From feathers to full period handcrafted clothing, these are Just some of Natasha, The Psychic Lady's finds at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in Tampa.

From feathers to full period handcrafted clothing, these are Just some of Natasha, The Psychic Lady’s finds at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in Tampa.

When I was very young, taking a vacation nearly always involved a road trip. With my Dad in the Air Force and subject to frequent transfers, we found ourselves packed tightly into our car of the moment, traversing the country from one base to another. It wasn’t much different when we took a vacation. In the years before my brother arrived on the scene, my sister and I would either share the back seat with piles of boxes and luggage that rose like a wobbly tower from the floorboard, or we’d find ourselves nestled snugly in the back of the station wagon, sitting on blankets and playing board games to pass the time… at least when I wasn’t suffering from motion sickness and forced to just meditate to sleep. (And yes, I know kids sitting sans seat belts are no longer a viable option.) Vacations weren’t luxury resort destinations. They were sightseeing glimpses of the state or country we were in or near at that time. Each journey created indelible images of ethnic cuisine (which my Mom would later strive to duplicate), unusual architecture, or the cultural stamp of the local populace.

Even now, when I travel for work or pleasure, those memorable beginnings influence my tolerance and acceptance of the unfamiliar. I am pretty game to try most foods (no eyeballs or fried bugs, please), venture into the unknown as long as it doesn’t involve extreme sports or standing over a canyon on a thin piece of acrylic no matter how strong I am assured it is, and endeavour to stay “in the moment” to appreciate what is around me. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I like writing this column about places to visit and things to do. Most of all, I like sharing them with you.

HOTELS THAT ARE PRIMPING FOR PRIME TIME

The Cromwell, a Parisian-influenced new hotel in Las Vegas

The Cromwell, a Parisian-influenced new hotel in Las Vegas

Living in France remains one of my most vivid memories. I went to French schools, watched farmers tending to their vineyards, and my family took road trip vacations to neighboring countries. So whenever anything to do with France or French culture comes to my attention, I get excited. Such was the case when I heard about a new boutique hotel cropping up at one of Las Vegas’ busiest intersections, that of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard. The anticipated spring opening of The Cromwell–with its 188 guestrooms, 40,000 sf casino, restaurant by Giada De Laurentiis, and three day and nighlife venues by Victor Drai—will flaunt Parisian stylings inspired by the Coste Hotel in Paris. The Cromwell blends vintage with modern, from black Parisian-ish awnings and gold fixtures adorning windows to the hotel lobby, which resembles an old time parlor. One sixty-nine of the rooms pay homage to Parisian loft-style apartments with distressed hardwood flooring and vintage luggage motif furnishings. Not all will be French-inspired. As expected, Chef and Food Network celebrity De Laurentiis’s second-floor 260-seat restaurant will be Italian with a California influence, though you will still find some of her signature dishes such as Lemon Spaghetti, Eggplant Rollatini, Marsala Herb Chicken Meatballs and Lemon Ricotta Cookies. She will have a beautiful exhibition kitchen showcasing fresh pastas being made daily by hand and a signature antipasto bar, a first she says for Italian eateries on the Strip. www.GiadaDeLaurentiis.com. Giada will be open for three-meal service.  and has a private dining room space for larger groups. Drai’s venues include a dazzling rooftop pool, day club and nightlife venues. www.Drais.net

Many hotels and resorts who are part of the Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) collective are offering sale pricing.

The Atlantis, which boasts the largest conference center in the Caribbean with more than 200,000 sf of indoor meeting space and which has the world’s largest open air aquarium, is offering specials throughout the year. The Atlantis can accommodate up to 4,000 people and has more than 21 unique outdoor venues onsite. Planners: book a meeting or event and receive up to $225 resort credit per room. Newly opened last September, the Langham, Chicago features 316 guestrooms and 15,000 sf of private function space. It’s ideal location, minutes from The Magnificent Mile and Millennium Park, have made it a favourite with TripAdvisor readers, who voted it the #1 luxury hotel in Chicago. Book before March 31 and receive such amenities as waived cancellation and attrition. For the full listing of ALHI properties with discounted pricing, go to http://www.alhi.com

If “When will this snow and ice storms cease” has become your bitter mantra, you might consider taking a Hawaiian vacation to Walt Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa in Ko Olina. Book a minimum 4-night stay in one of the 1- or 2-bedroom villas and receive a $500 Resort credit. A $400 Resort credit is possible if you book a minimum four-night stay in a deluxe studio or hotel room. The catch? You have to take advantage of this offer from April 23 through June 16, 2014 and it has to be booked by March 31. (866) 443-4763. Mention offer code W736G.

When you were the first luxury resort development in the British Virgin Islands in more than 15 years and have become the first member of the Autograph Collection® in the Caribbean, rebranding Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina’s spa has attracted the attention of more than people who seek destination spas. Scrub Island has welcomed the newest L’OCCITANE-branded spa in the Caribbean. Named for the native tropical shrub, the Ixora Spa by L’OCCITANE sits on a hill overlooking the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. Three treatment rooms, a manicure and pedicure area, and an exclusive infinity pool are available Do try one of their signature scrubs. Opened in 2010, Scrub Island is located on a 230-acre private-island on the east end of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. 877-890-7444; www.ScrubIsland.com.

