RX for vacation stress

by Mary Ann Treger on March 5, 2011


Vacation travel is stressful. There, I said it! Interminable security lines, pat downs (otherwise illegal or at least inappropriate except between consenting adults), news of revolutions or airport bombings create high anxiety when traveling.

Getaways are supposed to be relaxing, a way to connect with my inner Buddha. But lately, I’m exhausted after a three-hour flight, taking me days to recover before I can enjoy my destination or reacclimatize when I return home.

Recently I hit on a surefire way to avoid pre and post holiday fatigue. While making plans for our Caribbean cruise from Miami, my husband and I decided to spend a few days in Miami pre departure to de-stress and get in the vacation groove. After the cruise instead of disembarking and racing to the airport we tacked on a few days in Fort Lauderdale to unwind before returning home.

To many, the idea of spending time in two busy cities—for relaxation—might sound a little nutty. The uninitiated think cruising means reclining in deck chairs while sipping rum drinks garnished with paper umbrellas. Not us. At each island stop we snorkel swim or sail (hold the paragliding, thank you very much!) When the ship’s at sea, our days are filled with exercise classes, tennis or golf lessons, spins on the dance floor and late nights in the casino.

In the past we would return from vacation needing a vacation. Not this time. Here’s a sampling of our new anti-exhaustion plan.

Pre-cruise Miami spice
“Would you like a glass of champagne,” the attendant coos as we pass through the doors of the Ritz-Carlton. While the hotel is in the heart of the bustling Art Deco district, the mood inside is Zen like. Once the famous DiLido Hotel, the Ritz-Carlton underwent a $200 million renovation. In a bow to Art Deco aficionados (like me) they preserved many of the former DiLido Hotel’s features including the mirrored finish of the black terrazzo floors and the grand lobby staircase.

We sip chilled bubbly as we head to a corner ocean-view room on the VIP Club Floor (the Ritz-Carlton is the only hotel in South Beach that has one). Staying on this floor gives us access to a spacious private lounge with assorted creature comforts. Breakfast, lunch, mid-day snacks, late afternoon cocktails and evening chocolates and cordials are served in a comfortable clubby setting. Our hotel became our sanctuary.

Since people-watching is my favorite Miami sport, the hotel’s see-and-be-seen DiLido Beach Club sates my appetite. Is that Lady Gaga or a wanna-be? Madonna? Cameron Diaz? I get a sugar rush from devouring the eye candy. We wash down Tandori Chicken Flatbreads with icy Mojitos before settling in at the infinity–edge pool with its unobstructed vistas of the Atlantic. Soon after, the ultimate decadence appears — a “Tanning Butler.” Wearing a custom-made holster filled with assorted sun screen products, an Evian spritzer and sunglass cleaner he offers to apply sunscreen to my shoulders and back. Only in Miami, as they say.

Days are filled with lazy strolls to trendy outdoor cafés, chic boutiques and edgy galleries that line Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive. Colorful characters abound — a twenty something brunette in a hot pink bikini teeters by in four inch platform shoes adorned with glitzy palm trees. Oops! A tattooed skateboarder, earbuds in place, nearly knocks Ms. Hottie off her shoes. Meanwhile, a multi-pierced jogger tugs a jeweled-encrusted leash, coaxing two pugs to keep pace.

Because Miami is an incubator for trends, we avoid any store we can visit at home. Curiosity lures us into AllSaints Spitalfields where row upon row of vintage Singer sewing machines line the front windows. Artfully displayed frocks have skin tight bodices and skirts are draped, crinkled or distressed. There are beads and bows and biker boots and colors range from inky blues to black. And in this town, art is a big deal, literally. Massive works by pop artist Romero Britto are dotted about. Britto’s Lincoln Road gallery — the only one in the U.S — boasts his colorful (and expensive) paintings. For fans who can’t drop thousands on an original, his outrageous designs embellish objects from coffee mugs to luggage.

Art in hotels is another Miami trend and is epitomized by the Ritz-Carlton’s multi-million dollar collection. More than 40 works of art by a dozen internationally acclaimed artists are scattered throughout the hotel not the least of which is an impressive Miro etching and an enormous mural by Xavier Calero that covers an entire wall.

And what can I say about Miami’s outdoor “museum”? Eight hundred pink, blue, green and neon-trimmed Art Deco buildings surround The Ritz-Carlton, the largest concentration of them in the world. After three glorious days we bid Miami adieu. A 15 minute taxi ride takes us to our ship, rejuvenated and ready for our vacation.

Post cruise
We danced. We drank. We stayed up too late. No wonder we’re drained. In need of detox, I bolt to the hotel’s spa shortly after arriving at the oceanfront Ritz-Carlton in Fort Lauderdale. Before I can say ‘organic’ I am scrubbed, wrapped and rubbed.

