Relaxing in the U.S. Virgin Islands
Are you ready to take a break on the white, sandy beaches and in the turquoise waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands? This year-round destination is the vacation spot whether you are looking to just relax on the beach, enjoy the water, or explore the islands of St. John, St. Croix and St. Thomas. Here are some ideas to get your imagination flowing as you plan your next vacation:
Blackbeard’s Castle. Legend has it that the great pirate Blackbeard used this Danish military watchtower as a lookout to spot potential ships to pillage. While the validity of the story is questionable, Blackbeard’s Castle in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas is a National Historic Landmark that offers tours of the surrounding Skytsborg Historic Park as well as exhibits telling the story of pirating in the Caribbean.
Buck Island. Just off of St. Croix on Buck Island sits the only marine national park in the United States. This is one of the better places to snorkel and scuba dive to see tropical fish and elkhorn coral off the barrier reef. After spending time in the water, take a stroll through the subtropical dry forest, or bask in the sun on its beautiful beach. Pack a picnic for lunch and make a day of it!
Coral World Ocean Park. If you really want to experience the marine life of the Virgin Islands, plan a trip to Coral World Ocean Park on St. Thomas. Get up close and personal with rare sea turtles and sea lions, stingrays and sharks. Swim with the dolphins or just admire the rainbow colors of the live coral plants.
Estate Whim Plantation Museum. The Estate Whim Plantation Museum gives visitors a glimpse into the inner workings of an 18th century sugarcane plantation – an industry that once dominated the entire Caribbean region. Through its exhibits, you’ll see the inner workings of how sugar cane was cultivated and processed, understand the lives of the enslaved workers, and even get a tour of the factory complexes.
Cruzan Rum Distillery. It should come as no surprise that the biggest export of the region is rum, and the best place to learn the history and sample some rum would be the Cruzan Rum Distillery. Tours of the facility teach not only the history but also the distilling and bottling processes, ending with a tasting session of the various varieties of Cruzan Rum.
Fort Frederik. Originally built to protect the Virgin Islands from piracy, Fort Frederik has historical significance: in 1848, over 8,000 enslaved people marched to the fort to demand their freedom. Tours of the site will shed light on the history surrounding the slave trade, the emancipation march and more.
Trunk Bay. For a relaxing day on the beach, nothing can beat Trunk Bay – rated one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and part of the Virgin Islands National Park. Bask in the sun, snorkel the 225-yard-long Underwater Trail of reefs, or explore the park’s hiking trails and tour the Annaberg Sugar Plantation.
Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge. Another beautiful beach in the US Virgin Islands is Sandy Point, where you can relax on the pristine beach and swim in its shallow waters. At night, though, make sure you visit the 400-acre natural habitat for leatherback sea turtles.
There is much more to see and do in the US Virgin Islands! Give Luxury Destinations Concierge a call at (805) 236-4437, and we’ll help you plan your dream vacation!
Probably one of the most overlooked countries in Central America for vacations is Panama. Everyone knows about the Panama Canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but there is so much more to this beautiful country that needs to be explored:
Portobelo. On the Caribbean Coast lies the quaint town of Portobelo. A strategic port for the Spanish in the 17th century, there is plenty to see and do. For the history buffs, you can visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fort San Jerónimo – one of the largest forts built along the Caribbean Bay. Or visit San Felipe Church, built in 1814 in honor of Portobelo’s patron saint, Black Christ. If you want to spend time in nature, take a hike in Portobelo National Park to enjoy the rainforests, some unusual birds and animals and the gigantic Los Monos Waterfall. You can also relax on one of three tranquil beaches near Portobelo: Playa Blanca, Playa Frances, & Playa Huerta.
Boquete. Located in the highlands of Chiriquí, Boquete is an adventurer’s dream. Highlights here include a trip to the Finca Dos Jefes coffee plantation, where you can take a personal tour and learn about traditional organic coffee farming. For the more experienced hiker, take the trails up to Volcan Baru – at 3, 475 meters it’s the highest point in Panama. If you decide to trek to the top, plan an overnight trip and get a guide to accompany you. There are many other trails that aren’t quite so strenuous. For a little fun, take advantage of the Boquete Tree Trek which will take you ziplining through the extraordinary cloud forest that will take your breath away.
Bocas del Toro. Bocas del Toro is the beach destination in Panama. Whether you just want to relax on the sand or are ready for some exciting water and land activities, you’ll find it all at Bocas del Toro. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the archipelago of Bocas del Toro consists of 6 small islands is fast becoming a hot beach destination in Central America. Go snorkeling in the clear waters, take a tour of the Bluff Beach Municipal Reserve to see leatherback, hawksbill and green turtle nests at Playa Bluff Beach, or just relax in the sun.
