Posts Tagged ‘luxury hotels’

A few years ago I attended my youngest sister’s wedding, which she decided should be a destination event. I was extremely excited to learn that she and her groom-to-be (now husband), chose to host their celebration on Mackinac Island, Michigan. I’d heard about the island, but had never been. What I did know was that it was a unique experience unlike any I’d get anywhere else.

My young niece informed me the island had a certain smell to it; “Horse manure and fudge!” she exclaimed, watching my face as she made her announcement. On the ferry ride over from the mainland area of Mackinaw, I kept trying to imagine what I was in for, and was intrigued at the idea of coming to a place where you step off the boat and are transported back in time.

Immediately after disembarking, visitors are treated to the sight of a line-up of perfectly outfitted horse-drawn carriages, each waiting patiently to take visitors to their destination, or for a tour around the tiny island. You see, no cars or motorized vehicles are permitted on this quaint little piece of land along the shores of Lake Huron, furthering the feeling of being transported to a bygone era. Other than horses and feet, bicycles are the other most popular mode of transportation around the island, and are available to rent from a variety of locations.

As our group turned the corner onto the main street, I became immediately aware of the truth of my niece’s assessment; the air did indeed smell of horse manure and fudge – oddly, not an unpleasant odour. In addition to its tourist draw of horses, carriage rides, and picturesque Victorian-themed shops lining Main Street, Mackinac Island is infamous for its outrageously good fudge. Walking by one of the open doors of a fudge shop, my middle sister and I simply had to stop in and watch as the candy artisans worked a new batch of creamy delight, right in the open portion of the shop itself. Visitors to the shop are invited to ask questions, and of course there are numerous exquisite samples of the finished product to tempt the palate. Needless to say, we each bought several flavours to take home with us.

After meandering through delightful gift, clothing, and assorted shopping venues, we met up with the main group for lunch at the Pink Pony restaurant. On a warm September day, it was the ideal venue for an alfresco repast right along the water’s edge, where we sat and looked out onto the wide expanse of blue of Lake Huron.

Opting to walk up the hill from the main street shopping area after lunch, we headed up to check into our hotel, The Grand Hotel, the island’s premiere resort hotel and destination.

With its impressively wide steps leading up to a spectacular white wooden porch, reminiscent of the grand old days of southern charm and elegance, we made our way indoors to the lobby, where guests milled around and lounged in well-appointed chairs and sofas dotting the open area. After excited greetings with late-arriving guests who were part of our large group, we found our way to our room, exhausted, and ready to re-charge before dinner.

Each room is perfectly outfitted in soft carpets, beautiful antiques, and wall-papered elegance befitting a grand old mansion oozing southern charm, yet the bathrooms lack none of the expected updated modern-day necessities, to ensure each guest’s visit it perfectly ideal.

As a writer, I was thrilled to learn that this hotel was the set and location for the movie, Somewhere In Time, with Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve. I have to admit to being in awe of walking through rooms and down hallways featured in the movie, and imagined turning a corner to find the genteel beauty of Seymour’s character all decked out in a sweepingly elegant gown.

The rest of that weekend became a bit of a blur, with wedding preparations, the ceremony on the grand front porch, and dancing till dawn that evening, but the experience as a whole will remain with me for a lifetime.

What I came away with from that trip was the sense that, in this one place, this one island, time really does slow right down and take visitors back to the distant past. I couldn’t help but reflect on the craziness of our modern, everyday lives, where we’re plugged in, connected, and yet also disconcertingly disconnected, especially in contrast to the old world charm and grace the island exudes. While we didn’t have enough time to check out the many fabulous on and off-island B & Bs and other beautiful hotels and venues during our stay that weekend, I’ll definitely go back to explore more of this unique place. I can’t think of a better way to unplug, de-stress, and reconnect with self and others. For travelers looking for a truly unique experience, a visit to Mackinac Island simply can’t be beat.

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From the street The Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater, Florida looks lovely, but it’s really once I stepped through her doors that I got a true sense of what’s in store. Being greeted by warm smiles and a friendly “hello” sets a welcoming tone, but it’s the allure of the pool, palms, and ocean that draw me in. Now I’ve been to Florida countless times before, but the stately elegance, understated seashell decor, and cool air were balms to my soul on my arrival on the very humid August day we arrived. I was with a group of event planners from Strategic Incentive Solutions on a site inspection, and since this was my first foray into this arena, I was excited to see St. Pete’s/Clearwater from a whole new angle.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed with our host venue. The Sandpearl is a luxury five-star hotel, and after a day packed with visits to several other venues and destinations, dinner at The Sandpearl that evening was a special affair in the private wine room. Our waiter, Chris, kept us all laughing by regaling us with information and hilarious stories throughout the spectacular meal. Afterward, we wandered outside, drinks in hand, to take in the cooler breezes, many tiny lights strung everywhere, and groups of guests clustered around the pool and beachfront fire pits. The night was crystal clear, the moon hanging large and low in the sky. I couldn’t wait to walk the beach and dip my toes into what we’d been assured was bathwater temperature water, but that would have to wait till morning.

At first light, I made a quick cup of complimentary coffee in my room in the coffee maker set out for guest’s use, padded out to the balcony, and settled in to watch the hotel wake up. At first there was little light, other than those around the pool area directly below me. Stretching as far as my eyes could see was the Gulf of Mexico. I was at peace in the half-light, sipping my coffee alone. As the sun rose in the sky, signs of life became apparent, as workers came out and headed to the beach to rake and clean up for the day’s activities. On impulse, I decided to hurry up and headed out to walk the beach before gearing up for a day packed with activities with the group.

True to the staff’s promise, the water was as warm as a bath, and since I’ve always visited Florida in the March/April time frame before, it was a new experience for me. What followed was a whirlwind day of many personal firsts; exquisite meals and tours of two additional luxury area hotels, and an afternoon on a chartered catamaran, where we watched dolphins play and swim alongside our boat while we were treated to cool, refreshing drinks, snacks, and incredible waterside views of the marinas, resorts, and beaches strung out along the coastline. I quickly came to the realization that the St. Pete’s/Clearwater area I thought I knew had grown up. I must admit to being impressed with the vibrancy, elegance, and luxury offered in a place I’d always thought of as sleepy and perhaps a bit “old-fogey”. Let me tell you, there’s nothing sleepy or old about it! From upscale venues and restaurants, to wide expanses of sand and sea, we experienced some of the very best the travel and tourism trade in Florida have to offer.

That’s not all though. We were there to check out the venues as potential destinations for events, and were pleased to discover that this aspect of each venue exceeded any needs our clients might have. Even more impressive is The Sandpearl’s commitment to what they call, “green meetings”, where biodegradable products, energy efficient lighting, and resort-wide recycling is in full effect in an effort to help protect the Gulf Coast’s unique natural resources. For today’s travelers and event planners, that’s important, since more people are aware of the negative effects humans can and do have on nature.

For me, as it is with most travelers, whether for business, pleasure, or a combination of both, it’s always about the experiences and memories I take away with me. Whether engaging in exciting team building adventures, a sunset dinner cruise, or a must-visit to the nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium and introduction to Winter, the dolphin (see my previous post, “It’s All About The Dolphin”), I came away with a tremendous appreciation for this incredible destination, venues, and the community’s commitment to conservation. For anyone seeking an exciting luxury Florida destination along the Gulf of Mexico, I’d highly recommend St. Pete’s/Clearwater and The Sandpearl.

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