The Delano South Beach a sleek and modern luxury hotel

If laid back luxury in Miami is what you seek then you should look no further than the Delano South Beach for your stay in Miami.  From its sleek reception area, to its airy restaurant to its chic poolside the hotel unites the it crowd, luxury aficionados and professional powerhouses all under one blanket of Miami indulgence.  I fell in love with the Delano many years ago where the one of a kind old fashions and sought after address made me feel at home with grabbing a drink and people watching on a solo night out on the town.  Within seconds the sights from the sushi serving to the lively pool games to the gorgeous décor you definitely feel like you have arrived in Miami.

The location for the hotel is one of my favorites.  Located on 1600 block of Collins Avenue you are within a hop skip and a jump from most of the great offerings you can find on South Beach.  If you want to stay out of the party mix try heading up Lincoln Road with its great mix of shops and restaurants to get a real authentic Miami perspective.  With great opportunities to hop in on a salsa dance, grab a hookah or cigar and just relax with a glass of wine and enjoy the night the options are plentiful.  For more of the party goers you are again right in the magic spot, where you can walk or take a quick tax to the main Ocean party destinations like Wet Willies and Mangos.

For those wanting nothing more than just to relax the day away the Delano is as beautiful as it is welcoming.  Just step to the back patio where you can lounge at the open air restaurant or in the hammocks and even step in to one of the most eye catching pools that South Beach has to offer.  This gorgeous pools and its gorgeous servers is warmed and ready for you to relax, chat with friends and even make new friends as you unwind.  The expectation modern indulgence is carried from the lobby and restaurants to the rooms.   With comfortable beds and pillows you simply sink into the accommodations offer a refuge from the party hard or sun drained lifestyle you can take on in Miami.  My experience at the Delano was definitely one for the record books and should definitely be on your destination list if luxury is on the top of your list for your trip to Mimi.

Miami Weekend Takeover

Short trips are a perfect way to step out and recharge and there are few places that give you more variety in relaxation and fun that a weekend getaway to Miami. Miami has long been one of favorite places as it is almost like taking an international trip on a domestic budget.  The warm weather and international vibe make the city a huge melting pot with a little something for everyone.

Your hotel choice on a pop in flight to Miami sets the tone for what kind of weekend you should expect.  You can stay in the middle of the madness in prime time South Beach with a low Ocean or Collins address.  Just make sure to read up on the hotel instead of just looking at pictures as the lobby in some of these hotels can far outpace the reality of the rooms.  You can also go for some of the hotels on 17th and higher that tend to deliver a bit better on the rooms while a little more walking is required for fun.  If you are on the beach side of the street, however, you normally get direct beach access which is always a plus.  If R & R is your top priority going up to mid-beach area or Downtown Miami are great bets for a more relaxed and luxurious atmosphere.

I like the best of both worlds so I usually stay on Collins. I spun off from my usual SLS and hopped across the street to the Delano. The hotel is a great boutique concept with a good mix of business travelers, partiers and families.  While it is a little slower than my typical SLS expectations, the pool is to die for.  Heated to a baby hot tub temperature it is a great way to relax from a day at the beach or meet new friends who are kind enough to send over a bottle of champagne (if you are lucky).

One of my favorite things about a weekend in Miami is that you never know what you can expect. If you are open to let the opportunities find you, then you really never know where you can end up.  This trip in taking a quick beach day detour for sunblock we came to the Ritz Carton restaurant’s showcase of a new grill and White House Chefs tour.  Soon as I caught a whiff of what they were serving up I was sold and what started as a short walk to Walgreens became a great taste of new creations both on the grill and behind the bar.

While weekend trips can be short, they abbreviated length puts you on notice to make the best of it. If you can to rest dive in, if you came for fun plaster a smile on a friendly ear and get out there.  With a good attitude you can easily get everything you want out of a quick trip and when in Miami you can make sure the city owes you nothing when you pop in and pop out.

