival, I can feel the sense of welcoming island hospitality as I’m greeted by cool hand towels scented with the refreshing scent of lemongrass. I’m a Diamond Club™ guest, the resort’s premium level of service, which features highly-trained butlers and concierge to fulfill my every request. Diamond Club™ members are also privy to exclusive areas around the resort including a pool, beach, and a lounge, which is where I’m checking in. My room key is a waterproof bracelet that is designed to withstand all the dips in the pool, beach waves, and mud bathing I’m about to enjoy during my island adventures.

I’m introduced to my butler, Danielle, who takes me to my room and gives me the grand tour. I must admit that at this point, I’m trying to act civilized like I have had butler service tons of times, but inside I want to break out into a happy dance from the ’80s (think the Carlton). Once inside my room, Danielle shows me how to order room service from my television and gives me a bright orange phone to carry with me during my stay.

If you need me, just press this button and I’ll come on the line to take care of your request,” Danielle explains.

The room is such that I could spend just about the entire vacation tucked away in my suite. I have a great view of the ocean, which I access through grand sliding glass doors. My posh bathroom has a walk-in shower with their signature rain showerhead, a vintage-style soaking tub, and a private toilet room. There is also Royalton’s signature DreamBed™ complete with high thread count sheets. After unpacking and sitting on my balcony, lost in the sights of the beach and the sounds of the waves, I head out to dinner to begin the first activity of my 72 hours in St. Lucia.

The resort offers nine restaurant on the all-inclusive property, allowing you to taste flavors from around the world including Zen Japanese Steakhouse, SCORE sports bar, Armadillo TexMex cuisine, and my favorite, Calypso, serving tasty West Indies dishes. For starters at Calypso, you can try their Jerk Surf and Turf Spring Roll, West Indies Assorted Patties, or Big Island Crab Cake, which is my choice. The Jamaican Coconut Crusted Snapper was a delicious option for an entree, or order the popular Saint Lucian Chicken Roti. The international delights come in buffet-style choices, a la carte dining, and swanky bars.

Venturing out to see the sights of Saint Lucia will not disappoint. On the first full day of my stay, I’m headed out with a group on the Tout Bagay excursion with Nexus Tours. This is a must-do activity when you visit Saint Lucia. My group and I are chartered by a wi-fi-enabled bus from the resort lobby to the Rodney Bay Marina, where we board our yacht for the day. We sail for about an hour or so, but honestly, I can’t remember as the waters and mountains make it easy to lose track of time. This is the moment where you stop and just take in the absolute beauty of the picturesque panoramic views of the island and the ocean.

As we begin to dock in the town of Soufriere, we spot a replica of a pirate ship beginning to set sail (fun fact: Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed partially in Saint Lucia). We are headed to the Toraille Waterfall, one of the largest falls in Saint Lucia. It’s the perfect spot for a refreshing splash as the falls cascade off of the tip of your head, back, and shoulders. The experience is invigorating.

The Morne Coubaril Estate is a living museum and adventure park. Start with a walking historical estate tour (also available by horseback) through a small village of replica stick huts similar to those used two centuries ago by local villagers. We stop at the cocoa house to taste a ripe cocoa bean and experience the process of fermentation, bean drying, and the cocoa dance used to polish the dried beans.

On the tour, we pass by the Monplaisir family’s grand estate house (the owners of the property) to another live demonstration near the coconut truck. Have you ever witnessed the de-husking of a coconut? It’s a “don’t try this at home” skill but beautiful to see it done for you. The coconut is then sliced in half, revealing coconut water. Sip while you look out at the mountains and blue water below. Finally, before leaving the property, stop at the onsite, rustic restaurant for a Lucian buffet lunch, served with probably the most delicious limeade you’ll ever taste and dessert made from fruit harvested at the estate.

Ever wanted to walk in the footsteps of Richard Branson or Oprah, if only but a moment? They both visited the warm Sulphur Springs, a dormant volcano famous for its detoxifying capabilities that are noted to help heal sunburns, eczema, arthritis, sore joints, and more. The mud bath is also noted to help you look 12 years younger. You’ll know the exact moment you are getting close as your nostrils will fill with the stench of rotten egg. No worries … you’ll soon adapt to the smell to be able to enjoy the experience. The temperature of the mud bath is about 100 degrees, “not very hot,” says one local. As you walk down the four-step entry into the bath, your body temperature will soon begin to adjust to the change. Suddenly, what was once the heat of the air becomes a cool breeze as your body soaks in the benefits of the warm sulfur springs. Buckets of fresh mud are gathered by attendants, and fellow visitors huddle over the buckets to experience the rejuvenating benefits of the mud. Regardless of your adventure level, health needs, or desired age reversal, the Sulphur Springs is worth a quick dip. Tip: wear a dark-colored swimsuit as the sulfur springs will change the color of white or light-colored attire.

After mud bathing, it’s back to the boat for the final sail back to the hotel. Rum punch is passed around and the party is turned up to 10. During our sail, we encounter that same pirate ship we passed in Soufriere. This time, they aren’t so nice and catch us off guard with the dramatic and thunderous sound effects of their replica cannon. At least they thought it was funny. I am trying to catch my breath and stop my heart from racing. We all laugh afterward.

