Here are 5 countries that are opening up and living with Covid

By Laura Smith-Spark | CNN

More than 18 months into the coronavirus pandemic, a number of countries have decided it’s time to open up and adopt a “living with Covid” model.

Some have enviable vaccination rates; others have decided that the costs of continued economic and social restrictions outweigh the benefits.

Here are five nations to watch closely for how their new strategies play out.

Denmark: The country that declared precautions over

The Danish government lifted all remaining coronavirus restrictions in the country on September 10, saying Covid-19 was no longer “an illness which is a critical threat to society.”

Danes can now enter nightclubs and restaurants without showing a “Covid passport,” use public transport without wearing a face covering and meet in large numbers without restrictions — essentially returning to pre-pandemic life.

The key to Denmark’s success lies partly in its vaccination rollout: as of September 13, over 74% of Denmark’s population was fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to Our World in Data.

The transmission rate, or R-rate, currently stands at 0.7, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke tweeted Wednesday, meaning that the epidemic is continuing to decline. If it’s above 1.0, Covid-19 cases will increase in the near future. If it’s below 1.0, cases will decrease in the near future.

“The vaccines and all citizens in Denmark’s great efforts over a long period of time are the basis for us to do so well,” Heunicke said.

Despite such optimism, Heunicke sounded a note of caution last month as the government announced the planned end date for restrictions. “Even though we are in a good place right now, we are not out of the epidemic. And the government will not hesitate to act quickly if the pandemic again threatens important functions in our society,” he said.

Singapore: Trying to live with Covid, but Delta isn’t helping

Singapore’s government announced in June that it was planning to move toward a living with Covid strategy — attempting to control outbreaks with vaccines and monitoring hospitalizations rather than restricting citizens’ lives.

“The bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst,” Singapore’s top Covid-19 officials wrote in an op-ed at the time.

Authorities began to ease some restrictions in August, allowing fully vaccinated people to dine in restaurants and to gather in groups of five, up from two.

But a surge in cases caused by the highly infectious Delta variant has put that strategy under strain, leading officials to pause further reopening. Officials warned last week that they might need to reimpose Covid-19 restrictions if the new outbreak was not contained.

Singapore’s Covid-19 taskforce said it would attempt to limit the outbreak through more aggressive contact tracing, “ring-fencing” cases and clusters, and more frequent mandatory testing for high-risk workers.

Despite such measures, Singapore reported its highest one-day Covid-19 case total in more than a year on Tuesday. So far, the number of people falling seriously ill remains low thanks to vaccination, authorities said.

Singapore pursued an aggressive “zero-Covid strategy” before shifting its approach, and has one of the highest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the world, with 81% of the population fully vaccinated.

Thailand: Slow vaccine takeup but it’s opening up anyway

Thailand plans to reopen Bangkok and other popular destinations to foreign visitors next month, officials said last week, as the southeast Asian nation tries to revive its crucial tourism industry despite rising infection numbers.

Under the expanded program, tourists who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and commit to a testing regime will be allowed to enter the capital, Hua Hin, Pattaya and Chiang Mai, according to Reuters.

The island of Phuket reopened to vaccinated foreign visitors on July 1 without quarantine requirements. On July 15, the country launched a similar program on the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao, dubbed “Samui Plus.”

Although it kept infection numbers low in 2020 thanks to successful containment measures, Thailand has struggled to keep cases in check this year.

Vaccination rates are lagging behind those of some neighbors. Just under 18% of the Thai population were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as of September 13, according to Our World in Data, with a further 21% partially vaccinated.

South Africa: Easing restrictions, but Delta’s still a threat

South Africa has started to ease several Covid-19 restrictions as infection rates decrease in the country.

Among other measures, the nationwide nighttime curfew has been shortened to 11 p.m. until 4 a.m., the size of gatherings allowed has increased to 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors, and restrictions on alcohol sales have been further reduced.

The easing of restrictions, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday, are notable in a country that passed much of the pandemic with extremely strict social distancing rules, even banning all gatherings except for funerals, at times — and where vaccination rates remain low.

Ramaphosa warned that a devastating third wave of infections driven by the more transmissible Delta variant was not over, but added that the country now has enough vaccine doses to cover the entire adult population, with more than a quarter of adults receiving at least one dose.

He encouraged everyone to get vaccinated and comply with remaining restrictions to allow the country to get back to normal.

“The third wave is not yet over, and it is only through our actions individually and collectively that we will be able to reduce the number of new infections,” he said.

Chile: High vaccination rates mean tourists can return

Chile has been internationally praised for its smooth and successful vaccination campaign. According to the health ministry’s latest reports, almost 87% of eligible Chileans are fully vaccinated.

The country has already started distributing booster shots to those who are fully vaccinated. Health authorities on Thursday approved the use of the Chinese vaccine Sinovac for children aged six and over; inoculations started on Monday.

Despite the threat posed by the Delta variant, the government on Wednesday announced moves to reopen the country to international tourism from October 1, just in time for the southern hemisphere nation’s summer season.

Foreign non-residents will be able to enter provided they meet certain requirements and isolate for five days on arrival.

