America's Best Spa Values: Midwest and South
Though only 90 minutes south of Chicago, Heartland Spa leaves city life far behind. Its 32 acres, with rolling pastures, woods, cornfields, and a spring-fed lake, create the kind of peace and quiet you can find only in farm country. Plus, where else can you do cardio-kickboxing in the hayloft of an old dairy barn? With a two-to-one staff-to-guest ratio, Heartland exudes true Midwestern hospitality. Even if you're the only person signed up for a particular activity, the spa won't cancel--whether it's a morning walk, a cooking demonstration, a wellness lecture, or an aerobics class. Beverly Rogers of Country Club Hills, Ill., first visited 11 years ago, after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 51. She and a group of women also fighting cancer were in search of "introspection and reflection, away from the doctors and hospitals," she explains. "Heartland is such a mind-body-spirit kind of a place." And, says Rogers, it's charming without the pretense of some spas. Each guest can borrow a sweat suit to work out in. When you leave it on your doormat at the end of the day, "laundry fairies" magically replace it with a clean one. Rogers has returned annually with cancer survivors ever since.
Best Deal: Five-Night Midweek Perk from $1,025, includes four 40-minute full-body massages, one facial, and all taxes. 800/545-4853, heartlandspa.com.
Surrounded by gently hilly farmland, Birdwing Spa is on 300 pristine acres about 70 miles west of Minneapolis. "I love the hominess and sense of true wilderness," says Brenda Williams of Minnetrista, Minn., who has visited Birdwing five times with her friend Claudia Pilot. A maximum of 25 guests stay either in the bedrooms of a former private home or in the 100-year-old barn, renovated to house eight suites. The fitness-centric spa offers aerobics classes, a 24-hour gym, and low-cal meals, but most people come to kayak on the lake or to hike the 15 miles of trails. The less adventurous read in the screened gazebo, choose a hammock for an afternoon nap, or indulge in any number of treatments. Birdwing's specialty is the Decadent Rose Body Glo, which features a foot soak with rose petals and essential oils, a face and scalp massage, and a body exfoliation and mask (90 minutes, $145). But even the basic massage is heaven: "Last time, I was so relaxed I left feeling like a jellyfish," says Williams.
Best Deal: Two-night package from $515, includes a full-body massage (60 minutes) and choice of European facial (60 minutes) or herbal body wrap (30 minutes). 320/693-6064, birdwingspa.com.
Tennessee Fitness Spa
Two hours southwest of Nashville, the Tennessee Fitness Spa has more in its favor than just bucolic views. The remote location means the nearest McDonald's is 10 miles away, a blessing for the many guests who come to kick-start their fitness regimen. "It's a working spa," says Margaret King of Philadelphia, who regularly visits Tennessee Fitness with her sister in order to escape the pressures of her at-home business. "It gets me out of my routine and gives me a new perspective." The six chalet-style buildings have simple rooms, all with private bathrooms and decks. (Deluxe rooms also have TVs.) The aerobics gym and heated indoor pool are open 24 hours, hiking trails snake around the property, and about 30 classes are available each week. The spa chefs prepare a different low-cal menu daily and they teach hands-on preparation-useful lessons for when guests return home and want to continue their regimen. Body treatments include the standard massages (30--60 minutes, from $35), facials (from $35), and wraps (from $80). People primarily come to get healthy, but all the relaxing is a definite plus. "It's so informal," says King. "No one dresses up or bothers to put on makeup."
Best Deal: Overnights from $165 (two-night minimum; stays of two or three nights can't be booked more than a week in advance). 800/235-8365, tfspa.com.
Kohler Waters Spa
If the name rings a bell, that's because Kohler is a manufacturer of top-of-the-line bathroom fixtures. But many people don't know that the company runs a spa that showcases its products. Based on the fact that our bodies are composed of two-thirds water, spa therapies here focus entirely on H2O's healing properties. Kohler engineering created the RiverBath (a hydro-massage, 50 minutes, $95), Rain Water Experience (Swedish massage under a warm rain-like shower, 50 minutes, $135), and Cooler-Near-the-Lake, a bath that mimics nearby Lake Michigan's warm and cool temperature patterns (50 minutes, $135). A waterfall cascades into a long relaxation pool in the central spa area, and guests can hear the calming sounds of rushing water from the treatment rooms. "It's one of most relaxing places we've ever been," says Jodie Scordo from Milwaukee, who has visited Kohler with friend Kelly Hruska every year for the last three years. And while Scordo comes for the spa experience, she adds, "We also love taking walks to the boutiques at Woodlake," a mall with more than 25 shops.
Best Deal: Girlfriends' Get-Together from $213, includes one night at the American Club Carriage House, continental breakfast, evening beverages and hors d'oeuvres, 20 percent off any midweek spa service (Sunday--Thursday), a complimentary in-room movie, and a spa gift (candle, lotions, etc.). 800/344-2838, destinationkohler.com.
Woodwind Health Spa
Built from local timber and sand by owner Marj Champney and some volunteers, Woodwind Health Spa is a 40-acre B&B-style retreat on the banks of the Wisconsin River, about 150 miles northwest of Green Bay. Champney, a designer, chef, and natural healer of Pennacook Indian descent, develops and administers many of Woodwind's services. Her specialty is the Eagles Touch Massage, a negative-energy cleanser that combines heated essential oils, a cedar-and-sage smudge, a full-body massage, and crystal healing (90--120 minutes, $110). The spa, which averages a dozen visitors at a time, has only six employees, two full-time, and they handle all the cooking, cleaning, yoga and meditation classes, and body treatments. But Elisabeth Arthur of Hayward, Wis., is quick to point out that despite the small staff, "there are healing hands all over the place." For her, a recent trip to Woodwind helped bring her closer to her family. Visiting with her mother and two sisters, Arthur, who had been to the spa four times before, took part in a drumming-and-chanting ceremony: "It made us all aware of how much love there is between us. We shared things that had been kept in for ages."
