Wellness Wishes for the New Year

by Lark Gould - WanderLark
( January 4th, 2013 )

Spanish Spa Retreat in Alicante, Spain

As 2012 spins into 2013, spa and wellness become topics of water cooler discussions. Stressed out moms, burnt out employees and diet-conscious dabblers are finding the answers to their quests as spas and wellness destinations hit the media rounds to solve the “how” of it.

Yet, there is nothing more important than the “now” of it – making change while the time is right and the motivation is there to see it through.

Only about 19% of people who make a New Year’s resolution actually stick to those vows for two years or more, according to research led by John Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, as reported in the Wall Street Journal. The good news is, however, some 46% of those resolution makers stay true to their vows for at least six months. (And that compares with only 4% for those who want to make changes but do not put them into a resolution, according to a separate study).

To turn those turn-of the-calendar wellness wishes into action, Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates presents a collection of top wellness spas around the world where anything is possible when it comes to making healthy changes and feeling strong.

SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain on the Mediterranean Coast has the perfect antidote to an over-indulged holiday season: a “New Year, New Life” package for 2013. Guests who stay for seven nights with a health program receive complimentary accommodations for two nights with stays through February 28, 2013. Room rates for SHA Wellness Clinic start from $300 per night.

Chiva Som Thai Spa in ThailandChiva Som in Hua Hin, about three hours from Bangkok by car in Thailand, has an Eternal Youth package that focuses on pampering the body from the inside out while, cleansing, detoxing and setting a course for healthy living and eating. The regime comes in all-inclusive packages that run from five nights to 14 and deliver a sublime spread of accommodations right on the beach. Retreat rates start at $2,600 for five nights in an Ocean Room.

Ananda Mediation

Ananda in the Himalayas infuses a wealth of adventure, exotic ambience and ancient Vedic wisdom into every retreat. This is where mystical spirit and deep change intersect in a magnificent hideaway resort overlooking the Ganges. Weight management programs, rejuvenation retreats, detoxification sessions and pure yoga immersion are built around days, if not weeks, of pampering and hiking, as well as inner and outer exploration. Inclusive rates start at around $800 per night.

Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, an hour’s drive from San Diego, has announced nine of its “Simple Price” week specials for 2013. Each year the mountain hamlet destination spa resort picks a sampling of weeks for their “Simple Prices” promotions that allow guests to garner good savings on some of the larger rooms that, during these weeks only, cost no more than the standard “Ranchera.” All rates are all-inclusive, and there is never a service charge. During the following weeks, rates (per seven nights, inclusive) start at $2,850 for one person, single, down to $2,450 per person, quad. The weeks targeted are: January 19-26, February 23-March 2, June 1-8, August 31-September 7, September 7-14, September 14-21, September 21-28, November 30-December 7, December 7-14.

Ranch at Live Oak, Malibu, CA

Closer to home for those residing in the U.S., there may be no better kick-start to a New Year’s new you than the Ranch at Live Oak in Malibu, CA. Days are chock full of pushing the limits, whether in cardio, aerobics, weight training, Pilates or can-do trekking over the wild and beautiful Santa Monica Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Those limits also extend to calories and most guests can expect to shed those extra holiday inches in the short week they spend retooling their lifestyles and fitness. Rates starting at $5,600 include six nights and seven days (Sunday-Saturday) of daily guided hikes, yoga, fitness and exercise classes, core training, abs and low impact weight training, and massages for each full day of one’s stay. Each guest gets private accommodations, all meals and some evening elective cooking and nutrition classes.

The Kurtz-Ahlers collection also includes an eclectic membership of luxury hotels with exceptional spas to consider—from the magical Spa Mukul at the New Mukul Luxury Resort & Spa opening in Nicaragua in February, to the exotic Six Senses resorts in Viet Nam, Thailand and Oman.

Photos courtesy of Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates

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Las Vegas for New Year’s

by Lark Gould - WanderLark
( December 18th, 2012 )


Las Vegas is America's Party

Las Vegas New Years Eve

As if Las Vegas is not on fire enough it puts on one of the largest New Year’s Eve parties and pyrotechnic firework shows on the planet. The rundown of fun, as reported on Travel-Intel, brings an exhaustive list of happenings at Strip hotels hotels and in the downtown Fremont Street corridor. The Strip , itself closes to traffic in the early evening and the mile-long neon byway becomes a pedestrian free-for-all through the early dawn hours.

The following is a list of what is happening where for New Year’s in Las Vegas as the curtain falls on 2012.

The Las Vegas sky will light up as the clock strikes midnight, and celebrators ring in the New Year by watching a stunning fireworks display across the Strip . The dazzling show will be fired from the rooftops of seven resorts along the iconic boulevard: MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, ARIA Resort & Casino, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Caesars Palace, Treasure Island (TI), Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino and the Stratosphere. The much-anticipated America’s Party presents a pyro sky show produced by Grucci of New York.

  • Music and sports legends will run headline events. The Killers kick off New Year’s Eve weekend at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. They take the stage on Dec. 28 and 29 at 9 p.m. inside The Chelsea The Red Hot Chili Peppers will perform on Dec. 31 at 11 p.m. inside of The Chelsea Ballroom to ring in 2013. Visitors will also be able to see the GRAMMY® award-winning band perform live on the 65-foot digital marquee facing the The Strip .

