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Archive for the ‘Attractions’ Category

Road Trips USA: A Week in Montana

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Road Trips USA Montana Road Map“Long time, no see — where ya been?”
“I was on a road trip.”
“Cool! Where?”
“Montana and Wyoming.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”

I get why I get that reaction. To be honest, my main goal in visiting Montana was to cross off one of the few states on my yet-to-be-visited list. Like many others, I figured not many people live there, there must not be much to it. Hooboy, was I wrong.

My week in Montana was a lot like falling in love with a soul mate. I was wide-eyed and giddy, and also shocked that this thing of beauty was available to me and not already taken by an earlier suitor…or, you know, millions of other tourists. I have no logical explanation for why the place isn’t swarming with tourists. I guess too many people just write it off because it seems like the middle of nowhere — but that vast openness, the Big Sky, is part of Montana’s appeal. And the only way to see it is on a road trip, because if you confine your vacation to a small radius of one of the few airports or cities, you’re going to miss a lot. I’m already scanning the calendar for the right time to go back and check out a lot of the things I didn’t see this time around, like Glacier National Park. But let me tell you about what I did see and do, because it was one of the best trips of my life.

My route was a little wacky, because my trip was broken up by a weekend bridge tournament in Idaho, so you may not want to follow my exact path, but I definitely wouldn’t want to miss any of the stops I made.

Day One: Red Lodge, Montana

A road trip is what brings most travelers to Red Lodge, home to the Beartooth Highway, “the most beautiful drive in America.”  This scenic road to Yellowstone celebrates its 75th anniversary this summer, and quiet Red Lodge will be rocking throughout the summer.  Because the pass is snowed under most of the year, Red Lodge really only sees tourists in the summertime, but most of the local hotels, restaurants, and shops stay open all year, so don’t feel like you have to go when the crowds go.  Red Lodge is the kind of place you’d want to come and turn off your cell phone, laptop, and anything else that pulls you away from the moment and just be in the town.

Road Trips USA: Beartooth Highway

The main street is lined with old-timey saloons that really welcome you to the West.  It’s easy to get a feel for how the miners and prospectors of the 19th century lived — the spirit of the old west is thick throughout.

I stayed at The Pollard, a beautiful historic hotel in the heart of the town.  I loved this boutique hotel, and I’ll be reviewing it in depth for About.com, so be sure to check out About Hotels to learn more about some of the historic hotels along your Montana road trip route.

Day Two: Red Lodge to Bozeman, Montana

Along the way to Bozeman is a small town called Absarokee, and a can’t-miss Montana road trip stop: Paintbrush Adventures.  This can be a two-hour stop on your road trip for a quick horseback riding experience, or you can make a whole vacation of your visit.  Paintbrush Adventures offers ranch vacations where you live, work, and play on the ranch, custom mountain pack trips including horseback riding, fishing, and camping, and drop camps, where they’ll drop you off with your supplies and pick you up when it’s time to go.  I only had time for the two-hour trail ride, and having never ridden a horse before, that was about all I could take for my first time.  Our guide was one of the ranch owners, and in addition to making sure we were comfortable on our horses, he told us all about the history of the area as we trekked along the Stillwater River and up a mountain for spectacular views of Montana’s highest peaks.

Here I am with my husband with the snowcaps behind us.  Can you tell neither one of us has been on a horse before?

Road Trips USA Paintbrush Adventures Trail Ride

The views are absolutely worth the sore legs.  You wouldn’t expect to get sore from basically just sitting, but it’s not as easy as the cowboys make it look.  Even though I had no idea how to handle a horse, my pony knew how to handle me, and it was a great, relaxing ride.

In Bozeman, we had time for two main stops: The Museum of the Rockies was first.  The rich history of this region starts long before cowboys and Indians — dinosaurs once roamed this territory, and you’ll find a great dino exhibit here.  They also have a planetarium and exhibits on Yellowstone, Native Americans, early American history, and my favorite, the frog exhibit.  Definitely a kid-friendly museum with lots to interest the grownups, too.

