Pretty pink flamingos at Fisher Island's aviary

Pretty pink flamingos at Fisher Island’s aviary

 

Last weekend, my sister Kristy and I spent a day on Fisher Island hosted by Luxury Living Realty. It was my first time at this private enclave of Mediterranean-style homes and condos, situated on an island just south of South Beach, accessible only by ferry for residents and their guests. And let me tell you, it was everything it’s cracked up to be.

You immediately feel like you’ve been transported from the hustle and bustle of the “mainland”–even if that mainland happens to just be the slightly larger island of South Beach–to a quiet getaway of picturesque bay views, greenbelts and golf cart living. A happy bon vivant air permeates the island from its healthy (and wealthy), well-tanned residents heading to the spa for a morning workout to those enjoying a languid lunch at the oceanfront restaurant.

In addition to private homes on the island, there’s also a lavish 15-room boutique hotel with three luxurious cottages starting at about $800 per night, as well as a grocery store and a handful of restaurants–so you really never have to leave.

To get a sense of the real estate, the most expensive homes on the island are $14 million and up. On the low end, it’s possible to buy a studio villa for about $300K, but be prepared for quarterly homeowners fees around $6,000 and to fork over the one-time membership fee of $250,000. We were told most of those purchases are made for nanny’s quarters or visitors’ cottages by those who own more lavish properties on the island. Kristy and I considered pooling our resources for one such cottage, and we’ll be sure to let you know what we decide.

We spent the day enjoying a delicious brunch in a private home, touring the island on golf courts and exploring the aviary where I snapped the above pic of pink flamingos. They also had loquacious parrots, and we spotted iguanas and a manatee on our tour. We capped off the day with a dip in the ocean and a lounge session on cushy white chaises at the private beach.

We can’t wait to go back.

My family celebrated my parents’ 41st wedding anniversary last month by setting sail on a seven-night Alaska cruise with Celebrity Cruises aboard the Celebrity Millennium. These are my favorite moments in pictures from the incredible journey.

1. Dungeness Crab Feast in Ketchikan

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I mean, yum!

2. Hiking the Nature Trail in Hoonah with Dad and Kristy

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We had fun winding along this nature trail that hugged the beach and meandered through a forest with tall trees.

3. Whale Watching with Captain Paul in Hoonah

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We saw at least five humpback whales, as well as sea lions, sea otters, seals and a brown bear on the beach.

4. Taking a Helicopter from Juneau to Taku

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Incredible views as far as the eye can see. This is the dock we touched down on in Taku.

5. Taku Glacier

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I loved the colors and the ice formations of this glacier.

6. Hubbard Glacier

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Truly breathtaking. The Hubbard Glacier calving at dawn.

7. Learning About the Ship with Captain Kostas

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What can I say? I’m kind of a geek when it comes to maritime facts and figures. I also enjoyed the talks on porpoises by our shipboard naturalist Chelsea.

8. Dinner at Qsine

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That Mediterranean Sampler is totally Instagrammable. Pass the lamb chop!

9. Our Stateroom Balconies & Getting Off the Boat in Seward

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Gorgeous views at all hours from these balconies. This is Dad, Brett and Kristy right before we disembarked.

10. Driving Through Wasilla While Wikipedia-ing Former Less Than One Term Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin

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It was pretty entertaining observing this tiny Alaskan town while learning fun facts about Sarah Palin (she went to like five different colleges before finally graduating) and cracking jokes with my Dad.

11. The Anchorage Museum

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Okay, this snapping turtle is only one of the cool things at the Anchorage Museum. They have a great art collection and exhibits on history, science and a children’s hands-on section. Their cafe is also delicious.

12. Nature Walk at the Talkeetna Lodge with Brett and Kristy

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Look! That leaf’s bigger than Brett’s head!

13. Flightseeing Denali National Park

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Unreal bird’s eye views of Denali National Park.