  • The Black Keys rock in the New Year with two epic shows at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino with performances at 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 30 and 31 with special guest Divine Fits.

  • Pitbull takes over the Pearl Concert Theater inside The Palms Casino Resort on Dec. 28 and 29 at 8 p.m.

  • UFC returns to the Grand Garden Arena at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on Dec. 29 for a well-anticipated rematch between Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. Additionally, the legendary rock band The Eagles return to the Grand Garden Arena for one night only on Dec. 30 at 8 p.m.

  • Celine Dion performs a special New Year’s Eve concert at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace at 7:30 p.m.

  • Partygoers can rock in the New Year with Fremont Street Experience’s Downtown Countdown starting at 6 pm with a street party featuring Buckcherry and Queensryche plus special guests Quiet Riot, Pop Evil and Otherwise. The Downtown countdown also includes a 2012 year-in-review on the Viva Vision screen, and a midnight countdown led by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman.

  • SHe will become the newest nightlife and dining destination on the Strip. Located inside the ultra-luxe Crystals in CityCenter, the upscale, Art Deco inspired boutique nightspot is the only nightlife venue set to host its grand opening celebration on New Year’s Eve.

  • Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas will host the grand re-opening of Body English on Dec. 28, just in time for an indulgent New Year’s 2013 celebration. Body English will showcase indie, electronic, rock and pop music.

  • TAO Las Vegas at Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino will ring in the New Year with hip-hop sensation, J. Cole. LAVO Las Vegas inside Palazzo Las Vegas will play host to a party with GRAMMY® award-winning artist Brandy.

  • Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas starts the New Year’s Eve weekend with ATB on Dec. 28, Kaskade on Dec. 29, AVICII on Dec. 30, and Benny Benassi hosting the biggest bash on New Year’s Eve.

  • There are also four nights of celebration at XS, the ultra-sexy nightclub at Encore at Wynn Las Vegas. Tiesto kicks it off on Dec. 28, followed by Steve Angello with Third Party on Dec. 29. Deadmau5 takes over the celebration on Dec. 30 with AVICII playing into 2013 on New Year’s Eve.

  • N9NE Group Las Vegas will throw several bashes that partygoers won’t want to miss inside The Palms Casino Resort. Questlove and DJ Jazzy Jeff will get the crowd going at Moon Nightclub on Dec. 29. Kelly Rowland hosts a dynamic evening at Rain Nightclub also on Dec. 29 with the club’s big bash on Dec. 31 with Travis Barker & Yelawolf acting as the New Year’s Eve grand marshals.

  • The Light Group welcomes guests to ring in the New Year Las Vegas-style, celebrating with a full line-up of star-studded entertainment. Foster the People will perform favorites at The Bank Nightclub at Bellagio Resort & Casino. Kim Kardashian hosts the evening in style at 1 OAK Nightclub at The Mirage Hotel & Casino.

  • Collective Zoo will transform the Sky Combat Hanger at the Henderson Executive Airport to host the black tie “The Great Gatsby” themed bash in roaring 20s style.

  • As for dining Wynn Las Vegas will host an exclusive New Year’s Eve soiree in the Lafite Ballroom starting at 9 p.m. In addition, the evolution of Las Vegas nightlife takes a culinary turn with the Dec. 28 opening of Andrea’s, a unique new dining concept at Encore at Wynn Las Vegas. The restaurant debuts an alluring style of “vibe dining,” combining a restaurant and nightlife experience into one environment.

  • miX Lounge at THEhotel inside Mandalay Bay will offer guests a front row seat to the fireworks spectacular. Located on the 64th floor of THEhotel, the sexy and sophisticated restaurant and ultra-lounge will provide a prix fixe three-course menu complete with champagne, along with indoor and outdoor dining options of the incomparable fireworks display.

  • Caesars Palace will be offering a variety of dining experiences for New Year’s Eve, including the perfect place to countdown to midnight. Starting at 10 p.m., guests should arrive at Serendipity 3 to claim their seat at this Strip-side hotspot.

  • Two-time Michelin Star recipient Gordon Ramsay will host a special five-course prix fixe menu at his Las Vegas flagship restaurant in Paris Las Vegas , which includes his signature dish, beef wellington rossini.

  • Inside the Luxor Hotel and Casino the party gets started at Tacos & Tequila with the ladies of FANTASY stopping by on New Year’s Eve to hand out complimentary Patrón tequila shots at 9 p.m. At nearby TENDER Steak & Seafood, the restaurant is offering steak, lobster and champagne specials.

Las Vegas neon

A word to the wise: Las Vegas fills up fast on New Year’s and that includes its hotel rooms, which can be booked at prices that range from double to five times the usual rate. Early planning ensures a well-planned and fun evening with no sticker shocks or stuck-in-traffic plan Bs. Also, because The Strip shuts down to traffic for the night, visitors must try to be where they plan to be for the evening and try not to count on taking cars or cabs during that time. A street position somewhere on the Strip promises decent fireworks visibility. A high-rise window from the South side of The Strip looking north over Las Vegas Blvd. ensures a show like none other.

