Luxury Disney at Walt Disney World Orlando

Luxury Disney at Walt Disney World Orlando

Courtesy of Walt Disney World

As a luxury writer, when I get asked by friends and family where my next assignment is taking me, they often chide me for such a “rough gig.” When I got asked before this assignment and I responded to Walt Disney World, I got a lot of quizzical looks. “The theme park?” Yes, the magical world of Disney does indeed afford a plethora of luxury experiences; dining, accommodations, personalized tours, even high-end artwork, fragrances, and jewelry to be purchased for collections. The luxury side of Disney is often overlooked with many assuming the family-friendly destination is geared exclusively to masses of children. Not so, and I’m excited to unveil it to you.

The Crown Collection

A new concept for Disney, the Crown Collection aims to accommodate those seeking a higher-end getaway. Catering to those who enjoy fine dining, exclusive access, and lavish accommodations, this is “next level Disney.” With affiliations with brands such as Four Seasons, dining opportunities at 5-diamond restaurants like Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, or membership into exclusive clubs such as Club 33, the Crown Collection is squarely in the wheelhouse of affluent travelers. Care to live nearby? Golden Oak is a tasteful take on Mickey and friends, with large luxury residences minutes from the park and a beautiful community. 

Courtesy of Walt Disney World

The Grand 1 Yacht takes guests on aquatic adventure at Walt Disney World.

Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian

“We are creating and developing with the guest in mind,” explains Paul Oppedisano, Vice President of Premium Services, “The cast here at Walt Disney World are passionate about these  guests and we take that into account when curating their enchanting experiences.”

Disney Riviera Resort Villas

One of the newest properties at Walt Disney World, Disney’s Riviera Resort is a striking stay near Epcot. The new Skyliner actually affords a direct connection to the amusement park via comfortable aerial gondola with views of the surrounding Orlando landscape as you glide through the sky, avoiding traffic and parking altogether. The villas are thoughtfully composed, subtly incorporating hidden Mickeys into wrought iron handrails and woven into lush carpeting. Artwork nods to Disney Classics in elegant oil paintings and instrumental renditions of Disney classic movie music plays through the lobby. Read a full property review here

Club 33

The invite-only club is a very high-end way to do Disney. With clubhouses in each of the four parks, Club 33 members are afforded ultimate experiences, entrance to the club lounges and sense of community for a love of all things Disney with other members. The most recent clubhouse addition looks like a retreat straight out of the African safari luxury lodges; the cool interior speckled with flawless design and décor, the quartz-topped bar backed with dark woods and rich fabrics with a cocktail menu curated by Flavor Lab, Disney’s very own menu and cocktail development division. Annual memberships are available via an invite-only process. 

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is a nod to Victorian elegance and modern sophistication

Grand 1 Yacht

Care to sail in the inland Orlando? No problem, Disney has found a way to bring a yachting experience to guests. Whether watching fireworks onboard, electing for an on-water dinner, or simply snacking during a cruise around the Seven Seas Lagoon, the Grand 1 Yacht accommodates up to 18 people (17 if you opt for the onboard butler) in its 52-foot hull. Synchronized with the fireworks show, the marine speaker system affords an unparalleled experience. 

VIP ToursReally the only way to do Disney, in my opinion, is the VIP Tour experience. Our tour guide, Patrick, not only granted us expedited access so we were able to experience more of the park, but discovered our personal interests and incorporated them into our day, giving us insight to hidden design elements and histories of the park that as a regular guest, you’d never know. The highly-trained VIP Tour Guides whisk guests throughout the parks in black-car service, snacks and beverages offered through backlot entrances, every need catered to throughout the trip. Expedited FastPass access allows for more time on rides and attractions without waiting in themed queues. Insights on everything from hidden Mickey’s and favorite lunch spots, to the artwork throughout the park and conceptual design woven into the very fabric of WDW all cheerfully shared via the VIP Tour Guide. With a maximum of ten guests per guide, the guides are not just for families; celebrities, affluent couples, and groups of friends also take advantage of the luxury service. 
 

Courtesy of Walt Disney World

Disney’s Riviera Resort brings European flair and a skyliner aerial gondola to the resort. 

Golden Oak is a luxury home ownership opportunity.

Takumi-Tei

Epcot is known for its round-the-world offerings for guests, especially the culinary outlets that bring the cuisine of the globe right to you. For those who enjoy Japanese fare, Takumi-Tei is a “not-to-miss.” Upon entering the restaurant, guests immediately feel the change of pace. Cast members from Japan explain the culture and appoint a thematic room to diners. Wood, paper, water, stone; the importance of paper and history of the material in Japanese culture start the experience allowing for our shoulders to relax, the hustle and bustle of outside to subside. Ikebana floral arrangements and cultural touches throughout the restaurant transport diners to the land of the rising sun. 

Whether enjoying an Omakase tasting menu selected by the chef or opting for an a la carte experience, Takumi-Tei is refined and elegant, the bowing wait staff and formal handling of everything from the kimono-folded napkins to beautiful ceramic serving platters are a backdrop to over-the-top food such as an A-5 Wagyu Tenderloin or carefully selected sashimi flown directly from Japan. A traditional Matcha Green Tea ceremony is a spectacular finish to the meal. 

Disney does a lot right—from the theme parks to resorts and hotel properties sparking the imagination of children and adults alike, there really is something for everyone at Walt Disney World, even the aficionados. If you think the parks are just for kids or family vacations, think again and consider the luxury side of Disney. For Crown Collection offerings, visit online here

Courtesy of Walt Disney World

After a day at the parks, come hoem to Golden Oak. 

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Experience the Trip of A Lifetime With Adventure Canada’s High Arctic Cruise

Experience the Trip of A Lifetime With Adventure Canada’s High Arctic Cruise

Adventure Canada

When making your travel plans for the coming year, why not consider a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Arctic and surrounding areas with an adventurous cruise? Ethical and sustainable adventure travel are gaining popularity among travel enthusiasts, empowering travelers to explore foreign lands with a newfound respect and understanding of indigenous populations and delicate ecosystems.

