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 The Brancatelli File

joe TRAVEL AND ROMANCE: FINDING
THE PERFECT BLEND FOR VALENTINE'S DAY


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

January 20, 2000 -- What's the prescription for a perfect Valentine's Day? You may already know the answer: breakfast in bed at a hotel, a bottle of Champagne, chocolates and flowers.

Last Valentine's Day, remembers Anita Cotter, spokesperson for the deluxe New York Palace hotel, "One of our guests asked the concierge to fill an entire room from top to bottom with red roses. Then he proposed to his girlfriend."

You may not want--or cannot afford--to fill a $500 a night hotel room with thousands of dollars worth of roses, but more and more Americans celebrate their love on Valentine's Day with a hotel getaway. And that's why every bed-and-breakfast inn, big-city glitter palace, cozy ski lodge and roadside motel offers a special Valentine's Day Romance Package.

Almost without exception, these romance packages include the aforementioned big four of love. But how each offer handles those basics is left to the creativity of the hotel's marketing director. Before you book a package, make sure to ask about specifics. It may not be romantic to ask pointed questions, but it is a practical way to get exactly the experience you and your honey expect.

Depending on the hotel, breakfast in bed can be anything from stale croissants and cold coffee to a made-to-order repast served en suite by your personal chef. The wine may be anything from a sickly sweet bottle of California cold duck to the King (Dom Perignon) and Queen (Perrier Jouet in the bottle with hand-painted flowers) of Champagne. Chocolates run the gamut from Hershey's Kisses to hand-made truffles flown in from Switzerland. And flowers offered in the package may range from a single, wilted short-stemmed rose to a glorious spray of heirloom orchids.

"Don't assume a good hotel offers a great romance package or that a suburban motel offers a lifeless deal," warns Susan Lyons, a hotel consultant. "In fact, don't assume any romance package is exactly right for you. Call a couple of weeks in advance and negotiate a price and exactly what you expect for Valentine's Day."

And use your imagination. Your Valentine's Day getaway could include all sorts of romantic perks: in-room massages for two, joint visits to the spa, limousine transportation to and from the hotel, upgrades to a suite and even in-room musicians to serenade you. Almost anything that appeals to the heart is probably within the power of the hotel concierge.

But one popular component of a romantic getaway--a candlelit dinner in the hotel restaurant--has become an extremely tough ticket, especially if the dining room has a reputation for gourmet dining.

"I never have enough deuces [tables for two] on Valentine's Day," worries Raymond Bickson, general manager of The Mark, the elegant hotel on Manhattan's chic Upper East Side. Mark's Restaurant, the hotel's intimate and highly regarded restaurant, is often booked on a normal evenings, "but it gets crazy around Valentine's Day," Bickson admits. "The hotel guests all expect a table, our regulars all expect a table and hundreds of others call because they want to book a special meal."

Bickson's advice? Book a table very early. "In fact, I'd book now for Valentine's Day, 2001!"

But if you're still stumped for a Valentine's Day idea this year, here are five that might strike your romantic fancy:

The Woodlawn Plantation, a beautiful mansion that overlooks historic Mount Vernon, is hosting Valentine's Day Teas on February 12 and 14. Tours of the mansion are included with the tea service. For more information, call 703-780-4000. Woodland Plantation is located at the intersection of U.S. Route 1 & Virginia Route 235 South, 10 miles south of Alexandria, Virginia.

In San Francisco, the Tribal, Folk & Textile Art Show will be held on February 11, 12 and 13. On display: North American pottery; basketry; textiles and jewelry; masks from Africa and Oceania; figurines from South America; pottery and ceramics from Mexico; and bronzework from China. Consider taking your special someone and buying them whatever their heart fancies. For more information, call 415-982-3000. The show is held at Fort Mason, located between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Meanwhile, the Sundance ski resort in Utah is planning a special Valentine's treat it calls Date Night at Sundance. The hotel's Tree Room restaurant has prepared a special menu with cute love-related themes like hearts of palm salad, honey-fried quail and a selection of hand-made chocolate. After dinner, the Sundance screening room will be showing a special romantic movie. There's no word if the flick will star Robert Redford, the dreamy actor who also happens to own Sundance. After dinner and a movie, couples can retreat to a Junior Suite decked out with a fireplace and patio. (Suite rates start at $295 a night and include breakfast.) For more information, call 800-892-1600.

If you want to share the special day with Mickey Mouse as well as your significant other, then consider the Embassy Suites near World Disney World in Orlando. The hotel's Suite Rendezvous package includes two nights in a suite, a bottle of Champagne, chocolates, daily breakfast, complimentary evening cocktails and a free shuttle to the major theme parks. (Prices start at $295 a couple.) For more information, call 407-345-8250.

And there's always Hawaii. On Valentine's Day, Aloha Airlines launches service to Honolulu from California, marking the first time the Hawaii-based carrier will fly directly from the U.S. mainland. Inaugural flights are always special events, but first-ever flights on Valentine's Day to one of the world's most romantic places should be extraordinary. To make the launch even more special, the flight will feature cuisine created by Alan Wong, one of Hawaii's most beloved chefs. (Fares for the inaugural flight start at $399 a person with a 21-day advance purchase.) For more information, call 800-367-5250.

This column originally appeared at Mapquest.com.

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.