“The fact that foreign tourists can come to Chile is an important step for the recovery of inbound tourism,” said Under-Secretary for Tourism José Luis Uriarte. “It’s important to point out that this is the first step, and we will be able to keep moving forward as long as we maintain the right health conditions.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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CDC adds 7 destinations to ‘very high’ Covid-19 travel risk list, including Puerto Rico and Switzerland

Switzerland and Puerto Rico are now among the highest-risk destinations for travelers, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s regularly updated travel advisories list.

People should avoid traveling to locations designated with the “Level 4: Covid-19 Very High” notice, the CDC recommends. Anyone who must travel should be fully vaccinated first, the agency advises.

Seven destinations moved up on August 30 from the “Level 3: Covid-19 High” list to Level 4:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Estonia
  • Guam
  • North Macedonia
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saint Lucia
  • Switzerland

The CDC’s evolving list of travel notices ranges from Level 1 (“low”) to Level 4 (“very high”).

Destinations that fall into the “Covid-19 Very High” Level 4 category have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days, according to CDC criteria. The Level 3 category applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.

Switzerland has had 659 laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past four weeks, according to the country’s Federal Office of Public Health. On August 29, nearly a third of Switzerland’s intensive care units were occupied by people with coronavirus. In North Macedonia, slightly less than a quarter of residents were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as of August 30, while 9% were partially vaccinated. And of Saint Lucia’s population of around 185,000 people, it has fully vaccinated 15.1% and partially vaccinated 4.8%.

New ‘Level 3’ destinations

Ten other destinations moved to the “Level 3: Covid-19 High” category on Monday.Bermuda, Canada, Germany and Moldova moved up from Level 2. Bahrain, Indonesia, Namibia, Oman, Rwanda and Zimbabwe moved down from Level 4.

CDC guidance for Level 3 destinations urges unvaccinated travelers to avoid nonessential travel to those locations.In its broader travel guidance, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.

“Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread Covid-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some Covid-19 variants,” the agency said.

You can view the CDC risk level of any destination on the agency’s travel recommendations page.

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Should you cancel travel plans? A medical expert weighs in

By Katia Hetter | CNN

As Covid-19 cases are surging across the United States again, daily infection rates are at their highest levels since February, due in large part to the very contagious Delta variant.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has once again urged a return to indoor mask-wearing, citing that even vaccinated people can get infected and pass Covid-19 to others.

Meanwhile, many people have travel plans for the rest of the summer and the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend. Should they cancel their vacations? Is air travel safe? What if they are getting together with extended family or friends over the holiday — what precautions need to be taken? And what about families with children too young to be vaccinated?

To help answer our many questions about travel and Covid-19 safety, we turned to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen. Wen is an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She’s also author of a new book, “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health,” and the mother of two young children.

CNN: What should people consider when deciding whether to continue, change or cancel their travel plans?

Dr. Leana Wen: The most important factor to consider is the medical risk of your household. Specifically, is everyone in your house vaccinated? If everyone is vaccinated and generally healthy, you are very well-protected from getting severely ill from Covid-19. Many people in this circumstance might decide that they could take the risk of mild symptoms if they were to contract coronavirus and proceed with all their original travel plans.

If someone in your home is unvaccinated or immunocompromised, you may decide differently. A very low risk trip may still be fine — for example, driving and then going camping and hiking with just your immediate family. But if the trip is going to involve spending a lot of time indoors with unmasked, unvaccinated people, I’d encourage the vulnerable individuals not to go on the trip. If some family members are still going to go, they could quarantine for at least three days upon return and then get tested before they get together indoors with vulnerable members of their household.

CNN: Would your advice depend on the location of the travel?

Wen: Yes, but in the US about 95% of the population lives in areas deemed by the CDC to have substantial or high levels of coronavirus transmission. I’d look at the specific area that you are thinking of traveling to and what you’d be doing there.

If you’re driving to a national park, and the plan is to spend all your time hiking outdoors, that’s very low risk. It doesn’t really matter if the community around the park has high Covid-19 transmission, if you don’t plan to interact with anyone there indoors.

That’s very different from if you’re planning a week of visiting museums, attending concerts, going to the theater and dining indoors. If those activities are taking place in a part of the country with a lot of virus transmission, you are being exposed constantly to Covid-19. The vaccines protect you well, but they are not 100%.

Risk is cumulative, and the more high-risk settings you are in, surrounded by people potentially carrying the virus, the more likely you are to experience a breakthrough infection even if you are vaccinated.

CNN: What’s your advice for people who have booked international travel? Should they go?

Wen: It depends. Again, make sure to look at your own medical risk and the risk of those in your family. Consider the location you’re going to. The CDC has updated information about Covid-19 by country divided into four levels of risk.

In addition, the US State Department has helpful information including the protocols that you need to follow in order to enter the country. Make sure to know the requirements. Some countries require proof of recent negative tests, for example, and some are beginning to require vaccination. Keep in mind that rules are constantly changing and stay flexible.

CNN: What about getting together for a wedding — would that be safe?

Wen: Once again, it depends. Many weddings involve people converging from different parts of the country or the world. That adds risk, especially since there are so many places with high levels of Covid-19 infection. It would certainly help if the hosts required that everyone attending is vaccinated.

Vaccinated people have an eight-fold reduced chance of contracting Covid-19 compared to unvaccinated people, according to estimates based on CDC data. If the ceremony and reception are both held outdoors, that would also reduce the risk. The opposite, of course, would be true of indoor gatherings of people of unknown vaccination status, who are eating and drinking and therefore not wearing masks. That would be a high-risk event.

