“Relaxation Begins with Me” … Getting Away at Red Mountain Resort in Utah

September 2nd, 2011

(Photo Credit: JoAnna Haugen)

By JoAnna Haugen

I needed to stretch. I needed to breathe, focus on myself and unplug from my ever-growing email inbox. I needed to relax and do nothing … and take pleasure in the fact that I could relax and do nothing.

I needed a break.

It was with this mindset that I set off to find a wellness retreat for a much-needed getaway. It’s a vague term—“wellness retreat”—and an increasing number of resorts ranging from the beaches of Bali to the fresh air of Canada claim to cure overburdened lives with yoga and meditation or hiking and adventure. But it was a different resort altogether—one that recognizes relaxation means something different to every person—that caught my attention.

(Photo Credit: JoAnna Haugen)

Red Mountain Resort, located about ten miles outside of St. George, Utah, somehow seems to meet just about every definition of rejuvenation with yoga and meditation, life coaching and wellness workshops, rappelling and kayaking, pool time and spa treatments. The great debate here isn’t which email to answer first or what to serve for dinner but whether to take part in a water aerobics class or sit in on a workshop about chakras.

As overworked Americans, we tend to push ourselves in an effort to please others and, as a result, create an unnecessary amount of stress for ourselves. At Red Mountain Resort, all the hard decisions are made for the guests at the property. The routes for the morning hikes are already decided; I just have to decide whether to take a challenging one or one that involves meditation in Snow Canyon State Park. All of the desserts were healthy; I just have to decide whether I want to eat deconstructed blueberry cheesecake or chocolate and fruit fondue.

At every turn, employees ask what my name is and how I am doing. Wait staff practically make it impossible for me to worry about anything during dinner, even going so far as to catch a bee so it isn’t buzzing anywhere near my table. Not only do I not worry about anyone else while doing sit-ups with a personal trainer or fighting buoyancy with water weights at the pool, but I hardly have to think about me. My stress just seems to slide away without any effort at all. I stretch not because I need to, but because it feels good. I focus on my breathing one morning while I do yoga among the stunning red mountains of Southern Utah not because I should, but because it feels right. I’m not forced to do anything at all because, at Red Mountain Resort, all those things I came to “fix” just fix themselves.

(Photo Credit: JoAnna Haugen)

Red Mountain Resort excels in making the relaxation process effortless while still being all things to just about all people. A group of four women staying in a villa near mine spend their days lounging by the pool, interspersing their sunbathing with running laps from one end to the other. One morning at breakfast I overhear a mother and two daughters discussing a day filled with spa appointments. Other people tackle one fitness class after another, pushing all that pent-up anxiety away with a healthy dose of sweat. Though the overwhelming majority of guests tend to be women, everything is gender neutral, and it’s not uncommon to find men signed up to spend days upon days rock climbing, rappelling, hiking and mountain biking. And, as a testament to Red Mountain Resort’s ability to meet the wellness needs of its guests, a growing number of visitors are returning for their second, third or fourth time from cities all over the United States.

(Photo Credit: Rebecca Stinson)

As I finish a cross training class, sweat pouring down my back and dripping off my nose, I know that those stressful things in my life—not finding enough work, missed opportunities, deadlines, high expectations of myself—can be put off until tomorrow. Today is about me and my need to stretch, focus, breathe, relax and be.

And it doesn’t hurt that I can enjoy fruit and chocolate fondue to celebrate that fact.




Seattle – Goin’ to the Big Game in Style!

August 30th, 2011

Game Day at Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA (photo by Mary Levin, UW Columns Magazine)

A visit to Seattle, Washington, can be a great short vacation.  A beautiful urban mere, Lake Washington and surrounding waterways are a unique experience for travelers.  I have previously written on how to take a car up to Anacortes for the day trip by ferry to Friday Harbor, transiting en route through the scenic San Juan Islands.  I lived in Seattle and attended University of Washington, but now only visit from the desert of California.

One thing to do is enjoy a game of college football.  Husky Stadium in Seattle, home of the Washington Huskies, is one of the best locations for football in the fall season.  When a home game is televised expect a camera pan and sportscaster comment because of the breathtaking view of the lake.

"Champagne Lady" on Lake Washington, Seattle, WA | Photo courtesy of Argosy Crusises

The television sportscasters never fail to show and talk about the moored boats having pre-game parties, and people coming ashore to attend the game.  No parking hassles, walking with your seat cushion, etc.  Just step on the dock and enter the stadium.  I learned how to weave this special experience into a Seattle trip.  It doesn’t matter the alma matter, just enjoy something new.

Husky home game tickets are at gohuskies.com and separately book a game cruise at:

The cruise is aboard the M/V Champagne Lady.  The boat leaves from the marina across the lake in Kirkland, Washington.  There at the marina is the Woodmark Hotel, Yacht Club & Spa offering scenic view rooms and evening dining on the lakefront at the Beach Café.  Currently, the Woodmark offers a 20% discount on package participants.

