Sometimes Even the Best-Laid Plans Go a Little Sideways

For our first real vacation during COVID, my husband and I planned a long-weekend getaway to Colorado. We wanted to spend a few days in Rocky Mountain National Park, visit a quintessential ski town (Vail) and go hiking in the Garden of the Gods. The idea was that we’d stay away from cities like Denver and Colorado Springs, and spend all of our time social-distancing in the great outdoors. Happy to finally have a trip to plan, I spent hours researching great hotels, making dinner reservations at interesting restaurants, and mapping out some scenic drives.

Then, because it’s 2020 after all, things took an unexpected turn.

Raging wildfires in and around Rocky Mountain National Park meant we had to scrap our visit there and re-plan the first half of the trip at the last-minute. And then an early-season snowstorm drove us down out of the mountains in the middle of our trip, and left us scrambling to come up with a “plan B” for the last two days. In the end, we did not actually follow through with a single thing I had pre-booked (hotels, restaurants, etc.) but we managed to have a pretty wonderful getaway nonetheless.

selfie of Annie and her husband in the snowy landscape of Garden of the Gods Colorado

And I think it was a valuable reminder that travel is all about your attitude — if you can roll with the punches, and enjoy the unexpected adventures along the way, you’re going to be a lot happier overall.

Here’s what we ended up doing:
{and if you want any info about the original plans, just let me know!}

We flew from Providence to Denver (via Charlotte) and were interested to see that crowds got heavier as we went along. The Providence airport was empty, Charlotte felt like it had maybe half the usual number of people, and the Denver airport was very busy. Everyone wore masks, the flight crew handed out little bags with hand sanitizer and snacks, and overall we felt pretty safe.

When we landed in Denver we picked up a nice big SUV and drove about 15 minutes away to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. This is a true hidden gem – right outside the city, and so close to the airport, with free admission from sunrise to sunset.

two deer grazing among the tall yellow grass at the Wildlife Refuge near Denver Colorado

The refuge is over 15,000 acres in total, and we did the scenic 11-mile auto loop through the park (you can also stop and do various hikes along the way).

taking photos of bison from the car at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver Colorado

We downloaded the free app that gave us turn-by-turn narration of everything we were passing through, and we got to see buffalo, prairie dogs, deer, and more. It was an awesome introduction to the area, and I would highly recommend it on your way in or out of Denver.

From there, we drove an hour to Golden, Colorado, in the foothills of the Rockies.

a man in a blue jacket with the sculpture of a fish, a river and green trees in the background in Golden Colorado

The town is famous for being the home of Coors Brewing, but it’s a cute place in its own right, and I was really impressed with all the public art – there were sculptures on every street corner. The brewery is unfortunately not open for tours right now, but we enjoyed strolling through town and had a great dinner at Woody’s Pizza. The altitude was already kicking our butts, so we had an early bedtime and a restless sleep.

The next morning we left Golden in cold and icy conditions and took a scenic route through the mountains to Aspen. Having never been to the Rockies before, we absolutely loved this drive, with its mountain passes, changing elevations, and expansive plains. By the time we arrived in Aspen, it was sunny and in the 60s, which was totally unexpected!

the pools, hot tubs and outdoor patio of the Limelight Aspen hotel with the mountains and pine trees looming in the background

We checked into a lovely room at the Limelight Aspen (I would recommend this hotel highly) and headed out to explore the town.

Although I’m not a skier, I would go back to Aspen again in a minute. The compact downtown has cute shops and galleries, with the ski mountains looming right next door, and there are gorgeous hiking/biking trails that start right in the center of town.

a paved path through beautiful tall trees with yellow leaves in Aspen Colorado

We did a very pretty walk on the East Rio Grande Trail, which included a stroll through the John Denver Sanctuary. The restaurant scene is fabulous, as you would expect, and we enjoyed cocktails and lunch at The White House Tavern, and a delicious dinner on the outdoor patio at Tatanka.

