Iceland has perplexed travelers a bit.
They want to visit but don't really know what to expect in terms of creature comforts. Is it all rough and rustic? Well, it's got a mix depending on the type of vacation you're seeking. But high-end accommodations have been a bit scarce and travelers seeking a VIP experience have been left looking for more. That's about to change with the opening this fall of the Moss Hotel, part of the Blue Lagoon hotel and complex. Guests at the new boutique, design hotel will have private access to one of Iceland's most crowded, and beloved attractions.
If you've researched going to Iceland for your first visit...You've probably heard about the Blue Lagoon. The geothermal spa, in the middle of a lava field, is one of the country’s top attractions and it can get crowded. Que the solution....exclusive access.
The Lava Cove and Moss Hotel, will open this fall, built into an 800-year-old lava flow on the lagoon. It's a four-part complex hosting a private swimming hole extended from the Blue Lagoon; a underground spa with a lava rock heated steam room, fire pit, and sauna; and a 62-room luxury hotel & restaurant. Oh yea, it's eco-friendly too, powered by geothermal energy.
We've got some sneak peek preview photos to share with you. Ready to visit the land of fire and ice? Send us a trip request!
There are vacationers and there are travelers. There is a difference. Vacationers look to get away while travelers seek meaningful connections to the people and places they visit. Vacationers come back refreshed while travelers come back changed. Robin Zappacosta is most certainly a traveler. When we last left off, Robin’s tale of her first trip to Africa began, volunteering at a hospital in Zambia. But there was another side to her journey and Robin was about to get her “African wings”.
It was time to head out into “the bush”, the side of Africa we picture in our heads. It’s said to be magical, mystical and beyond imagination. The local legends seem too wild to be true for modern sensibilities, but those legends, well, they’re what African dreams are made of.
My doctor friend felt that I needed to get away from the hospital and see the other side of Africa. So, we journeyed to Lake Kariba on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
While exposed to modern religion, the culture is still dominated by local legends and gods. One of the most revered gods is the Nyami Nyami, the Zambezi River god who occupies Lake Kariba with his wife. In the 1940’s a dam under construction between the river and lake was damaged by massive flooding. Many of the foreign, white workers helping build the dam died and their bodies were missing. Legend has it, the Tonga people said the Nyami Nyami, was cut off from his wife, and he was angry so he took the bodies as “payment”. The families of the workers wanted answers…and their loved ones remains. So the Tonga elders decided a sacrifice to appease the Nyami Nyami was in order and a black calf was left at the river’s edge. The next morning, the calf was gone. The river IS crocodile infested but nonetheless, the calf was gone and magically the missing bodies its place.
Along the bush of Lake Kariba, I took my first game drive, pulling up to a large herd of Cape Buffalo. Camera in hand, I hopped out of the vehicle, snapping away mere feet from the massive beasts. My guide, in his fantastical white safari hunter’s hat yells, “Get back in this vehicle NOW! THIS is not a zoo and WILD animals charge!” Safari 101: Stay in the vehicle, Robin.
Next I ventured to the majestic Victoria Falls. I can’t imagine a safari that doesn’t include a visit. My accommodations were a luxurious tent fitted with electricity and a bathroom. You must find inner peace to sleep, knowing a herd of giant elephants roam free throughout your encampment and canvass walls won’t stop them if they get spooked and charge.
Call me a reluctant angel, but there in Victoria Falls, I got my “African wings”. A pilot, me and a flying lawnmower called a Microlite set off to fly over the falls. I had a headset so the pilot could hear my screams but his reassurance that while the seatbelt was flimsy, gravity would hold me in place didn’t make me feel any better. Fear melted away as we glided over the plains, seeing elephant below, and over the magnificent, gushing falls with their mist filling the sky. It’s called the ‘smoke that thunders,’ and that was truly a once in a lifetime event.
More adventures continued with white water rafting, more game drives, animal encounters and lots of local beer. On one of the final drives I remember passing antelope, elephants and eventually three rare, white rhino. There was a huge fallen tree and I got out of the vehicle once more (yes, I know. Safari 101). Sitting on the tree trunk, quietly observing the rhino, I realized that although this trip was ending, my lifelong love, and journeys in Africa were just beginning.
Scott and Charlene Cooner spend their days pampering others as owners of Tangle Me Knot, arguably the best hair salon in their town of Apollo Beach, Florida. It’s both rewarding and hectic.
Making time for a getaway can be tricky when you’re self employed so when Scott wanted to surprise Charlene with a weekend away, we started brainstorming.
February weather in Florida is tricky. Even sunny Miami can be too cool for lazy days poolside as the water is often chilly for a native Floridian. It’s also “high season” there with high hotel rates. Getting creative and throwing chilly weather aside we sent them north, to the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton.
The Amelia Ritz is on Florida’s short list of AAA 5-Diamond Resorts. Their restaurant, Salt, on an even shorter list. As good as your favorite restaurant is, only 3 in Florida are true 5-Diamond winners, none of which are in the Tampa area.
Making sure they’d have a spectacular time we buzzed our long time friend who happens to be the Guest Relations “goddess” at the Ritz and requested VIP treatment. Immediately, a room upgrade, unlimited spa access, gifts waiting in their room and being removed from that nasty wait list for Salt, into a prime table were done.
Scott said, “We had the Chef’s Adventure Tasting Menu and it was spectacular. The attention to detail, service, creative dishes and choice of 150 varieties of salts to compliment every bite were perfection”.
You can do a lot or a little on Amelia Island. On their first day, they decided to savor that 5-Diamond luxury, spending it at the spa enjoying several treatments, thermal areas and swimming in the adults only solarium pool. Finally, taking time to pamper themselves.
Excited to explore the historic island they set out to sample her charms. Amelia is only 13 miles so seeing the sights is easy. Getting there is half the fun, driving along the ocean one minute, then suddenly surrounded by moss draped oak trees on sleepy streets filled with Victorian era homes.
Visiting the historic district of Fernandina Beach, Amelia’s largest town, they strolled the streets admiring the architecture. They visited shops -- some tacky, some quaint but most importantly stopped for drinks in The Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest and reportedly haunted. As Florida destinations go, Amelia is different. It's very old having been claimed by the French in the 1560s. Eventually, it became a booming port town famous for it’s shrimping industry. It retains much of it’s charm and old buildings.
They visited the must-see, Fort Clinch State Park with its Civil-War fortress, situated on the Amelia River and Atlantic Ocean. The park’s 1,400 acres overlook Cumberland Island and the ruined winter mansions of the Gilded Age elite. The scenery is beautiful with panoramic Atlantic views, sand dunes, ancient oak trees, and the fortress itself. Charlene remarked, “It was so interesting to experience the fort and see what life for soldiers was like during the Civil War.”
A bit of history about those mansions over on Cumberland: Reportedly, the younger Carnegie boys (of the Carnegie Steel fortune) would ferry from their Cumberland estate to Amelia. Often imbibing too much at the local saloons they spent many a night in the county jail. Nothing too good for her boys, Mrs. Carnegie paid good money refurbishing a cell so her boys “would feel more at home”.
After their visit, we think Scott and Charlene would agree, everyone would feel quite at home on Amelia Island.
Enjoy this short video and small gallery, certain to lure you away to Amelia Island.
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