Last year we got out of our comfort zone and resumed traveling, and what a wonderful feeling it was to reconnect with the world. To keep the momentum going, here are nine particular suggestions of places to go, things to do, and even what to read before traveling. And if you’re still unable to hit the road, we’ve got remedies for that, too.
1. Read Graduate Hotels by Benjamin Weprin
$55 at Rizzoli Bookstore
Who doesn’t love college towns? The indie coffee shops, the greasy spoons, the bookstores full of course materials, and the Graduate hotels. You can find them in several dozen college towns across the United States, from Providence to Nashville to Berkeley. Each hotel is designed to reflect the spirit of its nearby college or university, so if you happen to be an alum, they’re a charming blend of hipness and nostalgia. But also, as this coffee table book ably demonstrates, they’re just lovely hotels—creatively and thoughtfully designed with, obviously, a strong sense of place. I’m not saying I’d send my kids to one of these colleges just so I could stay at a Graduate hotel, but all other things being equal…..
2. Snuggle Up Under the Matouk Pezzo Throw at Charleston’s The Loutrel
The vibe at The Loutrel, one of Charleston’s newest and most excellent hotels, is one of understated luxury. Staying there is like driving a Volvo. You might not immediately notice the little touches that inform a subtly sophisticated experience, but they’re there when you need them. Those touches include the throw blankets, woven by Massachusetts textile firm Matouk, which you can find in every room at the Loutrel and are available for purchase. Made of brushed cotton so soft it feels more like a pillowcase than a blanket; these throws add a touch of elegance—and warmth—to any room.
3. Wear the Timex Pan Am Day-Date Watch
$179 at Timex
Suppose you’re interested in how good design impacts the experience of traveling. In that case, you could do worse than revisit the golden age of air travel, the 1950s, in which jets were introduced, and passengers enjoyed spacious seating and multi-course meals. One way would be to visit the fabulous TWA Hotel at New York’s JFK Airport. A more portable way would be to buy a Timex Pan Am watch, which incorporates the Pan Am logo on the face, band, and other design elements. Pan Am was, of course, the most glamorous airline in what was then a glamorous industry. That’s all gone now, of course, but in cooperation with the licensing company that has survived the airline, Timex has brought back this elegant and helpful reminder.
4. Go Big at Walt Disney World
I admire the longtime Disney fans who maximize their time and budgets by mastering all the logistical tricks of visiting Disney World in Orlando. Their fandom takes diligence and passion. But if you can afford a more upscale experience, you can save time and trouble and get even more out of the theme park experience. One example is a stay at the new Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, which is technically a hotel, but Disney calls it ”an immersive experience” because, well, it is. For two days and nights, visitors play the part of characters in the Star Wars universe, eating, playing, and sleeping within the confines of the “Starcruiser,” partaking in their custom storyline. For the Star Wars hardcore, it doesn’t get much better.
Once their Starcruiser experience has landed, visitors should consider arranging a VIP Tour Guide through Disney VIP Tour Services. These private guides will pick you up at your hotel, usher you into the parks through back entrances—this is just as cool as it sounds—and help whisk you through ride lines. In two days, you’ll be able to experience more Disney than you could in a week without a guide.
Disney is relatively subdued in its marketing for this service, so it’s something of a secret. If fans need to plan a special occasion—a birthday or anniversary–they can call upon the Disney Private Events team to create their own experiences. Disney Private Events works with clients to incorporate specific characters and venues to create a unique and memorable experience.
These Disney attractions aren’t for budget-conscious travelers. But for Disney lovers who can afford them, they help create priceless memories.
5. Spend a Weekend in St. Louis
“St. Louis, you say? It’s not the first place that comes to mind. What about Miami or the Hamptons?” Try something unexpected: St. Louis is a great American city with some unique attractions. Start by booking a room at the Angad Arts Hotel in the city’s Art District. Devoted to promoting the work of local artists—you can see their expertly curated work in the lobby—the hotel vibrates with the excitement and energy of art. Each room or suite, for example, is decorated in a single-color theme of green, blue, red, or yellow. It’s a high concept that works. From the Angad, visit the nearby City Museum, hands-down the best children’s museum in the country. (In my experience, adults find it just as magical as kids.) City Museum is hard to describe, but if you like Alice in Wonderland, you’re good. After that, the non-claustrophobic and non-acrophobic should ascend to the top of the Gateway Arch, which will carry you back to a time of American ingenuity and optimism. It’s a fascinating piece of Americana that is a singular experience. In the evening, take in a show at the historic Fox Theatre, stroll the bars and restaurants of the bustling Grove neighborhood, or catch a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium. At this welcoming downtown ballpark, you don’t have to worry that your kids will learn an unwelcome new vocabulary by the end of the third inning.