CNN: Can we talk about modes of transportation — specifically plane travel. Is that still safe for vaccinated people? What about unvaccinated children?

Wen: Plane travel is still relatively safe for vaccinated people. Make sure to wear a high-quality mask at all times — ideally an N95 or KN95 mask. If you have to eat and drink, do so quickly, so as to minimize the amount of time you’re not wearing a mask.

Children too young to be vaccinated should also mask, if possible, with at least a 3-ply surgical mask. If they cannot keep on the mask for the duration of the trip, I would consider not bringing the child unless it’s an essential trip, such as moving across the country.

In my family, my husband and I will travel by plane and wear N95 or KN95 masks the entire time. Our son, who is almost four, is generally good about wearing masks, and if we had a short trip of a few hours’ flight, he’d be fine. But we have a 16-month-old daughter who is too young to mask. We would not feel comfortable bringing her on a flight right now.

Other families may make different decisions based on their level of risk tolerance as well as the value of the travel to them. For where we are in the pandemic, the risk is not worth the benefit to us.

CNN: Driving, going to rest stops, staying in a hotel en route — that’s all pretty safe from a Covid-19 standpoint, right?

Wen: Yes. Of course, use common sense — wear masks when going to the restroom in rest stops. Order carryout instead of eating indoors. Go directly to your room in the hotel, and don’t hang out in crowded hotel lobbies and bars.

CNN: What’s your advice for families who want to rent a house together?

Wen: The safest scenario is if everyone is fully vaccinated. If there are people who are unvaccinated, or if the people gathering want to reduce their risk further, everyone who wants to get together can essentially quarantine for three to five days and then get tested. By quarantine, I mean to reduce your risk by not getting together with other people indoors and not participating in higher-risk activities like indoor dining.

I know that this advice feels like we have taken a step backwards. It’s true — we have. Covid-19 cases are on the rise again, and we have the more contagious Delta variant to contend with.

Vaccination is the single most important step to protect us. In addition, depending on our individual circumstances, we should consider additional precautions to reduce risk and keep our families safe, while still enjoying travel.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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Florida led the world in shark attacks again in 2020

By Sydney N. Walton | CNN

The US is once again the shark attack capital of the world in 2020. Thanks, Florida!

Last year, the US reported 33 unprovoked shark attacks, accounting for about 58% of the total number of unprovoked shark attacks that occurred worldwide, according to the Yearly World Shark Attack Summary from the International Shark Attack File (ISAF).

This is a decrease from 2019, when 64% of the global unprovoked bites occurred in the US.

ISAF categorizes shark attacks by first deciding if they were provoked or unprovoked.

“Unprovoked attacks are defined as incidents in which an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark,” ISAF said.

“Provoked attacks occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, bites on spearfishers, bites on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net and so forth.”

ISAF said it investigated 129 alleged shark-human interactions worldwide in 2020 — 57 were unprovoked shark bites on humans, and 39 were provoked bites.

Of the 33 unprovoked shark attacks in the US, 16 of them were in Florida. The state’s 16 cases represent 28% of unprovoked bites worldwide.

“For decades, Florida has topped global charts in the number of shark bites, and this trend continued in 2020,” ISAF said in its summary. “However, the state saw a significant drop from its most recent five-year annual average of 30 incidents.”

Eight of the shark bites in Florida, or 50% of the state’s total in 2020, occurred in Volusia County, according to the ISAF.

How the pandemic impacted shark attack reporting process

ISAF said that while the incidence of bites both in the US and globally have been declining over time, “2020’s numbers represent a more drastic drop than would be expected.”

Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program, said that Covid-19’s impact was something he and his colleagues speculated about back in March.

According to Naylor, the pandemic hasn’t necessarily caused a drop in cases — but it has impacted researchers’ ability to follow-up and confirm cases when they are reported.

“We typically talk to emergency room doctors and nurses to create our reports,” Naylor said. “However, they’ve been so overwhelmed with the Covid-19 response that they haven’t always had time to talk to a bunch of scientists that are asking detailed questions about a shark attack.”

Based on its research in the last year, ISAF said the “observed drop in shark bite incidents may have been caused by the widespread quarantines, closed beaches and minimized vacation travel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Spike in shark-related fatalities reported worldwide

There were 13 shark-related fatalities this year, 10 of which were confirmed to be unprovoked, ISAF said in its Yearly Worldwide Shark Attack Summary.

“This number is above the annual global average of four unprovoked fatalities per year,” ISAF wrote.

But, “despite 2020’s spike in fatalities, long-term trends show a decreasing number of annual fatalities. Year-to-year variability in oceanographic, socioeconomic and meteorological conditions significantly influences the local abundance of sharks and humans in the water.”

Of the global fatalities, Australia saw “a higher incidence of fatal bites than normal in 2020,” ISAF said. The country had six confirmed fatal shark attacks.

“Australians are not naive when it comes to the inherent dangers of surfing and swimming,” Naylor said. “So I was surprised that the number was as high as it was this year.”

Meanwhile, in the US, there were three confirmed fatal shark attacks last year. This is an increase from 2019, when there weren’t any confirmed cases in the US.

The three fatal attacks happened in Hawaii, California and Maine. Although Florida is usually home to most of the unprovoked attacks, the state didn’t have any confirmed fatalities last year.

