Traveling Mamas

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  • The Reach Resort, part of the Waldorf Astoria Collection, is a luxury beachfront resort in Key West, Florida. This property is located one block from Duvall Street and sits on the only natural beach in the area. I checked out this property and found it to be an intimate hideaway for couples and adults making it perfect for a romantic escape.

    The Rooms: My room was a suite overlooking the beach and pool area. The living area was spacious but I spent most of my time at the pool or exploring Key West. The bedroom was a bit small, but with the living area and balcony it didn’t seem cramped. Bathroom had shower large enough for two and enough counter space for a couple.

    The Property: There was construction going on across the street, but that attests to how well the area is doing. Lobby décor was contemporary. This property is large and there was only one elevator area. The pool area was nice and big with drinks available from the bar in the restaurant. It was pretty quiet during the time I was visiting and my traveling companions and I had the pool to ourselves. The beach is fabulous being a private area on Key West’s only natural beach.

    My Mama Moment: Sitting in the pool after a long day of touring Key West, tropical drink in hand.

    Pros: The beach, pool, balcony and location. The property was very clean, even in nooks and crannies.

    Cons: Service. I had to lug my bags up the front steps to the lobby and then make the trek from the elevator to my room, which was located on the far end of the floor. I had to stop twice to rest and didn’t think I’d ever get there.

    Who Should Go: Couples and friends. I personally wouldn’t consider this a family resort, but more of an adult property. This isn’t to say that families wouldn’t be taken care of, just that the kids may find things lacking in the amenities area. My particular room had a shower, no tub, so those with itty bitty kids may have a time bathing them without getting drenched.

    Price: This property is part of The Waldorf Astoria Collection, which means it’s a bit higher on the room rate and should meet certain standards. I will admit that I expected a bit more from a property that has this title attached to it.

    Website: The Reach Resort, The Waldorf Astoria Collection

    Special thanks to The Reach Resort who hosted part of my visit in The Florida Keys.

    Hotel Review on raveable

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  • Are you thinking of getting married or renewing your vows and want something exotic? Are you looking for a romantic getaway that caters to various lifestyles? What if you don’t have a passport? The Florida Keys is a destination for every type of traveler. I’ve been there with a kid, and without. I even spent a week there, just checking out hotels and resorts to see if they are places I would recommend to readers.

    Here are some of my top romantic resorts in the Florida Keys (or Conch Republic, as it is called).

    Beach at Little Palm Island by Shannon Hurst Lane1. Little Palm Island Resort and Spa – This one has to be at the top of the list. It’s a private island tucked away off the shore of Little Torch Key and crushed gravel pathways lead you to your secluded bungalow. There are beaches, piers, hidden hammocks, and no stress. Cell phones are not permitted and the only television is in one of the common areas. The onsite SpaTerre is a tree house of relaxation and Zen. I enjoyed exploring this luxurious island retreat, listening to the waves lap the shore. It is quite possibly one of the most romantic places I’ve ever visited. Children under the age of 16 are not permitted on the island. It isn’t easy on the pocketbook, but if you can save up, you won’t be disappointed. For those that can’t afford an overnight stay on Little Palm Island, you can still enjoy a fantastic waterside meal.

    Table for Two at CasaMorada by Shannon Hurst Lane2. Casa Morada – My favorite moment at this Islamorada property was sipping Champagne on the Sea view Terrace with Lauren Abrams and the other ladies of Casa Morada. It is a 16 suite property with hidden areas for couples to soak in the atmosphere of this bay-side resort. The décor is contemporary Caribbean and I must say that I felt like I was at an exclusive club and I was the most important person there. That’s how Casa Morada makes every guest feel. Pets are welcome too.

    3. Cheeca Lodge – I’ve been to this property twice. Once was for a work breakfast, but that visit was enough to entice me for a second visit with my daughter. It is a family friendly resort, but whether a couple brings the kids or leaves them at home, romance can still be found. The beach is true Keys style, with a bit of rockiness. Couples have their own part of the property, but those with children should take advantage of Camp Cheeca. My daughter checked it out for one day and then begged to go back the second day. Couples can take this private time and enjoy a couple’s massage or just lay out at the adult-only pool. Currently this property is closed for renovations after a New Years Eve fire, but should be opening back up soon. Update: Cheeca Lodge has reopened!

