It's fun to spend the night in a less than ordinary kind of space.

And yurts, a Mongolian original, fit the bill. 

Published in Sleep

 ft chaa creek butterfly

Family-friendly lodges provide an activity-rich haven for the adventuresome clan.

Here are five places you’ll want to visit time and again:

The Lodge at Chaa Creek. Near San Ignacio, Belize. Prince Harry chose this remarkable, riverside eco-lodge as headquarters during his recent visit to the jungles of this Central American country. Tucked within a 365-acre private rainforest paradise in the picturesque foothills of the Maya Mountains, Chaa Creek provides the ideal home base for your family’s exploration of the Cayo District, a region where cave tubing, archeological sites, horseback riding and zip lining will lure you from the comfort of your palm-thatched cottage or tree-top suite. While at the Lodge, don’t miss early morning bird watching tours, the hill-top spa, the Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm and the medicine trail where you’ll learn about the native plants that provide globally significant remedies. Contact: (877) 709-8708; www.ChaaCreek.com.  

Skytop Lodge. Skytop, PA. A top spot for family reunions, this Poconos Mountain resort has been welcoming guests to their 5,500 acre playground since the 1920s. In addition to golf, canoeing, kayaking, biking, naturalist led hikes, rafting and paintball, families can explore the newly opened Tree Top Adventure course. Expect high-energy fun that includes zip lines, suspended bridges, nets, swings and an aerial surf board. Ask about the Camp in the Clouds for kids. Contact: 800 -345 -7759; www.Skytop.com

The Lodge at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Tabernash, CO. No need to leave Fido behind when you travel to this Rocky Mountain getaway 65 miles from Denver. Here, the lodge folks encourage kids to use their “outside voices” because that’s where they will want to spend their time. Whether the junior set is exploring on foot, horseback or mountain bike, there is plenty of country to cover on this 5,000 acre ranch where rustic charm meets luxurious comfort. Grown ups may opt for spa or fly rod time while kids get to know other youngsters in the Cowpoke Camp. The junior set will be engaged with active games, mountaineering and orienteering as well as learning about Native American culture. Contact: 970-726-5632; www.devilsthumbranch.com 

The Whiteface Lodge.  Lake Placid, NY. Relax in luxury amidst the Adirondack wilderness. Here, the Lodge concierge can help you and your clan mix hiking, fly fishing, canoeing, and rock climbing into your family holiday. Splash in the pools, bowl, play platform tennis or enjoy the spa. During the summer months, kids ages three to 14 can tap into a full range of activities provided by the complimentary KAMP KANU. After sunset, a fine dining experience awaits the parents while the youth crew enjoys a pizza dinner as well as themed activities that range from Pirates at Play to Space Night. End the evening roasting marshmallows with your family around the campfire. Contact: (518) 523-0500; www.thewhitefacelodge.com/

The Lodge at Tiburon. Tiburon, CA. Visit this quaint Northern California sailing town for a taste of seaside history. Enjoy magnificent waterfront shopping, galleries, dining and bike paths where your family can cycle in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. A perfect jumping off place for side trips to San Francisco, Muir Woods, Stinson Beach, Sausalito, and Napa Valley, the California Craftsman-style Lodge offers 103-rooms, complimentary wi-fi, DVD rentals, and fitness center. Bike rentals are also free and your pets are welcome. Contact: 800-762-7770www.lodgeattiburon.com.

Published in Lodges & Inns

Visit America’s historic lodges and find rustic log exteriors, well-worn pine floors, or riverside ambience. Join your family in a walk back through time when you book lodging with a story of its own.

A sampling:

 Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, OR.

Located in Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest, this magnificent lodge was built at the height of the Great Depression by unemployed craftspeople hired by the Federal Works Progress Administration. Completed on September 28, 1937, the lodge has long served as the centerpiece of a mountain playground where families ski, hike, dine, mountain bike, learn about the local flora and fauna and simply enjoy the high altitude natural beauty.

Contact: (800).547-1406; www.timberlinelodge.com/

Kalaloch Lodge, Forks, WA.

