All In

Atlantic City’s hottest hotels are sparing no expense when it comes to pampering their guests. The newest battleground for business is skincare—and the big winner may be you.

 There is certainly something to be said about the soothing effects of being near the ocean. The air is cleaner. Breathing comes easier. Blood pressure, elevated by a hectic workweek, eases downward. For some, rejuvenation comes with a winning hand of Texas Hold ’Em. For others, the jackpot is waiting at one of AC’s world-class spas, where skincare regimens play a major role in relieving the outward signs of stress—and the hotels leave little to chance. “We’re the newest spa in Atlantic City,” says Jane Mackie of the Chelsea Hotel’s Sea Spa. “The décor is retro—close to nature. There’s an opportunity to do natural and healthy treatments here.”

Sea Spa offers a variety of facial and body treatments— everything from nurturing and strengthening delicate skin to nourishing and calming rough skin by deep-cleansing to a silky-soft texture. Sea Spa’s signature treatment is a full-body Mediterranean Veggie Wrap, which makes you feel good on the outside and actually nourishes you on the inside. Extracts found in a typical Mediterranean garden are blended to smooth, tone, and elasticize the skin. At the other end of the island, off White Horse Pike, is the 36,000-square foot Immersion (left), perched atop the awe-inspiring Water Club.

Brennan Evans is the Spa Director of this harmonious space where soothing water features and Asian-inspired elements and textures blend to provide an atmosphere of total tranquility. “Being close to the shore, it’s all about beautiful skin,” claims Evans. “We have skincare services that include the use of hyperbaric oxygen as an infusion method for transporting serums into the skin to help reduce fine lines and smooth pigmentation. This allows for immediate results with no down-time for recovery. Ayurvedic skincare treatments can be customized to your personal dosha through a simple questionnaire and mini-consult with our estheticians.”

Immersion also features stimulating body exfoliating and moisturizing sessions that take advantage of modern technologies such as heated hamman/vichy tables and cocooning dry-fl oat, soft-pack tables. bluemercury (below), founded ten years ago by Marla Malcolm Beck, is located in the Quarter at the Tropicana. The spa draws many clients who make special trips from New York, Philadelphia, and D.C. looking for resultsoriented treatments and products. Products such as Kiehl’s Shaving Cream, Bumble & Bumble Seaweed Shampoo, and Dermalogica Active Moist Moisturizer are best-sellers. “And given that we have the beach in Atlantic City,” says Beck, “sunscreens are always popular.” bluemercury recently added a new brightening facial to its menu. “An intense, vitamin C firming treatment,” Beck explains, “this facial is amazing because you come out feeling like someone just tightened your skin. I also adore our luxury body treatments, which are almost two hours of pure pampering and massage. Our ‘Coconut Escape’ is our most popular.” bluemercury also unveiled its first Ultimate Skincare Guide. “What we try to do,” says Beck, “is make sense of the world of skincare products, which can be quite confusing. There are informative sections about what certain ingredients, like vitamin C and vitamin A, really do.”

The guide is available to all visitors and also online at bluemercury.com. The 16,000-square-foot Qua Baths & Spa, located on the fourth floor of the Ocean Tower at Caesar’s, impresses the moment you enter its doors. As Robert Seibel explains, “We attack your senses immediately. Our concept is to have you leave all your problems outside.” Qua Baths & Spa features Organic Spa Therapies with a focus on eliminating toxins. The body itself does not produce most toxins, notes Seibel. Rather, they tend to come from poor habits such as an unhealthy diet, smoking, and excessive drinking—all of which destroy new cell growth. Ocean Spray Organic Treatments, including the Body Renewal & Detoxification Therapy, Organic Firming Massage, and Organic Facial, utilize key ingredients in sea salts and seaweed, which rank among the purest form of therapeutic organic substances. Seibel also shares with clients his concerns regarding certain skincare products. “Many facial products may smell nice, but many people, whether they know it or not, may be allergic to them.” He recommends the Spa’s Organic Facial, noting that it works for those with sensitive skin and folks wanting “something different.” Every day you leave the house, you’re rolling the dice when it comes to the health of your skin. So how ironic is it that the one place you can’t lose is the gambling capital of the East? Just another reason to adore New Jersey.