    The Moorings Village Beach by Shannon Hurst Lane4.The Moorings Village Resort and Spa – Ever wanted to be a Victoria’s Secret or Sports Illustrated swimsuit model? Well, this is where many of the photo shoots take place. It’s a photographer and movie director’s dream. This property is actually situated right next door to Cheeca Lodge but offers the white sand beach people look for. The cottages are laid out around the property and there is an onsite spa. Scenes from many movies have been filmed here, including “I Love You Philip Morris” starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

    5. Reach Resort – This Waldorf-Astoria property was my first introduction to the Keys. It has one of the best beaches in Key West and is perfect for enjoying a cigar and glass of wine. I didn’t see any kiddos at this place and the only noise came from me and my traveling partners. There is a restaurant onsite, The Strip House, which is definitely adult only. There are silhouettes of strippers all over, even on the wallpaper. It was a fun setting and the food was delicious too. The rooms here are condo style with balconies. Great place near the action of Duvall Street.

    Watching the sun set at Tranquility Bay by Shannon Hurst Lane6. Tranquility Bay – This property is like a little neighborhood of beach houses that all have an ocean view. I enjoyed watching the sun set with sand between my toes and an ice cold drink in my left hand. Great for families. Great for couples. Great for a group of friends seeking a place to relax and chill but still have the comforts of home (like a kitchen and laundry appliances in your unit). The beach bar makes killer drinks and serves munchies. An adult pool is available for those that want to stay far away from the little ones.

    Stuffed French Toast at Sunset Key Island by Shannon Hurst Lane7. Sunset Key Island – Cottages in varying sizes are dotted around this private island that is part of the Westin chain. I ate THE BEST stuffed French toast for breakfast there. It is family friendly, but the property is large enough that couples can find some quiet areas. There are special packages, even a Girlfriend Getaway package where a drag queen will come in and do makeovers and then take the group out on the town in Key West.

    8. Dove Creek Lodge – This property does not have a beach, but it is definitely the place to stay if you like fishing. The property has an atmosphere of a luxurious fishing camp with all the amenities. They had me at “hello” when I was handed a CD to enjoy in condo and what was on it? The love of my life, Kenny Chesney. Got to give kudos to a place when they know good music.

    9. The Southernmost House – One word: Haunting. This place isn’t just the southernmost place to stay in the US, but it is also rumored to be haunted. Funky décor and ocean view pool. More of a bed & breakfast/inn style than a hotel. Super cool.

    10. Key West Marriott Beachside – I didn’t stay overnight here, just took a look-see to tell you about it. If I had to get a room here, it would be the ones in the main building with the balconies. The beach here is amazing and I even had a bit of time to hang out in a nearby hammock. That’s what you’re supposed to do in The Keys, right?

    If you want to tour all of The Keys, I suggest flying into Key West Airport and renting a car. Visit all of The Keys by starting with a few days in Key West, and then meander your way north towards Miami so that you can get a feel for each Key. They are all different and have their own personalities. Key West is the busiest of all, with Duvall Street being like a beach version of the French Quarter at night. There is so much to do in Key West. The rest of your drive will bring you to the relaxation you may need before dropping the rental car off in Miami and flying home. Be careful though. Many people have visited The Keys and failed to catch the flight back home. For more information, visit The Florida Keys Official Tourism Site.

    Here’s a taste of Sam Brown’s visit to The Keys, which aired on The Travel Channel.

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  • Little CajunMama (LCM) and I decided that we needed to get away from our men folk and take a girls trip. I was looking forward to spending quality one on one time with my daughter. She was excited to just GO (her favorite word). We both love the sun and beach, but needed someplace that would enable me to relax and yet also provide activities for a ten year old. My friend Denise told me about her visit to Cheeca Lodge, a 27-acre luxury resort that was ideal for couples and families.

    We flew into Miami and had arranged for a ride with Emerald Transportation. I didn’t want the hassle of renting a car and navigating through Miami traffic. LCM imagined herself as a tween tv star and having a “driver”. The drive from Miami to Islamorada took about two hours, so of course my little tween star fell asleep on the ride. As the car slowed and turned into the drive of Cheeca Lodge, her little head popped up and her eyes were big as she looked around.

    Girl on Beach at Cheeca LodgeCheeca Lodge is set on the Atlantic side of Islamorada and offers a variety of lodging, from deluxe rooms to bungalows. There is an onsite spa near the adult pool, a number of restaurants, tennis courts, a small golf course, a family pool, a kids club, water sports, and of course a beach. Now, be aware, the Florida Keys are full of coral and rocky shores. If you are looking for a pristine white sandy beach that slowly dips into the water, then you will be disappointed. However, there is a man-made lagoon that provides a safe place for little ones to snorkel on the property.

    Our room was a courtyard view, but it was newly renovated. There was no need for us to have an Ocean view, which costs more, because they only time we would be spending in the room was to sleep. LCM was excited to see that the bathroom had a soaking tub with doors that open into the bedroom. She thought it was cool.

