Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Top 3 Vacation Destinations

With July 4th just a couple of weeks away, I thought to share a list of my favorite vacation destinations. Unlike similar lists you might see- I feel that this list defines me as a person. My high school biology teacher, Buddy Rollins, used to say that each of us should be an advocate of our chosen professions. I'd like to extend that notion to my favorite vacation destinations- I highly recommend these very special places!

South Haven, MI

Growing up, my family spent every summer in this area. It takes the meaning of the word "special" to a new level; we are obsessed with this place. My Grandparents bought a cottage on a nearby lake back in the '50s and that, I believe, has to be the best money they ever spent because it has become the place where so many family memories have been created over the years.

I always remember summers at The Cottage being endless, even as our stays there got shorter and shorter as we got older. This summer, we're going back for the first time since we've had kids. I am looking so forward to showing them around just as so many other generations in my family has in years past. Check out these scruffy young characters racing sailboats on Lake Osterhout (me and my brother Rick racing our homemade sailboats c. 1985):

In terms of things to do in South Haven, I've enjoyed hanging out at Three Pelicans (recently renamed to "The Fish Tale" or some such thing) on their open air deck drinking some South Haven Iced Teas; or their sister establishment across the way The Bayou Beach Club. Captain Lou's is a great little hole in the wall bar to visit. When I retire, I'd like to buy it and call it "Captain Bob's". It is right under the drawbridge where my brother Rick has, in the past, generously offered to buy a round of drinks for the bar whenever the bridge goes up. The younger set might enjoy a trip to the old fashioned Soda Fountain at Macdonald Drug Store- delicious stuff.

The family favorite restaurant in town is Clementine's- don't miss their onion rings by the foot. And absolutely, whatever you do, do *not* miss Sherman's Dairy Ice Cream. Best ice cream anywhere, and it is their 50th anniversary this year.

Four Seasons Aviara, Carlsbad, CA

We discovered this gem while we were living in Arizona. This Four Seasons offers a resort hotel and adjacent Four Seasons Residence Club. We first visited for 3 nights as part of a Residence Club preview package. This place is amazing on so many levels I don't know where to begin. When we arrived they had chocolate covered strawberries and Champagne waiting for us, and it just kept going from there. The preview package is a great deal because for $250/night you get to stay in a 1,000 square foot villa that would probably cost close to $800/night, and the only thing you have to do is stop in and talk to them about the the Residence Club (timeshare) for about 30 minutes. They brought us some muffins, some coffee, they told us the pricing and they sent us on our way. Later that night they called and asked if we wanted some complimentary tickets to the Padres game. The service was amazing.

Though I tried to rig the math that would convince myself that buying into their timeshare program was a good deal, I just couldn't make the numbers add up. I knew I wanted to go back to this property again, and I didn't want to pay too much for it, so I signed up for http://redweek.com. There, I found a week being rented by an agency for a great price and we went back and had the time of our lives. This property is the #1 rated timeshare in the world according the Timeshare User's Group. Clearly, I love this place; but I also recommend timeshare rentals in general as being one of the best values in the travel industry.

Must do: Lay by the pool, have an attendant "set you up" with towels, and order lunch poolside with an icy cold beverage. You won't want to leave the resort.
Top food: The Friday night all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. Avoid the starches and load up on the lobster tails. But be careful not to overdose and have an allergic reaction!

Sedona/Grand Canyon/Flagstaff, AZ

When I'm rich and famous, and consequently interviewed in the American Way in-flight magazine, I'll surely wax poetic about my home state. I grew up in Tempe, AZ and went to college in Flagstaff, AZ so when it comes to showing visitors Arizona, I love to take them on a loop as follows:
  • Get an early start from Phoenix and head up to the Grand Canyon. Stop for lunch in Flagstaff on the way at the Crystal Creek Sandwich Co. It's OK if you get to the Canyon towards the later part of the day because the views only gets better as the sun sets.
  • On the way back from the Grand Canyon, stop and spend the night in Flagstaff. The lodging options are nothing special, but there are lots of great bars and restaurants. For bars, the names are ever changing, but if they're still there I'd recommend Beaver Street Brewery, Maloney's Tavern and Collins Irish Pub. For restaurants I'd recommend Buster's (for fried zucchini and a Buster Bowl), August Moon (for the best $5 Chinese food you've ever had), and Strombolli's (for a Strombolli calzone and a pint of Oak Creek Nut Brown Ale). Oh, and be sure to visit the NAU campus- alma matter to three Dwyer kids!
  • The next morning, head down through the switchbacks to Sedona. Sedona has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. There are tons of great hikes to take around Sedona. Nearby Slide Rock State Park is always fun. It's like a naturally occurring water slide. I like to stop in Tlaquepaque (tuh-la-key-pah-kee) to stroll around the shops and have lunch at El Rincon.
  • Once you're done in Sedona, head back to Phoenix to relax for the rest of the day. Taking in some margaritas under the stars at a nice resort in North Scottsdale would be the perfect end to the day (though I'm usually zonked after this trip and just want to rest).

What vacation destination defines you? I'd love to hear about it. Please post a comment below to share.


Anonymous said...

