Luxury Hotels in Paris

Are you considering a vacation to France or another European destination? If so, Amanda Watkins Travel knows all of the best places and can add the best perks. Click here to learn more about AWT or click here to get started planning the vacation of your dreams.

I recently returned from the most amazing stay in France. Are you a Francophile? I am. I first visited France over 20 years ago and our love affair has been continuing ever since. Years may pass without us seeing each other, but when we do, we pick up right where we left off. Why do I love France so? Is it the art, the architecture, the wine or the markets? It is the food – where fabulous meals are found from street corner creperies to pocket bistros to Michelin-starred restaurants. Is it the sound of the language and the chic French style – I swear even French dogs walk with an extra pep in their step. It is all of these things wrapped into the beautiful, shiny bow that is France!


Hotel Plaza Athenee

Hotel Plaza Athenee is a stunning and modern Dorchester hotel. Some say it’s the best hotel in all of Paris, if not all of France. Personal service, gorgeous rooms and luxury everywhere. This art deco hotel is pure indulgence with its high gloss doors and modern conveniences like iPads linked directly to room service. Tres elegante! Your AWT amenities here could include transport via Mercedes E Class from the airport, free continental breakfast in the restaurant or in room and $85 spa credit.


Hotel de Crillon

Hotel de Crillon is one of the world's most visually stunning hotels, a tactile and textile wonderland! With your Amanda Watkins Travel booking at Hotel de Crillon, you could free continental breakfast for two (in restaurant or room service!) and $100 in food and beverage credit.


Relais Christine

Relais Christine is the very definition of a hidden gem in the Left Bank. This hotel is tucked away off a busy street in the St. Germain area. You first experience of the hotel is walking through its gate into a courtyard where you are immediately overcome with the most beautiful scent – it is like you entered a spa. This is a boutique hotel in all senses. Staff is friendly. Rooms are lovely. I suggest the rooms with access to the private yard in the back. Almost unheard of for a Paris hotel.

Relais Christine

Grand Hotel Palais du Royal

Hotel Palais du Royal is newer on the scene and recently accepted into Virtuoso amenities - which means more free goodies for you! This is a smaller hotel is literally across the street from the Louvre. Despite being small it has a lovely restaurant and a cozy bar. Check with AWT to see which rooms afford the best views. Booking with me could afford you: complimentary breakfast, $100 in food and beverage credit and with a three night stay, complimentary airport transfers!

Grand Hotel Palais du Royal

Amanda Knows Best: 4 Days in Paris, What to Do

  • Paris Side Car Tour

  • Macaron making class

  • Chez Fernand in Paris (next to Hotel Relais Christine)

  • Alain Ducasse floating river cruise restaurant for a decadent dining experience on the Siene. A recent AWT client raved about this experience!

  • Shopping tour with my trusted partner which can include (and should!) a visit to the best Parisian pharmacie to purchase all of the fabulous French anti-aging product we can’t get in the States!


Uniworld River Cruises in France

When I heard that Uniworld was the recipient of Travel & Leisure’s “Best River Cruise” in 2018, I had to see why! This past October, I set sail on a tour of France on one of their ships, a floating boutique hotel known as the Joie de Vivre and traveled from Paris to Giverny, Rouen, the Normandy Beaches, Versailles and back. Joie de Vivre means lust for life and that is precisely how I felt during the 8 days I spent cruising the Seine. I loved it so much!

5 reasons you will love Uniworld’s award-winning line:

1. Floating Boutique Hotels

Uniworld has some of the most aesthetically pleasing river cruising ships. They are literally “floating boutique hotels.” The Joie de Vivre felt French in every way, with gorgeous chandeliers and modern art, including a Picasso, on board. There are special luxe touches like a self-service bar on the back of the boat, lounge chairs on the deck for reading a book in the sunshine and a lap pool and spa. The ship is simply gorgeous!

2. Smaller is better!

With an average passenger size of 150 this cruising is intimate and exclusive. It is the perfect “not too big, not too small” experience, where you really get to know everyone, but still have your space to break away as much as you need. The staff is so caring! One of my colleagues wanted a special kind of soda they did not have on board and the next day at port the staff stocked it. They learn how you like your coffee every morning and give a detailed itinerary tailored to your tastes. Everyone was so friendly!

Amanda Knows Best: The Uniworld staff has an usually high return ratio, which means that they truly love their jobs and it is reflected in their service!

The staff really go out of their way for you. They were kind enough to stop to pose with me and my colleagues!

The staff really go out of their way for you. They were kind enough to stop to pose with me and my colleagues!