The next day we were back on the road through the Rockies to Breckenridge (about 2 ½ hours). Where Aspen had felt upscale, quiet and luxurious, Breckenridge felt like a spring break destination. To be fair, the weather was positively springlike, so everyone was outdoors, but it was crowded and busy and felt a little unsafe given the pandemic. We checked into an unremarkable hotel, ate an average lunch, and decided to check back out and head down out of the mountains before the impending snow storm.

We were able to grab last-minute reservations at a very nice Colorado Springs hotel, so we booked our last two nights there. The Mining Exchange is a charming historic hotel in the middle of the city, walkable to tons of restaurants and we knew we didn’t want to have to drive anywhere once the storm arrived.

two people in front of the Garden of the Gods sign in the snow in Colorado

The snow started early the next morning, but we were still able to sneak in a quick visit to the Garden of the Gods. We were VERY glad to have a big heavy four-wheel drive SUV (and a native New Englander’s experience driving in snow) because there were lots of little rental sedans sliding all over the roads in the park.

the impressive red rock formations with a snowy landscape below at Garden of the Gods Colorado

But we enjoyed a snowy walk through the monumental rocks and a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center for context. The park is gorgeous, and admission is free, and it would be well-worth a much longer visit in better weather.

Back in Colorado Springs that afternoon we had a yummy lunch (and a flight of craft beers) at Colorado Craft, and a lazy afternoon watching football.

Our drive back to the airport the next morning was a white-knuckler, as the snow had continued through the night and the roads were not yet treated or plowed (which really surprised me, in a place that presumably gets lots of snow and should know how to deal with it). We eventually made it to the Denver airport, and back home to Providence, without incident.

a beautiful stream lined with fall foliage and light streaming through in Aspen Colorado

All in all, we loved Colorado, and we would happily go back to see the things we missed – especially Rocky Mountain National Park. The unexpected and unplanned things along the way more than made up for the stress that Mother Nature threw at us, and it was honestly just wonderful to be traveling again 😊

Six Luxury Resorts Worthy of a Post-Pandemic Splurge

When you’ve gone without something for a while, it becomes even more special and precious. If I give up dessert for Lent, that first allowable “splurge” on Easter Sunday takes on great significance. I’m not going to just have a cookie or a dish of frozen yogurt – I want gelato, crème brulee, or a decadent slice of cheesecake!

6 luxury resorts worthy of a post-pandemic splurge pin
[Pin it for later!]

We’ve been stuck at home and deprived of the ability to travel for several months now, and I am dreaming of how to break that particular “fast”. For my first post-COVID trip, I’m not going to be staying at a Motel 6 or any old Hampton Inn. I want someplace special, and memorable, with at least a touch of luxury. But I also want to be safe and responsible, so I’m looking for fresh air, lots of outdoor space, and no crowds.

If you want some inspiration for outdoorsy US resorts that are worthy of a post-pandemic splurge, here are a handful on my list from three distinct parts of the country:

The Southeast – For Southern Charm

Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Resort southern mansion front lawn with large southern trees, south carolina
[ Photo Credit: Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, South Carolina]

Sanctuary at Kiawah Island– If the ocean is calling you right now, consider The Sanctuary at Kiawah. This grand sea-side hotel is both elegant and welcoming.

main lobby of the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Resort with a southern decor

You’ll feel like you’re arriving at a friend’s Southern mansion.

