Thursday, July 31, 2014

Spend Labor Day with Wyndham!

Labor Day means hanging out with friends and family for barbeques, beaches and fun in the sun before the start of school and cooler months arrive. Wyndham Hotel Group, the world’s largest hotel company, has compiled a list of the top Labor Day getaways that will ensure you and your loved ones have one more hurrah for the last weekend of summer.

Plus, if you book your stay at a participating Wyndham hotel at least seven days in advance, you can receive up to 25% off the best available rate and 500 Wyndham Rewards points.

Additionally, the Wyndham Hotels and Resorts® brand just annuonced three more reasons to book that trip right now: free breakfast, free Internet and 2,000 bonus Wyndham Rewards® points!

Here's a round up of great deals from our friends at Wyndham!

·         Miami Beach, FL – Spend your holiday weekend enjoying all the Miami Beach has to offer - soak up some sun on its seven miles of sand, take a bike ride along to shore or indulge in great food and shopping along Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road!
o   DEAL ALERT: Book a stay at Dream South BeachRamada Plaza Marco Polo Beach Resort or Days Inn Miami Beach at least seven days in advance and receive 20% off!

·         Virginia Beach, VA – Enjoy live bands while you tan at the American Music Festival, which takes place every Labor Day weekend. If you get tired of the music, take a stroll along the boardwalk or partake in beach activities like hand gliding or paddle boarding!
o   DEAL ALERT: Book three nights at the Wyndham Virginia Beach Oceanfront and receive 20% off your stay!

·         West Yellowstone, MT – Skip the beach and spend time at one of the nation’s most celebrated national parks. Enjoy the scenic foliage while hiking, or view the dozens of different wildlife the park is home to. Be sure to take the drive to the Wyoming side of the park to view one of Old Faithful’s eruptions.
o   DEAL ALERT: Book your stay at Days Inn West Yellowstone and receive the best available rate plus 1000 Wyndham Rewards points!

·         Sonoma, CA – For an adult weekend away, take a trip to Wine Country! During Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, learn about the wine-making process and taste the area’s best food and drink, which brings together 200 of the areas wine makers, growers, and chefs.
o   DEAL ALERT: Stay at the Travelodge Healdsburg-Sonoma Wine Country for 3 consecutive nights and receive 20% off!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Girls Getaway to Missoula, MT

The bonhomie of Triple Creek Ranch (http://triplecreekranch.com) is apparent from the moment you
meet your driver at the Missoula airport. I was greeted with thoughtfully prepared chilled drinks, fruit, sandwiches and fresh baked cookies. The landscape is breathtaking and the 90-minute drive passes by in a flash. When I visited in June, majestic mountain peaks were still holding on to the remnants of snow from a long winter. Although I had emails to attend to and would soon lose my mobile signal, I could hardly tear my eyes away from the lush green forests and brilliant blue sky. The sprawling ranch is a luxuriously sharp contrast to rural Darby, which is best known for Jimmy’s Double H Hats (http://doublehhats.com) and a candy store (http://www.montanaoldwestgallery.com) filled with huckleberry delights.

This is the kind of place where you don’t need to lock your doors. It’s easy to make friends with anyone and everyone you encounter. On my first night, I met a lovely lady at dinner who invited me to go sapphire panning with her the next day! Washing, sifting and tumbling the stones is definitely a workout for your arms. I found more than a dozen stones, although most were pretty tiny. The bigger ones can be sent to Sri Lanka to be fired and cut. Be warned – combing through the rocks to find coruscating gems can be pretty addicting.

Although Triple Creek is a luxurious retreat, guests are so down-to-earth and friendly. Dinner is an
elaborate multi-course affair, with an entirely new menu each evening. Yet there’s no dress code and it’s totally fine, even encouraged, to dine in jeans. I wore a sundress and heels the first evening and jeans, a tee and ponytail the next. Owners Craig and Barbara Barrett even invite guests down to their home on property, Elk Meadow, for weekly barbecues in the summer. The ranch boasts an incredible collection of original Western artwork with more than 700 original pieces from sculptures to paintings throughout the property. There is even artwork in the kitchen for the cooks to enjoy.

