You can see forever from Scrub Island

You can see forever from Scrub Island

The beginning of January is a lot like Spring cleaning. There’s a forced necessity to let go of the old to make room for the new. In the hospitality, meetings & events industries, January rushes at you like an Amtrak disgorged from the tracks. While you’re still purging old emails, there’s a plethora of conferences, association meetings you meant to attend last year and never found time for but this year is going to be different, and a reassessment of how to bring in more business in 2013. So, here’s my belated gift to you: some destinations you may want to travel to, hotels to book, and promotional offers that are enticing, whether you are a planner looking to bring your group or an individual seeking new experiences.It’s no surprise that millions of people around the world either travel to NY’s Times Square or watch on television the New Year’s Eve countdown to midnight. That iconic ball drop may be why New York City ranks number 1 as Americans’ most romantic holiday destination in December, at least according to a survey of 8,000 readers of destination-dating site, MissTravel.com. See if you are as surprised as me by the other cities that round out the top 12.

2. Cancun, Mexico

3. Paris, France

4. Bali, Indonesia

5. Dubai, UAE

6. Prague, Czech Republic

7. Orlando, USA

8. Honolulu, USA

9. Santorini, Greece

10. Milan, Italy

11. Boston, USA

12. Cabo, Mexico

Oahu, HI didn’t make the top romantic destinations list but few would disagree that it is a beautiful haven, especially once Turtle Bay Resort, the only destination resort on Oahu’s fabled North Shore, finishes its $60 million in upgrades. By the end of 2013, all of the 840-acre resort’s 397 standard and premium guest rooms and hallways; the Spa Luana and fitness center; two restaurants; and common areas will have been renovated. The redesign led by award-winning Honolulu-based firm WCIT Architecture includes adding ocean-themed elements to the resort’s 112 premium rooms, such as shell décor; expanded walk-in natural stone showers; and a deep-soaker bathtub. Spa Luana will double in size to 11,000 sf and both of the resort’s premier restaurants will update both their décor and menus, reflective of Hawaii’s distinct array of fresh seafood and produce such as macadamia nuts, pineapple and coconut. www.TurtleBaySurf.com

Another large resort is putting on more than a fresh coat of paint. Starting this month, Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, the largest full-service beachfront resort on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, is undergoing a $5 million renovation. On the receiving end of the redo: the resort’s meeting spaces, award-winning Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, and the Kids Krew program. The resort’s 32,000 sf of flexible indoor meeting space, including the 9,504 sf Emerald Ballroom and the 5,600 sf Coral Ballroom, will be dressed out in a chic beach motif. All pre-function space gets new lighting, window treatments, carpet, wall treatments and fresh paint. The new boardroom will also include state-of-the-art teleconferencing facilities. The resort’s signature AAA Four-Diamond restaurant, Seagar’s Prime Steak and Seafood, updates its look landscaping, stone, lighting elements and water features.

New group event options are on the menu at the Walt Disney World Resort, ranging from a re-launched Test Track attraction at EPCOT to luxury bowling at Downtown Disney. Imagine a teambuilding event built around attendees being able to create their own virtual automotive designs. The new, multi-sensory Test Track Presented by Chevrolet gives attendees the chance to create cars and then board “SimCar” ride vehicles to race through a thrilling series of performance tests.  For groups more focused on old-styled fun, how about boutique retro-bowling at Splitsville Luxury Lanes? The 50,000+ sf of entertainment space on two floors includes 30 bowling lanes, billiards, live entertainment, a balcony bar and upscale dining options. There are a wide range of private event options. Occupy individual lanes, book the entire second floor (800 max) or buy out the entire Splitsville complex for up to 1500.

Last year I told you about the creation of Montréal, Canada’s first Snow Village on Parc Jean-Drapeau. The former Winter Olympics site created an ice recreation of Montreal that ran from January through late March. This year, the snow village pays homage to New York City. The Ice Hotel will once again offer 10 standard rooms and 15 prestige suites, igloos and a restaurant that can seat 100, or 250 if you venture out to the bar terrace. www.snowvillagecanada.com

Montréal is known for its innovative winter events and this year is no exception. Electronic music enthusiasts can gather for IglooFest. You can find the crowds, the DJs and the igloo village on the Jacques-Cartier Pier, Thursdays through Saturdays, from Jan. 17 through Feb. 9. www.igloofest.ca

Families may prefer the festivities at La Fête des Neiges de Montréal, running from Jan. 19 to Feb. 3 at Parc Jean-Drapeau. The biggest winter outdoor festival in the city includes tube sliding, ice skating, funny snow games, and colorful outdoor shows. (514) 872-6120; www.parcjeandrapeau.com

