Is This The Most Beautiful (Floating) Hotel Breakfast?

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The most important meal of the day is also the most blissful at The Ritz-Carlton, Bali. At this 313-room Nusa Dua resort overlooking the Indian Ocean, butlers serve beautifully prepared “floating breakfasts” to guests as they soak in their suite and villa pools. On the menu: freshly squeezed juices, poached eggs with smoked salmon and caviar, French toast, yogurt parfaits, “fruit pizza,” muesli, and more. Senior editor Joel Centano had the fortune to experience the breakfast firsthand during a recent stay, part of his seven-day Bali tour. The resort’s immersive culinary experience encourages lots of lingering, he says, but for those who do eventually peel themselves away, additional water-based activities – aqua-stretching classes, surfing lessons, and swan neck showers in the spa’s Hydro-Vital Pool – await.

Morning menu: “fruit pizza,” plus juice, lemongrass fruit salad, and muesli.

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What does artificial intelligence mean for travel?

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Artificial intelligence will transform the way we travel.

The future is about to get personal. While artificial intelligence already permeates industries such as finance and health care, it currently tackles fairly rudimentary tasks in the travel industry. For example, airlines and hotels use the technology in “conversational chatbots” that understand written language to help customers resolve basic travel queries. That’s starting to change: Google Maps can now help us find parking. Siri predicts (with varying accuracy) where we’re headed at certain times of the day, makes real-time traffic assessments, and plans the quickest route. And numerous new travel-oriented firms are applying artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms (dynamic equations that do things like recommend movies on Netflix based on your viewing habits) to create seamless and more pleasurable vacations.

Travel is AI’s next big leap, believes Craig Webster, a professor of hospitality management at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Webster studies how the technology will eventually advance beyond mere apps and websites and inhabit sophisticated robots that populate hotels, airports, restaurants, museums, event venues – just about anywhere tourists go. “Soon we’ll see general-service robots that are like a personal valet or concierge,” Webster says. “You’ll ask it something and it’ll understand you.”

A handful of prototypes are already on the job. At a McLean, Virginia, property, Hilton Worldwide has tested a three-foot-tall robotic concierge named Connie that looks like a Star Wars droid and can answer common questions typically posed to staff at a reception desk. Pepper, a humanoid robot, recently joined the Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas to help field guest requests and provide directions (and pose for selfies).

The Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas has bet on Pepper to entertain and assist guests.

Virtually all our travel choices – window or aisle, higher-floor hotel rooms, vegetarian – get recorded, and more and more of that data will follow us in the real world. “AI algorithms will know the people you usually travel with, how much money you spend on different things, even which Instagram photos you recently liked – the fancy meal in Paris versus relaxing in the Maldives,” says Gilad Berenstein, whose company, Utrip, uses AI to plan highly customized itineraries. “So when you show up at a hotel, they’ll meet you in the lobby with your favorite drink or set the music in your room to your favorite artist – the possibilities are endless.”

None of this is to say that AI will replace human travel advisors. A skilled online AI assistant can locate the perfect craft brew in San Francisco. Savvy hotelbots might someday access your medical records to check for food allergies before delivering room service. But no amount of cutting-edge gadgetry or smart software can solve some real-world issues. Travel can be chaotic and unpredictable: Hurricanes strike; volcanoes explode. That’s exactly when you need the clout and industry connections of a living, breathing professional advisor to make things right. Or sometimes, to introduce you to something completely new and out of character. “People will always need that personalized touch,” Berenstein says.

Top photo: Istock/Getty Images 

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Why You Should Visit Charleston Now

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A port city should be seen from the water.  I can’t avert my eyes from the view of Charleston before me, though my friend waits for me poolside, tiki cocktail in hand. I linger on the spacious balcony of my nautical-chic room at The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina.  Sporting an oh-so-Southern seersucker robe, I can almost feel the history flowing across the harbor of the South’s most graceful city. Finally, I decide to join my friend and order a cocktail of my own.

A room with a view at The Beach Club.

Charleston captivates visitors with myriad churches (earning it the nickname of the Holy City), antebellum mansions, red-brick Georgian houses, landscaped gardens, and live oaks laden with Spanish moss. Its lively streets brim with antiques shops, indie fashion boutiques, and some of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants dishing up Low Country fare. The city is seemingly meant for afternoon and evening strolls – none more so than on the second Sunday of each month, when main thoroughfare King Street closes to cars and becomes the social hub for this consummate Southern pastime.

Here’s how to make the most of the city this spring.

Water views abound in Charleston.

Where to Stay

The swanky 92-room Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina provides panoramic bay views from every sky blue and white room. With the highly regarded Charleston Harbor Fish House among its numerous restaurants and bars, a cabana-lined pool, and a sleek spa, this friendly, classically Southern hotel is just a few minutes from the heart of the city by water taxi or car.

The pool at The Beach Club.

