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Dream trip, downsized

This year, resolve to take that Vacation of a Lifetime - without blowing your budget for 2006.

By JUDI DASH
Published January 1, 2006


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[Photo: Ananda]
Greet the morning with yoga at Ananda, then get a workout by trekking into the Himalayas or along the Ganges.

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[Photo: Ananda]
Need to take the edge off after a harried holiday season? Try the ultimate calmative, a two-person massage at Ananda in the Himalayas, India’s only destination spa. A week there will set you back more than $2,500 (not counting plane fare), but you’ll be so blissed out, you won’t care.

photo
[Photo: Judi Dash]
For a mere $30,000 to $75,000, this pool and ocean view at Cerulean Villa Anguilla can be yours for a week. Don’t worry about cleaning — or anything else — a staff of 14 will take care of everything for you.

photo
[Photo: The Walt Disney Co.]
Imagine walking out of your guest room and seeing these long-necked locals. More than 200 mammals and birds populate the 33-acre savanna at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando.

Life is short. So how about resolving to follow your travel dreams in 2006?

The good news is that the Great Escape does not require great spending. Can't afford to lease a private island villa? Book an oceanfront apartment at a fraction of the cost. Is an African safari too haute for your herd? Get a thriftier taste of wild Africa on American turf. How about spa treatments in the foothills of the Himalayas - or maybe just pampering on a day trip to your neighborhood spa?

To inspire you this year, here are some dream trips, plus two cost-sensitive alternatives for each. Prices listed do not include transportation to the destination, and meals and other incidentals may cost extra.

Idle on an island

OUT OF THIS WORLD: The Cerulean Villa, Barnes Bay, Anguilla.

Take the family (or up to seven favorite couples) on a Caribbean dream week at this airy, Moorish-looking estate set beachfront on Anguilla, about four miles from St. Maarten. All seven suites, each with a large marble bathroom and terrace, overlook the sea, as do the large, free-form pool and indoor-outdoor dining area. A staff of 14 caters to your every desire, whether that's a lobster-bake lunch on a deserted beach, a sunset sail or a romantic, torch-lit, formal dinner on the villa's beach, serenaded by a local band.

Ahead of your arrival, the chef will work with you to plan every meal according to your health needs - or decadent fantasies. In-room massages and facials, private trainers and horseback riding are options, at an extra charge, as is full-time nanny care.

The villa's boat picks you up and returns you to Anguilla's little airport or to the dock by the St. Maarten Airport, so you don't have to hassle with interisland flights.

The tab: $42,000, through April 30; $75,000 for Christmas and New Year's weeks; $30,000, May 1 to Nov. 13, 2006. Price includes the villa, staff, breakfast and airport transfers.

Everything else is extra, but think of the bragging rights.

DOWN TO EARTH: Palmas del Mar, Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Rent a one- to three-bedroom beachfront condo (called villas here) at this 3,000-acre, gated community on the southeast coast, about an hour's drive from San Juan. A sprawling community of beach and hillside condos, private homes, two golf courses, a tennis club, horseback riding, a marina and restaurants, Palmas has a 3-mile-long beach with views to the island of Vieques.

Each apartment is fully furnished and air-conditioned, with TV (including cable), VCR, phone, washer and dryer, and full kitchen, and includes housekeeping. You can get around the community by car or golf cart, both available for rent on the property. There's a small food market in Palmas; bigger markets are within a 15-minute drive.

For adventure, take a day trip to El Yunque rain forest, book a snorkeling trip or a boat ride to Vieques or head into San Juan for walks in the Old City, great dining and shopping. Most of the staff around the resort is bilingual.

The tab: From about $1,500 per week for a one-bedroom villa, mid December through mid April, less than $1,000 the rest of the year. Add another $500 a week for two bedrooms, $1,000 for three bedrooms. Condos have ocean or "garden" views. Golf, tennis and other activities cost extra.

BEDROCK BARGAIN: Maho Bay Camps, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Set on a hillside overlooking its namesake bay and surrounded by the Virgin Islands National Park, Maho Bay Camps is actually 114 "tent cottages" set on platforms (so as not to damage the vegetation). The platforms are connected by wooden walkways and stairs. Each cottage has screened windows, a deck, two twin beds, couch, propane stove, ice chest, linens, cooking and eating utensils. Barbecue areas and fresh water are available along the walkways. Guests share communal bathhouses.

The outdoor restaurant is a favorite gathering place, and classes in crafts as well as island ecology are offered, as are outdoor activities. Hiking trails run right from the property. Snorkel in the coral gardens of the national park's underwater snorkeling trail. Getting to St. John involves a scenic ferryboat ride from St. Thomas.

The tab: Now-April 30, $125 per night per cottage for two people, $15 each additional person; May 1-Dec. 14, 2006, $75 per cottage for two, $12 each additional person.