Soberania National Park. Soberania National Park is a protected tropical rain forest that is home to sloths, monkeys, hundreds of types of birds, and much more – most of which is accessible through its hiking trails. While there, visit the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center on Pipeline Road. From its observation tower you get a beautiful view of the forest canopy. As you hike further along Pipeline Road, you’ll get a close look at much of the country’s wildlife.
Panama City. Panama City is the main metropolis and capital of Panama and as you can imagine, there is plenty to see and do. Make sure that you spend some time in the historic Casco Viejo district, which was built in the 17th century after the pirate Henry Morgan looted and destroyed the original capital, Panama Viejo (which you should also see) and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit the Biomuseo, which offers a look at the of the Panamanian isthmus and its impact on the planet’s biodiversity. Don’t miss the hikes through the Parque Nacional Metropolitano - the only natural tropical rainforest located within city limits in the world.
Panama Canal. Of course, no trip to Panama would be complete without seeing the Panama Canal. Initially started by the French in the late 19th century, the endeavor was abandoned in 1893 after thousands of workers died from malaria, yellow fever and other diseases. The United States took over shortly after the turn of the century and completed the canal in 1914 that allows quick passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The journey through the 3 locks takes ships about 10 hours to complete, and the best place to watch the mechanics of the locks in action at the Miraflores Visitor Center. Or take a boat tour for an up-close experience of this engineering marvel.
As you can see, there is more to Panama than meets the eye. Let Luxury Destinations Concierge plan your trip to this Central American treasure. Just give us a call at (805) 236-4437.
Tennessee is fast becoming a top destination spot in the United States. And Nashville is the place to visit on any trip to the state. Whether you’re a fan of country music or just want to soak in the natural surroundings, there’s plenty for everyone in Nashville. Here are our picks for some of the top things to do in Nashville:
Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry has been a live radio staple since 1925, and has seen its share of country stars. This is one stop that you don’t want to miss. Take a tour to learn more about the history of the Grand Ole Opry and country music in general, and make sure that you get tickets for one of the daily live stage performances.
Cheekwood Estate & Gardens. If you are a nature or art lover, the Cheekwood Estate & Gardens will capture your heart. Meander through the 55-acre botanical gardens and its greenhouses, sculpture trail and chromatic flower displays. Then, visit the Cheek mansion for its impressive collection of 19th – and 20th-century American art and other artifacts from around the world.
The Hermitage. The home of President Andrew Jackson, the Hermitage is a National Historic Landmark that gives us a glimpse into this president’s home life. Built in the Greek Revival style, the mansion sits on a 1,000-acre estate. Guided tours will take you through various parts of the home, a log cabin on the grounds, Jackson’s tomb and the Old Hermitage Church. You’ll also learn the history of the 150 slaves that lived on the grounds from 1804 to 1865.
The Parthenon. Although we normally associate Nashville with country music, it also bears the nickname of the “Athens of the South”, due to the number of universities and places of higher education in the area. In fact, this was brought to life at the Centennial Exhibition of 1897 when a full-size replica of the Parthenon was built. Although it was meant to be temporary, the Parthenon in Nashville has endured – including down to replicas of the statues found in the original structure in Greece. Today, you can visit the Parthenon and Centennial Park for a walk along the trails, or indulge in an outdoor concert, movie or theater performance.
Nelson's Green Brier Distillery. Tennessee is known for its whiskey and bourbon, so take an opportunity to learn a bit of history from a distillery that has its roots in the 1800s. Charles Nelson began producing whiskey in the late 1800s in Greenbrier, Tennessee. In fact, his whiskey was so popular that he sold over 2 million bottles in 1885 alone! After he died, his wife carried on the tradition until Prohibition shut them down in 1909. In 2009, his great-great-great grandsons, Andy and Charlie Nelson, revived the business and brought it to Nashville. Today, you can take a tour of the distillery and tasting room and learn more about its history.
Historic RCA Studio B. Take a step back in time at the Historic RCA Studio B that launched the careers of many country music stars, including Elvis, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. This is the studio that put country music on the map, and you can relive some of that nostalgia through its tours and educational programs. It continues to pay it forward by teaching students the technology of music and the science of sound.
Arrington Vineyards. If whiskey isn’t your favorite drink, then head out to Arrington Vineyards in Arrington, Tennessee. Founded by country music star Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn, this beautiful vineyard is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the wine tasting experience. This is a great afternoon jaunt for if you’re on a Nashville Bachelorette party trip!
Belle Meade Plantation. Known as the “Queen of the Tennessee Plantations”, the Belle Meade Plantation was built in 1853 in the Greek Revival style. Here, you’ll get a taste of its history as guides dress in period costume and take you through this antebellum mansion (complete with bullet holes in the columns from the Civil War). It’s home to the country’s first thoroughbred breeding farms, and the Iroquois Steeplechase – the oldest in the US. Take a tour of the mansion, learn the history of the plantation’s slaves, or even take a Segway ride through the arboretum and grounds.