3. All-inclusive AND Gourmet

The term gourmet originated in France and means a to be connoisseur of eating and drinking. This ship offers such excellent food and wine pairings and food, alcohol and gratuity are all included. The meals on the ship were simply phenomenal. There were stunning culinary creations on the ship’s buffet-style breakfast (with 32 varieties of local cheese!) and fresh French breads. Most of my lunches were out and about, but I did enjoy a few days of the curated meat tea sandwiches and delectable housemade soups for lunch. Dinner was the real show-stopper, with something for every palatte. And the bartenders get to know you and make personalized recommendations from their ample bar selection. You can dine whenever you want and where you want. There is a fun café on board with lighter fare, as well as the main dining room. There is no assigned seating, so you can sit with different folks each night and meet likeminded travelers!

Amanda Knows Best: Part cooking class, part showstopper gourmet meal, reserve the private dining experience in Le Cave du Vin (for an additional nominal fee).

I had a ball in Le Cave du Vin! Total food indulgence. A big break from tacos in Austin!

I had a ball in Le Cave du Vin! Total food indulgence. A big break from tacos in Austin!

4. Tours Included, Too

The tours were the pinnacle of this voyage for me, with our local guides and small group size. There were a few options a day of what you could do with plenty of leisure time to rest up and relax, as well.

5. So many options!

There are numerous voyages to choose from across the globe. In France, here are the sailing options. I was on the Joie de vivre ship. Check out the Normandy sailing and the Bordeaux sailing in France.

Who should take a Uniworld River Cruise?

  • Couples or groups of friends 55+

  • People who don’t want to pack and unpack multiple times on a trip

  • Those like me who love a curated and personal experience with a balance of activity and rest with sophisticated food, kind people and exposure to culture!


Amsterdam

Amsterdam

This past April I was fortunate to be able to spend some time in one of my all time favorite cities - Amsterdam.

Did you know:

  • Amsterdam has more bridges than Venice?

  • Amsterdam has 165 canals?

  • Monet painted the South Church during a visit to the Netherlands?

I ADORE Amsterdam. I have all the feels for it. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

Couples, families, groups of friends…Amsterdam can handle it all.

My stay in Amsterdam was short. But I took the opportunity to meet up with one of my favorite and most trusted suppliers and experienced Amsterdam the way my clients do.

I started my trip with ½ day walking tour that included the Anne Frank House followed by a private, 2-hour canal cruise on the UNESCO protected Canal belt with traditional Dutch snacks to further introduce this jewel of a city. Guys, I work with some of the very best tour guides in Amsterdam and I loved getting to experience them firsthand so much!

Another must do is a visit to Museumplein - home to Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedieliik Museum of Modern Art.

Amsterdam is also one of the finest culinary destinations in Europe. The list is long, varied and ever changing. I am always happy to suggest options based upon my clients’ dining preferences.

Parks, tulip bulb markets and fabulous shopping…and I could go on and on. I’d love to chat with you more about the fabulousness that is the Netherlands.

Amanda’s recommended hotels:

1) Hotel De L’Europe

Situated in the heart of Amsterdam in by the Amstel River the Hotel De L’Europe was my home while in Amsterdam.

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For you movie buffs, Alfred Hitchcock shot “Foreign Correspondent” (1940) in Amsterdam, he chose the Hotel De L’Europe as the backdrop for some of its most important scenes.

The rooms are so stylishly decorated and the entire hotel feels like you are staying in a palace. And not surprising as the Prince of The Netherlands was going to be staying at the hotel the week after my visit. My favorite touch is that, in the larger rooms, there is a “focal piece” replica of a work by one of the Dutch masters. Then, elsewhere in the room, is a smaller piece of art that is just a small portion of the larger piece. So clever.

A wraparound terrace offers waterfront dining overlooking the historic city, and many of the best rooms have private balconies with views of the rooftops.

And you don’t have to go far for extraordinary cuising, Hotel De L’Europe is host to the culinary delights at the two-Michelin-star-rated Bord’Eau Restaurant Gastronomique.

I love this hotel so much. And I’d love to discuss it in more detail with you!

Virtuoso Amenities you get by booking with AWT:

  • Guaranteed upgrade at time of booking (up to Junior Suite)

  • Full breakfast daily, for up to two in-room guests, served in Hoofdstad Brasserie or through room service

  • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay

  • For bookings on room category Junior suites and above only: complimentary one-way private airport transfer

2) Sofitel Legeng The Grand Amsterdam

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From a 15th-century convent to royal lodgings to Dutch Admiralty headquarters to the city hall of Amsterdam, the Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam is a historically rich, 177 room hotel located in the city centre. A beautiful interior courtyard is a great place to grab a cocktail and reminisce about your day.

If you are able to get a tour of this hotel, do so! Truly fascinating.

Virtuoso Amenities you get by booking with AWT:

  • Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests

  • $100 USD Equivalent Food & Beverage credit, to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)

  • Upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability

3) Pulitzer Amsterdam

The Pulitzer Amsterdam is comprised of twenty-five 17th century houses, this popular gem fills almost an entire city between two beautiful canals and is located just two short blocks from the Anne Frank House. Simply stated, this hotel is in an excellent location.

