No matter how many times you see it, there is nothing as beautiful and calming as watching the sun set for the day. And there might not be any more beautiful location than The Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort in Naples, Florida. Sitting on the fine, white sand of the Gulf, where only the dolphins seem to break the calm of the water, you can watch the sun dip slowly behind the horizon.

The good news is that while you are waiting to watch that gorgeous sunset each day, The Ritz-Carlton offers you many things to fill your day if you so choose. Personally, I was addicted to the Tiburon Golf Club, which actually sits next to The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, located a few miles from the Beach Resort. Shuttles take you back and forth from the two resorts, which share all amenities. If you are at the Golf Resort and want to spend the day at the beach, no problem! It is actually a wonderful situation, as you get the benefit of two different resorts for the cost of one.

But back to Tiburon. The golf resort features two courses, Black and Gold. The Gold course was opened in 1998, while the Black course opened three years later. Greg Norman designed both. Tiburon is designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International. So, even if you are not the greatest golfer and sometimes hack away like me, you’re sure to enjoy every minute on these spectacular courses.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.04.39 AM Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.05.01 AMAfter a Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.04.48 AM Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.04.33 AM great afternoon on the golf course, I found myself at the award-winning spa. The menu of available treatments is both incredible and in some cases unique to The Ritz-Carlton Naples. I went with the more traditional deep muscle massage and it was fantastic. The treatments are only part of the spa experience. Before and after your chosen treatment you can enjoy the healing waters of hot and cold aqua lounges, steam rooms, saunas and an amazing outdoor mineral pool that overlooks the Gulf.

The Ritz-Carlton is just as you would expect it to be. This is a good thing! I found the hotel to be beautiful with all the amenities that you have come to expect at a Ritz. To me, the best part of the stay is the way all the staff members handle themselves. They understand hospitality and treat their guests as friends. This is possibly the highest compliment I can offer.

They say The Ritz-Carlton was influential in Naples becoming a resort area. And if that is true, it might also be said that Naples was key in creating The Ritz-Carlton culture. Naples seems to be a laid-back and elegant city filled with art galleries, antique shops and several theaters. You can sit and have a leisurely cup of coffee or tea at one of the several coffee houses downtown on Fifth Avenue on your way to Third Street and the great shops.

Most people consider Florida’s west coast to be the quiet part of the state. Naples and The Ritz-Carlton are the best part of that! They offer quiet with plenty to do. The area features several major land reserves, including Everglades National Park, a definite draw for those enjoy the great outdoors. If you like fishing, there are almost 100 charters to take you out on the high seas. If you are more of a landlubber, try exploring the shopping on Fifth Avenue and Third Street, as well as Tin City down on Naples Bay. There is even swamp buggy racing (sort of combining land and water) held three times a year at the Florida State Park.

Those who prefer to never leave the Ritz-Carlton grounds will still find plenty of diverting pastimes. First among many is just chilling on that white sand and soaking in the sun’s rays. The more active among you may enjoy fitness classes, the aforementioned golf resort, as well as the opportunity to design your own keepsake souvenir during a glass-blowing experience. For the younger set, there is an incredible living sanctuary called Nature’s Wonders, which allows children to see and feel nature’s creatures for themselves. They can also experience VUE (a virtual user experience) featuring all of the popular interactive virtual reality games. The room is also equipped with an Alienware gaming station with all of the latest games they love to play.

The one thing you never have to leave The Ritz-Carlton Naples for is good food and a wonderful dining experience. You can start your day at Terrazza, a delicious Italian restaurant that has a breakfast buffet. Sitting outside in the sun enjoying those first few sips of coffee is a perfect way to begin any day. You can continue to eat all three meals there or possibly have some cocktails and dinner at Dusk. Dusk is both a modern bar with innovative libations and a sushi bar. You can choose to have either your cocktails or sushi or both served inside or take them outside to watch and listen to the sounds of the Gulf. A discussion of dining at The Ritz in Naples would not be complete without mentioning its award-winning steakhouse, The Grill, which is renowned throughout Naples as one of the best area restaurants.

Gumbo Limbo is my favorite place for cocktails, and sometimes a seafood dinner. The seafood and the cocktails are quite good, but that is not why you would find me there. The oceanfront location, with the mild breeze, and the view of the sun disappearing behind the horizon kept me coming back day after day. Just don’t forget your sunglasses; that spectacular sunset can blind ya.

By Steven Goldstein

Take Your Talents to South Beach’s Marriott Stanton South Beach

For some, it’s the designer name brand, ambience or the trendiness of the place. For me, it’s all about location, location, location. So let’s cut to the chase: the newly renovated Stanton is situated on prime South Beach real estate. On Ocean Drive and Second Street in the oh-so-chic area known as South of Fifth, the hotel is a mere two blocks from Collins Avenue and all of the restaurants, bars and shops you could wish for. The infamous (or famous, depending on how old you are) Nikki Beach is just a stroll away.