I stayed at the Woodmark Hotel on a recent trip to Seattle and enjoyed petting their hotel mascot dog, Woody.  To see the sights, I chartered the Woody II cabin cruiser, a 1950’s era luxury boat (captain included).  Cruise the lake shorefront to see notable estates (yes, Bill Gates lives nearby) and take the cut past UW to Lake Union for reservations at famous Ivar’s Salmon House.

From Sea-Tac airport either rent a car (as I have in the past) or take the EastSide Town Car & Limousine to the hotel.  This town car service to the hotel is about the same price as the group shuttle bus. When downtown, I once again toured the Pike Place Market (ship home a fresh salmon) and had a great lunch at Mama’s Mexican Kitchen.  Nearby are the cruise ships and ferry service to Victoria, B.C, and Puget Sound stops (Port Townsend and Bainbridge Island, to name a few).


By Allan Kissam


Bavaro Princess: Dominican Holiday Meets Platinum All-Inclusive Pampering

August 26th, 2011

Beautiful Bavaro Beach

Even while still in the Punta Cana airport, it’s immediately palpable that you’re now on a Caribbean island…the Dominican Republic situated between Puerto Rico and Cuba to be exact. In many places the terminals are open-air, filled with natural light, and covered with a series of woven palm frond palapas. Roving merengue bands play randomly amongst the throngs waiting in line for customs or a flight. Now is a great time to begin trying out salutations and simple phrases in Spanish. No matter where your travels take you, your island experience will be so much richer if you make an effort to temporarily consider English as your second language. Many Dominicans are bilingual but I found that reaching out to your hosts in this regard is a reward in itself.

As you’re waiting at the ground transportation pickup area, you can be sure that the crowds surrounding you essentially fall into 2 groups: Those going on their own staying at a B&B in the countryside taking locally-run tours or visiting wonders like the Punta Canta Ecological Foundation where forest honey is produced. The other larger group will be staking their claim on a comfy lounger at an all-inclusive resort for a lavish frolic in the sun. I discovered that you can actually experience both if you’ve booked a Platinum package at The Bavaro Princess Resort.

The feature that immediately impressed me upon arrival at the Bavaro Princess was the property ground’s sheer diversity. Within a span of 15 minutes, you can amble from your day bed on the beach in the VIP roped off area under swaying palms surrounded by sugar white sand, to the massively opulent pool, and then explore an onsite eco park via boardwalk trail system winding above tropical marshland teeming with wildlife.

This nature preserve has several aviaries, one of which is home to a resident scarlet macaw, available for perching on your shoulder when staff are available to assist. Wandering through this area gives you a glimpse into what the landscape was like before being transformed into a resort. Nestled behind a water fountain amidst the meticulously manicured rolling lawns and palm groves lies the tranquil Metamorphosis Spa. Inside, a portion of the ceiling is open to the sky with a babbling brook running through the center. It is here that I indulged in both a Swedish massage on an outdoor bed and a private room shiatsu treatment. It’s simply inconceivable that you could leave this spa without being enveloped in complete bliss.

When it’s dinner time, be sure not to miss Bavaro Princess’s weekly Dominican night at La Hispaniola Restaurant. The court yard outside bustles with artisan craftspeople. During my visit, a glass artist trained a precision torch on delicate tubes twisting and blowing them to create exquisite ornamental palm trees and other decorative objects. Wood carvers spread out their inventive wares and classic Dominican cigars were being hand rolled from scratch right on a table using the most moist wrapper leaf I have ever put my lips to. A merengue ensemble played at the restaurant’s entrance along with 2 ravishing cabaret dancers readily available for photo ops.

Once inside, I was treated to a buffet brimming with Dominican dishes like Sancocho stew and Moro de habichuelas rojas (Dominican rice and red beans) along with desserts like rice pudding and sweet plantains baked with cane syrup & cinnamon sticks. The most visible made-to-order dish was the mofongo. A chef was behind a serving station vigorously mashing tostones (twice fried plantains) with garlic and olive oil in a pilon (a type of mortar & pestle). Before mounding the mixture into a ball, chicharrones (small cubes of decadently fried pork) were placed in the middle. The chef then served up the newly created mofongo with some gravy and more chicharrones on the side. The resulting hearty dish reminded me of polenta only a bit sweeter. And when combined with the crisp and chewy chicharrones, absolutely to die for!

As a Platinum guest, an exclusive cabana is available with complimentary breakfast and a selection of finger foods & drinks throughout the day. Comfy chairs and flat panel monitors broadcast the latest programming if that’s what you’re craving at the moment. Suites comes equipped with an in-room hot tub, private terrace for shaded non-beach lounging, and mini bar stocked daily with drinks, most notably local El Presidente beer. The plush King beds, terry robes, and individually controlled AC are appreciated extra comforts as the sizzling tropical sun gives way to your choice of evening respite or vibrant nightlife.

The party really starts to heat up here when the sun sets. You’ll see that Dominicans truly relish their nightlife and are eager to share it with you. Even if you’re not a night owl, just remember that you can always catch some up on your Zs on a beach lounger the day after.

Story and photo and videos courtesy of Steve Mirsky. Coverage made possible by a Royal Holiday sponsored trip.

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