Tampa Girls Weekend Fun

Birthdays are a perfect excuse to visit long distance friends so I recently hopped to Tampa for the weekend to get a taste of this South Florida destination and celebrate with friends. A weekend trip for a purpose is great as you get to wash away some of the excuses that normally plague a short trip.  Instead of worrying about ticket prices or how to work time off in your hectic schedule it becomes a lot easier to just bite the bullet and commit.  When you are visiting a new city the choice is even more tempting as you can get some of the highlights of a city in a very fun weekend with friends.

For this trip as I have amazingly chic friends I got some of the best food and drinks that the city of Tampa had to over. Fresh off the plane, thanks to a prime airport location, I quickly started my Tampa tour and the super sophisticated Ocean Prime.  This was my first time trying this is a national restaurant chain and I was definitely not disappointed.  The lounge and bar area have a cool kids vibe flowing from the staff to the guests.  The smoking Berries and Bubbles cocktail caught my eye as soon as I walked in and with first sip I was in love.  The food and service combined with this intoxicating cocktail started my night off on a high note.  To keep the party going in Tampa is easy as pie as they have several bar areas which making something you like a breeze.  As bar hopping is a serious past time of mine it was easy to go from grunge, to bar, to hookah, and even to live music so finding something up your alley is almost guaranteed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a long night of fun and a nice day of taking advantage of some of the great shopping Tampa had to offer it was time for a birthday dinner. Where else should you celebrate one of your most fabulous friends than the world renowned Bern’s Steak House.  To say the restaurant is a culinary experience is an understatement.  From the ornate decorations to the completely separate dessert restaurant the experience at Bern’s is top of the line.  While I am not a big steak person, I could not resist as you look at the giant menu of options.  Even more exciting is that you come in with the expectations you are about to give away your first born for your meal and I was pleasantly surprised with the cost of the food considering we got course after course of exquisite dishes.  For some extra bonus points you have the opportunity after your meal to tour the kitchen, including in house butcher, and wine cellar.  A great way to appreciate your gastronomic adventure at Bern’s even more.

 

Now of course everything I did in Tampa did not consist of food and drink but those were definitely some highlights. All in all Tampa was a cool city that had a mix of small town closeness with stylish city flare.  With their closeness to the water and constant festival city one thing is for certain, Tampa and its residents know how to have fun!

Closing out Tokyo by honoring history

Japan is a very eclectic mix of old and new, but on my last day I had to dive into some of the history that makes Japan unforgettable with a visit to their Imperial Gardens and Samurai Museum. A last day on any trip can feel a little overwhelming as you sort through things missed and those you can’t miss.  My last day I decided to split between something important to me and something important to my daughter.  Frist stop was the Imperial Gardens as they were within walking distance from my hotel.

One of my main priorities in choosing Tokyo as a destination was just to relax and find a space to clear my head after dealing with a personal loss. While Japan overflows with beautiful gardens, something about the regal nature of the Imperial Gardens called to me and we off set to explore the grounds.  With several entrances to the Gardens make sure to get a clear idea on where you want your access point to me.  The Gardens are divided into a ground level portion and a different section on a steep incline.  If you go to the wrong entrance you have a steep hick ahead of you.

The Gardens offered me just what I was looking for, a serene place where you can sit back and enjoy nature.  Part of why this is such a tourist destination is how the Japanese make serenity an art, carefully plotting out waterfalls, coy ponds, bridges and monuments to give you an opportunity to carefully observe and appreciate the thoughtfulness of design.  Serving a delicate balance of nature and how human artistry can work to enhance, not take away from the beauty of nature.  With my mind feeling calm it was time to hop to my daughter’s top pick, the Samurai Museum.