Montréal kicks off its ode to white nights celebrations with the 14th Edition of Montréal En Lumiere, Feb. 21 – Mar. 3. Buenos Aires is the featured city. There’ll be concerts and a Gastronomy Program showing off the cuisine of Argentina. The festival also presents the chefs of Philadelphia and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. There are more than 170 activities and most are free. www.montrealenlumiere.com

Have you ever wished you could go to one of your area’s higher end restaurants for a celebratory meal but are fearful it may cost next month’s house payment? If you answered yes, see if your area hosts a Restaurant Week, in which mostly higher-end restaurants offer a three-course pre fixe menu for a more than reasonable fee. In Orlando, we have both Restaurant Week and in September, Visit Orlando sponsors Magical Dining Month. Corporate business is typically slow then and it gives local diners the chance to partake of exceptional meals at prices that won’t break the bank. Florida’s Amelia Island’s Restaurant Week is Jan. 20-27. It’s just part of the action going on in the northeastern part of the Sunshine State.

The Salt at Ritz-Carlton cooks up a hearty classs

Eat what you learn to cook at The Salt at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

Sign me up for The Salt Cooking School at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Not only do you get to eat what you help prepare, but you get coastal view accommodations for two nights, a daily breakfast, champagne-du-jour and luncheon, Ritz-Carlton apron and recipe book included in the package. Pricing starts at $899 for one guest and $1,259 for two. Salt Cooking Schools are also offered a la carte, without accommodations, for $339 per person (inclusive).Here’s the schedule:

February 20-21: Scandinavian Cuisine

June 5-6: Cooking with “Julia Child” theme (French classics with a modern approach)

August 28-29: Southwest “Food Truck Fare”

November 6-7: North African Cuisine.  A la carte reservations must be paid for at the time of booking and are not refundable. Additional information can be found at www.ritzcarlton.com/ameliaisland; (904) 277-1100.

Hoyt House Bed and Breakfast has opened David’s Restaurant, a new fine dining establishment on Amelia Island featuring a steak and seafood menu overseen by Executive Chef Robert Camp, formerly of PLAE Restaurant. Early-bird dining from 5-6:30 pm features a daily three-course prix fixe menu for $35 per person. Dinner is served until 10 p.m. A wine room will accommodate up to 14 guests for private dining, wine tastings and a signature Chef’s Table. An additional banquet room can hold up to 60. (904) 310-6049; www.AmeliaIslandDavids.com

More new restaurants on the Island include Don Quixote’s and The Salty Pelican Bar & Grill. Don Quixote’s offers an extensive menu of fresh seafood, tapas and yummy dishes like Scallops Mondragon (scallops with a creamy roasted pepper sauce) and Camarone Don Quixote (shrimp with coconut milk, cayenne pepper, and cilantro). The restaurant is located on Centre Street in downtown Fernandina Beach. www.don-quixotes.com; (904) 432-7194. The Salty Pelican Bar & Grill opened along Fernandina Beach’s waterfront, so are you surprised that Mayport shrimp, Gulf coast oysters, grouper and a number of other high quality seafood are on the menu? www.thesaltypelicanamelia.com

After all that food, how about some exercise? The Golf Club of Amelia Island opened a golf academy for all ages and skill levels, video analysis, clinics, junior camps and a complimentary swing analysis for all students. www.golfclubofamelia.com. Or, maybe you’re more interested in taking a helicopter ride with SkyCoast Adventures Helicopter Tours. They have new customized tour packages for groups. (904) 206-3448 or info@skycoastadventures.com

NEW DEVICES SIMPLIFY THE PLANNING PROCESS

Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina in the British Virgin Islands, a 230-acre private island at the east end of Tortola, has a new mobile version of their flagship website – http://www.ScrubIsland.com.  The mobile site provides quick and easy access to the resort’s activities.  The new mobile site –www.ScrubIsland.com/m, organizes the main Scrub Island Resort website into concise information with a layout for easier mobile navigation. Part of the Marriott’s Autograph Collection in the Caribbean, Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina features 52 guest rooms, 2-4 bedroom villas, the Ixora Spa, three private beaches and a 55-slip marina.

It’s both useful and FREE: what a concept! The Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority has a new multi-platform application that gives planners total control. The complimentary service represents more than a $10,000 value and provides an avenue for planners to engage a wider demographic of attendees. Meeting planners will be able to customize the app’s features to include company logos, maps, schedules, key sponsor information and areas of interest throughout the Reno Tahoe area. They’ll be able to notify attendees of last-minute schedule changes and create post-event feedback. Attendees will be able to add key speakers and exhibitors to a personal reminder list and create a photo album only viewable to other attendees. Info: John Leinen, RSCVA vice president of convention and tourism sales, (775) 827-7608, or http://www.VisitRenoTahoe.com

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com

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