Bob, I agree wholeheartedly with your top two - they would also be my top two! I agree Sedona and the Grand Canyon are amazing too but as I am not a fan of driving trips and any altitude they would not be on my list. South Haven and the cottage top my list because of all the childhood memories of relaxing carefree summers. The Four Seasons at Aviara is incredible and I can't wait to go back. The third all time best vacation on my list would be Sandals Halcyon on St. Lucia - all inclusive and so much fun. ~Sheila

Robert said...

Hi Sheila!

Thanks so much for reading my post and for your comments. I'm so glad you enjoyed Aviara as much as we did. In a way, your taking our recommendation for Aviara (and having a great time there) was inspiration for me writing this list. I'm hoping to share the love with others.

Sandals sounds great! Thanks for that recommendation. All inclusive island vacations seem to define the word "vacation" in ways that other destinations cannot. I hope we can do something like that some day. Maybe a Disney Cruise or the family version of Sandals (what's it called, Beaches?) would be as close as we'll come to Sandals in the next few years. Have you done either of those?


Christy said...

Hi Bob!

Awww, nice tribute to northern Arizona. I have tried to go back with the family a couple times, but just couldn't capture the essence of those days back in the mid nineties. I think the memory is much more poetic than the reality.

I do find it very sweet that of all the favorite destinations you could have picked (given your extensive travel history), you chose ones that have a sentimental aspect. I'll definitely have to try the Southern California timeshare. Was the presentation really only 30 minutes? Usually they sucker you for an extra 3 hours. It's worse than buying a car at the dealership.

My favorite destination is Puerto Vallarta Mexico. That has a sentimental aspect for me; I know plenty of people who have been there and didn't like it. Felipe and I used to go there frequently when I worked for America West and all we had to pay was international taxes for the flight. We liked to stay at Villa Del Mar or the sister resort Villa Del Palmar because they were very clean and had very nice suites (and full kitchens, a must-have with kids), located on the beach, had several pools, and close to downtown. I liked Puerto Vallarta because it had the American tourist flavor for me, but had some good local stuff for Felipe. We could eat at a local restaurant for some tacos and then go to Pizza Hut for lunch, if I was sick of local food. Cabs were fairly cheap, but riding the bus up and down the main street was an experience and super cheap. For a young family on a tight budget, that vacation was the best! The sunsets at the plaza overlooking the ocean were my favorite.

Robert said...

Thanks for reading my lengthy entry, and for your nice comments!

The sentimental nature of the list was definitely what I was going after. These are the kinds of places that I could go back to again and again, each time being excited to see what was new and what changed. The "best trip you've ever taken" list might look entirely different for me.

Puerto Vallarta sounds great and is definitely a place in Mexico I'd like to check out. One time I was at a party at a friend's house (here in the Boston area) and another couple was going on and on about how much they loved Puerto Vallarta. It sounds like a really special place that captures the essence of Mexico.

It sounds like the perfect combination of your interests and Felipe's, and I bet remembering going down there during your flight attendant days brings back fond memories.

Isn't it funny how we choose to remember the strangest little things about trips? For example, you mention tacos and Pizza Hut- totally normal things that for some reason stand out as a memory. I remember reading the San Diego Union Tribune while we were in Carlsbad as being the greatest thing. Or visiting a nearby Costco and stocking up on cheap California wine. Or going to a dive taco stand called "Pelly's". It's the kind of stuff you'd never see in Conde Nast, but it's the kind of stuff that, for whatever reason we think back on and remember being fun. Maybe because everyone was in a good mood and having a good time on vacation- it doesn't really matter what you were doing.

Good times!

Robert said...

Oh, Christy- one more thing. You asked about whether the Four Seasons Aviara preview package and whether the timeshare sales process was truly painless. YES, it was totally painless- perhaps even pleasurable. It was such a low-pressure sales situation I couldn't believe it.

Nick and Brandi said...

Nice post Bob. Very well written. The Aviara sounds nice, but when the Mrs. and I patron the Four Seasons, we go to Nevis (as we did in '05). It can be kind of a long haul from the west coast, so I would advise travelling by private jet (any late model Gulf Stream should get you there non-stop). You will also want to have some very expensive champagne on board. The bubbles taste better at 40,000 feet (trust me, it's an altitude thing). Upon arrival, as long as the company is paying, my last recommendation would be to run up the most ridiculous bill possible. This includes in room massages, a constant stream of poolside drink deliveries, and daily room service to shine your flip flops. It all adds up to the perfect getaway. Highly recommended!

Robert said...

Hey Nick! I agree that the best vacations are the ones that others pay for, and the Four Seasons Nevis sounds great. Particularly the flip flop polishing- first rate!

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I do find it very sweet that of all the favorite destinations you could have picked (given your extensive travel history), you chose ones that have a sentimental aspect.
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This is very interesting.Thanks for sharing.I do find it very sweet that of all the favorite destinations you could have picked (given your extensive travel history), you chose ones that have a sentimental aspect. I'll definitely have to try the Southern California timeshare.Loptop Support

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Sandals sound great! Thanks for that recommendation. All inclusive island vacations seem to define the word "vacation" in ways that other destinations cannot. I hope we can do something like that someday.
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