Sunday, January 11, 2015

About VRBO

First off, when it comes to travel, I'm spoiled. I like to fly business class and when that's not a possibility (now, more often than not) I use all my tricks to get an economy plus seat or emergency exit row. As for hotels, a nice room in a five star property makes me very happy. Okay, four star lodgings are good too. 

That said, I took a big chance when my family asked me to find a nice beachfront condo in Puerto Vallarta for our two week Christmas holiday. We didn't want to shell out money for multiple hotel rooms and yes, it would be great to have extra space and a kitchen. I have friends who rent their vacation homes through VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner, and decided that was the best option for us.

The property we chose met all our criteria - beachfront location, three ensuite bedrooms, large veranda overlooking the Pacific Ocean, big kitchen with modern appliances, and the price was right. 
Here's what wasn't explained in the VRBO listing or in the rental contract we signed.

1. The address listed on the contract made absolutely no sense to any taxi driver we tried to hire upon arrival at PVR. Fortunately, I was able to contact the owner by phone so he could give our driver directions. Liz arrived a couple of hours before we did and had the same problem. Her driver drove around town then charged her double and threatened to drop her in the middle go the road if she didn't give him better instructions. She was able to text her sister who googled the address and sent a map to Liz's phone.

2. Wifi? Of course, Mrs. Lahey. The password and connectivity info is in the welcome folder at the unit. Welcome folder? The outdated information in the dusty binder was no help at all. We managed to find the router and entered the password etched on the back of it et voila.... We were connected! But wait, that connection died in a flash as I walked away from the router, about 20feet, and so there was no working Wifi in about 90% of the condo. Yes, we could check our email by standing next to the hookup or by leaning over the kitchen counter.

3.  You never know about your neighbors. Santa brought a big ol' drum set to the children in the condo next door and they played day and night with their dad who was a very accomplished accordion player.

4. The decor. Pay close attention to the photos posted on the listing. Not that it would have been a deal breaker, but some of the art in the unit was very disturbing. We draped towels over a couple of sculptures just so we wouldn't have to look at them.

So, if you decide to go the VRBO route for your next trip, please... Get as much info as possible before you commit. Pay attention to the details in the photos provided and assume they were taken by a professional.  Ask a lot of questions and if something that's important to you isn't clear (wifi?) keep looking.

While we would have enjoyed staying at a nice hotel, we definitely saved some money and were more than comfortable in the condo. And no, we did not pay the neighbor $100 to show us how to work the TV. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Wishing each and every one of you the happiest of holidays and all best wishes for a productive, prosperous and healthy New Year!  May we shop and travel well!

I'm off to Puerto Vallarta for a couple of weeks and can't wait to see what's changed on the Shopping Scene since I was last there two years ago. Watch this space….

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mud Slinging in Calistoga

Calistoga in the California Napa Valley is full of mud spas where you can get down and dirty while soaking your troubles away and I couldn't wait to test the troughs at the posh Indian Springs resort.

But first, a little history. Wappo Indians, the original inhabitants of the Napa Valley, were the first to discover the natural hot mineral springs and geysers in what is now Calistoga. Recognizing the healing properties of the water, they built three sweat lodges (Native American day spas?) in the area. Rich in magnesium and calcium, the thermal mineral waters were created when Mt. Konocti erupted millions of years ago. This volcanic eruption created fissures in the earth where layers of volcanic ash were deposited, now residing about 4 feet beneath the earth’s surface.

The mineral water rises through ancient sea beds, absorbing rich minerals and salt traces, and is then mixed with hand-sifted ash to create the warm black ooze used in Indian Springs' famed mud baths. After each mud bath, the mud is sterilized with geyser water which is constantly replenished. Phew.

At the spa, I was given a locker, told to strip down and wrap in the towel provided. In the mud room, a warm mineral shower was first on the agenda. This routine is not for the modest. Although the treatment areas are segregated boy/girl, there are no shower curtains or partitions between mud troughs or soaking tubs. Yup, lotsa naked ladies running around in a fashion that reminded me of a Loehmann’s dressing room. (Oh, how I miss Loehmann's…)

The mud tub is about 5 feet long by 3 feet wide, 3 feet deep. I sat on the side, grabbed the opposite wall, and lowered myself ass backward/legs up into the goop. Despite my expectations, I did not sink and actually floated in the mud. Sort of. The goop was coal black with the gritty consistency of a good quality facial mask. Or maybe quicksand.

The attendant then scooped up the mud and covered me, neck to toes. If you want mud on your face, just say so. The goop was the temperature of a hot bath- claustrophobics may need a few minutes to adjust. Then I just settled in for about ten minutes and let go of it all. Goodbye real world.

