Archive for the ‘Spas and Luxury Travel’ Category


Photo (c) OVCA on flickr.com

I broke just about every rule I’ve ever made on this site when I stayed at the Overleaf Lodge and Spa. I was flaky about getting a reservation, so ended up calling to get the room at the Overleaf less than 24 hours before I arrived. I chose the Overleaf based on its convenient and pretty location as described on its own web site, rather than by looking at reviews and analyzing how its amenities would work for my physical needs. And I was Not Well Prepared(tm) for my stay–we had no food, no personal pillow, etc.

Just goes to show that y’all should Do As I Say, Not As I Do. Also, it’s better to be lucky than good. Without further ado, the wonder and joy that is the Overleaf Lodge.

The Basics

The Overleaf Lodge is a big spa hotel on the central Oregon Coast. It’s a newer hotel, built as an eco-lodge, with a lot of attention paid to sustainability programs. (They recycle the used bar soap. I love that!) The Overleaf sits just north of the town of Yachats (pronounced ya-HOTS), Oregon. If you’re not familiar with Oregon geography, be aware that the Overleaf is nowhere near Portland or any major city or airport.

Expect to pay a minimum of $150 for a basic room in the off-season, and $210 in high season. If you need cheaper accommodations, the Overleaf’s sister property the Fireside Motel lives next door and runs far less expensive (especially for the non-view rooms). But this review does NOT include the Fireside.

The Bedroom

Our standard King room was friggin’ huge. There was room to turn a wheelchair, though we were not in an ADA room. The bed was soft and fluffy and comfy–I sank into it upon entering and didn’t re-emerge for more than an hour.

The room has a TV & DVD player, but they don’t overwhelm the space. A small table sat in an alcove of windows looking out over the ocean. Our room was not one of the best view rooms, which meant that we were looking south toward the ocean rather than west toward the ocean. All our windows still looked over the water (which is only about 10 yards from the hotel). We were in the midst of an energetic winter storm, but the well-sealed double-paned windows and sliding glass door kept the room quiet all night long. The surf was a gentle echo.

We had a tiny balcony with plastic chairs and table. Didn’t use it on account of the cold and wind and rain, but in the summer it would have been lovely.

The rooms come with a kitchen area in an interesting open space leading to the sinks and bathroom. This kitchen is especially nice–it’s got a fridge with mini-freezer, microwave, coffee maker, cabinets, counters, and bar sink.

Most/all rooms have gas fireplaces. We found that turning on the gas fireplace for about 90 minutes heated up our room for the duration of our overnight stay. Whatever the Overleaf used for insulation in their walls, I want to buy some for my own house!

There’s free wi-fi in all guest rooms.

Grade: A

The Bathroom

We had double sinks in a nice wide usable area.

The bathroom itself was small, but the tub was deep-ish and comfortable. For a bit more $$, you can get one of the many spa tub rooms. We were being all budget-conscious and one thing the Overleaf ain’t is cheap, so I passed on the spa tub. Sigh. Maybe next time.

Towels were thick and numerous. Robes were comfy. Toilet paper was average.

Grade: B

Food & Drink

Here’s where the Overleaf totally won me over. We got breakfast with our room rate, which my wonderful husband went down and raided, then brought up to me so I could sleep in. They don’t use paper or plastic tableware–it’s all crockery & metal, which I like for its sustainability. The range of continental breakfast options was, in my opinion, well above average. (But you should know that I hate the scary pseudo “fresh waffles” offered at Holiday Inn Express.) All well and good.

Here’s the Awesome: The Overleaf has a small “pantry” in the lobby. This contains the usual sundries some hotels sell–toothbrushes and shampoo and granola bars. But they’ve also got a big freezer filled with microwaveable meals they’re purchasing at Trader Joe’s and reselling. They’ve also got wine, beer, and some shelf-stable food items. Having arrived exhausted at the hotel, and having been dreading the need to drive into town to eat dinner that night, my husband and I were beyond thrilled to see this. And the Overleaf lets guests grab plates and silverware from the breakfast area to take up to rooms to use for meals.

Grade: A

Common Areas

The Overleaf has a big lobby with lots of seating. They’ve got a tiny gift shop area that sits in the middle of the lobby. The hotel is easy enough to navigate. It’s got elevators (always a good thing from my POV).

