“Glamping” with Backroads

glamping[glamping] verb  a higher form of camping utilized by individuals used to the finer things in life. aka. glamorous campingMy husband recently mentioned he thought it would be nice to take our son camping.   What!  It’s been over 20 years since I did a road trip/camping trip down the Baja Peninsula.  Somehow in my 20’s this seemed perfectly logical but now I would rather endure the latest Four Seasons Hotel!   So what’s a travel professional to do?  Book the next best thing….. A Backroads Adventure!I have just returned from a week of hiking, biking and “glamping” (glamorous camping) with Backroads in Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Zion National Park.     There were a total of 4 families in the Backroads group made up of 9 adults and 10 kids ranging in age from 6 to 17 years of age.  I highly recommend the trip to any family that is modestly adventurous and wanting to put the cell phones away and get back in touch with nature and your family.   Please feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions or would like more information.Our trip comprised 6 days and 5 nights = 1 night in Bryce Canyon, 2 nights at the Grand Canyon and 2 nights at Zion (which was our favorite).  Each day comprised one or two organized hikes and/or bike rides which were very well supported by our exceptional and highly qualified group leaders (they were amazing) and offered the scope for each and every individual to bite off as much exercise and adventure as they were able to take on.  In the couple of instances difficulty was sufficiently easy that no one in the group was unable to finish.  If you and your family are capable of 2 hours of Holiday shopping in Manhattan you are more than ready to keep up with the group.  Saying that there were always opportunities to push yourself as hard as you liked…..and we did on a few occasions.During our second day at the Grand Canyon all the kids were treated to a 2 hour Mule ride through the park.  During that segment the adults did a hike descending into the Grand Canyon and back.  Since it was an in and out hike you could go as far as you were comfortable and then turn around.  This gave all of the adults a chance to push your body or just relax in the beauty of the Canyon.  Everyone could do a personally tailored hike that was well supported with information about the geology, flora and fauna and park history as well as food, water and hand holding.  On our second last day at Zion we had a similar opportunity to venture out without or kids as they were taken on a half day of Canyoneering with expert local guides.   My husband and I did a relatively strenuous hike to a rendezvous point at which point we opted for a route that was breathtakingly beautiful, with virtually no people that made us feel like we were totally away from civilization.   Based on the photos and feedback our kids were having more fun repelling down ropes and climbing rock faces.   Our boy was the youngest and although frightened at times he was pushed just the right amount to not terrify him, learn some skills and become more confident in a new situation.  I could not have been happier with his experience.  I think all the older kids experienced all fun and no apprehension.The “glamping” experience was exceptional.  Our camp was completely set up and taken down by the Backroads leaders who are logistical experts.  Our entering and departing of a camp was not that different from checking in and out of a hotel.  Pack your personal belongings and get them to the lobby and the rest is taken care of.   Breakfasts comprised an early cold breakfast (yogurt, cereal, granola, juices, hot coffee and possibly pastry) followed an hour later by a hot breakfast (eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and some vegetables were typically on the menu).   Half the time our lunches were similar to a catered event in the country with 3 o r 4 salads, fixings for sandwiches, fruit and desert and the other half the time we made our own lunches in the morning (mostly sandwiches from a big selection) to take with us on an off the beat and path lunch.   Getting back into camp in the afternoon was typically between 3:30 and 5:00 depending on the day.  There were always some snacks, juice, soda, beer and wine around to take the edge off until appetizers hit the picnic table at 6:00.  A full on camp dinner commenced around 7:00.   Dinners were a feeding frenzy which were very competently done and nicely served.  (no paper plates here).  Dinners had a couple salads, a couple vegetables and usually two entrees with a few vegetarians in our crowd made very happy.  Some of our entrees included vegetarian lasagna, burgers, burritos (steak, chicken and tofu), spaghetti with red sauce, grilled salmon, grilled shrimp, and grilled chicken.  To be honest I can’t remember all the dishes but I do remember not going hungry and enjoying every meal.With the few mid day breaks and pre and post dinner down time the adults typically lounged and the kids burned off their last few ounces of energy playing games.   The camp leaders did a fantastic job of initiating physical activities (sports, tag, little hikes, tree climbing, wildlife citing) as well as board and card games for those with not much left in the tank.  My son, and I believe all 9 other kids, had one of the best vacations of their lives.  Not to mention the fun of sleeping in a tent.  Showers were made available to us every day and although they were far from luxurious they felt luxurious after a day of activities in the great outdoors.I think that most families that take this trip do it because they think their kid(s) will love it, have a new adventure, learn a bit about nature, see America and be physically challenged and that the parents will tag along for the ride.  If you sign up don’t be surprised if you have a great time, learn a bit about nature and the parks, get a bit of exercise and fresh air and totally love it.  I did, my husband did and I think 9 out of 9 adults in our group walked away very satisfied on many fronts.   On top of it all we met some great people who we will likely stay in touch with….who knew.

Nizuc .....Yes, A Strange Name, But Worth A Visit.