Adventure Canada

Adventure Canada is a travel company comprised of expedition cruise experts that is based in Canada and has been inspiring and guiding travelers for more than thirty years by immersing them in diverse cultures that are surrounded by awe-inducing nature. The family-owned operation is run by Adventure Canada CEO Cedar Swan and her two siblings Alana and MJ. Their family pioneered expedition cruising in the Canadian Arctic and has established signature trips to the high Arctic, the Northwest Passage, Newfoundland & Labrador. The tour company is unique because it hires an indigenous staff and hands-on field experts with established careers, many of whom are published authors. In addition to this, Adventure Canada is committed to supporting local communities and addressing geopolitical issues. All of this is carried out in an environment that is conducive to promoting learning in a fun setting that is imbued with artists, musicians, scientists, biologists, geologists, historians, anthropologists, scholars and like-minded travelers. If you are seeking new experiences, new horizons, new ideas, and new friends, do not hesitate to book an expedition cruise with Adventure Canada.

Adventure Canada

So what exactly is expedition travel, one might ask? According to Adventure Canada, ‘Expedition travel means voyaging on a well-appointed ship, equipped with a fleet of Zodiacs, in the company of local guides, learned experts, artists, and fellow travelers.’ While accommodations are geared more towards comfort than luxury, amenities such as spacious lounges, gourmet meals, a gym, pool, two saunas and a jacuzzi more than make up for the lack of opulence. In addition to daily programming (and depending on weather conditions), guests can partake in program add-ons such as kayaking, biking, and scuba diving. For their Ocean Endeavour expeditions, Adventure Canada offers enticing incentives such as a price guarantee if the price of your berth has been reduced within 120 days prior to your departure date, a 10% to 25% savings on multi-trip bookings, no single supplement fees when booking a category 3 to 7 cabin if you prefer not to share, and travelers under 30 can save 30% on berth costs. Known for its family-friendly atmosphere, the Ocean Endeavour expeditions are free for children under two years of age and children between the ages of two and four pay only for charter airfare.

Carin Von Berg-Inuit Woman from Pond Inlet

My enchanted adventure with Adventure Canada began in Ottawa, Canada the day prior to our scheduled charter flight to Resolute Bay, Nunavut. We were briefed on our anticipated itinerary for the High Arctic Explorer expedition and given keepsake expedition jackets and safety procedures for our ship, the 198 passenger Ocean Endeavour. For visitors to Ottawa who are seeking luxury, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier is located in lovely downtown Ottawa and is minutes from popular attractions such as the Parliament Buildings, Rideau Canal, ByWard Market, National Gallery of Canada and the National Arts Centre. The landmark property recently completed a multi-million dollar renovation which includes a refreshed lobby lounge and upgraded guest rooms. 

Outfitted with twenty zodiacs, advanced navigation equipment, multiple lounges, and a top deck observation room, the Ocean Endeavour is the perfect vessel for cruising the high arctic in the summer months. Never could I have ever imagined the new friendships I would make with fellow travelers and culturalists, the rare glacier sightings in a remote land that is on the verge of no longer existing, an on-the-fly education of gems from a top Gemologists, engaging entertainment and world-class cuisine unheard of for an expedition cruise.

Dennis Minty-Ilulissat Icefjord

The signature High Arctic Explorer cruise that I participated in included an excursion to Beechey Island to view the grave site of Captain Sir John Franklin’s men, a festive Inuit welcome at Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik) complete with Inuit cultural games and a soccer match with locals, a visit to Ilulissat on the coast of Greenland to experience the local cuisine such as the famed Bison Burger and to take in the museums and breathtaking Ilulissat Icefjord that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and the fastest-moving glacier in the world), a hike on Devon Island (the largest uninhabited island in the world) and iceberg sightings in Disko Bay of Greenland. All of these adventures would not be complete without spotting wildlife and fortunately we were treated to rare glimpses of foraging polar bears, migrating whales and resting Arctic seals. All travelers aboard the Ocean Endeavour were capable of documenting their adventures in high-style with the aide of a Nikon camera trial that provided guests with access to professional-quality photography equipment via a loaner program. 

Carin Von Berg-Iceberg in Greenland

In addition to Adventure Canada’s signature cruises, there are cruises to Europe, Antarctica, Central and South America, and the Pacific Northwest. Let the sample itinerary below guide you in making plans for your life-changing expedition cruise with Adventure Canada:

Europe

The Basque Country- June 3 to June 12, 2021

North Atlantic Saga: Scotland, The Faroe Islands & Iceland- June 24 to July 4, 2021

In the Wake of the Vikings: A Voyage from Iceland to Greenland- July 13 to July 24, 2021

Iceland Circumnavigation- July 4 to July 13, 2021

Scotland Slowly- June 14 to June 24, 2021

Antarctic Expedition Cruises

Antarctica, South Georgia & Falklands Explorer- January 17 to February 6, 2021

Discover Antarctica- February 5 to February 15, 2021

Journey to the Circle- January 5 to January 18, 2021

Arctic Expedition Cruises

Heart of the Arctic- July 19 to July 31, 2020

High Arctic Explorer- July 31 to August 11, 2020 

          August 11 to August 22, 2020

The Northwest Passage- August 22 to September 7, 2020

  September 7 to September 23, 2020

Atlantic Canada Expedition Cruises

Atlantic Canada Explorer- June 15 to June 26, 2020

Mighty Saint Lawrence- June 5 to June 15, 2020

Newfoundland Circumnavigation- June 26 to July 6, 2020

Greenland & Wild Labrador- September 23 to October 7, 2020

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The Wild Kingdom Adventure of South Africaâs Kruger Park its Most Opulent Safari Resort, The Royal Malewane

The Wild Kingdom Adventure of South Africaâs Kruger Park its Most Opulent Safari Resort, The Royal Malewane

Mar. 19th, 2020

Every country has a national treasure. Something that is to be preserved for future generations and for all to admire. Few and far between have a world treasure, a place that is of unsurpassed significance to mankind. South Africa’s Kruger Park is such a place. This unspoiled God’s gift to man is the size of Wales and filled with natural beauty of mountain ranges, all manner of fauna and flora, open plains and rivers. Kruger Park’s most spectacular inhabitants are its brilliant wildlife including elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, and birds of prey and beauty. And of course, there are the big cats from cheetahs, leopard, to the king of the wild, prides of lions. Nowhere on earth rivals the Kruger Park and its most luxurious respite to take in all of the majesty that the Krueger Park has to offer is the Royal Malewane. 