For more on Alaska, check out these two stories I wrote last week for The Points Guy:

12 Unexpected Things I Learned on My Alaska Cruise – On The Ship

12 Unexpected Things I Learned on My Alaska Cruise – On Shore

City Wheel 4, close up

City Wheel 4, detail

 

Miami’s art world is starting to buzz as Art Basel draws closer to the horizon, and Wynwood’s Second Saturday Art Walk always brings a slew of fresh new shows. Saturday night, Philadelphia-based artist and craftsman James McNabb’s solo show “Metros” opened at the Robert Fontaine Gallery. While I had every intention of making an appearance at this month’s Art Walk for the show, it just wasn’t in the cards. Instead, I swung by Robert’s gallery mid-week to have a look at the new works.

McNabb creates intricate, otherworldly cityscape sculptures in beautiful geometric compositions, like wheels, tables and cubes using scrap wood and a bandsaw. His work explores the sociological construct of cities: their beauty, uniqueness and, oftentimes, their overdevelopment. The resulting works are fascinating, almost like child’s play, yet decidedly sophisticated and beautiful. They’re fun pieces to study and marvel over the details. I highly recommend checking it out if you find yourself in the neighborhood before the show closes on October 28.

Next up for the gallery is Nick Gentry’s “Synthetic Daydream” opening November 8 during Art Walk, a must see show featuring the London-based artist’s mixed media portraits composed of obsolete technology, like floppy discs and film negatives.

From left:

From left: Astrid and Alexandra Pedregal, Sari Azout, Ginger Harris at Cecconi’s for Fashion For Breakfast

 

Thursday morning, I donned the most fashionable thing I could throw together in my closet (BCBG silver pumps, TIBI black and white striped jersey pencil skirt, white BCBG blouse, beaded necklace from Calypso New York and my new red Lanvin handbag–sorry, forgot to take pix #notafahionblogger) and headed to Cecconi’s at Soho Beach House for their new monthly Fashion For Breakfast series, featuring panel discussions with fashion entrepreneurs.

This month, fashion blogger Ginger Harris moderated a discussion with Sari Azout of Bib + Tuck, a “shop your closet”-style website, and Astrid and Alexandra Pedregal, the sister duo behind Miami-based men’s swimwear line Crasqi. They carried on a great conversation about following your passion and the rewards and struggles of starting your own business.

We enjoyed 50% off Cecconi’s breakfast menu and had plenty of time to mingle with friends and peers in a lovely setting. Attendees were also invited to become A Friend of Cecconi’s, earning great discounts at the restaurant, as well as the spa and valet. Not a bad way to get your Thursday started.

For more info on the Fashion for Breakfast series, including what’s next, shoot an email to fashionforbreakfastmia@gmail.com.

So many boat moments. With my crew: Brett, Krista, Ted & Matt aboard Grand Banks

So many boat moments. With my crew: Brett, Krista, Ted & Matt aboard Grand Banks

 

It’s easy to forget that Manhattan is an island surrounded by water and one of the country’s earliest port cities when you’re tucked inside a cozy West Village bar or caught in the bright lights of Times Square. It was Melville who wrote in the opening chapter of Moby Dick, “There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward.”

A vestige of these early seafaring days has rafted up to TriBeCa’s Pier 25 on the Hudson River in the form of a historic 142’ schooner-turned-oyster bar. Named Grand Banks for the shallow waters where the boat once fished for cod off the coast of Newfoundland, the vessel F/V Sherman Zwicker, built in 1942, was effectively salvaged from the scrapyard for this venture.

“She’d been for sale for seven or eight years,” said Adrien Gallo, part-owner. “We were gifted her by the [Grand Banks Schooner Museum Trust based in Boothbay Harbor, Maine] and we created the Maritime Foundation to preserve her.”

Gallo, a New York City nightlife veteran whose previous ventures include Double Happiness and Happy Endings, along with professional sailors and brothers Alex and Miles Pincus (the duo behind the development firm Arts & Leisure), have created a unique venture combining the non-profit Maritime Foundation with the for-profit Grand Banks oyster bar aboard the same vessel.

