Things to Do in New Orleans

Things to Do in New Orleans

I recently celebrated my first wedding anniversary in New Orleans, Louisiana with my husband at the beautiful Ritz Carlton New Orleans. This was my first time in The Big Easy and I was immersed into a new world. I have traveled all over the world but I have never been any where like New Orleans. The people are friendly and humble, proud of what they do, have overcome, and produce. The music is festive and jazzy, found across the city on streets, in bars, hotel lobbies, and restaurants. The food is amazingly decadent and elegant. It felt like old world Paris or a throw back to the speakeasy times when cocktails were classic.

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Places to Go

There is so much to do in New Orleans! The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau is super helpful throughout the planning process and final visit! Make sure you follow them on Twitter (@NewOrleansCVB), ‘like’ them on Facebook (New Orleans.) I had many questions and they always responded very quickly with recommendations!

Some of the places we visited:

Eating in New Orleans

Check out this 30 second clip of pictures of our visits to:

  • Commander’s Palace
  • Lilette
  • Stella
  • Cure
  • Borgne
  • Mr. B’s

My foodie friends and family who already adored New Orleans also recommended the following places we’ve added to our list for next time:

  • Bayona
  • NOLA
  • Upperline
  • Clancy’s
  • Irene’s Cuisine
  • Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse
  • Napoleon House
  • Mother’s
  • Elizabeth’s
  • Coops Place
  • Mandina’s
  • Stanley
  • Restaurant August
  • Luke
  • Domenica
  • Galatoire
  • Cochon and Cochon Butcher
  • Sylvain
  • Morning Call Coffee Stand
  • Café Beignet

 

Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans

Our first wedding anniversary was on September 14, and we wanted to really make the celebration one to remember!  My husband was completing grad school during our wedding and so our honeymoon was cut short for his required trip to Chile.  With year one under our belts we were ready to laissez les bons temps rouler (“let the good times roll!”)

With input from many friends and family (many from Louisiana and even New Orleans), I poured through hotel recommendations from them and travel guides (including the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau which is a fantastic online resource).

I knew I wanted a romantic getaway, plush and lavish, and the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans was all that and more.  Our expectations were far exceeded repeatedly during our stay.

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The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans

921 Canal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112 USA

Location, Location, Location

Perfectly located in the French Quarter on Canal Street, we were literally one block from Bourbon Street, short cab rides to all the restaurants we wanted to try (Commander’s Palace, Lilette, Stella!), and walking distance to Jackson Square and Harrah’s Casino.  Originally the Maison Blanche department store, it was renovated to embrace the existing architecture while ensuring commitment to New Orleans charm (like making sure there was a large courtyard with sun shining through.)  Opening in October 2000, this hotel quickly became “Canal’s Crown Jewel”, offering 527 beautiful guest rooms and a 25,000 sqft spa and fitness center.  (More details about the fabulous spa in my next post!)

The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans’ lobby is actually located on the third floor, from the street entrance simply take the elevator up!

Luxury in Every Sense of the Word

Throughout the hotel you can appreciate their $3.5 million art collection, accumulated from estate sales and auctions throughout the State.  The hotel, like much of NOLA, has a commitment to supporting local artists, producers, and citizens with a passion not found in other states.  Similar to guests in a Garden District mansion, many years before, the guest rooms are plush with Italian marble baths, beautiful courtyard views, ornate decorations, and inviting beds.

Celebrating our anniversary, my husband, who checked into the hotel a couple of hours before I flew in, was able to quickly and easily work with the concierge to deliver a dozen beautiful roses and hydrangeas before my arrival.  They also did a beautiful rose petal turn down and champagne service.

Ritz Carlton New Orleans Romance Package
Ritz Carlton New Orleans Romance Package

Every guest has a nightly option of a dark chocolate turn down service.

Luxury Kicked Up Another Notch

And if you’re looking for something even more intimate, the Ritz-Carlton Club level offers a hotel within a hotel with a dedicated concierge service.  Sonia and Russell are just two members of the team, ready to welcome you to the hotel, help with plans during your trip, refreshing your glass of champagne of local craft beer offerings, and serve you breakfast, light snacks, hors d’ oeuvres, beverages and sweets preventing any hunger pains!

Ritz Carlton New Orleans Club Level
Ritz Carlton New Orleans Club Level

Davenport Lounge

Since opening in January 2010, the Davenport Lounge and M Bistro have received continued accolades!  Named after the hotel’s headline entertainer, Grammy-nominee Jeremy Davenport has graced the pages of GQ, Travel + Leisure, Southern Living, and Elle with his Rat Pack style and jazz legend resume.