There are many ways to take in the beauty of the Kruger Park from day trips to lesser accommodations, but for those with the means, the Royal Malewane offers an experience like no other. This is literally the king of the jungle as far as luxury resorts with an impeccable British colonial décor and style, amenities, and guest treatment of a bygone era. There are only eight accommodations in the Main Lodge creating a level of exclusivity and an incomparable level of service which is why the Royal Malewane has become a haunt of celebrities, heads of state and the well-to-do including Nicolas Sarkozy, Bill Gates, as well as Oprah Winfrey, Elton John, Richard Gere, Bono, and Justin Bieber

Thankfully, over 125 years ago, South Africa’s forefathers set aside Kruger park as a national treasure. The park is 7500 square miles in size, as big as Belgium, in a pristine reserve where animals roam free. Around the park, game reserves, such as the Thornybush private game reserve where the Royal Malewane is located, have been developed with vast lands of their own. The fences separating the parks and reserves have been removed allowing animals to roam through an even larger area and, at times, right up to your villa.  

As incredibly beautiful as the Royal Malewane may be, the reason that guests go there is for the abundant wildlife.  This is the land of the Big 5, the trifecta of the safari, that any self-respecting safari enthusiast is after. The big five animals are the lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, elephant and black rhino and was a term coined an eon ago by big game hungers as the five animals most difficult to hunt on foot and that presented the most danger. Today, thankfully in most of the parks the hunting is only for the experience of seeing these regal beasts up close and where the only shooting to be done is with your camera.  These animals can still be quite illusive and difficult to find in the wide-open Kruger Park. As a result, finding them is due in large part to the talents of your tracker. Royal Malewane happens to have the most skilled team of trackers, guides, and rangers in Africa.

Beyond the Big 5, there are 145 mammals of all types in the Kruger Park as well as 300 species of bird. This is a bird watchers paradise with beautiful rare birds at every turn. 

The African Safari is an adventure of a lifetime and arguably nowhere is better to experience it that at Royal Malewane. There are two included safari’s per day and guest will return home full of memories of incredible sightings. Guests  may come upon a pride of lions fattening themselves on a fresh zebra kill as you literally hear the bones crunch and the gory scene of real life on the safari. Elsewhere elephants cool off in pond water, hippos submerge in lakes then reappear and expose their enormous yawning jaws and tusks, or the menacing rhinos as they graze and lift their massive head and horn with a glare that says don’t come any closer. In addition to seeing giraffes, wildebeests, impala and zebras,one of the most exciting experiences is finding the ever-deceptive leopard as it dangles high in a tree limb with his fresh kill of an unfortunate spring buck. 

The safaris are three to four hours and the Kruger Park is so massive, no two outings are ever alike. The adventure includes the guide and tracker and no more than six guests with unobstructed views from the open-air Land Rover as nature plays out in a scene almost too beautiful to imagine. This a true adventure yet does take a break from the creature comforts. After the evening adventure, you and your fellow comrades break for snacks and sundowners, sipping on your gin and tonic as the sun begins to set over the savannah.

Royal Malewane is the brainchild of Liz Biden, arguably South Africa’s most renown luxury hoteliers and the driving force behind The Royal Portfolio which includes other tony resorts in Cape Town, Franschhoek and Hermanus. For Royal Malewane, Biden wanted to create an intimate space for her loved ones to come together in in a sumptuous accommodation while taking in the wild nature of Kruger Park.  She did just that and then saw the opportunity to convert her respite into a luxury lodge for the select few. Well that’s just what it feels like now and where each guest feels special and an extra VIP.

Upon entrance, the gravitas of the place beings to set in. A greeting party of your guide, resort manager and staff await with introductions and a warm welcome as if you are in a royal greeting line and that treatment of you as if you were a member of the royal family continues throughout the stay.

The décor is British colonial yet is completely Liz Biden with the most lavish of mix of bold colors, exotic fabrics, African tribal artifacts, Persian carpets, oriental vases as well as an engaging collection of sculptures and works of art. The elegant colonial-styles lobby offers an open-air thatched roof space with views on to the wilderness and is where guests gather for cocktails or to leaf through a coffee table book. Adjacent are wide open terraces and a bar overlooking a watering hole for pachyderms, antelope, and heron.  Further along is the dining area with tables spread out along an open room to take in more incredible views of the landscape while enjoying a scrumptious gourmet meal. 

Biden has the gift of impeccable taste, an eye for beauty and her ability to create comfortable spaces that are regal yet warm. This attention to details transfers beyond the design and décor and is found throughout the guest experience from the dining, spa, service, and activities.

A few yards away over a suspended board walk are the accommodations. The six luxury suites could not be more opulent with the continuation of Liz Biden eye for gorgeous décor. King-sized mahogany canopy beds with muslin draping, floral print furnishings, riveting wall art, bamboo throne chairs, bouquets of fresh cut flowers, and a fireplace come together to create a space that is rich and luxurious. The bathrooms are decadent as well awash with limestone surfaces, walk in showers, oversized Victorian clawfoot baths, and Molton Brown toiletries. The complimentary amenities continue with an inclusive mini bar, garment washings, and turndown service.

Guests will invariably choose to spend as much time as possible in the outdoor living space offering a sprawling veranda with table ideal for and en suite breakfast. The indulgence is completed with an outdoor shower, thatch roof gazebo with chaise lounges and a private infinity edge pool.  The accommodations are situated overlooking the savanna and a watering hole while also offering complete privacy to enjoy the African sunshine. However, you’ll want to think twice about leaving your favorite fruit outside as a vervet monkey set on a robbery may have set its sights on it as well.  Guest are often treated to a very up-close and personal experience with elephants who often choose the filtered water of your pool and you’ll see them dip their trunks in the water and get their fill before heading out into the bush. The villas are elevated so one need not worry about a dangerous intrusion, but it does set a platform to take in all of the nature that surrounds.  

