By Stephanie Hayes
Luxury abounds in Florida. You need only to take the time to indulge yourself.
You’ve worked hard doing all that traveling. Make a date for yourself at Spa Portofino at the Portofino Island Resort in Pensacola Beach, where you can indulge in a manicure, a pedicure, a body wrap, or a Swedish deep tissue or aromatherapy massage. If you really want to explore the wonders of the sea, opt for a facial of pure red seaweed and liquid calcium seawater pearls that burst along your skin in the blissful process. If that's not luxurious enough, upgrade your massage and enjoy it alongside the pool or the beach.
About an hour away, you'll find plenty of greens in the worldwide golf destination of Destin along the Emerald Coast. The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort has four courses -- Raven Golf Club, Burnt Pine Golf Club, Baytowne Golf Club, and The Links Golf Club. The clubs have hosted prestigious golf tournaments and thus provide serious credibility for the experienced golfers in your crew. Then again, if you just want to kick back with a cocktail, the courses also offer amazing views that require no skill with a nine iron.
If you're in the mood for old-school Hollywood glamour, take in a show at the historic Saenger Theater, a decadent 1925 venue that underwent a $15 million renovation and expansion in the 1990s. The venue, known as the Grand Dame of Palafox Street, hosts everything from symphony to opera to ballet, even screenings of classic films like Rear Window. It's time to let your inner-Grace Kelly shine, don't you think?
If you can't enjoy a glass of quality wine on vacation, when can you? Visit SeaBreeze Winery, the only working winery on Panama City Beach. Winery operators crush, press and ferment locally-grown muscadine grapes on site. Take a tour and sample the wines, which range from dry red and white to sweet blueberry to fortified dessert wines. SeaBreeze even offers a summer-ready frozen wine slush. This is Florida after all, and we have to keep it cool at all times.
After all that vino you won't want to drive. Why not charter your own personal yacht out of Bay Point Marina? It’s home to plenty of boat slips and options for a day of fishing, sailing, or just lounging around with a glass of champagne in hand. Cruise out to Shell Island and see dolphins frolicking in the water. You can choose from a variety of boat charters including Capt. Anderson's Marina on Grand Lagoon with 25 private vessels, plus guided sightseeing tours and a dinner yacht.
Tampa Bay, home to hipsters, trendsetters and slick business types alike, is bursting with the custom cocktail culture of a bygone era. Popular stops include Mandarin Hide in downtown St. Petersburg. Another alluring option might be the secretive Ciro's Speakeasy and Supperclub in Tampa. When you call and request a reservation, expect a return call from a host delivering a secret password you'll need to get inside the nondescript building. Once inside, prepare to be transported to the 1920s with waiters in period dress serving up Blackberry Brambles and Jabronis. And don't forget to sample the fondue, stuffed figs, or chicken and waffles with a spicy molasses syrup.
Soak it up the next morning with a luxurious brunch at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront. Marchand's Bar and Grill in the hotel is home to a Sunday brunch that draws both tourists and locals to sample seafood, meats, fresh fruits, and pastries. And after all that eating, you can walk off the calories at one of the funky art shops downtown, or view the stunning art glass works of world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly, whose work you might recognize from the Bellagio in Las Vegas. But visit Florida and you’re in luck – he has a gallery space on Beach Drive steps from the Vinoy.
Let's be honest. You've got one day left of vacation and you're dying to impress your friends by visiting the Ritz Carlton. You can do just that in Naples, home to the world-famous resort that's just begging to be explored. At Spa = H20+ healthy dining concept and adult retreat, you can snack on salads and protein shakes, all while getting pampered- and you don't have to be a guest of the hotel to do it. If it's dinner you crave, grab your girlfriends and share some sushi rolls and an Asian Pear Martini at the hotel's Sushi Bar which wraps around a 150-gallon fish tank. On the weekends you can nibble your nigiri roll at the bar to the tunes of a live DJ.
The Ritz-Carlton certainly isn't the only luxury digs in the area, and rest assured you're going to look just as fancy if you check in at the Waldorf Astoria. If you're staying here, consider indulging in one of the resort's special packages with add-ons from private tennis lessons, unlimited golf, spa services including access to saunas and a meditation lounge, plus discounts and free gift wrapping for shopping at the Waterside Shops, walking distance from the hotel.
