Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cuba in New York City: Dance Festival at City Center, February 18 - March 7

I am obsessed with Cuba. I've visited twice in the past two years, and each time has opened my eyes to a completely different slice of the country. The high-energy music and dance scene, the magnificent (and crumbling) architecture, the smiling people, and those fabulous 50s cars have given me images that I can't forget. I was thrilled when I heard that Ballet Rakatan was finally bringing their amazing dance troupe to the US. Just like the easing of travel restrictions from the US to Cuba, there appears to be an easing of cultural exchanges with the US. as well. This troupe, which has been touring throughout the world (but not the US.) is finally coming to New York City. I can't think of a better way to get prepped for another visit to Havana Vieja.

Havana Rakatan, the hot, sexy Cuban dance show from acclaimed Havana-based Ballet Rakatan will be making its U.S. debut at City Center, 135 West 55th Street, in Manhattan, February 18 – 22. And you don't need to sign up for a people-to-people program to see it.

Havana Rakatan is the first presentation of City Center’s A Bailar: Dance at the Center Latin dance festival which runs from February 18 – March 7. The Festival continues with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s m¡longa,a dance presentation focused on the sultry world of Buenos Aires tango. The final performance is Voces, Suite Flamenca,a new work from flamenco superstar Sara Baras.

Back to Cuba for the moment. I really encourage you to get your tickets before they’re sold out.

Havana Rakatan is a dazzling mix of salsa, mambo, jazz, bolero, son, cha cha cha and rumba, accompanied by the eight-piece Cuban son band Turquino, which will perform live onstage. The show presents a dazzling slice of Havana culture that charts the evolution of Cuban music and dance over the country’s 500-year history, from the West African rhythms brought by slaves beginning in the mid-16th century, to the jazz, mambo and bolero of the 1940s, the rumba and cha cha of the 1970s, and the salsa and son of modern-day Havana.

As I heard in both Havana and Trinidad last week, it’s son that brings it all to an exciting finish, combining elements of Spanish guitar and song with African rhythms and percussion. This is the heart of modern Cuban music and dance. Ballet Rakatan is one of Cuba's most successful cultural exports. The company was founded by dancer-turned-choreographer Nilda Guerra in 2001 and has since toured throughout the world. Most of the dancers are graduates of the renowned Escuela Nacional de Arte de la Habana, one of Havana’s premier dance schools that offers contemporary dance training mixed with Cuban dance and Latin styles.

The performance schedule is:

Havana Rakatan, February 18-22: Wednesday, February 18 and Thursday, February 19 at 7:30 pm; Friday, February 20 at 8 pm; Saturday, February 21 at 2 and 8 pm; and Sunday, February 22 at 2 and 7 pm

m¡longa, February 26 – March 22: Thursday, February 26, Friday, February 27 and Saturday, February 28 at 8 pm; and Sunday, March 1, at 2 pm

Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, March 4-7: Wednesday, March 4 and Thursday, March 5 at 7:30 pm; Friday, March 6 and Saturday, March 7 at 8 pm

For tickets,

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Valentine's Day Packages for Procrastinators

Valentine’s Day procrastinators can still book some pretty cool "50 Shades of Grey"-themed, foodie aphrodisiac, and over-the-top indulgences for their sweeties.

Taking advantage of the long-awaited movie premiere of Fifty Shades of Grey on February 13 and Valentine’s Day on February 14, the new B Ocean Resort in Fort Lauderdale, FL is offering an indulgent Valentine’s Day package themed after the best-selling novel. Couples booking the “Fifty Shades of B Package” will receive items that appear in the 50 Shades story line including a grey silk tie, a bottle of Pouilly Fume wine, a decadent cheese and fruit platter, and a sensual love kit. In true Christian Grey fashion, couples looking notch things up can B Adventurous with the addition of a helicopter ride above the serene beaches of Fort Lauderdale. Throughout their stay couples can enjoy Mexican cuisine at B Ocean’s onsite restaurant, Dos Caminos, or make a splash at the legendary Wreck Bar and sip on signature cocktails. The package is available through March 1, starting at $339 per night with a 2-night minimum.