6. See New and Old Icons in Washington, D.C.
So many of us obsess over the partisan politics of our nation’s capital; we forget (or never learn) what a fantastic city it is to visit. I like to do D.C. with a mix of old and new—old, like the Kennedy Center, where this year you could see Joni Mitchell receive a lifetime achievement award and Bob Weir play with his latest band, the Wolf Pack, in collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra. (Deadheads, young and old, danced in the aisles, and the Kennedy Center ushers rolled with it.) Or new, like the redeveloped historic Navy Yard neighborhood, where you can stay at the funky Thompson Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel with a great rooftop bar just blocks from Nationals Park, home to the local baseball team, and the National Mall. Or stay on the other side of town in Fairmont, Washington, D.C., just a couple blocks from the shops of Georgetown. Like the Thompson, it has a lively bar. It also has one of the best-equipped hotel gyms you’ll ever find. (Arnold Schwarzenegger) used to stay at the hotel because he loved the gym so much) Top off your night with a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, where reading the Gettysburg Address from the carvings on its limestone walls reminds you of what a tremendous and hard-won democracy ours is.
For more information: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Navy Yard; Thompson Washington Hotel; Nationals Park; National Mall and Memorial Parks; Fairmont Washington, D.C. ; Lincoln Memorial.
7. Drink Tommy Tardie’s Whiskey
New Yorker Tommy Tardie is an entrepreneur who happens to love whiskey. Or maybe he’s a whisky drinker who happens to love entrepreneurship. Either way, he’s the guy who, in the last decade, opened The Flatiron Room and Fine & Rar, two of the finest whisky bars in Manhattan or just about anywhere else, for that matter. Both are warm and inviting spaces with terrific live music, excellent comfort food, and a seemingly endless supply of the brown stuff. But you’re not expected to be a sniffy spirits snob at one of Tardie’s establishments—just someone with an open mind and an appreciation of a good bar and a well-poured drink.
8. Experience Float Therapy at the Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland
Just about everyone who’s been to Iceland—and lots of folks who haven’t— knows of its famed Blue Lagoon spa. The blissful mineral lagoon is filled with heated geothermal water from the Svartsengi power station just a few hundred yards away. Less well-known is the new Retreat at Blue Lagoon, a small and profoundly luxurious boutique hotel subtly tucked behind the main visitor facility. The hotel has its own, private mineral baths so that you can avoid the sometimes rambunctious tourists at the original site. At the same time, the 62 rooms and suites at Retreat at Blue Lagoon are beautifully designed, their minimalist but comfortable furniture creating a sense of tranquility heightened by otherworldly views of the lava fields beyond their windows. But to go even deeper into that psychological space, try “Float Therapy,” which is unlike any spa treatment you’re likely to have experienced. Wearing a swimsuit, blindfolded participants float in the geothermal water with the help of inflatable bands and a headrest. For 45 minutes, an attendant “bodyworker” slowly twists, turns, and swirls you in the water. While I experienced it, I decided that this must be what it felt like to be in a mother’s womb—warm, peaceful, and safe. Other travelers reported feelings of profound calm and bliss. I imagine Float Therapy inspires a different sense for everyone who tries it. But isn’t that the point of a great travel experience?
For more information, visit Blue Lagoon.
9. Luxuriate in the Riedel Winewings Tasting Set
$180 for a set of four at Riedel.
At some point, we all have to return home, and re-entry can be challenging. Let’s say you’ve returned from a weekend excursion and want to ease your way into an inexorable Monday morning with a glass of wine. Be forewarned: These are not your casual Sunday night wine glasses. They are unusually tall, with flared basins, startlingly slender stems, and broad bases. (Riedel compares the shape to plane wings.) If you have a hanging rack for wine glasses, they may not fit. They’re dishwasher-safe, but they may not fit. Oh, and they’re not inexpensive.
To which I say, the hell with that—these Riedel wine glasses are glorious. For one thing, they are visually striking, an inevitable conversation piece for wine lovers. For another, their width creates a sort of in-glass decanter effect whose impact on wine is quickly noticeable. There’s plenty of space for flavors to emerge, and when you put your nose up to—no, into—one of these glasses, you’ll inhale a powerful sense of what you’re about to enjoy. So don’t worry that they’re fancy. Life is short, and Sunday nights can be rough. Break out your wine wings and look forward to your next journey.