    I signed LCM up for Camp Cheeca, the property’s little people activity center. My plan was to take advantage of a spa treatment to start the trip off. This is what she had to say about Camp Cheeca in her travel journal:

    My mom and I got to go on a mother daughter trip to the Florida Keys. We stayed at Cheeca Lodge Resort.

    My favorite part was Camp Cheeca. Camp Cheeca is a really cool place. At first I didn’t want to go because there were probably going to be 5 year olds. But, it turned out the kids are all ages. You do arts and crafts, swimming, fishing, and so much more!

    But besides Camp Cheeca they had tennis, snorkeling, kayaking, a lot of stuff. The food was excellent and I made some friends and we did everything together! And also they had a sunset cruise. Where you go and watch the sunset on a big boat. If I could go to Cheeca Lodge again, I would. –LCM

    CajunMama and LCM on Sunset Cruise in the KeysWe really did have a wonderful time together. One afternoon, I took her on her first kayak trip. She was nervous, but once we were out on the water, she loved it.

    Cheeca Lodge does charge a $39 resort fee, but when you look at all that is included in that fee, it really isn’t that bad. It even includes wifi, which at some hotels can cost as much as $24 a day. Plus, greensfees at the golf course are included. Cheeca also offers a variety of kid entrees at each restaurant, and at an affordable price also. The average kid’s meal was $5US, and the adult prices weren’t too bad for a resort either.

    There is so much to do and see in the Florida Keys, but this trip to Cheeca Lodge was about mom and daughter. I have special memories with just my daughter and I know that when she grows up, she will always remember this special trip that was just about us.

    Update 01/01/2009: Cheeca Lodge experienced a fire in the main building on New Year’s Eve. The Resort is temporarily closed for renovations. We’ll update this page when the resort reopens for business.

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  • Is it really a good idea to bring a kid to a casino? It may not be tops on your list for a family vacation, but it is definitely worth looking into. Casinos aren’t just for senior travel anymore.

    A recent conversation about kids and casinos brought to mind my family’s weekend trip to Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, LA. Yup, that’s correct. I used ‘casino’ and ‘family’ in the same sentence, something I thought I’d never do.

    Mr. CajunMama and I heard about Paragon’s new hotel with offerings for families. We decided to call and see if we could get a room, and were fortunate to secure one on a Saturday night. We hit the road after the kids’ basketball games, and were amazed at the glowing towers arising from the sugarcane fields. Little CajunMama commented that she felt like Dorothy entering the Emerald City.

    The parking lot was almost full, due to Creedence Clearwater Revisited holding a concert that night, but Mr. CajunMama found us a spot (he refuses to pay anyone to park his car, but valet parking is available).

    Paragon Gators

    We walked into the lobby, with the kids gasping at the indoor swamp, complete with live alligators and turtles. We found out at check in that the indoor pool closes at 8pm to minors. Since it was five minutes until eight, we knew the swimming option was out for the night. LittleCajunMama (age 9) was dying to go to KidsQuest, a supervised children’s activity center. Her brother (age 11) wasn’t as excited, but he agreed to check it out for This allowed The Mister and I to enjoy dinner for two at one of the many restaurants available at the resort. Reservations are strongly recommended at Legend’s Steakhouse. We tried to get in, but there was an hour wait. We ended up at Roxy’s, a fifties-style diner where we enjoyed burgers and shakes. We put a few dollars in the slots, but it just wasn’t our night. We ended up going to check on the kids at KidsQuest. Our son was ready to go, but LittleCajunMama begged to stay and play. We let her play for another twenty minutes.

    We purchased an in-room movie on the flat screen tv before hitting the sack in our super-luxurious rooms. The kids woke us up at 7:30 am, ready for breakfast and the indoor pool. They also begged to see a movie at the on-site movie theater, but the movies only play in the evenings. Breakfast was a steal at Roxy’s, which we found out offers a kid menu. Our family of four had a full breakfast for a total of $14.00US. What a deal!

    The rest of the morning was spent enjoying the indoor lagoon pool with fountains, waterfalls, and hot tub. We were reluctant to leave Marksville and extended the day by visiting the nearby Marksville State Historic Site, which is a recognized archeological site. Not many visitors were there, so we ended up exploring the area of the bluffs and mounds with no one to bother us. We had such a wonderful time that the kids are asking when they can go to the “casino” again.

    Rating of KidsQuest: 5/5 for 10 and under | 3/5 for 11 and 12 year olds

    Rating of Arcade: 5/5 for 13-17 year olds | 4/5 for families

    Rating of Indoor Pool: 5/5 for all around coolness by both kids. The littlest one loved Paragon Casino Resort so much, she asked to go back for her birthday.

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