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Best of 2007

The best hotels, sights, spas and experiences of 2007

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Among all the places I've been this year, scoping out hotels and spas to recommend to you, a few experiences really stood out. Here are the best of the best of 2007:

Best Guest Room: AZUL Blue

Guest Room at Azul Blue
Image © Charlyn Keating Chisholm
What set this room apart? Chic AZUL Blue in Mexico's Riviera Maya has only 96 guest suites in six villas, each villa with its own private butler. My butler, Jerome, unpacked my suitcase for me, but that wasn't even the best part. My room came complete with a Jacuzzi surrounded by windows (other suites had it outside on the balcony). The roomy marble bathroom had a large shower and amenities custom mixed to my preference (they asked via email before I left home). An iPod came stocked with my favorite style of music; I could dock it in the room to set the mood and bring it with me to the pool. Jerome was also available to run a bath in the Jacuzzi and set up aromatherapy candles. To sum it all up: Ahhhhhh.

Best Balcony: Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Balcony at Gamboa Rainforest Resort
Image © Charlyn Keating Chisholm
The best thing about the balcony off my guest room at Gamboa Rainforest Resort on the Panama Canal? The hammock. I was on the go most of the day at this resort, since there was so much to do: kayaking, canoing to the Embera Indian Tribe, ziplining through the rainforest canopy - but my favorite part of each day was birdwatching in the hammock, which inevitably turned into a nap.

Best View: The Chateaux at Silver Lake, Deer Valley, Utah

View of Deer Valley, Utah from The Chateaux at Silver Lake
Image © Charlyn Keating Chisholm
It was snowing on the day I checked in, so I woke up to this winter wonderland outside my window in a cozy room with a fireplace at The Chateaux at Silver Lake in Deer Valley, Utah. The view inspired me go skiing that morning, despite single digit temperatures. For me, a girl from the deep south, it was quite a magical sight.

Best Spa: The Red Door Spa at Hyatt Regency Bonaventure

Red Door Spa at Hyatt Regency Bonaventure
Image © 2007 Charlyn Keating Chisholm, licensed to About.com.
I found nirvana at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa in the Hyatt Regency Bonaventure. I spent a day at this destination spa, but could have easily stretched it into a weekend. Just after you pass through the red doors, a Zen garden welcomes you with beautiful flowers and softly flowing water. Inside, there is 48,000 square feet of bliss, or go outside like I did and enjoy a Tangerine Foot Soak poolside. Lunch is at the Bamboo Spa Cafe, overlooking the pool.

Best Kids' Program: Red Rock Resort

Check In Desk at Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas
Image © Charlyn Keating Chisholm
I never thought it would be a good idea to take my preschooler to Las Vegas, but now it's his favorite place to go. That's all thanks to the Red Rock Resort and its fabulous supervised kids' program, Kids Quest. He loved it so much, he woke us up at 3 am to ask if it was open yet. While he was entertained, we could enjoy the casino, restaurants, shopping, swimming pool, movie theater and even a bowling alley.

Best Weekend Getaway: Naples Grande Resort & Club

Mangrove Swimming Pool
Image courtesy Naples Grande Resort and Club
This resort near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, had it all: it was affordable (at $135 a night), offered plenty of activities (for a very small resort fee), and had fabulous food, from the Strip House to the poolside grill. We relaxed at this family destination and wouldn't hesitate to return.

Best Spa Treatment: Facial at Cheeca Lodge & Spa

The pier at Cheeca Lodge & Spa
Image © Charlyn Keating Chisholm
Sure, this historic lodge in the Florida Keys is known for fishing. But I caught something even better - the best, most relaxing facial I've ever had. I have Francine Mitchell to thank for that. Francine pampered my hands and feet with paraffin treatments, made my skin glow and loaded me with samples to take home.

By the way, the kids' program at Cheeca Lodge gets runner-up for best of the year - my preschooler caught his first fish off the dock and learned to snorkel.

Best Breakfast: Sundance Ski Resort

Breakfast at Sundance
Image © Charlyn Keating Chisholm
I ate well at Sundance Ski Resort, and relatively guilt-free. After all, skiing burns a lot of calories. I started off the day at the resort's own Foundry Grill, where I had the Sundance huevos rancheros - so good, I had to take a picture of them. To be fair, I'm a fan of most food that involves melted cheese, guacamole and black beans, but this was a standout. I ate well there at lunch, too - the Sundance Organic Field Green Salad with cranberries and tangerine slices wasn't quite as high in calories, but was flavorful just the same. Definitely the best place I've found to fuel up for a day of skiing.

Best Service: Mandarin Oriental in Miami

Shoe Shine at the Mandarin Oriental Miami
Image © Charlyn Keating Chisholm
This was possibly the most perfect hotel experience I've had, from the moment I checked in to turndown service that night (and room service the next morning). I commented on the wonderful incense burning in the lobby, and one of the front desk attendants (who wasn't even checking me in) photocopied the incense box for me to take home. Turndown service was so thoughtful, they even turned the alarm clock to face my pillow and left a complimentary bottled water on the nightstand. I took advantage of the complimentary shoe shine service for my sandals and got them back the next morning, polished and adorned with fresh flowers. It's truly the small details that make a huge difference.

Best Dinner: LaCote Brasserie at the Renaissance Arts Hotel

The Atrium Sculpture Garden at the Renaissance Arts Hotel
Image © Renaissance Arts Hotel
I ate my way through New Orleans earlier this year, so by the time I got to dinner at LaCote Brasserie in New Orleans' Renaissance Arts Hotel, I'd already had breakfast and two lunches that day. Still, I had to find room for French onion soup topped with gruyere, charbroiled oysters with parmesan, and crawfish gnocchi with tasso cream. It's worth a visit no matter where you're staying in New Orleans.
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