Are you one of the first to have seen 50 Shades of Grey? Then you might spark to this package that has a laser focus on timing as well. Hotel Monaco Philadelphia is offering a scandalous 70% off sale for a limited number of rooms from February 11-April 16 with a “Thrifty Shades of Grey” 72-hour sale. The sale ends at midnight on February 13. If you're late to the party and miss out on the deep discount, rooms will still be available at a 30% discount.

Also in celebration of Valentine's Day and the 50 Shades of Grey movie premiere, The Heathman Restaurant & Bar in Portland, OR has concocted a romantic night out on the town. Guests are invited to imbibe with the 50 Shades of Gin cocktail (handcuffs included), enjoy dinner for two (complete with menu items from the book and grey-tied servers), and top the night off with tickets to the film at a nearby theater.

A getaway to the nation’s capital is appealing at the Mandarin Oriental, Washington, DC. For the entire year, the hotel is offering the "Monumental Romance" package just in case couples procrastinate (beyond Saturday) or just can't get away in February. Starting at $455, you’ll get luxurious accommodations, chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne, breakfast for two in bed (or at the Muze restaurant, if you prefer), and a $100 credit at the spa. For further indulgence (and valid for the month of February), The Spa offers the Valentine Couples Retreat in a private suite with an 80-minute Oriental Essence Massage, Moroccan Oil Scalp Massage and chocolate-covered strawberries with champagne for an extra charge.

The Mandarin Oriental in Miami is long on romance as well. Couples looking to experience a luxurious Valentine's Day are invited to book the "Be My Valentine" package with accommodations in a deluxe room, full American breakfast at La Mar with mimosas, and a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries upon arrival. Rates start at $739 for a one-night stay.

The Hotel Monaco in Portland’s "At Your Service" Valentine's Day Package reaches new levels. How’s this for an array of services? In the evening, your champagne butler will offer a sampling of local Oregon sparkling wines along with professional tasting notes; your oyster and caviar butler bring an arrangement of indulgent canapés to pair with your champagne, while your bath butler prepares for your late evening by selecting luxurious bath accoutrements for a perfectly drawn bath to set the mood. Next, it’s the pampering and grooming butler who makes you up and blows out your hair, and gives your better half a shave, neck trim and shoe shine. And, of course, there’s a destination butler, your own personal driver to take you anywhere your heart's desire for dinner (they’ll help plan that, too). The next day, the espresso butler will be on call to bring up your favorite pick-me-up beverage to finish all this. There’s breakfast for two and late checkout (of course).

Want to go over-the-top, but a little further South? Hard Rock Hotel San Diego's extravagant "We Found Love" package, wants to make sure you have everything necessary for a passionate night any time in February. The package includes luxurious suite accommodations, romantic turndown service with champagne and chocolates, a love song playlist expertly curated by the hotel’s VIBE Manager, and a $40 in-room breakfast bed credit. For those who really want to make a statement about their love for each other, the hotel offers a "PDA Add-On," where, for $1500, a personal Valentine's message will light up the side of the hotel using hi-tech projection software.

Foodies have a package all their own as well. Fisher Island Club Hotel & Resort, the private vacation destination in Miami Beach, presents the “Romancing the Palate” package, where couples can explore their love affair with food through the guidance of culinary genius Stephane Caporal, Fisher Island Club Hotel & Resort’s executive chef. The chef has created a program that will take guests on a romantic gastronomic journey filled with foodie experiences and personal attention. Offered until April 30, you’ll get a three-night-stay in the hotel’s romantic Vanderbilt North Cottage, Vintage Dom Perignon Champagne and caviar service for two upon arrival, a private cooking class for two with Executive Chef Stephane Caporal, an intimate dinner for two at Garwood Lounge, a personal chauffer during your entire stay, a personal butler at your service during entire stay to handle all wishes, monogrammed robes, European breakfast in bed, daily, and a couples massage at Spa Internazionale.