Editor’s Note: For more information call Sea Spa (800) 548-3030; Immersion (800) 800-8817; bluemercury (609) 347-7778 and Qua Baths & Spa (609) 343-2400.

 

Secret Santa

Anguilla… Served Up Family Style

My snow shovel is hung in the work shed with care. When St. Nicholas comes, well, I just won’t be there. Nor will Ellie, my wife, who by mid- December is already winter-weary. Have I mentioned our three almost-grown offspring? They won’t be there, either. The White Christmas of which we all dream is the white that we so fondly remember from the sugar sand beaches of Anguilla, down in the Caribbean. For that is exactly where we’ll be over the Christmas/New Year holiday. Furthermore, we’re all looking forward to a present free Christmas. You heard me. No Christmas presents! For the second year in a row, we are happily swapping center-city shopping—with its canned Christmas carols, its street corner ding-a-ling Santas, its life-threatening escalators and all those green/red/green-again traffic lights (and still we don’t budge)— for a tropical sunrise by our utterly beautiful pool. Or perhaps a pre-breakfast snorkeling expedition to watch the lobster lolling in the deep just off our private beach. Our 20-year-old pre-law genius puts it this way: “Dad definitely does not need another Hermes necktie, Mom does not need another silk scarf and no one in this house needs another cashmere anything.” Miss 18 and Worldly Wise says, “Christmas on a beach and under a palm tree? Heaven!” Last and anything but least, our 16-year-old Wimbledon hopeful says Christmas afternoon men’s doubles tennis is, like, “Crazy.” How my family came to opt out of that most traditional of American holidays—Christmas complete with jingle bells and holly wreaths, with fruit cake and office parties and retail hysteria—is a tale worth telling. And even more worth hearing. Actually, the lion’s share of credit goes to my brother-in-law, Harvey, my wife’s brother, father of a lissome 15-year-old daughter and a bruiser of an 18-year-old all-A’s fullback who is currently weighing bids from half a dozen ivy-covered colleges. Harvey and my sister-in-law, Liz, live in Chicago, where winter is nothing to joke about. Two years ago Harvey packed his nearest and dearest off to the pint-size Caribbean island of Anguilla for the Christmas/New Year holidays. His enthusiasm for that experiment knew no bounds. “And we all loved it,” he crowed on the phone. “Next year you and Ellie and the kids are coming too.” I was not an immediate pushover. “I don’t know…two weeks of hotel living…I’m not so sure.” “But it’s not hotel living. We leased a villa! I’m e-mailing you pictures. Just take a look.”

And within minutes pictures, as if lifted from Architectural Digest, filled my laptop screen. What was not to love? Sea Villa overlooking Long Bay. A white stucco house sequestered by palm trees. A sparkling infinity pool bordered by white chaises heaped with brilliant blue pillows. Our very own private beach. The interior views were no less seductive. An acre of bed in the master bedroom with a white marble, sky-lit bathroom that was bigger than most peoples’ living rooms. Arching over all was the bluest of skies, dipping down to join an even bluer sea. “And the beauty of it is, a staff of three comes with the house. No cooking, no cleaning, breakfast in bed or by the pool or wherever you choose. Doug, this is one deal you can’t pass up. Next year,” he vowed. “We’ll all go.” It’s true I had to do a little strong-arming when I first broached the idea. From the kids came the usual protests: ski trips, Broadway tickets, parties of all kinds. But I held my ground. “Your cousins loved it,” I said. “We’re going to try it. How many more all-together family Christmases do we have?”

To my astonishment, Ellie put up no resistance at all. “We should give it a try,” she said—a tribute, I suspected, more to her brother’s judgment than to mine. “But what about the cost?” “Actually, we’ll save money,” I told her. “No Christmas presents.” And so it was. To call last year’s Christmas/New Year holiday a success is the understatement of the century. This year will be even better because we know just what to expect. Sea Villa sits on its own three acres of landscaped turf. When I close my eyes I see bougainvillea, palm trees, blue-blue sky and a luminous slice of Caribbean sea in the midst of which sits 7,000 square feet of unabashed luxury. Ellie and I have one master suite, Harvey and my sister-in-law have the other master suite. The cousins will be sharing the other four bedrooms, each with a palatial bath. It is not, to put it mildly, boot-camp living. Our days will be spent in sinful bliss.

