2015 Valentine’s Day Gift & Travel Guide

Finding the right Valentine’s Day present for someone special is never an easy chore. Here are some gift ideas that should add a touch of romance not just for February 14 for anytime of the year.

You cannot think of Valentine’s Day without thinking of flowers, and it’s hard to think of flowers without thinking of 1-800Flowers, the company founded and still run by Woodside native Jim McCann. While floral arrangements are still the company’s main source of income, it has expanded its lines to include food gift baskets and oversized teddy bears. Teleflora is a leading competitor in the floral delivery/gift basket world.

Stonewall Kitchen (stonewallkitchen.com) is a Maine-based company that specializes in a wide array of gift baskets as well as kitchen products and tableware.

Jewelry is another romantic gift staple and comes in all price points. Long Island designer Nancy Rosen has long been the jewelry designer of choice for cable’s Bravo Network as she has long made those various self-absorbed housewives look glamorous on those various reality shows. The kicker is that she creates costume jewelry that looks very realistic on the air. You can find the same necklaces and earrings at her housewivesjewelry.com website. Sandra Biachi (sandrabiachi.com) is another jewelry designer who makes quality pieces in a variety of price points. Inayaaz and Trollbeads both make quality but reasonably priced necklaces and pendants.

If you are ready to take your relationship to the proverbial next step, you are going to need to make an investment in a quality ring. New York City is famous for having some of the best jewelers in the world. If you have a creative side however and want to use 21st century technology you can go to ritani.com and design your engagement ring online. The company promises that you don’t have to pay for it if you (or your significant other) is not happy with the results. Forevermark is a very respected gem purveyor throughout the world.

Watches are the most popular form of jewelry because they are utilized by both sexes and you can find a quality timepiece for just about any budget. Timex, Dakota, Caravelle, and Long Island City’s own Armitron, produce plenty of watches for less than $125. Forest Hills High School alum Lawrence Leyderman created his own SoHo-based watch company, House of Horology (hohwatches.com) that produces chronometers that rival Tag Heuer and Omega but at a fraction of their cost.

Handbags and totes are always useful. Olivia & Joy’s Posh Satchel, Steve Madden’s Cross Body Bag, Tutilo, and just about anything from the Indiana cloth tote manufacturer, Vera Bradley, are safe choices. Flushing native Crystal Kodada (crystalkodada.com) is a newcomer to the high-end leather handbag business but her line tends to be a bit larger in size than most oh her competitors and there are a lot of zippered compartments for secured storage.

Cosmetics are tricky items for guys to purchase for women for a number of reasons. If you know which shade the lady in your life loves then you can’t go wrong with lipsticks from Hard Candy, NVEY Eco, Essence, Shiseido, Mineral Fusion, and especially Sephora.

These days skin care products have become almost as popular for men as they are for women. With jobs still tough to find, no one wants to look older than they have to. In addition everyone is more aware of the dangers of the sun than they even were just a few years ago. Moisturizers and sun-fighting products from CeraVe, Burt’s Bees, Derma-E, Glow Skin Care, St. Ives, Dr. Brandt, Menaji, Turo, and the humorously-named Kiss My Face, are all recommended.

Valentine’s Day, like Halloween, is a day when barring serious health issues, we can look the other way when it comes to sugar consumption. Godiva and See Candies make tasty chocolates but I have to admit to a special fondness for Ghirardelli’s peppermint bark and caramel squares. Chocolate also contains antioxidants that actually promote heart health. Gnosis Chocolate, which is made right here in Long Island City, Seattle Chocolates, and Aloha Superfood Chocolate Bar make a variety of confections that taste good and are good for you.

The southern part of the United States has always been known for great desserts. Brennan’s of Houston makes these soft praline pieces that reminds you of the delicious fudge that you find in Atlantic City. Whoopie pies are another favorite of mine but are very difficult to find around these parts. Loni Holm, the proprietor of holmmadecookies.com) out of North Carolina, makes kosher whoopie pies. The sweetest whoopie pie that I have ever tasted are made by Wicked Whoopies (wickedwhoopies.com) which surprisingly are made in Freeport, Maine, a Portland suburb that is famous for its outlet shopping.

