Previous month:
June 2008
Next month:
August 2008

Ritz-Carlton Guests Lend A Hand

Guests at many luxury Ritz-Carlton Hotels can now volunteer their time and energy to improve and assist the local community where they are vacationing.

The program, called "Give Back Getaways" offers guests a variety of opportunities from helping to protect endangered sea turtles to helping autistic children.

My readers have heard of volunteer vacations before, but they usually are the main focus of your trip. This program requires is a smaller commitment and are not the primary reason for your visit.

 Photo Provided By Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau

This weekend, August 3rd,  for example, if your staying at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes you may want to help rehabbing the headwaters to the  everglades. These efforts range from artificial freshwater reef construction, shoreline structure and aquatic plant enhancement, to building wood duck nesting boxes. You can also take a nature walk to the fish feeding stations, butterfly garden, organic garden, and the bird and nature watching stations.

Or if you happen to be staying in Beiging this weekend you would be partnered with a multi-lingual hotel employee and join a student of the Dongba Village Migrant Community Learning Center for the day.  You will help to complete a mural in their library.

Simon F. Cooper, president and chief operating officer of Ritz-Carlton states "We have come to recognize the interest many of our guests have in becoming more involved in the region where they are spending their vacation. Many of them are active volunteers in worthwhile activities at home, and want to continue this spirit of giving when they visit other parts of the world," "We believe Give Back Getaways is a unique way for our hotels to partner with guests to provide an experience both memorable and personally enriching."

The programs have participation fees.  Transportation costs are deducted from the fee with the balance going to the charity involved with the program.  The Ritz-Carlton absorbs all internal costs associated with the program, including the payroll costs of  their employees who also participate.

Ritz-Carlton has created a website dedicated to describing the programs: .


Delta Raises Fees on 2nd Bag - Delta has doubled it's second suitcase fee from $25 to $50. They have also increased fees on items that require special handling such as surfboards, skis, bikes, and heavy items. This applies to tickets purchased after July 31. The third bag fee goes from $80 to $125. First bag is still free. First and Business Class ticket holders can still check three bags at no charge. The free baggage perk also applies to upper level Delta frequent flier members. Atlanta's Hartsfield Intl is the World's Busiest- ATL is now the worlds busiest airport terminals serving 89.4 billion passengers in 2007. This is an increase of 6.8% over 2006. So far during 2008 the growth has slowed to a 3% growth rate. Second place went to O'Hare and third place was Heathrow.

Napa Valley Without The Wine

I'm not much of a drinker, maybe once a month if at all. During my last Napa visit I did't have a pleasant experience with a group of friends. I found my self wandering in the wineries gift shop, perusing cookbooks and exploring vineyard vinegars and grape juice to pass the time. I've often considered visiting Napa Valley again, but should I even bother if I'm not interested in the wine?

Napa Valley California

First, I love good food. I've found that there are many amazing restaurants in the Napa Valley; some that take months to get it. That would be Thomas Keller's French Laundry and Bouchon. You must make reservations well in advance. Another high end choice is Bistro Jeanty. But if you're me and plan short notice driving trips, try Keller's newest restaurant, the family style Ad Hoc.

Other restaurants and food attractions worth exploring are Ubuntu, situated in a sleek yoga studio or snacking at the Oxbow Public Market and check out the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts. The center, also known as Copia offers cooking classes, garden tours, films and concerts. The last entre on my trip may be the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone Campus in St. Helena because they offer cooking demonstrations for $15 during week.

Second, I enjoy a good spa. Napa Valley is loaded with spa opportunities nestled in small towns and boutique hotels. I have to check out the Indian Springs Resort and Spa because their claim to fame is that there are "the oldest continually operating spa in California", serving up ancient mud baths. I'd also check out the Spa at The Carneros Inn. This luxurious resorts spa offers unique treatments such as a Warm Goat Butter Massage or a Grape Seed Guava Body Scrub.

Third, I wanted to check out the shopping. So while all the wine enthusiasts are swirling, sipping and spitting; I'll be shopping and spending! The town of St. Helena, eight miles southeast of Calistoga, catches my eye. I'll check out some high end shoes stores, boutiques and art galleries. A local interior designer has a shop, Martin Showroom, with sculptures, lamps and house wares. If the Napa Valley Wineries can ship heavy cases of expensive wine, I'm sure this store owner can ship a heavy mirror for my dining room!

Lastly, you must decide where to stay during my non-winery tour. Since I'm not spending money on wine, maybe I'll select the Auberge du Soleil in Rutherfod. I've been warned that is a bit expensive; however the views from the hill top location and hotel amenities must be amazing. For something a bit less pricey, I'll look into the Indian Springs Resort and Spa in Calistoga. Its rooms and cottages starting at $255 offer retro styling and the property is a short walk restaurants. Finally, to be in heart of Napa and save some money, I may try the 106 room River Terrace Inn. Well appointed rooms start at $179 per night.

 Update 8/28/2008 - I've received a suggestion that non-drinkers might also enjoy the Silverado Trail. The trail runs along the east side of the valley and bypasses most of the towns and large wineries. This "road less traveled" runs between Calistoga and Napa and is home a few smaller boutique wineries and much less traffic. It is a great road for running, biking, or hiking. This site / video will give you an idea of what the road is like: Silverado Trail Wineries Assoc.