To get out of that stuff, I lifted one leg at a time (when did they add the weights?) As I lifted, the attendant scraped off the mud. Again, not for the modest! Once outta there, I headed to another warm shower, followed by a soak in an old fashioned claw footed tub with plenty of citrus cucumber water to drink. Then it’s steam room time. The final segment was naptime in a private room, wrapped in towels with cucumber eye compresses. 
After the cat nap, I headed to the big olympic size mineral pool where the water temp hovers around 95 degrees. 

Goodbye toxic waste. Hello ooze and aahs.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Woodbury Common Premium Outlets Update

I just visited Woodbury Common and while not much has changed in the past year, one of my favorite stores, Rag & Bone, has closed. There's a lot of construction going on and by the end of the summer, new shops will open. 

My daughter, Elizabeth, lives in New York and we always look forward to a shopping day at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets when I come to town. I’ve visited most of the outlet malls around the world, researching Born to Shop, and unfortunately, the US malls often disappoint. Not so Woodbury Common! This is still one of the best shopping adventures anywhere and it’s an easy one hour bus ride from Port Authority terminal in Manhattan. (When traveling in Europe, don’t miss the Value Retail Chic Shopping Villages ( I’ve begged the firm to bring their concept to the US; still waiting.)

Liz and I had a list of shops we wanted to visit including Lululemon, JCrew (Liz is an employee and can score an extra discount!), Tod's, DVF, Tory Burch and Bottega Veneta. Once again, the Tory Burch store was so crowded, a line was formed and a wait of 15 to 20 minutes was necessary to enter. A list of stores, along with a shopping map, is available on the company website, but it's not always up to date. The Rag & Bone outlet is still listed, as are a couple of others that have closed. If you're going to visit a particular shop, call ahead. Also, the coupon book we were given as part of our $42 ticket was basically worthless. The good stores don't participate.

Hungry? There's a food court with lotsa chains - Subway, McDonald's, Cinnabon… The best is the Mexican place on the left as you enter. Fabulous guacamole!


The Woodbury Common website lists several bus companies offering transport from Port Authority but in fact, once you arrive at the bus depot, there’s just one big long line for the ride. Go to the ticket booth on the second floor for your $42 round trip ticket; the buses run every 15 minutes or so. The website lists a schedule, but we found it inaccurate.


Liz: From Lululemon – Two workout tops, one pair of yoga pants. 

Me: From JCrew - one sweater. From Tod’s – One pair of signature Gommino Leather Moccasin loafers.  From Barney's - two sweaters.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Courtyard King Kamehameha Beach Hotel in Kona

On the Big Island of Hawaii, you can spend more than $1000 for a standard room with no view at a 5-star big name property or you can find a tiny bungalow for about $100/night in a no-star beach community. My needs were specific… I wanted an ocean view room in a fab hotel convenient to shopping, and my budget was $200/night. The Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel ( was a perfect choice and my island home for five nights.

The beachfront property, completely renovated two years ago, sits on a small beach on Kamkahonu Bay right in the heart of Kailua Kona. While the location is central, the grounds are spacious and surrounded by lush greenery so you still get that relaxed beachy vibe that we all crave. There’s a large heated pool with jacuzzi next to the Billfish Bar & Grille where drinks are generous and the service is quick.

For $153/night plus tax, I had a beautiful room with lanai and partial ocean view. My bed was well equipped with a fluffy duvet and lotsa pillows (I requested down pillows when I reserved and I had four of them on my bed!) Other necessities included a big flat-screen TV, fridge, coffeemaker with Kona’s famous coffee and free Internet. The spacious bathroom had stacks of big white towels, a standard size shower-over-tub combo, and the new vanity was topped with granite. The Paul Mitchell shower amenities were tiny, but when I explained to the maid that it took two bottles to work up a shampoo lather, she giggled and left about a dozen every day.

There’s a good shopping center just off the hotel lobby featuring a day spa, beachwear boutique, coffee shop, art gallery, jewelry store and best of all, a big branch of ABC Stores. This store carries everything you need including groceries, booze, drugs (Tylenol, etc), sunscreen and yeah, a few t-shirts and muumuus. Prices are reasonable and I loved stocking my fridge with snack foods, Bombay Sapphire and tonic, yogurt, etc.

Like most beach hotels, the King Kam hosts a Polynesian Luau, complete with live entertainment and endless food. If, like me, you’re not a fan of these extravaganzas, book a dinner res at Honu’s on the Beach, the hotel’s signature restaurant. We dined on fresh Hawaiian fish while enjoying the luau music and entertainment from across the lawn. Perfect evening!