We’ll certainly be snorkeling every day, and if we’re lucky, we’ll dine at night on the lobsters we spear that very afternoon. We’ll have plenty of killer-family tennis. Sea Villa comes with all privileges on the adjacent 18-holf golf course, designed by Australia’s great White Shark, Greg Norman. Which translates into a round or two of killer-family golf. Last year we celebrated Christmas at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, where we were welcomed like long-lost friends. It was in a mood of celebratory joy that we joined the church choir, sending our Hark the Herald Angels Sing floating through the open windows to drift out across the incredibly blue waters. As of now, it’s yet to be decided whether we will all go out for Christmas dinner—a tempting option since Anguilla is blessed with some truly wonderful owner/chef restaurants. Last year we celebrated Christmas at Veya Restaurant, a very special gem, hidden in a tropical forest.

The food and the service matched the best of anyplace we’d ever dined and the outdoor, candlelit ambiance struck exactly the right note of family holiday celebration. This year, who knows? There’s an undercurrent building for Christmas dinner at home, meaning on the terrace at Sea Villa, where the staff will spoil us outrageously and we can top off the evening with a midnight swim. We’ll see. If you’re wondering, for the most part we stuck to our iron rule of no Christmas presents. But if truth be told, some (whose names I won’t mention) escaped and found their way, like bloodhounds on the scent, to one of the island’s several ZaZaa boutiques. It specializes in island jewelry, beachwear, evening what-have-you’s and the female consensus in our household was that it was well worth the price of the excursion. Last year we met several American families who have made Anguilla their new home base. That’s not for us, at least not yet. For the moment, with school tuitions stretching off beyond the far horizon, we’re content with our holiday pilgrimage. It’s the best White Christmas that Irving Berlin never dreamt of—the white, white sands of Sea Villa and a family holiday that tops even the finest of partridges in the finest of pear trees, on-island or off.

House Money

The Sands opens its first U.S. hotel outside Las Vegas… right in New Jersey’s backyard

If you build it, they will come. From the moment Las Vegas Sands Corp. began mapping out plans for a casino resort on the 1800-acre site of the old Bethlehem Steel plant in Pennsylvania, this was the strategy for attracting residents of Northern and Central New Jersey. Initially, the Sands had to market to New Jerseyans with the gaming-industry version of one hand tied behind its back. When the property first opened its doors in the spring of 2009, it offered no table games and the 302-room hotel was still on the drawing board. The license for table games came through that winter, at which point the company began constructing the hotel. It was completed this past spring— on budget and on time, a rarity in this business. With the 1996 demolition of the venerable Sands in Las Vegas, the Bethlehem operation is currently the only one in the U.S. that bears the Sands name. Walking into the Sands Bethlehem Casino Resort, you know you’re not in Vegas anymore. Amidst all the noise, light and energy, the casino manages to project a more relaxed, down-to-earth feel. According to Las Vegas Sands President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Leven, that was the plan from Day One. “We didn’t want to bring Las Vegas to the Lehigh Valley,” he explains. “No one’s betting $25,000 a hand here. We wanted something smaller and friendlier. The casino isn’t glitzy. It’s welcoming and comfortable. And the restaurants cover a wide range of price points.” Those restaurants are an important part of the draw. They include a traditional Irish pub, an outpost of New York’s Carnegie Deli, the requisite buffet, and three Emeril Lagasse creations—Emeril’s Chop House, Emeril’s Italian Table and BAM, aka Burgers and More by Emeril. For nourishment on a budget, a food court offers everything from South Philly cheese steaks to pizza to pan-Asian fare, as well as some healthier choices. The next big thing for the Sands is a shopping mall that is slated to contain more than 30 retailers. It will be accessible directly from the casino floor. “Like other Sands properties, this is an integrated destination resort,” says Leven. “We’ll offer a lot of variety at this facility. There will be more than enough for non-players to do, but it will never be overwhelming. This is a nice town and we’ve built a nice place.” The rooms in the new hotel are terrific. Comfortable and understated, yet well-appointed, they are testament to the high precision with which casino people are able to match amenities with their target audience. Plenty of luxurious touches, but nothing over-the-top. The smallest room measures 400 square feet. All have 42-inch HD flat-screens, glass-enclosed showers and free in-room wireless access, and include a continental breakfast on the house. So who’s filling those rooms? When the property first opened, a little more than a third of the folks making the trek to Bethlehem were from North and Central New Jersey. Once table games were added, that number started climbing steadily—as did the number of players coming from New York City on a seemingly unbroken stream of back-and-forth buses. Not to say the slots aren’t active. On the contrary, the Sands took in $1 million more in July of 2011 than in July of 2010 from slot-machine play. Pulling New Jerseyans west from their bedroom communities is no mean feat. So far, so good on that account. Keeping them coming will be a constant challenge. There is competition from the south in Atlantic City— although it’s an additional hour’s drive—and, of course, the Big Apple beckons to the east. Long-term, it means offering more improvements and attractions to keep consumers and conventioneers coming. Of course, that’s always been part of the game plan. As Leven likes to say, “The status quo is a prescription for failure.”