Broadway. The best place to get a taste of live country music in Nashville is the nightlife on Broadway, Nashville’s main thoroughfare. Whether it’s the iconic Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, or Robert’s Western World, there’s a honky-tonk for everyone to chill out and enjoy the Nashville music scene.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. No trip to Nashville would be complete without a stop at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Relive some of the great moments of country music walking through the exhibits and seeing the artifacts of the most well-known celebrities in the business.
Nashville is a great choice for your next vacation, and Luxury Destinations Concierge is ready to help you plan your trip. Give us a call at (805) 236-4437.
A Closer Look at New Orleans
When you think of New Orleans, there are several things that come to mind: Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street, music and food, and, if you’re a football fan, the New Orleans Saints. But there is so much more to New Orleans that we thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look.
Jackson Square. At the very center of New Orleans sits Jackson Square. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, this public square is just bursting with live performers and artists, and is surrounded by restaurants, art galleries and shops that will give you a small sampling of New Orleans.
St. Louis Cathedral. Proudly on display in Jackson Square is St. Louis Cathedral, the longest continually active Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Dating back to at least 1789, the church is named after Louis IX of France. The current Spanish colonial building was constructed in 1850, and an inside tour will reveal the beautiful stained glass windows and Rococo-styled gilded altar. As you walk around, you may notice that the floor has a slight tilt – the building is actually sinking.
City Park. Take a stroll through City Park – the 6th largest urban park in the U.S. Built on swampland in the early 19th century, it was originally knows as the “Dueling Oaks”, where many city disputes were settled. The park is home to some of the world’s oldest oak trees – some dating back 600 years.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is New Orleans oldest cemetery and sits a block away from the French Quarter. Several famous historical figures are buried here, including the voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and the aristocrat Bernard de Marigny. The cemetery is no longer open to the public, but you can take a guided tour of the cemetery, where you’ll learn more about those buried in the cemetery. You may even get a glimpse of the plot that Nicolas Cage has purchased.
French Quarter. You can’t visit New Orleans without at least walking through the French Quarter of the city. This is the heart and soul of New Orleans, and there is much that will attract your attention. To get the most out of your visit to the French Quarter, consider taking a walking tour.
Garden District. For a close look at how the upper class lived in New Orleans, visit the Garden District. Here, you’ll find Italianate and Greek Revival mansions such as the Goldsmith-Godchaux House, the Brevard-Rice House, The Manse and Colonel Short’s Villa. Take a guided tour of the district to hear more of the history and learn about some of the more famous residents.
Old New Orleans Rum Distillery. The plantations around New Orleans were known for their sugarcane, so it’s appropriate that the oldest premium rum distillery is located in New Orleans. Located in a 150-year old cotton warehouse, the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery produces rums and pre-mixed cocktails from Louisiana sugarcane molasses. There is a 45-minute tour of the facility, where you’ll learn how the molasses is fermented, distilled and aged to become rum, and, of course, taste some of the results.
Whitney Plantation. Founded in 1752, the current Spanish Creole house was built in 1803 as the plantation shifted from growing indigo to sugarcane. The plantation opened to the public in 2014, and is the only plantation in New Orleans that is dedicated to telling the story of the slaves living there. The 90-minute tour will take you through the slave cabins, the owner’s house and various outbuildings as well as a freedman’s church.
Oak Alley Plantation. On the west bank of the Mississippi lies this beautiful plantation, which is accessible down a 240-meter alley of live southern oaks. Take the tour of the grounds and learn more about the lives of the men, women and children who were kept at Oak Alley, including how one slave was the first person to figure out how to propagate individual pecan trees.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve protects six different locations around New Orleans and encompasses bayou, prairie, swamp and the site of the Battle of New Orleans (1815) at Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery. Each center allows you to experience New Orleans from a historical and geographical perspective.
New Orleans Jazz Museum. There is nothing more synonymous with New Orleans than jazz, so make sure that the New Orleans Jazz Museum is on your “must see” list. Here, you’ll see an amazing collection of notable jazz memorabilia including the first ever jazz recording from 1917, Louis Armstrong’s first coronet and other instruments played by jazz greats like Sidney Bechet, George Lewis and Dizzy Gillespie. Enjoy the thousands of jazz recordings and photos that document the earliest days of jazz. And, of course, if you’re lucky you’ll be treated to a live jazz concert or two.
Café du Monde. While there are many restaurants and eateries in New Orleans that will entice you with their unique regional dishes, the one place that makes any trip to New Orleans complete is Café du Monde. Originally opened in 1862, this coffee stand is famous the world over for its coffee blended with chicory, and its beignets. Once you try them, you’ll be hooked.
As you can see, there is a lot more to New Orleans than meets the eye. Give Luxury Destinations Concierge a call at (805) 236-4437, and we’ll help make your next trip to New Orleans memorable.
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