Sunday, March 30, 2014

From a Place Called the Peloponnese


I write today from Poulithra, a small coastal village in the Peloponnese. It is a rather enchanting sort of place; but then to our way of thinking many such Greek villages are just that.  We fell under this village's spell last year and returned Friday after spending our first night in another charming town, Astros, some 30 miles north of here.
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By now we’ve decided that marathon flight day/night/day of 24 hours plus, to get here was worth it, although at the time we weren’t sure.

Having picked up a rental car the size and the color of a ripe cherry, we’ve embarked on a road trip that will take us through both the history and hidden corners of this part of Greece.

Our route – still not cast in direction or dates - will take us back to old favorite places and yet lead us to new discoveries ~ the entrance to Hades, among them.

 We are well off the “American’ tourist track. It is a shame more of our fellow countrymen (and women) don’t venture into these postcard perfect areas that draw hordes of European travelers in the summer months. The tourist season in Greece kicks off with its Easter holiday week and continues through summer.


But  now the villages are blissfully quiet, streets are empty but for the locals who call out greetings to each other and the two American tourists who stroll in their midst.

The air is filled with bird song and the scent of orange blossoms. There’s still a nip in the early morning and evening air.  We stroll along narrow streets to tavernas to dine each evening – the sky a star-lit umbrella. We are still among the early eaters – dining at 8 or 9; Greek diners begin arriving after 9.

We’ve re-couped from the jet-lag that always packs a punch for  the first few days. We’ll be back on the road again come Monday. Hope you’ll come along with us. And this weekend, take some time to stop and smell the flowers ~ we are!






[Travel Tip: I wrote our last post in Istanbul where we spend the night en route to Greece.  That routing  saved us about $1,000 in airfare costs – thanks to a deal The Scout found on Kayak.com. We used a free night stay coupon at the Marriott Courtyard and the airfare to Athens was about $125 for the both of us. And we’ll spend a few days at the end of the trip visiting that fascinating city – a double win, to our way of thinking.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Istanbul Arrival: What a blast!

We were reminded yesterday that travel is always filled with surprises.  Some a bit startling. 

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Having left Seattle some 20 hours prior to our arrival in Istanbul (the overnight stop in our trip to Greece) we were enjoying the fresh air outside the Istanbul airport and watching the hypnotizing traffic: taxi horns honking, buses jostling to edge near the curb, drivers weaving between them.

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Arriving Istanbul
Mesmerizing to our jet-lagged brains as we waited for the Marriott Courtyard shuttle van to pick us up. We also noted a police car, lights flashing that seemed to be chasing waiting taxis from the curb. Parking violations, we reasoned.

Then it occurred to us the street had cleared: no vehicles were arriving, large groups of waiting travelers were at curbside. Traffic was stopped some distance away.

A fellow traveler joined our waiting group and said, “'It’s a security issue,” he explained. “They are holding traffic for a half hour or so.”

And so we waited. Then. . .

KA-BOOM! from the far end of the Terminal.

Yep, a security issue alright.  Something suspicious was blown up.
Traffic resumed.
Our shuttle arrived. 
You might say our arrival here was a real blast.

More from Greece. . .when we get there!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Greece: A honey of a destination

Greece, quite literally, is a honey of a destination.

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Athens, Greece from our airplane 2013

As we prepare to return this spring to the Peloponnese, Crete and other yet-to-be-determined places we know the one common treasure we’ll find is their liquid gold. . . honey.

In Greece, honey is infused into soap and shampoo. You can find it in beauty products from face cream to foot lotions. We’ve even used wax balms on our lips – thanks to those industrious bees who produce the honey.

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Feta cheese bake in phyllo then smothered in honey, sesame seeds and onion

We’ve drizzled it by thick spoonful onto fresh-made Greek yogurt for breakfast. We finished our evening meals with complimentary servings of fresh fruit slices topped with it or pieces of cake soaked with it.
While honey is commonly found in every region of Greece, each region’s product has a slightly different taste and characteristics. 

Busy as Bees. . .

