The sunset from a balcony at Edgewater Beach Hotel.


Perhaps you just need a change of scenery.

Once you emerge on the other side of Alligator Alley after a two-hour drive, the west coast of South Florida unfurls against the powder white sands of the Gulf of Mexico where Naples is nestled into a corner of the Everglades. Here, you’re never far from a mangrove estuary as herons and brown pelicans swoop peacefully through the sky and you can consistently rely upon dolphin sightings just offshore.

It’s a favored destination of wealthy snowbirds and retirees—their stucco and limestone manses are built waterfront along the gulf and its canals. But there’s also a more down to earth year round locals scene to be discovered.

After a long weekend there, I decided Naples has a touch of sophistication with its neatly landscaped Mediterranean Revival downtown district, and a touch of the rough-and-tumble as locals stream down the avenue on longboards, barefoot in cutoff jeans on their way to the beach.

Where to Beach


The boardwalk to the beach through Clam Pass Park.


For Miamians accustomed to the Atlantic Ocean, a trip to Naples should involve the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico if only to be reminded of their difference and, more importantly, to relax. For an experience that feels like you’ve stumbled upon a secret stretch of beach, head to Clam Pass Park, a mangrove estuary at the foot of the Naples Grande hotel. After a 15-minute walk through a hardwood hammock along a boardwalk made of recycled milk cartons, I reached the sparkling aquamarine gulf and spotted a gopher tortoise and dune rabbit as soon as I reached the sand. There’s an open air Greek restaurant with shaded patio seating on a wooden deck, adding to the “paradise found” charm.

A popular beach for locals is accessed at the end of Vanderbilt Beach Road near the rowdy Beach Box Cafe. To the north, you’ll find The Turtle Club where you can enjoy dinner or drinks with your toes in the sand and front row views of the sunset and to the south, the Ritz-Carlton’s Gumbo Limbo tiki bar offers a casual, yet chic setting for oceanfront cocktails.

Dining & Nightlife Downtown


Fifth Avenue South with its Mediterranean Revival architecture.


The thrust of Naples dining and nightlife scene is found downtown along Fifth Avenue South, along with its boutiques and galleries. I met friends at Bistro 821 for pre-dinner cocktails and appetizers where their espresso martini is extremely popular amongst locals. Already starving, I ordered their chili relleno stuffed with garlic shrimp, spicy beef and mozzarella smothered in a refined roasted tomato-chipotle sauce that perfectly hit the spot.

We moved onto Tulia for dinner, with its shabby chic décor, earnest cocktail program and sophisticated menu of sumptuous Italian small plates. It’s as close to hipster as it gets in Naples and would easily be at home amongst Miami’s hot spots with dishes ranging from house-made ricotta with artichokes and Meyer lemon to a simple cacio e pepe bucatini with sheep’s cheese and wood-roasted salmon. Across the street is Paddy Murphy’s Irish Pub, if you’d like your night to devolve into a drunken spiral in a strange, dimly lit pub-meets-club atmosphere.

Otherwise, The Continental is a short Uber away on Third Street where a chic patio lined in white umbrellas hosts live music on Friday and Saturday nights and a sophisticated cocktail menu is organized by the spirit. This stretch of Third Street is worth exploring during the day for its chic shops (ranging from Oscar de la Renta to local boutiques) in a village-like setting. You’ll also find Sea Salt here, one of Naples’ hottest restaurants of the moment, specializing in sophisticated Italian by Venetian chef-owner Fabrizio Aielli.

Avenue Five at the Inn on Fifth offers an exceptionally sophisticated place to sip champagne in a champagne-colored dining room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the street. Opt for their Lobster Cobb or duck confit flatbread. A more casual option is Shea’s at Landsdowne Street, tucked away in a plaza across the street from Avenue Five. This newly opened spot serves up a wide variety of sandwiches, salads and burgers alongside an extensive beer selection in a sports bar setting.

Where to Stay


A guest room at Naples Grande Beach Resort.


Naples Grand Beach Resort – With chic poolside landscaping that includes three pools and a water slide, Naples Grande also boasts a spa, golf course and beach access. Rooms are spacious and chic with balconies and a cool palette of blues, silvers and creams. Don’t miss a meal at The Catch of the Pelican with their decadent and perfectly chilled raw bar, farm fresh salads and prime cuts of steak paired with fine wines and peaceful views. From $246.


The chic marble bathroom at Inn on Fifth.


Inn on Fifth – For a sophisticated stay in downtown Naples, the Inn on Fifth is decked out in a sophisticated Art Deco motif in black, white and red. Rooms and suites are spacious and stylish with large marble bathrooms. From $169.

Edgewater –This all-suite hotel is situated directly on the gulf for stunning sunset views. Take a paddleboard for a spin from their beach hut where you’ll spot dolphins along the nearby jetty. From $215.

