StrandedonLand

My dear friend Eunique Fowler recently launched Stranded on Land, a website connecting travel and outdoor adventure sport enthusiasts. She was kind enough to invite me to be profiled on her site. Eunique recently embarked on a solo cross-country road trip from Miami to San Diego to put down roots on the West Coast and pursue a new passion. I can’t be more proud of her for having the courage to strike out on her own.

Spearfishing in Bahamas' Cay Sals on one of my most recent adventures. Photo by Ian Miller.

Spearfishing in Bahamas’ Cay Sals on one of my most recent adventures. Photo by Ian Miller.

 

As someone who’s made similar moves, I know that as exciting as it can be, it’s never easy and can also be incredibly scary. In my profile on Stranded on Land, Eunique picks my brain about the moves I’ve made charting a course of independence that revolves around the water. I tell her: “I love having the freedom to pursue my interests, to push myself intellectually and creatively, and I love that I’m in control.” I talk about moving from New York to Key West, learning to sail and surf, and developing my career as a travel and lifestyle writer.

You can read my full interview with Eunique on Stranded on Land. Definitely click around the site for other inspiring stories and photos of the beautiful outdoors and people pushing their boundaries.

Just back from a brilliantly executed girlfriend’s weekend in New Orleans with my besties Lisa and Krista. We hit up so many great spots in the Big Easy for strong drinks, live music and a great party. Here’s where we went. You should probably check them out too. For where to eat, see last week’s post.

Loved this spot for its crazy atmosphere & absinthe frappes.

Loved this spot for its crazy atmosphere & absinthe frappes.

 

Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House: Come for the absinthe frappe, stay for the delightfully convivial dive bar atmosphere on the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets. 240 Bourbon St., 504-523-3181; www.ruebourbon.com/oldabsinthehouse.

Mo' absinthe. Look at how fancy that preparation is.

Mo’ absinthe. Look at how fancy that preparation is.

 

Pirate’s Alley: Another den for absinthe tippling tucked away near Jackson Square with the traditional French preparation involving an absinthe water fountain, slotted spoon and sugar cube. 622 Pirates Alley, 504-524-9332; http://piratesalleycafe.com.

Maple Leaf: Next to Jacques-Imo’s, the Maple Leaf is a legendary music venue made famous in recent years as a film location for the movie Ray. On my visit, we heard a transporting, three-piece blues band made up of bass guitar, keyboard and drums. 8316 Oak St., 504-866-9359; www.mapleleafbar.com.

We caught this brass band at the Spotted Cat in the early evening. Photo by Krista Garabedian.

We caught this brass band at the Spotted Cat in the early evening. Photo by Krista Garabedian.

 

Spotted Cat: Frenchmen Street is a top live music destination just outside the French Quarter. Head to the Spotted Cat, a prime listening room for everything from brass bands to jazz. 623 Frenchman St., no phone; www.spottedcatmusicclub.com.

This woman rocked. Her band: Alien Knife Fight.

This woman rocked. Her band: Alien Knife Fight.

 

DBA: Another live music joint on Frenchmen, DBA has a slightly more rock ’n’ roll edge. 618 Frenchmen St., 504-942-3731; http://dbaneworleans.com.

The Swamp: It’s hardly worth distinguishing the venue on a Bourbon Street crawl. Just wander into whichever scene lures you — and remember, the open container laws allow you to take your drinks to go. Still, The Swamp, with its gator theme and neon green lights, is worth a gander for its upstairs, downstairs and outdoor patio space pulsing with a young, good-looking crowd. 516 Bourbon St., 504-528-9400; http://bourbon-swamp.com.

Saints & Sinners: Apparently Channing Tatum owns a bar on Bourbon. With a dude gyrating on the porch in baggy jeans, no shirt and a backwards cap, think of this as a hilarious Magic Mike-themed bar. 627 Bourbon St., 504-528-9307; http://saintsandsinnersnola.com.

Lost Love: A chill local haunt in the newly hip Marigny neighborhood. 2529 Dauphine St., 504-949-2009; http://lostlovelounge.com.

Getting loopdy-loop on that Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone where we stayed.

Getting loopdy-loop on that Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone where we stayed.

 

Carousel Bar: Located in the Hotel Monteleone, the trippy Carousel Bar rotates slowly, throwing off your equilibrium just so. We enjoyed killer Bloody Marys here to start the day on the right foot. 214 Royal St., 504-523-3341; http://hotelmonteleone.com/entertainment/carousel-bar.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Miami Herald
Lisa, Krista & me loving life at Lafitte's after catching a parade on Canal Street.

Lisa, Krista & me loving life at Lafitte’s after catching a parade on Canal Street.

 

New Orleans was long on my shortlist of American cities I’d never been to, but was dying to visit. There was something about the lore of the Big Easy, with its free-spirited, jazzy laissez les bons temps rouler mindset that spoke to me.

It was brass bands and zydeco, indulgent dishes, refined or rustic, synonymous with the city — jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, po’ boys, beignets, sazeracs. The sheer fact that a place like Bourbon Street existed, where you could walk around in the open air with a strong drink called a hurricane or one made of absinthe and go wild, besotted tourists or not.

It was the city’s tempestuous relationship with the muddy waters of the Mississippi and its melting pot of cultures — French, Southern, Creole, Cajun, Caribbean. I knew I wanted to eat and drink my way through New Orleans accompanied by live music. So by the time I finally made it there this January during Mardi Gras with my two best girlfriends, Krista and Lisa, we had a well-vetted itinerary (with, yes, lots of recos from Bobby Stein–are you happy now?). For where to drink and listen to live music, click here.

Garden District Staple

Shrimp 'n grits at La Petite Grocery. Yes, it tasted as good as it looks.

Shrimp ‘n grits at La Petite Grocery. Yes, it tasted as good as it looks.

 

We started our gastronomical exploration at La Petite Grocery (4238 Magazine St., 504-891-3377; http://lapetitegrocery.com) in the breezy, plane tree-lined Garden District. Here, chef-owner Justin Devillier, regularly a James Beard Award finalist, and wife Mia turn out refined New Orleans fare inside a century-old, Creole cottage that was once a coffee and teahouse.

Their award-winning blue crab beignets.

Their award-winning blue crab beignets.

 

We decided to go with their celebrated blue crab beignets, and I couldn’t resist the Gulf shrimp and grits made with shiitake mushrooms and smoked bacon.

The cocktails were the highlight of our lunch. With such tempting options as the LPG French 75 (pear brandy, Champagne, sugar and a lemon twist) and the Cassius Club (gin, Apricot du Roussillon, Steen’s syrup, absinthe and lemon), we were persuaded by our waiter to order off the menu. His concoction, made of tequila, jalapeño, honey and bitters, was perfectly balanced and a stellar recommendation.

Uptown Funk

We ventured uptown for dinner at Jacques-Imo’s (8324 Oak St., 504-861-0886; http://jacques-imos.com/), a rowdy outpost for down-home Creole and soul food run by exuberant New York transplant Jacques Leonardi.

With its no-reservations policy, we were prepared for our 45-minute wait and ordered a round of hurricanes at the bar. I quickly learned that a hurricane is simply New Orleans’ version of the Caribbean’s multitudinous rum punch. When I asked the bartender what went into theirs, she responded, a little bored: four different rums and a mix of fruit juices. Good enough for me. They packed a sweet punch.