Grand Banks aft deck

Grand Banks aft deck

 

Shaded by a yellow and white-striped awning, shackles are tossed atop barrels, a brass mermaid sculpture leans against a mast and dock lines are coiled in ship shape on the wooden deck. Belowdecks, you’re enveloped with the earthy scent that can only come from a wooden boat and a mini exhibition by New Draft Collective is on display covering the history of the Sherman Zwicker and the Atlantic Ocean’s cod fishing industry. The heads (toilets) even keep with the maritime aesthetic, offering varnished wooden seats in a chevron pattern and toilet paper hanging from lines.

The well-edited menu by executive chef James Kim consists of sustainably sourced oysters, seafood small plates (like, fluke crudo with slab bacon, Asian pear, grapes and olive oil) and nautical-inspired riffs on classic cocktails that change daily (like, El Diablo made with tequila, ginger, lime, vermouth and club soda), along with wine and beer.

The waitstaff dons chic nautical striped t-shirts, each accessorized to showcase personal style (a vintage Yankees cap, an arm stacked with brightly beaded bangles, a nose ring) creating the feel of a motley—and very hip—crew.

With a capacity of 145 people and a no reservation policy, New Yorkers have thronged the gangway ever since it swung on deck in early July, oftentimes waiting in line to snag a seat at the forward and aft bars or midships tables.

So what is it that keeps Manhattanites flocking to Grand Banks all summer?

“It’s unique. There’s nowhere else like it in the city,” offers Gallo. He quickly amends his answer with the exception of the Frying Pan, a historic lightship-turned-bar-and-grill, which has long held court (albeit under the radar) further up the Hudson River at Pier 66 in Chelsea. “We’re different, though, because we’re more intimate,” he adds, noting the Frying Pan’s capacity of over 700 people.

The Frying Pan is another great spot for drinks on the water

The Frying Pan is another great spot for drinks on the water

 

This summer, the North River Lobster Company has also made a splash at Pier 81 in Hell’s Kitchen as a “floating lobster shack” that actually leaves the dock for half hour sails at regularly scheduled intervals.

Perhaps it’s the unflinching lure of the sea that Melville wrote of and a unique venue where “crowds of water-gazers [are] posted like silent sentinels… mortal men fixed in ocean reveries.”

Or perhaps, in the case of Grand Banks, it’s a beautifully restored wooden boat offering sweeping views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and sunsets over the Hudson River and Jersey City. Combine that with a dozen fresh oysters and a seasonal cocktail, and you’ve got a winning formula.

As most ships do (and seasonal bars, for that matter), Grand Banks will be sailing on after October 31 when its permit is up. According to Gallo, it may very well raft up to a slip near you in Miami or the Keys during the winter season. “That’s still all in the works,” he said. Until then, you can step aboard in Manhattan from noon to 11 p.m. on weekends and 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays.

Other Novel Ways to Enjoy New York on the Water

Paddleboarders on the Hudson at sunset

Paddleboarders on the Hudson at sunset

 

Sail On- For a bastion of New York’s maritime history, visit the South Street Seaport Museum where you can set sail on the historic tall ship Pioneer built in 1885. Likewise, the Schooner Adirondack departs Chelsea Piers for regularly scheduled sails and dinner cruises.

Kayak & SUP- While there was a time in not so distant memory when New Yorkers wouldn’t dream of risking submersion in the Hudson River, kayaking and standup paddleboarding has grown in popularity. Try Manhattan Kayak Company in Hell’s Kitchen or New York Kayak Company in SoHo.

Surf’s Up- Urban surfers flock to the Rockaways in Queens (about an hour’s journey on the A train from Manhattan) where many hip spots have cropped up, including Rockaway Beach Surf Club. Here, you can store your board after a morning session, grab a bite to eat (anything from Carolina pulled pork sandwiches to a vegan lobster roll) and stay for live music or a movie screening late into the evening.