De-stress at a spa

OUT OF THIS WORLD: Ananda in the Himalayas, Narendra Nagar, India.

India's only destination spa, Ananda mixes the healing principles of the East with the pampering cravings of the West. Built around a maharaja's palace in the forested foothills of the mountains and overlooking the Ganges River, the lush resort is located in the region that gave birth to the practices of yoga, meditation and Ayurveda, a holistic healing process that uses herbal therapies for the body and mind.

About a 45-minute flight (or four-hour train journey) from New Delhi, the spa also is near the holy Indian town of Rishikesh (made famous by the Beatles in the '60s when they stayed there with Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi).

Guests stay in 75 rooms and suites, with views of the River Ganges or the palace. The 21,000-square-foot spa offers more than 70 body and beauty treatments, which guests choose a la carte or by package. A seven-day Ayurvedic Rejuvenation program includes lodgings, a personalized diet including therapeutic juices, purifying therapies including massage, and private yoga and meditation sessions.

Excursions include treks into the Himalayas, along the Ganges and into surrounding national parks, whitewater rafting and photo safaris.

The tab: The Ayurvedic Rejuvenation package starts at $2,560 per person, based on double occupancy, October through April 2006; about $1,940 the rest of the year. A la carte accommodations, including yoga, meditation, fitness classes and other activities, but excluding meals and spa treatments, start at $330 per room. The round-trip ticket to India ups the ante by at least $1,000.

DOWN TO EARTH: Red Mountain Spa, Ivins, Utah.

Set amid the stunning red rock country of southern Utah - just an hour from Zion National Park and two hours from Las Vegas - Red Mountain provides the perfect mix of pampering spa treatments and energizing outdoor adventures, from easy hikes in the surrounding hills and valleys to technical rock climbing and inspiring treks in Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.

Meals are included in the room price; the food is low-fat but creatively prepared. Wine and beer are available for purchase, but guests are more inclined to go the way of fruit smoothies.

Guest rooms are in a series of two-story clusters, some with gorgeous mountain views, others overlooking each other, so specify your request when booking. The top-end rooms are villa suites that have sprawling living rooms with fireplaces, full kitchens and enormous, marble-floored baths with Jacuzzi.

Daily morning hikes are graded from easy (but this is rocky terrain) to highly challenging - could you sprint up a mountain, then go for a bike ride? There's a lovely Native American bent to the spa, with evening bonfire circles built around tribal storytelling and "Spirit Hikes," where the journey is as much inward as forward.

Red Mountain has a full roster of aerobics, stretching and yoga classes as well as private instruction in meditation, pampering massages, wraps and hydro treatments. Specialty weeks range from Recharging at Mid-life to Controlling Clutter and Detoxifying Diets.

The tab: Nightly rates start at about $260 per person, double occupancy, less for last-minute deals and seasonal specials. Rates include meals, daily hikes and fitness classes. The seven-day detoxification plans are a good deal because for $1,813, each guest gets all of the above, plus a body wrap, nutrition consultation, acupuncture treatment, cooking class and supportive nutritional supplements.

BEDROCK BARGAIN: What a difference a day (spa) makes. Packages typically range from a few hours with a massage, facial and perhaps other treatment to all day with the works, including lunch.

The Day Spa Association (www.dayspaassociation.com) provides information on member spas in every state. SpaFinders (www.spafinders.com) lists day spas worldwide, with an explanation of services, spa etiquette and cutting-edge treatments. A sampling of half-day spa packages:

- At Osmosis, a woodsy retreat in the coastal hills of Sonoma County, Calif., the half-day Ultimate Experience Package includes tea in the Japanese garden, a cedar enzyme bath, a 75-minute Swedish massage and an aromatherapy facial.

- At the grand dame Breakers Hotel & Spa in Palm Beach, the Gentleman's Revitalizer is three hours of pampering - a 50-minute sports- or deep-tissue massage, a facial and a pedicure (he'll never pooh-pooh them again).

The tab: Half-day packages typically run $200 to $500, depending on location, and may include lunch. At Osmosis, the Ultimate Experience Package costs $265 to $280 ($20 more in a private pagoda in the woods). At the Breakers, the Gentleman's Revitalizer is $350 and includes unlimited same-day use of the spa's workout equipment and classes.

Go wild on safari

OUT OF THIS WORLD: A 17-day southern Africa wildlife adventure, plus more.

Silvia Berman of Post Haste Travel Service in Hollywood, Fla., has designed a dream trip incorporating two days at majestic Victoria Falls (including a helicopter flight over the falls and elephant-back safari), a three-day canoe safari along Zambia's Zambezi River, three days of game drives in South Africa's Kruger National Park, with lodgings in swank Singita Boulders Lodge, an overnight journey on the chic Blue Train, with fine dining and great views of the passing countryside from your sumptuous suite and the observation car, and five days around Capetown, exploring the cosmopolitan seaside city, the Cape of Good Hope and the wine country.