For another foodie idea, Vietnam’s secluded Six Senses Ninh Van Bay has come up with a playful concept with His and Her menus for Valentine’s Dinner at The Bay. For those couples that love to share by tasting one another’s dishes, this is a feast that offers the best of both worlds. The five-course menus include oyster shooters, tuna tartar, seared scallop, seared sea bass and glazed beef fillet in tamarind sauce. Deserts are even more sinful with hazelnut dacquoise and vanilla mousse. A wine pairing is also offered for the ultimate dining experience.

Feeling a bit more spiritual? Mii amo Spa in Sedona, AZ is the perfect destination to relax and unwind with their “Week of Love.” Beginning today, couples can deepen their spiritual connection with the enlightening three-day, “Conscious Love Retreat.” Hosted by Master Intuitive, Cathleen Miller, couples are invited to discover the eternal rewards of honest communication and how these skills can be used to create a life filled with self-awareness, gratitude and love. You’ll also explore the Power of Touch with a special expert-led workshop to discover the different physical and mental benefits of the human touch. Included in couples’ personalized all-inclusive Journey™ packages, couples can unwind with two daily spa treatments. For an intimate spa experience, Mii amo offers a Shared Treatment menu, where couples can relax with soothing treatments including the Dosha Balancing Wrap, Sedona Clay Wrap or the Anasazi Ubtan. Three-night, all-inclusive rates begin at $2,520 per person based on double occupancy and includes three daily meals at Mii amo Café and two daily spa treatments per person.

At the Hotel Palomar Chicago, the "Yoga For Lover"s package lets you declare your union (that’s what yoga means, after all) with two yoga sessions at the hotel led by local yoga studio, Zen Yoga Garage.  You'll first practice Zen's Partner Yoga and Thai Yoga Massage, followed by wine hour (naturally!), before you set out for the rest of the evening. Wake up the next day with Zen's Morning Recovery Yoga and Silent Partner Mediation, and mimosas, before check out. Available on Valentine’s Day weekend, this package is offered starting at $344 per night.

Diamonds are always a girl’s best friend and Cape May knows that. In fact, Cape May, NJ is also known for their own special diamonds, found locally on Sunset Beach. The Virginia Hotel offers a distinctive "Valentine’s Day" package, Victorian-style. You’ll get deluxe accommodations along with a Cape May welcome with a silver tray adorned with chilled Champagne, chocolate truffles and a pair of Cape May diamond earrings, delivered to your room. To make sure you’re not hungry, the package includes a $110 voucher for dinner for two in the Ebbitt Room plus continental breakfast for two. Free parking and late checkout are part of the package as well. Rates start at $345 per night.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Yoga, Ski and Culinary Weekend in Vermont: March 12-15

How rare is it when you find that one program that combines your passions all in one glorious weekend? Amy Leydon, yoga teacher extraordinare from Boston, has put together a ski, yoga, and culinary weekend March 12-15 at Good Commons in Plymouth, Vermont. For those of you who know me, I'm a committed yogini, who loves to travel and eat, and has spent quite a lot of time in Vermont, working with hotels, enjoying family retreats, and visiting my son at the University of Vermont.  Does this package have my name on it or what?  Although I'm not a skiier, the retreat is close to Killington and Okemo where cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and other winter activities (like shopping in Woodstock!) and spas (again, Woodstock!) are offered.

Amy schedules a number of retreats over the course of the year, with the next one a warm-weather locale, Martha's Vineyard in June.  I haven't met Amy yet, but her acclaim as "Best Yoga Teacher in Boston" by Boston Magazine tells me that the six classes I'll experience this weekend will all be fabulous.  And I hear that she plays great music, too. I wonder if there's a piano in the house.

For more information,