Thursday, March 22, 2012

Destination Wedding Guide: Napa Valley and Sonoma, California

California wine country's Napa Valley and Sonoma have all the ingredients for a destination wedding: sophisticated lodges, world-class restaurants, glorious scenery, and spot-on weather. And because wedding fantasies are, of course, stress-free, the best way to make them come true is to choose a resort that can host the entire shebang, welcome cocktails to day-after brunch. Here are five great resorts—already on Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice radar—that you, and your guests, will remember happily ever after.


Napa, California

Shaded by towering redwood groves, this 250-acre resort is part foodie mecca, part country club, and one of Napa’s top wedding spots (a heavily bearded Robin Williams married here in 2011).
Where is it? Though sheltered in a quiet valley, you’re only five minutes from the galleries and chocolate shops of downtown St. Helena; avoid the weekend traffic and it’s a 90-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge. 
Meet the staff: Meadowood’s wedding specialist, Lauren Bates, works closely with director of catering Jennifer Pike, who’s masterminded something like 500 weddings here over the past ten years.
The looks department: Emerald-green lawns, azalea gardens, and majestic fir trees—this is northern California at its most luscious. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

How to Pack for the beach

Ah, yes the sun is out, and it is once again that time of year to pack the kids, the cooler and grandma into the car and head to the beach. But as many of us often do, we get to our spot on the beach, unfold our towels, and quickly realize we forgot something back at the house. Don’t fret, it happens to the best of us, but rest assured that this list will help you remember to bring those extra vital things (and maybe some things you didn’t know) to the beach.
Lots of Water- The average adult requires 8 full glasses of water each day as recommended by doctors everywhere. This number increases when lying out in the sun. A good tip is to bring a gallon of water and a couple water bottles. That way you can keep one water bottle in the cooler and not have to waste valuable cooler space.
Good Sunscreen- While many of us remember to bring the sunscreen, often is the case of when we return home that evening, we are surprised that we somehow still have a bit of a sunburn. Make sure you know which SPF suits you.
Umbrella- An umbrella is a perfect way to keep the kids from having to endure all that sunlight.
Whistle- With a record number of people expected to be in Myrtle Beach this year, you can expect a bunch of unattended kids roaming the beaches. A good way to keep track of your children is to bring a whistle. Teach your family the “family whistle” and you’ll be sure to have them back by your side in no time.
Extra Blanket- It is always a good idea I find, to bring a large blanket with you to the beach. That way the beach towels can be used for drying off and you won’t have to worry about wet, sticky sand. Blankets are usually heavier than towels and it will be easier to keep the blanket on the ground rather than blowing down the Grand Strand.
Jug of water for sandy feet -Do you ever find yourself returning from a long day at the beach just to get into the car with half the beach with you? Keep a jug of water in the trunk so you can wash off those sandy feet before you enter the car. There are parking lots that have feet wash stations, but guess what, those parking lots usually have sand in them! So it does no good.
Change of clothes- How many times have you returned to your car only to have 5 semi-wet people climbing in? With a quick change of clothes kept in the trunk, nothing more than some athletic shorts
Chairs- For those who prefer to be on the beach just not ON the beach, a beach chair is a great companion.
Radio- A good way to drown out those annoying beach neighbors of yours, is the helpful little companion known as the radio. Whether it’s an ipod stereo or just a classic little boom box, the radio lightens the mood of the whole party.
Lost of Entertainment- Bring footballs, bocce balls, Frisbees and any other game activities the whole family can enjoy. A family that plays together, stays together.
Book or Magazine- Maybe a reference guide on what kind of shells there are? Or if you just want to relax, bring some light reading material.
First Aid Kit- It’s always best to keep a little first aid kit either in your car or with you at the beach. You’ll be surprised at how handy that will be.
Binoculars- Often there are times where you are on the beach looking out toward the ocean and someone asks you “what is that?” pointing to a small blip in the distance. How nice would it be to be able to tell them? Well with a cheap pair of binoculars, you could tell them.
Flip-flops- Flip-flops are vital for that transition from the hot sand to the not as hot sand as you trek towards that watery abyss. Bring them and you won’t regret it. It’s never fun to remove shoes and then try to put them back on with sandy wet feet.
Sunglasses- Now this may seem like a no-brainer, but to those who don’t wear sunglasses regularly, you may forget this handy little item.
So the next time you go to the beach, make a list check it twice, and live beach day like it’s your last!
Written by Dan SeverWritten by Dan Sever

Friday, March 16, 2012

Heather Poole's Tips for Keeping Flight Attendants Happy—And Other Secrets of the Industry