“B-r-e-a-t-h-e,” whispers Maria, my therapist as I unwind in a candlelit treatment room. The spa’s color palette is as soothing as her hands. Seashell shades of creamy white to taupe embrace walls, draperies and carpets. I sniff a variety of scents in search of one that suits my senses before I’m slathered in jojoba beads, kelp mud and oils. What can I say about a massage? I’ve had hundreds and this one is one of the best. Honest. Afterwards I am genuinely relaxed and somehow energized.

Cocooned in a thick white robe and mesmerized by the spa’s ocean views, I linger. I wrap my hands around a steaming cup of green tea and plan two blissful experiences for the next day (yoga wellness and a detoxifying slimming massage).

I can’t delay my spa departure a moment longer. My husband is waiting (snoozing?) in our private cabana, one of 10 spread out on a secluded level overlooking the Atlantic. Alberto, our concierge, reviews our perks — a refrigerator stocked with fancy waters, iPod docking station and flat screen TV, something I refuse to turn on when I can gaze at sailboats and the Good Year blimp. How do I love the service? Let me count the ways. We ask for a newspaper. Three arrive. Lunch? Lobster Salad Naan Wraps with Avocado Aioli arrive in less than 15 minutes. (Insider tip: If you want sun, rent a cabana in the morning. If you want shade, rent in the afternoon when the sun shines on the opposite side of the hotel.)

To set the record straight, we do not always travel in such grand style. We pick and choose our splurges. This is one of them. The sleek white exterior of the contemporary Ritz-Carlton with its dramatic glass-walls that curve to mimic ocean waves is a knockout. Our room is straight out of Architectural Digest–a leather-wrapped chest mingles with traditional mahogany accent pieces and Plexiglas lives happily with crystal. It is the only AAA Five Diamond hotel in Fort Lauderdale.

Even though the Ritz-Carlton is a stone’s throw from picturesque Las Olas (the shopping heart of downtown and several fine museums) we don’t travel far from the hotel. Everything we need to recuperate from our journey is right here.

We opt for casual dinners. Each night we mosey through the two enormous steel gates off the lobby into the Via Luna Bar. The space is intoxicating, in more ways than one. An impressive 13-foot high hand-painted mural of King Neptune and his horses rests above an illuminated butterscotch onyx bar. We slither onto luscious leather bar chairs and gaze at the ocean, visible through floor to ceiling windows. Since we only want a light bite, bar menu choices are ideal. Pizza from a wood-burning oven, said to be the chef’s grandmother’s recipe, is a standout (at $10, it’s also the best food bargain in town!)

On our last night, we experience an around-the-world wine tasting in “The Vault,” the hotel’s 5,000 bottle cellar. Sommelier Don Derocher is one of a handful of people who can make me listen — and understand — the nuances of fine wines. He has assembled an eclectic collection that includes limited production “cult” wines sought by collectors as well as affordable yet unusual wines and spirits. To preserve the wines, The Vault is kept at 55-degrees so I am immediately swathed in a faux fur stole, a nicety provided to every female imbiber.

We sniff and swirl and sip six different wines as Derocher answers my questions sans even a hint of snootiness. I ogle a 113 year-old, $8,000 bottle of Pierre Frapin cognac ($895 for a snifter portion) but refuse to pick it up for fear I’ll drop it. Ditto for a bottle of La Tache Pinot Noir priced at $4,000, the most expensive bottle in The Vault. Our wine tasting is considerably more affordable ($50 a person). It’s easy to understand why Derocher’s cellar has garnered Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.

So there you go. After three days of post-vacation R&R we are reenergized and ready to return to reality. But I have a hunch we’ll return to these retreats soon for another dose of their restorative powers.

For more information:
Ritz-Carlton 800 241-3333 www.ritzcarlton.com

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  • Hapgood

    There’s an even better way to avoid pre and post holiday fatigue. Avoid those security lines, pat downs, and middle seats between screaming babies by avoiding flying!

    Take your vacation at a nice hotel or resort that you can get to by car, train, subway, bus, or bicycle. Then you can relax all you want, without the stress from the ordeal of flying (and particularly without the stress of facing the ordeal all over again at the end of your vacation). And you can use what you would have paid for airfare and all those accursed fees for better meals, accommodations, spa therapy, shopping, or whatever you enjoy. Or you can save it for your retirement or your kids’ college fund.

    With the TSA and the airlines doing everything they can to make flying as unpleasant and stressful as possible, it’s time to recognize that “vacation” is NOT synonymous with “flying.” You DO have a choice! And choosing to tell the airlines and the TSA that you refuse to have anything to do with them may well be the real secret to an enjoyable, low-stress vacation.

  • Susan

    Oh wow, it never occurred to me to spend a few thousand extra dollars to relieve pre- and post-vacation stress at the Ritz-Carlton!!! What a helpful hint!

  • Carrie Charney

    @Hapgood: To each his/her own and whatever makes one the most comfortable or whatever one can endure to be able to do what one would like to do.

