ALL POSTS IN [Editors’ Trips]

Today, I set forth on one of the longest trips of my adult life. It’s a Round the World ticket I booked earlier this year using my Delta SkyMiles. Unfortunately, those award tickets are being discontinued by Delta at the end of 2014, but you can still book them using cash or miles on other airline alliances. I was fortunate to book mine using 280,000 Delta SkyMiles and will be traveling business class on various SkyTeam airlines. I’m especially excited about flights on Kenya Airways’ 787 Dreamliner and Air France’s new business class on the 777-300ER. Yes, I’m a bit of an aviation geek.

My Around-the-World Adventure Begins on Delta Air Lines

Credit : Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images

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Photo by The Cosmopolitan

Wide-eyed. A little overwhelmed. And, admittedly, a bit dazzled. That sums up how I felt my first few hours in Las Vegas, on my first ever trip to Vegas. “You haven’t been to Vegas?!” most people exclaimed when I told them this was my first trip. It seems no one could believe that I’d reached my 30s without at least 1 rite-of-passage, wild weekend in Vegas. And maybe that’s why I hadn’t felt a need to check this city off my list before now – I felt I could go without visiting a city full of Hangover-style debauchery laced with cheesy tourist traps. While I did find these things in Vegas, I surprisingly learned that it’s also possible to have a sophisticated and unexpected weekend here, too.

So if you want a mix of class and whimsy and OK, a few adventurous drinks, follow my first-timer’s 48-hour itinerary for Vegas.

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Photo By: Jessica Menk

Asheville, NC: Known for having some of the best craft breweries on the East Coast, Asheville is an eclectic, artsy town that sits just outside the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains. You can feel the city’s entrepreneurial spirit as you explore its various neighborhoods. The town is locally driven from restaurants to antique shops. This adorable town should be on your must-see list. READ MORE

The mountain village of Furcy, Haiti. All photos by Kathleen Rellihan

“You’re going where?!”

I got that reaction a lot when telling people I was going to Haiti. That, and a long silence … or a raised eyebrow.

As someone who’s been known to plan last-minute trips, sometimes solo, I have been used to people doing double-takes. Usually, though, it’s just my dad who’s shocked, like the time I told him I was skipping Thanksgiving and heading to Iceland, alone, in the dead of winter.  But this time, it was pretty much everyone who was surprised.

Did they think Haiti was too dangerous? Did they have mixed feelings about the voluntourism that I was about to embark on  … that, perhaps, it wasn’t sustainable and, at best, just a feel-good activity. Or maybe my friends and family were just shocked that once again I was skipping Thanksgiving, and this time for an even less likely location … Haiti.

Haiti?

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Pat Weber of San Diego Surfing Academy with Robin, 9, of Boston area, at S. Carlsbad Beach. (Photo: Lori Hoffman)

Can someone learn to surf in just 1 day? How about learn to surf and participate in a surfing competition in 2?

If your teacher is Travis Long, the answer may be yes. At least that’s what this tandem-surfing pro and surf instructor with San Diego Surfing Academy has been saying ever since I touched down in Southern California a couple hours ago, and before then, when we were emailing coast to coast. Who could pass this up?

There’s just one small thing: Forget not knowing how to surf, I barely know how to swim. And come to think of it, I don’t own a bathing suit. Plus, I have a bad lower back. Other than that, this sounds like one great idea.

At least Travis thinks so. He’s even got us booked in a tandem-surfing competition, slated for the very next day. Swami’s 19th Invitational Surf Contest is an annual event put on by Swami’s Surfing Association at Cardiff Reef, CA. As the guardians of “sun, sea and surf since 1964,” this is one of the oldest surfing clubs in all of California, and … I’m starting to freak.

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Our Editors' Summer Vacations

See how some of the Travel Channel editors spent their summer vacations. Then, show us how you spent yours! Our 2013 Summer Photo Contest ends today. Upload your best vacation photos now for your last chance to win a $500 Choice Hotels voucher to use at any location.