Why Go:

For Miamians, a weekend in Naples offers a relaxed pace, the nature and tranquility of the Gulf of Mexico and some pretty hotels to hide away for a getaway that’s easy to pull off.

The Logistics: Two-hour drive from Miami across I-75 Alligator Alley.

A version of this story originally appeared on


The lobby at The Breakers hotel.


It’s all beautiful excess in Palm Beach where limestone mansions peer over manicured hedges to pristine, private beaches on South Ocean Boulevard. It’s here, on this four square-mile strip of a barrier island where drivers instinctually slow down, angling for a glimpse  at swimming pools and tennis courts and maybe a Kennedy beyond the gilded gates.

One of the wealthiest enclaves in the U.S., Palm Beach is a mere hour drive from Miami and while it effuses exclusivity, its riches are there for anyone who pulls into a parking spot on unhurried Worth Avenue, so long as you don’t mind rubbing shoulders with those who drape pastel pink cashmere sweaters over theirs while walking a pair of standard poodles past the Everglades Club.

To get a taste of quintessential Palm Beach, check these five activities off your list for the perfect weekend itinerary.


Kristy and Judy living the Worth Avenue life.


1. Shop Worth Avenue

As soon as you set foot on Worth Avenue, you’ll observe a quiet that simply doesn’t exist in Miami. 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.

2. Lunch at Ta-Boo

With its long onyx bar and dark, cool interiors, Ta-Boo, in the heart of Worth Avenue, is a comforting lunchtime respite from that perfect sunny day outside. An icon on par with Joe’s Stone Crab in South Beach, Ta-Boo feels like a fabulous fall from Eden with black and white zebra banquettes and leafy potted palms. The amiable owner Franklyn P. De Marco loves holding court at the end of the bar while models from boutiques on Worth Avenue swan through the casual-chic dining room luring the post-lunch crowd and their pocketbooks. The menu of salads, pizzas and sandwiches skews rather traditional with appetizers like shrimp cocktail and deviled eggs, and the wine list figures in just as prominently. Ta-Boo is the kind of place where a large glass of Chardonnay with lunch is de rigueur.

221 Worth Ave., Palm Beach; 561-835-3500


Inside a Technicolor guest room at The Colony.


3. Cabaret at The Colony’s Royal Room

Step back in time at The Colony hotel’s Royal Room where dinner-and-a-show cabarets ($120 per person) are hosted every night of the week in season and over the weekends in the summertime. Talent ranges from Broadway belters to jazzy crooners singing their way through the American Song Book with a full band. Dress is formal (a suit and tie is required for gentlemen), but the real party starts at the adjacent Polo Lounge post-show. Here, a live pianist keeps the crowd singing and dancing late into the night and the Royal Room’s headliner might just come out for an informal encore.

155 Hammon Ave., Palm Beach; 561-655-5430


The dessert spread is a highlight of brunch at The Circle.


4. Brunch at The Circle at The Breakers

The Breakers is a Palm Beach institution. Founded in 1896 by Henry Flagler, the sweeping resort covers 140 oceanfront acres, and while it’s certainly a grand dame, she’s not stuffy. Independently owned by descendants of Flagler, The Breakers invests no less than $30 million annually into capital improvements, so these hallowed halls are always at the peak of chic. Sunday brunch in The Circle—a dramatic oceanfront dining room with a 30-foot high vaulted frescoed ceiling and grand chandelier—is a Palm Beach tradition. The spread and service is beyond impressive with a dessert bar that could be a meal unto itself. $105 per person.

One South County Rd., Palm Beach; 888-273-2537

5. Visit the Flagler Museum

Not far from The Breakers is Flagler’s Palm Beach estate known as Whitehall, which was built in 1902. Today, it’s a museum dedicated to his life and career as one of South Florida’s earliest developers. The impressive Beaux Arts home boasts original furnishings for a glimpse into the Gilded Age, a time in Florida when Flagler built the Overseas Railroad connecting Key West to the mainland and a slew of luxury resorts at major stops along the way.

One Whitehall Way, Palm Beach; 561-655-2833

A version of this story originally appeared on

In an effort to share my travels with you in a more timely fashion, I’m trying out a new column: The Hit List. It’s a fast and dirty rundown highlighting what I’ve uncovered in different destinations. Not meant to be a comprehensive guide, it’s simply a list of recommendations to hit on your itinerary if you go–in a similar vein to the Daily Dose. After all, my first impulse to write about travel came from wanting a few good restaurant and bar recommendations in San Francisco many years ago. So I present you with the first installment of The Hit List… Sedona. 


The road leading to Verde Valley School.


I recently returned from a week at the inaugural Sedona Summer Artist Colony at the Verde Valley School in the Village of Oak Creek. It was my first time in the high desert of Arizona’s Red Rocks and the experience was pretty magical. I spent the week hiking through energy vortexes, exploring Sedona’s New Age-y side and getting to know a diverse cross section of artists from across the country.