Hotels with Great Outdoor Space

The Standard High Line

The Standard High Line

 

The Standard High Line – From the ground level Biergarten and Standard Grill to the rooftop Top of the Standard and Le Bain, The Standard High Line straddles its namesake elevated urban park offering outdoor spaces with views of the city as far as the eye can see—as well as plenty of trendy dining and nightlife experiences. Rooms from $620.

Hotel Hugo – The newly opened Hotel Hugo, on the western edge of SoHo, boasts a glass-enclosed (and open air) rooftop bar overlooking the Hudson River, as well as Italian restaurant Il Principe with sidewalk café seating. The décor is maritime-inspired with a modern twist. Rooms from $425.

The Viceroy – The Viceroy on 57th St. offers prime views of Central Park from its rooftop perch, fittingly dubbed The Roof with a bustling after work scene and South Beach-priced cocktails. At ground level, Kingside restaurant offers New American fare under the tutelage of chef Marc Murphy. Rooms from $418.

A version of this story was originally published on Miami.com

Exhale Power Facial

As Exhale Miami’s Brand Ambassador, I’m psyched to share this amazing offer on Power Facials throughout the month of October. I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again, the Power Facial has absolutely saved my skin on more than one occasion. From unbalanced, oily, acne-prone skin to fine lines and discoloration, this customizable facial is a worthy investment to clean up your skin as the season’s are changing. At $75 off this month, the Power Facial will cost you $170 (normally $245).

During the 60-minute treatment, an aesthetician analyzes your skin to customize the facial to your personal needs utilizing multiple techniques and technologies that may include any of the following:

  • Peel: exfoliates to reveal brighter skin. Also allows whatever comes next to go deeper in your skin.
  • Extractions to decongest your pores and reduce pore size
  • Ultrasonic Therapy: gives a deep cleanse, drives vitamins and nutrients deep into the skin
  • Cool beam: makes you look younger by boosting collagen – also fights breakouts
  • Vitamin Masks: to hydrate, fight acne, rebalance, or smooth your skin

Seriously, expect to walk out of there looking hydrated and well-rested with smoother, even-toned, glowing skin.

Here’s how I recommend you spend your day at the spa. First, decide whether you want to visit Exhale at the Epic Hotel downtown or at the Loews Hotel in South Beach. Book your facial for mid-afternoon and select a core fusion or yoga class to drop-in on in the morning. Check the class schedule here. Then, grab lunch by the pool and enjoy a leisurely afternoon at the spa before your treatment. Note: Pool access is only accommodated at the Epic for spa-goers.

You’ll receive 10% off products purchased the day of your treatment, so if your aesthetician recommends something you need, go for it. I’m a big fan of the Sircuit line–I use their cleansers, moisturizers and exfoliators daily.

Happy spa-ing!

Avocado toast and the salad of the day at Zak the Baker.

Avocado toast and the salad of the day at Zak the Baker.

 

This week, I decided to diverge from my usual lunch routine of GoGo and Icebox on the beach, and make the trip across the bridge to Wynwood to meet fellow writer Carla Torres at Zak the Baker’s fresh new digs. While he’s long baked up loaves in Hialeah and supplied many local restaurants with his creations, this is his first cafe and bakery, which opened this summer. The menu consists of toast topped with fresh ingredients–like the avocado spread that I tried–salads, sandwiches, quiche, soup and sweet baked goods that change daily. It’s best to mix and match your meal or order a few different things to share.

I opted for the aforementioned avocado toast with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes and ricotta and the salad of the day with fennel, cauliflower and quinoa tossed in a vinaigrette. I’ve tried his grab-and-go sandwiches at Panther Coffee in the past, and this freshly baked, freshly toasted variety does his bread much better justice. The toast is warm and pillowy soft with a perfectly crunchy crust creating a true “comfort food” experience. Carla ordered the lentil soup and a sandwich with lox.