As we drove narrow roadways that curled and climbed through the rugged terrain of both the Peloponnese and Crete -- each is a honey producing area -- it became a contest of sorts to spots hives we passed along the way.
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Roadways aren't for the faint-hearted
By the numbers there are some 1.3 million hives and 25,000 beekeepers responsible for the 12,000 tons of honey produced annually in Greece.

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Orange groves/harvest in the Peloponnese

Luckily we will be returning to Greece, during the ‘honey season’ which generally begins in March and continues to the end of November in the southernmost areas of the country.

During this time hives are moved from field to field and slope to slope. The moves provide the seasonal flavors to the honey – orange blossoms in May, wild thyme in July, forests in September and Heather fields in both May and September.  Honey is harvested after the feeding periods to capture the best flavors.

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Wild thyme lines a Crete hiking path
We will be making our fifth trip to Crete – we can’t resist its charms.

Or is it the the thick, hearty thyme honey we’ve discovered in southern Crete that keeps us returning?

It’s a flavor unlike any honey we’ve had anywhere else. We’ve commonly referred to it as our ‘nectar of the Gods’.

Honey of the Gods. . .

However, it was in Poulithro, a coastal village in the Peloponnese – at the Hotel Byzantinon, where we were, last year, introduced to a honey blend so rich in flavor and beautifully colored (an almost pearl metallic highlight) that we understood completely why it is called, “Melithion” which means, ‘honey of the Gods’.


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Melitheon - Honey of the Gods

Christos Kritsidimas, son of the hotel owners, said his family had been buying the honey and serving it as part of the breakfast they provide with a room rental. “The guests kept asking where they could buy the honey. They wanted to take it home.”

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Christos and George Kritsidimas
Talks began with the honey suppliers and Christos, who formerly worked in the banking industry, began Vasiliki, his  new company that produces and markets, “Melithion” and soon other varieties of honey.

“Vasiliki,” he explained has a double meaning. It is both his mother’s name and synonymous with royalty. “We think of this product as the Rolls Royce of honey.”

Melithion is a blend of primarily black fir tree honey dew and Thyme nectar, with combinations of smaller amounts of herbs and local flowers contributing to its unique blend, including Arbutus, Maple, Heather and Tea.

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The Black Fir grows at the 1,500 meter (4,921 feet) elevation in the Mainalo mountain range that towers over the Peloponnese southwest of Tripoli. It’s a distinct species in the fir family and produces a honey known as Banilias (vanilla) – it is the only Greek honey to carry a Protected Designation of Origin. This honey is considered an excellent source of essential trace elements include potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron – as well as numerous vitamins.

“Our particular variety of honey provides a perfect balance in taste with the vanilla being less sweet and the thyme being sweeter,” he explains. “It is delicately smooth in flavor with a butterscotch taste at the end.”
The black fir tree honey dew is a resin produced by microorganisms in the tree trunk. Its production is easily affected by the high elevation’s cold and wet temperatures and the harvest is difficult and costly. For that reason, the production of Melithion honey was limited last year to 12,000 jars.

GreecePt12013 228Since Vasiliki’s inception four years ago, the marketing and distribution of honey has been the company’s focus. Christos has taken the brand to trade fairs throughout Europe and hopes to grow its presence in the United States as well.

Melithion can be purchased on-line at www.elenianna.com, a premium Mediterranian gastronomy shopping experience. For us, it’s another ‘honey’ of a reason to return to Greece this spring!


Linking up:
Foodie Tuesday at Inside Journeys

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Maui Meanderings: Shh! History at Rest. . .

The line of traffic progressed at its regular snail’s pace along the highway connecting Lahaina Town to Ka’anapali Beach. The plus side of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic is that – at least on this stretch of Hawaiian highway -- you have a chance to admire the view out over the Pacific Ocean.

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Island of Lana'i in background

And sometimes a forced slowdown is what it takes to see things along the roadway that you might have missed had you been traveling the speed limit. Such was the case of the graveyard.