The second stop on our brief tour of Bozeman was Montana Ale Works, a hip brewpub where McKenzie had his first bison burger — he recommends it!  From here, we walked around downtown and I wished I could go back in time and apply to college at MSU.  It was one of the larger towns on our road trip, and I loved everything about it — large enough for an airport, all the major shopping and dining choices you’d expect in a city, and still small enough to feel cozy and friendly.

Day Three: West Yellowstone and Virginia City, Montana

Road Trips USA Ousel FallsOn the way to West Yellowstone, there’s a short hike in Big Sky to Ousel Falls.  There’s no shortage of fantastic hikes in Montana, but this one is perfect for breaking up your time in the car.  It’s just under a mile to the falls, with only a small elevation gain on your walk, so this scenic hike should take no more than an hour, but you may want to stop and bask for a while at the falls.

In West Yellowstone, check out the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.  A trip to the Rockies wouldn’t be complete without a bear sighting, and this is a safe place to see them up close.

From there, the road took us to Virginia City.  ”City” is a little misleading — it’s more like a one-horse town, definitely worth a visit.  The historic main street is set up like a museum of the town that was much busier a hundred years ago.  Peek in the windows of the old shops and businesses, preserved as they were a century back.  You won’t find many options for food here, but Cousin’s Candy Shop is a great place to stock up on sweets for the road.  I stayed at another historic hotel here, the Fairweather Inn, which, as the name suggests, is open mid-May through mid-September.

 

Day Four: Bannack State Park to Butte, Montana

Bannack State Park was probably my favorite stop on the road trip.  This is a must see, and you’re not allowed to come to my website anymore if you skip this attraction.  A gold rush town, Bannack was the first Territorial Capital of Montana.  The town thrived in the late 1800′s, but by the 1950′s, it was all but deserted.  The state then turned the ghost town into a park, and today, over 60 buildings from the gold rush days still stand, most of which are open for exploration.  Here’s a view of the town from the hillside cemetery:

Road Trips USA Bannack State Park

From Bannack, there’s a great roadside stop on the way to Butte called Crystal Park.  For a small fee, you can dig for quartz crystals here, and you’re sure to find plenty.

The best attraction in Butte is the Dumas Brothel.  Active as a house of prostitution in Butte’s once-bustling red light district from 1890 to 1982, the Dumas Brothel is America’s longest-running whorehouse.  And now it’s a museum!  An allegedly haunted one!

Day Five: Philipsburg to Missoula, Montana

Philipsburg is where you’ll find the best souvenirs of your Montana road trip, so you don’t want to skip this stop.  First, visit the Sapphire Gallery, where you can purchase a bag of Montana mine rocks for $25 and pan for sapphires.  Don’t worry — they’ll show you how to find them, and if you come up empty, they’ll give you another bag.  I collected over eight carats of cuttable sapphires in my bag.  For an extra fee, they’ll heat treat  your gems (to bring out the color) and cut them for you so they sparkle and you can have them put in jewelry.  Mine just came in the mail yesterday and I can’t wait to make a ring out of the half-carat blue sapphire I had cut.

Next door to the Sapphire Gallery is the Sweet Palace.  Get your fill of every kind of candy imaginable here before you hit the road again.

On the way to Missoula, you can take a drive through the National Bison Range to check out the wildlife.  Get a good night’s sleep, because Missoula is a place for adventure.

Day Six: Missoula, Montana

Before you leave on your trip, secure a reservation with 10,000 Waves for a whitewater rafting trip in Missoula.  I had one…but the floods had other plans for me, and it wasn’t safe to go out on the river while I was there.  So I spent the day with the guys who would’ve guided me on the raft — instead, they gave me a tour of the town.  Again, I found myself wishing I could go back in time to apply to college at the University of Montana.  What a cool place. Kienan and Ben, our guides, took us to Out to Lunch, Downtown Missoula’s weekly performing arts festival, where we saw a local legend of sorts.  I can’t find anything online about them, but apparently the Particle Movers are local celebrities.  They believe it’s their duty to, well, move particles…something about the balance of nature or something…they apparently believe that music can wreak havoc with the particles, and so they go to wherever music is happening and help rearrange the particles…or something like that.  Ask a local — they can probably tell the story better than I can.  But sure enough, they were there, hard at work moving some invisible somethings while a live band played and local vendors sold food at the park by the river.