With its funky décor, local art and no-frills plastic tablecloths, Jacques-Imo’s could just as easily be a delightful pit stop on a drive to the Keys, but the food positions you distinctly in New Orleans. A heaping basket of sweet cornbread muffins swept in garlic butter was a welcome start to the meal. My eyes landed on the eggplant pirogue. Named for a Creole carved-out canoe, the crispy eggplant serves as a “boat” for sautéed shrimp, oysters and flaky white fish in a rich lemon cream sauce. It is served with a salad and choice of two sides. This is the kind of place where you get a bang for your buck and leave completely stuffed.

Beignets & Cafe au Laits

Any traveler too jaded to enjoy the pleasures of Café du Monde (800 Decatur St., 504-525-4544; http://cafedumonde.com/) is someone I’d rather not encounter. One of the Big Easy’s most iconic establishments, this haven for powdered sugar-doused beignets and milky-sweet café au laits more than lives up to the hype.

It's so nice, we had to come to Cafe du Monde twice!

It’s so nice, we had to come to Cafe du Monde twice!

 

We visited twice during our long weekend and, luckily, never had to wait more than a few minutes to snag a table beneath the green awning overlooking Jackson Square. With a brusque, French bistro vibe, it’s the perfect perch to watch the world go by. We sat and listened to a lone musician’s lilting trumpet before breaking into a heart-rending, a cappella Amazing Grace.

Best of the Besh

The pretty dining room at August.

The pretty dining room at August.

 

Chef John Besh is something of a legend on the New Orleans culinary front with 12 restaurants to his name. It all started with James Beard Award-winning August (301 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-299-9777; www.restaurantaugust.com), an ode to modern French cooking with a kick of New Orleans flavor. Located in a charming 19th century French-Creole corner building, the white tablecloth dining room is refined without being fussy. Sparkling chandeliers hang from high ceilings bolstered by ornate columns with exposed brick walls and picture windows spilling in light from the street.

Some fancy, delicious chocolate situation. The previous courses were so scrumptious, who could stop to snap a pic?

Some fancy, delicious chocolate situation. The previous courses were so scrumptious, who could stop to snap a pic?

 

We dined at lunchtime, when the three-course $20.16 prix fixe menu is a value hard to beat. However, other items on the menu tempted our taste buds: a charred winter green salad with the most perfectly piquant, crispy country ham, a roasted grouper in crab jus with blue crab meat and wild mushrooms, and fried green tomatoes with cold, firm lobster-shrimp remoulade. Every bite was symphonic, especially when chased with a fizzy French 75. It takes the cake for the best meal of our trip.

French Quarter Classic

There are a couple of stalwarts in the French Quarter and we were told that Arnaud’s (813 Bienville St., 504-523-5433; www.arnaudsrestaurant.com) was the one to try. Established in 1918, this massive institution spans an entire city block. With black and white tile floors, mahogany paneled walls, wainscoted ceilings and portraits of the original proprietors gazing down on its diners, the place exudes Old World glamour.

Dedicated to classical Creole fare, the menu has a true sense of place with dishes like turtle soup, alligator sausage and frog legs provençale. Cold Vesper martinis proved to be an effective aperitif and we opted for the escargots splashed with Pernod and topped with flaky pastry poufs, seafood gumbo and the Crawfish O’Connor baked in a brandy-infused Creole tomato sauce.

The Newcomer

Got to have Shaya, mon!

Got to have Shaya, mon!

 

We kept hearing about a new Israeli restaurant in the Garden District called Shaya (4213 Magazine St., 504-891-4213; www.shayarestaurant.com) and decided to see what everyone was buzzing about. Alon Shaya, the James Beard Award-winning chef, draws on his Israeli roots and recent travels to create modern Israeli cuisine influenced by North Africa, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Greece and Middle East flavors. (Unbeknownst to us at the time, Shaya is also a Besh Group undertaking.)

We sat in the lovely outdoor courtyard, past a mirrored cerulean dining room with bright, fresh flowers and managed to order one of everything, starting with pillow soft pita baked onsite in a special oven. We dipped it into tart, creamy labneh yogurt, wood-roasted tahini Brussels sprouts, lutenitsa (roasted red pepper and eggplant puree) and curry-fried cauliflower hummus. We couldn’t get enough! Until, of course, our falafel sandwich, chicken schnitzel and shakshuka arrived and we realized we’d grossly over-ordered. At least the leftovers came in handy after a late night out on Frenchmen Street.

Muffulettas on the Mississippi

Inside Central Grocery were those famous muffulettas are constructed.

Inside Central Grocery were those famous muffulettas are constructed.

 

On our final day, it came down to po’ boys vs. muffulettas. And the muffulettas won. Central Grocery at 923 Decatur St. (504-523-1620; no website), just north of Jackson Square, was founded by Sicilian immigrant Salvatore Lupo in 1906 and claims the original New Orleans muffuletta.

The sandwich is stacked with mortadella, salami, ham, provolone, mozzarella and a pungent olive salad. We took ours across the street to a bench overlooking the muddy Mississippi. We sat wind-whipped, watching the river’s eddies roil past us on its winding journey to the Gulf. And maybe, just maybe, we could hear the far-off whine of a fiddle from a lone musician in Jackson Square.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Miami Herald.

Yes, it’s been like… What? Almost two years since this epic surf trip to Nicaragua. Organized by the “Thankful Crew” (aka ThankYouMiami & ThankYouSurfing), 10 of us shacked up in a gorgeous, just-built 5-bedroom villa called Fort Walker right on the Panga Drops surf break and just down the beach from Colorados.

With my sister in Nicaragua this week and the possibility of my maybe-just-maybe return in May, well, I’ve been Nica dreaming. And I realized I never wrote about this extremely picturesque destination and trip. So… here are a few forgotten snapshots.

SanJuan

The (Partial) Crew: Anouck, Bill, Me, Mike, Melissa, Brad. Day tripping in Granada. Photo by Margarita Wells.

 

chicken

This may look like a humble chicken dish, but this pollo a la plancha spoke to me! Our first meal after touching down in Managua.

 

Hacienda

Welcome home! The entrance to Fort Walker.

 

view

Views of the surf from the infinity pool.

 

backbends

Activities included a lot of time in the pool. Yes, even enough time to pose for a backbend pic! Photo by Margarita Wells.

 

quiver

The quiver of boards. Hey, where’s my 8-foot soft top??

 

BradSurf

A snap of Brad at Colorados. Photo by Margarita Wells.

 

Surfinstructor

I let my surf instructor borrow my board. He was struggling! Photo by Margarita Wells.

 

Big waves!

Big waves! Photo by Margarita Wells.

 

girlspool

Girls will be girls: Anouck, Margarita, Melissa, Me. More pool time! Photo by Brad Wells.

 

girls

Beautiful sunsets. Nothing like frolicking in the surf at dusk on a gorgeous beach all to yourselves! Photo by Brad Wells.

 

running

Let’s go back! Brad, when’s the next trip? Photo by Brad Wells.

 

Facade

A bright, sunny morning in Zurich outside Widder Hotel.

 

140 Character Overview:

Boutique design hotel in the heart of Zurich with three fab restaurants reflecting the full spectrum of Swiss cuisine. Each room unique.

The Vibe:

DSC01691

The modern elevator banks set against a 700-year-old stone wall.

 

Hotel Widder’s lobby is a meticulous blend of modernism and antiquity with slick glass, chrome and steel elevator banks set against ancient stone walls, leather and high-gloss wood designer chairs in a library and one-0f-a-kind guest rooms, ranging from romantic to modern within nine medieval townhomes restored by architect Tilla Theus. The whole effect can feel slightly anachronistic and distinctly European or, perhaps more specifically, Swiss.

Penthouse

The penthouse suite not only boasts this sexy fireplace, but a private roof deck with panoramic views of the medieval city.