Where to Eat

Discover the South with a modern twist at Husk, chef Sean Brock’s homage to culinary craft below the Mason-Dixon Line, and still one of Charleston’s hottest tables. If an ingredient ain’t from Dixie, it won’t be on the menu, a soul-satisfying collection goodies ranging from North Carolina chicken and biscuits to slow-cooked pork ribs. Ensconced in an old house downtown, it also has a bar where locals congregate to gossip and gander.  At Fig (Food is Good), chef Mike Lata, a champion of local purveyors, continues win praise with Charlestonians for dishes such as suckling pig with Carolina gold rice or white-truffle omelets.  A short drive from downtown on Sullivan’s Island, The Obstinate Daughter serves regional seafood with an Italian accent. Stellar cocktails, wood-fired pizzas topped with local clams and chili, and griddled octopus hit the mark.

Don’t leave town without a civilized meal at Peninsula Grill, a bastion of Low Country cuisine. Sit on the patio, surrounded by antique carriage lights, as you start in on she-crab soup, ending your feast with the restaurant’s iconic 12-inch coconut layer cake.

Where to Sip

You might crave Southern-style sweet tea, but when you want more, belly up to the bar at Living Room, where Ryan Casey mixes what many claim is the town’s top old fashioned.  At 5Church, tipping takes a sacred turn. The refurbished church, enlivened by vaulted ceilings and original stained-glass windows for brunch, is the home to sinfully good Bloody Marys – drink enough and you may find yourself reading the entire text of The Art of War, which is artistically scrawled on the wall.

Drinks at Living Room bar.

What to Do

With surf and sand in abundance, Charleston stays sporty. Golfers should head to The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, a hotel within a private community that encompasses nine pro-designed courses.

Want to fit in like a real Charlestonian? A cookbook author and the co-founder of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, Suzanne Pollak is an expert in decorum. Her engaging, hands-on cooking courses, etiquette seminars, and party planning forums will make a Southerner of you, yet, even the brashest of Yankees.

Top photo: Courtesy of Explore Charleston. 

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From Drones to Driverless Cars: The Future of Transport

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Supersonic 2.0, driverless cars, and a realized 1960s vision will redefine how we move around the world.

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

It’s supersonic! While Richard Branson aims for his spaceline, Virgin Galactic, to put its first passengers into suborbital flight this year, and Elon Musk aspires to Martian landings in 2022, the entrepreneurs are also launching more down-to-earth pursuits. Branson has placed orders for Boom’s 55-passenger supersonic jet, which will cruise above the clouds at up to 1,451 mph. The nascent manufacturer currently has more than 75 orders from five airlines and says we can expect NYC-to-London flights by 2023: three-hour, 20-minute hops for the price of today’s business-class flights (about $5,000 round-trip) – quicker and much cheaper than the now-defunct Concorde.

Both Branson and Musk are also testing hyperloop systems to revolutionize rail transportation. The big idea: whisk levitating passenger and cargo pods through giant pneumatic tubes at roughly 700 mph, which would make the journey from L.A. to San Francisco a mere 35 minutes. Musk’s test pods have already hit 220 mph; his tunneling company has begun test-boring in L.A. and is laying the groundwork for an NYC-to-Washington, D.C., route as well. Virgin Hyperloop One is currently evaluating projects in the Middle East, Europe, Canada, and the U.S.

Hail George Jetson

Send in the drones: The flying cars futurists promised us are revving up in the United Arab Emirates. In September, Dubai began tests of its Autonomous Air Taxi with a maiden flight of 18-propeller, pilotless aircraft from Volocopter, the latest step in the country’s goal of launching an app-hailed flying-taxi service within the next five years. Flying ride shares aren’t just pie-in-the-sky ambition from the destination that introduced us to artificial-island resorts and indoor ski slopes: Uber is developing air-control software with NASA and is looking to launch zero-emission, piloted taxis cruising up to 200 mph in the skies of Dallas, Dubai, and Los Angeles by 2020. Airbus, Boeing, and a handful of other manufacturers are developing autonomous and piloted craft for similar services.

A pilotless Volocopter takes flight in Dubai.

Night Riders

“KITT, pick me up on Mill Avenue,� isn’t a far-fetched call for barhoppers in Phoenix, who may soon ride home in Waymo’s self-driving cars. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has hit the airwaves and billboards around the area to introduce its new driverless ride-share service. After racking up more than 3 million test miles, the company launched its early rider program, a trial period in which residents used the service – with an employee on board to take control if need be – for school drop-offs, errands, date nights, and general commuting free of charge. In November, the company proclaimed success and removed the backup drivers. A public rollout is expected imminently.

Waymo’s self-driving car.

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Person of Interest: Wilderness Guide Kasey Austin

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Kasey Austin in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains. (Photo by Andy Austin)

Girl Powered

Vice president of operations for adventure-travel tour company Austin Adventures and Outside magazine’s 2014 Family Guide of the Year, Kasey Austin is an exuberant champion of outdoor recreation in general, but especially of its ability to inspire and empower women. Spurred into action by increasing demand, the 28-year-old will introduce the company’s first women-only itineraries this year: 12-person adventures (led by her) in Costa Rica, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, and Glacier National Park.