Above:

“There’s no better way to celebrate summer than going out into nature, exploring a new climbing destination, Coll’s Cove, in southwest Pennsylvania and meeting new friends that gave us a tour of the boulders. – Arthur Hsu, Video Project Manager

Our Editors' Summer Vacations

Top Row, Left to Right:

“This was the view from our boat every morning in Greece  — I just wish it lasted longer than a week!”– Sara Gilliam, Interactive Producer

“Mud, barbed wire, trenches, mud and more mud — all this may not exactly sound like a good summer vacation, but when I joined thousands of hardcore fitness lovers with a clear eye for fashion (yep, everything from Harry Potter capes to bath robes!) and headed to a wide-open field near Pittsburgh, my summer fun really began. Thanks to 10 to 12 miles of obstacle courses (and good friends, old and new, to help me over walls), this summer experience left me on a very big high that could rival any vacation — the 10,000 volts of electricity certainly helped, too!” — Lisa Singh, Interactive Producer

“I stumbled upon my first ghost crab in the Outer Banks.  Nothing says summer like beaches and crabs!” — Kathleen Calaro, Ad Sales Coordinator

Bottom Row, Left to Right:

“On a recent getaway to Charleston, I escaped the city limits in search of the 400-year-old oak tree Angel Oak on Johns Island, just outside the city. I had heard this oak tree was shocking in size, but seeing it up close took my breath away — it towers over 66 feet high with a wide-spreading canopy 28 feet all around. After days of sightseeing on historic cobblestone streets, seeing this natural wonder was the perfect way to end to my trip.” — Kathleen Rellihan, Interactive Producer

“After driving down the mountain through a torrential downpour, we were treated to a huge rainbow stretching over Denver.” — Josh Levin, Online Production Manager

“This summer, I had my first foray into pet travel. A LOT of toys and treats, one tiny puppy, an airline-approved carrier, and we were off! The ultimate lifesaver? A puppy-sized dose of Benadryl. Don’t judge, it was my vet’s suggestion. It was all worth it when we arrived on the island of Nantucket, 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts  – I think it’s safe to say that Pearl the frenchie loved the strolls through town and expansive, unspoiled beaches as much as I did.” — Allee Sangiolo, Interactive Producer

Photo: Robin Bennefield

First Lady and style icon Jacqueline Kennedy found refuge horseback riding in Middleburg, VA, 50 years ago, and in the very place where she once rode, a stylish new retreat has arisen. This weekend, Salamander Resort & Spa opened its doors as the only new luxury destination and spa to open in the US in 2013.

Just an hour from the White House, beyond Beltway gridlock, and where northern Virginia’s Route 50 undulates past old Civil War markers and new wineries, Salamander Resort aims to make its mark as an escape for politics-weary Washingtonians and a destination for discerning luxury travelers.

Salamander is well on its way, with a bucolic location at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, grand country estate design, top-notch gastronomy and state-of-the art spa facilities. The 168-room resort is all the brainchild of Washington-area entrepreneur, Sheila C. Johnson, who co-founded Black Entertainment Television and executive produced the movie The Butler.

As it turns out, it’s nice to be inside Sheila Johnson’s brain, which appears to be filled with pastoral greens, creams and pale blues as displayed in the “Living Room,” an airy, elegant lounge space overlooking a 100,000-square-foot lush, sloping lawn.  Johnson’s personal style and even her personal items have made it into every aspect of the resort, from bronze statues of a proud equestrian and her own children in the Living Room, which happens to be modeled after her own living room to her nature photography lining seasonally-themed hallways and guestroom walls. Nearly 20 percent of the art throughout the resort is from her personal collection, including a 14-foot tapestry once owned by Napoleon.

Photo: Robin Bennefield
Bronze statue from Sheila Johnson’s personal collection.

Photo: Robin Bennefield
The Salamander stables.

Her passion for horses and equine pursuits are equally apparent at Salamander with a full-service equestrian center and horse trails, suites named for her daughter’s favorite horses, right down to stirrup-embroidered bed linens. These little details are almost as striking as the property itself.

Here are a few other things that struck this traveler during Salamander’s opening weekend:

 The Library

It sounds cliché but this really is the perfect place to curl up with a good book, and there are plenty for you to borrow — from aspirational biographies to gripping mysteries. The dark, supple leather chairs feel like a warm hug. I almost wished for cold weather to see this room with its fireplace blazing. There are also dark library-appropriate games like chess and backgammon.

Photo: Robin Bennefield

Harriman’s Virginia Piedmont Grill

When I ordered the BBQ’d Shrimp and Grits for brunch, the waiter smiled and said “good choice.” I always pay attention to server comments and selections, so I got my taste buds ready. They weren’t disappointed when the savory and mildly sweet shrimp, atop a creamy bed of grits, reached my mouth. Johnson has gotten Todd Gray, one of the best chefs in the DC area to lead the culinary charge at Salamander, and I’d say that was a good choice. The 3-course brunch with all-you-can-drink bacon-decorated Bloody Mary’s and mimosas with fresh-squeezed orange juice is a palate pleaser.