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Make sure to dine or have a cocktail in their beautiful and mazelike gardens.

Comprised of twenty-five 17th-century canal houses, the property fills most of a city block between two of the city's most picturesque canals, two blocks from the Anne Frank House.

Amanda Knows Best:

  • It is often said that to really experience the Netherlands, you have to go outside of Amsterdam. And I 100% agree. Make sure you take a day trip to a tulip garden (season dependent). And you definitely don’t want to miss a day trip outside of the city to visit smaller villages where you can see real windmills, visit an authentic wooden shoe factory and partake in a cheese making workshop.

  • You may think it seems cliché. But book a private canal cruise.

  • To visit the Anne Frank House book early.

  • Research the culinary scene and make reservations at least one of its world renown restaurants.

Canal Cruise in Amsterdam

Cabo San Lucas. Luxe Edition.

Are you considering a vacation to Cabo San Lucas or another fabulous beach destination? If so, Amanda Watkins Travel knows all of the best places and can add the best perks. Click here to learn more about AWT or click here to get started planning you fabulous beach-y vacay.

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Cabo San Lucas is without a doubt the most well known town in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Cabo is also home to some of the most luxurious resorts, prestigious golf courses and decadent restaurants, making it a perfect destination for people who want a true VACATION (a vacation is quite different from a trip!).

A few other super fun Brownell advisors and I recently made an itinerary busting trip to Cabo to check out all Cabo’s luxury properties.

 But, first…

 AMANDA KNOWS BEST:

  • Taxis, Uber and private transportation are very expensive in Cabo. Bring plenty of cash if you will be needing transportation.

  • Speaking of cash, no need to pick up pesos. Virtually everyone takes the U.S. dollar.

  • If possible, visit Cabo between December 15th and April 15th so you can enjoy watching whales frolic in the ocean while you sip your coffee (or Bloody Mary) on your balcony.

  • December 15th – April 15th is also a great time to snorkel with whale sharks. An INCREDIBLE experience.

  • Most of the resorts on Cabo are located on non-swimmable beaches. Ask your trusted advisor (me!) for guidance if you want easy access to a swimmable beach.

  • Skip Cabo Wabo bar. For a more authentic experience spend an afternoon or evening leisurely exploring San Jose del Cabo and its 18th century architecture, lovely boutiques, and quaint restaurants.

  • San Jose del Cabo is a perfect stop on the way to Flora Farms or Acre. Wander the cobblestone streets window shopping and enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail.


Chileno Bay Resorts and Residences

The bathrooms at Chileno are perfection. Outdoor showers. Large soaking tubes. Gorgeous tiling. Dual vanities. Total bathroom goals.

The bathrooms at Chileno are perfection. Outdoor showers. Large soaking tubes. Gorgeous tiling. Dual vanities. Total bathroom goals.

My colleagues and I were so fortunate to have been able to spend two nights at Auberge’s newest luxury resort in Cabo – Chileno Bay Resort and Residence. When a resort opens in late 2016 and is named the best “Best of the Best of 2017” by the RobbReport, you know you are looking at something special.

You are greeted at check in with a cold beer or personalized cocktail, your first sign that you are going to be spoiled. The staff is so friendly and the zero edge three tiered pool begs for you to sit and stay a while. If you can pull yourself away from your palapa, don’t miss the holistic and rejuvanitive spa. And Chileno’s signature restaurant, Comal, will have you swooning.

Chileno Bay is unique among most resorts in Cabo in that it is located on a swimmable beach. You can visit H20 sports activity cave for snorkel and enjoy non motorized sports equipment. 

Perfect for couples, groups of friends and families, Chileno is a must visit.

Please contact Amanda Watkins Travel directly to learn more about the amenities & perks AWT can offer to its clients who book Chileno Bay.

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Esperanza, an Auberge Resort

Hours FLY by when at the gorgeous pool at Esperanza. Relax to the max.

Hours FLY by when at the gorgeous pool at Esperanza. Relax to the max.

My colleagues and I were so thrilled to be invited to stay at Esperanza! The grand dame of Auberge resorts in Cabo, Esperanza is located on the Punta Ballena headland flanked by two rocky and semi private beaches. This resorts keeps a purposefully low profile and focuses on what it does best – pampering its guests. The feeling of secluded luxury is probably why famous faces frequent Esperanza.

And, oh, the rooms! All of the oversized rooms have an ocean view, furnished terrace with hot tub and the bathrooms come with dual vanities, two showerheads and a large soaking tub (with the resorts own blend of soaking salts). 

Score a table on the patio jutting out into the ocean at Cocina del Mar and let your server guide you through an absolutely exquisite experience. 

Perfect for couples, honeymooners, groups of friends looking to chill, golfers, and those looking to ESCAPE.