Hilton Garden Inn
Lucky in Love

Okay, let’s be blunt for a moment. When you think “New Jersey Dream Wedding,” that dream doesn’t really end with a two-hour jaunt down the Garden State Parkway. A week on the West Coast? That’s more like it. Ten days in Tokyo? Absolutely. A fortnight in France? Now you’re talking! Alas, the sad fact is that New Jersey couples don’t always have the days to spare for such glittering post-nup adventures. Which is why staying in-state might just be the brightest option of all. It all comes down to picking your spot. Consider if you will that, for thousands of couples from all over the world, Atlantic City is the honeymoon destination.

You know that surge of excitement you feel when you hit the AC Expressway? Imagine adding that to the glow of an impending wedding night. “What could be more romantic than a hotel suite with an ocean view, four miles of beautiful beaches and Boardwalk to stroll on, superior dining choices, luxurious spas and great entertainment?” asks Jeff Vasser. Okay, Mr. Vasser gets paid to plug AC. He’s President of the Convention and Visitors Authority. But the man’s got a point. Combine the indulgent pampering available to honeymooners in this town that’s “Always Turned On” with the opulent casino gambling a mere elevator-ride away, and you’ve got the makings of a winning hand. And wouldn’t you know it? Atlantic City’s top hotels are all over this honeymoon thing.

At the Trump Taj Mahal, for instance, newlyweds can choose between Romantic and Risqué. Each includes an ocean view suite in the gorgeous new Chairman Tower, a bottle of bubbly and, depending on which option they have selected, either a Romance or Risqué Intimacy Kit (contents unknown). “We created these packages to offer our guests an experience they won’t soon forget,” says Trump’s Paula Mauk, who confirms that New Je  rsey honeymooners can indeed “get away without going far away.”

Honeymooners at the Borgata tend to gravitate toward the Spa Toccare package. It includes his & her Deep Tissue or Healing Stone Massage and Wild Lime Scalp Treatment, then a Classic Manicure and Plush Pedicure for the bride, and a Signature Shave and Express Pedicure for the groom. All those upper case letters come at a price, of course, but why pinch pennies when you can experience the ultimate in marital decompression? Next door at The Water Club—home of the exquisite topfloor, two-story Immersion pool and spa—there is a couples package on the menu that may just outdo them all. Billed as a traditional retreat to luxury, it includes a Javanese Lulur bath and body ritual that transports lovebirds back to a simpler time (like the 17th century). A side-by-side Balinese massage with jasmine frangipani oils is followed up by exfoliation with tumeric, flowers and fresh yogurt before soaking in a fragrant, floral bath, and then finishing up with an application of jasmine frangipani lotion. The bath ritual is performed in a Couples Suite with unbelievable views. Also included are a poolside manicure and pedicure, and the sublime Immersion lunch, courtesy of Chef Geoffrey Zakarian. The Water Club does not offer gaming, however the concourse connecting it to The Borgata’s casino features a gauntlet of high-end retail establishments where couples can blow their wedding checks long before they reach the tables. For newlyweds looking to hang onto their dough a bit longer, there is The Chelsea, a gambling-free boutique hotel unaffiliated with its neighbors, the Hilton and Tropicana.