If you were a merit badge, which one would you be? Happy camper: Life is good.

Favorite memory from your Costa Rica travels: Getting almost too close to caimans on a kayaking adventure through Tortuguero National Park. So cool.

Activity that gets you out of your comfort zone: Any form of rock climbing or rappelling, but I love the thrill.

If you could take people on only one trail, it would be: Angels Landing in Zion. It’s five miles round-trip, and its exposure and drop-offs are sure to challenge anyone’s version of normal. There are sections with chains secured in the rock where you pull yourself up the mountain. Freaky, but fun – and totally doable with an on-trail support network.

Favorite U.S. national park: Yellowstone. It’s my local playground, and I know it like the back of my hand. I love to hike the backcountry and look for wildlife away from the crowds.

Hard-won life lesson from the river: Go with the flow. There’s no fighting a river – or life’s direction – so just roll with the current.

Chocolate or chocolate Luna Bar? Chocolate everything!

A luxury we’ll always find in your daypack: My swimsuit. It’s lightweight and good for a polar bear plunge, no matter the time of year.

The one book every woman adventurer should read: Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

Favorite guiding party trick: I know an almost irritating number of riddles … “Give me food and I will live. Give me water and I will die. What am I?� Fire.

Wilderness skill everyone should know: How to build a fire.

At sunset, you’ll find me with: A G&T and buttered popcorn, my two weaknesses.

Place you’d most like to explore this year: Iceland or somewhere in Southeast Asia.

Women-only itineraries: Nine-day Costa Rica journey departs March 17, from $3,498; six-day Zion and Bryce Canyon adventure departs May 20, from $2,798; six-day Glacier National Park trip departs July 1, from $3,198.

 

 

 

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Five Things We Love: Mexico City

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My husband and I take an anniversary trip each year, and this year we headed south to explore Mexico City. We hoped it would hit all our favorite vacation necessities: culture, art, architecture, style, and, of course, food. When friends heard we were going, several asked if it’s safe; I’m happy to report that I felt very safe and at ease the entire time. As with any big city, just use a little common world-traveler sense.

What we found exceeded our expectations. I loved the juxtaposition of traditional and modern found in every aspect of the city – there’s good reason it’s the World Design Capital for 2018. Here are five of my favorite discoveries.

1. Tacos. Food. More Tacos.

I can safely say Mexico City’s tacos are life-changing. From green-chorizo tacos to tacos al pastor served on the street, each bite left me wanting … another taco! Tip: Tacos are almost always served with red and green sauce. I quickly learned that spicy here is next level spicy, with habanero peppers often used as a base heat.

Tacos aside, Mexico City has world-class cuisine. We had the most unforgettable lunch at Pujol. While chef Enrique Olvera’s food, its presentation, and the physical design of his new space is exquisite, the staff is what made our experience extra special. When I got back home, I watched Olvera’s episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix to relive it.

Green-chorizo tacos and (right) the makings of tacos al pastor.

2. Mercado Jamaica

This traditional public market sells produce (I learned about the many varieties of corn found in Mexico) and meat, but it’s also an enormous flower market that distributes thousands of beautiful flowers and plants. Spend a morning exploring it for a fascinating glimpse of local culture.

A truck loaded with roses leaving the market and (right) spicy corn, ready to eat.

3. Art + Museums

Museo Soumaya, Museo Nacional de Antropología, and Casa Luis Barragán were highlights of our trip. From the buildings’ architecture to the collections and history housed inside, all were outstanding. We have already vowed to return just for the museums we missed on this trip. Tip: Mexico City traffic is no joke, always allow more time than you think you’ll need between destinations. Sometimes walking is faster than taking a taxi or an Uber.

Casa Luis Barragán and (right) Museo Nacional de Antropología’s Umbrella Fountain.

4. The St. Regis Mexico City

Overlooking the Huntress Diana Fountain on Paseo Reforma, The St. Regis Mexico City serves as a perfect home base in the city. Impeccable service, stunning views, a fresh quesadilla bar at breakfast each day (don’t miss the homemade blue tortillas!), a newly revamped menu at the hotel’s Diana Restaurant, and lively bars made for a memorable stay. I also loved receiving the signature St. Regis Bloody Mary as a welcome amenity.

Mezcal and pureed pasilla chilies spice up the hotel’s twist on a Bloody Mary. Right: Vibrant Diana Restaurant.

5. Architecture

There’s a mix of traditional and modern architecture at every turn: Colorful old stucco buildings sit blocks away from designs that leave you speechless (such as the Biblioteca Vasconcelos). Both make for very Instagrammable moments.

Traditional style and (right) the eye-popping Biblioteca Vasconcelos.

All photos by Korena Bolding Sinnett.

Editor’s Note: Sinnett’s photo from Mexico City, made the January cover of Virtuoso Life magazine. 

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