The beach at the Stanton runs from South Point, the most southern tip of Miami, all the way down Ocean Drive. Most of the South of Fifth neighborhood is home to many condo developments and private homes. It is mostly residential, so the noise level is kept down to a minimum and it’s not as crazy or congested as South Beach proper.

My heart leapt with joy as soon as I entered my comfortable, modernly designed room, which overlooked the two pools and beach. The bathroom was decorated in light grey and white marble and tiles. Loved the rain shower and separate attached spray bar.

Leaving the area is super easy—taking a taxi or Uber to Wynwood, in the arts district, is just a 10-minute trip. Once there, be sure to check out blocks and blocks of murals and graffiti artwork spray-painted on every available surface by up-and-coming artists. Stop in at Miami’s best coffee shop, Panther Coffee, and grab a nitro cold blast coffee and start wandering the streets, galleries and boutiques. I could spend days here without wandering anywhere else.

I decided to do a Miami Culinary Tour with a trip to Little Havana. (The Stanton can help arrange the tour for you.) If you’ve never been to Little Havana, it’s certainly worth exploring. The first stop was at Taterna de Pintor, a quaint little bistro, for some plantains with a tangy garlic yogurt sauce, followed by a coffee tasting at El Exquisito.

Enjoy sites like the Tower movie theater, the oldest building in Little Havana, with its 1930s style facade or go watch all the men play dominoes in the designated court. A quick trip into the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Factory netted my hubby some hand-rolled cigars. Afterwards, I stopped at El Pub for a delicious meat empanada and a Cuban sandwich. A Cuban is made of pork, mustard and pickles. This was the best version I ever tasted. A quick stop at the second oldest building, built in the 1930s, The Ball and Chain Restaurant and Bar for a mojito and some live music was just the pick-me-up I needed. Some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians have played here over the years. The original wood-beamed ceilings and tiled floor and courtyard give the place a really cool vibe. I could have spent all day there. My last stop was at Azucar for a taste of the shop’s fresh-made ice cream.

Back at the Stanton I ordered a Michelada. This is a traditional Mexican drink, a cerveza (beer) with lime juice and assorted sauces, spices and peppers (think habanero and/or chili). In Mexico City, they use Pacifico beer, lime juice and a salted rimmed glass. In Southern Mexico, they add Worcestershire sauce, Clamato, or pineapple juice, served with a chili-rimmed glass. Cubans add Worcestershire, Tabasco, lime and beer. The cocktail pairs well with corn chips and seafood dishes. Opened in December 2016, the Stanton’s Mexican restaurant named Lolo’s has its own entrance across from the park and aims to be a neighborhood place led by chef Richard Ampudia, considered by some to be the godfather of Mexican cuisine. Some of you might be familiar with his New York City restaurant, La Esquina for which he consulted. I was able to preview his fabulous Tostada with crab, heirloom corn and uni, Japanese sea urchin. It was a melt-in-your-mouth delight. The uni gave it an extra creamy deliciousness. I also had a huitlacoche quesadilla, which consists of corn fungus with salsa verde and cream. (I know it sounds gross, but anyone familiar with Mexican food knows it’s fantastic!)

Slated to open by May 2017, Sushi Azabu is the other new restaurant coming to the Stanton. It has a sister restaurant by the same name located in Tribeca, NY, and led by chef Masayoshi “Masa” Takayama. The new Miami venue will be a 100-seat izikaya (Japanese gastro pub) and will also have a small high-end sushi bar with authentic Japanese and fusion cuisine. I sampled California and vegetable rolls, a seasonal vegetable salad with sesame dressing that was lively and flavorful. I moved on to two main courses, the black miso cod, which puts Nobu to shame, and grilled Sakura (cherry blossom) pork marinated in shio koji. It is similar to short ribs in texture and flavor and positively terrific. For dessert, I opted for the raindrop cake, which is made of agar and resembles a big fat raindrop. It really doesn’t have a taste of its own so it is served with a chocolate sauce and a crunchy edamame topping. It’s also low in calories so you don’t have to feel guilty if you overindulge. Sushi Azabu will also have an extensive sake list. The staff takes the service, presentations and food very seriously here, so your experience will be unforgettable!!

Instead of sitting in the sunshine on the Stanton’s white sand beach, I needed some culture to round out my stay and headed to the Adam Perez Art Museum. There were many school children there to attend art workshops and lectures as I browsed among the artwork. I loved the interactive blue “rain forest” and the beautiful hanging plants.