 

RoomWidder

My room, pretty, bright with romantic Art Deco flourishes and fun pops of color.

 

LivingRoom

Cozy little sitting area. I love the turquoise furniture.

 

RoomStraightAngle

Another view of the room with a modern, glass desk.

 

PillowDetail

I loved how the accent pillows resembled candy wrappers.

 

The Location:

View

The view from my room at the quiet street below.

 

It’s a perfect location in the heart of the city, an easy walk to the Limmat River, Lake Zurich and all the shopping and historic attractions of this quaint and well-contained city. Zurich also boasts some of the most efficient public transportation in Europe allowing you to easily explore the outer stretches of the city.

F & B:

With three distinct restaurants ranging from fine dining, rustic chic and casual, you will get a true taste of Switzerland at Widder. At Wirtschaft Zur Schtund, a cozy “snuggery” overlooking the pedestrian street outside the hotel, I enjoyed an indulgent tart flambée Lorraine made with the pungent single cream curd cheese ubiquitous to Switzerland. It was like a ridiculously rich pizza on a thin, flaky crust sprinkled with crunchy lardon. Heaven.

Tarte

The bomb-town tart flambée. Yes, I ate it all.

 

Widder Restaurant is a true luxury experience where white-gloved waiters find every opportunity to shave fresh truffles onto your four- five- or six-course tasting menu. We ended our meal here with Champagne inside their wine vault while sampling a variety of cheeses.

Fromage

Fromage, fromage and more fromage! Or, in Zurich’s German: käse, käse and more käse.

 

August is like the trendy, rustic cousin of the trio of restaurants with a high-energy dining room of communal butcher block tables and a checkered tile floor. The menu consists of fancy meats and cheeses meant to be mixed, matched and shared.

They’ve also got an awesome little speakeasy-style bar lined in tufted red leather with moody lighting, live jazz music and a whimsically playful cocktail menu.

The Specs:

42 rooms and 7 suites
3 restaurants
1 bar
Gym
Free WiFi
Nightly rates from around $609

The Verdict:

A truly classy and comfortable stay in the heart of Zurich with stellar dining and hospitality. Even if you don’t splurge and stay here, come for a meal at one of Widder’s restaurants.

ZurichRiver

On a perch at the Lindenhof park near the Widder overlooking the river with my girl Michelle (right).

 

Shayne’s Checklist:

Bathrobe: Yes.

Conditioner: Yes.

Bed Comfort Level: 3 Stars (out of 5)

A bird's eye view of the Norwegian Escape. Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Lines.

A bird’s eye view of the Norwegian Escape. Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Lines.

 

There’s nothing I find particularly appealing about cruise vacations, but then again there’s nothing categorically repelling about them either. So when the opportunity presented itself to embark on the two-night maiden voyage of the Norwegian Escape (seven-night Caribbean cruises from $599) from PortMiami, I said, sure, and I brought my best friend Krista along for the ride.

I’ve been on a handful of cruises through the years and actually, most of them have been quite memorable. My very first at age 15 was nothing but enchanting. It was all snorkeling, swimming pools and sunshine, and really, I didn’t need much more at that age to have a good time, still don’t.

Then, there was the Carnival cruise after college graduation with two girlfriends where we smuggled Bacardi onboard inside a mouthwash bottle and gleefully ran amuck all over the ship.

There was the Alaskan cruise with my family last fall aboard Celebrity where, yes, 3/5 of us (not me!) ended up in the infirmary with the flu, but where, nevertheless, we saw the Hubbard Glacier, ate steaming buckets of Alaskan king crab legs in the Tongass Rainforest and flew across the last frontier in all manners of helicopters and small prop planes. Mostly, we came home with a boatload of inside jokes and I came home with a fascination of the interior life of the ship’s on board comedian-magician.

The thing about cruising is, it’s inherently uncool. And in spite of the industry’s full court press, wooing Millenials and insisting that they are, in fact, cool, a cruise is not the vacation where you’re going to “get off the beaten path” and “immerse yourself in a new culture” (also buzzy phrases in the travel industry today) or stumble into that slick new cocktail bar you read about in The New Yorker.

There are limitations that come with pre-arranged tours, half days in port and supplying a week’s worth of food to 4,248 people before the thing even shoves off from land. However, pleasant surprises and valiant attempts at authenticity can be discovered throughout Escape. The beauty is, as soon as you discard any notion of coolness from your ego, you’re free to have unadulterated fun in the novel, yet slightly bizarre parallel universe that exists aboard cruise ships.

“You know I gotta say, Dale!”

Dalé! Grand-papi!

Dalé! Grand-papi!

 

To inaugurate Escape, none other than Miami’s native son, Pitbull, served as “Godfather” of the ship with a pre-sail concert. This was our first opportunity to shed any pretense and embrace the next 48-hours for what they were going to be, a wildly silly good time.

We gathered dockside before the gargantuan 164,600 gross ton Escape, the largest in Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet, climbing 20 decks high and over 1,000-feet long, flanked by rows of glistening stateroom balconies and a whimsical marine mural by Guy Harvey.

Pitbull burst onto the stage opening his half hour concert with “Don’t Stop the Party!” Doing his due diligence as Godfather of this Miami-inspired ship, he repeatedly invoked the city’s sexiness through his words (“This is the sexiest ship on the planet for the sexiest city in the world!”), his high-energy performance (complete with hip-swiveling salsa moves and the cocksure crow of, “Dalé!”) and, of course, his scantily clad backup dancers (dressed in oversized red coats that they promptly discarded to reveal black and white leotards and lots of booty).

Broadway Caliber Entertainment

“I think it will be worth it for the entertainment alone,” I told Krista over the phone, persuading her to join me.

The Escape stages two Tony Award-winning Broadway musicals, Million Dollar Quartet and After Midnight, as well as Los Angeles-based theater company For the Record’s production of The Brat Pack in a dinner theater setting.

And I was right about the entertainment. The Brat Pack, a musical mash-up of cult classic movies that defined the ‘80s—everything from Pretty in Pink to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Weird Science—was both hilarious and moving, performed by a wildly talented cast of singers, actors and musicians.

After Midnight, a dance-based musical revue set during the Harlem Renaissance stars Broadway veteran Brenda Braxton and a host of other talented performers who soft shoed and belted out everything from the sassy “Women Be Wise” to the heartfelt “Stormy Weather” and the swingy Duke Ellington-arranged “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” With performers draped in dazzling Tony-nominated costumes by Isabel Toledo, the show was a visual and aural treat from number to number.

The cast of Million Dollar Quartet aboard the Escape. Photo courtesy of NCL.

The cast of Million Dollar Quartet aboard the Escape. Photo courtesy of NCL.

 

I initially saw Million Dollar Quartet in rehearsals at the Norwegian Creative Studios in Tampa back in September and I may or may not have intentionally seated us in the front row knowing that the 21-year-old actor playing Elvis would plant a kiss on a female audience member during his finale of “Hound Dog.”

The show rocks and the young performers playing Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and, of course, Elvis are all heartthrobs.

Ropes Course, Waterslides & Other Diversions

Sunrise over the fun decks on the Escape. Photo courtesy of NCL.

Sunrise over the fun decks on the Escape. Photo courtesy of NCL.

 

Perhaps I should mention now that this inaugural two-night “cruise to nowhere” had no ports of call and an open bar, so we spent our time at sea getting to know the ship’s bells and whistles with mimosas in hand.