The array of outdoor activities is endless. Depending on your interests you can learn to fly fish, go horseback riding, spot all kinds of native wildlife on a nature safari, shoot some arrows in an archery class, or even go on a cattle drive.  I had never been fishing before, but my guide, Rick Thomas of Fly Fishing Always (http://www.flyfishingalways.com) was a wonderfully patient teacher. I managed to catch my first fish, a 15-inch German brown trout, after a few bites. Trout of all kinds abound in the pristine waters of the Bitterroot River, but you may be tempted to just stare at the storybook scenery around you, in which case a leisurely scenic float is perhaps a better option.

I also had the chance to go on a half-day off-trail horseback ride on the 26,000 acre CB Ranch, just
down the road from Triple Creek and under the same ownership. My horse, Daisy, was lively but well-behaved and we traversed the hills and valleys like pros. All the hard work of climbing up the hills are worth it when you enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking Darby and the mountains beyond. This is definitely not your typical one-hour trail ride where you plod along a well-worn path. Next time I think I’ll be ready for a cattle drive!

There’s no spa, but some cabins have steam showers, which is a nice way to unwind after washing away the dirt and grime of the day. And you can always get a massage in your room if you wish. At the end of an adventurous day, gather by the firepit and toast some s’mores with friends new and old.

Throughout the year, there are themed weekends including vintner weekends in the spring and artist workshops in the fall. The weekend I visited, we were celebrating the ranch’s 20th anniversary with owners Craig and Barbara Barrett. He’s a former Intel CEO and she is a former ambassador to Finland, among many other accomplishments. For the occasion, there was a cocktail competition and the winning cocktail will be on the ranch’s menu. I entered on a whim. I’ve never made a cocktail before in my life, but love gin & tonics, so I did a uniquely Montana twist on my favorite drink, muddling huckleberries and basil with a local gin (Whyte Laydie). I’m told that even when there’s no bartender around, you are free to get behind the bar and make your own drinks anytime. That’s a first!

Triple Creek Ranch gently nudges you outside your comfort zone and makes it easy to try something Klicks for Chicks women’s horseback riding adventure from Thursday, October 9th to Monday, October 13th (http://www.triplecreekranch.com/activities/activities_detail.html?id=61). Come alone or with a group and by the end you’re guaranteed to have made some new girlfriends.
new. It’s a safe and welcoming place to learn – like a sophisticated sleepaway camp for adults. One upcoming event just for the ladies is the


Getting there: Missoula (MSO) is the nearest airport, serviced by United, Delta, Frontier, Alaskan and Allegiant airlines. The city is worth taking a day to explore as well. Shop at Cloth & Crown (http://clothandcrown.com) and One Eleven Boutique (www.oneelevenboutiquemissoula.com/) for on-trend clothes and locally made jewelry or peek into Butterfly Herbs (http://butterflyherbs.com) for an eclectic array of spices, coffee and Chinese herbs. Watch the sun set while dining at The Keep (http://thekeeprestaurant.com) – its panoramic views of the city are matched by simply prepared, delicious food. Stay at the charming Gibson Mansion (http://gibsonmansion.com), for first-rate beds and breakfasts. Hosts Tom and Nancy bring you fresh-baked scones along with tea or coffee to your room on a tray and a multi-course meal awaits in the dining room. I can’t think of a better way to start my day.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Top 10 Summer Travel Trends

What's trending in travel this summer?  You may be surprised. Our friends at Choice Hotels recently conducted a survey among 1,350 U.S. adults that are planning to take one or more overnight leisure trips this summer.  Below are the top 10 trends found. 
1. More Trips, But Fewer Nights Away
There will be a 17.2 percent increase in the number of leisure trips taken this summer, but travelers
will spend fewer nights away, with a decrease of 9.4 percent.
2. Travelers Would Rather Lose Their Luggage than Their Phone
In this increasingly digital world, survey results showed that Millennials and parents with children under 12 years of age would rather lose their luggage than their mobile phone when travelling.
3. The Beach in August
August will be the busiest month for leisure travel this summer. When asked about their preferred leisure travel destination, 43.1 percent of respondents said they would most enjoy a beach, followed by mountains at 12.3 percent and a city at 10.4 percent.
4. Travelers Prefer Driving
The survey found that 75.3 percent of summer travelers are planning to drive to their leisure travel destination this summer, driving an average of 689 miles round-trip. Fifty percent of respondents also said that they would prefer a two-hour drive compared to a flight, bus or train ride to get to their summer vacation.
5. Free High-Speed Internet Most Important
Free high-speed Internet was selected by 65.5 percent of respondents as the "must-have" amenity when selecting a hotel or resort for summer travel. Following free high-speed internet, free continental breakfast and an in-room refrigerator polled highest for needed amenities at 54.5 and 49.6 percent, respectively.
6. Loyalty Programs Influence Travelers' Booking Decisions
The survey also showed that 34.6 percent of travelers say that loyalty and incentive programs influence where, how and when they travel, and over 53 percent of respondents are enrolled in travel rewards programs.
7. Camping is the Least Favorite Vacation
Nearly 40 percent of travelers (38.2 percent) said that camping was the least desirable type of summer vacation.
8. New Locations Trump Old Favorites
Almost 70 percent of respondents (66.8 percent) would prefer to visit somewhere new over returning to a favorite vacation destination this summer.
9. Travelers Want to Explore Cuisines, Unless They Have Kids
When on summer vacation, 28.9 percent of respondents choose to dine at restaurants they can't find at home, unless they are traveling with children. If travelers have children under 12 years of age, 24.5 percent most often visit casual dining restaurants, like TGI Friday's and Applebee's.
10. Millennials are Travelling with Pets
The survey found that Millennials are 21.7 percent more likely than older generations to be traveling with a pet this summer. Correlatively, 34.2 percent said locating a place to stay was the greatest inconvenience when travelling with a pet.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Travel Beauty Packing Tips - Consolidation is Key