Then it was back to the Stanton for some beach time and fish tacos before changing and heading out for dinner at Cibo, an impressive Italian restaurant. This place is so cool! It is a huge open space that features an impressive 3000-bottle wine cellar with “wine angels” to retrieve the bottles. For those, not familiar with “wine angels,” Aria in Las Vegas was the first to introduce the concept, while Cibo expanded on it. My angel, Paulina, was hooked up to a trapeze-like belt that hoisted her up into the air, Peter-Pan style so she could retrieve the bottles of wine, both vertically and horizontally within the sky-high vault. I enjoyed a feast of antipasto, pizza (they have their own custom built pizza oven), polenta fries with gorgonzola dip and grilled octopus paired with a Sancerre from Vincent Delaporte 2015. The next “course” consisting of Melanzane, baked eggplant layered with melted bocconcini and mozzarella in a light tomato sauce, and arancini rice balls, was paired with a Chateau Miraval 2015 Rosé. Then came the pasta—gnocchi gorgonzola, lobster risotto and orecchiette with spicy sausage, rapini, fontina and parmesan cheese served with Ornellaia “Le Volte” 2014, a super Tuscan. The meat course, Pollo Mattone (roasted free range chicken), Tonno Scottato and Caponata (seared ahi tuna, grape and black olive salsa) were paired with a Chianti Riserva, Frescobaldi Nipozzano 2012. If you can manage to fit them in, the desserts offerings include Ricotta cheesecake, panna cotta, cannoli, and an amazing chocolate and Nutella mousse cake that is to die for. I was barely able to waddle back to the Stanton after consuming this fabulous dinner!

Everything must come to an end, but this was one trip I hope to repeat again soon!

By Sharon Goldstein


Florida’s Flawless Keys

Almost 150 miles north of Naples sits Sarasota, a city most of us have heard of but never visited. The downtown itself is experiencing a burgeoning revival with fancy new hotels, shopping destinations and cultural attractions. But we grabbed our luggage from the carousel and instead headed for the city’s outskirts: Longboat Key and Lido Beach in particular.

If you’re looking for a great, new spot for a family vacation, look no further than the AAA Four Diamond award-winning Resort at Longboat Key Club. This large resort setting, which still provides the intimacy of only 220 guest rooms, has all the activities you’d need to keep the kids busy while you lounge and catch the rays shimmering off the beautiful Gulf coast.

The resort is expansive, and includes a golf course, large swathe of beachfront, a marina, tennis courts, a large swimming pool beachside enclave and eight restaurants. However, with only 220 rooms, you’re never competing with crowds for just about anything, and that’s exactly how Opal Collection Hotel and Resorts, which manages both the Resort at Longboat Key Club and Lido Beach Resort, prefer it. We couldn’t find any reason to complain, either!

Fore obvious reasons (see what I did there?), it makes sense to start with the golf. The Resort at Longboat Key Club boasts 45 holes of championship caliber golf helmed by director of golf Terry O’Hara and golf pro Barry Cheeseman, who spent 18 years playing professionally on the PGA Tour and tours. Just a warning: Take a lesson with Barry and he will probably change everything about your swing, for the better, of course!

The large swathe of white sandy beach that every room at Longboat Key Club looks out on is a tremendous way to start your day without having to worry about the sun shining right into your room for once. Grab a cup of coffee and the paper, sit out on the balcony, and indulge in utter bliss. That feeling—just sitting there taking in the beauty of the Gulf without a worry in the world—is what vacation should be all about.

Once your feet are sinking in the pristine sand, it’s time to peruse the cocktail menu from one of the many great porters who are more than attentive. Nothing worse than sitting on the beach and your cocktail glass is empty, right? At Longboat Key Club you have no reason to worry.

With six restaurants and lounges, including the perfect poolside retreat of Barefoot Bar & Grill, enjoy your tropical cocktail while you have a light salad or simple sandwich. You must try the Cuban sandwich here.

The Resort includes other dining options perfect for any party, including a few fine dining options with exquisite cuisine and amazing views, be it the marina-side restaurant Portofino or watching the beautiful sunset while you dine on fresh American fare.

Another unique aspect of the resort is that it allows for club membership. With more than 250 member-exclusive events year-round plus access to all the amenities the resort has to offer, including the golf, tennis, fitness center and marina plus the pool and special room rates, it’s the ideal set-up if you’re looking for a place you can escape to several times per year. Life could certainly be worse.

The sister property to the Resort at Longboat Key Club, Lido Beach Resort definitely still stands up on its own, with its newly renovated 222 rooms and suites ready to serve you in your time of rest and relaxation. The renovations weren’t just minor fixes, but complete overhauls of each and every room, bringing Lido Beach Resort into the 21st century with beautiful modern amenities many of the country’s top resorts still lack.

The towering resort overlooks its 300-foot private beach and patio area with two heated pools, not to mention the tiki bar, with great fresh food and perfect beachside cocktails.

Although Lido Beach Resort doesn’t offer as many activities as its sister property, it’s a more relaxing setting. Lounge out in a beach cabana or do some paddle boarding through the calm Gulf waters before taking a courtesy shuttle to St. Armands Circle, the ultimate shopping and culinary destination of outer Sarasota.

Sarasota County has put eco-tourism at the forefront of its local economy, and for good reason. Mangroves and beauty abound and no, you don’t have to worry about ’gators. Take a mangrove tunnel kayak tour (or do it on a paddle board if you can handle it) and see why Sarasota has been such a premier travel destination for many years.

When planning your Florida trip, it’s definitely worth keeping Lido Beach and Longboat Key in mind. While downtown Sarasota continues its resurgence as a top travel destination, these are the spots you’ll want to plan your play stay around.

By Brandon Goldstein