In the evening, take a hike up to the M overlooking the university for a breathtaking sunset.  ”Hiking the M” is one of the main tourist (and local) activities in the town.

Road Trips USA Missoula M Sunset

Between river running, mountain biking, hiking, and checking out the local breweries, you’re going to need to spend a couple of days in Missoula at least.  It’s on the top of my list of places to revisit as soon as I can.

Next up, a week in Wyoming!

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Road Trips USA: The Wild West

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

It’s the first day of summer, so it’s the perfect time to start thinking about road trips.  Whether you have a weekend for exploring, or a whole month to see the sights, all great road trips have the same key components:

  • Great music — the road trip is one of the great themes in American music.  It’s easy to create your own vacation soundtrack.
  • Great company — road trips solidify relationships.  You’ll be creating memories that will warm your heart for a lifetime.
  • Funky roadside stops — it’s not a successful road trip until you’ve seen the World’s Largest Something.
  • Beautiful scenery — go someplace you’ve never been before.  See the parts of the country that few people have seen.  Explore the unfamiliar.

My most recent road trip took me on a journey through America’s wild west.  I started in Montana, then went down into Wyoming through Yellowstone National Park.  Road trips are the only way to see this part of the country, because it’s so vast, and you’re doing yourself a major disservice if you just fly to Yellowstone, spend a week in the park, and head home without seeing what the surrounding areas have to offer — ghost towns, college towns, rodeo, old west saloons, breweries, haunted hotels, dinosaurs, white water adventures, and views you have to see to believe.

I’m not going to try to cram two weeks of adventure into one blog post.  I will do my best to virtually recreate my wild west road trip over my next few installments.  For now, I will share a song that should be on every road trip playlist:

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Evergreen Aviation Museum, McMinnville, Oregon

Friday, May 13th, 2011
Evergreen Aviation Museum P-40

1938 P-40

Ever since I was a little kid, airplanes have fascinated me.  I still get great joy out of simply watching them take off and land, or comparing them to each other when they’re all parked at an airport.  I love how in small planes, you can really feel the flight, and I love how in jumbo jets, you feel almost nothing.  Airplanes are just rad; that’s the bottom line.

When I visited the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon (not far from Portland), I was like a kid in a candy shop.  Except I didn’t taste any of the planes.  There are four major parts of the aviation museum:  the main building, which houses pre-1955 aircraft, including the Spruce Goose, which dwarfs everything else in the collection; a second building with the modern aircraft including military jets and spacecraft (rumor has it that one of the recently retired space shuttles will soon be on display here); the IMAX theater; and lastly, the aviation-themed water park, where you can slide down from a Boeing 747 that sits on the roof of the building!

A good visit to the Evergreen Aviation Museum will take all day, but there’s so much to see and do that even little ones won’t get bored.  The docents here are some of the best museum guides I’ve ever met.  Each one is bursting with knowledge and stories about the planes and their history, and they’re so enthusiastic to share their passion — it’s contagious.  I met one volunteer at the museum who had flown P-40′s in the Second World War.  Then when he came home, his parents wouldn’t let him drive the family car!

Evergreen Aviation Museum Tin Goose

1925 Ford Tin Goose

The older planes were my favorite part of the experience.  Most of the aircraft in the collection are the original planes that flew as long as a full century ago.  In addition to original aircraft, the museum has reconstructions of historic planes like the Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer.  I really loved the 1925 Ford Tin Goose, one of the earliest commercial airplanes.  Flight attendants were required to spend one month at a four-star resort (tough job!) to learn how to treat their passengers like royalty.  Oh, the good old days.

Spruce Goose

Spruce Goose

I loved how close I could get to so many of the planes in the collection.  Docents offered peeks inside some of the military planes, and visitors are welcome to step inside the Spruce Goose.  This largest plane ever built flew only one time, in 1947, for approximately one minute.  It was kept flight-ready at a great cost for many years after, but eventually retired to its display in the Evergreen Aviation Museum, hulking over the hundreds of other planes in the collection.