How to avoid a shark attack

Most bites — 61% of the total cases in 2020 — were related to surfing and board sports, ISAF said.

But don’t worry: “Short-term trends still show both fatal and non-fatal bites to be decreasing,” ISAF said.

“The total number of unprovoked shark bites worldwide is extremely low, given the number of people participating in aquatic recreation each year.”

Should you find yourself in the sea, ISAF said there are many ways to avoid a shark attack.

ISAF encourages people “avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.”

The organization also urges people to not enter the water if they are bleeding, because “a shark’s olfactory ability is acute.”

Shiny jewelry can also attract sharks, as “the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.”

ISAF also encouraged people to avoid wearing bright swimwear or dive gear, because “any high contrast color apparel or gear used by a human in the water is especially visible to sharks.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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Go to Austin for outsized adventures

Finding awe in Austin

Austin, Texas, is the “place where people, music and food collide with great passion,” says Manfred Lassahn, executive chef at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa. Lassahn – who loves to travel to see friends, explore new places, “and, of course, eat” – is an Austin booster. He enjoys its variety and friendliness. Like a lot of people, he admires its music. Known as the Live Music Capital of the World, it has earned international acclaim for its two music festivals – South by Southwest, known as SXSW, and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. And, in spite of being the state capital and home to the University of Texas, Austin maintains its small-town feel and green spaces. As told to Rosemary McClure

  • Why austin? Austin is unique in many ways. It’s as if someone picked up a coastal art community and dropped it smack in the middle of Texas. It has a liberal vibe to it, yet Texas warmth and unconditional kindness remain. “Keep Austin Weird” is much more than a catchphrase; it’s their way of life. With an abundance of urban farms and eclectic cafes and shops, the “keep it weird” term has substance. It shows Austin’s commitment to supporting the small businesses that make it a great place to visit and live.

    Why austin? Austin is unique in many ways. It’s as if someone picked up a coastal art community and dropped it smack in the middle of Texas. It has a liberal vibe to it, yet Texas warmth and unconditional kindness remain. “Keep Austin Weird” is much more than a catchphrase; it’s their way of life. With an abundance of urban farms and eclectic cafes and shops, the “keep it weird” term has substance. It shows Austin’s commitment to supporting the small businesses that make it a great place to visit and live.

  • TIME IS RIGHT Spring and fall are the best times to visit. Though it gets hot, summer is nice too, because there are many watering holes to cool off in.

    TIME IS RIGHT Spring and fall are the best times to visit. Though it gets hot, summer is nice too, because there are many watering holes to cool off in.

  • TIME IS RIGHT Spring and fall are the best times to visit. Though it gets hot, summer is nice too, because there are many watering holes to cool off in.

    TIME IS RIGHT Spring and fall are the best times to visit. Though it gets hot, summer is nice too, because there are many watering holes to cool off in.

  • SECRET TIP Visit the Firehouse Lounge & Hostel, which is inside a converted firehouse built in 1885. Next to the front desk you’ll see a bookcase. Grab hold and pull to the right. You’ll discover a speakeasy-style lounge featuring craft cocktails and Prohibition-era drinks. Enjoy!

    SECRET TIP Visit the Firehouse Lounge & Hostel, which is inside a converted firehouse built in 1885. Next to the front desk you’ll see a bookcase. Grab hold and pull to the right. You’ll discover a speakeasy-style lounge featuring craft cocktails and Prohibition-era drinks. Enjoy!

  • BEST BITE Texans are passionate about barbecue. In Austin, you can enjoy it from food trucks or at brick-and-mortars. Or take a 30-minute drive to Lockhart, a small town that many consider the barbecue capital of Texas, and try Kreuz Market, Smitty’s Market or Black’s BBQ. You’ll be in for the best barbecue of your life. Just don’t ask for a fork. Breakfast tacos are another winner here. My favorite are the migas at the Taco Joint on Riverside

    BEST BITE Texans are passionate about barbecue. In Austin, you can enjoy it from food trucks or at brick-and-mortars. Or take a 30-minute drive to Lockhart, a small town that many consider the barbecue capital of Texas, and try Kreuz Market, Smitty’s Market or Black’s BBQ. You’ll be in for the best barbecue of your life. Just don’t ask for a fork. Breakfast tacos are another winner here. My favorite are the migas at the Taco Joint on Riverside

  • AFTER DARK Check out Austin’s famous music scene on Sixth Street. Just poke your head into each venue until you hear something you can’t pass up. Blues, rock, jazz – it’s what the city is known for. Be sure to stop in at the Driskill Bar for a timeless experience – the best classic cocktails in town. You’ll also get a look at one of the oldest luxury hotels west of the Mississippi.

    AFTER DARK Check out Austin’s famous music scene on Sixth Street. Just poke your head into each venue until you hear something you can’t pass up. Blues, rock, jazz – it’s what the city is known for. Be sure to stop in at the Driskill Bar for a timeless experience – the best classic cocktails in town. You’ll also get a look at one of the oldest luxury hotels west of the Mississippi.

  • MUST DO Barton Creek Greenbelt runs through the middle of Austin, but it literally feels as if you’re in the middle of nowhere. You can hike, rock climb and mountain bike. Another prime spot is Zilker Park in South Austin, where a spring-fed creek fills up a pool that stays at a consistent, breathtaking 68 degrees. Nearby Lady Bird Lake is the best place in Austin to kayak or paddleboard. If you stay until the sun sets, you can watch bats emerge and swarm the skies.