Best Deal: The Woodwind Stress Reducer, $1,200, includes five nights' lodging, four yoga and meditation classes, six spa services, taxes, and all gratuities. 877/362-8902, woodwindspa.com.
Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
Sundara Inn & Spa
What's the loudest sound you'll hear during a stay at Sundara? Pine trees rustling, a waterfall dribbling from the heated infinity pool, or maybe the Bose Wave CD player on your nightstand...if you turn it on. It was this tranquillity that Susan Andringa and Joy Gardner, friends from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area who were each grieving over the recent loss of a parent, sought when they visited last October. On 26 wooded acres in central Wisconsin, Sundara (which means "beautiful" in Sanskrit) has an East-meets-Midwest vibe: a fluid feng-shui design, homeopathy-inspired treatments, and healthy, flavorful organic food. The 26 suites--furnished with king-size featherbeds, gas fireplaces, and whirlpools or jet showers--are "rustic romantic," as Andringa describes it. Treatments include the Sundara Body Boost, featuring a body polish that uses sandstone unearthed during the spa's construction (60 minutes, $135), and the skin-soothing Shea Body Butter Indulgence (90 minutes, $210). Guests spend mornings on silent hikes or in one-on-one yoga classes; afternoons, lounging in the aromatherapy hydro-massage tub. Sundara believes in helping people slow down and "unplug," and the adults-only, no-cell-phone policy makes that much easier. "We stayed in our robes for two days straight," Andringa confesses.
Best Deal: Overnights from $199 per suite. 888/735-8181, daraspa.com.
America's Best Spa Values: Eastern U.S.
Hurleyville, N.Y. Sanivan Holistic Spa Sanivan is like a B&B for the soul. In a Catskills town two hours northwest of Manhattan, the spa is owned by Ivan Rivas and Saniye Gungor--a masseur and a shiatsu therapist/shaman, respectively. The husband-and-wife duo offers a smorgasbord of indulgences: personally tailored herbal facials (60 minutes, $80), aromatherapy shiatsu massages (90 minutes, $90), and even 100-percent oxygen treatments for improving blood flow and strengthening the immune system (120 minutes, $225). With only three bedrooms, the spa promises individualized attention, something Lynne Nordone from Long Island found most rewarding. "You revitalize from the inside out and always learn something you can take home," says Nordone, who eagerly devoured Gungor's "delicious raw food" (cooked grains, chicken, and fish are also available). Sanivan practices what it preaches: All linens and food are organic, trash is recycled, and even the heated pool is ozonated (translation: minimal chlorine). Guests spend downtime walking the outdoor meditation labyrinth and curling up with one of five Angora cats, the spa's "spiritual guides." Best Deal: Two-day retreat, $375, includes two nights' lodging, one body treatment (facial, massage, or shiatsu therapy), taxes, and all gratuities. 845/434-1849, sanivan.com. Neversink, N.Y. New Age Health Spa On 280 acres near Catskill Park, New Age Health Spa hardly feels like it's only two hours from Manhattan. The spa complex is made up of nine newly renovated buildings, each with a Native American moniker; outdoor paths lined with flower beds connect the guest lodges. New Age lives up to its name with treatments such as a Native Sun Purification (50 minutes, $95), which incorporates herbs that many tribes use in cleansing rituals. (The herbs are grown in the spa's greenhouses.) Roberta Springer, a New York City resident, has been a regular since New Age opened 20 years ago. "I've been at least 50 times," she says. "I was hooked the first weekend." Nature lovers sign up for eco-adventure programs (bald-eagle watching or the Alpine Tower climb), and spiritual seekers try anything from tarot-card readings to silent reflection in the spa's state-of-the-art Cayuga Yoga and Meditation Center. It's decked out with heated floors, walls lined with 10,000 feet of redwood, and an enormous stone fireplace. Best Deal: Overnights from $204 (two-night minimum). Earn points that you can apply to future bills or services by joining the Living Well Club for a onetime $25 fee. 800/682-4348, newagehealthspa.com. Shandaken, N.Y. Copperhood Inn & Spa Step into the Copperhood Inn & Spa and you might think you're in 18th-century Europe, not the Catskills. The wingback chairs, pin-striped or cream-colored linens, gilded frames, and marble galore reflect the old-world style of owner Elizabeth Winograd, a Warsaw native who migrated to New York for college in the '70s. Mud wraps (60 minutes, $115), yoga and meditation classes (five students at most, no extra charge), and the signature European Body Treatment--a two-hour almond scrub/hot herbal wrap/Swedish massage combo ($200)--are a nice alternative to more active pursuits like mountain biking, snowshoeing, and fencing. "We took glorious hikes deep into the mountains," says New Yorker Brenda Szulman-Poje, who has visited Copperhood twice with a girlfriend. "My friend Karen had never been to a destination spa, so it was quite an adventure. On one of our hikes, the soles of both her hiking boots fell off and she had to hike down in her socks, which was no easy task!" Adirondack chairs on the wraparound deck overlook grazing pet goats and a burbling river, and afternoon tea is served in front of a fireplace (there are two). Best Deal: Two-night package from $570, includes a 50-minute Swedish massage or a $45 spa credit each day. A 15 percent service charge is added to the total bill. 845/688-2460, copperhood.com. East Stroudsburg, Pa. Deerfield Spa If Laura Ashley and Richard Simmons had a child, Deerfield would be it. In a sprawling former Victorian inn in the Poconos, the spa is all wicker, white linens, and soft florals throughout its 22 cozy bedrooms and three lounge areas. That country comfort stops, though, once you step into one of two 24-hour gyms, join an aquatic karate session in the heated pool, or sit down to a calorie-conscious meal of cumin- and feta-infused lentil loaf (no red meat here). Deerfield has regular lectures, guided two-hour Appalachian Trail hikes, 61 different weekly aerobics and fitness classes, and best of all, a staff-to-guest ratio of about two to one. First-time visitor Lola West of New York City, who stayed in the two-person cottage annex, found the intimacy refreshing: "The owner [Joan Wolff] has a great disposition that's reflected in the staff. Everyone is so friendly." Overextended muscles get relief in classic treatments like seaweed wraps (50 minutes, $85) and Swedish massages (50 minutes, $65); more uncommon treats include Nuat Thai, an ancient Buddhist floor massage dubbed "lazy man's yoga;" and the newly added LumiLift, a light-therapy facial that uses a small current to stimulate sagging muscles. Best Deal: Overnights from $155 (two-night minimum). Open April through October. 800/852-4494, deerfieldspa.com. A note on the prices Unless otherwise noted, prices listed are per person (based on double occupancy) and include meals, access to spa facilities (fitness centers, pools, sports equipment, etc.), activities, and classes. They generally don't cover spa treatments, taxes, or gratuities. We've quoted the best prices available at press time, but check the websites for deals. Many spas follow a set calendar when it comes to offering discounts; if you don't see anything online, ask the owner or manager when those specials are likely to run. The standard tip is around 20 percent--preferably in cash (put it in an envelope at checkout or hand it directly to the therapist). Some spas automatically add gratuities to the bill. If you really enjoyed your treatment, give a little extra: More often than not, only a portion of that 15 percent service charge goes to the person who worked on you.