Post Haste can make modifications to accommodate youngsters. The ideal time to go for best animal viewing and the least rain is August or September.

The tab: About $13,000 per person, including land portion and internal flights.

DOWN TO EARTH: One-week Kenya Safari.

Kenya is the tried and true safari land, the place you're most likely to see the Big Five -lion, rhino, leopard, elephant and buffalo - plus giraffes, hippos, cheetahs and more, albeit with a lot of other safari vehicles sharing the experience.

Go2Africa, a booking agency based in Capetown, South Africa, has some good deals on wildlife trips. The Highlights of Kenya tour includes game drives via minibus in some of the most popular animal-viewing reserves: semi-desert Samburu, Lake Nakuru (home to huge flocks of flamingos), Mount Kenya National Park and the legendary, game-rich Masai Mara savanna, where you can mingle with Masai villagers (usually for an extra camera fee). Definitely splurge on an optional hot-air balloon safari over the savanna and twisting Mara River.

The tab: From $1,220 per person, $610 for children ages 2 to 12. The optional balloon safari, about $400 for an hour in the air, is worth every penny.

BEDROCK BARGAIN: Two-night family adventure at Walt Disney World Resort's Animal Kingdom Lodge, with a one-day pass to Animal Kingdom.

Okay, so it's not Africa, but this African-lodge-style resort set on 33 acres of tropical savanna outside Orlando feels safari-esque nonetheless, and the kids will love it.

The lodge is the ideal base for exploring Animal Kingdom, which offers a drive amid zebras, elephants, tigers, gazelles and giraffes. There are also raft runs and other jungle shtick. Guests staying at Disney hotels usually get access to the parks an hour before the rest of the crowd and up to three hours after everyone else has to leave.

From the lodge's premium savanna-view rooms and some of its public areas, you can look out on free-roaming giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, Congo buffaloes, spiral-horned antelopes and other mammals, as well as exotic birds, such as African spoonbills, storks and cranes.

An option on the West Coast is Safari Adventure at Safari West, Santa Rose, Calif. This 400-acre wildlife reserve 65 miles north of San Francisco takes a more serious approach to animal-watching.

Created to promote conservation through breeding, education and research, the sanctuary offers naturalist-guided Jeep rides (by appointment) amid 80 species of free-roaming mammals and birds. Visitors can stay in Africa-style tents overlooking the animals, which include herds of antelope, eland, gazelle, zebra, giraffe and wildebeest.

The tab: Disney's Animal Kingdom "Magic Your Way" package is $877 for two adults and two children (9 years or younger) for two nights in Animal Kingdom Lodge and one-day tickets to the theme park.

Nightly rate for Safari West tent lodgings, with en suite bathrooms with shower, is $225 for two people, $25 each additional person(maximum five in a tent). This includes a continental breakfast. Jeep safaris with a naturalist last 21/2 to 3 hours and cost $52 to $60 for adults, depending on the day; $25 to $28 for children, ages 3-12.

- Judi Dash is a freelance writer living in Bechwood, Ohio.

IF YOU GO

Use these contacts for more information or to make reservations for your 2006 dream adventure.

Island idyll

- Cerulean Villa, Anguilla, British West Indies: www.cerulean-villa.com or book through Crown International toll-free 1-800-628-8929, www.crownluxurytravel.com)

- Palmas del Mar, Humacao, Puerto Rico: Several agencies rent condos at Palmas, including VIP Properties (787 285-5058, www.cometopalmas.com) Find others online using key words Palmas del Mar.

- Maho Bay Camps, St. John, U.S Virgin Islands: toll-free 1-800-392-9004; www.maho.org

De-stressing spa escape

- Ananda in the Himalayas, Narendra Nagar, Tehri-Garhwal, India: 011-91-11-2689-9999 from the United States; www.anandaspa.com

- Red Mountain Spa, Ivins, Utah: toll-free 1-800-407-3002; www.redmountainspa.com

- The Breakers, Palm Beach: toll-free 1-888-273-2537; www.thebreakers.com

- Osmosis Spa, Freestone, Calif.: 707 823-8231; www.osmosis.com

Wild on safari:

- Post Haste Travel: toll-free 1-800-881-7690; www.posthastetravel.com

- Go2Africa, in Capetown, South Africa: 011-27-21-481-4900 from the United States; www.go2africa.com

- Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and Animal Kingdom, Orlando: 407 934-7639; www.disneyworld.com

- Safari West: 707 579-2551; www.safariwest.com

[Last modified December 30, 2005, 09:10:05]


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