There are several packages popular with honeymooners checking into The Chelsea. The details and differences are all explained on the hotel’s web site, but the real story here is the wedding bed and the amazing rooms in the Luxe Tower. Think Egyptian cotton sheets, fluffy white duvet, and an endless supply of pillows. Think awe-inspiring views from a deck and sunroom featuring floor-to-ceiling windows. And while you’re at it, think about shelling out a couple of extra bills for one of the penthouse suites (it’s worth every penny). Finally, all of the Luxe Tower rooms at The Chelsea come with lots of whimsical touches to remind guests how very far away they are from the rest of us poor devils…even though they haven’t left the state.

Where In the World..

Ecotourism is all the rage. Even in a gray economy, most Americans say they would pay a premium to travel green. Saying and doing, however, can be two very different things.

With America’s green revolution in full swing, being a savvy traveler now means more than merely ferreting out five-star resorts and
three-star prices. For the globally conscious adventurer, the ideal vacation includes an environmentally sustainable destination and, even better, a rental car that runs on renewable fuels. A truly green traveler will encounter the pollution created by the round-trip flight by donating to solar power.

Limiting your planetary impact is a noble goal and worthy challenge. But just how realistic are these goals?

Good intentions aside, defining what constitutes a sustainable destination—and finding the right lodging or tour operator—can be daunting, especially for newcomers to ecotourism. The first hurdle is sorting out the legitimately environmentally conscious travel purveyors from the so-called “greenwashers,” or those companies promoting green credentials to attract customers, but which engage in little or no environmental protection. Fortunately, there are several information sources devoted to socially and environmentally sustainable travel, available online or in bookstores. Trip planners can use these and other resources to come up with a shortlist of potential resorts, hotels, or tour operators.

“These kinds of resources have made environmentally and socially responsible travel easier than people think,” says Martha Honey, President of the Center For Responsible Travel, a Washington, DC nonprofit. “While we’re not quite to the point of one-stop shopping, there is a wealth of information and it’s pretty accessible.”

When vetting hotels, guesthouses, or resorts, suggests Ronald Sanabria, Director of Sustainable Tourism for the Rainforest Alliance, check to see whether they have received environmental certification certificates from third-party organizations.

While there is no overarching international certifying agency, a growing number of countries, U.S. states, and international organizations review the environmental practices of resorts or operators and award certificates. Australia-based Green Globe 21—one of the best known—has certified over 700 properties and organizations worldwide. In searching for lodging in the U.S., look for a stamp from Energy Star, an EPA program that helps hotels and other companies reduce energy use. Many environmentally progressive countries—including Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Kenya— have strong certification programs. Here in America, about 25 state programs also offer certification.

Because resorts or tour operators with a strong environmental commitment are not always certified, it certainly doesn’t hurt to contact intriguing properties directly and inquire about their environmental policies. Try to determine in what ways they contribute to the sustainability of the surrounding community. Start with a few basic questions: How do you reduce waste? How do you conserve water usage? What chemicals do hotel staff use for cleaning or gardening? Do they hire local workers and use local products in the kitchen?

“The answers to these questions should give travelers a sense of the property’s commitment to sustainability,” Honey says. Offering guests the option of passing on towel or sheet changes is now considered the basic minimum environmental policy for hotels. More serious properties have gone further by switching to alternative energy sources or using organic produce in the kitchen.

After finding a suitable green resort or tour operator, some take steps to counter the air pollution created by their transportation. This is the eco-travelers carbon footprint— the amount of carbon dioxide pollution each person is responsible for producing by flying jet-fueled airplanes, driving car rentals, or taking any means of transport using fossil fuels. To help counterbalance the potential environmental impact, a growing number of carbon trading companies calculate how many carbons travelers burn, then collect funds from them and invest them in renewable energy resources to offset the damage.

What’s that compute to on, say, a flight from Newark Airport to Aruba? Climatecare, a UK outfit that specializes in helping travelers and companies offset the carbon pollution they cause, calculates that a couple will burn 1.38 tons of carbon emissions on this trip. The company will then collect the $20.40 needed to create an equivalent amount of clean energy. They invest the funds in wind power, biomass, or other renewable energy projects, usually in the developing world.