Just as it sounds the Samurai Museum is an ode to the discipline, culture, and exquisiteness of the Samurai culture. The museum offers English tours of everything from the dress to a history of their battle skills and rise and fall of the samurai culture.  There is something quite special about an interactive museum as it gets you a chance to not only learn more about a culture you admire but to take a small step in their footsteps to see just how amazing their life and devotion to their craft were.  Perhaps it was all the karate movies my daughter watched her whole life but this tour gave her life.  Add in the opportunity to try on a Samurai outfit and hold a sword and this was one of the highlights of her trip.  Make sure to plan extra time for the tour as they have daily Samurai fighting exhibition that we had to miss to make a break for the airport.  All of the fun new culture Japan offers have a distinct line to their proud and innovative past that demands some reverence to their beautiful history.

 

Tips for staying above the travel transportation learning curve

On my most recent trip to Japan I was reminded of the importance of staying on your p’s and q’s to move around a new city as you learn the landscape.  It’s easy to have expectations that things should just work out our way while putting little time and attention into how this will actually happen.  Traveling in Japan, for instance, with all of the English accommodations, you can easily forget the importance of knowing some words or phrases in Japanese in order to ensure you can smoothly move around.  As I tackled hailing a cab from the Tokyo Tower and hopped in a cab where the driver spoke no English that lead to Battle Royale when it was time to pay I was reminded of some simple tips that would have made the night a lot smoother

Take notes on landmarks and directions – It is no fun being lost in a strange city.  Don’t’ assume everyone will have an idea of your destination.  If you are leaving your hotel take note of important physical markers that can assist others helping you find your way back home.

Your phone can be a resource even without service or data – International service can be very expensive with iffy coverage at best.  This doesn’t mean you can’t use your phone.  The voice recorder is a great way to provide information in a different language to others.  Also, have your hotel concierge record the name and directions to your hotel in the language of the country you are in or take a picture of a map directing others to its locations are great tools for finding your way back.

Ask questions before committing to a service – Transportation in other countries is notoriously a mix bag depending on the city and the particular driver you get.  I learned in Italy pretty quickly that cab prices can be high and can be low but asking before you take off prevents you from getting locked into a war of words where neith3er party knows what the other is saying.  Asking ahead gives you leverage to negotiate or find some alternatives if you can’t agree.  If you want to use a comfort from home, check ahead if options such as Uber are available where you are internationally. 

Use your other experiences to increase your travel savvy – I was never so happy to have a New Yorker for a college roommate than when I had a cab driver attempt to overcharge me in Japan.  As soon we took off I saw he neither knew where he was going, nor what I was saying and was too stubborn to do anything about either problem.  So when he tried to triple the charge for my return trip than I paid for my arrival it was on.  Learning not to let people take advantage of you prevents you from becoming a walking doormat internationally.  I quickly pulled out my New York negotiation skills and the haggling began.  AT the end of it I had to hop out a cab but maybe a lesson will be learned about playing black women in cabs by this cab driver.

Be diverse in your back up plans – From addresses written in foreign languages to maps to asking your hotel for an international contact you have to plan for all the things that can go wrong while still being light on your feet.  I always grab a map at my hotel and ask for details on the area that I am staying in.  Your concierge is there for a reason so take a moment to discover what a local would know about your location as the small things may be important later when you are out about exploring away from the welcoming staff at your hotel.

Day 2 in Tokyo Enjoying the mix of fun, fashion and serenity of Meiji Shrine

One of the big draws for me to visit Tokyo was getting some peace from the beautiful scenes and parks the city is renowned for so the Shibuya district was at the top of my list.  On my second day in Tokyo my quest lead me to Shibuya and the Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine to take a walk in the park if you will.  Often my travels are about seeing all I can see but crossing a city off your travel list does not have to be what wanderlust is all about.  Coming off the death of my grandmother, my motivation for traveling to Tokyo was just to take a break and appreciate my blessings and nature is one of the best spaces in which life is put into perspective for me.