    MUST DO Barton Creek Greenbelt runs through the middle of Austin, but it literally feels as if you’re in the middle of nowhere. You can hike, rock climb and mountain bike. Another prime spot is Zilker Park in South Austin, where a spring-fed creek fills up a pool that stays at a consistent, breathtaking 68 degrees. Nearby Lady Bird Lake is the best place in Austin to kayak or paddleboard. If you stay until the sun sets, you can watch bats emerge and swarm the skies.

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The Great Escape: Golden Door soothes body and soul

If you’re an Orange County health and wellness aficionado, you’ve heard of the Golden Door, an uber-luxury resort located in North San Diego County. You may not know that the one-of-a-kind Escondido spa, which languished 14 years under corporate ownership, was bought in 2012 and, with a savvy, stylish COO on board, has undergone both a physical and philosophical makeover.

Long-time guest Joanne Conway, wife of billionaire philanthropist and Carlyle Group co-founder Bill Conway, paid $24.8 million for the legacy property. Then she hired Kathy Van Ness, a Manhattan Beach resident who previously ran mega-fashion firms such as Diane Von Furstenberg and Speedo, to apply her business and branding savvy to the 600-acre resort. Once Van Ness got the Golden Door name back – it had been licensed to spas from Las Vegas to Puerto Rico – she set out re-establishing the brand.

But the most revolutionary change was the decision to give away 100 percent of Golden Door profits to local NGOs benefitting women and children.

“Like Newman’s Own,” says Van Ness, chic in black and trendy spectacles, comparing the Golden Door business model to Paul Newman’s food company, one of the first corporations to give all its profits to charity.

We are lunching at the koi pond, a tranquil spot in the center of the property, which resembles a rambling Japanese country inn, with sand gardens, waterfalls, antique stone sculptures and spirit houses.  A fabulous shrimp and white bean chili is accompanied by a salad straight from the spa’s 220-acre biodynamic garden.

“We’re looking at community issues and where we can be most supportive locally,” explains Van Ness.

Golden-Door-Gallery

To make even more profits to give away, Van Ness now sells Golden Door products on HSN. There’s a Golden Door line of skin and hair products, cookies and jams made from the resort’s famous recipes, honey from the Golden Door hives and soon, pasta sauce from its tomatoes. From the HSN studio in Florida, Van Ness spreads the Golden Door gospel to a new audience, inviting people who may never step foot through the spa’s actual golden front door to bask in its glow.

Van Ness and Conway are bringing the “spa-to-end-all-spas” back in line with its founder’s vision: the sybaritic spa stay as life-changing experience. That’s what Deborah Szekely had in mind when she started the Golden Door in 1958.

Two decades earlier, Szekely and her husband, a Hungarian-born health fanatic, had created Rancho La Puerta, a health farm a few miles south of the border in Tecate, Mexico. Szekely envisioned the Golden Door as Rancho La Puerta on steroids. It quickly became the place where Hollywood moguls sent their starlets to get “screen ready” and lose the 10 pounds the camera puts on.

Nowadays, guests sweat and soak, are pummeled and pampered, and take time out of their busy lives to contemplate their goals, intentions, eating and exercise habits, maybe even tune their chakras.

The spa hosts only 40 guests per week in individual, sumptuous villas where each receives a daily massage and can meditate at her (or “his” during men’s week) ikebana-adorned traditional meditation shrine.

Meals are the highlight of the week’s stay and are mostly sourced from the resort’s gardens. That great food and all exercise classes are included in the $8,850 price (there’s a less expensive four-day package perfect for OC residents), as are daily facials, a weekly body treatment, unlimited body wraps, a personal trainer, laundry service, manicures/pedicures, hair treatment and a complete line of Golden Door beauty products. Even your car gets a spa treatment: a hand wash.

Many guests start each day with a hike; there are more than 25 miles of trails on the sprawling property. I started my mornings strolling through the magnificent bamboo gardens. Conway, whose passion is development of the lands and property, recently planted an olive grove, envisaging Golden Door olive oil in the future.

Towards the week’s end, “spa brain” set in. Worries disappeared. My iPhone went uncharged for days. My skin was glowing. I had worked out like a champion all week, yet, thanks to the massages, my muscles felt pumped, not sore. I was making resolutions left and right. Go to the farmers market every Wednesday! Take a TRX class! I, too, had drunk the Kool-Aid, sugar-free, of course. I was under the spell of the Golden Door and, like so many guests, will do whatever it takes to keep
coming back.

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The Great Escape: Heaven at Two Harbors

GS2

I love the outdoors, but I am a woman for whom “roughing it” means no Jacuzzi tub or room service. And of course, I had to marry a guy who thinks backpacking up mountains and sleeping in dirt is the epitome of fun.

Let’s just say that at some point on most of our getaways, one or the other of us is going to grit our teeth.

But then we discovered rustic Two Harbors, Catalina Island’s other town, located on the west end of the island, about as distant from the Mediterranean resort feel of Avalon as Mars is from Venus. It’s a sleepy little village straddling the isthmus, best known as the place where boaters like to dock and hikers like to camp. Limited Wi-Fi and sometimes spotty cell coverage make it easy to unplug and forget there’s a teeming metropolis an hour’s ride away on the Catalina Express …

Or just 15 minutes away, which is the length of time it took us to get there from Long Beach, hopping on the IEX Helicopters service. We landed in an open field and within five minutes a van had deposited us at Isthmus Cove, on Harbor Sands, the South Pacific-themed outdoor lounge that premiered in early May.