Trip Coach: April 25, 2006
Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha from Hawaii! I am very happy to be here and look forward to answering your questions about Maui. If I don't get to all of you, my apologies in advance. You may find also the information you are looking for in our book, "Maui Revealed, The Ultimate Guidebook." 3rd edition ($15.95). Which can be bought at any bookstore or on Amazon.com. _______________________ Houston, TX: I would like to know your recommendation on the best strategy to see the sunrise at Haleakala Crater. Since I have not made hotel reservations, should I book one closer to the crater or maybe take a tour from Lahaina? Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Houston, TX -- I wouldn't base my hotel on being near Haleakala Crater. If you are not a morning person, a tour will get you up there and keep you fed and happy. If you prefer to go it alone, take your warm coats with you and a lot of hot coffee and leave early to get the best views and parking. Call 808-877-5111 to get the times of the sunrise and get there at least 1/2 hour before. Bring a flashlight with you. For other tips see our book on page 121. Enjoy Maui! _______________________ Wareham, Massachusetts: I am planning a one-week trip to Maui on December 2, 2006. We would like to stay in a rental house on or near the beach and like to snorkel. We are considering West Maui, Lahaina, and South Maui (Kihei and beyond). Based on weather and surf conditions in early December -- which would you recommend? Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Wareham, Massachusetts -- Personally I'd try S. Maui in December. Be sure and check the ocean for conditions at that time of year as it can get rough. Enjoy. _______________________ Philadelphia PA: We will be spending a week on Maui in January. Snorkeling is our main concern. Can you tell us where the best snorkeling is and what area we might stay in to be close by. Thanks Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Philadelphia PA -- Snorkeling varies with ocean conditions. And in winter this can vary a lot. Some places to check out are: Kamaole I and II near the point or South of Wailea Beach or Black Rock at Ka'anapali Beach. We list many other places in our book on page 225. Again, snorkeling depends on Mother Nature and even she can turn a great spot into a horrible one. Mornings are always the best time to snorkel. _______________________ Fairfax Virginia: : I want to plan a family trip to Oahu, Maui and the big island of Hawaii next year. The ages range from 3 to 58! I would like to know the best way to go about planning how to get there, where to stay and what to do. I have been to Hawaii twice; on my honeymoon and a cruise. I was thinking about going either in early April or late June. Thank you for any help you can provide. Ruth Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Ruth in Fairfax Virginia -- You have your work cut out for you planning a vacation for that large a group like that. I'd try and stick with June for better weather and prices on hotels. We have a book for each of the islands you are considering (Oahu, Maui and The Big Island) and tons of information on planning for your best ever vacation in each. There is something for every age on each of the islands you have chosen. Happy planning. _______________________ Maui, Hawaii: We will be traveling to Maui in April or May 07 for my friends wedding. We all (bride/groom included) live in the upper peninsula of MI so it's taking some planning. We would like to stay in condos preferrably on the shore but we don't want to break the bank to do it. Any suggestions? There will be the wedding party, all in mid 30's, parents of bride/groom and 2 children ages 11 & 13. Thanks! Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Maui, Hawaii -- Condos in N. or S. Kihei will suit your budget and your needs to be on a beach. Check our 3rd edition Maui Revealed book for detailed reviews of all the condos. Have a great time at the wedding. _______________________ Venice, CA: I need a couple of ideas for a summer vacation that's safe, but still fun for a solo woman traveler. I'm thinking tropical, resort, pool, spa, activities, and upper-scale. Air from Los Angeles and hotel for about seven nights leaving anytime during the week of June 24th. HELP! Thanks!!! Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Venice, CA -- You can't go wrong at the Four Seasons Maui -- even if you are traveling alone it will not disappoint and will pamper you in every way! _______________________ Boston, MA: Hi! Thanks for reading my question. My mom, sister and I will be heading down to Maui in October (10/15-10/22). It's our first time to Maui and we are staying at the Westin - it's timeshare. When should we start looking for tickets - we want to get the best deals - any suggestions? And secondly, What is one thing we should definitely do before leaving Maui? (I am 26, my sister 23 and my mom is 50.) Thank you in advance!! Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Boston, MA -- Start looking for tickets now for October. The road to Hana is a must-do and Haleakala will never cease to thrill as well. But Maui has some fantastic beaches so make sure you make time to just relax. Enjoy! _______________________ Dallas, Oregon: Mr. Doughty, We love "Maui Revealed"-- It's been our constant companion our last two trips to Maui. We're going again next month (May 27 through June 3). We're planning to drive to Hana from our WorldMark resort in Kihei along the southern coast (backwards from the "usual" route). Yahoo's driving directions have us turning left off of Highway 31 about a half mile sout of Alanui Kealii Drive and going 4.7 miles on Kealakapi Road to Kula Highway. All other maps I've checked do not show a road connecting Kihei to Kula Highway. Is this merely an error by Yahoo, or is there in fact a driveable road (Kealakapi) there? We will be driving a full-size sedan (Chevy Impala or similar) while in Maui. Our daughter and son-in-law drove the southern coast in a compact this past winter, so I'm sure it's quite passable in a full-size car. Thanks in advance for your response. -John Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha John in Dallas, Oregon -- This is the most common question -- so much so that we have a permanent update on our web site and even mention it again in our book on page 139. There is no accessible road connecting Hwy 31 and Hwy 37. Yahoo is wrong. You gotta go the long way, Brah! _______________________ Boise, ID: We are big fans of Mr. Doughty's travel guides on Hawaii. We are considering getting married in Maui next winter (Feb-Apr timeline). What are the best places to get married? Any hints on how to organize a wedding from a distance without using the hotel's wedding planners? Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Boise, ID -- And congratulations on your up coming wedding. Wedding planners are mentioned in our book on page 26. They can help you plan your dream wedding at almost any location you pick or they can suggest some. A beach always makes a beautiful and memorable setting. _______________________ Flushing, NY: My family and I will be touring the Hawaiian islands this May with a packaged tour. While in Maui, our hotel will be located in Kihei. I was wondering if there is public transportation we can take to get to Skyline Eco Adventures to try out the zipline adventure. Thanks. Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Flushing, NY -- Public transport on Maui not will get you anyplace near your Skyline Eco Adventure. You are best off renting a car as you would have to wait for a taxi to come collect you after the tour if you took one there. Happy zipping! _______________________ Fort Wayne, IN: I'm interested in knowing if Andrew has info on the best timeshare (purchase) properties on Maui. Love the humor and wonderful info in those blue books! Thanks! Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Fort Wayne, IN -- Sorry we don't review timeshares on the islands. _______________________ Elk Rapids, MI: We are planning our 5th trip to Maui for January 2007. What are the best inexpensive Maui restaurants? Inexpensive meaning...inexpensive for Maui!! Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Elk Rapids, MI -- We list over 120 places to eat in our 3rd edition. Cheap eats also depends on what you are wanting to eat, when and where you are. You probably won't find many cheap eats in Wailea. But there are plenty of places that won't kill your wallet and still make your taste buds happy. _______________________ Ottawa, Canada: Where is the safest and most economical place to find a one or two bedroom unit in Maui in January 2007? Thank you. Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Ottawa, Canada -- N. Kihei can be a very good value as can S. Kihei. Start looking at condos in those locations with your own list of criteria. Again, we list and compare all the condos and resorts with unbiased reviews in our 3rd edition of Maui Revealed. January is high season, so expect to pay more than at other times of the year. _______________________ Long Island, NY: My family of 4 (2 young teenagers and husband) visited Maui last August 2005. We visited Haleakala on 2 separate days but on both days, it poured cats and dogs on the summit. We waited, but the rain did not let up. We are thinking of returning to Maui just to hike at Haleakala. What is the best time of the year to visit Haleakala to ensure we'll be able to do some hiking? Thank you. Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Long Island, NY -- Sometimes it rains even in paradise. Summer is your best bet, but Mother Nature has her own ideas sometimes. Happy hiking! _______________________ Minneapolis, MN: My husband and I are traveling for the first time to Maui mid-June this year to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We want to see the must-see sights but still have some time to relax. We will be on Maui for only 5 days after spending 4 days on Oahu. So far I have only booked the Old Lahaina Luau. We are staying near Kahana. We would also like to do a snorkeling trip (not sure which one -- have never snorkeled before), travel the road to hana, and get a massage on the beach (not sure where this is offered). I also thought Warren and Annabelle's would be a fun night out. Any comments/suggestions for us would be greatly appreciated. Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Minneapolis, MN -- Congrats on your 20th anniversary! All the things you have mentioned sound great for your trip. You may also consider a dinner on the beach of your choice with Tableside Chefs 808-875-8980 for that very special night. For spa massages try either the Four Seasons or the Grand Wailea. We compare all the snorkel boats in our book as there are many to choose from and each offers a unique adventure and experience. _______________________ Cambridge, MA: I am always seeing ads for cheap condos in Maui, but I can't figure out a good way to tell how nice they are or compare prices and find the best deals. Any suggestions? I've been to Maui before and stayed on Kaanapali Beach, which was a bit crowded for me. I liked the area further north of there and also the area around Kihei. Thanks. Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Cambridge, MA -- Condos are always sort of gamble as it really depends on the owner and condition of the condo. We compare all the condos and resorts in our book, Maui Revealed, and give an unbiased review of each place relative to each other spot in the same area. There are nearly 150 reviews in our book. We personally visit each place we write about in our book. You may want to pick up a copy to help guide you into the right condo complex on the island. _______________________ Dixon, CA: My brother is getting married in October at the Maui Prince Hotel in Makena. My family has been to Maui and stayed in Lahaina. I've checked the Maui Prince, and it's a bit to pricey for my family of 5 to stay there for my brother's wedding. Can you recommend a nice place to stay on that side of the island that's an affordable, but still nice? Otherwise, we'll be heading back to Kahana. Thanks! Kim Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Kim in Dixon, CA -- Try looking into a condo in S. Kihei for your family. If you prefer a resort, you are better off in West Maui but it will put a lot of driving between you and the wedding at the Maui Prince. _______________________ Camarillo, CA: We need help entertaining our grandsons (6 and 3) in Maui, while their parents are attending a friend's wedding on the island. We will have them for 4 days and do not want to spend the whole time on the beach or in the condo watching videos. Any kid friendly events or sites would be gladly appreciated. We have been to the island before (my daughter and her husband have never been to any of the islands) so while we want to give them the opportunity to have some very special time together, we will need some R&R at the end of the week. Any suggestions for some dining and dancing that is a little "older"? Also, what are the cheapest car rentals? We will need two. Are Luau's kid-friendly? Great article, we are looking forward to trying many of your suggestions. Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Camarillo, CA -- Small kids and adults alike will enjoy the Maui Ocean Center and there is a boat called the "Reefdancer" that is a semi-submersible. Their trip is really geared for younger kids and the price is reasonable. Take the shorter morning trip as it is long enough for younger kids. There are so many places for you to get some "adult time" R&R and some dancing...try some of the resorts in Wailea. Car rentals don't vary much, you may get your best deal on the Internet -- expect to pay more for your gas than the car! Lu'aus are kid friendly and a lot of fun. Enjoy Maui! _______________________ Brighton, MI: We are planning a family trip to Maui next April for a week. The three kids will be 16, 14, and 10. We prefer smaller low rise condos with a pool and a great beach for swimming and snorkeling. We don't care for all inclusives, but rather are trying to get away from crowds and relax. We are striking out in our search. The Kaanapali condos are all too big and are high rise (equals crowds), and the shores of Napili or Kapalua seem iffy. We need a two-three bedroom unit. Any recommendations? Thanks! Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Brighton, MI -- Teens will love being located near Lahaina and all the "action". Try the condos called Puamana just north of Lahaina town -- it's a quiet detached condo community. If not there, try the smaller condos in S. Kihei as the beach is great. Maybe the Hale Hui Kai? Another option may be to look into renting a house. We list many reputable rental agents on our web site's links page http://www.wizardpub.com/maui/maulinks.html#60 who can hook you up with a great house. Enjoy Maui! _______________________ Shelton, CT: My family will be visiting three of Hawaii's islands this July. One week will be spent on Maui. What activities do you recommend for a family with children (ages 8 and 10)? Also, should we take a surfing lesson on Maui or on the more famous island of Oahu at Waikiki Beach? Thank you. -Penny Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Shelton, CT -- Small kids will love the Maui Ocean Center in Ma'alaea and adults like me like it, too. Kids love the beach and Maui has so many great ones to enjoy. For surfing with young ones, I'd do Waikiki. _______________________ Ossining, NY: I plan to take a NCL cruise next June that will stop in Maui twice. What do you recommend we do as excursions on those days? Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Ossining, NY - I'd spend one day seeing the Hana Highway sights. It is a not-to-be-missed adventure on Maui. The other day is really up to you, there is always a great beach to explore or maybe a snorkel trip (though you may be sick of boats). Even a drive up to watch the sunrise from Haleakala is very memorable (bring your coats!). Maui is full of adventures -- enjoy. _______________________ Pine Grove, PA: We will be spending 2 weeks in Maui 5-14 through 5-28. My husband wants to see Pearl Harbor during our stay. What is the most affordable way to do an overnight stay in Honolulu? Also what activities do you recommend on Maui for a 3 1/2 year old? Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Pine Grove, PA - You will want to arrange the inter-island portion of your visit to Pearl Harbor while you are on the mainland. Get the best deal you can on airfare and stay in Waikiki for the one night. You can get some great deals in Waikiki. Maui Ocean Center for your 3 1/2 year old will be a delight and of course the beach! Don't miss the touch pool at the Ocean Center. _______________________ San Diego, CA: Andrew, My husband and I are going to Maui from Dec 14-21 this year. We're 35 & 36 years old, no children. We are staying at a timeshare on Kannapali Beach we exchanged into. Given that we won't be able to stay at different towns on Maui overnight, what is the best way to see most of the island during the week? No helicopters please. We enjoy outdoor activities and are fairly coordinated and athletic. Thanks so much, Christine Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Christine in San Diego, CA - The best way to see Maui is with a rental car, our book, "Maui Revealed," and your adventurous spirit. Our maps will lead you to places you never imagined and we list so many things to see and do in our book that I can't possibly answer it all here. Maui offers the most activities of any island. We devote 59 pages just to activities. Take your time and savor all that Maui has to offer. _______________________ New Haven, CT: We'll be travelling to Maui for our honeymoon the dates of August 8 - August 18th. I've had a rough time finding cheap(er) car rentals. I do have your book which suggested several spots, but they all seem to be quite expensive. I've heard that others have booked through Priceline "name your own price" at around $18/day, but I've not had that luck. We're still looking at $30+/day for a convertible. Any tips or suggestions? I'm thinking booking last minute may be a solution, but I'd hate to have to pay MORE for waiting too long. Your book has been GREAT so far. We've already begun to plan our days with it! Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha New Haven, CT -- Car rentals in Hawaii are based on supply and demand and so prices don't vary too much. $30+/day is about the expected price of a convertible. You will pay more for gas than the price of the car at this point. You can always go with a lesser type (economy) car and save your money for more activities or eating out. If you wait too long to get your car there may not be any available at the price you want. We have a certain number available here on each island and when they run out, you're walking. Enjoy your honeymoon. _______________________ Hermosa Beach, CA: Going to Maui for the first time in June. We're starting our 12 night honeymoon trip on 6/27 with four nights at the Cliffhouse on the A'apali Ocean Outlook property at Pali Uli. Are you familiar with this property? What would be the best restaurant in the vacinity (Huelo) for a romantic dinner? Thank you so much! James Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Hermosa Beach, CA -- For dinner you will want to back track to Mama's Fish House on Hwy 36 at the 8 mile marker for a romantic dinner. You won't find much out where you are staying for food and may have to back track most of the time for those days. Be sure and make reservations well in advance (808-579-8488) at Mama's. Pa'ia has some good places to eat as well. Happy honeymoon! _______________________ Helena, MT: We're going to Maui in May and are going to stay several days in Hana. Rather than return the same way we came - west on the Hana Highway - we want to continue southwest on highway 31 and make a loop of it over the gravel road. What do you think? Unwise? Unsafe, or a do-able (and interesting) drive? Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Helena, MT -- You should be able to drive the bottom end of Maui in your rental car. Yes, you can go all the way around the bottom over the gravel part of the road. Enjoy the sights around, to and from Hana. _______________________ Denver, CO: Hello, Andrew. I was very excited to see that you were hosting the forum this week! My husband and I along with his twin brother and twin brother's wife are taking a 6-night trip to Maui on September 12-18. We've already booked in a house in Hana for the last 3 nights (hanaalohamaui.com), and are looking for the perfect place to stay the first 3 nights. We'd love to have a place with a view, deck, semi-private with a kitchen so we can make excursions during the day (to Molokini and Haleakala) and then come home at night to cook and relax. Looking at Maui Revealed we're guessing the the Paia area is our best bet, but we're having a little trouble finding a place that will take us for only 3 nights on the north shore. Any recommendations? Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Denver, CO -- Contact some of the rental agents in our book on page 290. Sometimes they have an "in between" booking and will make an exception to fill the time for a short stay. You may have to endure an extra cleaning fee. It never hurts to ask - even if it states a minimum stay. Being a low season you should find a willing rental at that time. You may not find much in Pa'ia - try N. Kihei if you have no luck. Have a great trip in September. _______________________ Channahon, IL: Planning a trip to Maui in February. Want to do the Road to Hana. Is it possible to consider taking the road past the Seven sacred Pools along Rt 31 to Keokea? We will rent a jeep. Enjoyed your books (I have Maui, Kaui and Big Island). Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: Aloha Channahon, IL -- Yes you can travel past the 7 Sacred Pools along the bottom of Maui. You will have to continue up hwy 37 to Kahuluhi. Some maps show a dirt road connecting the Hwy 37 and Hwy 31 but it is a gated and locked road and not accessible to the public. _______________________ Andrew Doughty, wizardpub.com: That hour went very quickly. I hope everyone has a great time on Maui. Please check our web site for updates to our book before you go. Enjoy -- Mahalo and aloha!
Stay at a hotel within a hotel In December 2003, Mandalay Bay opened THEhotel, a separate boutique hotel east of the main property, with its own valet parking, lounge, and coffee bar (thehotelatmandalaybay.com, from $170). And West Wing at MGM Grand, which debuted last March, is a tower west of the main casino with a private entrance, lobby bar, and reception desk. Each room is only 350 square feet, but the pillow-top king-size mattresses, 27-inch flat-screen TVs, and Bose alarm clocks with CD players make them seem ritzier (3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702/891-7777, mgmgrand.com, from $109). Learn to play poker Sandi Wilson's Texas Hold 'Em lessons, weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. at the Palms, are free and first-come-first-served. She'll lead you through a game, advising when to raise, check, hold, and fold. "When I play, I don't want the men to know I have anything," says Sandi, tossing back her blond hair. "So I act innocent and flirt." Groups can reserve Sandi for themselves, also for free, by calling poker room manager Gene Trimble (4321 W. Flamingo Rd., 702/942-7777, palms.com). Increase your odds for shopping success Las Vegas Premium Outlets is the closest of the three outlet malls in Vegas, and the best. It takes 15 minutes and $15 to get there in a cab, but the pickings can be worth it. Of the 114 outlet stores (plus nine restaurants), a handful--Elie Tahari, Dolce & Gabbana, Lacoste, Coach, Chanel, Theory--stand out (875 S. Grand Central Pkwy., 702/474-7500, premiumoutlets.com/lasvegas). Spend an afternoon soaking At Bathhouse, a spa in THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, you don't need to book a service to stay at the pools all day (though they'll waive the $35 entry fee if you sign up for anything over $50). A day pass buys all-day access to the facilities, including the red-walled gym and separate men's and women's areas, each with its own pool. There are free snacks, such as nuts, oranges, bananas, and banana muffins. After a eucalyptus steam and stint in the redwood sauna, test out complimentary June Jacobs products (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 877/632-9636, thehotelatmandalaybay.com). Forget "Rocket Man" Only die-hard Celine Dion, Elton John, and Cirque du Soleil fans can talk themselves into spending more than $100 for a seat. Two discount ticket companies--Tix4Tonight and Tickets2Nite--sell same-day, up-to-half-price tickets to those (on occasion) and dozens of other productions every day. The selection is usually heavy on hypnotists and magicians, but as one ticket vendor noted recently, "I don't think there's a single show in Vegas we haven't sold." All available remaining seats are released at 11:30 a.m. Tickets2Nite is in the giant Coke bottle at the Showcase Mall (888/484-9264, tickets2nite.com), while Tix4Tonight has four locations (877/849-4868, tix4tonight.com). Aim high for a photo op At the northern edge of the Strip, the 1,149-foot-tall Stratosphere Tower has the highest observation deck west of the Mississippi. Enter the building and you'll find yourself in a mall. An elevator bank in the back goes to Top of the World, a revolving restaurant; the observation deck is one level higher. To make things all the more over the top--and back over the top again and again--there's a mini amusement park up there, too. One ride is a claw extending 64 feet beyond the tower's edge; fittingly, it's called Insanity (2000 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 800/998-6937, stratospherehotel.com, elevator $10, Insanity $8). Hit the jackpot at dinner Celebrity chefs' Vegas offshoots are pale imitations of the originals. Real foodie cred goes to those who know about Lotus of Siam, a 70-seat Thai restaurant in a strip mall a mile off the Strip. Chef Saipin Chutima was raised in Chiang Mai and apprenticed under a cook for the Thai royal family. She makes an incredible nam kao tod, a spicy, crispy, rice-flavored snack with minced sour sausage, ginger, chilies, scallions, and peanuts ($8). Equally impressive is the plar dook o-cha: a fried whole catfish flavored with lime and chilies (market price). When the waiter asks how spicy you like your food on a scale of 1 to 10, know that a 5 is enough to ignite a small fire (953 E. Sahara Ave., 702/735-3033, saipinchutima.com). Sip kitsch through a straw At Peppermill's Fireside Lounge, it's always 1974. The low-lit room is decorated with neon, mirrors, and a fire-pit centerpiece--flames erupt from a turquoise pool. Waitresses in black evening gowns look like extras from Charlie's Angels. A highlight of the cocktail list is the Scorpion ($15), a mix of cherry brandy, vodka, rum, and vanilla ice cream. It tastes like a cross between Hawaiian Punch and a Creamsicle, it comes in a 64-ounce glass with extra-long straws, and, true to its name, it can be lethal (2985 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702/735-4177). Skip ahead of the brunch bunch Vegas is known worldwide for its buffets, and the Bellagio has the best for weekend brunch. There's a soup bar, bagels and lox, sushi rolls, a soft-serve ice cream station, and much, much, much more. The lines for a table are always long, but you can avoid waiting by heading straight to any open seats at the bar (3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702/693-7111, $23). Go for the gold lamé There's a hip arts-and-antiques district around Charleston Boulevard and Main Street. It costs $1 to enter the Attic, which advertises itself as the largest vintage clothing store in the world, but the buck buys you "lifetime entry" (1018 S. Main St., 702/388-4088). Expect feather boas, go-go boots, and maybe gold lamé tops. The Funk House is a mid-century furniture store (1228 S. Casino Center Blvd., 702/ 678-6278) run by one Cindy Funkhouser. The neighborhood's unofficial den mother, she also started First Friday, a popular street party with open studios and live performances (firstfriday-lasvegas.org). A block south, 10 railroad cottages painted in an array of primary colors make up the Gypsy Caravan (1302 S. 3rd St., 702/868-3302). Inside, there's an assortment of beautiful junk, including squares of carnival glass, and, on a recent visit, authentic Stickley rocking chairs. Promote yourself to V.I.P. status Right now the hot club is Pure at Caesar's Palace (3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702/731-7873). But joining the chic crowds on the 14,000-square-foot terrace overlooking the city involves suffering the indignity of the velvet rope--for men, anyway. Groups of girls should simply inform the manager that they'll be coming, and he'll likely guarantee spots on the list, which translates to entrance via the faster women-only V.I.P. line. Each club lives by its own set of rules: Sometimes the manager will be so kind as to comp the cover, as has been known to happen at Tryst, in the Wynn (3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702/770-3375). And always ask your hotel's concierge, who should happily give out free passes to the property's clubs.
Planning a Girlfriend Getaway to L.A.
Allison Hagman, Tracie Finney, Debbie Schutz, and Dalene Zieske met more than three decades ago as youngsters at Idaho Hill Elementary School in the small community of Oldtown, Idaho. They quickly became the best of friends, and over the years have pretended to be Nancy Drew and Charlie's Angels on the playground ("Somebody always got stuck playing Bosley," recalls Dalene), joined in high school plays, and even put on a faux Go-Go's lip-synch concert. "We've been told that we have our own language," says Allison. "When we get together, no one can understand us because we're laughing so hard and we know every one of the stories by heart." These days, the friends live within an hour of one another in Idaho and Washington, and, even though they're busy working moms, they talk a few times a week and try to have dinner once a month. Last year, Allison's mother passed away, and her friends surrounded her with support. Also present were two of her mother's sisters and four of their close friends. The older women reminisced about girls-only trips to New Orleans, San Francisco, and the Bahamas that they had taken over the years. Inspired, Allison and her crew decided to take a vacation together--and no better time than now, when they're turning 40. "We're looking for a place where there's lots to do," says Debbie. "But we also want to be able to just hang out and be with each other." Los Angeles quickly moved to the top of the list, because it offers everything from flashy nights on the town to peaceful (and recuperative) mornings at the beach. And, since they're only able to dedicate three nights to the trip, everyone likes the fact that the flight from Spokane is a mere two-and-a-half hours. "The only thing that makes me nervous is Tracie driving in L.A.," says Dalene. "Let's just say her car has one speed, and it's 'get out of my way.' " Dalene is kidding, but no one is excited about city driving. Unfortunately, a car in L.A. is pretty much a necessity. There's no shortage of rental cars in the city, but we point out an option many tourists are unaware of: Fox Rent a Car has environmentally friendly Honda Civic Hybrids for about $50 a day. It's not the cheapest rental, but it'll help them save on gas, and hybrids are exempt at parking meters in the city of Los Angeles. "Leisurely mornings mean a lot to us moms," says Allison. "We love the idea of having a sitting area with a fridge so we can make coffee and eat light breakfasts in the room." They're also hoping for a good location, in Beverly Hills or Hollywood. One option is Hotel Beverly Terrace, where the Asian-inspired rooms come in various shapes and sizes, and guests can help themselves to free breakfast and round-the-clock complimentary coffee and tea. Another possibility is the slightly more expensive Chamberlain West Hollywood, a former apartment complex that was given an elegant makeover last year by the Kor Hotel Group. Every room has a gas fireplace and a private balcony, and some include sitting