Meiji Shrine is a huge area encompassing the temple area, covered walk ways and bridges, museums and historical buildings.  Unfortunately for us the access to the Treasure Museum is limited to the weekends, however the grounds in themselves are a looking glass into the world of ancient Japan.  During your stroll to the Temple you get to enjoy the tree lined walk ways and trails.  From the old wine barrel displays to the bonsai garden you have a sense of reverence for the history that is contained within the park area.

As we approached Meiji Shrine you are reminded that despite it begin a tourist attraction it is a place of worship for many as well. From the ritual cleansing of the face and hands instructions at the entrance to the shrine and prayer area there is a real sense of peace in watching others celebrate their beliefs.  I was lucky enough to even see a wedding processional solemnly parade through the courtyard.  This temple also did a great job of giving some explanations to the ceremonies and celebrations that were ongoing in the space.  During my visit I saw the harvest festival which used elaborate fruit offerings as a celebration of blessings.

Outside of the Temple the park is an explorer’s paradise. The grounds allow you to visit several historical buildings or just relax in the grass and enjoy the peace and beauty of it all.  Outside of the temple, however, the city is still bustling all around.  We decide to just wander our way to our next destination, even passing some comforts of home such as Garrets Popcorn.  We grabbed lunch just blocks away at the Omotesando Hills.  This is a go to destination for premium luxury brands, but as usual there was just food on the brain.  After a tour of the ten restaurants and their menus we settled on a small restaurant doing what Japan does best when it comes to food, showcasing simple ingredients in an exceptional way.  Even with my simple order of chicken the barrage of colors and sauces and flavors on my dish made it one of the most memorable meals I had in Japan.

While luxury brands were not my cup of tea this trip I am always interested in exploring local shops so we headed deeper into Shibuya to see what we could find. This is a huge area for shops and stores, most that are original to Japan.  After a long day of walking and exploring we headed back towards our train stop but the relaxing tour of the Meiji Shrine stayed with us as a sense of appreciation for the beauty found all around us that is celebrated in Japan.

Balanced traveling: Putting rest and relaxation into making big moves

International travel often demands you spend your time on the move, but sometimes you just have to know how to sit back and relax too to get the most out of a vacation. As I hit the hotel room in Tokyo after a couple of days’ worth of traveling I knew that my normal hitting the road was not going to work. I needed rest and relaxation and with the Peninsula giving me some amazing five star luxury I was in the right place to make that happen.

Usually there are two separate but equal trains of thought on travelling: those who hit the destination all in, soaking all the fun they can out of it and those who have R & R on the brain and plan to lay back and take a mellow break from their everyday life. Admittantly the first one is usually my go to, but I learned an important lesson on balance in my Tokyo trip.  Spending time recharging at your hotel is not only a great way to not come back from your trip needing a vacation from your vacation but it is a good way to get your money’s worth when booking luxury travel.  I now consider it mandatory getting my money’s worth time.  Enjoy the plush robe and slippers, soak your stress away in the tub, and ponder life outside the phenomenal view of your window.  All these things help define the vacation separate from the ripping and running that probably occupy your normal life.

So as much as I like this balance sitting still too long will never be up my alley. But exploring will always be a passion of mine so why not start the exploration at the hotel.  Great hotels are typically prepared for wandering spirits and have great amenities.  The pool and spa facilities at the Peninsula were exceptional.  As with most things very orderly (there was instructions on pool routine, swim, and then sauna then swim).  With the incredible views of Ginza and invigorating hot tub it did a great job of unwinding both my body and mind.  Lesson learned for me though that exploring a new city can start first with your hotel as you balance your quest for adventure with a desire to re-invigorate yourself.