[Photo Credit: Sanctuary at Kiawah Island]

There are unobstructed ocean views (even from the ground floor) and a balcony or terrace in every guestroom, so you can enjoy the tranquility and fresh sea air. Just 21 miles from downtown Charleston, and convenient to all the shopping/dining/sightseeing that the “Holy City” provides, this is the pampering escape you need after these past few months. The overall decor is calm and serene, and the rooms have a breezy traditional feel with large tubs, plantation shutters, and neutral color palettes.

areal view of the Sancutary at Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina
[Photo Credit: Sanctuary at Kiawah Island]

With more than a dozen eateries, separate adult and family pools, a beach, and a golf course, this relaxing resort lives up to its Sanctuary name. But it’s the little touches like complimentary shoe shines, that really set this Southern resort apart. As an example of their commitment to guest wellness, they are partnering with a team of doctors from MUSC to develop health and safety plans and protocols that go above and beyond the CDC COVID-19 recommendations. Staying here is sure to leave you feeling relaxed and well cared for.

Montage Palmetto Bluff– Spend a relaxing afternoon on the veranda with a cool glass of sweet tea at this river-side resort. Located in the South Carolinian low-country, the resort features vaulted ceilings, wide porches, and classic Southern charm. They offer a huge variety of accommodations, from guestrooms to spacious stand-alone cottages. Add in their eight different dining locations, and they have what you need for every type of trip.

sunset on the river in south carolina

This is a quiet “hide-away” right on the river where you can enjoy the slow pace of southern life.

[Photo Credit: Everett Petronio]

While this sprawling 20,000-acre resort prides itself on an unhurried atmosphere, there’s still plenty to do. Included in the resort’s grounds are a nature reserve, two villages, a golf course, and 32 miles of riverfront. They provide guided activities and tours, or you can explore on your own.

river edge with high grasses and small white heron at montage palmetto resort south carolina

Take tennis and fly-fishing lessons, spend an afternoon at the shooting club, learn about their conservancy program, or go on a dolphin cruise to spot local wildlife. You can find yourself hiking, biking, paddle-boarding, or kayaking.

[Photo Credit: Everett Petronio]

For something a little quieter, chill out by the pool, hop onboard one of their yachts for morning mimosas on the water, or make your own s’mores around the fire pit at night. There’s plenty to do at this huge resort, making it a great all-around getaway.

The Pacific Northwest – For Tranquil Contemplation

blades of tall grass near water columbia gorge oregon
[Photo Credit: Lauren Neiheisel]

Salish Lodge and Spa – A quintessential Pacific Northwest experience, the Salish Lodge and Spa will make you feel like you’re on your own personal mountain retreat. Just 30 minutes east of Seattle, it overlooks the impressive 268 ft Snoqualmie Falls and river gorge, and is surrounded by a lush northwest forest. This will truly feel like an escape from the everyday.

couple's massage at the Salish Lodge & Spa in Washington

With gas fireplaces and spa-like showers in every room the real focus here is serenity.

[Photo Credit: Salish Lodge & Spa]

Perfect for a relaxing yet outdoorsy getaway, the Lodge features northwest-inspired spa treatments, easy hiking trails, trout fishing and two restaurants with local home-grown food.

dining room overlooking the pacific northwest river gorge and snoqualmie waterfalls at the Salish Lodge & Spa in Washington
[Photo Credit: Salish Lodge & Spa]

Founded in 1916 and owned by the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, it is truly unique. The Lodge was the setting of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks mystery series, and it has an onsite apiary which they use to make a huge variety of fresh honey products — ales, sweets, and main dishes.

living room area of the patio suite at the Salish Lodge & Spa in Washington State

Be sure to get a River View room so you can relax on your balcony to the sound of the rushing water.

[Photo Credit: Salish Lodge & Spa]

Stephanie Inn – For a romantic adventure on the Pacific Ocean, look no further than the Stephanie Inn. This adults-only ocean-front hotel offers the best in boutique luxury. Combining comfort and elegance with oceanfront and mountain views, this intimate retreat has a focus on all things culinary.

couple relaxing on their beachfront terrace at the Stephanie Inn, Oregon

Being only 28 steps to the beach, providing beach cruiser bicycles, and luxurious Jacuzzi “pure air” baths in every room is just the beginning.

[Photo Credit: The Stephanie Inn]

The Inn also offers several specialized excursions and experiences (“Stephanie Inn Sojourns”) with their executive chef.