Escape boasts an impressive ropes course looming large, three stories above Deck 17. We whooped it up on the ship’s tangle of waterslides (you’ve gotta try going backwards on a tandem float), played a rather uncompetitive game of HORSE on the top deck basketball court, sunned at Spice H20 Lounge, cooled off in the grotto (yes, there’s a grotto on board and yes, it faintly conjures the Playboy Mansion) and soaked in a hot tub before sunset.

At one point in the day, I turned to Krista and said, “Okay, I get it. I see how people can become obsessed with cruise ships. Like, ‘Have you seen the waterslides on so-and-so ship?’ ‘No, but did you know xyz ship has a wave pool?’ ‘No way!’ And then you just keep going on cruises.”

Later on, Krista turned to me and said, “Shayne, this cruise to nowhere has inspired me. We should book a cruise with Lisa [our other best friend] for our next vacation.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Yes!”

I’m still not sure if she was joking or not.

Cruise Ship Food

I’ve got some hard truths to deliver you about cruise ship food. If you’re a foodie of any stripe or simply live in a city that has good restaurants, you’re not going to have the best meal of your life aboard a cruise ship. The best way to describe it is to compare it to airplane food in business class or on an international flight. It’s not bad, I thought to myself, digging into the short rib and prawn surf ‘n turf combo atop a bed of couscous at the Supper Club, even good if you’re hungry, but it’s not a meal to write home about. (I guess that’s what I’m doing now, of course.)

There are definitely some exceptions to this rule aboard Escape and they come in the upgraded restaurants (i.e., mo’ money) helmed by Michelin star chef Jose Garces and Miami’s own Pubbelly Group. We sampled their fare at lunchtime, while also sampling wine at the legitimately classy Mondavi Wine Bar and beers by Wynwood Brewery at the District Brewhouse, easily the most convivial and chill spot on the ship to throw back a cold one on overstuffed, vintage-y looking leather sofas with old school board games and panoramic vistas of the sea.

Brewskis at sea at the District Brewhouse.

Brewskis at sea at the District Brewhouse.

 

On the less enticing end of Escape’s dining offerings, instead of the Midnight Pizza Buffet of my dreams, an Irish pub named O’Sheehans (do you think that’s some weird word play on “ocean?”) serves as the ship’s 24-hour dining mecca. Over the course of the two-night cruise, we popped into O’Sheehans for late night nachos swimming in room temp cheese sauce and a just okay burger on a dry, slightly stale bun.

On the second night, we ordered dessert that we determined was the “fakest tasting” cheesecake and weirdest-looking, yet surprisingly palatable, apple pie of all time. This was only after being aced out of a humble request for a table for dessert at various other dining establishments on the ship.

And that’s the thing about “freestyle” cruising with Norwegian (their branding hallmark allowing passengers to set their own schedules), while there are lots of options, if you don’t make a reservation, you’ll either simply be turned down or end up waiting in line for a table. After being coolly informed by more than one hostess that their restaurant was fully committed, I said to Krista, “This is like the Meatpacking District! Come on, let’s just go to O’Sheehans.”

Nightlife

Posing it up with Krista (left) at the illustrious Sparkle Square.

Posing it up with Krista (left) at the illustrious Sparkle Square.

 

Most of the nightlife aboard Escape revolves around a three-story plaza midships that we dubbed Sparkle Square for its over-the-top, South Beach-worthy crystal chandelier dripping from the ceiling. It’s here that we stumbled upon Tobacco Road. The shuttered Miami dive bar, beloved for being the oldest watering hole in the city, has been given a second life aboard the Norwegian Escape and an incongruously classy upgrade. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a Miami native and have no real nostalgia surrounding the original Tobacco Road, but this incarnation was a hell of a lot more pleasant with a dimly lit, chocolate color palette and cushy leather lounge chairs.

It’s from this plush perch, that you can kick back with a Kir Royale and watch the world go by in the make believe village at sea surrounding Sparkle Square. Women totter by in heels dressed for a night on the town, a group of travel agents yuck it up in matching neon green t-shirts on their way to the casino, people stand in line hoping for a table at Pubbelly at Sea, the ship’s comedian makes his way to the District Brewhouse with the woman who was heckling him during his entire show, who, as it turns out, is wheelchair bound.

Okay, wait a second. What is going on here?

We spot an actor from The Brat Pack who looks totally different out of costume chatting with a group of friends and wonder if maybe the cast of Million Dollar Quartet is out tonight, so that maybe we could hang out with Elvis and Johnny Cash. We’re getting all  caught up in the social constructs of this fleeting dream world entirely of Norwegian Cruise Lines’ invention.

When that gets dull, we drain the last drop from our Champagne flutes and head to the open air Spice H20 Lounge (yes, by day it’s for sunning, but by night it’s for dancing!). The bar is crowded and a DJ works his magic before a big screen playing the song’s corresponding music video. And even in this alternate universe at sea, weird guys still try to buy us drinks (it’s an open bar, dude!) and attempt pitiful pickup lines on the dance floor, and Krista and I still run away giggling.

So did we have a ton of fun aboard the Norwegian Escape? Totally. Will we be booking a cruise vacation anytime soon? I mean, I doubt it—although, I’ll have to double check with Krista. This ship may just have converted her into a devoted cruiser.

A version of this story originally appeared on Miami.com.

Beach views and blue skies from a guest room at the Carillon.

Beach views and blue skies from a guest room at the Carillon.

 

One of the first travel stories to captivate me and make me think, “I want to do that” was by New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd. In January 2009, in place of her typical political and social commentary, which, at the time, I devoured every week, she was moonlighting for the Travel section with a story about her visit to the newly opened Canyon Ranch Miami Beach. At the time, President Obama had just taken office and the nation’s economy was in a free fall. In true Dowd fashion, her story was just as much about the economic and moral implications of indulging in a pricy spa getaway as it was about profiling the resort.

I was living in Key West at the time, and after reading her story, the property and Miami, itself, had piqued my interest. It would be two years before I eventually made the move here, but I loved how Dowd described the resort, “perched on the ocean, with gorgeous shimmering mosaic designs, gentle lighting [and] sumptuous rooms.” It was luxurious, but also grounded in Eastern practices like meditation, Chinese medicine and “intention walks.” I loved how, in spite of this Zen retreat, the allure of Miami’s “salsa and jangle” led her to stray off property for dinners at the Versace Mansion and the now defunct Joe Allen.

Truth be told, she found the whole experience slightly absurd, begging the questions, “With America so busy detoxifying from its toxic greed, hubris and overreaching, is there still room for the more aesthetic form of detoxifying? Will our depleted nation finally learn the existential lesson that eyebrow plucking can be done at home?”

But she was there. And she had other spa stories to compare it to, proving to me that she was, indeed, a spa-goer, using words like sybaritic to describe both South Beach and the spa. It all sounded very grownup and glamorous, and something I wanted to be a part of.

Checking in & Logging off

The original 1950s moniker at the Carillon overlooking the sunset pool.

The original 1950s moniker at the Carillon overlooking the sunset pool.

 

A few months ago, I checked into Canyon Ranch’s reboot, now going by Carillon Hotel & Spa (6801 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-514-7000; rates from $385-$2,570 per night), excited to finally get a taste of the wellness retreat myself. While the Canyon Ranch brand, long associated with holistic health and wellness has left the building, much of the staff and programming remain intact under new ownership and management.

As I drove up Collins Avenue, I couldn’t help but think how the mood of the nation has shifted since Dowd’s 2009 visit. For one thing, the economy is on the rebound and Miami, never one to demure from frippery (to borrow a word from Dowd’s vernacular), is experiencing boom time once again. We’ve had a yearlong wave of new hotel openings, a glut of over-the-top condominiums breaking ground and the Design District has morphed into a luxury shopping mecca seemingly overnight, not to mention the mass exodus of art galleries from Wynwood as retailers and developers move in.