Day One in Tokyo – Asakusa history, beauty and fun

Getting a real vibe for a new city usually means getting emerging yourself in that culture so getting hands on in Tokyo will probably lead you to the Asakusa area.  This was the top recommendation from the hotel concierge when we checked on what to do in Tokyo so we gathered our city and train station maps and set out to see what all of the fuss was about.  One of the things I love most about Tokyo is their train system.  Admittantly I got a little flustered when I could not get my credit card to work but after exchanging some cash the English prompts and signs made it easy to get around the city not to mention the price was right.  With Asakusa just eight stops down from the Ginza district we were off for some Tokyo exploration.

While the train offers English prompts everywhere, the streets signs from Tokyo do not so getting your bearings quickly is an important tool in making it around town. As maps have never been my strength, I had to rely on my following skills by pegging other visitors and following behind others who seemed to have a sense of where we were going.  As I began to see more and more stores and shops pop up I knew we were in a visitor friendly part of town and learned what we were in the Nakamise shopping area.  These rows of shopping streets have everything from Japanese snacks to souvenirs in every shape, size, and form.  It is a great place to find something for friends and family at home as there are offers from the very cheap fans and cards to luxury kimonos and swords in between the open air market and store front areas.  As we hit the Kaminari Gate it truly struck me of the majesty, beauty and history that was sure to make the trip one of a lifetime.

After some wandering around we got to the main attraction for Asakusa, the Sensoji Temple.  This Buddhist temple built over thirteen hundred years ago is a great introduction to some beautiful Buddhist traditions. From the handwashing station to the prayer walls it was a great place to gain some reverence for a culture not your own.   This is definitely one of the places I wish I hired an English tour guide to give me a true understanding of some traditions that I stumbled through by watching others.  The temple and surrounding gardens are a great place to wander around and just take in some of the beauty.  As my trip was in the fall the leaves were falling and it was a great place to sit and relax or have a leaf throwing party that really just reminds you what a blessing it is just to be alive.  Either way the beauty of the city quickly welcomes you in making the city seem a lot less foreign in a lot less time.

With all the things to see in Asakura what went from a planned stopped turned into an all-day affair. From my daughters quest to try new favors at the food vendors to my kimono instructional there is so much to do and learn in the Asakusa area.  If the walking of the day has you pooped you can also hop in a water taxi or a ricksaw to cap off a day of exploration the beautiful and historic Asakusa area.

The Peninsula Tokyo: Kon’nichiwa luxury!

When in a strange land, having some place comfortable and safe to lay your head can give you real peace of mind and when that place is crazy luxurious you may have found yourself in the Peninsula Tokyo.  Set in the business district of Ginza the hotel offers class beyond compare, a central location, transit options from within the hotel, and impeccable service.  My initial Tokyo plans did not include the Peninsula, however with the 4th night free offer with the AMEX Fine Hotels I thought it would be a great addition to what was sure to be a great trip.  When I read you could also access the train from the basement of the hotel while also being just minutes from the Imperial Palace the scales tipped in the Peninsulas favor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I am a big fan of the Peninsula Chicago for their lovely high tea service, this was my first time staying at the Peninsula hotel. After some sickness on the plane and an hour ride from the airport, the welcoming staff was definitely a site for sore eyes.  As expected the lobby areas were beautiful, although much more compact from the sprawling Peninsula Chicago that I was used to.  After moving up to my room, however, I could care less what was the lobby dimensions as the room was simply amazing.  From the large walk-in closet and dressing area to the opulent bathroom to the huge master suite and sitting area with expansive views of the city around I was in love.  I would be doing a disservice if I did not mention my favorite part, the toilet.  No bidets are not the rage in America, but this one was something special.  I have seen nice ones, but a toilet that automatically lifts the seat when you walk in, has a warmer, spray settings for both front and back targets and even a dryer (Yes a dryer) literally blew me away.

As with most great hotels the extras are where you lose any lingering regrets you may have about the price. Including simple amenities that are a lot more important when you are far away from home like Q-tips and slippers, tvs and radios in the bathroom, Oscar De La Renta soaps and shower gels all add to a wonderful and luxury experience at a hotel.  These things you can’t qualify but also can’t duplicate at a hotel that is not on par.  For instance after noticing one guest was a mini, we came back to the room with a special baby basket and kids robe and slippers for my one year old Bronx.  Now this is class at its finest.