areas and kitchenettes. The destination being L.A., the ladies really want to see a TV-show taping. Their first choices are The Price Is Right and Ellen. Unfortunately, tickets for The Price Is Right only guarantee a place in a preliminary line, not entry to the show. There's always a risk of getting shut out after waiting, and with limited time in town, the women don't want to risk it. So they won't have the opportunity to "Come on down" and win a kiss on the cheek from Bob Barker. Ellen DeGeneres's show, on the other hand, offers confirmed tickets via the Internet. The ladies register in advance and score tickets to a taping. "It'll be really fun to watch Ellen live," says Dalene. "She's so high-energy, just like us." If they're curious about seeing other shows, there are a few websites that give out tickets--including HollywoodTickets.com, TVTickets.com, and TVTix.com. Seats generally only become available 30 days prior to tapings. "We are truly tourists," says Allison. "And if we don't stay busy, we'll just end up yapping away at the bar." A friend of Dalene's insists that they take a Starline tour through ritzy neighborhoods to peek at some 40 celebrity homes. The bus drops off riders in the heart of historic Hollywood, near Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame, and The Kodak Theatre, home of the Oscars. Also within walking distance is the A-list hotspot Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. "Any celebrity sightings would be cool," says Tracie, a big people-watcher and mother of three teenage sons. "I have a growing list from the boys of who to look out for." The hotel's steak house and exclusive bar are on the pricey side, but wandering around is free, and you never know which stars might be strolling through the lobby. Though Tracie is the only serious shopper in the group, everyone agrees they'll enjoy Rodeo Drive. We tell them not to miss nearby Two Rodeo, the outdoor shopping center built to look like an old European street, where a cobblestone walkway is lined by Tiffany's, Versace, and Badgley Mischka. For a break from window-shopping, they might grab a bite at Urth Caffé, known for its organic menu, excellent selection of coffees and teas, and celeb clientele. For dinner, the ladies simply request good food and a fun scene. Boisterous waiters, old-fashioned checkered tablecloths, big portions of Italian fare, and a crowd of old and young Hollywood make Dan Tana's a lively favorite. Dishes are named for industry bigwigs, and fans include Lakers owner Jerry Buss and actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Drew Barrymore, and George Clooney--it's where he went after the Oscar parties this year. "I'm looking forward to some once-in-a-lifetime event that we can talk about for a long time," says Tracie. "Anything goes, as long as we don't end up in jail." They have heard vaguely about a bar with a mechanical bull. Sure enough, two miles north of Dan Tana's is a spot that's sure to kick girls' night up a notch: The Saddle Ranch Chop House, on the raucous Sunset Strip. Inside the rowdy Western bar, "smoking" cocktails--served with dry ice so they mist--come in carafe-size glasses. Besides the mechanical bull, there's an outdoor patio and campfire pits for roasting s'mores. And the husbands don't need to know that Saddle Ranch has quite the reputation as a pickup joint after 10 p.m. "If we were to spend one day away from Hollywood," asks Allison, "where should we spend it?" No trip to sunny Southern California is complete without a day at the beach--perhaps a night as well. If the women don't mind switching hotels, they could spend the final evening of their trip at Santa Monica's oceanfront Hotel California. It's an easy walk to the Santa Monica Pier, five minutes by car to Venice Beach, and a 30-minute drive to LAX airport. For the ride to the coast, we recommend scenic Sunset Boulevard, past the Hollywood neighborhoods they saw with Starline Tours, and on through Westwood, home to UCLA, and Brentwood, former home of O.J. Simpson, eventually ending just north of Santa Monica at Will Rogers State Beach. They'll basically run right into Duke's Malibu, a waterfront restaurant dedicated to the father of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, and famous for seafood, mai tais, a sandy barefoot bar, and incredible views. Everyone knows the community of Venice for its wild oceanfront walk: muscle-heads in the outdoor gyms, tattooed punks on skateboards, loads of folks roller-skating in bathing suits, performers strumming guitars or juggling flaming torches, and shops and tiny stalls selling tacos, T-shirts, sunglasses, jewelry, Mexican blankets, and more. Beyond the spectacle is Venice's quaint Abbot Kinney Boulevard, full of a much different kind of culture, with cooler shops as well as galleries, spas, and salons. Nitespa, barely a year old, welcomes clients from noon to midnight, and a free glass of wine is included with treatments. "Not all of us are into the spa thing," says Allison. "But this sounds good because it's more about sitting around having a few drinks during our pedicures." We can't think of a better way to end the trip: relaxed and pampered, having a few laughs--together. Surprise! Because the friends love to laugh, we hooked them up with four free tickets to Menopause the Musical, courtesy of the show. "After all, we are hitting 40 this year," says Allison. "Maybe it can help prepare us for what's ahead!" Transportation Fox Rent a Car 800/225-4369, foxrentacar.com Lodging Hotel Beverly Terrace 469 N. Doheny Dr., 310/274-8141, hotelbeverlyterrace.com, from $145 Chamberlain West Hollywood 1000 Westmount Dr., 800/201-9652, chamberlainwesthollywood.com, from $239 Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel 7000 Hollywood Blvd., 800/950-7667, hollywoodroosevelt.com, from $189 The Hotel California 1670 Ocean Ave., 866/751-0000, hotelca.com, from $179 Food Urth Caffé 276 S. Beverly Dr., 310/205-9311, latte $3.50 Dan Tana's 9071 Santa Monica Blvd., 310/275-9444, Sidney Beckerman (broiled chicken entrée) $25 Saddle Ranch Chop House 8371 W. Sunset Blvd., 323/656-2007, strip steak $29 Duke's Malibu 21150 Pacific Coast Hwy., 310/317-0777, mai tai $6.50 Activities The Price Is Right cbs.com/daytime/price Ellen ellen.warnerbros.com Starline Tours 800/959-3131, starlinetours.com, $35 Nitespa 1301 Abbot Kinney Blvd., 310/396-5122, nitespa.com, pedicure $40 Menopause the Musical menopausethemusical.com, from $41 Shopping Two Rodeo Rodeo Dr. & Wilshire Blvd., tworodeo.com