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Bordered by the highway, Wahikili State Wayside Park and the Hyatt Regency Maui, this resting place was pretty much barren ground, some gravestones hidden by overgrowth.  Water jugs and wilted leis indicated some tending. By whom? And when?

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A sign to the side of the five-acre site identifies it as Hanaka o’ o’ Cemetery, where immigrant plantation workers are buried.  On our walk into Lahaina one day we stopped to visit this somewhat forgotten- and  forlorn-looking place.

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Those laid to rest here, according to the small information sign, hailed from China, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Korea, Spain, and Philippines.

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Sugar Cane field in Maui
Sugar cane was the industry of the island after whaling ceased in the late 1800’s.

In 1862 Pioneer Mill Company opened and at its peak produced 45,000 tons of sugar.  

In 1910 there were  1,600 laborers, most of them contract workers at the mill.




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I’d like to tell you more about the people buried here or the cemetery, but two subsequent Internet searches have turned up little more than a few photos on Flickr.

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Are you drawn to cemeteries when you travel?  If so, where were they and what was your reaction to the experience? Many of you out there travel to Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach regularly. Have you ever visited this cemetery?

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As always, thanks for the time you spend with us ~ it is nice to have you along on our journeys. Keep your bags packed . . .we’ll be heading to Greece soon!

Linking up:
Travel Photo DiscoveryMonday

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cruising: Going Behind the Scenes “By Invitation Only”

Several times last fall upon returning to our cabin during those long, lazy days at sea (a favorite feature of repositioning cruises) we would find a small envelope in the holder at our door.

“You are invited. . .”  began the note tucked inside it.

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Savoring one of those 'days at sea'

Those unexpected invitations were how we found ourselves among randomly convened small groups of fellow passengers at some on-board event or some ‘behind the scenes’ place.

A regular part of these gatherings were the speculations about why we had been invited. There was never an apparent common denominator: some guests were long-time loyal cruisers, some were on their first voyage, others were staying in suites, some celebrating special occasions and many were like us, simply cruise enthusiasts with several cruises in our travel history.

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The normally off-limits heli-pad cocktail party
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One of the most interesting of those events was a Sail Away Cocktail Party held on the normally-off-limits heli-pad at the bow of the ship.  The event, lasting about an hour, was held just before we sailed from Lahaina, Maui for the South Pacific, as that forward location would have been far too windy once the ship began moving.

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The heli-pad as seen from the bridge

Another invitation took us to the bridge for a quick tour with an even smaller group of fellow passengers.  Invitations, passports and handbags were checked before we stepped past the security door into the bridge.
The photo of the heli-pad above, I took from the bridge and the photos of the bridge below, I took from the heli-pad.

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The bridge and officers in it as seen from the heli-pad many stories below it

While on the bridge, we were allowed to take photos of and ask questions about this high-tech computerized center.  (The old ship’s wheels of yore now serve as wall displays (this one in a Maui hotel) and the new version comes with a cushioned driver’s seat.


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Navigational tools have changed

Our visit was brief but not rushed – and there was  time for a photo with the ship’s Master (captain). As we exited the bridge, another small group was waiting to enter.

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The TravelnWrite Scout and Scribe post with our ship's Master

[One interesting thing about cruising -- and the above photo illustrates it well -- are the steps taken to prevent the spread of germs, particularly Norovirus, (should there be any lurking on the ship).  At all gatherings – cocktail parties, meet the officer parties, or  tours like this – guests and crew were discouraged from shaking hands or making any body contact  – you’ll notice we all were abiding by those rules.]

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My place setting at the Captain's Table

We told you in earlier posts about dining at The Captain’s Table, which is also a ‘by invitation only’ event.  Again, each time we’ve been fortunate enough to be invited, we’ve  found a mix of travel and cruise enthusiasts – all most interesting conversationalists – but who shared no other ‘common denominator’ to which the invitation could be linked.  (Thank goodness, I remembered Miss Manner’s rule: eat from the outside – what a set of flatware!)

SilhouettePt12012 251Just like airlines, cruise lines have customer loyalty programs. On Celebrity, the line we’ve sailed most often in recent years, it is called “Captain’s Club”.