But the most discernible difference between now and six years ago, I decided, is our plugged in society. In 2009, the iPhone was in its infancy. Facebook was only five years old and Twitter was just coming into fashion. Apps like Instagram, Snapchat and Tinder were only glimmers in their developer’s eyes. And none of this media was being consumed on the go as ubiquitously as it is today. As a response to the age of hyper-connectivity and iPhone addiction, the groundswell of another movement is crystallizing, that of wellness and mindfulness.

What Dowd poked fun at in 2009, wondering whether “spas were a bit out of date,” seems positively of the moment today. Every other one of my girlfriends is dabbling in meditation, juice cleanses, plant-based diets (or low-carb diets or gluten-free diets?), tarot card readings, Mercury in retrograde belief, the energetic power of crystals. And my personal devotion to yoga is deepening with every asana.

We’re all after that Holy Grail catchall that we now call “wellness.”

In his book The Art of Stillness, travel writer Pico Iyer argues that the more connected we are through technology, the stranger we actually are to one another—and to ourselves. And as one of my favorite yoga teachers put it over coffees at Panther, “There’s definitely a mindfulness movement under way.”

When I checked into the Carillon, I was game. I was ready to unplug, unwind and devote a quiet weekend to my body, mind and spirit—and all in the lap of luxury, no less.

But first, what’s in a name?

Canyon Ranch management officially checked out at the start of 2015 after former owners, Lehman Brothers affiliates, lost the property in a bankruptcy auction in late August 2014 for $21.6 million. Turns out, Lehman originally bought the property in foreclosure in 2009 and has been dealing with messy, multi-million dollar litigations ever since with key developers involved in a Ponzi scheme. If Maureen only knew… Whatever eerie financial crisis vibes she felt during her stay were much more deeply rooted.

Today, Carillon (I’m sure has cleansed the corrupt spirits with a sage ritual and) is affiliated with Leading Hotels of the World. Its name comes from the property’s original 1955 incarnation with the vintage neon moniker emblazoned on the façade.

Everything about the resort is grand in scale, from the elevated port cochere to the sprawling campus, which includes 580 residential condominiums in addition to the 110 all-suite hotel and four pools. Today, it looks much the same as Dowd described it back in 2009 (mostly because it hasn’t seen an upgrade since). It’s the kind of place where it’s easy to decompress because there’s plenty of elbowroom.

Bath tub and bubbs.

Bath tub and bubbs.

 

My suite was more like a spacious Miami Beach one-bedroom apartment than a hotel room, with a full kitchen, oceanfront balcony and oversized spa-like bathroom with a soaking tub and marble shower. Being that this was a stay-cation rather than a getaway, I didn’t have the temptation to breakaway as Dowd did, but instead enjoyed one night dining at The Grill restaurant with a friend and the other nesting in my suite with room service, a bubble bath and a split of Perrier Jouët.

Eastern & Western Medicine

I arrived on a Friday afternoon and my first appointment was with Dr. Karen Koffler, the hotel’s medical director. With whispy blonde hair swept loosely behind her ears, beaded jewelry dangling from her neck and a warm smile, the 54-year old doctor is far from clinical with a natural gift for putting you at ease.

“What we’re doing here is radical,” she told me of creating a space for both diagnostic medicine and the tangential benefits of spa. “There are more effective rules to reinstate calm than drinking, smoking or overeating,” she explains, “so if a massage [or yoga or meditation] helps, then that’s great.”

Combining both western and eastern practices, her staff of 15 medical professionals includes doctors of Chinese medicine, nutritionists and energy healers, as well as facilities that support full diagnostic testing. Koffler, herself, was the founder and director of integrative medicine at Evanston Northwestern Medical Center and joined Canyon Ranch in 2006.

She advocates for a holistic lifestyle approach to health with an emphasis on preventative measures to help her patients avoid medical emergencies in the trauma room or intensive care. “Wouldn’t we be much better off never having to go down that road?” she asks. For most people, this means small adjustments on a regular basis. “I’m not saying you have to give up food or become a gym rat.”

Her approach is much more gentle: “Take care of yourself most of the time.”

To figure out what that means for each individual, a consultation with Dr. Koffler begins with an unhurried, meandering conversation about how you feel and even what your mother’s child birth with you was like. When I met with her, we discussed my activity and energy levels, diet, sleep, menstrual cycle and family history. In these conversations, she’s looking for what she calls “low grade schmutz:” bloating, brain fog, indigestion, fatigue or hormonal imbalances. She says stress and weight are amongst her patients’ top concerns.

I left Dr. Koffler’s office feeling validated, but mostly wishing she was my primary care physician who I could visit every month just to sit down and chat. As someone categorically afraid of doctors since childhood, this was a first.

Fitness

I hurried down the hall to my first fitness class of the weekend, a Long & Lean Barre workout, which had almost no resemblance to the Core Fusion Barre that I take at Exhale Spa. This was more of a free-form “dance-based class” that seemed to be completely of my instructor’s invention, a former dancer himself, he proudly exclaimed, peacocking around the studio while warning us of the class’s rigor. We hardly touched the barre, but instead pranced and danced and squatted using a variety of props and weights in different circuits.

Zen vibes in the outdoor yoga room.

Zen vibes in the outdoor yoga room. Photo courtesy of Canyon Ranch.

 

A longtime Pilates devotee, I’d always wanted to try gyrokinesis, a restorative core exercise related to Pilates, so I joined the Saturday morning class. Led by a cheerful, Englishman with muscular thighs that could have been the model for the Gold’s Gym logo, we sat on a folding stool, doing 360 degree gyrations of the spine with a funny breathing technique that includes “sparkling eyes” and “big bright smiles.” Held in a shaded, open-air, studio by an oceanfront pool with a disproportionate number of senior residents to younger adults, it was an amusing taste of what I imagine old Miami Beach as a retirement community to have been like or a scene from the movie Cocoon. While it was hardly strenuous, my spine definitely felt more open and elongated post-class.

Over the course of the weekend, I also took a Pilates mat, power yoga and meditation. With each a standard and brief 45-minutes (unless otherwise noted—yoga, for instance, was 75-minutes), they offer refreshing bursts of physical activity. For those addicted to high-intensity workouts in fashion today, like Barry’s Boot Camp, Fly Wheel or power yoga, much of the offerings at Carillon may feel a bit lightweight. I didn’t mind scaling back the intensity for one weekend, though, enjoying the cumulative effect of a wide variety of classes just a short walk from my hotel room. There’s also an impressive 19,000-square-foot gym with a rock climbing wall and personal trainers on hand for those who prefer a workout on their own terms.

‘What if you just want to be really skinny?’

On Saturday morning, after gyrokinesis, I met with nutritionist Larisa Alonso, curious to get her take on healthy, balanced eating habits. She explained that nutrition is the key to prevention of chronic disease, and listed the issues that can arise from a poor diet, such as indigestion, skin problems, inflammation and, of course, weight gain. After ruling out wrinkles and sunspots as nutrition-related skin problems—Alonso’s talking about more serious medical conditions here, like eczema and psoriasis—she asked what brought me to her that morning.

“Do people ever just say that they want to be really skinny and fit?” I asked, slightly embarrassed by my superficiality.

“Sure,” she said with a smile.