A downside during winter: It’s cold and windy in the outdoor breezeways–bring a coat if you’ve got to get something out of your car. You can’t get close to most rooms via vehicle.

There’s a DVD library…but it’s a rental library and I found the price to rent a DVD to be stupid-steep. If you want to watch movies in your room, I’d recommend BYO.

Grade: B-


Both on the phone and live in person, I found the majority of the service folks to be very friendly, helpful, and accommodating. The desk staff know the hotel–you can ask them questions and they’ll know the answers.

Grade: A

The Spa

Know that this review is based on looking in on the spa rather than using it. I wish I’d had the chance to enjoy this spa–it looks amazing!

Hotel guests get access to the hydrotherapy areas of the on-site spa–which means the hot tub and warm pool that overlook the ocean. I love this area so much–it evokes some of the wonder of the hot tubs at Esalen, with a more upscale indoor environment. (Also, swimsuits are required.) You also get access to the locker room (of course), which isn’t huge but is gorgeous and has upholstered armchairs for TWP who need to sit down comfortably. The locker rooms also have gender-segregated steam rooms and saunas.

The Overleaf Spa’s menu of treatments includes most of the standards you find at an eco-style spa–less facial peels and more seaweed and mud wraps. For TWP, what I like is the range of hydrotherapy treatments the Overleaf offers. They’ve got a Vichy shower room for their body treatments, plus they do a range of Soaks in individual tubs–these can be added to massages and other treatments for a super-relaxing spa day.

Grade: n/a ’cause I didn’t actually use it


A paved trail runs between the hotel and the sea. While I’d describe this trail as at best semi-accessible for wheelchair users (paving is old and not there at all in places, in the dirt/gravel areas the ruts can be nasty), it’s reasonably TWP-friendly. It’s a flat, easy walk with immense amounts of beauty all around. Even in the cold and wind, it was worth walking for the staggering sight of the Pacific crashing into the rocks.

There’s no beach to speak of. You’ll have to drive a little or walk a bunch if you want to plop down into the sand or hunt for shells & driftwood.

The Overleaf offers a wide range of outdoor activities to its guests. Ask when you make your reservation, or when you check in, if you want to go hiking or horseback riding or golfing or dune buggying or fishing or etc etc.

Grade: A-

The Bottom Line

The Overleaf Lodge and Spa is a fabulous TWP hotel. Not only would I stay there again, I’d make a point of it.

Grade: A-


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Liz & Eric wedding

That's us getting married on the sand at Manresa State Beach

I just got back from the Best Honeymoon Ever! It’s possible that I may be prejudiced…really, every newlywed should think her or his honeymoon is the Best.

But how did I create the Best Honeymoon Ever, with pain?

1. I got my spouse-to-be into the honeymoon with pain planning process.

Because my sweetie and I planned our honeymoon together, we each got a say in what we wanted to do. And he did his share of making reservations and decisions, so I didn’t have all the stress ahead of time, either.

Eric knows all about my pain conditions. He’s been my partner for years. I trusted him to know what I need, to make plans that would work for me, and to ask me questions when he needs more information from me.

That’s a good way to start a marriage.

2. We picked our destination with care, and mindful of my pain.

I’ve got nothing against people who spend their honeymoons BASE jumping. Whatever floats your cake. Probably if you’ve got chronic pain you’re not planning an extreme sporting honeymoon already.

But I also think that a honeymoon isn’t the time to go do the ubertourist thing. At least not if chronic pain will be coming along on the trip too. Don’t get me wrong–I adore going over to Europe and knocking from museum to cathedral to monument to marketplace. I wouldn’t be a travel writer if I didn’t love that kind of trip.

It’s just that for my honeymoon, I wanted a vacation. I wanted the nicest hotel room I could get, complete with a fabulous view. I wanted room service available, and a comfy bed with a bathtub. A pretty hotel room with a DVD player is always nice for me–if I’m feeling cruddy I can lay in bed and watch movies with my new husband. We love us some hot tubs, and hot tubs do wonders for my pain. Eric and I like the ocean.  We wanted to be able to walk on a beach at least once, though we were willing to drive to get to it.

We chose the Ventana Inn & Spa at Big Sur.