You can take cooking classes, travel the Craft Ale Trail, go salmon and crab fishing in the Pacific, learn to blend your own wine and head to the local farmer’s market. All under the guidance of executive chef Aaron Bedard.

[Photo Credit: The Stephanie Inn]

The beachfront setting, pampering service, and the “foodie” experiences certainly set Stephanie Inn apart from the competition.

[Photo Credit: The Stephanie Inn]

This is a resort that really understands their clientele. Guests can enjoy a bonfire or picnic lunch on the beach, onsite massages, and free transportation into Cannon Beach (in a cool Tesla sedan) to explore local galleries, secret gardens and boutique shopping.

The Rocky Mountains- For Something Rugged

panoramic shot of Colorado meadow and moutains at C Lazy U Ranch
[ Photo Credit: C Lazy U Ranch]

C Lazy U RanchIf you’re itching to be active, experience a real dude ranch, or you’re traveling with children then the C Lazy U Ranch is the place. This luxury dude ranch in the heart of the Rocky Mountains is the Wild West family adventure you’ll be talking about for years to come.

three people horseback riding on a trail through a beautiful forest and next to a lack at the C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado
[Photo Credit: C Lazy U Ranch]

With a herd of over 200 horses, they’ll take you on daily trail rides among the wildflowers, lessons in the horse riding arenas, and cattle pushing clinics in the meadows. They also offer a ropes course, archery, zipline, hiking, tennis, and two miles of private riverfront for fly fishing.

two boys high five halfway up a rock climbing wall at the ropes course on the C Lazy U Ranch, Colorado

Balancing family time and scheduled adventure time, this 101 year-old ranch has an excellent kids & teens program.

[Photo Credit: C Lazy U Ranch]

Plus there’s still plenty of time to relax on the ranch.

Two large copper tubs await in the spa tent at the C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado

Enjoy their spa with unique copper soaking tubs and glass-floor tents, letting you watch the river drift by while enjoying your massage.

[Photo Credit: C Lazy U Ranch]

Chill by the pool, pond, or river and spend your evenings sharing stories by the open fire. This Ranch has it all and more.

Dunton Hot SpringsNestled in the San Juan Mountains, in the southwest corner of Colorado, sits a restored mining ghost town. Taking rustic luxury to a whole new level, this hot-springs centered resort perfectly combines nature, whimsy, and elegance. Thirteen hand-hewn log cabins circle the Saloon and Dance Hall, just steps from the bathhouse. Don’t let the rustic exterior fool you — each of these cabins features heated floors, large baths, glass showers, wifi, and all the other modern luxuries you could desire. One cabin even features its own hot springs tap!

San Juan Colorado Rockies snow-caped in the distance with a wooden fence and overgrown meadow in front

This perfectly-restored ghost town gives you views of mountains and meadows.

[Photo Credit: James Obernesser via Unsplash]

Enjoy hiking, biking, and fly fishing on your own. Or take along a guide for rock climbing, river rafting, horseback riding, and climbing to the top of the San Juan peaks. After all these outdoor activities, you’ll love coming back to restore and refresh in the hot springs before enjoying farm-fresh food and world-class wines in the saloon.

men's legs floating in a natural hot-spring surrounded by rocks and  a fir forest

The resort offers five ways to enjoy its ancient rejuvenating hot springs, which range from 85F to 106F.

[Photo Credit: Alexander Mcferon via Unsplash]

Staying at the Dunton Hot Springs is not only a unique experience but a perfect way to commune with nature and focus on your wellness.

Whether you’re feeling like what you need most is calming tranquility or an action-packed adventure, your first post-COVID trip should be someplace special, memorable, and a little bit luxurious. With lots of fresh crisp air and remote settings, we hope these six resorts have inspired you to dream big. Let us know when and where you’d like to enjoy your first post-pandemic ‘escape’!

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)