A visit to the IMAX theater is a great way to rest your feet in the middle of your day at the museum.  I enjoyed the Legends of Flight 3D film, which took me on a ride through aviation history.  It’s a first class ticket to ride lots of historic aircraft, as well as an up-close look at the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has been getting a lot of hype as it nears its first delivery date.  The Dreamliner has already completed several successful test flights, and is expected to enter into commercial service sometime within the next few months.

The brand new water park at the Evergreen Aviation Museum opens in June 2011 — a great way to combine some educational tourism with good summer fun.

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Road Trip Stop: Petroglyph Point

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Not many people go driving through northern California.  There’s not a lot going on there and it’s pretty far from any major tourist destinations, but there are lots of great camping spots in the area, and some great roadside attractions if you ever find yourself passing through.  On our recent drive from Portland to Reno, my husband and I were rolling down lonely CA-139 when we saw signs for Petroglyph Point just south of Tulelake, California.

Petroglyph Point is a really stunning rock standing in the middle of a vast plain in Lava Beds National Monument.  The plain used to be covered by Tule Lake, and this rock was an island in the middle.  The water carved some fascinating patterns on this stone.

Ancient inhabitants of this region used to canoe out to the island and carve artwork into the rock.  No one today knows the true significance of the carvings, but historians are certain that it is artwork and not writing, because the tribes that lived in the area had no written alphabet.  The age of the rock art is not known for certain, though some researchers date it at up to several thousand years old.  Their best guess is that this art tells a story of some sort, but there’s little evidence to indicate what that story may be.  Perhaps it’s something about bugs.

Walking around this rock, you can see petroglyphs stretching out all along its base — some are higher than others, and while in some spots the glyphs are very faint, there are other points where the rock is very busy with carvings.

Petroglyph Point is a spot where you can really see ancient history — both in the carvings done by humans and the patterns left on the rock from the water.  Definitely worth a detour if you’re in the area.

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Lagasse’s Stadium is Sports Book Dining Like You’ve Never Seen Before

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Lagasse’s Stadium is a new theme restaurant at The Palazzo on the Las Vegas strip.  That’s Lagasse as in renowned celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, and Stadium as in where you go to watch sports.  This is the restaurant part of The Palazzo’s sports book, and it’s like no other sports book in Vegas.

Chef Emeril, a big sports fan, has been heavily involved with every aspect of this restaurant to ensure visitors an enjoyable dining, sports, and gaming experience.  The menu choices include stadium classics like nachos, burgers, and beer, but also steaks, seafood, fancy soups, salads, and sides, and delicious desserts.  It’s the selection and quality you’d expect from a world class chef, but the prices aren’t what you might guess.  Menu items start at $6, and lots of entrees are under $15.  Next week, Lagasse’s Stadium will introduce a new menu with expanded vegetarian options.

In here, even the worst seat (I couldn’t find a bad one) offers better views than 90% of the seats at any sports book in town.  Each table in the restaurant has at least one flatscreen television to itself, or you can sit in the super comfy stadium seats that face the big screen at the front of the restaurant.  You won’t have to fight over seats with your buddies, because you can all see whatever game you want to see from anywhere in the place.  You can place sports book bets while you eat, and with the PocketCasino gaming devices available here, you can place bets from the comfort of your own seat — and more bets than you ever imagined.  In a football game, for instance, you can place a bet on every down.  Lagasse’s Stadium is the only place on the strip that has PocketCasino.  You could say that Lagasse’s takes the sports book and kicks it up a notch!  (Couldn’t resist.)

In addition to stadium, table, and bar seating, Lagasse’s has a year-round patio, with heaters for when it gets chilly, and great views of the Treasure Island show across Las Vegas Blvd at night.  Then there are sky boxes — semi-private box seats at the top of the stadium — and luxury boxes — private rooms available for group rentals.  The luxury boxes accommodate groups of 5 to 50 people, and each is equipped with televisions, an iPod dock so you can play your own tunes, and a Wii console stocked with lots of games.  Fun fact: Vanna White uses luxury boxes 4 & 5 as her dressing room when she films Wheel of Fortune in Vegas.