Photo: Robin Bennefield

 

Photo: Robin Bennefield

Salamander Spa

If there is a crown jewel at the Salamander Resort & Spa, it is the spa, which turns out to be Johnson’s favorite space at the resort, according to the its director of public relations, Matt Owen. A world-class destination spa has been at the center of Johnson’s vision for Salamander since 2002 and she delivered, with just one feature, actually 2: the heated stone Tepidarium chairs that cradle and deliver warmth along every inch of the spine. My sister and I made a circuit between the chairs, the gurgling vitality pool and an aromatic steam room with a eucalyptus steam that won’t quit. We ended with a citrus drench wrap made from honey, orange juice and Shea butter, feeling completely rejuvenated.

Photo: Robin Bennefield

Photo: Robin Bennefield

 

The Salamander Resort & Spa joins Johnson’s other highly-rated luxury properties, Innisbrook, Reunion and Hammock Beach resorts in Florida, and aims for the same 5-star ratings. But even with all the high-end pampering and luxe appointments, Salamander feels surprisingly homey and inclusive. It’s kid-friendly, with a collection of books and DVDs for kids in the library, and pet-friendly with water bowls strategically placed around the property for the traveling pooch.

The fall may bring even more amenities, like ziplines and a tree-top canopy tour of the 200 wooded acres on the property, along with what I’d come back for: treetop spa treatment rooms.

Portland Head Light

Portland, Maine: This quaint, coastal town will win your heart over with its charm and history. The endless restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques will have you coming back for more.
Photo credit: Jessica Menk

 

STAY

West End Inn

West End Inn
146 Pine Street
Portland, ME 04102

This modern, chic B&B is located in the West End neighborhood of Portland. The historic, tree-lined streets compliment the beauty of this area. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the waterfront. The breakfast is plentiful, fresh and well thought out. You’ll want to get the Maine blueberry pancakes … at least once.

 

EAT

Jays Lobster House

J’s Oyster
5 Portland Pier
Portland, ME 04101

Skip the touristy lobster spots and hang with the locals. Get the lobster roll sandwich (a Maine staple). Trust me, you won’t regret it. Your best bet is to grab a seat outside with a view of the wharf. (pictured to the right)

Gorgeous Gelato
Gorgeous Gelato
434 Fore Street
Portland, ME 04101

It’s a little taste of Italy in the heart of Old Port. I’ve never had gelato this fabulous before. You can taste the fresh ingredients. My top 3 flavors: mango, tiramisu and hazelnut. (pictured to the right)


Flatbread Company

72 Commercial Street, Ste 5
Portland, ME 04101

Flatbread Company is a great place to enjoy the weather while sipping on a local craft beer. Their artistry in organic ingredients create tasty pizzas. The atmosphere is quaint, and reflects the culture. They also have a love for animals, so dogs are welcome in their outside area

 

SHOP

K Collette

K Colette
100 Commercial Street
Portland, ME 04101

This boutique is filled with artfully selected housewares from lush Egyptian cotton bedding to rustic and nautical vintage finds. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to wander around and get inspired. (pictured to the right)


Merchant Co. Handmade Vintage Goods

656 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101

On the walk from the West End side of town, stop at The Merchant Company for unique handmade items. This adorable store showcases local items such as invitations, housewares, jewelry and more! Located in the Arts District.


RELAX

Novare Res Bier Café
4 Canal Plaza
Portland, ME 04101

This bar is a must-find for craft beer seekers in downtown Portland. They have extensive offerings of fairly priced drafts and bottles. Their bartenders are knowledgeable and will happily steer you toward something you’ll enjoy. It’s a little tricky to find, but ask around and don’t give up your quest! With their wine menu and food offerings they aim to please everyone, including those who aren’t hopheads and beer geeks.


You May Also Like:
Acadia National Park
Maine Weekend Guide
Maine’s Lakes

 

Plains Indian Museum Powwow

Plains Indian Powwow (Photo: L. Singh)

We love Wyoming. On July 10, 1890, the Cowboy State entered the Union, and with it a million travelers’ dreams were made. Including this one’s. Standing on Mirror Lake Highway, under the massive “Forever West” sign, puts it all in perspective: This is a place where you can roam free. And you’ll do a lot of roaming here. With just over 500,000 people — in a state roughly the size of the United Kingdom — Wyoming is the least populous of all the states.

Your first stop in this great expanse of the American Wild West is Cody, WY. Granted, this is a tourist hub, as the western-wear-and-trinket shops along Sheridan Avenue attest. But you sort of expect that: The town’s namesake, after all, was the late-great western showman Buffalo Bill Cody, who helped found this rugged stretch of northern Wyoming in 1895. See his apparition at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, a complex of 5 museums that tells the story of the American west through western art, firearms exhibits and stories of the Plains Indians.