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Quirky Las Cruces: New Mexico’s Wonderland of Roadside Attractions

by Lark Gould - WanderLark
( December 6th, 2012 )

travels in New Mexico

Part of what it means to be a travel writer is to go to where there is no there there and find the there that may be there after all. Now this may sound like poetry straight from the mouth of Donald Rumsfeld, but there is wisdom in these words.

I recently took a sojourn into the heart of southern New Mexico to see if there was a there there I could find. Turned out there was gold between those endless acres of sagebrush and motor inns and Applebee’s that dotted the landscape between El Paso, TX, Las Cruces and, yes, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

I found the clearest sky in the country – so clear no commercial airplanes are allowed to fly over it. Only rockets are given clearance here – the ones that launch from Spaceport America with passengers as their payload on a journey into space. Turns out the rocket pad is nearly complete and waiting for Richard Branson to launch SpaceShip 2 with six guests and two crew in a horizontal take-off expected to happen some time in early 2014. (See Space Tourism article in Trave-Intel).

Billy the Kid tried and hangedI found the adobe where Billy the Kid was jailed, in a 160-year-old hamlet just outside Las Cruces called Mesilla. It also has an army of ghost activity moving through these adobes that now stand as tony boutiques selling ladies’ clothing and Day of the Dead ornaments. We are warned: “That lady trying to sell you a dress? She may not actually be a lady selling you a dress.”

I found a restaurant (see La Posta) that keeps a piranha in the tank and sells green-hot chili margaritas and another place that sells addictive pecan beer (De La Vega’s Pecan Grill & Brewery) and more than a handful that specialize in a piquant green chili stew. Artful dining in New Mexico

There’s a Saturday farmers’ market in downtown Las Cruces sells earrings made out of bullets, toys made of tin cans, home remedies for restless leg syndrome, bandanas for dogs, hot chili peanut brittle and a cartoon paintings of favorite saints.

And then there is a museum dedicated to America’s favorite missiles has a home just outside the White Sands Missile Range. It’s possible to wander the yard of White Sands Missile Range Museum and where some 50 rockets and missiles have their final resting place and come face to face with a huge Redstone, the entire Nike family of missiles and even a restored V-2.  Meanwhile, the earth continues to rumble all around you as the sky fills with contrails. You won’t know what is being tested; you’ll only read about it on the description plaque 20 years from now.

But not far from the Missile Range is While Sands National Monument, 275 square miles of desert and the largest gypsum field in the world. The gypsum sand moves in high dunes at a rate of 30 feet a year, but solid and packed and white pure as a desert can be under an endless sky.

I return to town with time to check out a free exhibit in the Branigan Gallery of Art, running at this time a celebrated collection of paintings by known Hispanic artists who have stories to tell. Across the courtyard a cultural center puts perspective on the place with a photo gallery of history, from the Civil War (Confederates conquered this territory but the Union Army busted the southern supply lines and brought the army to their knees – who knew?), to its purchase from Mexico, to farming and ranching settlements by the Rio Grande to WWII when weapons testing suddenly put Las Cruces on the map.Art Museums in New Mexico

Finally, and not surprisingly, I found a museum of sorts dedicated to the petite and powerful chili pepper. Las Cruces is known for its chilies as much as it is known for its pecan groves. The Chili Institute at the University of New Mexico has made a science of the chili pepper measuring burns of more than 150 varietals in “SHUs” (Scoville Heat Units, a scale measuring the spicy fire of chile peppers). A large demo garden tells the whole tale of the capsicum family – from the mildest green bud to the fiery habanero, followed by a tour of the gift shop where you can buy recipe books, pepper spray, chili art and hot, not-for-sissies brownie mix.

Read more about Las Cruces in Travel-Intel

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Photos by Lark Ellen Gould

Chile Institute of Las Cruces

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Ghosts Stories and Great Cioppino

by Lark Gould - WanderLark
( November 30th, 2012 )

Double Eagle in Mesiilo, New Mexico
I do not suffer ghosts lightly. So when I walked into the Double Eagle in Mesilla, New Mexico a 150-year-old great house in the middle of a preserved adobe village that was once defiantly part of Mexico, I paid serious attention. It is now the top surf and turf fine dining restaurant in a little corner of New Mexico near Las Cruces. And the dining experience is worth every dime.

I had been prepared for this moment with the story that preceded it. It was a lurid story with all the blood and drama a good ghost story should carry. And it went something like this:There was a sweet teenager named Inez who was a maid in this great house, once the largest in the village and owned by the aristocratic Maes family, including the mother named Carlotta, and a teenage son named Armando. In what is now called the Carlotta room, Armando’s mother found her son in bed with the young beautiful servant, Inez. She immediately grabbed a pair of sharp sheers from a nearby sewing basket and violently started stabbing at the young servant. When Carlotta cleared from her frenzy she discovered she had not only stabbed and killed the girl, but she had mortally wounded her son as well. It is said following the burial of her son she moved to Chihuahua and lived out the rest of her days in an asylum for the insane.