The more cruises you take on the same cruise line the more ‘rewards’ you receive. . .like invitations to afternoon cocktail parties for returning guests. There you sip champagne, nibble appetizers and mingle with the ship’s officers with entertainment provided.



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Celebrity's Captain's Club offered entertainment at the afternoon cocktail party

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These events are also ‘by invitation only’ and on most cruise lines, the invitations to such events begin with your second voyage.

These festive gatherings also draw hundreds of returning guests.







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Solstice-class ship's theatre

The ‘by invitation only’ events often include behind-the-scenes tours that take guests back stage to see the behind the scenes workings in the enormously large  theatre or through the galley to see the precision movements required of the kitchen staff who serves thousands three times (and more) during the day.

SilhouettePt12012 225That’s it for today’s tale.  Photos used in this post were taken on three recent Celebrity cruises.

If you have cruised have you also received those unexpected invitations? If so, where did they take you?






We are heading out:  It won’t be long before we are off to Greece for another adventure going ‘where the winds blow us’ and – if the techno gods and travel gods synchronize -- we will begin reporting from Greece soon.  Hope you’ll come along with us.

If you are a first-time visitor: Welcome! Come back soon! Receive posts regularly in your inbox by adding your email in the box to the right.  You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram at TravelnWrite.

And, as always thanks for the time you spend with us. We wish you safe and satisfying travels~
Linking up:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Travelers Sandbox
Travel Photo Discovery – Mondays

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Another Serving of Greece. . .

Our appetite for Greece seems insatiable. . .and that’s why we will be returning this spring for another serving of this amazing country.

In preparation for the upcoming sojourn we spent some time in recent days looking at photos of last year’s visit. I need to confess,our mouths watered at the reminders of the tastes and flavors we had experienced and soon will be again enjoying. . .

DSCF7949We watched pickup loads of artichokes -- looking like bouquets -- being delivered fresh from nearby gardens while in the small town of Galetas, on the Greek mainland (Peloponnese) across the channel from the island of Poros last spring.

“Locally sourced” may be the rage among restaurateurs in the U.S. but it is a long time practice in Greece.









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Artichokes being delivered in the Peloponesse

Our favorite meal included a plate of fresh artichoke hearts and potatoes served in a lemon and butter sauce. Each version differed slightly as these photos illustrate.

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And what would a Greek feast be without a few servings of Moussaka, that multi-layered marvel made with aubergines (eggplant) and topped with a melt-in-your-mouth b├ęchamel topping?

Only problem is that this deep-dish delight is made in huge pans. Because of the quatity, it is sometimes difficult to find in the springtime, shoulder season for tourism  – when we find ourselves in Greece. Restaurants don’t make it unless there are enough diners to use it all. So, when we did find it, it was a real treat! (Servings are also huge, so one is easily shared, as we did with the one in the photo below.)

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One of our favorite springtime veggies is Horta, the wild greens harvested from the rugged Greek hillsides.  Admittedly it looks like a plate of spinach, but to our minds there’s nothing like Horta:

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And while on a semi-healthy train of thought, there’s the fabulous Greek salad with wedges of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and Kalamata olives topped with small slabs of Feta cheese, finished with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of fresh oregano.

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A new favorite we discovered on our last trip to Greece was Orange Cake – think sponge cake flavored with fresh orange juice and, of course, served with just a dab of ice cream . . .and it came as the complimentary finish to our meal at a small taverna – a place we plan to visit again this year. (Can you guess why?)

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The prices were ridiculously reasonable. An example taken from my travel journal while in Kardimili, a town in The Mani region of Greece's Peloponnese:

"Dinner consisted of the large serving of bread (routinely brought with the flatware and napkins), olive oil to drizzle on it. Wild horta, a moussaka that we split, and a half liter of wine:  13.70E (about $16US last year). Maria and Harold hugged us and kissed us goodnight as we left."