The world of Native American culture comes to life every summer, just beyond the museum’s doors. For more than 30 years, the Plains Indian Museum Powwow has showcased dancers and drum groups from Northern Plains tribes. Members of Native American tribes come from neighboring states, such as Idaho and Nevada, and in addition to performing, they sell Indian jewelry, bead and quillwork, clothing and more. Try the fry bread, hand-made by Arizona native Mary Sounding Sides. She’s been making fry bread at the powwow for the past 10 decades. What’s her cooking secret? “No secret,” she says, “just something I learned as a girl.” Make sure you stay for the grand finale: Flanked by American and Native American flags, dancers march away; they may wave to you and invite you to join the march as well.

Hotel Irma’s Gunfight (Photo: L. Singh)

More western lore comes to life at the town’s landmark, Hotel Irma. Buffalo Bill built this hotel in 1902, and named it after his daughter. The afternoon I swung by, I pulled a seat up to the cherry-wood bar that was given to Buffalo Bill by Queen Victoria — complete with an antique cash register from the early 1900s. You never know who you’ll meet as you sip a beer or lemonade; my bar buddy for the afternoon was a local Native American man named Oliver who told me about an upcoming powwow at nearby Wind River Reservation.

Stay ‘till the evening. It’s a little cheesy, but you’ll want to stay for Hotel Irma’s free gunfight show. Be patient with the sound system — this is live theater, folks, and sometimes the mics cut in and out. But you’ll get the basic gist, especially once you see “Wyatt Earp” shoot up outlaw cowboys Billy Clayton, and Tom and Frank McLaury.

Your next step: breathtaking Yellowstone. But you’ll need a full day for that. Check back later this week; we’ll give you the lowdown.

*Or, 5 Casual Observances for Summer Tourists From a Whirlwind NYC Weekend

Cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery

Courtesy of Dominique Ansel Bakery

1. The Cronut Craze — When I visited the Dominique Ansel Bakeryin SoHo back in May, you could still deign to enjoy your “DKA,” or “Cronut” seated on the small back patio (although we took ours to nearby Washington Square Park). Now the half-croissant, half-donut hybrid attracts lines around the city block –- and fans from as far as Singapore. I can’t blame them, though, the combination of flaky, delicious dough and caramelized crust is unparalleled. While we waited in line we were also treated to tasty mini-meringues — hope you are, too.

2. Pub Crawl With Pups — A friend’s birthday celebration took the form of a Brooklyn bar crawl with a “no presents, just pets” theme. Rather unsurprisingly, Williamsburg has a slew of establishments that not only allow, but also cater to canines and their owners. We started the afternoon at The Levee, think: a sea of sneakerwedges, $1 PBRs, never-ending buckets of cheeseballs and bar games ranging from Jenga to Big Buck Hunter. Later that evening we strolled to Luckydog, where more than one pug was spotted in skull paraphernalia.

The Standard Biergarten

Photo by Shawn Hoke, flickr

3. The Standard — Situated under the canopy of the High Line, in the heart of the Meatpacking District, the Standard’s open-air Biergarten serves up sausages, pretzels, beer (for 8 bucks a pop) and ping pong all summer long. There’s even homemade gelato at the Ice Cream Cart parked in front. It’s more casual than the storied rooftop, which boasts dramatic city views, live jazz music and almost-famous clientele. Both tend to get packed, so come early or expect to wait in line.

4. The Rain RoomMoMa’s must-see exhibit takes some coordination, but
the ticket line moves surprisingly quickly and the hours-long wait can be
spent perusing the magnificent modern art gallery and equally inspiring museum shops. I’d highly recommend planning one of your days around the 300-square-foot immersive environment, as admission is not guaranteed. And don’t worry, you’ll stay dry despite the falling water droplets, thanks to a system of 3D-tracking cameras that pauses the rainfall whenever a human body is detected.

5. No Reservations? No Problem. — Being a good corporate citizen, I can point you to a wealth of NYC recommendations. In a pinch, however, the power of recent Yelp reviews shouldn’t be underestimated. The app helped point us in the direction of some charming, more casual restaurants — like South Williamsburg’s Uruguayan resto Tabaré, SoHo’s cozy French spot Cocotte, and brunch at Café Cluny in the West Village — that we would have otherwise missed.

Cocotte

Courtesy of Cocotte

Also, dine off-hours when you can. After arriving rather late Friday night, it was nearly 11 p.m. once we checked into the hotel and headed out to dinner. However, we were able to walk right into Cocotte, its handful of tables having been occupied right up until that time. Dinner at Tabaré was at an early-bird 6pm — hey, we’d been at a bar crawl ALL day. Take advantage that you’re on “vacation time” — you’ll miss the trendy crowds, but eat well that way.

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