Inside one of Vanna's dressing rooms

Lagasse’s Stadium is still a brand new addition to the Vegas restaurant scene, but it’s already become a favorite hangout for celebs and tourists alike.  If you want seats here for a big game, you’re going to need reservations.  For really big games, you’ll need reservations way in advance.  Call 702-607-2665 to reserve your spot at Lagasse’s Stadium.  This is a must for any sports fan.

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It’s Vegas Week at Jianantonic.com!

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Las Vegas Sign

Las Vegas is one of my favorite cities on the planet.  I guess you either love it or hate it, but I’m firmly in the love it! camp.  Because cards are kind of the thing in that city, and I’m kind of a card player, I get to go a lot, but this week is the first time in a long time I’m going to Sin City and NOT playing bridge 14 hours a day.

I’ll only be in town for five days, not quite enough time to sample every craps table, night club, performance, and wine bar on the strip, but I’m going to do my best!

Stay tuned for a week of updates from the Entertainment Capital of the World!

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Stingray Splash Special at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

When that little groundhog told us we were in for a long winter, was anyone prepared for all the snow, snow, and more snow that’s been falling?  Everyone dreams of a white Christmas, but come mid-February, we’re back to dreaming of flowers blossoming, green trees, and warm rays of sunlight, right?  It might be a while before you see any of that at home, but it’s all waiting for you at Grand Cayman island in the Caribbean Sea.  The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman is offering a special Stingray Splash vacation package with a complimentary fifth night at the luxury hotel.

The package includes accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, a trip for two to Stingray City, and a free fifth night of your vacation.  What is this Stingray City?  According to ocean explorer and preservationist Jean-Michel Cousteau, it is one of the best snorkeling sites in the world.  To get there, you’ll board the Intrepid motor yacht at the resort’s dock with a group of no more than 8 total visitors.  It’s a 15-minute boat ride to the shallow sandbar in Cayman’s North sound known as Stingray City.

In crystal clear, 3-foot-deep waters, guests can snorkel, play with and feed the gentle stingrays which are accustomed to human visitors.

When you’re not communing with friendly rays, there’s plenty more to enjoy at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman:  Silver Rain, a La Prairie Spa, Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment family program, Blue Tip, a 9-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman, and of course all the fine dining options you’d expect at any Ritz-Carlton property.

The Stingray Splash package starts at $609 per night for the high season.  Visit www.ritzcarlton.com for reservations and more information.

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New Thrill Slide Coming to America’s Water Parks

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I never did outgrow water parks.  Offer me a day of swimming, sliding, and splashing, and I’m there.  I love adventure and speed and I don’t mind getting soaked, but even I am a little apprehensive about the AquaLoop, a new gravity defying water slide that takes riders on a roller coaster-style loop.

www.WhiteWaterWest.com

www.WhiteWaterWest.com

You enter the slide standing straight up on a trap door.  It drops out from under your feet and you plummet in a 40-foot free fall to gain speed entering the loop at 2.5 g’s and speeds of up to 40mph.

WhiteWater, the company that makes the AquaLoop, has sold over 20 of these slides worldwide, and thrill seekers at water parks in Europe and Asia are crazy about this crazy slide.  At least two American water parks will debut the AquaLoop in 2010 — Jay Peak Resort in Vermont and Noah’s Ark Water Park in Wisconsin hope to open their AquaLoop slides on Memorial Day weekend next year.

Do you have the guts to try a looping water slide?  What do you think — more awesome, or more terrifying?  Maybe the fact that it’s terrifying makes it more awesome!  Check out this video to see what it’s like to ride the AquaLoop:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44JieSKX464[/youtube]

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Free Tickets to the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony Available Now

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

national_christmas_tree_2008

Starting today, you can enter the lottery to get free tickets to the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington, DC.

