2016 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 such as the “Love Potion” (pictured above) and “Straight from the Heart”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 but they have chosen to stick to their core flower business.
Expressing the right sentiment in words is crucial on Valentine’s Day. If you miss by a little, then you might as well miss by a mile. There is no shortage of Hallmark cards for traditional Valentine’s Day greetings but if you are afraid that too much mushiness can backfire then you might to try a lighter touch with cards from a pair of online stationers, Paper Epiphanies (paperepiphanies.com) and Bald Guy Greetings (baldguygreetings.com).

Stonewall Kitchen chocolate
Stonewall Kitchen

Stonewall Kitchen and Savannah Bee are online retailers that offer a wide array of gift baskets as well as kitchen products and tableware. Stonewall Kitchen has more candy offerings while Savannah Bee, as it’s name indicates, has a lot of honey and honey products.

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.
Quality costume jewelry frequently looks exactly like its far more expensive cousin but it doesn’t break budgets and you won’t lose as much sleep if it gets misplaced. Manhattan retailer Roman & Sunstone (romansunstone.com) has one of the largest collection of high quality costume jewelry. Their products are also sold at Target.

Auburn Jewelry

Other online retailers that have plenty of selections for under $100 are Auburn Jewelry, and Soothi, which prides itself on being ecologically sensitive as it uses recycled materials in its bracelets, earrings, and necklaces.

Dana Bronfman is a Brooklyn jewelry designer who creates earrings from sterling silver to rings that are comprised of 18 karat gold. The price of the pieces range from $100 to nearly $7,000.

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.

House of Horology

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. Another good timepiece option is Icelink, a Swiss company whose 6TZ line has six mini clocks on its band so that you know what time it is in six different time zones.

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.

Baggalini The Lift-crossbody bag
Baggalini The Lift-crossbody bag

Online retailer Baggalini has clutches and handbags that range from $75 to $100. Chinyere Ugoji (ugoji.com) manufactures totes, satchels, hobos and other bags that rang from $200 to $700. If you want to go very high-end Judith Lieber makes handbags that are in the four-figure price category and not surprisingly they are sold at Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom, and Bergdorf Goodman.
Native New Yorker Paul Stewart-Stand, who sought out the better weather and more laid-back lifestyle of San Diego, created his namesake company, Stewart/Stand, that makes durable wallets, billfolds, and card holders for both sexes. What makes his products different than those made by say Coach and Louis Vuitton is that he uses lightweight stainless steel to make them last for years. Consumers can choose between leather and synthetic exteriors so that vegans don’t have to feel left out.

BeYu lip stick

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 BeYu, 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. A company based in Ridgewood, Noctua Diem (noctuadiem.com) makes a wide array of skin serums, exfoliants, and face washes.Dollar Shave Club has expanded from selling razors to skin protection products thanks to its Dr. Carver and Big Cloud lines.

Kiss My Face Olive & Aloe Moisturizer
Kiss My Face Olive & Aloe Moisturizer

Moisturizers, serums and sun-fighting products from  CeraVe, Weleda Men’s Care, Cetaphil Men, Burt’s Bees, Derma-E, Glow Skin Care, St. Ives,  Menaji, Turo, Maya Chia, Olie Biologique, and the humorously-named Kiss My Face, are all recommended.

Men have been taking an increasing market share in the fragrance industry. Dolce & Gabbana has humorously created a cologne called “The One For Him Eau de Parfum.” Stetson Decanter comes in a box set gift. Former Jackson Heights resident and now L.A. transplant Tara Durkin has an excellent men’s fragrance called Dossage 8.

There are obviously thousands of perfumes for women. I am not sure how good it is but I have to chuckle at the name of House of Matriarch’s big seller, Sex Magic.

House of Matriarch's Sex Magic
House of Matriarch’s Sex Magic

That rivals the Sex On The Beach perfume from Long Island-based Demeter Fragrances who CEO is die-hard Mets fan Mark Crames.. Safer name choices in the perfume world are Revlon’s Love Is On Eau de Toilette and Elizabeth Arden’s Always Red.

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.You can’t go wrong with is StoneRidge Chocolate Covered Cherries and Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates (vermontnutfree.com).

Gnosis Walnut Spread
Gnosis Walnut Spread

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 a southern treat bu the sweetest 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. Former investment banker Liz Fife recently started a New York-based company, Batter & Cream (batterandcream.com) that specializes in whoopie pies.