For the spirits industry, Valentine’s Day ranks just behind New Year’s Eve in terms of sales numbers. Liqueurs such as Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur, Bailey’s Old Irish Creme, Bailey’s Salted Caramel, and Kahlua are safe bets. Sparkling wines as Lillet Rose and Chandon Rose are also synonymous with romance. If you want a slight sweet touch to somewhat harder alcohol try Smirnoff Wild Honey Vodka or Balvenie Caribbean Cork which adds a gentle flavor to whisky.

If you prefer smooth over sweet, Glenfiddich 12, Macallan, and Johnnie Walker Black Label (the Blue Label will cost you over $200) are great options in the scotch whisky market. Tequila aficionados can’t go wrong with Milagro Silver, Don Julio, or if you really want to go high end, try Tequila Avion. If you prefer a Japanese rice-based clear wine, try Ty Ku Sake.

Red wine not only goes with a romantic meal but according to a lot of medical research also offers cardiac benefits. We may not make much in the United States but California still makes a lot of fine and affordable wines. I prefer Cabernet Sauvignon over Merlot because it offers a smoother, full-body taste. Sterling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and Simi Landslide Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. If you want to go outside the USA, Sicily’s Stemmari Wines make bottles of Pinot Noir and Nero d’Avola for around $10. My suggestion is to splurge and pick up their Contadora, which is a blend of Nero d’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon) for $14. For what it’s worth, my favorite wine is Benton-Lane Pinot Noir from Oregon. If you want to go off the beaten path, North Carolina’s Old North State Winery has named a semi-sweet red in honor of Ozone Park native Cindy Lauper’s signature hit, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

Amazon.com sells all kinds of wine-related supplied such as Metrokane corkscrews, stoppers, glasses and carafes. Candles add to the romantic mood and Amazon sells those made by Root. Yankee Candle also makes scented paraffin products in all colors.

Lingerie has come along way from the Frederick’s of Hollywood days. Intimate apparel is now part of mainstream fashion. You can find a wide assortment of lingerie from Cosmopolitan (sold in JC Penney), and of course, Victoria’s Secret. If you are looking for sleeping apparel that is a little less naughty, check out bettyboopsuperstore.com where you can purchase pajamas and nightshirts featuring arguably America’s first pop culture sex symbol, 1920s cartoon character, Betty Boop.

Ranking just behind Halloween, Valentine’s Day is the most popular holiday for costuming. Superherostuff.com sells all sorts of clothing and paraphernalia that allows both men and women to feel like their favorite Marvel or DC Comics character.

You don’t have to be a fan of Woody Allen movies to know that New York City, for all of its hustle-bustle, has always had a romantic side. A dinner cruise on World Yacht or Spirit is always a memorable and enjoyable evening. You should purchase a CityPASS or New York Pass if you want to see a lot of points if interest in a short amount of time.

The New York Metropolitan Opera is getting high tech. If you love opera but either can’t make it to Lincoln Center you can watch the productions online with an Internet subscription.

There was a time when the clientele of spas and salons were 99% female. Just as more guys are using skin care products more, they are also going in greater numbers to spas such as Red Door, the Marilyn Monroe Spa, and Spa Martier. For men who prefer a truly male-oriented atmosphere, Truman’s Gentlemen Grooming, which has two locations in Manhattan, offers old school hot towel barber shaves, as well as massages, facials, manicures, and yes, shoe shines. Breathe Easy is a fairly new spa chain that can help improve breathing and increase one’s immune system through the use of salt therapy. There is a big difference between breathing in salty air as opposed to ingesting salty foods which tend to raise blood pressure. To learn which spas are having promotional deals, log onto spaweek.com.

Valentine’s Day means that spring and better weather shouldn’t be too far away. Higher temperatures are ideal for outdoor physical activity such as brisk walking and jogging. Ryka makes top quality running shoes for ladies while Altra Footwear does the same for guys.

If you are looking for my resources for gift ideas, log onto qvc.com, hsn.com, ideeli.com, amazon.com, and accessoriescouncil.org.

While New York is wonderful (a good deal of the time anyway) a change of scenery is ideal for romance. Queens’ own JetBlue flies to a lot of the destinations that I am about to describe.

The southeast Dominican Republic town of Punta Cana, which was basically unheard of back in the 1980s, has quickly grown to be one of the world’s most popular resort cities. One of the reasons that it has done well is that its many resorts are all-inclusive meaning that three meals per day and nearly every form of entertainment is included.