Jeremy Davenport Ritz Carlton New Orleans Lounge
Courtesy of http://www.jeremydavenport.com/ Media Images

Davenport performs every Thursday from 5:30 p.m until 9:00 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m.

Accolades Include:

  • 500 World’s Best Hotels- Travel + Leisure (2001 – 2006; 2008-2013)
  • Top 40 Hotels of the South – Conde Nast Traveler (2012)
  • Best Hotel in New Orleans – U.S. News and World Report (2012)
  • #1 Hotel Spa in the U.S. and Canada, Travel+ Leisure (2011)
  • Top 10 Luxury Spas- SpaFinder (2010)
  • Best Urban Hotel Spa, Favorite Spa Therapist & Spa Manager- Spa Finder (2009)
  • Best Hotel, Best Place to Get a Massage in New Orleans- The Gambit (2008-2012)
  • Favorite Day Spa, Hotel, & Best Bar in New Orleans- New Orleans Magazine (2010-2012)
  • Coolest Hotel for Honeymoon- Brides (2011)

And I can easily see why.

 

Disclaimer:  Although a media rate was received, the idea for this post and all of my opinions are my own.

 

JW Marriott San Antonio Lantana Spa

If you’re looking for a fantastic spa day in which you literally leave your stress at the door, the JW Marriott San Antonio’s beautiful Lantana Spa is for you. Of course everything is already bigger in Texas, and at 26,000-square-foot facility, the Lantana Spa is the largest in Texas!

JW Marriott San Antonio Lantana Spa
Photo courtesy of JW Marriott San Antonio

Upon arrival at Lantana Spa you will be given a piece of red ribbon for the “Seven Knots Ritual,” to release worries and stress and prepare you for the spa experience. In the past the Curanderos, Native American healer, suggest tying seven knots in the ribbon, one for each worry, the seventh knot creating a complete circle. Before starting your spa journey you leave the knots in a bowl with everyone else’s worries.

JW Marriott San Antonio Lantana Spa
Photo courtesy of JW Marriott San Antonio

Spa treatments are extensive and heavenly and don’t end when the appointment does! Check out the entire list of treatments here and get the latest monthly specials. There are wonderful massages, facials, body treatments, treatments for two, and nail options. I had an organic massage that not only released the tension in my back but also made feel as if I could breathe more deeply afterwards!

JW Marriott San Antonio Lantana Spa
Photo courtesy of JW Marriott San Antonio

I was guided by the attendant to the locker room where I could change into a luxurious fluffy robe.

JW Marriott San Antonio Lantana Spa
Photo courtesy of JW Marriott San Antonio

Then I refreshed myself with some chilled cucumber infused water and meander from their beautiful outdoor, spa guest only pool, steam room, sauna, and maternity friendly inhalation room.

JW Marriott San Antonio Lantana Spa
Photo courtesy of JW Marriott San Antonio

In addition to spa treatments, the resort also offers fitness classes and equipment. Complimentary day use with spa treatment!

After a fabulous treatment and possible workout, stop by Replenish Spa Bistro for a locally sourced meal filled with organic ingredients. Check out their latest specials here. During our tour of the facilities, we enjoyed lunch at the Bistro and sampled the amazing hummus, addicting guacamole, and rich corn chowder with jumbo lump crab.

JW Marriott San Antonio Lantana Spa
Photo courtesy of JW Marriott San Antonio

Not ready to leave? Don’t! You can also book the treatment as part of a vacation package! Stay a couple days at the beautiful resort (more details to come in future posts!) Check out their latest spa vacation packages here a perfect treat for out of towners or staycationers alike.

And any product used during the services could be purchased in the spa’s boutique afterwards, prime for the holiday seasons coming up soon!

I would definitely take advantage of the spa treatment and make a day of it.

  • Arrive early to complete paperwork and start the relaxation!
  • Stop in their sauna or steam room to loosen up before your treatment
  • Bring a swim suit to enjoy cocktails and get some sun, safely at a cabana or lounging in the beautiful pool
  • Grab something to eat on your way out to prolong the relaxing journey
JW Marriott San Antonio Lantana Spa
Photo courtesy of JW Marriott San Antonio
JW Marriott San Antonio Lantana Spa
Photo courtesy of JW Marriott San Antonio

 

Disclaimer: I was invited to the JW Marriott San Antonio to experience their Lantana Spa and Replenish Spa Bistro. All opinions expressed here are my own.