She drew a plate on a piece of paper and divided it into three portions. Half of your plate should consist of vegetables, at least two cups of uncooked salad greens or one cup of cooked veggies. Women should limit their protein (chicken, fish, beans, tofu, etc.) consumption to three to four ounces and complex carbohydrates or starches (sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa, oats, winter squashes, etc.) to half a cup per meal. Good fats include avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds. This is a starting point for most women, but individuals can learn even more with food sensitivity blood tests.

What I took away from Alonso’s re-imagined food pyramid was basically, OD on veggies and eat far less protein and carbs than most meals are portioned today.

She also stressed the importance of eating organic, whole foods as opposed to processed foods and to learn how to read labels. For instance, grass fed organic beef also needs to be labeled “pasture-raised.” It’s not enough to buy extra virgin olive oil. It needs to be cold-pressed, too.

Where that health food at?

In the Carillon’s transition from Canyon Ranch, they’ve hired a new executive chef Fritz Zwahlen, formerly of Amanyara resort in the Turks & Caicos. While there’s a juice bar by the gym and some healthy menu options, there’s nothing about the dining experience at Carillon right now that screams health food. A hotel rep explained that they’re still figuring out the formula to meet the needs of a variety of clients, from health nuts to those craving a more traditional vacation experience.

Considering the growing trend towards healthy, mindful eating (and the open playing field for these types of restaurants in Miami), I’d love to see the Carillon become a bastion for creative, delicious health food, especially since they have such a great platform to educate their diners. But they’re not there yet.

While dinner at The Grill was impressive with a perfectly cooked filet mignon in Alonso-approved portion sizes and plenty of bright vegetables and fresh seafood to start, the breakfast buffet was brimming with greasy sausage and bacon, overcooked eggs and pain au chocolate without much to really inspire a healthy start to the day and the room service menu is merely average with the requisite Caesar salad and turkey club.

Thermal Spa & Crystal Powers

A spa pic to induce envy.

A spa pic to inspire relaxation. Photo courtesy of Canyon Ranch.

 

The spa at Canyon Ranch always held mythic proportions in my mind, whether it was because of Dowd’s article or a dreamy promotional picture (see above) of a hot tub set against a mosaic wall. The 70,000-square-foot spa is decked out with a full “thermal experience,” including a sauna, aromatherapy steam rooms, various rainfall showers and a whirlpool. On the Saturday afternoon of my visit, it was positively brimming with women. While it doesn’t disappoint, it’s a little worse for wear and could use an update to compete with the market today.

Still, I melted into a totally relaxing Vitamin-C facial, utilizing organic South African skincare line Environ with a fluffy-as-merengue mask as a finale paired with a sublime shoulder massage.

Prior to the therapy, my aesthetician directed me towards a shimmering well of crystals and invited me to select one to set my intention for the next hour. After a moment of indecision perusing the shiny rocks, a tiger’s eye caught my eye and I snatched it up. “Insight,” my therapist said. Or maybe it was intuition. Either way, never underestimate the power of healing crystals!

Energy Aligned to Destiny

Sunset vibes.

Sunset vibes.

 

On the final morning of my Zen retreat, I had an hour-long appointment with Sarah Parienti, the Carillon’s resident energy healer. Not knowing exactly what to expect or even what “energy healing” meant, I entered her office with as open a mind as I could. She asked a few foundational questions before I launched into an explanation of my career and creative ambitions. After letting me meander on that topic for a bit, she shifted gears with, “I can also see that you really want to be in a relationship.”

That hit my like a ton of bricks.

She brought up the laws of attraction, how my deepest desires are there because they’re already in the process of being manifested and that my lover is waiting for me. “You haven’t missed him,” she said. “He’s just waiting for your energy levels to match.” I liked that she called him my lover and emphasized that there are many lovers, infinite lovers in the universe, so if one disappears during the quest for eye-to-eye energy, another will fill his place naturally. And the way to find him? Just relax and be good to yourself. This sounded right to me. And was much preferable to agonizing over online dating or hyper-analyzing why I’m still single.

As she spoke, she explained that the healing was already taking place. And it was a slightly trancelike experience listening to her talk and having her energy focused exclusively on me. After a little more conversation, the question arose, “What are your priorities right now?”

I explained: “I want to unleash my creativity and, yes, find love. Live an adventurous, exciting life and shut out the noise of second guessing and self doubt.”

With that, I got on the table and she explained that she was going to align my energy with my destiny. I liked the sound of that. The experience was extremely subtle. She started by simply touching the arch of my feet. For me, there was no particular sensation, just a feeling of extreme calm, like a deep shavasana, and eventually a subtle buzz of energy in my fingertips as she moved up my body to different touch points. I have friends who have tried this and explained a different experience, unleashing pain or a palpable spark of energy.

When she finished and asked how I felt, the best way I could explain it was fully charged. I was smiling from ear to ear and couldn’t stop. It was a natural high that I’d never experienced before. Her recommendations to me: meditate to quiet negative thoughts and dance class to awaken my feminine and sexual energy. The intense good feeling lasted for a solid 48 hours and the good vibes stayed strong for a week and a half after that, with a tangible recharge during shavasana at my favorite yoga class.

I felt buoyed by my weekend at the Carillon. Above all, I think everyone should pay a visit to the energy healer. I mean, who wouldn’t benefit from having their energy aligned with their destiny? Maybe even Maureen would dig it.

A version of this story originally appeared on Miami.com.

Somehow, 2015 sped past me in a blur. When I stop to think back on my year, I can hardly remember what even happened. Weird. I’m not sure if it’s because it was super fast-paced or if I’ve just been hyper-focused on my career and scheming next steps. As it turns out, though, I did quite a lot in 2015.

I went to Europe–twice–for the first time since 2009, discovering Switzerland, Germany and Croatia, and returning to my favorite city Paris. I traveled to South America for the first time, communing with Pacha Mama and scaling Machu Picchu in Peru. I made it to New York, LA and Key West a few times. I visited my best girlfriends in Savannah. I even had my most exciting boating adventure to date in Cay Sal, Bahamas, complete with crazy bull sharks, green flash sunsets, the Milky Way in full effect and mouth-watering yellow jack crudo, permit filets and grilled lobster from the day’s catch–and I got to chronicle it all for a fancy British super yacht publication with an embossed cover called BOAT International.

On the career front, I became the Miami destination expert for The Telegraph and published cover stories in The Miami Herald and Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida that I’m really proud of. Yeah, I guess 2015 was another good year.

With the New Year here, I’m mostly in “keep on keepin’ on” mode. I want to continue to travel purposefully and I hope to plan long term stays in a few different cities in 2016. There are also a handful of travel experiences on my radar that I’d love to have. I doubt I’ll get to all of these in 2016, maybe one or two, but these trips are the top travel experiences of my heart’s desire (in no particular order).

1. Sailing Collective

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 1.54.18 PM

Thailand in December. Photo courtesy of Sailing Collective’s Instagram.

 

Okay, I’ve been Insta-stalking these guys all year. The Sailing Collective makes embarking on a weeklong sailing adventure in far flung locales across the globe a cinch by taking care of the logistics (boats, itinerary, food) and the man power (captain and crew). This winter, they’ll be heading to Thailand, Greece, Madagascar and Croatia, to name a few outrageously idyllic destinations to choose from. I’ve long dreamed of a sailing vacation through an exotic locale and a trip with Sailing Collective is what I’m really gunning for in 2016.

2. Glamping

Look, I don’t even care where I do it, although, when I picture glamping, I picture Big Sur: communing with Mother Nature amidst the ponderosa pines (sans WiFi or cell connection), frolicking on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and sleeping underneath the stars inside a temperature-controlled, boho-chic teepee that I don’t have to pitch and with people on staff who do the cooking and the cleaning around the campfire for me. Sign me up. I also hear there’s cool things to see in Marfa, Texas and the California desert.