Where once a few rusting barbecues and a sagging volleyball net dotted a pebbly shore, now a half dozen palapas–each named after one of the old Hollywood movies once shot on location there, like “Mutany on the Bounty” and “Treasure Island”– sit on 1,900 tons of imported white sand. New lounge chairs on a raised deck under the shade of palms cry out for you to sit, sip a Mai Tai and gaze on the beauty of the cove. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy doing absolutely nothing, except maybe striking up a conversation with a friendly mix of locals, sunburnt hikers and other assorted vacationers.

The effect is all very “Gilligan’s Island,” in the best sense: Stranded – if only for a day – with interesting people in a remote paradise.

But the miles of trails were calling to my husband, so we set out on a hike with the goal of catching a glimpse of the island’s famed bison. An hour after scaling the hills we return, only to see one of the mammoth beasts ambling down a dirt road, not far from the village. Mission accomplished.

Another hour of kayaking in the beautiful cove and my outdoor activity quotient was up. Time for the wine mixer at the Banning House Lodge, the ultra-charming 12-room bed-and-breakfast built in the 1910s that sits on top of a hill and provides panoramic views of both harbors, comfy beds and fresh-scented linens. I can rough it like this, happily.

GS3Sturdy, surf-and-turf fare made for a decent dinner at the lone dining option in the village, Harbor Reef Restaurant. The highlight? Buffalo milk for dessert. Before you start to ponder how they get milk from those creatures, let me assure you it’s merely the name of a local conction that’s essentially just a White Russian spiced with some nutmeg.

Deeply relaxed, my husband and I luxuriated in the kind of thing we enjoyed in the early days of our marriage, but now often don’t have the time to do … play Scrabble and share a nice chardonnay as we watch the sunset, of course!

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Exploring the Canadian Galapagos

  • Amanda Fletcher takes a morning kayak trip.

    Amanda Fletcher takes a morning kayak trip.

  • Sea lions lounge portside of The Swell.

    Sea lions lounge portside of The Swell.

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  • Mortuary poles at UNESCO World Heritage Site at S'Gang Gwaay.

    Mortuary poles at UNESCO World Heritage Site at S’Gang Gwaay.

  • Bristol Foster naturalist with Maple Leaf Adventures

    Bristol Foster naturalist with Maple Leaf Adventures

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Sunlight shines through the trees, highlighting the riot of green growing from the top of a centuries-old mortuary pole, the carved images of a raven and a grizzly bear easier to see in the bleached wood once the watchman points them out.

This is S’Gang Gwaay, a village site of the Haida First Nations people, part of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve at the southern tip of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These are the last remaining totem poles in a settlement that thrived for centuries before being decimated by smallpox in the 1800s. There will be no conservation effort. The Haida believe these burial poles are a representation of the life cycle; once they fall, they will be reclaimed by the forest.

It is impossible to stand on this hallowed ground and not feel something – there is a sense of awe but also of urgency – in the knowledge that this special human place will soon be gone but that it will also begin again as something new.

I rode on the bow of a wooden boat guided by Maple Leaf Adventures to get here. I sat in front of the wheelhouse under the watchful eye of Capt. Alex Ruurs. My fellow passengers stood around me, pointing out bald eagles, oystercatchers and cormorants sailing past our heads. “Humpback whale breach off the starboard side,” someone yelled, handing me binoculars. We coasted over crystal waters full of spiny sea urchins, stroking the backs of starfish. We watched a black bear feeding at low tide, heard the crunch of crab shells between his massive jaws. We touched the tentacles of a baby octopus and watched the arms of anemones wave in the current before finally arriving on this beach to hike through the woods and stand in front of the totems of S’Gang Gwaay.

Known as the Canadian Galápagos because of its wealth of endemic wildlife, Haida Gwaii is an archipelago off the northern coast of British Columbia known as the Queen Charlotte Islands until 2010. Largely covered in temperate rain forest, more than 150 islands form the shape of a bird’s wing – the largest, Graham and Moresby Islands, in the north, and the smaller collection of Gwaii Haanas to the south. To the east there is Hecate Strait and the mainland; to the west, the straight drop of the continental shelf and the open waters of the Pacific.

This is a place of possibility – where, if you listen, you might just hear the earth breathe.

For an Orange County resident, it’s a land of what ifs: What if there were no drought? What if the redwoods weren’t so desperate for a drink? What if we were free from the fear of wildfire? What if instead of the crackle of dry grass underfoot there was an emerald carpet
of moss, just begging to be touched. For
a native Canadian like me, who has made her home in Southern California for most of her adult life, it’s some strange alchemy that lets me be in both places at the same time, like living inside my own deepest desires.

***

Selected for Canada’s Signature Experiences Collection by the Canadian Tourism Commission, Maple Leaf Adventures has provided conservation-focused big adventures aboard small ships since 1986.

“We had a modest sailboat growing up,” explains Kevin Smith, who is Maple Leaf’s president. “I worked as a salmon researcher and with the Coast Guard to pay my way through school. I found that I needed to be out in boats, and I’ve been able to turn my passion for the ocean into my business.”