Liz & Eric & Angela Hunt

As we said our vows

We’d been there before, so we were familiar with the property. Familiarity = less stress. Less stress = less pain. It had everything we needed and most everything we wanted, and it was only a 90-minute car trip from our wedding site to the Ventana.

3. We started the honeymoon the day after the wedding.

Not the first thing in the morning, either.

Instead of flinging ourselves directly from an energy-intensive event into energy-intensive travel, we spent the night at the site of our reception.

4. We spent a lot of time in bed.

No no no, not like that! Well, okay, some like that–it was our honeymoon, after all.

But seriously, we spent a lot of time each day lounging about like slugs. We read, we talked, we snuggled, we watched Firefly on DVD, we stared out the window at the view, and we slept. It was restful, relaxing, and fun.

5. We kept our plans simple, and minimal.

Before we left, Eric made us a reservation for massages at Esalen. Thus endeth our appointments for the week.

By keeping our formal plans to a minimum, we decreased any potential stress about getting places on time almost down to nothing. That doesn’t mean that Esalen was the only place we went–in fact we hit Jade Cove, Moonstone Beach, Pfeiffer Big Sur, and we grabbed food at the fabulous Big Sur Deli almost every day. (I’ll do a destination post on Big Sur soon.) When we felt like it, thankyouverymuch.

6. Despite all that time in bed, we kept the drinking and…er…honeymooning to a moderate pace.

My pain centers in my pelvic region. My beloved understands what that means. Yes, we enjoyed our honeymoon–at a relaxed pace that stayed mindful of my limitations. Your mileage will vary, depending on the location and nature of your pain.

Drinking lots of liquor does all sorts of bad things to people with chronic pain conditions. It causes hormone fluctuations that can trigger pain. It doesn’t play well with most medications. And because I’m menopausal, it causes hot flashes–the very antithesis of sexy. So I resisted temptation (and why did five of our friends give us bottle of booze to take on the honeymoon, anyhow??) and kept my consumption to one or two glasses every other day.

7. We spent enough time honeymooning to recover from the stress of the wedding.

We took a full 7 nights and 8 days to kick back and get away from it all. If we could have afforded it, we would have taken another week. But that one long week did us a lot of good.

Eric & Liz

Being just a little bit silly, because that's a super-important part of a happy marriage

8. We took time to feel the joy of our new marriage and to connect with each other.

A honeymoon is a time of pleasure and joy–the beginning of something new and wonderful. Eric and I focused our energy on connecting as a couple, being with each other, and making each other laugh and smile.

Does this have anything to do with pain? Yes. There’s a whole bunch of stuff about making sure we have more than a patient-caretaker relationship, that his needs are met as well as mine, that he understands my needs, etc etc.

Bottom line: Connecting with my husband makes me happy. Happiness leads to less pain.


All photos (c) Laina Worth (’cause we didn’t take pictures of our honeymoon)

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Gardens at Woodinville Lodge

The gardens outside of Woodinville Lodge

Willows Lodge is an older guard eco-friendly hotel with spa and gardens and trails and ropes course located in Woodinville, a small town that’s rather far away from Seattle. But it’s not out in the deep woods that coat the Pacific Northwest in perpetual green, either. It turns out that Woodinville is a small but active wine and beer-making town. The Redhook Brewery sits right next door to Willows–it’s an easy walk to take the brewery tour or to eat at the adjoining brew-pub. I don’t like beer, so this made a poor selling point for me personally. I found the nearby wineries much more interesting.

Getting There

Finding my way to Willows Lodge was a job of work. My GPS didn’t take the roundabouts into account. Nor were the street names accurate. Sigh. Once I made it to the parking lot, I got confused about what was the Lodge lobby and what were the two restaurants across the entry road. I ended up parked ‘way at the back of the lot, from which I had to hoof it up to the lobby. Should’ve gone with the valet service. Live and learn.

Checking In

Rooms don’t open up at Willows Lodge until 4pm, and they’re serious about that. Not great for early arrivals. To offset the inconvenience, the lobby leads to a comfy lounge with deep upholstered chairs and a fireplace. I hung out there for over an hour in relative comfort. In the evening, this space becomes part of the hotel  bar’s seating. Just outside, a garden shines green and gorgeous. Tables and chairs out there are also available for early arrivers or late leavers. Provided that it’s not raining, of course.