The Phoenician Resort | Scottsdale, AZ

It seems counterintuitive that going on vacation requires a lot of work. Unfortunately, most of the time, it does. You have to research the best places to stay, things in the area to do, great places to eat. And if it’s an out of town vacation, you want to get the best bang for your buck, do everything you possibly can, and avoid at all costs the feeling of regret when you come home because you missed something. At least that’s how I normally vacation. Not so relaxing.

Enter The Phoenician. After reading what I’m about to describe, you might not believe me…but this oasis in the Arizona dessert exists! It offers everything anyone could ever want. And it’s even more fabulous in person!

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The Phoenician

6000 East Camelback Road

Scottsdale, AZ 85251 (map)

Phone: (480) 941-8200

http://www.thephoenician.com

http://twitter.com/the_phoenician

http://facebook.com/ThePhoenicianScottsdale

Location, Location, Location

Literally at the base of Camelback Mountain, this beautiful, AAA Five Diamond Resort was only 15 minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and minutes from Scottsdale’s shopping districts, it was easy to get onto major highways (when we headed to my husband’s graduation).

Home Suite Home

There are almost 650 guest rooms available that come in three different types:

  • Guest Rooms – centrally located, fantastic views, large living space, beautiful restrooms
  • Casitas – doorstep parking and private entrances
  • Canyon Suites – the boutique resort within a resort, offering a secluded pool and cabanas

We stayed in the beautiful, Grand Deluxe Room, and were not disappointed! Slippers were laid out for us by the beds, three chocolates laid on the pillows every night and every morning we enjoyed a beautiful view of the pool from our private terrace.

The closets had an easy to use safe, plenty of wooden hangers, a shoe horn, luggage rack, and two fluffy robes, waiting to envelope me. So I slipped on my robe and my slippers and prepared for a relaxing soak in the massive tub (separate from the equally massive shower.)

Oh, and did I mention that housekeeping comes TWICE a day, once in the morning and once in the evening to turn down your sheets.

Fabulous Phoenician Features!

There is so much information to offer about the Phoenician, it’s hard to mention it all. (So I’ll be doing a series of posts!) Here are some fabulous features we enjoyed this past weekend:

  • A dazzling $25 million dollar art collection. Many of the late Allan Houser’s life-size Native American bronze sculptures, along with photorealist waterscapes by David Kessler, as well as rare European paintings and antiques, are prominently displayed throughout the resort.

  • A two-acre Cactus Garden. Stretching along the northern edge of the resort’s grounds at the base of Camelback Mountain, this scenic spot showcases 250 varieties of cacti and succulents. Also home to several “local residents,” including cottontail rabbits, chuckwalla, chipmunks and quail.

Phoenician Fun!

  • Grape & Grain. Retail shop offers complimentary cocktail mixology class on Fridays and Saturdays at 3pm.
  • Hoppy Hour. Kids can stop by the Funicians Club from 4-5pm daily and pick up a special gift!
  • Activities at The Park. Cnter includes a movie theatre, air hockey, foosball, board games, video games, basketball court and covered playground.
  • Koi Fish Feeding. A guest favorite, meet at the Necklace Lake Lagoon daily at 9:30am sharp as schools of exotic Koi fish surface for food.

Poolside at the Phoenician

  • Endless water. The resort boasts NINE refreshing pools and a 165-foot waterslide. The Canyon Suites offers an “edgeless” oval swimming pool covering more than 2,800 square feet and filled with nearly 74,000 gallons of water. The resort’s “signature” pool with The Phoenician logo in the center is inlaid with hand-crafted iridescent mother of pearl tiles.
  • Poolside luxury. Private cabanas feature ceiling fans, telephone, computer hook up, daily newspaper, robes upon request, lip balm, fresh fruit, bottled water, two reserved lounge chairs and two teak sitting chairs and a love seat. Cabanas at the Canyon Pool measure 200 square feet and feature a bathroom with a shower and amenities.
  • Necklace Lake Lagoon. This environmentally designed lagoon is woven throughout the casita area to create humidity for tropical plants and serve as a recirculation system for watering the resort’s landscaping. The lagoon is the home for multi-colored Koi (Japanese carp), Tilapia (small fish from Africa,) Striped Bass, Red Eared Turtles, Canadian Geese and wild Mallards.