Where to eat in Las Cruces, New Mexico
A Restaurant with Old World Ambiance
I walk into this restaurant that had remained a private domicile until that last few decades when a wealthy oil baron bought it and stuffed it with enough European gothic décor to rival any horror ride at Disneyworld. There are images of Spanish royalty on the wall along with naturalist scenes and even funeral art (the Old World tradition of painting or photographing dead children as alive in order to remember them). I am greeted just after the foyer by a magnificent oak bar that once stood in a Prohibition-era speakeasy inside Chicago’s Drake Hotel.

Dining in Mesillo, New MexicoOn this night I wander the rooms: the patio lounge where authentic handwritten letters by Billy the Kidd hang under glass; the Maximillion Room where life-size paintings of French nobles preside over a grand scene of gilded mirrors and Louis XVI furnishings – and where the strange image of Inez has appeared in photographs; there are back rooms and hallways all ornate and strangely beckoning as if the walls would burst with tell tale paranormal life.

Ghost travels

One Ghost or Two?
But all was quiet on this night – until I wandered into Carlotta’s Room. I was told by the restaurant’s general manager that the chairs in each corner belong to Inez and Armando and I would be able to see their imprint in the strange wear patterns on these seats that no one ever uses. And I was warned, under no circumstances should I actually sit in either one.
where to find ghosts in AmericaIndeed, a round table setting for eight illuminated by a chandelier above is all that most guests use should they choose to dine in that room at all. Two paintings on the wall – of the Senora and Senor Maes—are complemented by a pair of marble hearths and a table with an antique brass and crystal lamp.
I walked into the room slowly, taking note of every step, every sound, every sensation. Three steps in and I knew I was in deeper than I waned to be. A sharp cooling as I inched along the wall, then a cool breeze. Ok, I thought. Could be ghosts, could be me, could be too little to consider for the moment. My hair stood up at the sudden, yet otherwise barely perceptible drop in temperature.
I crossed the first chair and tried to determine whether it belonged to Armando or Inez. The wear patterns were visible but indistinct as to whether they matched the pressure of pants or a dress. I crossed the table to the second chair, taking note of all that was in my immediate space. And then I sat down in the chair. Alone. In a room haunted by two ghosts where I was told clearly not to sit in that chair.
The effect was immediate, so immediate it I did not have a chance to register it for several seconds. In a motionless and silent room, the lamp next to me began knocking in a clear way meant for me to hear. The sounds came from deep within the lamp as if it were the rapping of a person trapped and trying to get out. Or the intentional tapping one might make on a crystal glass, although in this case prolonged, in a motion to be heard in a crowded room.

Dining and ghost stories in new mexico
I looked at the lamp. It got my attention. I slowly lifted myself from the chair and the knocking ceased as abuptly as it had begun. Walking out of the room I stopped at the painting of the father. Suddenly I felt a violent rapping under my feet. I stood there incredulous and then I felt it again – swift, clear, powerful. I left the room and went to the empty bathroom next door. New knocking started, clear, swift and coming from no place I could discern.

Reporter’s Hat
After dinner I learned that others in my party had ventured into that room as well at some point after I had. What I did not expect was their confirming reports of similar experiences once they had sat in that same seat: the lamp did not just knock, it shook wildly “like an earthquake” a fellow travel writer reported. She noted similar knocks under foot in varying areas of the room and then noted another astounding experience. A second woman in the room had taken a row of flash photos. As she reviewed the photos she had taken with her fellow writer both women saw the photos just disappear from the camera never to return.

A similar report by a another no-nonsense writer who had gone into that room after me, only further confirmed what I already knew. She, too, had sat on the chair and saw the lamp start to shake. She also saw movement from the chandelier. She could have said that she saw an apparition or watched the curtains flutter even though they did not cover a window. But she saw what others saw: the deliberate, if not passionate, communication from some unknown, unseen force through the lamp next to the chair that was supposed to be left alone.

As a journalist I have long used observation coupled with outside confirmation by several sources to arrive at whatever can be considered the truth. “Do you believe in ghosts?” asked one of the women I was traveling with that day. I am merely an observer traveling through life, I said. It is not a matter of belief.

Ghst at Double eagle in New Mexico

  • Photos by Lark Gould, except bottom photo, which was posted on restaurant Facebook page, and continues to appear and disappear off that site. Photo offered by restaurant staff with permission to print on a night when the photo had once again reappeared.

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Most Expensive Places to Rent a Car in the US

by Lark Gould - WanderLark
( November 29th, 2012 )

Where to rent a car in the US

In a recent report published on Travel-Intel it was noted that a survey by  CheapCarRental.net has determined the top ten cities where visitors might not want to rent a car, if cost has anything to do with it. The survey compared and ranked 50 destinations in the USA based on their car rental rates for the summer period spanning June to August 2012 and not surprisingly found Anchorage to be the priciest place to rent a car.

Visitors who want to walk off the plane and into their road trip will find themselves spending at least $95 a day to do so in a bottom of the fleet model. Alaska’s largest city came in slightly ahead of Honolulu, Hawaii, where the daily rate was $94. Third most expensive was Washington, D.C. with an average rate of $81.

The following table shows the ten most expensive destinations to rent a carin the USA. The prices shown coincide with the average daily rate for the cheapest available car in each city. Each respective city’s airport was chosen as the Pick Up and Drop Off location.