My next biggest concern with a hotel is always location as I like to hit the pavement in a new city no matter where that is in the world. The hotel is centrally located and close to the shopping in Ginza, the Imperial Palace by foot and the incredibly efficient train stations to get you to most of the highlights in Tokyo with ease.  The staff did a great job in arming us with site and transit maps before we headed out on our way.  The one drawback for me was in reading about the transportation options online before arriving.  When we went to book the basic car service I thought would be a free, first come first serve service, we were told it was only associated with suites in the hotel and could not be accessed.  As the trains were so convenient it wasn’t a sticking point, but some places such as Tokyo Tower, are still a bit cumbersome to get to with the transit system.

Without question the comfort and luxury found in the Peninsula hotel could have you spend your entire vacation in the 500 sq. ft. of a room and love every second of it.

Tackling Honolulu in 24 hours with Waikiki beach fun

Yes when you get news you have a long layover in Honolulu Hawaii of all places it is like you stepped out of a nightmare and right into a dream. My path to Honolulu was definitely not blue skies as there are few things worst then being told you won’t make a leg of an international trip.  So after a night of being puked on by a baby and a couple of hours sleep in LA I was stood at a counter close to tears about my flight to Tokyo.  Luckily an unexpected blessing was coming my way as although there were no flights to Tokyo in the next 2 days out of LA I could connect in Hawaii for a long layover.  No question my answer was yes!!!

 

So what do you do in Honolulu with just a day there and no real preparation for your trip? Well that’s easy.  First is just to remember there is always a silver lining and just be grateful.  After that immediately book a hotel room around Waikiki, buy some flip flops, and go flying towards the beach.   Just to highlight all the wrongs made a right on this trip for me a rainbow popped up to highlight my great luck.  The Waikiki beach and sunset is nothing short of amazing.  It is a great time to give pause to just what a blessing life is.  And as things are looking up there is still a ton to do in Honolulu once you get your beach time in.

The Waikiki beach area has really built itself up with great shopping and restaurants all within an easy walking distance. With their late night hours and busy walking traffic you almost get a baby Vegas strip vibe.  We set off to do a little shopping and fill our bellies as we took on the 24 hour Hawaii challenge.   The only downside of a very commercial build up is that you can lose some of the more authentic stores that are a real refection on Hawaii.  So after popping in a couple of Urban Outfitters and other stores we decided that food was the new top priority.  To start Hawaiian shaved ice!!! Okay I had a mild obsession while I was pregnant but my love did not prepare me at all to an authentic Hawaiian twist.  At Island Vintage Coffee Shave Ice they had fresh favors and Hawaiian ingredients that were one of a kind.  Not to mention how amazingly light the ice was.  It was a great warm up for what was to come.

We took some good advice from a stranger also scarfing down shaved ice and wandered into a newly renovated shopping center, the International Market Place.  In addition to some great luxury shopping options the third floor is dedicated to some great eats and good times.  On the weekends they have live entertainment and the band that was rocking 80’s music and 70’s funk had my son getting his serious grove on.  At the Eating House 1849, the food was an eclectic mix of Asian Hawaiian influences and the 1849 Spicy Ramen Bowl and Tavern Style Fried Chicken were a perfect cap to a long day.

Up in the morning and while my mind is on Tokyo there is still time for some final Hawaiian moments. We heard that the Island Vintage coffee company with their honey latte was the place to be and the long line we faced confirmed the recommendation.  With a gorgeous grassy area and great view of the boulevard it is a great way to wake up your day in Hawaii.  It is a great reminder that the best memories happen in a moment.    You don’t always have to have an extended stay, just a fabulous location with the ones you love can give you the opportunity to make memories that last a lifetime.

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