While the food is amazing, it is often the settings – the tavernas, the restaurants, the family-owned places – contribute so much to the dining experience that it is difficult to leave even after a meal that we might have stretched into hours of enjoyment. Add to that a hug or kiss of thanks from the owner, or an invite back into the kitchen. . .well, for us it's the kind of place we want to linger longer. . .perhaps for the remainder of a lifetime. . .or at least return to as often as possible!

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From upper right: Napflion, Polithro, Kardamili, Gerolimenas - all Peloponnese locations
We have a ‘honey’ of a Greek story to tell you next week on Foodie Tuesday and we are taking you on a behind-the-scenes tour of cruising later this week. Hope you’ll join us again then! As always, thanks for the time you spent with us today.  Safe travels~

Linking up today with Inside Journey's Foodie Tuesday.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

WAWeekend: ‘Coasting’ in Washington

We are in the betwixt and between travel season . . .

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KoOlina - O'ahu, Hawaii

. . .not quite ready to give up the afterglow of winter in Hawaii and just about ready to start packing for our return to Greece later this spring. . .

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Pireaus, Greece April 2013
. . .so we decided to head to the Washington State Coast for a quick getaway this last week.

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Ocean Shores, Washington State



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And did we ever time it right!

Although still brisk enough to wear a jacket, we had sunshine and blue skies – every day!!

The photo to the side illustrates what the coastline usually looks like: wet and rainy. In fact, that was the weather two years ago when we visited Iron Springs Resort on Copalis Beach. This year we stayed a few miles south in the city of Ocean Shores.


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View from Quinnault Resort - Ocean Shores

Both times we’d gone to the shore to watch the winter storms and each trip held its own kind of beauty; one showing the gray foreboding wet, wild side of the sea and the other its cheerful bright side.

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Dogs and Drivers are welcome on Washington State Beaches

We’ve decided it is impossible to pack the correct clothes because you never know what might greet you. Once on a near 80-degree sunny mid-July day in Seattle we headed to the beach only to find it fogged in and so chilly we turned around and came home instead of pitching the tent in which we’d planned to spend the night.

Travel DEAL:

Generally, The Scout, seeks out the ‘deals’ but sometimes they appear in our inbox as well, as did this offer from Iron Springs Resort, a collection of cabins on a beach side bluff that were purchased, refurbished and reopened two years ago. 
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Interior of one cabin at Iron Springs Resort

They are so nice that it was difficult to pass them up this trip to try something new, but reluctantly, we did.  However, had this deal been going on I know we wouldn’t have been able to pass it up:

Three nights for the price of two!
April 1, 2014 - June 15, 2014
Enjoy two nights at Iron Springs and we’ll spring for the third*! 
(Call 360.276.4230 or 1.800.380.7950 for details)
*The Three for Two package is available for stays between Tuesday, April 1, 2014 through Sunday, June 15, 2014. Offer not valid for stays between May 23, 2014 through May 26, 2014. Additional nights available at our standard seasonal rates. Standard taxes, cleaning and dog fees apply. Reservations made prior to March 11, 2014 are not eligible for this special. Book this package by calling 360-276-4230 or 1-800-380-7950. Online booking not available for this promotion.

If you go:  Ocean Shores and Copalis Beach are about a two hour drive from Seattle. 

Stay safe where ever your travels take you this weekend.  Thanks for the time you spent with us today.   Hope you’ll join us again on Foodie Tuesday – when we are serving up a taste of Greece. 
And  if you aren’t receiving our posts in your inbox, just sign up in the box to your right to do so – it is free.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lana’i: Laid-Back Luxury

I’m always a little leery of  booking ‘luxury’. . .

Will it be too over the top?   Worse thought: Will it even reach the top?

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Leaving Lahaina, Maui bound for Lana'i

But -- based on our own experiences with our Four Seasons timeshare in Arizona, and the endorsement of  friends who had stayed at this island getaway – I filed away the misgivings as we set off on the high speed ferry from Lahaina, Maui for our Hawaiian trip’s climax: the five-star Four Seasons Resort, The Lodge at Ko’ele.

