GET OUT OF TOUCH

You, Unplugged

Declare your independence from electronic gadgets! Here are six vacation spots where PDAs, internet connections, and even TVs are becoming a thing of the past.

By John Rambow, Monday, Jun 30, 2008, 6:22 AM

Not even if you beg for it
The "Isolation Vacation" package at the casual Arawak Beach Inn resort on the Caribbean island of Anguilla in the British West Indies is all about going cold turkey from technology. Starting at $999, double occupancy, you receive a seven-night stay in an oceanfront room with no phone or TV. The boob tube is removed before you check-in; if you bring a laptop or a PDA, someone on staff will snatch it away for safekeeping. While other guests can pay for Wi-Fi or high-speed Ethernet/USB connections, you won't be able to purchase either. You'll also be banned from the office computer, with no recourse. How to compensate for the loss? Rooms have views of the Island Harbour Bay below, and two private, white-sand beaches are a few minutes' stroll away. The vacation package also includes a deep-sea fishing trip and a boat ride to a small, uninhabited island, where you'll savor a free lunch on a beach. (Even more: The deal covers breakfast daily, four dinners at the café, and a three-day car rental.) As for cell phones, while some American phones (typically higher-end, quad-band models) get reception in Anguilla, the roaming charges tend to be painfully high. 877/427-2925, arawakbeach.com.

Stow your portable electronic devices, and saddle up
In south-central Texas, the Running-R Guest Ranch is hemmed by wide-open skies, oaks, and grassland disappearing into the distance. But there's little in the way of cell phone reception at this remote dude ranch, and the Internet is off-limits to guests. Navigate your newfound freedom on horseback, or borrow a mountain bike from the ranch and take to a nature trail. Other popular activities include hiking the adjacent 5,400-acre state park or visiting the Alamo in San Antonio, about an hour's drive southeast. If it sounds like roughing it, it's not exactly: There's a swimming pool to cool off after a long day out, and the ranch's wood-planked cabins provide air-conditioning so you can catch some shut-eye. Low-season daily rates start at $115 per person based on double occupancy and include an air-conditioned cabin, two meals per day, and a couple hours of riding per day (typically on a quarter horse). 830/796-3984, rrranch.com.

Put your CrackBerry under lockdown
In mid-2006, Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers cooked up a way to persuade its guests to unplug: It began offering to lock up BlackBerries and other PDAs in the manager's safe. This past February and early March, the hotel even ran a BlackBerry Detox Challenge, awarding a three-night return stay and a Shula's Steakhouse dinner to the first person who handed over his or her gizmo, BlackBerry or otherwise, for 48 hours. The next 25 customers who went PDA-less were immediately upgraded to fancy rooms. Under its current offer, the hotel gives you a walking map of Chicago's tourist highlights in exchange for your PDA or smartphone. The hotel is a short walk from the Magnificent Mile shopping corridor and Chicago's Art Institute. Rooms start at $149 a night. 877/242-2558, sheratonchicago.com.

Make it a no-fi weekend
The Canadian resort Spa Eastman, a little over an hour by car from Montreal, remains as down-to-earth now as when it first opened in the 1970s. "Unplugging is part of its philosophy," says Melisse Gelula, editor of SpaFinder Lifestyle, an online magazine that will launch later this year on SpaFinder.com. "You're meant to attend fitness classes, walk in the surrounding woods, drink herbal tea, and linger in the spa." If all that unplugging doesn't come naturally to you, the spa is there to nudge you along in the right direction: There are no TVs or phones in the guest rooms, and the resort's brochure politely requests that you leave your cell phones at home. If you bring your phone, you can't talk on it outside of designated areas. Can't kick the habit completely? You can use the resort's Wi-Fi in the common room, but unless you get creative, that's the only place to get back on the grid. When you're not at the spa, get in touch with the surrounding natural beauty, which includes a cedar forest and views of Mount Orford. Rates start at about $128 USD ($130 CAN) per night, which includes meals, fitness activities, workshops, and guided walks. Spa packages that include accommodation start at about $235 per night. 800/665-5272, spa-eastman.com.

Yes you koan
Run by the San Francisco Zen Center, the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley, Calif., lies roughly two hours inland from Monterey at the end of a steep, 14-mile dirt road. Admitting guests from early May through early September, the Center has only one public phone, no cell phone reception, and no Internet connection. In fact, don't plan on bringing any gadgets that require charging: Only a few of the cabins have the electricity you'll need to stay in touch. Even more discouraging for tech addicts, the center charges $10 an hour to recharge devices. So how will you fill up all the time you'll be saving by not answering emails? Take a relaxing soak in the bathhouse with water from a local hot spring, or sign up for a retreat covering such subjects as yoga, gardening, and cooking. Failing that, you can just hang out and do nothing: The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is a functioning monastery for serious students of Buddhism, with free meditation instruction at 4 P.M. daily, but you're free to do as you please. Lodging-only options include plain dormitories for $90 to $110 per person and traditional Japanese tatami-mat cabins for $123 to $145 per person, based on double occupancy. There are some additional charges for workshops. Call the center for details. 415/865-1899, sfzc.org/tassajara.
Note: You might not be able to unplug just yet; recent wildfires have caused the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center to close down temporarily. Check out their website for updates.

The path to enlightenment (has no cell phone reception)
Up in the mountains above Helena, Mont., Feathered Pipe Ranch beckons yoga enthusiasts who want a little Out West beauty to go with their meditation. But don't plan on instantly sending friends a photo of any of your poses—or anything else, for that matter. Cell phone reception is nonexistent, and the Wi-Fi reception here is poor, making Internet connections painfully slow. Staff members at this tranquil lakeside retreat feel that a guest's non-yoga time is better spent offline: watching the deer graze or the clouds roll by, for example, or going for a swim or a nature hike. A few caveats: Retreats run one week at a minimum, with rates ranging from $1,300 to $1,900 per person, which includes room and board and yoga instruction. Guests have to be part of a "retreat," which means choosing a week-long specialized yoga program, such as "Yoga, Meditation & Pranayama" ($1,595).

A variety of yoga philosophies are represented; check the website for more details. The season at Feathered Pipe runs from May to mid-September, but some classes fill up as much as a year in advance. 406/442-8196, featheredpipe.com.

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