Desk service was excellent; bell service was superior. My bell guy showed me how to work everything in the room, warned me that the TV might be wonky (which was true, more on that later), and promised to bring me some lavender bubble bath later. Which he did.

Nicer room at Willows Lodge

My "nicer" room at the Willows Lodge--I made the dent in the comforter with a bag before snapping this shot

The Room

My room had all the elements I’ve come to expect from an upper tier resort, plus a few bonus bennies that made me especially happy.

The usual: A spacious space surrounding a comfortable Cal King bed made up with shining white scent-free linens. Mini-bar and snack foods available any time in the room (for a fee, of course). Room service starting early and running late–but not 24 hour. Several local tourist magazines. A comfy reading chair with appropriate lighting. A nice view out into the gardens and beyond. An oversized bathroom with classy amenities including a hair dryer, cotton balls and swabs, and all the toiletries I could want.

Good extras: Ear plugs. (You laugh, but a set of free ear plugs if I’d forgotten mine would be worth their weight in gold.) Furniture set up so that eating room service at the table was comfortable and convenient. Oversized spa bathtub looked out over the main room, so I could watch TV or chat with my fiancé while splashing in my bubble bath if I wanted to. Separate shower had temperature control for the water. Turns out I like my shower at about 107 degrees F.

On-Property Amenities

As mentioned, two high-end restaurants sit across the street from the Willows Lodge. The Barking Frog provides room service to the hotel. The Herbfarm Restaurant is a separate entity–expect to need reservations at either restaurant on Fri and Sat nights.

The on-site spa offers the usual array of body and facial treatments. I went for the Jet-Lag Massage–a combination of Swedish and other styles that concentrates on relaxation and release of toxins. Though my massage therapist was achingly young and definitely new to the spa, she did a good job with this style of treatment. I left feeling loose and relaxed, and better able to tolerate the plane flight later that night.

The Burke-Gilman Sammamish Trail

That's the Burke-Gilman Sammamish Trail across the river

The gardens surrounding the Lodge include pretty paths that encourage gentle walking. Willows provides umbrellas for walkers determined to stroll despite western Washington’s endless rains. Beyond the gardens, one of the area’s major multi-use paths, the Burke-Gilman Sammamish Trail stretches all the way down to Seattle proper. Bikers, skaters, runners, and walkers all share the paved path, which looked pretty level and followed a nice mid-sized waterway where I saw it.

Pain Travel Problem Areas

Beware of the Spa Building–there’s no elevator, so I had to climb stairs to my second-floor room. It was a darn good room, and I was in decent shape, so I dealt with it. If I’d been feeling worse, I would have asked to change rooms. Other buildings have elevator access to the second floor guest rooms.

My TV had issues. They fixed them. Not a big deal for me, but could be for some travelers.

Willows Lodge ain’t cheap. Expect to pay $250-$500 per room per night.

The Bottom Line

Willows Lodge has a nice setup for travelers with pain. Comfortable beds, good food available in-room, good bathing facilities, spa services available, and comfortable seating in common areas all add up to an A- grade from me.

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Now this sounds like my kind of international adventure!

Riviera Maya spa treatments offer cultural twists

I’ve never been to the spas of the Mayan Riviera in the Caribbean, so I can’t comment on the experience. But it sounds right up my alley–some history, some new and unusual experiences that induce relaxation and pain-minimization. Also beaches and warm water.

I think it’s time I broadened my cultural horizons!

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Little by little, the travel industry is starting to realize that travelers with hidden disabilities are out on the road, credit cards at the ready, waiting to be served.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has rolled out new menus at all their properties, entitled Lifestyle Cuisine Plus. Travelers with celiac, heart disease, and diabetes will find dishes just for them, as will people who adhere to raw, macrobiotic, and vegan diets. The new menus include dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and appear on room service menus as well as in the hotel restaurants. Best of all, the chefs at individual restaurants have the latitude to create these menus using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.

Of course, it being the Fairmont, you’ll be putting delicious food into your mouth and paying out of your nose for the privilege of staying at eating at one of these hotels. But the travel industry does tend to adhere to the trickle-down theory. First the high-end resorts will start catering to travelers with hidden disabilities, then the mid-tier indies will get in on the game, and the next thing you know there will be gluten-free pancakes at the IHOP next to the Motel 6 on every Interstate in the country.