For families or friends on holiday together, the Royal Malewane offers two-bedroom suites complete with their own personal staff and private guide and vehicle. The Africa House is an exclusive hideaway that sleeps 12 with six bedrooms and even more facilities and amenities.  Royal Malewane has also recently opened The Farmstead which offers three Luxury Farm Suites or three-and-a-half-bedroom private villa and the next level of VIP service with a private chef, housekeeper and butler, as well as safari vehicle, ranger and tracker. 

When it comes to the dining experience, Royal Malewane feels more like dining with a private chef with extensive gourmet dining options that cater to each guests’ preferences as well as when and where to have the meal. Most guests will dine in the restaurant area overlooking the savanna while others will opt for a romantic candlelit meal en suite.

Dinner offers a decadent meal six-course dinner paired with fine wines with a focus on the top South African wines from their extensive wine cellar. The menu varies widely from with offerings such as ponzu steak or pan-seared tuna with all meals included in the nightly rate.

One of the most memorable dining experiences is the Bush Dinner under the stars. After a safari outing, guests will gather along with their ranger for a truly unique dinner in a remote location where a sea of lanterns lights the grounds and leads up to a tented dining pavilion. Guests enjoy predinner cocktails while star gazing as a nearby a bonfire crackles and embers that light up the sky. The staff of the hotel entertains guests with their beautiful voices singing and then sharing their exotic tribal dance where guests are encouraged to join in. This is a braai or bbq where the succulent meats are cooked over an open wood fire then served communal style. It’s a truly magical evening followed by a long table dinner with other guests and staff as well as the wonderful meal. 

To take your safari adventure to the next level, guests will want to indulge in The Waters of Royal Malewane, Bush Spa. The spa treatments are divine, in private casitas and treatment rooms with a steam room and hot and cold Africa baths awe well as a lap pool with daybeds. Signature spa treatments include the Royal Thaba Massage — a deep tissue massage in which the African knobkerrie stick is used to revive muscles and relieve tension.

The Royal Malewane is the epitome of the African Safari adventure. It has it all from impeccable accommodations, meals and service as well as its most memorable feature, an abundant offering of close up wildlife encounters. Conde Nast recently named Royal Malewane as on of the top 20 resorts in the world and there’s a reason why every purveyor of luxury travel has named Royal Malewane as the preeminent safari experience. When it comes to luxury safari experiences in South Africa, the Royal Malewane stands alone.   

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Discovering Japan’s Most Beguiling City and the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

Discovering Japan’s Most Beguiling City and the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

All Images Credit Ritz-Carlton Hotels

Some holiday experiences we never forget. These destinations provide unforgettable sights, are rich in culture, and the experiences that we take away and cherish long after the luggage has been unpacked back home. Kyoto in Japan is such a place. A place with thousands of years of history and a heritage of imposing samurai, mysterious geisha, and surrounded by mountains, rivers and beautiful nature.  The ultimate way to take in all that this beautifully exotic destination has to offer is a stay in its most tony address, The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto.

There’s a reason why 50 million visitors per year descend on Kyoto. Centuries ago it was the former seat of power for Japan before the capital was moved to Tokyo. Today this bewitching city offers tourists multiple UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites, ancient temples and shrines, and palaces with gorgeous Japanese gardens to explore. The must-see sites include the geisha districts, the old Imperial Palace, the Nazenji Temple and the Kinkaku-ji or Golden Temple.  The Fushimi Inari Shrine is known for its thousands of bright orange vermilion torri gates that cover miles of steps and trails from the main temple through a demanding hike to the peak of a mountain.  Not far from the hotel is the bustling Shijo-dori shopping area filled with plenty of trendy shops. The nearby Gion geisha district is a must visit area with traditional maniya townhouse and low lit streets where you’ll find many tourists to experiencing a tea ceremony or dinner at the many restaurants there.    

The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto is centrally located in the city along the Kamogawa River with views of the prestigious Higashiyama mountain range as the backdrop. Past the entrance, the city’s high energy and hustle are replaced with a Zen-like atmosphere created with sounds from a gurgling waterfall. Once inside, guests step into an opulent environment of magnificent Japanese style and design at every turn.

The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto has aptly been described as a modern-day luxury ryokan where traditional Japanese design elements are evident in the craftsmanship and details of the hotel. Overall, the color palate and furnishings are minimalist but the detailed craftsmanship is anything but. There are latticed bamboo walls, lacquer painted furniture and the ubiquitous shippo patterns which are detailed painted metalwork for which Kyotoa is known. In the staircase there is a gargantuan bamboo light fixture by the artisan who creates the umbrellas for the Imperial family.

Beyond the finest of Japanese craftsmanship, the hotel’s priceless and gorgeous art collection was commissioned from eighty artists who created more than 400 sculptures and paintings which are located throughout the hotel. The masterful collection was inspired by the Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji, which is about the life and loves of an Emperor’s son during the 11th century. Guests will also admire the stunning bonsai trees, with their twists, turn and knotted branches, found throughout the hotel.

The hotel’s 134 spacious accommodations continue the design ethos of a traditional Meiji-era houses with exquisite Japanese design details of light oak paneled walls, cherry blossom motifs wall fabrics, calligraphic artworks, mood lighting as well as a bonsai tree and delicate orchids. The opulence of the accommodation extends to the bathroom which features a wet room with deep soaking bath, large enough for two, rain fall shower and wood panel floor planks, and electronic hygienic toilet. Beyond the western style bedding,  guests can opt for a traditional  Japanese tatami mats and futons.

The Luxury suite features a comfortable living space with a lounge couch as well as an uber comfortable bed with 600 thread counts sheets and bedside smart panel to control the room lighting and drapes. The main feature of the room is rectangle wood feature that extends from the floor to ceiling widow and frames a spectacular view. In this space there is a table and chairs that begs one to sit and take in the views of the Kamo River and the Higashiyama Mountains while enjoying a tea in your Yukata before starting the day’s adventures. In addition, the urban resort  offers 17 suites that range in size and amenities with many offering Zen gardens and outdoor terraces.