  1. Anchorage $95

  2. Honolulu $94

  3. Washington, D.C. $81

  4. Denver $79

  5. New York City $78

  6. Boston $74

  7. Charlotte $73

  8. Detroit $65

  9. New Orleans $63

  10. Jacksonville $62

Car Rental-Friendly Cities

On the other side of that survey are the top ten U.S. cities where renting a caris most affordable.


    1. Columbus 

    2. Milwaukee 

    3. Albuquerque 

    4. Fort Lauderdale 

    5. Las Vegas

    6. Salt Lake City 

    7. San Diego 

    8. Phoenix 

    9. Los Angeles 

    10. Miami 

    11. Tampa 

    Where to rent a car

    Renting a car is one sector of the travel industry that does not see a lot of price fluctuations or discounting due to economic waves or world events. Car rental companies keep a tight fleet inventory and have no problem pulling up the rates during high demand times.

    The average daily cost to rent a car in the United States during the first quarter of 2012 decreased slightly over year before (about 5%) to $40.92, according to Travel GPA, which surveyed nearly 1 million transactions by U.S.-based travel management companies.

    Car Rental Savings Tips

    Still, some common sense practices allow for deals to be found and dollars to be saved, even if those dollars are being dealt in Anchorage. For consumers seeking their keys to the city, here are some practical pointers.

    * Summers and holidays are peak times for travel and also peak days for car rental rates so travel at off times, if possible.

    * Look beyond the big brands. Try large aggregation sites like CarRentals.com, Autolash.com, and CarRentalExpress.com, where it is possible to compare brand prices and save as much as 30 percent for off-brand transactions. A new German company, Sixt, which is entrenching in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/Orlando areas, boasts rates of less than $20 a day and may be a good place to get a deal on status rides, such as Mercedes and BMW.

    * Get out of the airport. The four largest U.S. rental car companiescombine to account for nearly 97 percent of the market at the top 50 U.S. airports. To go with a name brand and collect the points without mounting a big bill, that same agency in town will cut a much better bargain.

    * Bargain. It’s always possible to get a perk, a discount, even a week’s worth of driving for the cost of what might be three days if you work the math with the customer service representative. Seven days at $15 a day may end up costing less than three days at $50 a day.

    * Prepay/pre-fill-up. There may be incentives available for paying ahead of time.  Make a plan to fill the tank before dropping off the car. Short of missing a flight or playing VIP for a day there is really never a good reason for taking on the agency gas pump surcharge.

    * Finally, find that AAA card or Costco card and use it. Rental car companies honor discount codes given to members of businesses they partner with. Check coupon sites or frequent flyer membership sites for ongoing promotions. Rental car deals, like buses, come down the road all the time.


    Photos courtesy of Lark Gould and CheapCarRental.net

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    Out Back in South OZ

    by Lark Gould - WanderLark
    ( November 27th, 2012 )

    Kangaroo Island South Australia

    By Lark Ellen Gould

    If you haven’t been to South Australia lately, better bring a pair of comfortable shoes and an appetite according to the word from Travel-Intel. The state that is the fourth largest on the continent is also full of amazing arid land formations, precipitous ocean cliffs, wonderful walkable cities and villages, and some of the best wine and food experiences in the world.

    Wine tasting in South AustraliaIt’s possible to take the Murray River Princess paddle wheeler and ply the historic Murray River from here to Melbourne and beyond on its 1,476-mile course. You can also head to nearby Kangaroo Island for a stay at the sublime Southern Ocean Lodge and its surrounds of surf, windswept rocks, shipwrecks and armies of marsupials. Adelaide anchors it all with a square mile of style marked by renovated turn-of-the-century buildings surrounded by parks and outdoor markets. And not 20 minutes away in the rolling foothills is Barossa Valley, gourmet breadbasket of Oz with its sun-kissed miles of prized shiraz vineyards and its noted culinary traditions derived from modern recognition and more than a 100 years of food-focused settlements – many, oddly, of Prussian origin.

    Into this mishmash of must-sees mix some of Australia’s newest and, possibly, most compelling tourism products and create that many more reasons to head to Australia and get off the bus.

    Adelaide is easily accessed by plane or train from Sydney (25 hours, $151 to $1180ow, The Indian Pacific on the Great Southern Railway) and Melbourne (9 hours, $100 ow, The Overland on the Great Southern Railway). Yet, only one in eight international visitors to Australia finds the way to South Oz. Those who do can consider these new activities and adventures to add to their bragging roster of Australian vacation experiences.

    Safari in South Australis

    Adventures in the Outback

    Camping in the outback becomes part swag, part wagon with Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris. For those who want to see stars, spend time in the vast Australian bush, dine among throngs of kangaroos and swim freely amid schools of dolphins and tribes of seals, an outback safari does the job.

    Gawler Ranges presents the wild outback within the stayed camp environment of Kangaluna Camp with tented luxury accommodations and even Adventures in South Australiaa Swagon—100-year old Aussie-style wagon, dubbed the “Galaxy Suite,” to stay in.