On your luxury journey through the Florida Keys, take advantage of Uncorked the Key Largo Food and Wine Festival, which bubbles up in the Florida Keys in January with 10 days of wine tasting, cooking, demonstrations, dinners, live entertainment, pairing lessons, art shows sunsets, scuba diving, you name it. For the event's grand finale the top restaurants and winemakers come together with a sampling of high-class cuisine. You might even get to meet a celebrity chef or two.
If big groups of people make you squirm, consider the Ultimate Picnic at Little Palm Island Resort and Spa. Choose your package based on how fancy you want to get. There's the island picnic basket, filled with a baguette, country pate, artisan cheeses marinated olives and more, plus libations. Upgrade to three hours of private cruising on the 38-foot catamaran The Lilyanna where you can nibble sip and snorkel right off the edge. Or, if you want to pull out all the stop,s opt for a flight on a Cessna 206 Amphibious Seaplane to a private island experience filled with caviar and Rosé champagne. And please be sure to refer to everyone as "Dahling."
People in the know understand the perks of Walt Disney World's private VIP tour services. For an hourly fee you'll get door-to-door transportation, speedy entry into select attractions, preferred seating at events, parades, and stage shows, and a personal guide who is interested in hearing exactly what you want out of your trip to Disney. And hey, maybe that means drippy ice cream after all.
After enjoying the parks, indulge in dinner at one of the best restaurants the area has to offer. The Chef's Table inside Victoria and Albert's in the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is a coveted stop for foodies tucked in a kitchen alcove where the chef creates a personalized menu of up to 10 courses. The evening, which includes a champagne toast, last three hours and is in high demand -- it's only available to one party a night.
Check out Ocean 60 in Atlantic Beach, with island-inspired continental cuisine that consistently garners high marks in area restaurant rankings. There's always something happening here, from Ladies Night to acoustic Latin music performances. Make sure you don’t leave without sampling one of Ocean 60's signature martinis which include a Maple Manhattan, a Pineapple Upside Down Cake, and a special dessert martini made to taste just like those minty chocolatey Girl Scout cookies you can eat sleeve after sleeve of every year.
Want to relive the scene on the cover of that romance novel you were reading on the plane? You’re in luck. You can ride a horse on the beach at Amelia Island State Park, one of the only horse-friendly beaches on the east coast. You can rent a horse from one of several local companies along the beach, all with experienced guides who will personalize the ride to your abilities, so you don’t end up as a scene from a different kind of novel.
Nothing says “refined” like a polo match on a warm afternoon. West Palm Beach is the heart of Florida's horse country and polo season runs January through April, with tournaments and high-level players from around the world. Try Sunday Brunch at the International Polo Club in Palm Beach with a champagne reception, hors d'oeuvre,s and decadent brunch stations. Upgrade your morning to include a bottle of Veuve Clicquot yellow label champagne at your table. Of course, enjoy this all while watching a match and mingling with the celebrities the club regularly attracts.
You are traveling in Florida but that doesn't mean you can't transport yourself around the world. At the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach experience the spa’s “Cultural Discovery Treatments.” The Indus Valley Ritual features a warm foot bath full body massage and custom specialty oils. The Mediterranean Voyage has myrtle and cypress elements and an organic clay mask. And the Blue Lotus Facial brings in Indian rhassoul clay, Amala wild-crafted Indian blue lotus, bamboo and ginger. All this without ever having to leave the Sunshine State.
If you opt to stay at the Breakers Palm Beach, be sure to try the hotel's signature Beach Club with notes of French Riviera mixed with a touch of Italian coast. It boasts 25 beach bungalows, dining and boating charters, four oceanfront pools, four whirlpool spas plus stylish restaurants and bars.
There's room for quality culture in every free-wheeling vacation. When you're in the area soak up elegance from the Miami City Ballet one of the largest professional companies in the United States with a repertoire of 94 ballets. Put on your finery and take in one of this season's performances which include a West Side Story Suite, Jardí Tancat Polyphonia and Miguel de Cervante’s legendary Don Quixote.
Continue the quest for artistic enlightenment at Art Basel Miami Beach, the U.S. venue for the fair established in Switzerland in 1970. The event, scheduled for December, features historical, contemporary and new paintings, sculptures, photographs, installations and more from 250 leading galleries in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The event attracts 50,000 of the most interesting refined and edgy people in the world vying to absorb the exhibitions talks art performances and parties.
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