Daniel & Yona entertaining the group at a farewell party for the Sedona Summer Artist Colony.



At first I was a little nervous to set off on long hikes in the desert alone, but I quickly tapped into my Wild (á la Cheryl Strayed) side and relished in the solitude surrounded by this otherworldly nature.


The view approaching Chicken Point.


Little Horse + Chapel – approx. 4.8 miles – This trail is part of the Bell Rock Pathway with crazy views at the end at Chicken Point. I also tacked on the Chapel trail, which takes you to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a Modernist church built in the middle of the desert mountains.


Views up to Cathedral at the creek.


Baldwin to the Creek – The Colony was located right by a creek for swimming with views to Cathedral. I went with my new buddies Ashley and Chris.


At the peaks of Cathedral.


Cathedral – approx. 1.4 miles – This is pretty monumental, more of a climb than a hike, up the side of the Cathedral rock energy vortex with an incredible payoff at the top.


On Devil’s Bridge.


Devil’s Bridge – approx. 4 miles – Once you arrive, the name is pretty self-explanatory.


My heart-shaped rock with the masculine energy vortex at Boynton Vista in the background.


Boynton Canyon + Vista – approx. 8 miles – My friend Betsy tipped me off to this hike, where she said a man along the trail plays the flute and gives heart shaped rocks to people he meets. After a long hike through the canyon forest and back with big yellow butterflies following me, I scaled the vista, hearing the sounds of the flute in the distance. When I reached the top, I looked up to see a man with a thick white mustache. He greeted me: “Welcome, you’ve reached the point of two powerful energy vortexes, the masculine over here and the divine feminine, Kachina. Soak it all in and spread the love.” Then, he handed me a heart-shaped rock and made his way down the trail.


Elote – Upscale Mexican in a laidback atmosphere.


Bomb town huevos rancheros at Coffee Pot.


Coffee Pot – Okay, I loved this place. It’s a cross between a funky diner and a Mexican restaurant. They’re known for their 101 omelettes, but I was on a huevos rancheros kick. After my five mile Litte Horse hike, I was famished. I added chorizo and avocado, plus a side of hash browns, coffee and fresh-squeezed OJ. Heaven.

Local Juicery – Self explanatory.

Chocolate Tree – A chocolaterie/Vegan restaurant. I ordered a ginger lemonade with a shot of wheat grass and the Sedona 2012 wrap, which is basically a Vegan chimichanga. It was delicious and filling. They also have blue corn “se’donuts” baked with coconut oil and maple syrup for dessert, which were kind of gross/good.

New Age-y Stuff

Mystical BazaarIn Sedona, there are more “sacred lights” and “healing arts” centers on the side of the road than you can shake a stick at (whatever that means). And, yes, I stopped in all of them. Ultimately, my energy drew me to the Mystical Bazaar where the woman covered in glitter behind the counter explained that her healers approach their readings without ego, working with abundant white light and accessing the higher angels. Sold. I had my chakras balanced and learned that my third chakra, the solar plexus, has trouble firing up, keeping me from experiencing true joy. Other than that I’m fine.

Crystal Magic – Crystal shops have also run amok in Sedona and Crystal Magic was my favorite. I bought some rose quartz for myself, hoping to attract love, and picked out crystals for my friends that I intuitively matched to their auras.


The Amitabha Stupa.


Amitabha Stupa – I popped into the McLean Meditation Institute right before a monsoon swept across the red rocks, and I was tipped off to a Buddhist stupa in the middle of the desert. What, you might ask, is a Buddhist stupa? It’s an alter with a little baby Buddha on it that you walk around three times praying for peace and the end of world suffering. I loved it.

PHX Stopover

Sedona’s a two-hour drive from Phoenix where I flew in. Here’s a couple of bomb breakfast spots.


Eggs and rellenos at Richardson’s. This was so good!


Richardson’s – My bros Tommy & Casey took me to Richardson’s, a New Mexican restaurant, where I ordered one beef and one cheese chili relleno with eggs over easy, hashbrowns and beans smothered in a green chili sauce. Out of control delicious.

Snooze, an AM Eatery – I had huevos rancheros here.


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;

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;

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;

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;

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;

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;

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;

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

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;

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; 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;, 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; 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;, 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; 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; 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.


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



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.



Welcome home! The entrance to Fort Walker.



Views of the surf from the infinity pool.



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



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



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



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


Big waves!

Big waves! Photo by Margarita Wells.



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



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



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



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:


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.


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



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



Cozy little sitting area. I love the turquoise furniture.



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



I loved how the accent pillows resembled candy wrappers.


The Location:


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.


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 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
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.


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.


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.”


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

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.


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