Visit the complex landscape that is protected within the Olympic National Park & Forest.  For bird watching, including the most significant habitat for bald eagles in the lower 48, beach combing, hiking and fishing, there are few destinations where families will find more beauty and opportunity to bond with nature. Consider the Kalaloch Lodge as a cozy home base. Serving up rustic yet charming accommodations, the Lodge offers tremendous views of the Pacific as well as the opportunity to spot puffins, sea otters, seals and a long list of other sea birds.  Tap into rich history by asking about the dozens of shipwrecks that have occurred in the area.

Contact: 888-896-3818; www.OlympicNationalParks.com.

Rapids Lodge and Restaurant, Grand Lake, CO.

Located on the banks of the scenic Tonahutu River, this charming lodge has been offering Rocky Mountain hospitality since 1915. Nearly a century ago the doors opened offering running water and electricity generated by a nearby water wheel.  Today, guests enjoy the outdoor wonderland that is Rocky Mountain National Park and then return to cozy lodge or cabin rooms and scenic dining overlooking the river.

Contact: 970-627-3707; www.rapidslodge.com.

Clay Hill Lodge. Lyons, OR.

Located  on Oregon’s Rogue River, this “off the grid” lodge offers families the chance to enjoy pristine wilderness, hiking, bird watching, rafting and fishing in the country that provided Zane Grey inspiration for many novels. Steeped in history, the lodge has served as base camp for scores of enthusiastic fishermen including Clark Gable, Herbert Hoover, Victor Moore and Ginger Rogers.

Contact: (503) 859-3772: www.ClayHillLodge.com

Garland Lodge and Resort. Lewiston, MI. 

Known as the largest log resort east of the Mississippi, this expansive playground is a family favorite for award winning golf, color tours, fishing, and hiking. A blend of old and new, sophistication and rustic charm, the AAA Four Diamond resort complex includes four championship golf courses. Ask about their family-friendly golf and spa packages. 

Contact: (800) 968 0042; www.GarlandUSA.com

Tarpon Lodge. Pinelands, FLA. 

Open since 1926, this charming waterfront lodge is located 30 minutes north of Fort Myers on Pine Island off Florida's Gulf Coast.  Enjoy the local art community, live music, bird watching and picturesque sunsets. Visit pre- Columbian mounds of the ancient Calusa people and paddle through the local waterways. The sport of tarpon fishing originated in Pine Island Sound in the late 1880s so you’ll want to grab a rod and try your luck with one of the local outfitters.

Contact: (239) 283-3999; www.tarponlodge.com.

Published in Lodges & Inns

I learned about the basic American hotel room from Howard Johnson in the 1960’s. Two double beds with back boards bolted to the wall, two fake oil paintings above said backboards, a stand in between the beds with a lamp and phone, a standard bathroom, and a TV.   The last time I checked, little has changed. When you book a room in the USA you know exactly what you are getting.

This is not the case overseas. Europe has a 1-5 star rating system that is extremely consistent. But the stars have more to do with the amenities offered than the overall glamour quotient. My family quickly found that three star hotels were the right match for us. They were affordable, often family owned, clean, and came with breakfast in the morning. But the similarities stopped there. When it came to design, well, let’s just say that half the adventure of our day was exploring our night’s lodgings.

First, when you make reservations you must specify how many people will be in the room because you are charged per person rather than per room. Since we always wanted to be together, we would ask for a room for four people thinking that would be easy: two queen beds, Ho Jo style. But that was simply not the norm. Because there is no norm. Sometimes we’d get a double and two singles, or three singles and a sleeping bag, sometimes bunk beds, and sometimes four singles jammed into a space that looks like it could hold only a double. And the beds were not always lined up in neat symmetrical fashion. They were jammed in whatever way worked like pick-up-sticks that fall every which way.

Some of the rooms were cozy with wood furniture and pretty wallpaper. And some were as austere as prison cells with a tiny window that opened onto a dark alley. And the bathrooms, well, talk about an adventure all its own.

Those Bathrooms

These are some of the unique styles that we have had the pleasure of sampling:

1. The shared bathroom down the hall. No comment.

2. The tiny bathroom that doubles as a shower. There is no shower curtain to cordon off the shower area. Simply a shower head in the ceiling and a drain in the floor. The entire contents of the bathroom gets soaking wet including all of your make-up and toiletries. After toweling off you feel this pressure to towel off the entire bathroom. Very time consuming.