The United States Marine Corps Band and several world famous performers will provide entertainment at the event, which takes place on the Ellipse just south of the White House in our nation’s capital.  President Obama will deliver a message of peace as the National Christmas Tree and 56 smaller trees, representing each of the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, are illuminated for the first time this year.

The ticket lottery will distribute 2800 seated tickets and 7000 standing room tickets.  You can enter the lottery now through 11:59pm EST by visiting www.thenationaltree.org or calling (877) 444-6777.  Ticket winners will be notified by email or by phone and tickets will be mailed by November 15.  The National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony takes place on Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 5:00 p.m.

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Pampering & Relaxation, the Hawaiian Way

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

It’s been a month now since I enjoyed an awa and cacao lomi wrap at the new Kapalua Spa in Maui, but if I close my eyes and meditate, I can still smell the soothing chocolate aroma that covered my body that morning.

Awa plant

Awa plant

The treatment began with an awa ceremony.  Pat, my therapist, explained that Hawaiians use awa, a plant that grows on the islands, as a way to relax at the end of a long day, or they may drink it together with others and then air and resolve conflicts.  The light intoxicant takes confrontation out of these kinds of exchanges.  Pat explained how he can share an awa drink with anyone, then they each speak honestly to one another with complete respect, and put any issues behind them.  What a nice idea.

Pat first presented me with a bowl of awa to drink.  It didn’t have much taste to it, just a slight grainy texture.  I immediately felt myself start to unwind.  I then presented a bowl to Pat, and then the treatment began.

I’d never had a wrap before and had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I was told that this was the signature treatment of the new Kapalua Spa — a truly Hawaiian experience — and that’s what I wanted.  Hawaiians could teach the rest of America a thing or two about how to relax.

Instead of regular massage oil, this treatment incorporates a mixture of various natural substances, primarily awa and cacao, but Pat also said there was some sandalwood and other ingredients as well.  It smelled like warm chocolate.  He massaged the solution into my skin, all over my body.  The grainy texture made it feel like I was getting my back scratched as well — one of the most pleasant sensations in the world, amplified by the incredible massage.  I was instantly relaxed, and for the duration of my treatment, I lingered at the edge of consciousness.

Awa and Cacao Lomi Wrap

Awa and Cacao Lomi Wrap

Once the awa and cacao mixture was thoroughly massaged into my whole body, Pat began the wrap portion of the treatment.  He draped a series of warm blankets and towels over me until I was in a very thick cocoon.  He massaged my neck and scalp while the wrap worked its own magic, and I’m pretty sure that time stood still and the rest of the world ceased to exist for those few minutes.  Next, Pat unwrapped me and exited the room so I could rinse off and get back under clean sheets for more massage — the pampering just went on and on.  When my treatment was done, I couldn’t remember what stress felt like.

Enjoying the view from the Kapalua Spa lap pool.  Photo by Johnny Jet (www.johnnyjet.com)

Enjoying the view from the Kapalua Spa lap pool. Photo by Johnny Jet (www.johnnyjet.com)

After my massage, I hung around the spa to enjoy the beautiful ocean-themed facilities.  I was in no condition to walk back to my room, anyhow.  After some time in the hot tub, I swam for a while in the gorgeous lap pool before reluctantly hanging up my robe and leaving.  A person could easily spend a whole day at the Kapalua Spa, without a moment of Hawaiian vacation wasted.  Start with a to-die-for breakfast smoothie at the spa’s juice bar, then head down to the brand new, state-of-the-art gym.  You’ll find every kind of cardio and weightlifting equipment you can imagine, and trainers there to help you make the most of your workout.  It’s the perfect way to get your juices flowing and prepare your body for the relaxation to come with your spa treatment.  Clean off with signature Kapalua bath and body products in the spa showers, and then hang out in the hot tub until your therapist comes to get you for your treatment.

The Kapalua Spa is a truly unique, authentic Hawaiian experience.  You’re not cooped up in some windowless room getting the same kind of massage you can get at your neighborhood spa.  Kapalua is all Hawaii, all the way — and Hawaiians know a thing or two about how to feel good.  Try one of Kapalua Spa’s traditional Hawaiian treatments next time you’re in Maui — and ask for Pat.

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