JEAN MICHEL SANTACREU AND PAUL DAUM BRING BACK THE PARTY TO ORLANDO

I have to say upfront I know Jean Michel Santacreu and worked many events (as Natasha, The Psychic Lady, for his Art of the Party special events company before he moved away for a number of years. He’s baaaaaaaaaaaack, and with him is Paul Daum, another AOP veteran, and their second generation company, AOP2. Based in Florida and Virginia, AOP2 produce corporate and social events. Initially, they are servicing Orlando, Naples, Jacksonville, Miami and Washington DC. AOP2 operates two production shops, warehouses and offices in Jacksonville, Florida, and Washington, DC. Later this year they expect to open warehouses and facilities in Orlando and Miami. https://www.facebook.com/Aop2events; Jean-Michel (571.345.8684) ; Paul (407.342.2712) ; www.AOP2Events.com

 

1960 Winter Olympics lives on in Squaw Valley Museum

1960 Winter Olympics lives on in Squaw Valley Museum

THE WINTER OLYMPICS ARE OVER IN SOCHI BUT IN SQUAW VALLEY THEY LIVE AGAIN !

The Winter Olympics of 1960 breathe with new life in the recently renovated Olympic Museum at High Camp. Check out memorabilia from those historic games, the first to be fully televised. It was also the first time a computer was used to tabulate scores. Here’s some of what you can see: the original vinyl recording of the music performed during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Games at Squaw Valley, the clock that hung in Blyth Arena during the 1960 Olympics; and authentic Team USA uniforms. There’s a waitress uniform from the Olympic Village Lodge where the athletes dined during the Olympic Games, the first and only time in Olympic history all the athletes dined together under one roof. The museum has gotten a new coat of paint, furniture and fixtures. Located at the top of Aerial Tram at High Camp, The Olympic Museum is open daily from 9 am – 4 pm. Admission is free with a lift or Aerial Tram ticket. In 2011, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows joined forces. Their combined ski resorts and facilities include 6,000 skiable acres, 42 lifts, and 270+ trails at Squaw and Alpine Meadows on one lift ticket or season pass. http://www.squaw.com

WINTER’S FIGHTING BACK BUT SPRING IS MARCHING FORWARD

It’s not every day that one can see the debut of a new Cirque du Soleil circus, especially in Old Montréal, the legendary circus’ birthplace. Last year I was fortunate to be in Old Montréal when the Cirque presented a free performance in a field off a large street corner. This spring the performance won’t be free, but you will have the opportunity to see Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities, playing from April 24 through June 8 at Jacques-Cartier Pier in the Old Montréal and Old Port neighborhood. The show is described in this way: Step into the curio cabinet of an ambitious inventor who defies the laws of time, space and dimension in order to reinvent everything around him. I am very fortunate that Cirque’s La Nouba has a permanent home in the Downtown Disney area and that I have gotten to see that show many times. If you have never been awed by a Cirque show and catch yourself visiting Old Montréal, make a point of attending.  http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/kurios; 1 800 450-1480

So, say you’re in Montréal and you’re more attuned to the environment or biodiversity. You might want to check out Butterflies Go Free exhibit at Montréal Botanical Garden in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhoods, running through April 27. The Main Exhibition Greenhouse is transformed into an enormous butterfly house with thousands of various species. Or relax on chairs shaped liked eggs, caterpillars and chrysalies in the Monarch Lounge. http://www.espacepourlavie.ca/en;

If you’re like me and have never travelled to Africa, the CEO of Kenya Airways wants you to know he’s trying to make that long flight an easier decision to make. According to the African Airlines Association, not only has domestic traffic increased an average of 12% a year, but international air traffic has been growing at a rate of 6% a year. With those tourism numbers climbing, Kenya Airways will soon be offering direct flights from Nairobi to the U.S, new Boeing Dreamliners, and the opening of a new terminal at Jomo Kenyatta Airport.

I’m not saying I don’t speed occasionally, but I will never be the poster child for racing my car or anyone else’s. I know I am in the minority because I have seen friends and hospitality/meetings & events industry friends drool at the possibilities offered by the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Walt Disney World Speedway for either groups or individuals. Options can include High Performance Karting, a Full Throttle Challenge and Ride-Alongs. In the High Performance Karting (http://youtu.be/KvB25driBi8) you’re fitted for both a helmet and driving suit before competing against other drivers in a race to Victory Lane! 100 max per hour for that group experience. In the Full Throttle Challenge (http://youtu.be/IUxeg8Av0ug), you’re racing head-to-head (or is that car to car?) The cars are equal, so it really is a question of driving skills as to who wins. 100 max per hour. Another option is the Ride-Along Experience. You ride shotgun in a 2-seat NASCAR race car driven by a professional instructor for a 3-lap qualifying run.

One of my favorite places to visit is a Renaissance Faire. Have been to several across the country, but my standby is the one held for six weekends each year in Tampa, Fl. This year the Bay Area Renaissance Festival at MOSI runs through April 6. Not sure which I love more: the corny stage shows, getting to dress in period attire and ogle even more outrageously attired performers, vendors or guests, or getting to shop til I drop for artisan clothes, jewelry and more. This is a raucous family event that draws in people of all ages for the merriment and education of times as they “might have been” then. www.bayarearenfest.com

Only in England would I expect to see Brocket bacon roll and a pint of beer as an amenity for golfers. Really? You’re surprised as well? Well, at Brocket Hall Golf Club, a lovely setting on among 543 acres of beautifully landscaped parkland, there are two very different championship standard courses. Combined with the best practice facilities in the south of England at the Palmerston Golf Academy, Brocket Hall delivers an around-the-year golfing experience. With Spring rapidly approaching, their latest group promotion includes the aforementioned Brocket bacon roll and pint of beer, as well playing on one of the 18-hole championship courses and enjoying a two-course buffet styled meal. There’s more. Just ask. golfevents@brocket-hall.co.uk

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; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady

 

 

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