    The Swagon has its own private shower and toilet and Aussie-style “swag”—a queen-sized double mattress. The bed is canopied by canvas that can be pulled back to reveal the vast Southern nighttime sky.

    Meals at Kangaluna Camp are served outdoors with complimentary drinks, and after dinner guests can observe the night sky through the campsite’s computer- controlled telescope.

    Kangaluna Camp can be located near the town of Wudinna, about 370 miles Northwest of Adelaide .

    Four-wheel drive vehicles offer outbackoutback tours to Eyre Peninsula and inland salt lakes. Full-day journeys can include spotting wild koalas in the surrounding bush, swimming face-to-face with bottlenose dolphins and seals in Baird Bay, or visiting a colony of rare Australian sea lions along coast. Inclusive three-day safaris start at $1728. Contact: www.gawlerrangessafaris.com.

    Kingsford Homestead: Historic Sleeps

    Kingsford Homestead is also a new product for show in South Australia. The circa 1856 Scottish sandstone cottage property located on the western edge of the Barossa has been owned by generations of local farm and sheep barons, used as a television series set, a now (as of July) hosts visitors in several suites surrounded by 225 acres of provincial countryside.

    The property has been completely converted to include five suites on an upper story, a single suite on the ground floor, and a Stonemason’s Cottage at the rear of the property, which features a cozy lounge room with fireplace, generous double shower and spa bath, and a private walled garden.

    Luxury Inn in South Australia

    Food and wine play an integral part of the Kingsford Homestead experience, with local produce that transforms into three- and five-course tasting menus each day. After enjoying wine and canapés at sunset, guests can take advantage of the underground wine cellar stocked with fine Barossa and other exclusive South Australia wines to complement the local menu.

    A signature feature here is the al fresco “bush bath”—an oversized freestanding tub perched in a secluded corner of the property that overlooks the river. The antique claw tub is often occupied by two and complemented with a bottle of choice. For other bathers, the Homestead just opened a pool last month.

    Wine tours are a must in these parts and winemakers are an easy 10-minute drive from the property. It’s 30 minutes to the wineries of Clare Valley producing some of Australia’s finest Riesling. Additionally, visitors can head upwards at sunrise in a hot-air balloon, play golf at Jacob’s Creek estate, or walk about the property’s rolling hills and river gorges with an eye out for kookaburras, parrots, wedge-tailed eagles, and kangaroos.

    Average rates run $768-$875 per night, minimum two-night stay, inclusive. Private car transfers from Adelaide can be arranged for $175 (maximum four passengers, one way).


    Life is a Cabernet

    Life is a Cabernet has been well known by Aussie Specialists for their immersive food and wine tours into the Barossa, McLaren and Clare valleys. What is new is the option for travelers traveling through or with limited time to be handled in totally customized fashion via an hourly rate option. For $110/hour, per person, including vehicle, driver and up to six guests, it is possible to get door to door pick up, a tailor made tour based on suggestions to clients’ interests (and tastes), onboard refreshments and free transfers to the airport, all in a Chrysler 300C sedan or Grand Voyager van.

    Owner Ralf Hadzic, a former media whiz who lived in the U.S., has hosted such sound celebs as Kenny Rogers, Jimmy Buffet and Lady Antebellum on his private wine tours. His classic tours run 9 am to 5 pm and include a day full of tasting, sampling, dining and experiencing along the scenic routes and towns of Barossa, McLaren Vale and Clare. Tours run $315-$335 per person and pay a 25 percent commission.


    Further detail about South Australia can be found at www.southaustralia.com, or contact the South Australian Tourism Commission at (323) 503-4210.

    Photos courtesy of members of the South Australia Tourism Commission.

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    Las Vegas Hotel axes Excess for Wellness

    by Lark Gould - WanderLark
    ( November 21st, 2012 )

    Las Vegas Hotel Rooms at MGM GrandCan a Las Vegas hotel room make you healthy? The MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas thinks it can. The sparkling emerald-hued resort at center Strip that offers the largest casino in Las Vegas has developed an antidote to Sin City for visitors who want to bypass the smoke-saturated slot banks, the non-stop well drinks, the all you can eat food brothels, and end-of-the-world pool parties. Call it excess meets expurgation. Meet the Stay Well rooms at the MGM Grand that debuted October 15.

    According to a recent article in Travel-Intel, 41 of the hotel’s 5,044 rooms have been reworked from bottom to top as Stay Well rooms and include all sorts of unusual features for fitful sleeps and germ-defying stays. Among the secrets of these health-promoting quarters are extra soundproofing, ventilation that purifies and humidifies the air, and filtered water on tap. The bathroom lighting emits blue light (said to counter jet lag), and a vitamin-C-infused shower dowses bathers with an extra dose of cold prevention while filtering out chlorine.