Kyoto is known as an epicurean’s paradise with countless Michelin rated restaurant in the city. Guests will want to think twice when venturing away to dine as the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto provides several fantastic dining options and one with a Michelin star of their own.

La Locanda is the hotel’s Italian fine dining restaurant offering a decadent prix fixe degustation menu. The appetite is aroused first by the sight of its chic and sexy design of dark colors, mood lighting and comfy round banquet tables. The menu features traditional Italian dishes, homemade pastas but with distinct Japanese touches including locally sourced produce. The restaurants boasts an extensive wine cellar with selections from around the world which are expertly paired with each dish.   In the center of the restaurant sits the  Ebisugawa-tei which is a preserved historically-listed Japanese mansion from 1908 which has now been repurposed into an exquiste ambiance for private dining.

It is as if the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto set out to expose their guests to the best that Japan, and Kyoto in particular, has to offer in terms of hospitality, accommodations and experiences. Nowhere is that more on display than in their Japanese fine dining restaurant, Mizuki. Mizuki is actually a grand restaurant with views of a stone garden, waterfall, and has a traditional Japanese décor.  Mizuki offers four distinct Japanese style dining experiences of Sushi, Tempura, Teppan, and Kaiseki cuisine. Tempura Mizuki is the recipient of the restaurant’s Michelin star.   

Kaiseki is a dining experience unlike any in the world an originated in Kyoto. It is a culinary journey into precision and detail and dates back to the 9th century imperial court and the times of the samurai. This is Japanese Haute cuisine served on a series of artistic small plates, trays, or in a Jubako box which is a beautiful work of art personally chosen by the executive chef to compliment his culinary creations. Each Kaiseki dish is beautifully presented and garnished with edible flowers and begins with an Amuse-bouche, followed by small dishes of sushi, sashimi, vegetables fish, meats, rice and then a sweet ending. The complex concept at Mizuki for their Kaiseki is Go-mi, Go-syoku, Go-ho or five flavors, five colors, and five cooking methods which and can be experiences with each dish. If a typical gourmet meal could be compared to a musical band, one could compare Mizuki Kaiseki to a symphony orchestra led by Mozart himself.  

The reason that we travel is for the sights and experiences and to immerse ourselves, if only for a few days, into the heritage, natural beauty, and culture of an exotic environment.  The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto has created an extensive menu of experiences that allow guest to go beyond the role of spectator in order to experience Kyoto.

Led by the hotel’s activity staff, guests have the chance to explore Kyoto with a challenging hike to a mountain that overlooks the city. It’s a thrilling excursion that begins with an electric bike ride, alongside the Kamo River through the city and a number of beautiful temples, neighborhoods, tree lined pathways to the base of the mountain. The exhilarating hike goes through the forest and streams and natural beauty of the mountain and then opens to a panoramic view overlooking the city from 500 meters above sea level.

While in Kyoto, you’ll see tourists and locals dressed in beautiful Kimonos. The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto offers its guests the Kimono experience which begins with a visit to a kimono dresser who has spent a lifetime dressing and making kimono for Japan’s elite.  A private fitting takes place where guests, both men and women, pick out their favorite color and style of kimono as well as the traditional shoes. After a few photo ops, the experience continues with an epic rickshaw tour around the old streets of Kyoto as your uber-fit rickshaw guide trots along the city with you in tow sharing the sites and pointing out key landmarks, the geisha district, and several  areas of the old town. Its amazing to see Kyoto this way especially bedecked in your lovely kimono.   

Kyoto is after all the land of the samurai who were fearless warriors that protected the towns of this region for centuries. Although they may no longer protect the area,  their legacy is still revered. The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto provides guests the opportunity to become a samurai for the day and to learn about the ways of the samurai from a kenbu master who shares the history, tradition, and practices of these revered warriors.  Guests then dress up in the costume of the samurai which is then followed by an intense lesson. Prepare to build a sweat as well as learn swordsmanship wielding these real swords in an intense and unforgettable workshop.    

After all of that this incredible destination has to offer, guests will at some point want to slow down and decompress. Nowhere is that better to do than at the Ritz-Carlton Spa, Kyoto.  The Spa is located at the bottom floor of the hotel at the base of the hotel’s water fall with seven treatment rooms, a lovely relaxation area, a state-of-the-art fitness center,  as well as a 65-foot swimming pool. The spa offers a wide range of treatments using at ESPA products while incorporating Japanese influences such as green tea leaves or acupuncture with dry Shiatsu. One treatment sure to release tension from deep in sore muscles is the Kyoto Bamboo Ritual which uses heated bamboo sticks and warm oil in a massage as well as stretching techniques to improve flexibly and freeing tight muscles.  Yhe staff is extremely well-trained and friendly and there to make sure you get the most out of your spa therapy.

A few years ago, Travel and Leisure named Kyoto as the number one city in the world for a holiday. They could not have chosen a better place. The culture, ancient architecture, ornate temples, and a proud heritage make it a must visit destination for any well-heeled traveler. What the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto has been able to do is to capture this amazing destination’s heritage, culture, and even its spirit and marry that with the Ritz-Carlton’s approach to hospitality. The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto offers, bar none, the quintessential way to experience Kyoto.

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Destin-Asia: A Bespoke Journey To Japan

Destin-Asia: A Bespoke Journey To Japan

Photo Credits: Linda Cooper

In Japan or Nippon as the Japanese popularly call their country, broken objects are often repaired in Gold, a practice known as Kintsugi.  

As a philosophy, its flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, therefore celebrating its beauty rather than something to disguise.

It’s this approach combined with a constant “nod” reflecting old and new blended so seamlessly into Japanese modern life that makes “The Land of the Rising Sun” one of the most travel-worthy around the globe. 

My eye-opening appreciation of the Japanese way-of-life began the moment I arrived into Tokyo and stepped foot into the stunning lobby of The Capitol Hotel Tokyu.