The Catskills meets the Caribbean motif is very much part of what makes the Grand Palladium Bavaro in Punta Cana so charming. There is plenty to do during the day, as staff leads guests through various games on the beach ,as well as a variety of entertainment at night. I do wish that the disco had opened before 11:15 PM however. The vast palm-tree laden grounds are superior to the neighboring resorts that I saw.

Surprisingly, there are not a lot of well-known hotel names to most Americans in Punta Cana yet. There is a Hard Rock Café & Casino that boasts a restaurant that is run by world famous chef Kerry Simon as well as a Club Med.

For those who want to say on the continental United States there are plenty of options. It takes less than three hours to fly from either JFK or LaGuardia to South Florida. The PGA Resort in Palm Beach Gardens has undergone extensive renovations. As you would expect from its name, there are five championship golf courses on the premises. From a romantic viewpoint, a joint lesson with a golf pro should improve your game. Of course golf is a frustrating game, so it is important that you and your significant other maintain a sense of humor.

Just down the road from Palm Beach Gardens is Fort Lauderdale which has come a long way from its “Where The Boys Are” image. Upscale hotels as the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, the Bonaventure Resort and Spa, and the Pelican Grand Beach Resort, and the recently remodeled four-diamond Sonesta Fort Lauderdale, have plenty of romantic packages.

The Turnberry Isle Resort located just of the Broward County border in Aventura also has a terrific golf course, a top-notch spa, and great restaurants. The one drawback is that you have to take a shuttle bus to its beach in Sunny Isles which many of us baby boomers fondly remember as Miami Beach’s one-time Motel Row.

Downtown Miami, although not located on the Atlantic Ocean the way Miami Beach is, has quickly become a tourist destination in its own right because of its fine restaurants, museums and points of interest/neighborhoods as the Miami Seaquarium, Key Biscayne, Cape Florida, Coral Gables, and Coconut Grove. The Epic Hotel is one of Miami’s top boutique hotels and it offers guest complimentary bicycles to get around town. If you want to stay in South Beach, the Epic’s sister property is the Surfcomber Hotel.

California has no shortage of romantic getaways. There is nothing like watching the sun set over the Pacific in the coastal San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla. The Grande Colonial La Jolla is a hotel on the National Historic Register and it just celebrated its centennial. A few miles east of the Grande Colonial, is another great property, the Hyatt Regency La Jolla, which has terrific workout facilities, an Olympic-sized pool and a Jacuzzi. The Hyatt Regency is located right off I-5 in the University Town Center neighborhood which reminds me a lot of Queens because you can walk to restaurants and stores.

Few desert towns anywhere in the world possess the charm of Palm Springs. There aren’t many better places to gaze at the stars at night with that special someone. The Triada Hotel, located in the city’s Movie Colony district, has a Spanish hacienda design, two pools, a Jacuzzi, and a fine restaurant, and rooms that remind you of the kind of hidden villas, the kind that celebrities have long enjoyed.

As I mentioned earlier, getting a bottle of wine from Napa Valley can enhance romantic ambience. A trip to the Napa region, particularly if you and your significant other are oenophiles, could truly be a romantic adventure. In addition to visiting the individual wineries, you can enjoy a wonderful dinner, sample the area’s best wines, and enjoy the scenery by taking a ride on the Napa Wine Train. You can also partake in hot air ballooning in the Napa town of Yountville. The Napa River Inn is a boutique hotel built on the grounds of an old sugar mill in downtown Napa which retains the charm and architecture of its founding in the mid 19th century.

Before aviation became readily available to the masses, Niagara Falls was the honeymoon capital of the world. The Falls are still magnificent and you still need a yellow slicker to take a ride on famous boat that takes you near it, the Maid of the Mist. Niagara Falls has plenty of inexpensive bed and breakfasts. The Seneca Casino, which opened a dozen years ago, is the largest hotel in the area and it offers all the amenities that you would expect from a resort.

If you and that special someone like the slopes and country inns, Vermont is not far away. For a list of ski resorts in the Green Mountain State, log onto skivermont.com.

Atlantic City has endured some tough times as many neighboring locales have welcomed casinos including Queens. The good news is that means that the surviving casino hotels on its famous five-mile boardwalk are offering incredible bargain packages that include lodging, meals and entertainment. I have always been partial to the Trump Taj Mahal on the north end of the boardwalk which has always been luxurious without being ostentatious.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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