Packing is easily one of the biggest hurdles of traveling. From clothing and shoes to soaps and gels, there are countless items 
to remember before jetting off – and when you’re only allotted up to 50 lbs per bag, The struggle is real. However, any experienced traveller knows consolidation is key.

This summer, avoid the packing dread and use products that serve a dual purpose. Here are a handful of space saving must haves for all of your travelling toiletry needs.

1.     Tinted moisturizer with SPF. Who wants to cake on heavy makeup while frolicking on vacation?  Tinted moisturizers or BB creams, which have built in SPF, are usually very light in texture so you wont feel like your makeup is sweating off in the hot sun either. Huge bonus.
2.     800razors.com’s Women’s 5 Blade. This razor offers a lubricated moisturizing strip that allows you to ditch the bulky shaving cream can. With a lubricated moisture strip, you can just use any other soap you may have on hand – i.e. hotel soap, shampoo, or even conditioner.
3.     Nail Polish Strips. Perfectly prepped nails are a must for any summer get away, but if you plan to strut your stuff on the beach all week, you’re more than likely to experience a chipped toenail or two. Rather than packing nail polish and topcoat for touch ups, pack polish strips that stick on and stay with zero drying time.
4.     Dry Shampoo. Blow dryer heat is the enemy after a day in the sun. Instead of overheating and damaging your hair by washing it daily, a dry shampoo will give your hair some bounce with little to no prep time. Skip the boat load of hair products, and keep it simple with this great hair day in can.

Vacation should be about relaxation, not about stressing over your luggage. Safe travels!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Girls Getaway to Toronto

With festivals like Luminato and the Toronto International Film Festival and museums like the Art
Gallery of Ontario (AGO), there’s no denying that Toronto is one of the most culturally vibrant cities in North America. It’s just a hop away from many major U.S. cities and easy to navigate, even for first-time visitors.

From Chicago, the best way to get to Toronto is with Porter Airlines. You may not have heard of Toronto’s regional air carrier, but I’d fly them again in a heartbeat. Porter’s Bombardier Aerospace Q400 turboprop aircraft are small, just two seats on each side, but very quiet. There is no first or business class, but everyone is offered complimentary nuts, cookies and vegetable chips along with a choice of beverage (including alcohol) served in a real glass. Porter also flies to New York, Washington D.C., Boston, and Myrtle Beach.

 It was smooth sailing from Midway into Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, located on the Toronto Islands. A two-minute ferry ride later and I was downtown! Sure beats a 45 minutes drive from Pearson International Airport.

As soon as I entered my room at the Shangri-La Toronto, I was greeted with a lovely painter’s palette
of chocolate truffles and an exquisite assortment of macarons. Pastry Chef Kate Siegel knows the way to my heart. The property is not quite two years old and the rooms and lobby still have a brand-new gleam. Hong Kong-based Shangri-La doesn’t have any properties in the United States yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that changes soon.

Guestrooms are sumptuous and spacious, with plush bamboo-weave carpeting and dark mahogany furniture. Ubiquitous Asian decor, from large-scale Chinese calligraphy in the lobby to delicate origami cranes on the nightstand, creates an elegant yet contemporary ambiance.