A country of contrasts that co-exist at the intersection of Old Meets New, I was greeted at check-in to find a lovely performer serenading us with the most recognizable traditional sounds of Japan from its national Koto instrument.

Rising high above the city streets of downtown, The Capitol Hotel Tokyu defines “Modern Japanese” ambiance with its luxury setting that mixes traditional with sophisticated modern Japanese architectural styles designed by the countries famed architect Kengo Kuma.

Each morning I woke up excited for a day a new day of exploration enticed by our fabulous panoramic view of Tokyo’s cityscape. Our luxury accommodations was an elegant cocoon of Japanese comfort designed with natural wood finishes and shoji paper screens ingeniously placed to customize our living space.

Japan’s capital is a gastronomic wonderland and I’m not just talking about its famous melt-in-your-mouth sushi.

To really experience Tokyo’s rich culinary canon taking an Arigato Food Tour is an absolute must for food lovers whether or not you refer to yourself as a foodie.

Navigating the back alleys, we tasted our way through the city, sampling delectable bites from five unique food stops while learning must-know cultural tidbits led by Arigato’s local travel guide.

It was an unforgettable experience that no tourist will ever see on their own with the most delicious food only the locals usually get to taste.  Our personality plus Tour Guide “Sam” was a real kick and I came away with delicious memories, a font of knowledge and a full tummy.

Another must-to-experience is the electrifying, state-of-the-art performance by Japanese Drum Tao Mangekyo.  Its unique entertainment mixing tradition with powerful avant-garde revolution is a new attraction that truly mesmerizes brought to the stage by the collaborative creation of digital mastermind vision TeamLab.  

A visual feast for the eyes and creative beyond most people’s imagination,  teamLab is an interdisciplinary group of “ultra-technologists” whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, design and the natural world.

Another mastermind attraction behind the group is the stand-out “Body Immersive” exhibit, Planets by teamLab.  This digital art museum consists of a collection of installations in which your entire body becomes fully immersed into the art.  I have never experienced anything so fabulous and interactive where there are no boundaries between you and the work.                                  

Like the giant, rainbow cotton-candy I’m holding on Harajuku’s famed Takeshita Street, everything in Tokyo is bigger and better with sight-seeing nirvana at every turn.  It may be the most Instagrammable city I’ve ever experienced which speaks volumes coming from me as a Travel TV Host.

Next, we journeyed to Kyoto, the center of the geisha world for a rare interview with a Geiko (Geisha) and her Maiko apprentice.

Around dusk in Gion, the entertainment district, we arrived to a little wooden building “boardinghouse” for mistresses of the classical arts, designated by black vertical plaques at their entrances; the blond wood sign above denotes the name of the Geiko and Maiko who live inside its quaint teahouse.

Led upstairs by the “house mother” to a private room we were seated, and I soon was captivated as our Geisha floated elegantly inside; red-lipped and doll-like dressed in elaborate kimonos and faces artistically painted and powdered white,

Skilled in the Japanese arts such as dance, the lute and three-string shamisen, a trance-like tea ceremony and performance ensued followed by a rare interview and even an impromptu dance lesson!

Contrary to the prostitution myth that is entirely false of this profession, Geisha’s are highly respected and bound to lead a single life “not allowed to consort with boys” and live with their house mother under strict rules. Should they choose to marry they must retire from the profession.

So grateful for my once-in-a-lifetime experience, I ended our interview saying a heartfelt “Okini”, a phrase known only in Kyoto dialect meaning “thank you very much” as they escorted us out and waved good-bye from the teahouse entrance until we disappeared from sight.

Walking away I reflected how fortunate I felt to be dressed so perfectly for this special occasion as earlier that day I had the incredible opportunity to interview Jotaro Saito, the famous designer who dressed Lady Gaga in one of his gorgeous kimono designs for her recent performance in Japan. 

PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOTARO SAITO

Third generation kimono designer, Jotaro Saito made a name for himself with his classic and contemporary designs in the pursuit of creating Kimono as fashion promoting “a lifestyle of enjoying Japanese taste”.

In addition to his sought-after kimonos he also produces beautiful home interiors and other design products you can drop some yen at his two retail store locations; in Kyoto and in Tokyo’s acclaimed shopping district GinzaSix.

Back at our serene contemporary surroundings of the Kyoto Tokyu Hotel our hotel’s tranquil courtyards and water features create the perfect sense of calm and relaxation to end each day’s bespoke adventures.

Tokyu Hotels offer its guests a consolidated zone of hospitality with unbeatable locations throughout Japan’s major cities and like its sister property The Capitol Hotel Tokyu, our sleek sophisticated accommodations was an idyllic haven with its luxurious details including Japanese green tea, slippers and yukata nightwear.

To see where the Japanese flock to escape the hustle and bustle of city life we ventured next to the shores of Lake Chuzenji in the Tochigi Prefecture of Nikko.  A national treasure filled with natural beauty and important World Heritage sites, its literal translation means “sunlight”, and its “scenic lake in the mountains” landscape is reminiscent of my childhood family vacations growing up in California with summers spent at Lake Tahoe.

At Nikko’s sanctuary entrance stands the UNESCO World Heritage of the Shinkyo Bridge; a vermillion lacquered “sacred bridge” and the oldest bridge built over a gorge in Japan.  Considered lucky to make a wish while crossing, of course I had to make this my first stop on our way to checking in to our luxury ryokan property Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko.                                              

Arriving from Tokyo on a quick 2-hour Tobu Nikko Line train ride operated by Tobu Railway to experience Nikko’s national treasures was on my bucket-list, and as the Japanese saying goes “Never say ‘kekkõ’ until you’ve seen Nikkõ”—kekkõ meaning “a reflection of its beauty” I was excited to see Japan’s famed mystical city.

Staying at a traditional Japanese ryokan was an absolute-must on my travel agenda and KAI Nikko did not disappoint with its luxurious tatami-matted rooms with Western influences, and breathtaking views of Lake Chuzenji and Mt. Nantai.

Assigned a Yukata-robe and Setta, casual thong shoes with Tabi socks to wear at all times on-property, it was so nice for a change not to think about what I was going to wear every day and enjoyed the hotel’s incredible hot springs taking full advantage of living in the moment.