    Wellness Design

    So what does it take to make a room healthy? A little design and a little technology:

    Las Vegas rooms at MGM Grand

    • Advanced Room Lighting: improves the body’s internal clock by assisting in the regulation of melatonin production and sleep/wake cycles

    • Wake Up Light Therapy: exposes guests to short periods of blue-shaded lighting to increase energy and reverse the effects of jetlag

    • Nightlighting: LED lamps designed to illuminate pathways at night without disturbing melatonin levels

    • Dawn Simulator Alarm Clocks: gradually awakens the body

    • Vitamin C Shower Infusion: shower water infused with Vitamin C, which neutralizes chlorine to promote healthy hair and skin

    • Air Filtration: The most advanced HEPA-standard air purification system reduces allergens, toxins and pathogens, creating better air quality and breathing

    • Aromatherapy: optional aroma infusion for STAY WELL guests

    • Water Filtration: reduces disinfectant byproducts, chlorine, pesticides and some pharmaceutical and personal care products for the cleanest, most purified in-room water

    • EMF Protection: protects guests from electrical equipment that emanates sleep-disruptive Electromagnetic Fields (EMF)

    • Photo-Catalytic Coating: breaks down bacteria, virus and nasty bugs on bacteria-susceptible surfaces

    • Cleveland Clinic exclusive access: wellness software includes stress management, sleep and nutrition programs, as well as access to healthy food/drink options developed by the Cleveland Clinic, which guests can use for up to 60 days after their stay

    • The Stay Well Channel: World-renowned health and wellness expert Dr. Deepak Chopra welcomes guests to MGM Grand

    The rooms are located in the hotel’s main tower. They aim not only to reverse jetlag, reset the body’s internal 24-hour clock and regulate melatonin levels to promote better sleep, keep filtered water flowing through the taps and Vitamin C flowing through the shower head, but also provide guests with some healthy food and beverage options before they hit the steak and foie gras.

    MGM partnered with Delos, a pioneer of Wellness Real Estate for this concept and spent the past four years collaborating with doctors and researchers at Columbia University Medical School and the Cleveland Clinic, as well as with architects, engineers and contractors, to come up with a curated presentation of optimal conditions for health and well-being in a hotel room design.

    Rates start at $105.

    MGM GRAND Hotel & Casino

    (877) 880-0880

    More updates on Travel and Features by Lark Ellen Gould: Go to Travel-Intel and Larkslist.com

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    World’s Tallest Hotel or Hotel of Doom?

    by Lark Gould - WanderLark
    ( November 20th, 2012 )

    Hotel in North Korea

    Ok, this just in. According to Travel-Intel, what is being tabbed as the tallest hotel in the world by some and the “hotel of doom” by others is on schedule – albeit 26 years after it broke ground – to open next year. However, this behemoth of hospitality is not going up in Dubai, or Beijing or Shanghai. The world’s tallest hotel tower will be found in bustling downtown Pyongyang, North Korea.

    Plans for this pyramid, or rocket-shaped tour de force, started with the previous Kim regime in 1987 to deflect attention away from North Korea’s pervasive poverty and give the struggling dictatorship a sheen of affluence and competitive mettle. But an ongoing plague of poverty and famine that took hold in the 1990’s caused construction to stop and not begin again until 2008.

    At 105 stories and 1,083 feet high it beats the current record holders for this hotel-focused feat, both in Dubai– namely Rose Rayhaan by Rotana and the Burj Al Arab. The Rose is 1,093 feet but has only 72 stories. The Burj tops 1,035 feet and holds 28 bi-level stories. There is also the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai Hotel, part of the Emirates Towers in Dubai, which reaches 1,234 feet and holds 77 stories. Thus, whether the new hotel will, in fact, be the tallest on earth may be up for debate or the dictates of the current regime. However, it will be the hotel with the most floors.World's Tallest Hotel in North Korea

    Called the Ryugyong Hotel, it will be managed by Kempinski and will be the first western hospitality company ever to operate in North Korea, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is said to be looking to the new property to attract needed foreign currency, despite the fact that many industrialized western countries have bans in place to prevent their citizens from traveling to North Korea. Travel industry sources estimate that around 400 to 500 Americans travel to North Korea annually.

    The top floors of the hotel will house guests in 150 of the originally planned 1,500 rooms, which, according to recent reports from Bloomberg, “will be developed over time.” Shops, restaurants, a ballroom and offices for foreign companies involved in this enterprise will open on the ground and mezzanine floors next year. Completion is targeted for summer, but don’t start firing your travel jets quite yet.

    Not surprisingly, no booking or contact information is available: ryugyonghotel.com

    Photo credit: www.ryugyonghotel.com

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    Top Ten Tips for What to Do in Oahu

    by Lark Gould - WanderLark
    ( November 5th, 2012 )

    What to do in Waikiki

    Susan Tanzman, owner of Martin’s Travel & Tours in Los Angeles, is one of the travel industry’s foremost experts on Hawaii. Here are her not-to-be missed tips for a visit to Hawaii’s third largest island.

    1.  Best Lunch: Giovanni’s White Shrimp Truck by the Polynesian Cultural Center…Garlic Shrimp is the best.

    2.  Best Beach:  Waimanalo.  It is in a residential area but all beaches are public so every fourth house has a side entrance to the beach.  No one is there Monday thru Friday as the locals go to work.  It also has trees that line the beach so there is always a shady area for someone who doesn’t want to be in the sun.

    3.  Best Donuts: Leonard’s Malassades. These are Portuguese donuts that will make you go back for more, and more.

    4.  Best Dolphin Swim: Wildside in the Wai’anae Harbor. Swim with the dolphins in the ocean and during whale season to see the humpback whales in the wild.