Dining In

Although I’ll be featuring the restaurants in another post, here are some teasers about the Phoenician I found tasty!

  • Oenophiles take note: The resort employs one of only two master sommeliers in the state of Arizona.
  • Afternoon Tea. The resort’s daily afternoon tea service features “Oberon” patterned Wedgwood china. (More to come!!)

  • Toasted to perfection. In-Room Dining delivers a toaster to the room (instead of toasting breads beforehand) to ensure warmth.
  • In-house pasta and bake shops. The resort’s pasta and bake shops prepare fresh pasta, pastries and candies, as well as breads and rolls daily. Many of the resort’s artisan breads are available for retail purchase.
  • Evening treats. Belgian chocolates are provided every evening during turndown.

Disclaimer: The Phoenician offered me a media rate which I gladly accepted. All my high opinions of The Phoenician are my own.

Schlitterbahn Resort South Padre

Schlitterbahn Resort South Padre

Disclosure: I was invited by Schlitterbahn South Padre Island Beach Resort to receive a complimentary, two-night stay, two complimentary meals, and a swag bag. I was not compensated in any way. All opinions are mine.

UPDATED: 6/9/2015 to reflect 2015 awards and stats!

Fantastic Family Vacation in South Padre

My husband, daughter, and I had a fantastic weekend not only celebrating my daughter’s 10th birthday but getting the opportunity to explore Schlitterbahn South Padre Island. I actually had never been to SPI before, even thought I have been in Texas for about 9 years. Schlitterbahn made it especially special by welcoming us with a little stuffed dog that she still sleeps with, a frame we have since put a family Schlitterbahn picture into, and a beach bag that we take to the beach!

We had a beautiful room that overlooked the ocean. Plenty of room, a fridge, microwave, and BEAUTIFUL wood bed side tables. I go into more details below but out of the devastation of the Bastrop fires came the reconditioning of thousands of trees into beautiful bedside tables, long formal tables, a bar over the checkin counter.

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Everything that Schlitterbahn does is with the person in mind.  Before, during, and after. When you check in there are lots of beautiful aquariums for your kids to be distracted with. Instead of room keys you have a bracelet that everyone gets that not only indicates access to the waterparks, but also your room, and to pay for things!  It is so nice to not have to worry about carrying around a key and money.

Website: http://www.schlitterbahn.com/south-padre-island/resort

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Schlitterbahn Waterpark

The waterpark literally has access to the beach. Its very calm walking up, there are no crazy lines. You can actually bring a cooler of food and drinks (without hiding it) and prepare for a picnic. There is a lazy river that goes around the entire park. You can stay in the floatie the entire ride, margarita in hand. Just like a highway there are exit ramps where you can wait, in the water to go on slides that lead back into the lazy river.

Resort Map

There are 221 rooms in this year-round family resort. Literally located on the Gulf of Mexico there are beautiful ocean views.  Even without the promise of an entire Schlitterbahn Waterpark next door, the lodge has an amazing indoor/outdoor waterpark of its own.  Guests receive VIP amenities including unlimited use of the waterpark for the duration of their stay, free Wi-Fi and free onsite parking.

Sustainability
As part of Schlitterbahn’s ongoing commitment to the environment, this new resort includes the latest in energy and water saving technologies including compact fluorescent lights, LED technologies, low-flow fixtures and the constant capturing, filtering, sanitizing and recirculation of water through the new resort’s rides and attractions. Schlitterbahn Beach Resort Hotel features reclaimed Loblolly Pines from the Bastrop County WildFire.

The Schlitterbahn Beach Resort in South Padre was built using the pines from the huge wildfire in Bastrop. It’s an amazing example of  sustainable building practices.

Bastrop Trees

In 2011 over 32,000 acres were destroyed in the Bastrop fire. Logs, saved from the chipper, were destined for a new future. They were slated to be turned into everything from sculpture to tables, from outside walls to night stands and cabinets. A year after the wildfire, in August of 2012, our South Padre Schlitterbahn park held a soft opening of the brand new 221 room resort on the beach. The resort is combined with an indoor waterpark featuring 9 different rides/attractions including a wave river, two five story tall water slides and a pirate themed kids area.

Frankly the entire resort is a testament to Texas style recycling – over 3 miles of 3 inch mooring ropes of dozens of ships are painstakingly wrapped around giant concrete structural poles on the new upstairs 10,000 square foot patio, for example. The retractable greenhouse roof that covers the indoor waterpark is from an old Schultz nursery. Even the check in counter is from salvaged walnut trees pulled from a road project in Kansas. But it’s the Loblolly pines that have the most dramatic effect, especially to those who know the story of the fire.