3. Rockaway Beach surf culture (in season)

IMG_4980

The Rockaway Beach Surf Club in Queens, New York on a crisp September afternoon.

 

Admittedly, I got a taste of the Rockaway Beach surf culture this year with my friend Rebekah, but it was mid-September at the tale end of the season and the beach was practically empty save for a few surfers braving the 59 degree temps with us. I want to see it in its full hipster takeover at the height of summer and catch a few more waves too. On the same note, I’m also super curious about the vibe in Montauk and the North Fork.

4. Yoga retreat

IMG_3394

Yoga posin’ in Peru.

 

Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Bali, you name it, I’m there. Two years ago, I went to my first weeklong surf camp in Costa Rica and I’d love to do something similar with yoga. Surf + yoga? Even better. Some of my favorite Miami yoga teachers, Amy Dannheim and Sharon Aluma, planned incredible retreats last year in Central America, and Amy’s already got retreats in Cuba and Bali on the calendar this year. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get it together and join one.

5. Burning Man vs. Coachella?

I mean, what do you think? Should I do either? Both? Neither? I don’t even know. My short-lived love of festivals might have peaked at Ultra circa 2013. Although, I do like the idea of losing my mind in the desert for a few days. It would just take some serious planning and the right crew…

6. Cuba

Cuba, I feel like I should’ve made this trip happen by now. As a Miami-based travel journalist, and with the gradual lifting of travel restrictions that played out over the course of the year, it feels like it’s my job to check it out. I’m curious about Cuba on a lot of different levels, from its socio-political issues to the culture that’s so engrained in the city I live in. I also want to retrace Hemingway’s footsteps and recreate the second part of Islands in the Stream where he proceeds to drink daiquiris all day at La Floridita.

7. Kauai

Part of me feels like Hawaii is my destiny, like my soul belongs there, living freely amidst its lush flora, waterfalls, surf and volcanoes. I read a couple of great travel stories this year about Kauai in Travel + Leisure (sorry can’t find the link) and Afar, and I loved the way they depicted this neo-hippy haven of organic farming, simple living and astounding beauty. Maybe one day I’ll have my own little self-sustaining bungalow in the jungle and work on boats again while I write… or at least I could check it out for a couple of weeks. I also have an old friend making a life for himself in Oahu who I’d love to visit.

What about YOU? Any of these trips sound dreamy? What travel experience do you most want to have?

There’s a world of discoveries north of Miami where the pace slows down, the crowds dissipate and everything feels familiar, yet somehow different. Hopscotch past Broward to explore Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Indian River counties on this day trip up the coast that takes you from luxury shopping in Palm Beach to hiking through hardwood hammocks in Fort Pierce.

All you need is a tank of gas and your GPS handy. That’s exactly what I did with my mom and my sister Kristy a few weeks ago. We also brought a selfie stick!

Roadtrip

Ready! Set! Go! Let’s hit the road!

 

Stop One: 11:30am | Poolside BBQ Lunch at Four Seasons Palm Beach

Start your journey off on a luxurious note with a poolside lunch overlooking the ocean at the Four Seasons Palm Beach.

Chef Ricky Amezcua hosts a special weekend BBQ series at the oceanfront AB&G Grill, featuring everything from grilled rib eye to freshly caught mahi mahi and lobster, paired with sides like goat cheese horseradish mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and truffle parmesan fries, while highlighting a selection of Florida craft beers.

If you happen to make your journey on a weekday, AB&G’s lunch menu is inspired by global beach culture, ranging from Mexico to the Middle East.

Lunch at AB&G Grill is served from 11:30am-4:30pm; 2800 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach; 561-582-2800

Stop Two: 1pm | Worth Avenue, Palm Beach

Kristy and Mom at Saks Fifth Avenue on Worth Avenue.

Kristy and Mom at Saks Fifth Avenue on Worth Avenue.

 

Drive north on South Ocean Boulevard where Palm Beach’s impressive limestone mansions with terracotta tile roofs overlook pristine beaches and endless Atlantic Ocean. Feast your eyes on the beautiful excess of intricate facades peeking above tall, manicured hedges on spotless streets with glimpses of private pools and tennis courts beyond.

Turn left on Worth Avenue, Palm Beach’s luxury shopping corridor, and park. As soon as you set foot on the pavement, you’ll notice a palpable quiet that simply doesn’t exist in Miami.

#StreetStyle

#StreetStyle

 

Whether it’s window shopping or power shopping, Worth Avenue has all the spoils in a beautifully landscaped, Mediterranean setting with high arcades, ivy climbing up storefronts and pocket gardens blossoming with bougainvillea. The street is anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, with every designer flagship under the sun, as well as boutiques, like Calypso St. Barth and contemporary fashion labels, like Sandro and Maje.

Worth Ave., Palm Beach; 561-659-6909

Stop Three: 4pm | Fort Pierce Inlet State Park

MomHammock

Judy in the hardwood hammock. Watch out for snakes! And thunderstorms!

 

Settle in for an hour and a half drive to Fort Pierce Inlet State Park and start your exploration with a short hike (roughly 30 minutes, although you can easily do it faster) on their hardwood hammock nature trail, made up of a tangle of live oak, sea grape, wax myrtle and red bay trees. Keep your eyes peeled for marsh rabbits, gopher tortoises, butterflies, snakes and migratory birds beneath the dense canopy.

Selfies on the beach at Fort Pierce State Park.

Selfies on the beach at Fort Pierce State Park.

 

Next, head towards the beach for a leisurely sunset stroll as the sky starts to change color. With its jetty to the south and reef line just offshore, the beach at Fort Pierce is known for its surf break when conditions are right. It’s a totally different vibe from Miami beaches, with a wider shoreline, more consistent waves, darker sand and deeper blue-green sea.

905 Shorewinds Dr., Fort Pierce; 772-468-3985; Open daily until sunset

Stop Four: Overnight | Costa d’Este Resort & Spa, Vero Beach

Gloria! We're here!

Gloria! We’re here!

 

Take the scenic route north on A1A for 13 miles to Vero Beach and Costa d’Este Resort & Spa. Owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, this oceanfront boutique hotel brings a little Miami Modern flair to Vero’s largely rustic and colonial style architecture. With a breezeblock fountain and cheese hole facade emblazoned in neon, this stylish retreat is your stop for dinner—and your home for the night, if you’d rather not make the two and a half hour drive back to Miami just yet.

The Wave Kitchen & Bar serves a sophisticated menu of fresh Florida seafood, steak and Cuban classics, like ropa vieja with black beans, rice and plantains, straight from the Estefan Cookbook.

Rooms are chic and modern featuring comfortable beds and oceanfront balconies in natural wood and cream tones with nautical accents like porthole-style windows.

Me & Judy taking a morning stroll on the beach.

Me & Judy taking a morning stroll on the beach.

 

In the morning, wake up early for a walk along the tranquil, uncrowded beach where you can also launch kayaks or standup paddleboards.

Before your drive home, book a treatment at the spa for a tension-melting massage. You’ll return to Miami refreshed, with a new perspective on how much you can do in a day in South Florida.

3244 Ocean Dr., Vero Beach; 772-562-9919; Nightly rates from $193

A version of this story originally appeared in the Miami Herald Tropical Life section.

Pundole

Ben Pundole, VP of EDITION Hotels at a party at Basement at The Miami Beach EDITION.