Virtuoso Amenities you can when booking with AWT:

  • Breakfast for two daily

  • $100 Resort Credit (exclusions apply)

  • Upgrade on arrival (based on availability)

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Grand Velas Los Cabos

Toss any pre-concieved notions you have about all-inclusive resorts OUT THE WINDOW and take a closer look at Grand Velas!

Toss any pre-concieved notions you have about all-inclusive resorts OUT THE WINDOW and take a closer look at Grand Velas!

Because I do a great deal of family travel planning, I was really excited to visit the newly opened Grand Velas Los Cabos. But I was not prepared for how much I would love this property! This is not your typical all-inclusive property. How many all-inclusive resorts can also boast a two Michelin starred chef?  Grand Velas Los Cabos exceeds all expectations with luxury suites, three infinity pools, a golden beach, an AMAZING spa (I am in love with their sensory spa rooms) and gourmet dining. 

With seven restaurants and five bars, you will never need to leave the resort. Seriously, look into their restaurants. The fact that such high level cuisine, service and amenities are included makes this resort a steal! Your kids will beg to go to the teen club (really – they won’t want to leave) or kid club, so you don’t have to feel guilty sneaking away to experience the playful and inventive 8-10 course tasting at Cocina de Autor.

While wonderful for families, Grand Velas Los Cabos also has 6 dedicated spa rooms that are purposefully designated for those looking for a fitness or wellness retreat. 

Perfect for multi-generational travel, groups, families, corporate events, and small groups looking for a fitness/spa retreat.

Virtuoso Amenities you can get when booking with AWT:

  • Complimentary one-way private airport transfer ( From Airport to the Hotel).

  • $50 USD Spa

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

  • $100 USD food & beverage credit toward a private romantic dinner

  • Upgrade upon arrival subject to availability

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Resort at Pedregal

The rooms are a perfect mix of Oaxacan style and true luxury.

The rooms are a perfect mix of Oaxacan style and true luxury.

As exclusive as they come in Cabo, the Resort at Pedregal is a beacon to travelers seeking  privacy along with exceptional food and service. It is no wonder Pedregal is a favorite among honeymooners. Adding to its aura of seclusion is the fact that  - while only a short walk from downtown – the location was unreachable by car until the resort’s developers blasted a private tunnel through the rock, thus creating the only private tunnel in Mexico. Set into the oceanside cliff, you feel as if you are let into a very well kept secret.

Four restaurants (including a swim up sushi bar) and four bars mean you never have to leave this gem. The Auriga Spa is beautifully designed and features 10 treatment rooms, whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms, exercise areas and lounging space.

Accommodations are in the style of an elegant hacienda and the entry level rooms come in much larger than at  its peer resorts. And all of the 96 units feature a private plunge pool. Lucky us got to stay in a three bedroom casita with an ocean view, spacious balcony and full kitchen.

Dinner at El Farallon is not to be missed. In addition to an unforgettable meal, the experience of being nestled between a cliff and crashing waves is otherworldly. 

Perfect for couples, groups, events, families and multi-generational travel.

Virtuoso Amenities you can get when booking with AWT:

  • Breakfast buffet daily in Don Manuel’s, two per bedroom (including all suites)

  • $100 USD equivalent Spa Services credit to be utilized during stay

  • Complimentary VIP airport Lounge Tickets with all Beach Front Suite Bookings

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

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Las Ventanas al Paraiso

You never feel like you are part of a crowd at Las Ventanas.

You never feel like you are part of a crowd at Las Ventanas.

Being the first luxury retreat to open in Cabo back in the 90’s gives Las Ventanas some rightly due and serious street cred.  With only 71 suites and villas, their seven pools never seem crowded. When wandering from the lobby, through the meandering pathways, ponds and patios the glittering Sea of Cortez catches your eye like a sparkling diamond.

The rooms are all elegantly appointed with warm and colorful Mexican furnishings and textiles. And all rooms include a kiva-style wood burning terracotta fireplace.

 Las Ventanas excels in providing providing excellent, yet unobtrusive, service while allowing their clients to enjoy their privacy.

Perfect for couples, honeymooners, groups of friends looking to chill, golfers, and those looking to ESCAPE.

Virtuoso Amenities you can get when booking with AWT:

  • Daily Full breakfast for up to two in-room guests per bedroom, available in El Restaurante or through in-suite dining

  • $100 USD equivalent Spa credit

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

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The Cape, a Thompson Hotel

It is always a party at The Cape!

It is always a party at The Cape!

If you are looking for FUN, a great pool scene and killer views of El Arco, The Cape is the place to be.  A boutique hotel in a primo location for exploring Cabo, The Cape is a hotel for the young and young at heart. 

With each guestroom boasting an ocean view, you will wake up to staggering views every morning. 

More jaw dropping views await at their famed restaurant, Manta.  You will learn that fabulous views are par for the course at The Cape.

They have a three-bedroom suite with a rooftop patio and hot tub that screams for a party.