    For me, I am not going to let the TSA or the airlines (this spring, alone) keep me from a grandson’s college graduation, a granddaughter’s high school graduation, a granddaughter’s bat mitzvah, a granddaughter’s communion, a granddaughter’s performance in her high school musical, a grandson’s performance in his piano recital, etc., etc., etc. I also have a big bucket list. Of course I won’t get to it all, but if I wait for the TSA and the airlines to change their ways, I’ll have kicked that bucket or lost my viability before I even make a dent in it.

  • Ruth Anderson Coggeshall

    Sheer luxury. Why not? Beautifully written. Miami and Ft. Lauderdale offer so much, and Mary Ann Treger sought out the best and enjoyed it all. I want to travel the way she does!

  • Hapgood

    Carrie Charney, you’re quite right about not letting the TSA or the airlines take away the joy of celebrating family events. But these are among the many situations where you have no choice but to submit to whatever the TSA and the airlines inflict as part of the deal. Flying comes at both a monetary and psychological price. In addition to all those metastasizing fees, that price now includes being treated like a convicted felon by the TSA and like putrid freight by airlines. But family and business activities are often worth that price, especially if there is no alternative to flying.

    Indeed, the main reason the TSA and the airlines can get away with treating us the way they do is because we too often have no other choice. Few of us have the time or inclination to drive across the country or sail on a tramp freighter; and in much of the country Amtrak is more of a pathetic vestige of the dead past than useful transportation.

    This is entirely different from Ms. Treger’s whiny lament about the stress of travel. I am merely suggesting that if the intent of a particular trip is to relax and escape from the stresses of daily life, the stress of flying may detract excessively from that goal. If that’s the main intent of a trip, it probably would be better to choose a destination that does not require flying, so that the stress inflicted by the TSA and the airlines does not negate the purpose of the trip.

    As for the bucket list, the TSA and the airlines now seem to be working as hard as they can to inflate the (psychological) price of flying at a rate that would make health insurance CEOs envious. Some people have already decided that flying is no longer worth the (psychological) price. It’s quite possible that in the future that price will reach the point where even you are unwilling to pay it any more.

    I wish the reality of air travel were different. But it is what it is, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. The only thing we can do is to either endure all the discomfort and indignity with as much grace and cheer as we can muster, or else find ways to discover and enjoy the many fascinating places close to home that we overlooked in the long-gone days when flying was reasonably pleasant and convenient.

  • Susan

    @ Carrie, please check in after your genitals have been repeatedly groped, after you’ve been treated like a criminal by someone who would steal from you in a heartbeat, (and probably already has, tough luck on that) after you’ve missed your family event because you had the gall to tell a screener (thug) that you were allowed to take your tweezers through the last checkpoint. I’d love to hear you wax poetic on the TSA and how they won’t take YOUR fun away. Wanna bet?

  • glorybee

    If I could afford the extras you have mentioned, it would be great. But how about those of us who are lucky just to be able to get away with an inside room on the ship and sitting in the cattlecar when flying. Not complaining, just stop it! OK? Don’t rub it in that there is ANOTHER way to live … I will probably never see it working 9 to 5 and paying for my own benefits.

  • Scott

    For some, a “splurge” is ordering a bottle of wine. With money like that, ALL travel could be peaceful! Next time, just rent your own private jet! LOL

  • PauletteB

    I take long driving vacatons (2,000 to 3,000 miles) because I love to drive, but I fly to visit my daughter, even though it’s only a 6-hour drive, because I hate the New Jersey Turnpike. I’m “on vacation” as soon as I walk out my door – no “destressing” required — and I stay on vacation till I walk back in. Personally,I’d rather have a root canal without anesthesia than take a cruise, and neither Miami nor Fort Lauderdale would be anywhere I visited on purpose, but to each her own.

    For the record, I’ve never been mistreated or treated rudely by any member of TSA, but maybe that’s because I don’t give off the nasty vibe that a couple of the posters are exhibiting here. Act like an ass, expect to be treated like one.

  • Hapgood

    Paulette, can you acknowledge the possibility that the “nasty vibe” is the RESULT of bad experiences with the TSA rather than the cause? That’s what happened to me. Believe it or not, I started out firmly convinced that that the TSA was providing significantly better security than the minimum-wage flunkies of the lowest-bidding private security companies they replaced. It was the TSA themselves (in the form of screeners who acted like asses) that convinced me otherwise. I’m pretty sure that most if not all people who despise the TSA do so because of what they’ve seen and experienced. As far as I am concerned, the TSA has earned the hatred and distrust many people have for it.

    Apparently some people are perfectly happy and unperturbed by the intrusive and inconsistent behavior of TSA screeners. They’re either deluded by the wishful thinking that the TSA is keeping them safe despite the lack of any evidence to support such a belief, or they’re simply happy people who don’t let anything bother them. The latter approach might well be the best way to deal with the TSA, since there’s nothing else we can do about it if we need to fly. At the very least, reacting to whatever indignities they inflict with a cheery smile will deny the screener the pleasure they might get from exercising their power to make people upset.

  • http://www.nursingwire.com/user/wilhelminarussell/history/ Valentina Flowers

    Surprisingly! It is like you realize my mind!

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