With gorgeous sightseeing at every turn, we ventured off property to enjoy the panoramic vantage points of Nikko’s famous Kegon Waterfall taking a ride up to Akechidaira Observatory for a comprehensive mind-blowing aerial view of the stream flowing from Lake Chuzenji to the Kegon Falls, and Mount Nantai in the background; Nikko’s sacred volcano, whose eruption blocked the valley below, creating Lake Chuzenji about 20,000 years ago.

 

More sightseeing musts include visiting the Nikko Toshogu World Heritage Shinto Shrine dedicated to the Tokugawa Shogun and Samurai Warriors and touring the Tamozawa Imperial Villa; a well-preserved former summer residence and retreat for the Imperial Family constructed for Emperor Taisho.

It was here in Nikko where I experienced a come-to-full-circle moment at the Katayama Suzo Sake Brewery. 

Kompai!!…..While enjoying my sake tasting and interview with the company’s 6th generation sake maker, our translator/guide shared my Japanese claim to fame with the owner having modeled as a teenager for well-known One Cup Ozeki Sake gracing its wine label in Japan nationally at age 16. 

 

Shot in Los Angeles for a Japanese photo agency, shown above from what seems like a lifetime ago, is my first modeling job on the right.

Looking back now, acknowledging the fact I was not old enough to legally drink the sake, this was the beginning of my strong desire to “taste” Japan.

How rewarding decades later, fulfilling a childhood dream and truly savoring this extraordinary bucket-list destination, embracing its old rituals and modern discoveries. My aha-moment of appreciation, experiencing first-hand Japan’s rich folds of history, traditions and culture. 

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48 Hours In Toronto For the Urban Explorer

48 Hours In Toronto For the Urban Explorer

Hotel X Toronto by Library Hotel Collection

Toronto is a city of neighborhoods and Canada’s largest and most populous city, representing people from more than 200 distinct ethnic origins. When planning a visit to such a vast and culturally diverse metropolis, one can easily become overwhelmed with all of the enticing options when it comes to lodging, dining and activities.

With 140 officially recognized neighborhoods and an additional 100 unofficial neighborhoods, Toronto can be an exceedingly difficult city to navigate without doing a bit of research to see which locations afford you the most opportunities based on your specific needs. Below is a list of four select, luxury properties based upon your desire to conduct business, shop, or to seek entertainment or cultural pursuits.

St. Regis Toronto

STAY

FINANCIAL DISTRICT

Located in the Financial District a few block away from the ever-popular Toronto Eaton Center, the glamorous St. Regis Toronto ticks of two boxes in terms of shopping and business opportunities while visiting the city that sees more than 43 million tourists a year. Attractions such as the Scotiabank Arena, Bell Lightbox, Union Station and St. Lawrence Market make the St. Regis Toronto an ideal choice for any visitor seeking luxury and convenience while handling business.

St. Regis Toronto

While waiting to check into one of the elegantly appointed 258 hotel rooms or suites in Toronto’s first St. Regis, enjoy a light snack or cocktail in the sleekly designed Astor Lounge that is neatly tucked away behind the reception area. Designed by DesignAgency, the lounge serves as an upscale café by day and a wine lounge by night. We had the pleasure of watching a champagne sabering (a St. Regis Ritual experience) and enjoying a complimentary glass of chilled Victoire Prestige champagne from the freshly sabered bottle. After retiring to our spacious suite, we tended to a barrage of emails while our designated butler unpacked our bags. St. Regis offers a complimentary butler service to all guests.

The St. Regis Toronto boasts the largest guest rooms in Toronto, averaging 550 square feet, while offering 124 suites (more than any other luxury hotel in Toronto). Our suite was sleek and sophisticated in tones of grey, mauve and black with metallic accents. The black lacquered chandeliers, 500 thread-count Bellini linens, gas fireplace and marble finishes put the suite in a class by itself, which St. Regis does very well.

St. Regis Toronto

While many hotel restaurants are shunned for their lack of menu creativity and lackluster décor, Louix Louis is a destination unto itself. Located on the 31st floor, the 130-seat room was designed to look like the inside of a whisky glass. Once you get past the mesmerizing art deco furnishings and artwork, you can concentrate on the innovative menu and cocktail list. Start with a classic cocktail like the Toronto of rye whiskey, Fernet Branca and simple syrup or the signature Jasmine Side Car of jasmine tea infused cognac, Cointreau and lemon. Seafood lovers absolutely can’t go wrong with the decadent Smoked Scallop appetizer of caviar cream, beetroot tartare and watercress. Quite simply put, it is one of those dishes that will linger with you for months to come. Main Dishes of note are the moist Duck Breast with orange glazed squash, pickled ramps and crispy quinoa and the shareable Whole Truffle Chicken served two ways with charred baby leeks and truffle jus.

Le Germain Hotel Toronto Maple Leaf Square

ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT

LE GERMAIN HOTEL TORONTO MAPLE LEAF SQUARE

Situated in the Entertainment District inside of the Maple Leaf Square complex in downtown Toronto, Le Germain Hotel Toronto Maple Leaf Square is perfect for those in town to attend sporting or music events. The hotel is a stone’s throw away from Union Station, the Scotiabank Arena and the Roger’s Centre and surrounded by dining venues that suit every need. With its sports-centric design, the boutique hotel features artistic photo murals of pro NBA and NHL athletes by artist Matthew Plexman, deluxe sheets by Maison Simons, and Molton Brown toiletries.

Guests will love the complimentary Wi-Fi and deluxe breakfast and the intimate feel of the hotel despite being in the center of it all. Choices for the 167 rooms and suites include: The Classic with 400 square feet and your choice of one king or two queen beds; The Prestige with 600 square feet, two queen beds and a reading area; The Round Bed room has a sexier vibe complete with panoramic views while The Signature Suite gives you room to roam with 940 square feet. The super-spacious Balcony Suite and The Apartment Suite boast king size beds, a reading area, panoramic view, separate bath and shower, powder room, and a living and dining room.