This January, my family teamed up with another family to visit the newest addition to the Cancun area, The Nizuc Resort and Spa.  In addition to being blessed by perfect weather Nizuc delivered over and above our expectations on almost every front.   Given the very convenient location of being just an 8 Minute drive from the Cancun airport we are likely to return the next time we have a weekend getaway on our radar screen.We boarded our flight from JFK at 7:00 am and were checked into the hotel and on the beach with a margarita in hand before noon.There are many room categories from which to choose and the resort is rather spread out.  Some of the room categories are located within the central area of the hotel (ocean suites) and are adult only, some are located along the water with ocean views (the residences) and others are located within private courtyards near the main area (garden pool villas).  The furniture and décor are very tasteful and appointed with thin screen TVs, Sonos sound systems, very nice bed linens and plush bathroom towels and robes.   The décor is in a contemporary Asian feel, with dark wood furniture and clean lines.Many of the rooms (not all)  have beautiful views and overlook the beach but no all rooms have direct beach access from your room.  Upon arrival, it initially seemed like a short coming but the shuttle services to the beach/pools/restaurants were available almost immediately and we never waited more than 3 minutes for a short golf cart transfer.   The beach is very fine powdery sand with a shallow and virtually wave less beach in a quiet cove.  I have a 6 year old boy and he was able to easily play in the ocean without my having to worry about dangerous waves.  If you have kids the beach could not be set up better for safety and fun.  The aquatic center offered lots of kids beach toys as well as paddle boards for free use.Roughly 200 yards off shore is a marine nature reserve hosting a shallow reef and a plethora of fish and marine life.  The hotels provides free guided snorkeling tours every hour including all the gear at no charge.  The water was wave less and we were able to take our 6 year old out and saw thousands of fish in a matter of 30 or 40 minutes.   The water is shallow and the conditions are sufficiently benign that almost anyone should be able to partake.We, or should I say our 6 year old and his 7 year old friend, took advantage of the well equipped kids club.  The space had daily activities, such as arts and crafts, video games, lots of books and kids games and puzzles.  Suffice it to say our son was keen to get into the club for a couple stints per day.  The club was roughly 100 yards off the beach so that we were able to easily check our son in and out of the kids club throughout the day.   We have experienced many kids clubs at various resorts and this one (although maybe not the very best one we have experienced) certainly covered all the bases and would rank in the top quartile among higher end properties.It is probably worth noting that there is an adult section with a beautiful private infinity pool, beach and bar/restaurant which is well appointed.  The notable difference was the total zen associated with no kids!  The focus was very much of letting you chill out with a nice setting and good service.The hotel offered 6 restaurants of which we experienced only three.  We are from NY so I can’t say that I was blown away but the standard was certainly very good.   Dinner service was very good, wine and cocktail service was very good and I would rank the dinner food an 8 out of 10.  Saying that I would rank the breakfasts (for service, breadth of offering, and quality of food) a 9.5 and lunches an 8.5.  Again, maybe I am just spoiled by New York City’s high standards.   All in all the restaurants are comparable to most of the better Caribbean hotel restaurants that I have experienced.   They did not offer kids menus at the restaurants that we visited but the staff was happy to work with us to accommodate kid’s needs.We were very lucky to have the service of our butler, Alfonso, who arranged dinner reservations, babysitters, shuttles, car services, in room dinning, printing boarding passes, special catering for a cocktail hour we hosted in our room, spa services, setting up wi-fi and music systems and more.  Alfonso certainly proved a valuable and reliable resource during our stay and was a considerable “value add” to our stay at Nizuc.The Spa is one of the better spas I have been to.    The plunge pools and hydrotherapy in the locker rooms were very relaxing after a tough day at the beach.  I had a massage and my therapist did a great job.  Take a tour of the facility the day you arrive and decide for yourself if you want to indulge.   I also used the gym a couple times during my stay.  The facilities are spacious and the equipment, while not extensive, covers all the bases for cardio machines and does a decent job of offering machines for strength training.Since we spent most of our waking hours at the beach or poolit is probably worth touching on what Nizuc has to offer.   The huge infinity pool is great for hanging out, lap swimming and kids to play.   Because this was a short getaway weekend and every moment of sunshine has tremendous value, I did note  the particular location of Nizuc being on a point, allowed for full direct sun on the pool and beach, all day until the sun sets, literally.    This is not always the case with many of the hotels located in the Riveria Maya where the sun sets behind the hotel and the beach and pools loose their direct sunlight around 430pm.   And don’t forget there is also the adult only pool.  The food and bar service at both the pool and beach were very good and we were never left wanting for much.  Both the beach and the pool had a mix of quality lounge chairs as well as some heavily cushioned beach beds.  Umbrellas were abundant and towels were large plush and readily available.All in all I would recommend Nizuc to both families and/or couples as the resort was nicely set up to cater to both.   The food and beverage service was very good at all the restaurants that we visited and room service did a good job of covering the basics if you are too lazy to leave your room.  The rooms are very tastefully decorated and have all the high end amenities.  Oh ya, and it’s 8 minutes from the airport.   Please drop me a line if you have any questions on specific rooms or anything for that matter.