Now, if you can find a rental car that runs on electricity, you’ve accomplished something…namely a guilt-free eco escape!

Editor’s Note: Gary Lee won the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism for his coverage of 9/11 in The Washington Post. Fluent in five languages, including Russian, Gary served as the Post’s Moscow Bureau Chief. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his articles about Gorbachev’s Russia.

Starting Points

  • INTERNATIONAL ECOTOURISM SOCIETY
    (www.ecotourism.org) promotes sustainable tourism, offers a succinct definition of what ecotourism is about: responsible travel to nature areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of people. It also links to The Travel Green Guide, which includes tips, approved lodging, and tour operators.
  • THE RAINFOREST ALLIANCE has compiled a list of hundreds of environmentally responsible properties and operators worldwide. Log onto www.ecoindextourism.org.
  • National Geographic Traveler’s ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL. Many country guides published by Lonely Planet include a GreenDex, a quick reference index of sustainable accommodations, and other eco-tips.

Three For Money

These luxury resorts come with impeccable eco-credentials…

Kanantik Reef & Jungle Resort

Set amidst 300 acres of jungle along the southern coast of Belize, this property is a luxurious haven in a sweep of exotic flora and fauna. Guests are housed in 25 Mayan huts with thatched roofs and hardwood floors. A member of the International Ecotourism Society, Kanantik is unflinchingly respectful of the surrounding ecology. No chemical sprays are used on the grounds. A special ecologically sensitive septic system handles waste, and refuse from the kitchen is composted. Meals are made with local organic products. Be advised—there is no shopping or nightlife nearby. But with jaguar-watching in the adjacent Cockscomb Basin, canoeing in the nearby uncharted rivers, 1,300 feet of beach just out the door, and excursions to the ancient Mayan ruins at Xunantunich, who needs modern distractions? The room rate includes meals and some excursions.
877-759-8834 • kanantik.com

Bardessono

Open less than a year, this 62-room Napa Valley property has already become the gold standard for luxury eco-hotels. The spare, low-rise buildings are constructed from walnut laurel bay and other wood salvaged from surrounding Northern California. Solar panels provide much of the electricity used on site. An elaborate system of underwater wells and pumps are used to heat and cool the guestrooms. No
plastic is used on property in order to minimize waste. The environmentally au courant management has even forgone rugs, to cut back on allergens. Bardessono’s Zen-inspired design does allow for creature comforts, including flat-screen televisions, 300-count organic linens, deluxe bath products, a gourmet restaurant, in-room spa treatments, and just about every other perk you’d expect from a five-star destination.
707-204-6000 • bardessono.com

 

Closer to Home

Just this January, Starwood launched its Element brand right here in the Garden State. The Element
Ewing Hotel is “flawlessly and certifiably state-of-the-art green” according to the property’s opening-day publicity. What exactly does that mean? From the naturally lit lobby to the guest rooms (which feature low-flow fixtures and stylish recycling bins), there is
an impressive balance of energy efficiency and topflight hotel amenities. Eco-friendly materials are used throughout the hotel, right down to the paint and carpeting and the housekeeping staff is armed with an arsenal of green cleaning products. 609-671-0050 • starwoodhotels.com/element.

 

La Casitas Del Colca

At the end of a dusty road in the rustic Colca valley of southern Peru, this collection of 20 cabins enables guests to experience rich, raw
nature and first-class service all at once. The structures, constructed of local Laja stone and other natural materials, blend seamlessly
into the pristine natural surroundings. Strongly committed to the protection of southern Peru’s delicate ecosystem, the hotel grounds
include an organic garden that supplies the kitchen with most of its fruits and vegetables. Las Casitas del Colca also composts organic waste for the garden and sends wastewater to a treatment plant for purity. The vegetable garden on the grounds is also used to provide produce for the nearby Mission of Sister Antonia soup kitchen. Guests are encouraged to volunteer at the mission. The major draw of the area is the Colca Canyon, located a short drive from the hotel. The 10,725-foot deep gorge offers a front-row seat for some serious condor-watching. That number is correct—it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! The room rate includes all meals. 011-51-1-610-8300 •lascasitasdelcolca.com