MauiLanaiSF2014 126What we found was a resort that not only reached the top - it pole-vaulted the top!









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Relaxation began with registration

Footsteps from the ferry we were greeted and draped with leis by Four Seasons Resort staff and directed to the shuttle bus that travels at regular intervals from ferry dock and airport to the resort.

As we stepped through the entryway of the Lodge we were served pineapple lemonade and ushered to a comfy leather couch where we completed the check-in paper work that yet another attentive staff member brought to us.   (Yes, those first impressions do count!)

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Standard garden view room - Four Seasons Resort Lana'i

Our ‘standard garden view’ room was so large (406 sq. ft./38 sq. m.) that I thought we must have been taken to a suite by mistake.  Decked out in floral print drapes and bright striped carpet and bright yellow walls – it made us smile each time we entered it. And that window seat and king-sized two poster bed (with pineapple finials) were as comfy as they looked.

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Stepping outside – the advantage of a ground floor room at this resort – we had ourselves a huge deck and steps that lead to a fairy-land park setting – perhaps the most beautiful resort setting we’ve ever experienced:

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That's a grove of Royal Palms behind me 
If the daytime vistas weren’t enough to numb our senses, night time brought a downright magical feel to the place.  While we enjoyed the sunset and sipped wine at the outside fireplaces near the fountain, the housekeeping staff was turning down our bed, and refreshing the bathroom.

(Although we were here for The Scout’s birthday celebration, it was me who was vowing to never go home by the second evening of such pampering. . .)

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The grounds alone were enough to take your breath away - but then you stepped inside to be surrounded with the laid back elegance of the resort’s interior’s design and d├ęcor. The kind of place you pinch yourself and ask, “Whoa! Am I really here?”

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Clockwise from top left: the Library, the Great Hall/Lobby, porch chairs and Trophy Room.
We were so busy enjoying the island that we almost didn’t make it to the pool. On our last day we decided it was much too inviting to miss. The pool attendant let us to the cushioned lounges that had already been prepared for us with coverlets and towels.  He then kept a steady stream of complimentary treats coming: finger sandwiches, sliced pineapple, a small mango smoothie.  

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BTW, We decided to have the The Scout’s birthday dinner at the Lodge.  Following a main course of pasta topped with a wild boar, wait staff brought a dessert topped with a candle while the restaurant’s musician sang “Happy Birthday”

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(I suspect his birthday wish was to celebrate his next birthday in the same place!)
 
That’s it for today.  As they say in Hawaii, “Mahalo” or 'Thank You' for the time you spent with us today.  Have you had an over-the-top luxury experience? Hope you’ll tell us about it in the comments below.

For other posts about this gem of an island:
A Taste of Lana’i
Lana’i Paradise Found

If You Go:


Map picture

Both Four Seasons properties on Lana’i are undergoing some major renovations:

Room renovation is underway at the Manele Bay Resort  (jackhammers and heavy equipment noise filled the air the day we visited). Before booking ask about the construction progress.

The 18-hole golf course at the Lodge at Ko’ele is being redesigned and reconstructed. Until it re-opens in early 2015,  golfers must take the 20-minute shuttle to Manele Bay Resort and use the course there or use the 9-hole community course, adjacent to the Lodge.

Lanai2014BF 055Getting around the island:

Shuttle:  There was an automatic $47.50 charge per person added to our hotel bill which gave us unlimited rides on the shuttle. 

Walking: the Lodge is an easy 20-minute walk from Lana’i City; Manele Bay was far enough away to take the shuttle.

Renting cars:  With only 30 miles of paved roads on this island, a Jeep/4-wheel drive rental is recommended. It is wise to reserve in advance as none were available when we tried a ‘walk up’ rental. Cost about $150 a day. Gasoline was $6 a gallon.

[For  you curious ones: this wasn’t a ‘comp’ed, free or hosted stay – The Scout had found another  screamin’ deal on one of the discount sites we often recommend on this blog and we snapped it up.  Check out his Deal Finder page for links to those sites.]

Linking up:
Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox

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