Perfect for fun seeking couples, bachelor/bachelorette parties, girls trips, guys trips, FUN trips.

Virtuoso Amenities you can get when booking with AWT:

  • A la carte breakfast for two daily for duration of the stay, served in restaurant

  • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

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One and Only Palmilla

One and Only Palmilla has it all without you ever feeling like you are at a mega-resort.

One and Only Palmilla has it all without you ever feeling like you are at a mega-resort.

Built in the 1950’s as a retreat for the President of Mexico, this 115 room resort is still a tropical escape from “real” life. One and Only Palmilla loves to spoil and pamper their guests – welcome tequila, pillow menu, a cell phone to call your butler, and golf courts that are happy to drive you around the property.  Access to a swimmable beach and a Jack Nicklaus golf course further solidify One and Only Pamilaa as premier Cabo resort.

The One and Only Palmilla offers multiple dining options including renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's SEARED restaurant, and chef Larbi Dahrouch's more casual, waterfront spot Agua. 

There are two large, ocean front infinity pools – one for adults only and one that welcomes families.  

Perfect for couples, families, girls trips, guys trips, multi-generational trips.

Virtuoso Amenities you can get when booking with AWT:

  • Daily Continental breakfast for up to two in-room guests

  • Two 30 minute Virtuoso Exclusive Spa Experiences per booking. (One per person, choice of head and shoulder massage, back massage, or foot rejuvenation)

  • A complimentary round of golf for up to two people, per room, including greens fees and cart rental, once during stay

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

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Contact Amanda Watkins Travel to plan your trip to Cabo!

Mandarin Oriental Canouan

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GO NOW!

I am currently with representatives of Mandarin Oriental  visiting the Mandarin Oriental Canouan in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Canouan (Carib for “Island of the Turtles”) is accessible by private jet or a short flight from either Barbados or St. Lucia. 

Between now and December 18, 2018, the Mandarin Oriental Canouan is offering a fabulous deal that I seriously doubt will ever be offered again. Plus, by booking with Amanda Watkins Travel, you get EVEN MORE.

If you book a stay for before December 18, 2018, entry level rooms (which are HUGE – see above and my video on Instagram) are approx. $1,300 night. This rate includes all meals (for two people) and air transfer from either Barbados or St. Lucia (for up to two people and a $580/person value!). Plus, if you book with Amanda Watkins Travel, we can offer an additional $100 food/beverage/spa credit, priority upgrade, and a welcome amenity.

This is a FABULOUS option for Thanksgiving!! If you have been considering a holiday vacay,  you and your family could spend turkey day on the island of the turtles.

Contact Amanda Watkins Travel to learn more! We would love to get you there soon so you can be amongst the first to experience this extraordinary resort and island. And read more about it below!

 

The Mandarin Oriental Canouan is a stunningly designed 26 room, 7 villa, 9 restaurant, 18 hole golf course and 3 beach resort located on a 1,200 acre (yes – 1,200 acres!) estate. If you are someone who likes to be on top of emerging hot destinations, then you need to make your way to the Mandarin Oriental Canouan toot de suite.

The rooms and restaurants are elegantly – yet comfortably -  designed. To give you an idea of room sizes…the entry level room is a one bedroom ocean view suite at 1292 square feet! The living area can be closed off  allowing for a separate sleeping area for two children. Or, if you want more space, the two bedroom ocean view suite has two bedrooms, two full baths, one half bath, a kitchenette and is a very spacious 2,691 square feet. Regardless of your room choice, you will be assigned a concierge who will take care of your every need.

The seven villas offer a more contemporary design with an open floor plan, private pools and lovely patio seating. A chef, concierge and golf carts are also included.

The kids club is complimentary and is amazing. Seriously. Your kids will not want to leave. It even has a “teen” area for older kids.

Chef Nonky has recently arrived and has truly elevated the cuisine with her attention to detail and the incorporation of both local offerings and flavors from her native Indonesia.

While the beach in front of the resort is gorgeous,  each day they offer a “beach of the day”. You can be taken by golf cart to one of the other beaches to explore, dine, swim and sunbath. Activities include golfing, hiking, tennis, fishing, boating, snorkeling, spa…and so much more!

Truly, I’d love to chat with you about this resort if you have interest!

Alaska: Tutka Bay Lodge

If Alaska is on your mind, you are in the right place. Amanda Watkins Travel knows all of the best ways to explore Alaska - whether by sea (on a cruise) or on land (at a luxury lodge like the ones described below) or both! Click here to learn more about Amanda Watkins Travel. Click here to get started planning your Alaskan dream trip!

 

This past summer my family experienced the most extraordinary 5 nights at Tutka Bay Lodge in Kachmak Bay near Homer, Alaska. 