3. The tiny bathroom that has a little shower curtain but no basin on the floor so the whole bathroom fills up with water since the drain usually is very slow and you have to slosh around in an inch or two of sudsy water while you attempt to towel off and get dressed. At least your toiletries and make-up are safe. But be careful not to drop the hairdryer.

4. The tiny bathroom with a shower curtain and a basin to catch the water. This is an appreciated upgrade. Even more so when the water temperature doesn’t alternate between ice and lava while you are showering.

5. The mid-sized bathroom with no shower. Only a tub with a hand held spigot for rinsing. Bath tubs are not necessarily designed for pampering, unless of course your idea of relaxing involves bending all of your joints at 90 degree angles at the same time. Again, this bathing experience usually ends up with water all over the bathroom floor as the absence of a shower curtain insures that the water from your hand held sprayer will bounce off your head and shoulders and land anywhere outside the tub. Besides, it is inevitable that at least once during the bath you will forget about the sprayer and will turn it in some unexpected position and it will spray all over the room. Usually hitting your make-up and toiletries.

6. The fancy bathroom. Once in awhile we would luck out and get a spacious bathroom with a big tub and separate shower. We would feel like royalty and take turns soaking in the tub after dinner thinking about the good old days when this was just a normal occurrence.

7. My personal favorite was the bathroom in the hotel outside Siena. This bathroom, presumably to save space, had a molded shower/bidet contraption that was cylindrical in shape. (God help the people that were over 140 lbs because there was no way the door would close) Besides the fact that you had to shower in the previous tenant’s bidet residue, you were sure that any moment you would be beamed up to the Enterprise in your birthday suit to meet Captain Kirk and the crew.

And another thing.

You will invariably find a cord hanging in every shower or bath. It is affixed to this little box that is stuck to the wall high above your head. Presumably it is to call for help if there is an emergency. What, exactly, are all of these bathroom emergencies that are going on all over Europe? Why have we not heard of these on CNN or FOX News? If you do pull on it (and you have no idea how tempting that is) does someone magically appear to help you? Does that someone look like Andy Garcia in a towel?

There is something to be said about all of this diversity. It has been amusing, creative, and entertaining. It has been the fodder for countless breakfast conversations and night time giggles. It somehow feels more human, and the fact that they are family owned makes them cozier. Maybe it’s the pride that goes into it, or the ‘make-do’ spirit. Or the individualism and personal touch of the owners who welcome you upon arrival and whip up breakfast for you at dawn.

It certainly made us wonder how a country such as ours, based on the strength and freedom of the individual, could evolve into a nation where everything looks the same.

Where’s the individualism in that?

Published in Go Global

Unspoiled natural places, authentic cultural experiences and distinctive communities draw travelers from around the world to America’s “last great place” ; Montana.

Published in Rocky Mountains

Sometimes tucking yourselves into the trees is just what the doctor ordered. Turn off the phones. Say no to texting and twittering. Bring out the board games. Listen to the quiet.

Here are few places that may feel just a little like paradise:  

Dubois, Wyoming.

At Brooks Lake Lodge, the vast Wyoming wilderness is right outside your door. High mountain lakes, miles of hiking and horseback trails and magnificent views will enhance your experience. One and two bedroom rustic but restored cabins are nestled among the Spruce and Pine trees of the Pinnacle Mountains. Enjoy the sweet smell of the forest from under your goose down comforters. (307) 455-2121; www.BrooksLake.com;

Wheeling, West Virginia.

For more than twenty years my family has spent Thanksgiving weekend in the some of the 50 family cabins at Oglebay Resort. A central meeting point for our clan, the rustic but comfortable cabins are the perfect home base from which to enjoy a 1700 acre wonderland. Sit by the fire or head out for hiking, golf, fishing, a petting zoo, and horseback riding. During the season, don’t miss the extraordinary holiday light show. (800)624-6988   www.oglebay-resort.com;

Sedona, Arizona.