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I’m now a week away from the start of my Fresh Start retreat and cleanse. Last week I began adding more fruit, cruciferous veggies, raw nuts, and filtered water to my diet.

This week, I’ve begun eating a large bowl of greens each day (arugula, spinach, and butter lettuce), adding an apple a day, and chewing pumpkin seeds before eating in the morning. I’ve switched to sugar-free jam with my oatmeal in the morning. Tomorrow I’m going to make my own salad dressing using pureed raw cashews, olive oil, and lemon/lime juice as a base. (Vinegar is evil for some reason.) I might be able to add some flax seeds to the regime before I leave.

I am concerned about the day before the retreat, when I’m on the plane and staying at a motel overnight before catching the puddle jumper to Comox. It’s likely that I’ll end up carrying a bunch of food onto the plane with me.

As of today, I can say that I’m starting to feel the teensiest bit of change. It’s early days, but I’m feeling encouraged about the retreat.

The one part of the prep that’s not going well is the whole “early to bed early to rise” bit. Despite viewing my own mother’s ridiculously sturdy lifelong health, which may be due in part to her rigid adherence to the waking and sleeping hours that Fresh Start recommends…I am a night person. It’s what my body wants to do. And it’s fighting tooth and nail to stick with its night-loving ways. This won’t be an option once I’m actually at the retreat, where they’ll roust me out of bed for a daily 7am yoga class.

Wish me luck! Next post on Fresh Start will come when I’m on-site and diving into the program.

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View near the Campbell River outside of Ocean Resort

Later this month I’ll be departing from the relative warmth of California for the chill climes of Canada to take a ten-day vegan raw health cleansing retreat. As my friends and family gorge on turkey and potatoes, stuffing and cranberries and pie for Thanksgiving Day, I’ll be toasting with a glass of wheatgrass juice after a bracing walk on the shore and some soul-enriching group therapy. Why would I do this? Because I’m going to be writing about it, and because it’s a path towards potentially diminishing my chronic pain that I have not yet tried.

The program’s name is Fresh Start; it’s located at Ocean Resort, a remote seaside lodge on the east coast of Vancouver Island. From the photos, it looks spectacular. I can’t wait to get out onto those beaches myself. Yes it’s winter, but I’ve always loved to bundle up and walk on the beach when it’s windy and cold.

Fresh Start runs 5-day juice fasts, and 10-day and 14-day intensive semi-fasts. I’m doing the 10-day program. An early point in favor of Fresh Start–they got one whiff of my health history and told me that they don’t permit folks with significant health problems to do the 5-day juice fast. It’s for people who are looking to lose weight and start a healthier lifestyle, but who don’t require significant individual monitoring. The 10- and 14-day programs allow for personalization and modification as needed.

I’ll be eating small amounts of raw vegan food, drinking fruit and vegetable juices, and imbibing specially crafted organ cleansing cocktails made from heaven-knows-what. (Herbs, most likely.) They’ll be rousting me out of bed at 6am for 7 o’clock yoga. Ouch. To say that I’m not a morning person is like saying that snakes don’t fly. Starting tonight, I’ll be working on getting to bed earlier and earlier so that by the time I get to the retreat, I’ll be accustomed to early bedtimes and hopefully earlier rising as well. At the retreat, they’ll help by turning off the lights at 9pm each evening.

Also this week, I’m tapering down off the coffee and the processed sugar. Next week–replacing 1-2 regular meals per day with deep green salads or fruit salads, plus nuts. No vinegars, but dressings made with cold pressed oil, citrus juice, and herbs and spices are okay. The Fresh Start folks ask their guests to do this to keep our bodies from going into wretchedly unpleasant shock from a sudden and total change in diet within the first two days. Another point in their favor.

I’ll be blogging regularly throughout the retreat–that’s part of the deal. In the interests of Full Blogging Disclosure, Fresh Start is hosting my retreat. (But they’re not paying for any of the extra spa treatments. No free coffee-infused colonics for me!) So feel free to comment with questions–I’ll be able to answer in close to real time.

* Photo courtesy of Fresh Start Health Retreat Centers

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