The Ritz-Carlton Naples

When I first started this site, it was called Hotel Belle. It was just as blogging was becoming "a thing" and I knew I wanted to carve out a niche in travel, so I focused on hotels. I'd say this lasted about six months and then my writing/blogging career took off in an entirely different way that I hadn't imagined.

That said, I still am obsessed with hotels. I love amazing hotels. It's part of everything I do. The great ones are some of the most magical places on the planet. I'd rather stay home than stay in a hotel that I don't love.

Last week, I spoke at the Ritz-Carlton regional meeting in Miami, with Johnny Jet & Natalie DiScala. We had a blast. But before I went to Miami, I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton beach resort in Naples (they also have a golf resort, but my passion for golf is...nonexistent).

It's this big, fancy hotel fantasy - the design is Mediterranean but the beach (and humidity!) is very Florida. There's something I love about these huge American resorts - waking up lazily, having a great breakfast with orange juice AND a cappuccino, slathering sunscreen on, dressing up, having cocktails, going for dinner.

I went to their gorgeous spa for the signature Intuitive Retreat. You send them a form beforehand telling them what you're struggling with (who ISN'T stressed in some way?) and they create a program just for you. I soaked in a seaweed bath, got a chakra massage, personalized bath scrubs, and more. I'd go back to the Ritz for Jeanine. She kneads you like a ball of pizza dough, hitting all the right spots. When I left, I was a dazed, floppy noodle - perfect.

Best of all - I got to see some of my family for dinner and brunch.

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Happy, Sunny Fort Lauderdale

On a recent trip, on assignment for National Geographic, I only planned a short stop in Fort Lauderdale. BAD MOVE.

If you go, plan on at least 2 nights! The main street, Las Olas Blvd, is especially charming and really unlike so many main streets in towns I've visited around the world - there was only one chain (Cheesecake Factory, which let's be honest...their giant hunks of cheesecake ARE delicious) and the rest was unique, local restaurants and shops.

Don't miss:

  • A sunset catamaran tour with Tropical Sailing 
  • Bonnet House Museum & Gardens - whimsical and fun (you have to go on the walking tour to see the inside of the house but it's great!)
  • Drive 10 miles north to Butterfly World, especially if you have kids.
  • Strolling Las Olas Blvd - I loved Lobster Bar Sea Grille for lunch, but also check out La Bonne Crepe or Las Olas Wine Cafe tucked away from the street for a pre-dinner drink
  • Walking the Riverwalk
  • At least driving by the exterior of Cinema Paradiso - they show great films and play host to the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
  • A walk on the beach, which used to be home to the craziest spring break in America
  • Check out all-suite hotel Il Lugano if you want to feel at home (washer/dryer & kitchen in every suite!)

I've shared more of own photos below. And if you're interested, here's my final piece for NatGeo on what I discovered: Why I Love Fort Lauderdale

Sunset on Fort LauderdaleCruising the Intracoastal on catamaran tour New friends at Butterfly WorldBeautiful Las Olas Blvd Welcome to Las Olas Inside Lobster Bar Sea GrilleBeach strollin' Cinema ParadisoView from my room at Il LuganoAll about the details at Bonnet House

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

I love Disney World when staying at one of their better hotels, like Animal Kingdom Lodge. Animal Kingdom Lodge allows you to experience a tiny piece of Africa without going, a little piece of what Disney does best, create magic.  Here, it's worth it to pay a little bit more to get a view of the animals in the savannas.  On this trip, I was alone for work and loved waking up each morning to giraffes, zebras, and flamingos outside my window.  Both of the restaurants, Jiko and Boma, are two of my favorites in Disney World. Jiko is best for a Big Night Out and Boma for their brunch buffet.

Lobby

Looking out from the lobbyThe lobby is soaring with a huge mud fireplace, objects made in Africa, and floor-to-ceiling windows giving you a great view to the tropical savannas, with over 30 species of wildlife to see.  You also have the option to sign up for the Wanyama Safari to get up-close to to the animals if you're staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is an additional fee.

Standard Room

Loved the wallpaper in the bathroom

A Disney Greeting

Morning view

If it's your first time going to Disney World and you have kids, I just came across a new e-book called The Busy Family's Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Jeffrey Merola.  He's a teacher in upstate New York but has spent 140 days at Disney World over the past 15 years, researching and writing the book especially for families looking to get the most out of their visits. I don't have kids, but I still enjoyed reading it for his great tips.

Girl's Trip to the Florida Keys: Sunset Key Guest Cottages

 

I NEED time alone with just girlfriends!  Many of my best friends don't live near me, so sometimes we'll plan trips to catch up.  One of these trips was a summer visit to Key West, 90 miles from Cuba, with a swinging party scene.  We felt a little too old for that scene, so we rented bikes, had cold drinks by the pool, great dinners, and of course, talked!  When we started wilting under the August heat, we took a boat over to Sunset Key Guest Cottages for lunch.  The island of Sunset Key felt cooler and a million miles away from the spring break vibe of Key West.  Without leaving the U.S., it felt like we were on a private Caribbean island. 

A Guest CottageLunch was alfresco dining at its best, with an unbeatable view of the Gulf of Mexico as we enjoyed Sunset Key shrimp, crab cakes, salads and tropical fruit.  We had taken a vacation from our vacation, the frenetic pace of Key West, and it was just what we needed.

 

Each of the one to four bedroom cottages has amazing ocean views and I loved the brightly colored designs and home-away-from home feel. 

I'll definitely be going back to Sunset Key Guest Cottages for this view.

 

My friends Kira & Carrie with me!