For that quiet getaway, visit the Forest Houses tucked in the trees in the spectacular Oak Creek canyon. With the stream running just below, and the majestic red rocks in view, the beauty is extraordinary. Hike, fish and explore the art, culture and backcountry of this popular southwestern destination.  (928) 282-2999; www.ForestHouseResort.com;

Big Sky, Montana.

Located in the heart of Big Sky, there are few better places for relaxation than on the banks of the Gallatin River.  The Rainbow Ranch Lodge accommodations combine the rustic rugged west with a taste of sophistication. Fish, hike, or explore nearby Yellowstone National Park. (406) 995-4132; www.RainbowRanchBigSky.com.

Red River, New Mexico

The red river winds through this 38 acre respite from the fast pace of life. Choose from among 23 cabins tucked within fir, spruce and aspen trees at the Tall Pines Resort. Hike, fish and explore the pristine area. Then return to cook dinner, picnic style, on your outdoor grill. (800) 573-2241; www.tallpineresort.com

High Sierra Camp, Sequoia National Monument, CA

Rest easy in your cozy canvas bungalow after a day exploring California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  Dine on three delectable meals served in an al fresco dining pavilion.  Sink into your plush-top mattress and feather pillow and dream the night away. Whether you bunk with your honey, a girl friend or the whole family, book three nights and get the fourth night free. www.sequoiahighsierracamp.com

Published in Resorts

Whether expecting your first child or your fifth, those days and months before the new baby arrives can be hectic. So why not plan a relaxing and romantic getaway so that parents can greet the new family member with renewed vigor.

Here are five places to enjoy a Babymoon:

1. Baby Me. Expectant parents who book the Baby Me package at one of 12 W Hotels, will be treated to a copy of Bump it Up, Amy Tara Koch's pregnancy style bible for the chic mommy-to-be. You’ll also garner a pair of Baby Mocs and a cotton Onesie for the new arrival. Craving a little something to snack on? Order delectable goodies from the “Womb Service” menu.  Mom-to-be can also relax with a bump-friendly massage designed to relieve tired muscles and sluggish circulation. Contact:  888-625-4988; www.whotels.com.

2. Relax at Biscuit Hill. Take time for yourselves in Texas Hill Country. Stay at this charming bed and breakfast nestled in a wooded hillside and overlooking a picturesque lake.   Tuck your toes into microwaveable, herb-filled slippers designed to provide relief for the expectant mom’s aching feet. Enjoy fruit, chocolate, sparkling juices and a spa bath tote filled with soothing products to take home. Relax by the fireplace or the cozy outdoor sitting area. Contact: 888-998-9909; www.biscuithill.com/babymoons.htm

3. Little Palm Island Resort & Spa. Off the Florida Keys. For the ultimate pre-baby holiday, get cozy in an oceanfront, thatched-roof bungalow within this luxurious, 5 ½ acre resort only accessible by seaplane or boat.  Enjoy his and hers spa gifts and treatments. Then meet for an 80 minute couple’s massage. Relish in the television, telephone-free environment where the only sounds that may interrupt your rest are waves lapping outside the door or birds chirping overhead.  Contact:  1(800)343-8567; http://www.littlepalmisland.com/LittlePalmIsland_BabymoonPackage.aspx

4. Canadian Seaside Getaway. Just 20 minutes from downtown Victoria, observe whales, seals and otters frolicking in the ocean from your perch at Amore By The Sea.  Relish your stay within this award-winning bed and breakfast where elegant rooms, fine linens, jetted tubs, fireplaces and the quiet ambience combine with luxurious spa treatments, rich chocolates, and specialty lotions and soaps to relax and prepare parents-to-be for the arrival of their new baby. Contact: 1 (888) 828-4397; www.amorebythesea.com/index.html

5. Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa. Birmingham, AL. While future Dad explores the Robert Trent Jones Trail and the inherent championship golf,   Mom-to-be might indulge and relax within the resorts sprawling, 12,000 sq.ft. European Spa. The “Baby Love” massage will restore her energy enough to take in a night on the nearby town.  Before heading for home, enjoy an afternoon by the pool, and doze to the rhythmic pulse  of the signature waterfalls and fountains.1-888-236-242; www.marriott.com

Published in Sleep