I was looking for an experience that would be educational for the kids, enjoyable for my husband and I, and would allow us to experience unspoiled nature. Alaska appealed to me for numerous reasons…the summer weather, the wildlife, and its remoteness to name a few. We had already experienced an Alaskan cruise and now wanted explore Alaska by land. 

Enter Tutka Bay Lodge, a Virtuoso resort.

Tutka Bay Lodge

Tutka Bay Lodge is eleven-acre property offering a main lodge, six private guest accommodations, a sauna, hot tub and boat house – all connected by a boardwalk. A large deck offers seating, a hot tub and a steam banya - as well as an area for helicopter landing. And, somewhat unexpectedly, a short walk down the boardwalk finds you at the acclaimed Cooking School at Tutka Bay. On the short walk up to the main lodge you pass the spa cabin and the Lodge’s garden which seems to be a favorite chill spot for bunnies, chickens and the resident porcupine.

Upon our arrival at Tutka Bay Lodge via water taxi from Homer (you can also take a water plane from Anchorage) and were shown to Kittiwake Cabin – our cozy home for the duration of our stay. On the first floor there was a king bed, sofa, and bathroom. A spiral staircase let upstairs to a large room with two double beds and one twin. While the décor was charmingly rustic, the linens, robes and toiletries were nothing but luxury.

Shortly after settling in, we met Karyn  - our guide during our stay. Each family is assigned their own naturalist who tends to their itinerary, answers any and all questions and makes sure that every single need is being met. I had no idea at the time that Karyn was absolutely one of the smartest human beings I have had the pleasure of meeting. But I quickly found out. Karyn was not some college kids working they way through summer. Karyn is a physicist who has accomplished some pretty amazing things in her life. She now chooses to spend her summers at Tutka Bay Lodge sharing her knowledge and love of nature with others. In minutes, she had my kids belly down on the pier doing what she called “belly button biology”. They were looking through the wide slats of the pier and she was helping them identify the various anemone and sea life. 

Food is taken very seriously at Tutka Bay. This is because Tutka is the brainchild of Cordon Blue graduate and famed food writer Kirsten Dixon and her husband Carl. Menus are thoughtfully – even lovingly – planned out. Even the music playing in the kitchen while the chefs are cooking seems to pair beautifully with that days menu. Guests are actively involved in the process as they often forage for the berries and catch the fish that is served. The menu is posted each morning and if a guest needs modifications, they are more than willing to accommodate. In fact, this is a fabulous place for travelers with gluten sensitivities. They beautifully accommodate gluten free guests and even make their own gluten free bread and pastries.

Dinner at Tutka is a casually elegant affair. There is a pre-dinner cocktail hour with an assortment of cheeses and appetizers such as gougère with crispy prosciutto and wild herbs or rockfish fritters. You enjoy the company of the other guests while sipping on the wine selected for that evening and sharing your days adventures.  While the adults chatted, the kiddos would play in the garden with the bunnies and look for the elusive porcupine that frequented the area. We would all come together to enjoy dishes ranging from from elk medallions to short rib ravioli to salmon with risotto. Desserts were painstakingly made from scratch by the pastry chef. If you have picky kids – no sweat – they will happily whip up something that your kids will enjoy. 

After dinner activities vary depending on the guests, the weather and whimsy of the staff. One night after dinner we hopped on the boat to go whale watching. Another night they made a bonfire on the beach and we enjoyed homemade s’mores (with homemade marshmallows!). 

Now here is where it gets REALLY exciting. Let me tell you how we spent our days!

Day 1: We kayaked over to a small little island, built a bonfire and had lunch. We explored in the woods, played in the sand and listened to the bald eagles. Later that afternoon, we went out on Tutka’s boat and saw more Orca’s than I could count. 

Day 2: The boys went deep sea fishing for halibut and Hattie and I, along with other guests and guides, picked berries to be included in that evening’s dessert. Later, Karyn took Hattie for a hike and I enjoyed one of the best massages I have ever had!

Day 3: We flew via seaplane and landed on the beach of a very remote area Alaska to view brown bears. We were literally the only people for hundreds of miles. We were able to get so close to the bears – who could have cared less about our presence! Watching them in their own, undisturbed habitat fishing for salmon was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed.

Day 4: We took a helicopter and landed on a glacier where we saw wolves and more bears. We drank the glacier water and brought back some glacier ice for our evening cocktails. We were freezing when we got back, so we all raced into the Banya for a steam. 

Amanda Knows Best:

  • Combine your stay at Tutka with 3 nights at their sister property Winterlake Lodge to also experience interior Alaska.

  • If your stay requires overnighting in Anchorage, try to stay at Hotel Captain Cook.

  • Consider renting a car in Homer and driving back to Anchorage. The drive is beautiful and you can make a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

By booking through Amanda Watkins Travel, you will also get:

  • One $100 resort credit.

  • Welcome gift basket with the Lodge cookbook and snacks.

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Costa Rica - Pura Vida (Part II). Las Catalinas.