Scoring an extra cup of juice on your next flight might be as simple as minding your manners. “If someone even says hello back and smiles, I might turn around and give them a little refill—being nice is just so unusual these days,” says Heather Poole, a veteran flight attendant who’s blogged about her unusual job forGadling’s Galley Gossipcolumn since 2008, without ever giving away the airline she works for. Poole’s memoir,Cruising Attitude, hits shelves today, and although she doesn’t reveal her employer, she does write about plenty of other wacky details: A starting salary so low she was eligible for food stamps, bunk bed-lined bedrooms in a squalid Queens apartment, and one psychic passenger who fairly accurately predicted her future. We convinced her to divulge even more secrets of the trade…
Why do you think people are so fascinated with flight attendants?
Heather Poole: People love to hate us, but they are still intrigued by us. What most of us have in common is that we’re gypsies at heart. For me, being married, sometimes I just look forward to getting away for a day. Even our worst trip is a vacation from regular life.
How have you kept your airline under wraps? Has anyone ever recognized you on a flight?
HP: It must be the worst, best-kept secret in the industry. I’m certain that a lot of people know where I work, and they’ve been kind enough not to shout it out loud. I used to tweet where I was going. But someone in San Francisco recognized me on a flight. Now I only check in after I’m leaving.
Do flight attendants really treat people differently based on what class they’re sitting in?
HP: I am so much nicer to people in first and business because I have way fewer passengers to deal with. First class is ten passengers with two flight attendants, and business is two flight attendants with 30 passengers. In coach, you could have 150 passengers with only two flight attendants. You know when the egg hatches and the little baby birds stick their necks out to get food? That’s how I feel. Like I’m the mama bird, and there are all these little babies. You make eye contact, and it can be scary. I don’t have anything to give anyone.

Heather's book Cruising Attitude
is out today.
What are you biggest passenger pet peeves?
HP: I used to say the passengers who don’t answer when I ask them what they’d like to drink. Now I just have conversations with myself. “Are you finished? Okay, I’ll take that from you.” Nobody even notices.
My biggest pet peeve now is with social media. Everybody is more likely to complain about another passenger on Facebook or Twitter. People are exploding over nothing these days.
Celebrity tantrums on flights have gotten even crazier in the past few years. How would you have handled, say, Alec Baldwin’s Words with Friends debacle?
HP: It’s so hard, because who knows what our energy would have been like. But the law is you have to turn it off. I used to joke around that you don’t talk politics or religion on an airplane. Now it’s politics, religion, and technology. The rules have not changed in 20 years, but everybody acts like they’re brand new.
It’s harder than ever to get an upgrade, but people must still try. Does it ever work?
HP: I don’t want to say it never works, but it’s hard. Once, these honeymooners came on, and we gave them free champagne. After one too many beers, the “husband” said that his wife was at home—so he wasn’t making out with his new wife! It was some other woman. Turns out he never even knew her, and just said it was his honeymoon so they could get free drinks and an upgrade.
I have this friend [another flight attendant] who’s a really cute, kind of cranky guy. He’ll say to people who tell him it’s their honeymoon, “What about the sad lonely people? When do they get their day?”
What do you do during layovers?
HP: It’s down to whether you’re going to eat, sleep, or shower. For eating, I swear to God we’re like cops: If you want to find somewhere cheap to eat or drink, ask a flight attendant. I was on a flight once to Italy, and this attendant gave me her whole itinerary, and it ended up being the best trip ever. When it comes to airport food, if you see the maintenance guys and crew lining up, that’s where you want to go. It’s usually good and cheap.
What’s your best tip for someone who’s flying?
HP: Everyone’s so concerned about the trip. Let’s talk about what they’re packing for the flight:
  • I don’t care how expensive the water is in the terminal, buy it.
  • I always have a bag of oatmeal that you can add hot water to.
  • Bring a pen. I only have so many I can loan!
It’s like being a survivor. You have to bring your water, your snack that will last like 20 days. You’ve got to be prepared.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Anna Sui's 7-Step Packing Plan

Since Anna Sui, the quirky girl’s dream designer, has just launched a new luggage line—including a wheelie, laptop case, tote, and shoe bags—in collaboration with Tumi, we thought it’d be a good time to collect her packing tips. Turns out she has it down to a science. Here's how Sui says she packs before going away:
1. Count up how many outfits I need.
2. Choose only one or two colors to pack.
3. Assemble outfits in clothes in those colors.
4. Choose shoes that match (three pairs of boots and three pairs of shoes for a week-long trip).
5. Leave out my plane outfit: comfortable layers and black cotton socks.
6. Pack everything else in a big suitcase, which I always check.
7. In my carry-on, I stash a few magazines, Christine Chin Retinol Smoothing Fluid (which I swear by), and a Marimekko cosmetics case filled with Anna Sui makeup: black eyeliner, blush, and lipstick #400.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