 

As far as tastemakers go, Ben Pundole has played a hand in shaping our collective hotel and nightlife experiences for two decades. The London native eschewed a traditional education by taking a job at the city’s infamous Groucho Club at age 19, before moving onto the Metropolitan Hotel’s Met bar. There, a serendipitous encounter with Madonna led to an introduction to Ian Schrager, who would become his longtime employer and collaborator.

Pundole spent over a decade with Schrager at Morgans Hotel Group as VP of Entertainment. With such iconic properties as the Hudson Hotel in New York City and the Delano in South Beach, Morgans arguably heralded in the boutique hotel and the lobby as a social space.

He’s worked with nightlife pioneer Amy Sacco. Famed for Manhattan’s impossible to get into Bungalow 8 in in the early 2000s, Sacco’s vision brought Rec Room to South Beach in 2013. Pundole also refined that particular brand of magical, rustic, surfy glamour that Montauk is now famous for with instant classic hotels The Surf Lodge and Ruschmeyer’s. Aligned with such influential players, his touch has no doubt impacted the way we like to have fun.

Today, he’s back with Schrager as VP of Brand Experience at EDITION Hotels—the much buzzed about luxury lifestyle collaboration with Marriott International—and at the helm of AHotelLife.com, the online travel magazine he founded two years ago that offers up a concise cheat sheet on the most interesting hotels around the globe.

A self-described progressive traveler with a passion for hotels and storytelling, he told me that he identifies as a Millennial at the older than typically accepted age of 40 when we sat down in May at The New York EDITION during its opening weekend—that’s two full months before Kanye’s proclamation at the VMAs.

The forward-thinking hotelier explains, “There was a time, almost two and half years ago, where we were coming out of the recession and travel for Millennials just became a thing that was possible. There were people finishing college during the recession, and then all of a sudden things got better, and there’s this group of 28 to 29 year olds, and no one’s communicating with them in the travel industry, in my opinion. Although I’m 40 years old, I count myself as a Millennial and part of the creative class of Millennials.”

It’s with that taste in mind, and a knack for both creating and seeking out the ineffable, transcendent enchantment of travel that Pundole’s well-suited in the two roles he’s currently undertaken, as both hotelier and hotel critic—and that’s what we discussed in the bright white, Gilded Age-inspired lobby overlooking Madison Square Park one afternoon a few months ago.

Lobby

The lobby of The New York EDITION.

 

Wanderlust Chameleon: I actually came across A Hotel Life before I figured out the Miami connection and your involvement with EDITION Hotels. As VP of Brand Experience for EDITION and Editor-in-Chief of A Hotel Life, it sounds like two full-time jobs. How do you juggle them?

Ben Pundole: EDITION is the full time job. A Hotel Life is very much a passion project. A Hotel Life sprung out of my love for travel and hotels. I have six editors. It’s a passion project for everyone. It’s self-funded. I don’t really work with brands. It came out of something I couldn’t find elsewhere. I couldn’t find it in traditional magazines. Nothing was determined by taste, it was all about a 5 Star grading system. And I thought, it doesn’t matter if it’s a hostel or a palace, if it’s determined by taste, it’s going to appeal to that creative class of the Millenial.

I’m not very tech savvy, but I figured it out. We don’t take it too seriously. We’ve got sections like ‘stealable stuff’ because who doesn’t want to steal stuff from hotels?

The real job is creating experiences and storytelling, and they kind of mesh into one. A Hotel Life is discovering stories from interesting people around the world, and then here [at EDITION] it’s collaborating with great people to create stories and experiences that reach far beyond the literal hotel stay of eat, drink, sleep, hotel.

What role do you think hotels play in travel? How important is a hotel in giving a traveler their first impression of a new place?

It depends on the individual. If you’re a weirdo like me, I travel to places just to go to the hotel. There’s a hotel in the south of France called Hôtel Nord-Pinus in Arles. It was owned by a clown and a cabaret dancer for many years since the 1920s on a square in the South of France. It’s where, in the ‘50s, Picasso used to hang out and party and drink and watch the bullfighting at this 15th century amphitheater nearby. And this hotel is filled with magic. I was reading a book about Picasso and read about the hotel and decided to make a pilgrimage.

Nord Pinus

The exterior of Hôtel Nord-Pinus in Arles. Photo courtesy of Hôtel Nord-Pinus.

 

You split your time between Brooklyn and South Beach. Aside from the common thread of The EDITION, what draws you to these two places ?

I moved from the West Village to Brooklyn about six years ago because I found that Manhattan had been creatively homogenized and I really wanted to be inspired. I find that the emerging galleries, markets, artists and parties happening in Brooklyn are a lot more edgy than the tried and tested party scene or art galleries in Manhattan. So I get very inspired in Brooklyn and I love that. I also love to be outside of my comfort zone.

Miami, I love because it can be whatever you want it to be. It can be a true bastion of hedonism or it can be the healthiest experience. You can wake up and run on the beach, do yoga and go paddleboarding, and I love that because I do both. I unashamedly do both. I do trips to Miami sometimes where I don’t see anybody. I run on the beach, I do yoga, and there are other times where I go and it’s the III Points Festival and I’ll go bonkers for three days, and I’m totally okay with that. Miami has become this amazing place. The creativity in Miami is amazing.

Which hotels and hoteliers do you think are doing exciting things today?

The Upper House in Hong Kong. It is the best example of modern luxury. I love what Liz Lambert does at Bunkhouse Group in Austin and Marfa [Texas]. I love what Avi Brosh does at the Palihouses in LA. I love what the guys Carlos [Couturier] and Moises [Micha] do with the group Habita. They have the Hotel Americano here [in New York].

Where have you been recently that you loved?

I’ve done two trips this year. Peru. It is probably the most exciting, interesting and wonderful place I’ve been ever. Cusco’s amazing. Then, we went up to the Sacred Valley and did a huayasca ceremony. It’s quite a wild ride. That was one of the most interesting, exciting things I’ve ever done. I loved Cusco. I have this strange fascination with being somewhere where no one else in the world knows where I am. I went to this hostel to meet the shaman and then drove up to this mountain house. It was just phenomenal. The whole experience was phenomenal. Loved it. I went to an amazing hotel in Lima called Hotel B. It’s like 16 rooms in the Relais & Chateaux group. Absolutely loved Hotel B.

Pundole on the ancient streets of Cusco. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

Pundole on the ancient streets of Cusco. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

 

The other trip I did was Cuba, just for three or four days, because I’m so culturally curious. I love the road less traveled, so we went out to the Bay of Pigs, a couple of hours outside of Havana, and that was fascinating. Even in Old Havana, we stayed out of the touristy parts, and I took a bunch of old pairs of sunglasses with me, and we walked into the bad parts and handed out sunglasses to the kids playing soccer.

A portrait from Pundole's travels in Havana. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

A portrait from Pundole’s travels in Havana. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

 

Where do you turn to for travel advice?

I get my travel advice from the less known blogs and magazines. There’s this great blog called 12hrs.net, and they do these 12 hours in any one city. I like Suitcase. I like Fathom Away. I like Afar. Interesting stuff.

Do you have a city that you love that you return to again and again?

We are here once. I went to Berlin about eight times in three or four years. I’ve been to Tulum about 10, 11 times. But I’m telling myself, I can’t do that anymore. No more.

You mentioned you love the idea of being in a place so remote nobody else knows where you are, where have you felt most off the grid?

Peru. Or the Burning Man Festival, best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

On the Playa at Burning Man. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

On the Playa at Burning Man. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

 

Okay, last question, what makes a great hotel experience?

It’s creating an environment that makes people feel like they’re a better, more exciting version of themselves. Creating stories.

A version of this story originally appeared on Miami.com.