Las Catalinas Resort in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Recently, my family visited Costa Rica. We split our time between La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano, and the Guanacaste region on the Pacific coast

I am excited to tell you guys about Las Catalinas Resort in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. Located on the pacific coast – a short 1.5-hour drive from the Liberia Airport – Las Catalinas offers something different from the other resorts in the area. Las Catalinas is a planned community – along the lines of Seaside and Watercolor in the Florida panhandle – offering luxurious villas and condos with the amenities offered by a 5-star resort.

Most villas come with a house mom who provides housekeeping services, including laundry. In addition, the house mom will cook you a delicious breakfast to start your day and can make guacamole or smoothies for an afternoon snack. A convenient grocery stocking service will have your refrigerator (and bar!) stocked upon your arrival and they will check in daily to see if you need any additional groceries.

At Las Catalinas, we stayed in Casa Indigo. Available as a three or four bedroom villa, this spacious home also has an office, rooftop terrace with a bar (perfect for sunset cocktails), and a plunge pool. But there are many villas to choose from depending on the size of your party - and all are gorgeous and conveniently located.

The black sand beach is a short walk from all of the villas. The beach is swimmable and you can enjoy snorkeling, boogie boarding, stand up paddle boarding and kayaking. Equipment is not provided but is available to rent.

The Beach Club consists of three infinity pools: one adults only, one shallow for kids/wading and one suitable larger, deeper pool. The Beach Club grill serves delicious cocktails along with lunch and dinner options (I recommend the ceviche and the shrimp quesadillas!).

The other restaurant on site is Limonada and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Located on the beach it is an ideal location for a cocktail at sunset. If you are lucky, you may see a howler monkey or two!

As hard as it is to imagine ever leaving this little slice of paradise, you would be doing your vacation a disservice if you stayed on property the whole time! Let the guest services manager arrange for you to go horse back riding, zip lining, snorkeling, fishing or wildlife viewing – to name a few of the options. 

Costa Rica - Pura Vida (Part I). Arenal Area.

Costa Rica is the ultimate destination for active travelers, families and those seeking to soak in a bit of Costa Rica’s famed “Pura Vida” (“pure life”).

Costa Ricans live in the purest sense of the word – Costa Rica’s electricity is produced almost entirely using renewable energy; most of the food is locally and organically sourced; and 25% of the country's land has been set aside and turned into protective parks and reserves.

Costa Rica family vacation

Our family of five, with the addition of one Grammie, recently spent time in Costa Rica. We split our time between La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano, and in the Guanacaste region on the Pacific coast. Although, I am sad our time in Costa Rica is over, I am so happy to share our experience.

La Fortuna and the Arenal area

Primarily rainforest, the Arenal Volcano National Park is home to a tremendous amount of flora and fauna. Creatures you may see include sloths, white-faced capuchin and howler monkeys, coati, poison dart frogs and snakes, including the infamous fer-de-lance, pit vipers, parrot snake and boa constrictor.

An “off the grid” destination, there is much to see and do in the Arenal rainforest: hiking, fishing, rafting, hot springs, zip lining, rappelling down waterfalls, and wildlife viewing (to name just a few of the available adventures!) – as well as visiting the friendly town of La Fortuna.

After a long day of adventuring, you can retire to your resort and relax in the hot spring pools while toucans frolic above you and iguanas try to steal the fruit from your drink! 

Where to Stay in Costa Rica: 3 Options

1. The Springs Resort and Spa   

The Springs Resort in Costa Rica

The Springs Resort and Spa is an experience within itself. Located at a higher elevation than the other hotels and surrounded by exquisite tropical gardens and waterfalls, The Springs Resort and Spa offers one of the most luxurious experiences in the area.

The resort is impressively designed and offers stunning views of the volcano. The 28 hot and cold springs are spread throughout a forested expanse with several small pools perfect for those seeking privacy. There is also a small slide that kids love!

If you tire of the springs, you can take the complimentary shuttle to Club Rio – located a mile down the hillside – for fishing, tubing, kayaking, biking and climbing adventures. You can also visit the wildlife sanctuary for close-up encounters with sloths, monkeys and wild cats!

Who? Families (although I don’t recommend it for kids younger than 3); couples; multi-generational trips; adventure seekers.

Pro tip: Request a table close to the window for phenomenal views while dining at Las Ventantas, the resort’s signature restaurant. 

2. Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort

Tabacon Grand Spa in Costa Rica

Arguably the most famous hot springs complex in Costa Rica, Tabacon boasts some of the best dining in the region at Los Tucanes and a spa that easily joins the ranks of Leading Spas of the World.

Guests love the sweeping rainforest views from the resort’s 103 eco-friendly guest rooms and suites, which feature handcrafted furnishings made by local artists.