It's Passport Day, So Go Apply for One Already


If you need a passport in a jiffy, you can always go to one of the 25 regional passport agencies to apply for expedited papers. But it’s an inconvenient ordeal—many of the offices require a weekday appointment, proof of plans to travel within the next two weeks, an extra $60 fee, and more paperwork than we care to think about. But today is Passport Day, which means the feds are going wild and letting people apply on a Saturday sans appointment. You can submit standard passport applications (which deliver your papers within four to six weeks) and expedited applications (which take two to three weeks), plus apply for foreign visas and buy extra blank pages if you have too many stamps already (lucky you). Justcollect your proof of citizenship and identification documents out the application online, and expect lines, as this is the only Saturday this year the agencies will open.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Heritage Travel: Searching for Your Ancestors on Vacation

By Blane Bachelor
A travel trend that’s gaining speed these days are family vacations that have nothing to do with theme parks. Rather, ancestral vacations or heritage trips, as they’re sometimes called, involve exploring the origins of your family tree, searching through local archives and sometimes even walking in the footsteps of your great-great-grandparents. Increasingly, tour operators and hotels are catering to heritage-hungry guests with on-site experts, by arranging itineraries to local villages and by providing hands-on help for tracing family trees. Get climbing the family tree with one of these options.

The Lodge at Doonbeg, Ireland

Find out if you can don a "Kiss Me, I’m Irish" t-shirt for St. Patrick’s Day—and mean it—with the ancestry research services offered by The Lodge at Doonbeg in County Clare, Ireland. Long known for its stellar golfing, this luxe seaside property is gaining a new following among guests who want to learn more about their Irish ancestors.
On-site genealogists Paddy Waldron and Dolores Murrihy are dedicated to the task, which involves archival research for guests and helping to arrange tours to the areas where ancestors once lived (and, in some cases, are still living). "There are a lot of genealogical researchers [in Ireland], but not many of them are tied into tourism," Waldron says.
He also notes that guests will get the most out of the experience by doing as much research as possible prior to traveling to Ireland. The process starts with an online form on the property’s website. An initial €40 assessment of that form will determine "if there’s a strong possibility of tracing your family further," upon which Waldron and Murrihy can conduct more in-depth research.

Eastern European Family Heritage Tours, MIR Corporation

Even if you don’t have the specifics of your ancestors from Eastern Europe—names of family members, perhaps, or the exact spelling of a hard-to-pronounce village—a family heritage tour with Seattle-basedMIR is sure to make memories that last a lifetime.
The award-winning tour operator, which specializes in creating customized itineraries, has a vast network of contacts and local guides in less tourist-visited countries in Eastern Europe, including Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. Such an infrastructure, says Joanna Millick, MIR Eastern Europe travel specialist, helps guests feel a sense of place, and gain a better understanding of what life may have been like for their ancestors, as well as a personal connection to a destination.
"Our guides and drivers speak really good English, they’re local, they’re not afraid to go to the market and approach people and act as an interpreter," says Millick, herself a native of Krakow who speaks several Slavic languages. "Even if you don’t have any names or addresses, just hearing the accounts of locals about what life was like is like meeting a great-great uncle who is telling you all these great personal histories."
MIR also can conduct archival research for clients, although Millick says just knowing the religion of clients’ ancestors—Christian or Jewish, for example—can be a good starting point for developing an itinerary. Tours range in price, but start roughly at $400 per person, per day.

The Tartan Butler, The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh

Wondering if you just might be related to revered Scottish warrior William Wallace? Or just want to know if you can legitimately wear a kilt?
Andy Fraser, the recently named "Tartan Butler" at Rocco Forte’s The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, is just the man to help. Fraser, a genealogy whiz who traced his own clan to the early 13th century, hired at the iconic hotel to help guests discover their Scottish roots. Fraser’s services include personalized guidance in family research, arranging itineraries to villages where ancestors lived, and even helping guests get decked out with a kilt made with their clan’s tartan.
Before their arrival, guests can give the names of any known Scottish ancestors to Fraser, who will then start researching connections to one of thousands of clans and traditionally recognized tartans. (Guests can also try their own hand at research at the nearby Scotland’s People Centre, the country’s largest family history and records center.) For the ultimate souvenir, Fraser can help arrange a trip to Edinburgh’s most established kilt shop, Kinloch Anderson, to have a bespoke kilt made reflecting the traditional clan design. Fraser’s initial consultation is free, but prices for research and other services vary.
Photo Credit: courtesy Rocco Forte Hotels
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