Weekend getaways

EstesPark1 PHOTO by Denton Morris

By Jae-Ha Kim
Successful Living
January 2008 issue

To quote songwriter Frank Loesser, baby it’s cold outside. And nothing helps beat the winter doldrums than a weekend getaway to some place fabulous. We know what you’re thinking: There’s not enough time to plan a trip… It’ll be too expensive… It’s not really a romantic getaway if you have to plan all the details rather than your man. Don’t worry about that. We’ve got all that figured out. Read on.

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico
Europeans have long known about this Mexican gem, which lies just 41 miles south of Cancun. But unlike the latter, which is geared for Spring Breakers looking to go wild, Playa del Carmen is more laidback and less commercialized. Which also means that it’s more affordable. In other words, it’s the perfect destination for couples looking for a warm and relaxing respite from winter’s bitter cold.

Playa del Carmen boasts clear blue water, pristine beaches and, yes, even the occasional topless sunbather or two. (Note: You may want to underline that last bit in red. You know. Just so your guy knows.) One advantage about vacationing at a place where 80 percent of the tourists are European is that you feel more relaxed about your body because they don’t have the same kind of body hang-ups that we do. Men wear Speedos. Women let it all hang out (literally). And nobody cares. It’s fabulous!

There are numerous resorts to select from, as well as homes to rent for a long weekend. And even if you hate touristy things, take at least one trip to 5th Avenue, which is Playa del Carmen’s main tourist strip. While you may not want to spend every day there, the area provides for convenient one-stop shopping, whether you want to snap up some souvenirs, sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee at an internet café or get your hair braided into mini dreadlocks. Hey, when in Playa del Carmen…
Also, 5th Avenue is conveniently located near the public pier, which ferries passengers back and forth to nearby Cozumel.
If you don’t have time to get a spa treatment, have no fear. The best tip we learned from our years of travel is that walking barefoot on the beach works as a natural exfoliant.

And it can be pretty darned romantic, too.


BOULDER
For some couples, a winter getaway isn’t a real vacation unless it includes a crackling fireplace. Did somebody say Boulder? It’s a gorgeous destination for an extended weekend trip that’s easy to get to and worthy of repeat visits. Much warmer than Chicago or New York, but with the same sophisticated style, Boulder offers visitors breathtaking views and first class amenities.

There’s a quaint outdoor ice skating rink right in the middle of downtown Boulder. Remember how much fun it was holding your boyfriend’s hand when you went skating together as a kid? It can be just as enjoyable–and even more romantic–as an adult. My husband even proposed to me not long after an ice skating date…but that’s another story all together.

While you’re downtown, be sure to check out the Pearl Street mall, which is full of cute cafes, art galleries and boutiques full of unique items that you won’t find at your hometown galleria. Music fills the air as well, with buskers performing on the streets. Speaking of music, Boulder will host its annual Colorado MahlerFest this year Jan. 12 and 13 at the University of Colorado at Boulder campus.

It would be wrong to go to Boulder without at least getting a peek of the Rocky Mountain National Park. The park–which includes 60 mountains that are each taller than 12,000 feet–is so lovely that couples have been known to renew their vows there (hint, hint). And with a variety of trails available for every athletic type, there truly is something for everyone regardless of whether you’re a triathlete or a couch potato.


SEATTLE
Just as romantic as San Francisco, but more affordable, Seattle is the perfect weekend getaway. Easy to get to and even easier to find your way around, the Emerald City has a plethora of attractions. Just as Syndey is famous for its magnificent Opera House, Seattle has the spectacular Space Needle.

A lovely way to cap off an evening is by having dinner in the Needle’s SkyCity, which offers a 360-degree view of the city. Museum lovers will get a kick out of the Experience Music Project, a Frank Gehry-designed building that houses musical memorabilia, located right by the Space Needle.

Nothing says I love you like getting your man to catch a fish for you. Literally. At Pike Place Market, buying seafood is akin to being in the audience for the Blue Man Group. It’s an interactive process, with fish flying and the customers/audience cheering. Coffee aficionados may want to check out the Starbucks located here–it’s the original store that launched the dynasty.

And don’t forget to check out Pioneer Square, located in Seattle’s bustling downtown. Full of shops, galleries and cutting edge restaurants, the area also is home to some jazz lounges that will keep you feeling warm even if it’s pouring outside.


 

HOW TO FIND A LAST-MINUTE DEAL:

The internet is your friend. Check it often to search for the best deals. While resorts may charge a premium during the winter time, you may be able to get a nice rate at a new hotel or a newly renovated hotel looking to drum up more business. Don’t assume that the rate quoted is the final price either. Depending on availability, the hotel may bargain. And don’t forget to ask if they offer corporate rates. Many hotels do.

Be pro-active even if you have a travel agent working on your behalf. Natasha Newman, a travel agent for www.spacecitytravel.com, suggests that “whenever you make your reservations, be sure to have your travel agent go back and check prices again close to your departure. Sometimes if the ship or resort has not filled their space, they lower the prices and you may get a refund.”

If you plan on flying, book your flights as early in advance as possible. Midweek and overnight flights tend to be the cheapest.

One way to get a last-minute deal is by heading for an area that has just been struck by disaster and is looking to book more guests. For instance, many cruises discount their fares during hurricane season. Of course, this type of deal isn’t for the faint of heart.


New York Times bestselling author Jae-Ha Kim writes regularly about travel in her column “Go Away With …” — which is syndicated to more than 80 publications nationwide. Kim’s work has appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Playboy, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Post, and USA Today. Kim got her first passport when she was four years old and hasn’t stopped traveling. She counts Edinburgh, Papeete and Melbourne as some of her favorite cities.

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