Tabacon is set on 350 hectares of rainforest about 20 minutes outside of La Fortuna. The thermal springs flow uninterrupted through the local rainforest offering the perfect opportunity for relaxation and rejuvenation. Closest to the volcano where water temperatures are hottest, you’ll find an adults-only ‘secret garden’ that features six natural pools, cocoon-shaped hanging cabanas and a full bar.

Fun Fact:  A favorite resort for the celeb set, Will Smith stayed at Tabacon while filming his bomb of a movie “After Earth”.  While a guest, he participated in Tabacon’s now famous “Plant a Tree” program.

Pro Tip: Tabacon is a new member of Virtuoso! So by booking through Amanda Watkins Travel, you will unlock all kinds of extra goodies!

Who? Weddings, honeymooners, couples, adventure travelers who also want great food and a phenomenal spa; wellness seekers; mutligenerational trips.

3. Arenal Springs Resort and Spa

Arenal Springs Resort in Costa Rica

An ideal location for exploring the Arenal Volcano region, Arenal Springs Resort and Spa offers more moderately priced accommodations than either Tabacon or The Springs. But don’t think you are skimping on your experience by stayed at Arenal Springs Resort. This highly rated eco-resort delivers incredible views, lush tropical gardens and private hot springs exclusive for their guests. The swim-up sushi bar is a great place to park after a long day of adventuring.

The bungalow style rooms offer comfort and privacy and the showers give the illusion of being outdoors.

Walking paths take advantage of the scenery, crossing the stream with small bridges. Eventually, the trail leads to the open-air Yoga Deck, where complimentary morning classes are offered several days per week.

Who? Families (all ages of kids), multi-generational travelers, groups, adventure seekers


The skinny on Costa Rica's Arenal Springs Area

  • Upon your drive (by rental car or private transfer) up to Arenal, take a pit stop at Macadamia’s for amazing views, delicious limonada and a snack/meal.
  • Arenal is in the rainforest. Bring ponchos and be prepared to embrace the rain if it comes!
  • If not staying there, buy a day pass to The Springs and visit their animal sanctuary and take advantage of their many hot springs. The day pass includes one meal – lunch or dinner in their main restaurant. For spa seekers, you can also purchase a day pass to Tabacon.
  • Venture into La Fortuna for dinner at one of the local restaurants and finish ice cream for POPS.

Contact us with any questions about your next Costa Rica vacation!

Book Hotels Online with Virtuoso

Becoming a VIP Virtuoso Traveler Just Got Even Easier! 

Psssttt . . . this is for you my dear DIY’ers

Book your own hotel stay through Virtuoso and enjoy all of the same VIP perks as an Amanda Watkins Travel client. Just sign in and identify Amanda Watkins as your advisor. Once you book, we get an automatic alert, and we follow-up with your hotel as part of our usual VIP hotel booking process to make sure your stay is as enjoyable as possible! 

As my clients know, by simply booking a hotel or resort through Amanda Watkins Travel, you automatically become a VIP guest. In addition, you are also often treated to special perks and amenities such as free breakfast, spa credits and/or complimentary upgrades.

While I love booking hotels for my clients, I know how appealing it is to spend an evening sitting on the sofa, with your computer in your lap, a glass of wine by your side, perusing hotels and resorts (perhaps with This Is Us on in the background).

So listen up all of you travelers who love researching hotels on your own! Through the new Virtuoso online booking tool, you have the ability to research and compare hotels and then, with the click of a few buttons, book your own hotel stay. BUT WAIT FOR IT ... you still get VIP status and all of the fabulous amenities as if I booked the hotel on your behalf. 

Book your own hotel with Virtuoso

Below are a few examples of the amenities you can enjoy by using the Virtuoso hotel booking tool:  

  • Daily breakfast for two
  • Resort credit
  • Complimentary spa service
  • Upgrade upon arrival
  • Early check in/late check out
  • Free Wifi

How to get started with Virtuoso Online Booking

Step 1: Create an account and sign in

Access your personalized Virtuoso booking site here. In the top right-hand corner, either create an account (quick and easy) or sign in. A pop-up will appear, where you’ll choose me as your advisor.

How to book online with Virtuoso
 

Step 2: Book online

If you know what hotel you are interested in, click on Hotels at the top of the webpage and enter your dates and preferences. If you’re wanting to explore more options, click on Destinations and select your country of choice.

After you confirm your hotel booking, I’ll be notified (I’ll probably also be sitting on my sofa with a glass of wine perusing hotels). I will follow up with the hotel, per my usual VIP process. And just like that, your hotel experience will be enriched and enhanced by booking your Virtuoso stay through Amanda Watkins Travel.


Longer Travel Experiences

The self-booking travel system is a handy tool for short hotel stays. For longer trips with multiple destinations, reach out to me directly so that I can help you with all the little details that make a HUGE difference in your travel experience.

I hope you enjoy the new online booking tool and I look forward to seeing your Virtuoso reservation in my inbox. 


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