Park City, Utah

Of course, for Floridians and those who live in warm climates, a wintery destination counts as a change of scenery during the winter months. Park City Utah is not your typical mountain experience. In fact, it’s anything but. Admittedly, the only thing I knew about Utah was that it was out West somewhere and that a former PR colleague of mine attended Brigham Young University in the state. I know, sad.

Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised during a recent visit to the breathtaking mountainous destination. Park City is synonymous with modern luxury, especially when referring to the accommodations at the world-renowned Waldorf Astoria. During your stay, you can opt for fine dining farm-to-table meals and one of the most beautiful fall balloon experiences you can imagine. Park City Utah is an elevated mountain experience. Pun intended. 

Whether you are a party of one or 16, the Waldorf Astoria Park City is the perfect home away from home. You can choose from a guest room, suite, or bi-level suite. Though the guest rooms are the smallest the resort offers, they are anything but tiny and have most of the amenities of the suites such as the blackout curtains, gas fireplace, and comforting bath amenities. I stayed in a suite during my visit. Once I walked into the room, the first element of surprise was the beautiful gas fireplace, a standard feature in each room. My room opened to a gorgeous parlor room where another warm fireplace lit the room. Those who love to cook are going to be in culinary heaven. The suites include gourmet kitchens with marble countertops and Viking appliances. Even if you didn’t plan to cook, you will be tempted to whip up something before your stay is complete. The gorgeous bathroom was just as stunning as the kitchen and included an oversized tub and a European shower. The team at the Waldorf has mastered the art of anticipating guests’ needs. I made myself right at home in luxurious accommodations, high-end amenities, and acres of explorable terrain just steps from the lobby.

A short walk from the Waldorf is The Farm, a rustic yet refined dining experience. It’s not exactly dinner on a ranch but it’s close. The food is expertly prepared and served fresh to the table. The service is complementary to the fine dining experience in this casual environment. The Farm offers a menu that emphasizes regionally sourced ingredients, an extensive selection of wines, and indoor and outdoor seating. The menu features small plates — such as Farm Cheese (peach chutney, brown butter, granola, and grilled sourdough), White Bean Soup (preserved lemon, house whole wheat sourdough, mozzarella, and kale), “Popcorn” Shrimp (shrimp, pork cheeks, sweet Utah corn jalapeno, and roasted bell pepper) — and large plates such as the Cowboy Steak, Pistachio Crusted Lamb Lion, and #TheFarmBurger (desert mountain wagyu, duck confit, port wine shallots, house mustard, truffle aioli, Promontory cheddar, and brined house fries).

If you love checking out unassuming local hotspots, you can’t leave Park City without stopping by this gem. Located in the downtown area, The Eating Establishment has been a local institution serving breakfast all day since the 1970s. In 2017 the new owners added a bar to create craft cocktails to complement the dishes and a few new comfort food elements to round out the rest of the day. I sampled the Thai-style popcorn chicken as a starter and finished with breakfast — a Belgian Waffle with a side of ham and eggs. That’s the great thing about eating here: you can order lunch, breakfast, and a spirited beverage at the same time without judgment. The desserts are just as tasty. Try the Bread Pudding — deep fried and served with bourbon caramel and whipped cream. Don’t forget the ice cream!

Twisted Fern is another local spot that is a must-do item on your Park City itinerary. The atmosphere is incredibly warm yet sophisticated. This Park City eatery is committed to honoring the roots of its ingredients with a twist of creativity. Chef/Owner Adam Ross combines his passion for food with his commitment to sustainability and conscious living at Twisted Fern. Here, you’ll find dishes like crispy Garlic and Sesame Chickpeas (that you won’t be able to put down) and Duck Confit and Berry Salad to start, Bone-In Short Rib, and Chicken Fried Portobello as entrees and Coconut Pudding or Brownie Sundae to finish. 

For the coffee connoisseur, this next destination is going to be your Park City hot spot.  Five5eeds has a goal of bringing great coffee, great food, and exceptional service to the folks of Utah. One look at the creative dishes that pass your table and you’ll want to order the entire menu. This healthy cafe focuses on nourishing, flavorful dishes, crafted from the best local, seasonal produce. Five5eeds offers a comfortable atmosphere to grab a quick breakfast or lunch or relax over your favorite drink with a group of friends. Many of the dishes are happily decorated with nourishing greens or fresh fruit. I ordered the Hotcakes, which came topped with mixed berries, nuts and seeds, and lemon-infused mascarpone. The Rojo Mexican Tacos, which my travel companion ordered, looked to be delicious and flavorful as it was served with shrimp, red cabbage slaw, fresh cilantro, and chipotle spiced cream. Also, try the popular Iced Coffee made Aussie-style with Five5eeds cold brew, complete with ice-cream and five5eeds nitro cold brew.

Utah is such a popular destination for fly fishing that the waters have to be restocked annually by dropping fish from planes into the water. Once you apply for your fishing license and make your way to the waters, you’ll see why the visitor and locals alike love fishing in the mountains. The Provo River is extremely high quality and holds a “blue-ribbon” title, meaning any experience fly-fishing on this river is sure to be memorable. The team at All Seasons Adventures will pick you up from the Waldorf, bringing your handy fishing overalls and boots. Once dressed, you’ll hop into the vehicle as they escort you to the closest driving point to the river. Then it’s a nice scenic walk through the mountains, across the railroad tracks to the Provo River. This excursion is great for novice and seasoned fishers alike — the guides will give you as much or as little assistance as needed. And they’re pretty good, too! It was my first time fishing and I caught two fish.

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