Book early on the hotel website for the best deals. I’m already planning a return visit for 2015!

Shopping Kona, Hawaii

Let’s face it… The Kona Coast on the big Island of Hawaii has never been celebrated as a shopping destination. It’s perfect for a romantic getaway/honeymoon/family/fishing/girlfriend trip, but is there good shopping? YES! And I’m not talking about muumuus.

I wisely chose to stay at the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel ( on Ali’i Drive, smack dab in the center of Kailua Village. The hotel is a newly revamped four star property and the best shops and markets are all about a ten-minute walk away.

King Kam Mall
This is one of my favorite shopping spots and it’s location, right next to my hotel, is perfect. The King Kam Mall (not to be confused with the King Kam Shopping Center in the hotel) is a small laid-back neighborhood mall and caters more to locals than to visitors. The best stores include da Bead Shop (, a two-floor beader’s emporium where the owners will help you create the jewelry of your dreams. Great bead and shell selections along with every tool, wire and clasp needed to do the job.  When I asked two friends who live in Kona where they shop for clothing, both recommended Ginger and Koi. It’s an upscale boutique featuring contemporary clothing and accessories that you’ll wear at home as well as on holiday. Quilters will want to visit Quilt Passions ( for fabrics and inspiration.

Kona Inn Shopping Village
This is basically a cutie-pie hotel shopping center for tourists. There are art galleries, gift shops, swim and beachwear boutiques and a nice restaurant where you can order frozen fish and gaze out at the ocean. I needed another swim suit and found a couple of shops selling Havianas, my flip-flop of choice. Don’t miss Keoki’s Donkey Balls and Coffee.  These world famous candy balls are made of Hawaiian macademia nuts rolled in Guittard chocolate and then flavored with toppings including sea salt. Clever marketing has no doubt played a role in their success but frankly, it’s great candy and a wonderful gift to bring home. “Donkey balls, boar balls, goat balls, monkey balls – all balls, all the time”. The courtyard atrium of the hotel is home to some pretty impressive fishing trophies. My friend, Pam Basco, holds the women’s world record for yellowfin tuna and along with her “catch”, there are other huge fishing trophies on display.

Queens’ MarketPlace
We drove up the Kohala Coast one day to have lunch at the fab Four Seasons Resort and made a stop at the Queens’ Market Place, a local mall for the Waikoloa Beach Resort’s many residents and visitors. Along with a great food market, Island Gourmet, you’ll find Hawaiian Quilt Collection, Reyn’s, Persimmon, and other upscale boutiques. There’s a Dairy Queen in the food court where I happily spent $3.28 on a small vanilla cone. This same treat was 28 cents at the Siam Paragon Mall in Bangkok in December. Oh well. Across the street, you’ll see the Kings’ Shops where you can find big name fancy stores. But really… did you come to Hawaii to shop at Louis Vuitton and Tiffany?

There are probably more than a hundred pearl shops on the island and after visiting at least a dozen, I gave up. Seriously, every piece of jewelry I saw was overpriced, poor quality and so ordinary…. BORING! If you’re serious about pearl shopping, book a cheap flight to Manila and head to the Greenhills Shopping Center.  

Shopping Stroll
Once a month on Sunday (usually mid-month), you can browse among arts and crafts vendors when Ali’i Drive is turned into a pedestrian marketplace. Kokua Kailua takes place from 1 – 6pm in Kailua Village. More than 100 local merchants, artist and artisans exhibit and sell unique merchandise, gift items, original art and crafts. Check for details and dates.

Your Paradise Gal
Okay, you’ve fallen in love with Kona and you’re thinking about renting a condo next time, or even buying a holiday home. The first thing on your must-do list is to contact Carol Fuller ( She’ll organize your space, stock your fridge and cupboards, and jump overboard to make sure your needs are met. 

Medical Matters
Hopefully, you won’t need to know this, but if a medical situation requires a look-see, head straight to Hualalai Urgent Care, 77-311 Sunset Drive. It’s about a ten minute taxi ride from downtown. The wonderful Dr. Tomkin took great care of me and saved my holiday.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Kona Bound!

I'm packing my bags and counting down til I board a plane for Kona on Sunday. It's been a couple of years since I've been to Hawaii and this will be my first extended stay in Kailua. I've booked a week at the recently revamped Courtyard King Kamehameha Beach Hotel; it's location is perfect for shopping!

Donkey balls, anyone? Hint: think chocolate, macadamia nuts… Details coming soon!