    5.  Best Fishies: Waikiki Aquarium.  This is likely the smallest aquarium in the world, but probably one of the most interesting and educational when it comes to exploring the coral makeup of the islands and what it means to a healthy eco-system.  Also, they are the only aquarium to have monk seals in captivity.

    6.  Best Dinner Deal: Side Street Inn near Ala Moana. This may be a somewhat seedy area, but what food!  You can sit at a long table with strangers, see some of Honolulu’s great chefs take a load off as they arrive from finishing their restaurant shifts for the night and come here for dinner.  The menu is all Asian food from Japan, Korea, Philippines, China and Hawaiian Cuisine.

    7.  Best Opera: Honolulu features a fabulous opera season during the first quarter of the year.

    8.  Best Fest: Hawaii’s Food and Wine Festival in September is quite unbelievable as it offers great opportunities to taste the food of so many famous chefs from near and far – many who regularly appear on television.

    9.  Best Farm to Table Lunch: Nalo Farms

    10. Best Take-In: A private tour of the Arizona, USS Missouri, and Ford Island through a knowledgeable and able guide.

    More on Hawaii and Travel: Travel-Intel.com

    More on writer Lark Ellen Gould: Larkslist.com

    Photo courtesy of Outrigger Hotels and Resorts

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    Late Life Surf Lessons

    by Lark Gould - WanderLark
    ( October 14th, 2012 )

    Water. It’s all around me here in Hawaii. Crashing against the sand, stretching to the whites of the sky, giving this island in the middle of nowhere a reason to exist. So why is it that even the thought of wading into that soft blue until my feet are no longer secure in the sand sends me into a spasm of hyper ventilation?

    I did not even know this was a fear of mine. Until, at the age of 58, I decided to learn to surf.

    Learn to surf in WaikikiI was sent here by Outrigger Hotels to look at their properties on Waikiki, write about their recent renovations and return to them feedback on their media methods. I did not come to swim. In fact, for all the beach resorts I cover around the world I can barely count on two hands the number of times I have gone into the water. I am afraid of waves. I am afraid of water. I am afraid of the simple act of staying afloat.

    I, one who has covered wars, famines and coups in Africa, who regularly travels to hot spots alone and has chased away would-be attackers repeatedly, am afraid. Of water.

    And so it was in the bustling tourist town of Waikiki I decided to face that fear in the water, with Tony. Tony Moniz is a beefy guy of Hawaiian descent who grew up on a surfboard. His heroes are easy to count: Duke Kahanamoku is his god and he worships at that altar every day with every wave. He turned his religion into a surf school call Faith Surf School and creates new converts daily within the four operations he has going around Waikiki. I am not one of them. But I now understand trust and the act of surrendering to a higher power, even if that higher power is a tan, muscular guy pulling me up from my knees and making me face the wave I am running from. Faith Surf School in Waikiki

    We went through the lessons on land first. Find that sweet spot just below the logo on the nine-foot board and lie there prone with feet together. Paddle this way, paddle that way, watch the waves, watch the shore, pull to knees from a place below your chest, one foot, the next foot, point in, point out and ride. Easy enough.

    Until we took it to the water. I was not quite five years old. And I was alone. My mother chatted busily with friends on the beach and I wanted to see if I could swim to China. So with the horizon in my sights I set out to find the other side of the world. I swam and swam and did not see a big rope that extended from a spot on the shore to some unknown place beneath the breakers. But when the inevitable wave came and I went down I tumbled and tumbled in its energy and circled right into the rope’s taught heaviness. The memory is gray, as if played in black and white. And I do not remember much. But I do recall the waves, forceful, rolling, loud, crashing over me and that I was somehow prisoner of a heavy rope that would not budge. And I remember swallowing the thick water and talking to myself about getting up and out of there when it was so tempting to just lie there and do nothing. But I knew I had to make the rope move so I could find my way to the surface and back to shore. I pulled in my strength from some far off place, probably the first of such instances when I would have to do that in my life. When I got to shore I saw my mother still talking, her back to the ocean, not even aware of my misadventure.

    I paddled toward Tony and toward the waves. Even in this sleepy bay the waves looked to me like little tsunamis letting me know I could not escape nature’s power.  The orders came quickly and follow I did even though I only wanted to stay prone on the board gripping it through any and all of the water’s motions.

    Paddle forward! Now power paddle! To your knees! Stand up! In an instant I was up, balanced and riding that wave toward the shore, a dance as difficult and as basic as learning to follow your partner in a ballroom jig. I fell off and into the water, repeatedly. Waves came and went. I counter-intuitively dove through these death traps obeying Tony’s barks.

    Learning to surf Oahu

    An hour had gone by, and many waves passed. My toes were torn up from the board’s friction. My neck felt like a hundred pounds. My eyes burned from the combo of saltwater and sunblock. Even my estrogen patch had disappeared in the tumult. But I was ready for one last ride, and a chance to finally forgive my mother.

    Learn to surf in Waikiki: www.faithsurfschool.com

    (808) 772-6291

    Photos courtesy of Faith Surf School

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