I couldn’t resist the chocolate babka displayed enticingly on the counter for dessert, and it was a worthy, moist indulgence that I’d gladly return for. In fact, Zak has all the makings of a regular lunch joint–fast and friendly service, a fresh and healthy menu, and a bright and cozy dining room. Most items on the menu range from $7 to $12 and, of course, whole loaves of bread are also available.

The lagoon-style pool at Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort.

The lagoon-style pool at Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort.

 

I stayed at my first all-inclusive resort this month in Riviera Maya, Mexico  for the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) North America Conference. The 2,500 room (read: massive) Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort is one of seven in a family of all-inclusives across the Yucatan Peninsula.

In the end, it didn’t add up to my ideal vacation experience. My biggest problem was the lack of quality food and drink. I also wasn’t impressed by the massive (slightly worse for wear) resort setting and the beach that pales in comparison to nearby Cancun’s white sand and electric blue water. For the full story, read my review on The Points Guy.

While the resort wasn’t for me, they have a loyal fan base of repeat customers with a majority of glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. It also provides great value with generous resort credits in addition to the all-inclusive perks, which includes food, drink and gratuity.

The true merit of an all-inclusive seems to be a divisive topic based on some of the comments on my TPG post. Then again, this wouldn’t be the first time that I dislike something that most people like. A few others include:

  • Ice cream
  • Most Ben Stiller movies
  • Thanksgiving food
  • H & M

So I’m wondering, have you every stayed at or considered an all-inclusive resort? What did you think? Weigh in below.

Nothing like starting a new weekly column dependent on photography, then buying a new camera and computer and taking off on a whirlwind month of travel, often with limited WiFi. Needless to say, I’ve fallen behind on my Pic of the Week postings, but I still have some cool pictures and travel stories to share with you all, so without further adieu, here’s five weeks (five weeks!) of my favorite pictures.

Week of September 22 – Visit Florida Shoot at Robert Fontaine Gallery, Miami

Filming at the Robert Fontaine Gallery with Visit Florida

Filming at the Robert Fontaine Gallery with Visit Florida

 

I was thrilled when my friend, fellow writer and Visit Florida Entertainment & Luxury Insider Kara Franker invited me to join her for her latest video shoot. It was all about Miami’s unique and exciting Wynwood Arts District and we featured Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, Wynwood Walls and the Robert Fontaine Gallery (owned by my dear friend Robert Fontaine). It was awesome to see Kara in action and be a part of the shoot. Video coming soon!

Week of September 15 – Yankee Stadium, New York City

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At the Yankees game with Matt and Ted.

 

I was in New York last week for strategy meetings with my team at The Points Guy. It’s easy to turn a work trip into pleasure in New York, and it happened to be one of the last home games of the season at Yankee Stadium. It’s been a top priority to get to a game before Derek Jeter retired. I became a Yankees fan when I taught school in the Bronx. And I became a Derek Jeter fan when I ran into him at a Starbucks on the Upper East Side and he turned out to be the nicest guy ever (and so handsome in person!). Coincidentally, our paths crossed again in South Beach a couple of years later, and along with a few friends, we had drinks together at the W South Beach, so, you know, we’re friends.

I make a point of catching a game whenever I’m in New York during baseball season. And when the Yankees went to the World Series in 2009, I bought tickets to Game 6 and was there to see them win their 27th title. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Last week’s game was special too. I went with my best friend Ted and his boyfriend Matt (Ted was also my date to the World Series). The stadium’s energy was surprisingly calm, but Jeter got a standing O at every at bat. It was sad to think that we won’t see him at short stop anymore. He played a solid game and went two for four. Baseball won’t be the same without him.