Smith has created “eco-adventure cruising,” using the principles of preservation, education and hands-on experience to offer a unique experience for travelers who crave more than a superficial, just-passing-through kind of trip.

This is not your average cruise ship. It’s a 88-foot converted tugboat, known as the Swell. Built in 1912, it hauled other ships for close to a hundred years. After $4 million-plus in renovations, it’s a passenger vessel of incomparable beauty, its interiors paneled in polished wood, its silver portholes gleaming. Morning kayak trips mean searching the shore for bears but also taking photos of our boat, the snow-topped peaks and a forest of trees reflected in the water around it. It is impossible not to feel lucky. Swell accommodates up to 12 guests in six cabins with high-thread-count sheets and limited-edition prints. Every room has its own bathroom, every shower runs hot, and you can drink the water straight from the tap, thanks to a state-of-the-art desalination system.

A crew of five includes the captain, the first mate, a deck hand, the chef and a naturalist. Not only are they experts in their own fields, but each has a connection to the environment and an adventurous spirit that infuses each

day with expectation. On this trip, anything could happen.

***

Between expeditions ashore, from Tanu to Rose Inlet and back to Windy Bay, guests fish off the side of the boat and the crew drops baited traps in the hopes of further enhancing our three-course, locally sourced meals. Who wouldn’t want to add an appetizer of Dungeness crab to the pan-seared salmon with black beluga lentils and farro from Alberta?

“We forage as much as we can,” says first mate Kristina Long, “but it’s seasonal. We find salmonberries, strawberries and blueberries, mint, and morel mushrooms in the fall. We only take as much as we need, though. With the crab traps, if we get 20, we only really need six for everyone to try it.”

Our only catch was a single sea urchin. Naturalist Bristol Foster split the spiny sphere, produced a spoon and digging it into the creature’s wet depths asked, “Who wants to try some uni?”

***

On Haida Gwaii, really anything can happen.

Named one of the 50 Tours of a Lifetime by National Geographic Traveler, Haida Gwaii is “best experienced without expectations or itineraries” because Mother Nature makes her own plans. Excursions begin with a land tour of the inhabited islands, an overnight at Alaska View Lodge in Masset, and an afternoon at Skidegate’s Haida Heritage Centre. While the Swell has a loose idea of where it’s headed, once it’s boarded in Cumshewa Inlet, our crew meets in the wheelhouse every morning to make adjustments to the day’s plans, contingent on the weather, whale sightings or potential foraging expeditions. One thing is constant, however: Every evening the captain steers into a quiet inlet along the route where the water is like glass, so you can enjoy your cr¯me brûlée without having to stop your utensils from rolling off the table.

After dinner, while guests lounge on the aft deck under a yellow cedar carving by Tim Motchman, sipping their last glass of a B.C. wine, the engine is turned off. Any overnight power needs are supplied by a silent bank of batteries.

It makes sense that the Swell is available for full-ship charters, because of how easily strangers become fast friends here. The Haida people’s history is an oral one, passed from generation to generation. Honoring this tradition, we meet in the galley on our first night to talk about where we’ve come from and how it is that we’ve arrived on the Swell. One of the other passengers realizes that the sailboat her late sister once owned has since found a home with the first mate’s mother. “It makes me feel good to know that a piece of her lives on,” she says. “It’s like I was meant to meet you.”

This is a powerful place, where the ties between things feel especially strong. It’s a common theme in Haida mythology, where humans are found hiding in the eye of a killer whale, beneath the skin of a bear or their limbs protruding from a clam shell. And after talking to one of the watchmen on Tanu, it’s obvious they don’t put much stock in linear time either. Children are believed to be the reincarnation of their elders. They are given the same names, and the actions of their namesake are attributed to all – past, present, future and supernatural. Stories are relayed in the collective “we” and take place in the ever-present now.

I am comforted by this way of looking at the world, the importance of community. My mother died when I was very young, yet I can feel her presence here like she is hiding within my skin. Making my way into the forest on a path that stretches out in front of me like a spine, it is her feet I see, one in front of the other, her hands reaching for my camera. And when we finally spot a pod of orcas – even after being told it probably wouldn’t happen – the captain stops the engine and lowers the hydrophone into the water so we can listen in.

I hear these killer whales talking and I recognize their cries immediately: It is the sound of my heart I hear, calling out to my mother.

Haida Gwaii. These things happen here.

4-10 nights, $1,890 to $11,251

:: mapleleafadventures.com

 

 

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Great Escape: Surfing with the CEO at The Inn at Laguna Beach

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At sunset, lounge on the ocean-front deck and listen to the waves crashing onto the shores of Main Beach.

John Grossman pointed his paddle down toward the kelp forest as we glided along Laguna Beach’s rocky coastline. It was an unusually quiet morning off Laguna Beach, the only sound the sloshing of ocean water under our stand-up paddleboards. A fog bank had just burned off and the sun started to make the water glisten like glitter.

As the president and owner of The Inn at Laguna Beach and the Laguna Beach House, Grossman’s day job mostly deals with the logistics of running two boutique hotels in one of Orange County’s most in-demand vacation areas.