Right next door is David Chang’s Momofuku empire, with five restaurant concepts housed under one

roof. Momofuku Daishō has an eclectic Asian fusion menu with unique Canadian touches (like local Monforte Toscano cheese with charred cabbage) that will leave you salivating for more. A shiitake-mushroom crusted whole speckled trout strewn with asparagus, morels and ramps stole the show. I couldn’t imagine a better representation of spring. Frozen chocolate mousse for dessert was dressed with milk cream and toasted rice, like a sophisticated Asian malted milk ball.

Art lovers must visit the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), which has an extensive Canadian collection, with an emphasis on Toronto and Ontario artists like David Milne. There are also plenty of exhibits featuring art spanning the globe from Africa to Asia. We even had the chance to see resident artist Bonnie Devine at work, as she painted an entire wall depicting her own version of the battle for the woodlands between European settlers and indigenous people for an upcoming exhibition featuring Anishinaabe artists of the Great Lakes.

The cutest neighborhood in Toronto award goes to the Distillery Historic District. In the last decade,
the formerly dilapidated buildings have been revitalized as a haven for artists as well as great shopping, restaurants and Ontario’s only locally brewed sake. Don’t miss the bean-to-bar chocolate at SOMA Chocolate or local contemporary art at Thompson Landry Gallery. If you’d rather shop for local food than clothing, head to St. Lawrence Market. Saturday is the busiest day here, when two entire buildings are full of fresh produce, seafood, meats and baked goods.

There’s no better place to unwind after a busy day of exploring than the Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie Paris at the Shangri-La. The signature hammam and grommage
treatment is not for the shy. First, I enjoyed a steam chamber before having my entire body gently exfoliated with eucalyptus black Moroccan soap. After my body was scrubbed soft and clean, it was only fitting to brighten my face with a facial using Caudalie’s grape-based skincare line. My aesthetician expertly assessed my skin and customized the facial based on my skin concerns. The Moroccan theme carries through the spa décor and in the baklava and warm chai tea brought to me post-treatment.

Toronto is a great destination for ladies from various cities to meet up. Everyone is so friendly, so it’s easy to make new friends when you go out. Whether you’re looking you’re looking for traditional luxury, artistic enlightenment, great food or all of the above, you can find it here.


Thank you to Shangri-La Toronto and Porter Airlines for sponsoring my trip!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Girls Getaway to Phoenix/Mesa - Day 3


For a more affordable option, head 25 miles east in Mesa. Fuchsia Day Spa has a blow dry bar and salon for manicures and pedicures as well as treatment rooms for massages and facials. The massage therapists and aestheticians are upbeat and friendly

Clearly, we ate very well in Phoenix and one of our favorite restaurants was Beckett’s Table for its
casual, affordable but delicious Southwestern cuisine. Although customers rave about Chef Justin Beckett’s short rib, his vegetable platter blew us away. The dish masquerades on the menu as “seasonal organic vegetables, inspired daily,” a simple description that doesn’t do this carnivore-converting entrée justice. Everything from asparagus and romanesco to sea beans, tomatoes and foraged greens were presented raw, cooked, roasted and pureed mimicking a multi-course vegetable tasting menu. Just because we started out virtuous doesn’t mean we didn’t save room for dessert. The signature dessert here is the buttery fig and pecan pie complemented by tangy cream cheese citrus zest ice cream. Share a slice and you won’t feel quite as guilty.

Whether you prefer beer or wine, there are plenty of local options for imbibing. Hit Arizona Brewery Tours, the state’s only brewery tour, to sample craft brews from a selection of tasting rooms. You can easily customize a private tour and the variety and quality of beers to sample is impressive. We especially enjoyed brews from Desert Eagle, The Perch and Arizona Wilderness, recently rated the best new brewery in the world by ratebeer.com. For wine, Postino Wine Café has three locations and a great selection of wines and fantastic bruschetta. With our gaggle of gals, we managed to try just about all the bruschetta flavors. You can’t miss their house tomato jam with sheep’s milk cheese or the prosciutto, fig and mascarpone spread. On Mondays and Tuesdays, you can choose any bottle of wine and a bruschetta board for just $20.

Arizona is a place for relaxing and savoring life over great food and even better conversation. We’d  come back next year with our men to catch a Cubs spring training game and dine at Quiessence at The Farm at South Mountain, supposedly one of the most romantic restaurants around.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago currently contributing to the Girls Getaway Guide. To find out more about Amber, visit www.AmberGibson.com.