Week of September 8 – Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park

View from the wing, Denali National Park

 

At the start of the month, my family met in Alaska for a seven-night cruise through the Inside Passage aboard the Celebrity Cruises Millennium. At the end of the trip, we stayed an extra night in Talkeetna near Denali National Park to see Mount McKinley up close. It’s the third most prominent mountain in the world at 20,073′. We opted for a “flight-seeing” tour aboard a cherry red single prop plane with skis on its landing gear, enabling it to actually land on glaciers.

Talk about a feast for the eyes. We took off and flew over fields with amazing meandering rivers. The fall colors were starting to show and enormous mountains were covered in lush green and also red and yellow. It looked like something Matisse could’ve painted. We flew over glaciers and ice fields and golden rocky peeks rising through the fog.

Unfortunately, that fog set in during our flight, making landing on the glacier too dangerous, so we didn’t get to actually walk on a glacier, but the views were truly out of this world. On the way back, our pilot spotted a couple of male moose wading through a river. Alaska’s beauty is overwhelming. It was hard to pick my favorite picture from the flight, but I love the texture of the snow on the peek in this one and the glimpse of the plane’s red wing.

Week of September 1 – Hubbard Glacier at Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier majest

 

We were treated to so many amazing glacier sightings on this trip. We took an airboat ride around the Taku tidal glacier near Juneau. We spotted hanging glaciers along mountain ranges as we cruised the Inside Passage and we saw amazing fields of ice in Denali National Park. The Hubbard Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park was unreal. This is where an Alaskan cruise comes in handy because you can really only view this glacier from the water. It rises 350′ above the water and there’s another 150′ below.

Our ship approached it at 6:30 a.m. as we sailed from Juneau to Seward. We made our way to one of the observation decks to marvel at it up close. There was a lot of glacier cleavage that morning and the sound of the ice cracking from the face of the glacier and falling into the water was amazing. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Even as we sailed away, I headed to the aft deck to watch it disappear on the horizon.

Week of August 25 – George Inlet, Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan Dungenesse Crab

Dig into the succulent dungeness crab

 

Our first port of call on the cruise was Ketchikan. We arrived on what we learned was a typical rainy morning, as Ketchikan is considered the “rainfall capital” of Alaska. It’s surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, which is actually a temperate rainforest. We headed to George Inlet, a wooden lodge on a dock to feast on fresh caught dungeness crab.

We sat in a private dining room with a fire as the rain fell steadily over the water. The setting was cozy perfection and the crab was so fresh, cold and delicious. We learned how to properly crack all of the joints and get to the most succulent parts of the meat. We washed it down with an Alaskan Amber beer and cheesecake covered in blueberries for dessert. Yum! To cap it all off, we took a seaplane ride to view the beauty of Tongass.

Post-surf sess toes in the sand in Long Beach

Post-surf sess toes in the sand in Long Beach

 

On a recent trip to New York City, I did something I’d never done before. I took the LIRR to Long Beach for a morning surf session. Ever since returning from my weeklong surf camp in Costa Rica, I’ve been dying to hit the waves, but they haven’t exactly cooperated in Miami.

A bunch of my surfer friends are from the tri-state area and they helped me realize that there are indeed waves in New York. I considered the Rockaways and Ocean Grove, New Jersey, but ultimately decided on Long Beach, Long Island thanks to some solid advice from my friend Brad Wells who grew up surfing there.

It was the only morning on the trip that I sprung from bed as soon as my alarm went off at 7 a.m. By eight, I was on the train to Long Island and by nine, I had my rental board from Long Beach Surf Shop under my arm as I walked to the beach. It was a pretty cool experience and I told the whole story this week on The Points Guy.

Read the article for tips on making the trip, as well as five other bastions of surf culture in the city ranging from custom board shapers in Brooklyn to high fashion apparel and a coffee shop in SoHo.

Next time I’m up there I’m dying to check out Rockaway Beach Surf Club and the whole “hipster beach” scene. Watch this video that the New Yorker made about it:

For more, read my story How to Take the LIRR from Penn Station for a Surf Session in Long Island on The Points Guy.