 

Tickets

Ticket details here.

  • Use of all water attractions!
  • FREE Parking!
  • FREE use of inner tubes and life jackets!
  • PICNICS WELCOME–you can bring your own picnic baskets and coolers inside the park!

 

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Cabana Pricing:

Fri-Sun & Holidays-$175 | Mon-Thur-$150 *plus applicable tax

 

 

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Called Rio Aventura, the river is approximately a half-mile long.  Guests enter Rio Aventura from beaches scattered through the park, or they ride up into the river from the wave pool level on the massive AquaveyerTM.   Then they float through sections of slow-moving water and whitewater rapids, detouring through two tube chutes and three Master Blaster uphill water coasters, for a ride that is never the same twice.

Schedule:
Summer Schedule: Schlitterbahn South Padre Island entire park (outdoor and indoor) is open weekends beginning April 18, 2015 and daily beginning May 15, 2015 to Labor Day. The park then returns to weekend operation until September 20, 2015. Park opens at 10 a.m. and closing times vary from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Attraction availability may vary.

Heated-Indoor Schedule: Schlitterbahn South Padre Island Indoor Waterpark is open weekends and selected holidays at 10 a.m. (4 p.m. on Holiday Days) and closing times vary from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Attraction availability may vary. The Indoor area operates on weekends year round.

ADMISSION FEES [plus tax] – Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark, South Padre Island: Web Tickets

15 Daily Deal Travel Sites

15 Daily Deal Travel Sites

Is your New Year’s resolution to see the world? Are you obsessed with daily deal sites? In no particular order are 15 daily deal travel websites! Many are invitation only…fear not, I have an invite for you! Click on the image or link in the “About” section. About half are dedicated to just traveling deals (including packages, hotels, airfare, etc.) while others are subsets of larger daily deal sites. Definitely keep an eye out on your favorites!

Best Travel Deal Websites

Sign up and become a member of the sites today! I bookmark them all and open all the sites in the same browser window at the same time. I can quickly scan each site’s page for the latest and great deals. Many sites offer significant savings and packages. Always look at the company’s website to make sure you’re getting the best deals possible!!

P.S. And once you know where you’re headed, sign up for all the local daily deals for that city so you can be armed with Groupons once you arrive at your final destination!

15 Daily Deal Travel Sites

P.P.S I have included the Twitter and Facebook pages…you’ll want to start following them to get additional deals and offers made only to those loyal fans!

 

Travel Deal Site About Twitter Facebook
Travel Deal websites - Amazon Local Subscribe for email alerts for the cities you’re travelling to! @amazonlocal Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Groupon Getaways From the people that brought you Groupon local deals, tons of great travel deals, some lasting 24 hours, some for a couple of days! @GrouponGetaways None
Travel Deal websites - Living Social Escapes Living Social Escapes @LivingSocialESC Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Eversave Travel Saves Division of the Eversave deal site offering travel and getaway deals! Click on the “Travel Saves” link. @TravelSaves Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - KGB Deals Click on the “Destinations” tab for additional travel deals! @kgbdeals_usa Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Urban Delight In addition to local daily deals, Urban Dealight also offers “Departures” for travel deals! @urbandealight Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Jetsetter Check out Jet Setter and check out their flash sales for your dream destination! @jetsetterdotcom Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Haute Look Getaways In addition to all the sales at Haute Look, click on the Getaways tab for fabulous vacations! @hautelook Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Rue La La Rue La La also offers “Travel” offers, destination packages, and hotel deals! @RueLaLa Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Snique Away Another private sale site dedicated to travel deals, Snique Away rocks (and looks great too!) @sniqueAway Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Tablet Hotels Another private sale site, use this link to sign up for fabulous travel experiences. @tabletHotels Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Trip Alertz Trip Alertz offers beautiful destination packages! Sign up and find your dream vacay! @tripAlertz Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Vacationist Vacationist is a partnership if Luxury Link and Travel & Leisure to offer deeply discount trips people actually want to take! @goVacationist Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Voyage Prive Voyage Prive is another private membership site that you can sign up for with the link! @VoyagePriveUS Become a Fan
Travel Deal websites - Ideeli Ideeli has their own Travel section where you can check out some more great deals! @ideeli Become a Fan