The Bucket List is entrenched in American culture, but a Crib List is a newer notion––the idea of seeing and doing things before that first baby arrives in a crib and forever changes life as you know it. My wife and I had our first baby this July, so we hit the Crib List hard in 2014.
The first half of the year found us traveling at a frenzied pace, from the East Coast (Boston) to the West (Vancouver), from big cities (Chicago and St. Louis) to the middle of nowhere (a puddle jumper to the north end of Vancouver Island, then a float plane to a cabin on a dock attached to the base of a mountain near Alaska).
The heli-hiking, biking, mountain climbing, sailing, paddle boarding, fishing, bear-watching and whale-watching provided incredible moments. And the lodges and resorts we visited were, truly, beyond belief. Five-star destinations with over-the-top amenities, impeccable service and delicious food fit for a king.
Through it all, these five resorts emerged as the crème-de-la-crème. Here is the Best of the Best, top five destinations of 2014.
Hotel Del Coronado
Coronado Island, San Diego
As we discovered, it turns out picture-perfect moments are not all that uncommon at The Hotel Del Coronado. The National Historic Landmark, with its distinctive red roofs contrasting the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean, has stood as an icon since 1888.
For more than 125 years, the Del has drawn people from all over the world, including every American president since Lyndon Johnson. It’s easy to see why. It is the largest oceanfront resort on the Pacific Ocean, and it sits on 26 acres of what has often been named the No. 1 beach in America: Coronado Beach.
The attraction is greater than beautiful buildings and breathtaking beaches, however; the Del, with its aged, wooden character and its smiling, devoted staff, exudes an authentic charm you can’t create or capture. Simply put, it’s one of a kind.
After reading about the hotel in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” my wife and I thought we’d add the hotel to our list of “1 Place to See Before You Have Kids.” And so, four months into our first pregnancy, we decided to pack our bags and leave behind a record-breaking cold Minnesota winter in favor of the sparkling beaches of Coronado Island. The Grand Lady by the Sea, as the Hotel Del Coronado is affectionately referred to, did not disappoint us.
Click here to read the full story of our trip to Hotel Del Coronado, which included decadent dining on America’s No. 1 beach, catching a leopard shark, and a picture-perfect ocean sunset.
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
Our helicopter mirrors the waterfall, descending down 300 feet parallel to the raging waters. At the base of the falls, we hover above the turbulent pool of blue and white. We are above the clouds, in a separate world of 10,000-year-old glaciers and pristine streams that salmon fill and grizzly bears hunt. In this other-world we have hiked and climbed and fished, but at the moment we simply hover. I feel weightless.
Days before boarding the helicopter, we had seemingly already explored as far into the Great Bear Rainforest as one can push––taking a small plane from Vancouver to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, then crawling into a float plane for a 20-minute flight over fjords and bays until landing on a floating dock at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, which clings to the base of Mount Stephens.
The resort, recently featured in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” consists of nine chalets built on stilts on a tidal, fjord-like bay just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage, and is accessible only by helicopter and sea plane. From this pocket of luxury, guests have access to over 50,000 square miles of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year old glaciers, mountain tops, old-growth rainforests, remote islands, white sand beaches, hot springs, a 5,000-foot waterfall and over 50 pristine rivers and streams––the majority of which can only be reached by Nimmo Bay helicopters.
Click here to read to read the full story of my adventures at Nimmo Bay, which included stand-up paddle-boarding, hiking through old-growth forests, and the best bear-watching of my life.
The Commons Hotel
Five years ago I married my best friend. In the half decade since, we have travelled the world and explored the far-flung corners of the globe. But life changed this July. The birth of our first child changed our traveling pace, and reduced our desire to venture far from home.
So to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary we sought a memorable getaway close to home. We found it in The Commons Hotel, an award-winning destination in high-energy Minneapolis, in the heart of the University of Minnesota’s campus. The hotel, a member of the distinguished Noble House Hotels & Resorts family, embodies the inner geek in a very chic manner.
“We want people to explore their inner geek, we want them to be explorers. Travelers today want to explore the area and we encourage them to do that,” said Kelly Commerford, director of marketing at The Commons. The industrial schoolhouse property embraces diversity through the common desire to discover. My wife and I walked in the doors on a sunny autumn afternoon and immediately felt the hotel’s unique vibe.
Click here to read the full story of our “staycation” at The Commons, which included fishing from the banks of the Mississippi, dinner at The Beacon Public House and some unusual s’mores.
The Grand Del Mar
Del Mar, California
In the days of the Wild West, there was only one trail into San Diego. Pioneers seeking new land and new lives traversed the desert through Los Peñasquitos Canyon on oxen-pulled wagons until they hit the Pacific Ocean and could go no further.
Today, San Diego is a booming tourist attraction––for good reason––and the old canyon trail is all but forgotten. My wife and I re-traced the journey during a day’s hike under the blazing sun and discovered the canyon’s rugged beauty has only intensified over the past century of obsolescence. And while it feels as though it’s in the middle of nowhere, the natural beauty of Los Peñasquitos Canyon is tucked away just a few miles from one of the most luxurious resorts in the world: The Grand Del Mar.
With opulent, Mediterranean-style architecture and design, The Grand Del Mar features an exotic mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Moroccan and Venetian design elements. The creation of this modern-day marvel is truly amazing. More than 800 craftspeople spent over a million man-hours in creating the current-day palace.
There were 120 carpenters who worked more than 150,000 hours designing and installing 16 different wood species––including fine walnut, mahogany, olive, alder, sycamore and maple accents––with 35 different finishes. There are more than 25,000 square feet of handcrafted wood floors. There are also more than 50 chandeliers, 500 fabrics and 1,700 pieces of custom-designed furniture and art.
Click here to read the full story of our visit to The Grand Del Mar, which included sailing, whale-watching and hiking San Diego, one of the most bio-diverse regions in the U.S.
The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel
In the 2004 Tom Hanks movie, “The Terminal,” Hanks’ character gets stuck living at an airport for months on end due to immigration details and a revolution in his native country of Krakozhia. Humor abounds as Hanks endures the misery of living in the confines of an airport, a drudgery only slightly offset by a lovely flight attendant played by Catherine Zeta Jones.
The movie works because viewers appreciate all the inconveniences and stereotypical stuffiness associated with staying at the airport. Sympathy for Hanks’ character would not be found, however, had Hanks been flying through Vancouver and found himself at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, as I did several weeks ago.
The soundproofed hotel, situated within Vancouver’s International Airport (YVR) above the U.S. departures terminal, is anything but your typical airport hotel. The luxury hotel offers 5-star caliber accommodations, breathtaking floor-to-ceiling views of the runway in front of Vancouver’s mountains, diverse dining choices, and an indoor pool, health club and spa.
Click here to read the full story of my stay at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, which included mountain hiking, the scenic Sea-to-Sky Drive, and the best salmon fishing of my life.