But a newly launched “Surf or Stand-up Paddle with the owner” program allows Grossman and visitors to get away from the daily grind of e-mails and phone calls during exclusive tours – where he serves as the guide – to experience the sea in two different ways: either paddling off Laguna’s exclusive Emerald Bay or surfing the smooth waves at San Onofre.

InnLagunaBeach112

When he took over the family business three years ago – which includes the two Laguna properties and Hotel Carmel and La Playa Carmel in Northern California – his idea was to add special details to make visitors’ stays memorable.

“It’s a total sham, I’m happy to admit that,” Grossman said with a chuckle before our paddle on a recent morning. “We were talking about it as a team, and they said ‘You know, you’re really busy. How are you going to make time to do this?’ I said ‘I’ll make time.’”

Just the location of The Inn at Laguna Beach, overlooking the

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Luxury Overboard

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Maybe it was the rendition of La Traviata during the ship’s opera highlights show. Maybe it was the dinner of lobster flown in that day from Maine. Maybe it was the Mozart Tea afternoon events featuring 18th-century attire. Or, just maybe it was when another passenger we met, Myrna (taking her 28th Crystal Cruise with a male friend she’d met on a previous Crystal Cruise), raved about how the kind staff fixed her broken stiletto.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when among the many stellar moments of our 23 days aboard the Crystal Serenity, but at some point we both knew without a doubt why travel industry publications have repeatedly rated this cruise line as “world’s best” in the small-to-medium luxury cruise sector.

We were on an extended cruise aboard Crystal Serenity from Valparaiso, Chile, down to Antarctica, and back up to Buenos Aires, part of a world cruise. Every world cruise guest was offered special gifts that included iPads and photographic binoculars, among other perks. Company CEO and President Edie Rodriguez herself came on board to personally get to know guests. To maximize the luxury experience, book one of the four penthouses (about $2,000 per day), which come with amenities that include butler service, complimentary laundry, pressing and internet, a bottle of champagne, and many more special extras. “They go fast, especially for people who book the World Cruise every year,” notes Crystal Serenity hotel director Hubert Buelacher.

But can we talk about the onboard opera production? We are veteran cruisers who have seen a lot of shows at sea, but this unforgettable evening of opera highlights featured not only the Serenity’s own acclaimed singers, but two professional opera singers Crystal flew in specifically for this performance. Backed by the ship’s orchestra, the show featured gorgeous renditions of classics, from Delibes to Pagliacci, La Traviata to Phantom. Dozens of passengers not only saw the first pre-dinner show, but went back after dining to see the second performance.

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Pictured above are a few bites from the Mozart Tea afternoons aboard the Crystal Serenity.

And the onboard cuisine? Extraordinary. Under the direction of executive chef Werner Brenner, the ship flies in fresh lobster from Maine, no matter where they are in the world. The Vintage Room features food-and-wine pairings for $250 per person. The ultimate Vintage Room experience, though, includes Crystal’s own signature brand of wine and Nobu cuisine from Silk Road. Price tag? $1,000 per person. A wide selection of wines includes special connoisseurs’ packages; prices range from about $45 (for a dessert wine) up to $20,000 for the one bottle of La Tache pinot noir 2005. A popular bottle of Chateau d’Yquem runs $560 a bottle. (Special orders are always accommodated. Being a diehard dieter, Debbi requested some specific lowfat meals including an anniversary dinner of fat-free ratatouille, grilled shrimp, Parmesan quinoa and carrot cake. Two words: Done, and delicious.) But you can’t spend all day eating and drinking (although it’s tempting). Engaging excursions are offered in port – we loved seeing the penguins in Port Stanley – but the daily listof on-ship activities is truly impressive. Take yoga, learn how to knit or finally figure out your iPhone with the help of a class.

Not only were there lectures by a former CIA director, an American ambassador, and a naturalist who taught us everything you need to know about icebergs, penguins and dolphins, a professional writer on board offered sensational classes in memoir writing. This daily class is a popular benefit for people wishing to write their life stories for future generations to read. It’s thoroughly enjoyable – you’re also sure to have lots of laughs. We sure did.

One more intriguing – and if you ask us, admirable – offering by Crystal is the “You Care, We Care” ‘volun-tourism’ program available on some ships. Guests and crew can help worthwhile causes in destinations visited. Crystal makes all arrangements. Depending on the voyage, cruisers can lend a hand at a home for the elderly in Dubrovnik, Croatia, plant trees in Reykjavik, Iceland, tend orphans in Caldera, Costa Rica or feed the hungry in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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  • Think of Crystal Cruises as a Four Seasons on the ocean. With that in mind, we did have a few minor quibbles with the otherwise sterling experience: The luncheon menu selections in Serenity’s casual dining venue, the Lido Café, tended to be rather heavy, such as pork and roast beef with heavy gravies, lasagna and roast turkey with stuffing, etc. An expanded offering of cold cuts and salad, fish tacos and sandwiches would be more appealing for lunches.
  • On one of the warmer days on our cruise, we found ourselves unexpectedly out of sunscreen and aloe vera gel. While these were available for purchase on ship, we only needed a small amount. If pool stewards offered guests the option of sunscreens and aloe vera, presented as they currently do with cold towels at the pool, this would be very convenient for guests.
  • Make satin pillowcases available on request. The ladies will appreciate it: Satin is soft on facial skin and doesn’t leave you with creases and new wrinkles on your face in the morning!

Other than that, will we be back? Just try to keep us away …

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