Hotel X Toronto

EXHIBITION PLACE

Hotel X Toronto by Library Hotel Collection

If scenic city views and an expansive waterfront are what you are after, look no further than Hotel X Toronto, by Library Hotel Collection.  Less than two miles from downtown Toronto, Hotel X is the ideal property for a staycation for locals or an urban oasis for visitors with a penchant for a luxurious setting that offers all that one could ask for in a getaway.

Even with its 404 guestrooms, the property somehow manages to feel intimate thanks to the numerous communal spaces in the form of restaurants, lounges, a rooftop pool and verdant sundeck. Choose an elegantly decorated Signature or Signature Plus Guestroom that showcases views of Lake Ontario or the Toronto skyline from oversized-windows.The spacious and sophisticated Library Lounge Guest rooms are located on the 24th, 25th and 26th floors and offer loft ceilings and larger windows in addition to privileges such as complimentary 2 pm late checkout, shoe shine service, and exclusive access to the Library Club Lounge. 

Guests with access to the Library Club Lounge can enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast, all-day refreshments and an evening wine and cheese reception. For those wanting even more luxury and space, there is the Suite Collection that can accommodate up to three adults and includes Junior Suites, One Bedroom Suites, the 2100 square feet Presidential Suite and the stunning Bi-Level Penthouse Suite. All of the suites have envious views that can be experienced through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Hotel X Toronto

The amenities at Hotel X Toronto are endless. The hotel does not charge a resort fee though it boasts Canada’s only Guerlin Spa, access to classes and facilities at 10XTO, a rooftop pool with panoramic views of the Toronto skyline, 10XTO Kid’s Play Centre available for onsite guests for three hours, a 250 seat cinema and 56 seat screening room, and Toronto’s only 3-Level Rooftop Skybar. There is even a complimentary shuttle to Union Station and Billy Bishop Airport. When it comes to dining, there are 8 options that include the newly opened Pétros 82 Mediterranean Restaurant, a Nespresso Café, Maxx’s Kitchen, The Nest at Falcon SkyBar and The Perch at Falcon SkyBar.

Kimpton Saint George

YORKVILLE

Kimpton Saint George

For those seeking culture and who appreciate design details, the Kimpton Saint George provides the perfect accommodations. Located across the street from the Bata Shoe Museum on the edge of Bloor-Yorkville and The Annex, the new boutique hotel perfectly embodies the neighborhood’s hipster vibe with a dash of understated luxury.

Furnishings and custom artwork from local artists and artisans are paired with natural materials like wood and stone and a touch of brass to deliver an atmosphere of sophisticated calm that makes many guests feel right at home. Bespoke Benefits like Kimpton’s signature hosted wine hour, complimentary morning coffee and tea service, pet-friendly environment, and access to PUBLIC cruiser bikes and in-room yoga mats have won over many guests who have enrolled in the IHG Rewards Club Elite program. IHG Rewards Club members get complimentary high-speed WIFI on all devices throughout their hotel stay, an introductory $15 bar credit, and earn points towards future stays at over 5,500 properties.

Kimpton Saint George

Each Kimpton is unique, offering special touches that appeal to its particular tribe of guests. My Kimpton Saint George Specialty Suite featured luxury Atelier Bloem bath products, Frette linens, a walk-in shower, polished brass accents, a private bar, and a separate living area with a sofa bed and a record player that made my stay unforgettable.

Exceptionally befitting of the Kimpton Saint George’s cool factor, The Fortunate Fox is an uber-hip gastrobub located inside of the boutique property. The elevated pub menu pairs local craft beers and cocktails with comforting fare such as Fish and Chips, Southern Fried Chicken, Tikka Masala Curry, and Braised Short Ribs in addition to burgers and pizza. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Alo Restaurant

WINE & DINE

A virtual melting pot of cultures from all over the world, it’s no wonder that Toronto is a culinary powerhouse. Below are a few not-to-miss restaurants when visitng the city for 48 hours.

Alo– A contemporary French restaurant and cocktail bar located atop a heritage building in downtown Toronto.  The dining room offers blind, multi-course tasting menus while the bar features classically inspired cocktails and a sharing-style, a la carte menu.

Planta– Internationally inspired, plant-based dishes served in a stylish setting. There are three locations in Toronto.

Pizzeria Libretto– Serves gourmet pizzas and pasta with vegan and vegetarian options in addition to cocktails and wine. Multiple locations throughout Toronto.

Little India Restaurant– Crowd-pleasing, budget friendly Indian restaurant with vegan and vegetarian options.

Royal Ontario Museum

PLAY

So you only have 48 hours to enjoy while visiting the vast metropolis that is Toronto? Below is a list of a few of the hundreds of things to do in this amazing city.

Royal Ontario Museum– Delight in one of North America’s most renowned cultural institutions. View Inuit art and culture in addition to art, culture and nature from around the world.

Distillery District– Take a walking tour of this internationally acclaimed village of brick-lined streets and dozens of restored Victorian Industrial buildings that is hone to live theaters, galleries, fashion, cafes and restaurants.

Casa Loma– Take a step back in time with a tour of this historic, Edwardian castle.

Toronto Island Park– Take a ferry to this stunning park that consists of four main islands, containing trails, beaches and children’s amusement rides.

Toronto Eaton Centre-The shopping mall and office complex is North America’s busiest shopping mall and Toronto’s most popular tourist attraction.

CN Tower– An engineering wonder, The CN Tower is Canada’s National Tower with award-winning restaurants such as the 360 Restaurant and entertainment. Ride to the very top in 58 seconds in a glass-paneled elevator, observe the city’s skyline on one of three observation decks, experience the “World’s Highest Outdoor Walk on a Building” with Edge Walk, let your kids enjoy the KidZone play area.

Toronto Zoo The Toronto Zoo is the largest zoo in Canada. It is divided into seven zoogeographic regions: Indo-Malaya, Africa, Americas, Tundra, Trek, Australia, Eurasia and the Canadian domain. This season, experience the Kangaroo Walk-Thru, Boo At The Zoo, and Lumina Enchanted Walk Nights.

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