BaileysFor 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 Bailey’s newest creation, Espresso Café Creme, and Kahlua are safe bets.

Francie is renowned for red wine but Calvados Boulard is a fine brandy from its Normandy region. Ireland is starting to get competition in the cream liqueur industry as evidenced by South Africa’s Amarula Cream.

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.

Johnnie Walker Black LabelIf 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 in the $15-$25 range.

Dreaming Tree Crush Red wine.
Dreaming Tree Crush Red wine.

Among the fine reds from the Golden State that you can select from are Dreaming Tree Crush (Dreaming Tree’s owner is rock guitarist Dave Matthews), Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon, Simi Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Woodbridge by Mondavi Merlot.
In my opinion, Pinot Noir is the king of varietals because of its smooth and full body taste. Among the better California Pinot Noir brands are Castle Rock, Mark West Black, Woodbridge by Mondavi, and Josh Cellars. I have to admit though that my favorite Pinot Noir brand, Benton-Lane, comes from the state just north of California, Oregon.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! semi-sweet red wine
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! semi-sweet red wine

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. Going international, South Africa’s Bizoe Estalet is fine Syrah.
Opening even mid-priced wines and spirits can often be a daunting task with all of the foils and corking. Metrokane’s Rabbit line of devices makes removing all of that paraphernalia fairly easily.

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), Curvy Couture, and of course, Victoria’s Secret.

Victoria's Secret limited edition fishnet and baby doll
Victoria’s Secret limited edition fishnet and baby doll

Plus-size women can find eye-catching intimate wear at Ashley Stewart. 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.

And yes, Valentine’s Day is the biggest holiday for the sensual pleasure industry. K-Y, Fiera, Luz De La Riva, and Adam & Eve make gels, oils, and massagers that help enhance romance.

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.

Truman's Gentleman GroomersThere 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. A number of spas, including Red Door, are giving bonuses for those who purchase gift cards.
For men who prefer a truly male-oriented atmosphere, Truman’s Gentlemen Groomers, 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.

Zyka Kora Running ShoeValentine’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.

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 nearly all 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.

Grand Palladium Bavaro in Punta Cana
Grand Palladium Bavaro in Punta Cana

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.

Puerto Rico tends to be overlooked when discussing Caribbean getaways and that is a shame because there is so much to see and do there. You also don’t need a passport because it’s a United States territory.

Courtyard Isla Verde
Courtyard Isla Verde

If you want to be on the beach in San Juan you can stay at the Courtyard Isla Verde which has just undergone a $32 million renovation. If you prefer being closer to San Juan’s business district but still in proximity to the beach, the Doubletree by Hilton San Juan is a good option. If you want to be more adventurous and prefer a secluded resort that has lush tropical gardens, the Copamarino Beach Resort & Spa in Guanica makes for an ideal getaway.

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. Other superb places to stay in the area are the Eau Palm Beach Resort (which was once the site of the Palm Beach Ritz-Carlton), Boca Raton Resort, the Breakers (which I consider to be the Waldorf-Astoria of Palm Beach), and the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa.

Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale
Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale

Just down the road from Palm Beach 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, the Pelican Grand Beach Resort, the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa, 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.
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.
The Golden State offers couples an opportunity to enjoy both surf and skiing. Big Bear Lake and Lake Tahoe have ski trails that rival those of Colorado, New Mexico and Vermont.
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. Another well-known lodging property there is the Colony Palms Hotel whose cabanas also evoke memories of Hollywood’s glory days.
If you prefer Arizona desert towns to those in California, well then you won’t go wrong in the greater Phoenix area with either the Talking Stick Resort or Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain which are both in Scottsdale, or the Hermosa Inn located in Paradise Valley.
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.
One of America’s fastest growing cities, Raleigh, North Carolina is only an hour flight from Queens and it’s the unofficial halfway point between New York and Miami. North Carolina’s capital city has a lot of museums (and they all offer free admission) as well as a very good nightlife. Raleigh is a two-hour drive to the beautiful Wilmington beaches to the southeast and a three hour trip to Asheville and the Smoky Mountains to the northwest.
The Raleigh suburb of Cary is home to the Umstead Hotel & Spa is luxury at its best. Its location on Woodland Pond with its surrounding forest makes for a great retreat from the stresses of New York City life.
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 although Hornblower Cruises are another option for appreciating this natural wonder. 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.
Atlantic City has endured some tough times as casinos have opened up everywhere it seems 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. The Taj is still home to many of AC’s best restaurants.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

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