Last Minute Valentine’s Gift Guide and Travel – NY Sports Day


NY Sports Day
Lloyd Carroll

Last Minute Valentine’s Gift Guide and Travel

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 “Modern Love,” “Enchanted Rose Medley,” and for cat aficionados “Flirty Feline,” 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.

      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-based products.

    Jewelry is another romantic gift staple and comes in all price points. Manhattan retailer Roman & Sunstone (romansunstone.com) has one of the largest collection of high quality costume jewelry. Their products are also sold at Target.  Freida Rothman is a Brooklyn jewelry designer who creates necklaces, medallions, and rings from fine metals that range in price from $300 to nearly $700. Capsul Jewelry uses 3-D metal printing to create inexpensive items such as dog tag necklaces where you can engrave whatever brief message that you want. 203 Jewelry (203jewelry.com) has an interesting array of turquoise handmade rings. Agooa (agooaculture.com) takes pride in making pieces that run in the $80 to $150 range from ecologically sustainable sources from around the globe.

      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 Watch Company, and Long Island City’s own Armitron, produce plenty of timepieces for less than $125. Forest Hills High School alum Lawrence Leyderman created his own watch company, House of Horology (hohwatches.com) that produces chronometers that rival Tag Heuer and Omega but at a fraction of their cost. Woodside’s iconic Bulova also makes fashionable and durable watches in the $400 to $800 range.

 

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      Handbags and totes are always useful. 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. Ameribag makes ergonomically correct backpacks that come in hot pink and red to the more muted navy blue and black and retail anywhere from $50 to $75. Darby Scott, Black Sea Collection, Judith Leiber ,and Jill Haber make high end over-the-shoulder handbags. Haber’s line can double as works of art.

      For those on tighter budgets Buxton (buxton.co) and Deux Lux make totes, billfolds, passport and  credit card holders.

      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 Ulta Lip Gloss, Be Yu, Hard Candy, NVEY Eco, Essence, Shiseido, Mineral Fusion, Kiko Milano, and especially Sephora.

       These days skin care products have become almost as popular for men as they are for women. With good jobs tougher to find as we age, no one wants to look older than they have to even those who aren’t the slightest bit vain. In addition, everyone is more aware of the dangers of the sun than they even were just a few years ago. Moisturizers, serums and sun-fighting products from  CeraVe, Columbia Skin Cares,  and the humorously-named Kiss My Face, are all recommended.

     June Jacobs produces specialty skin care items such as an anti-aging lip treatment and a detoxifying masque while Kiehl’s, which has been around since 1851, makes a ton of skin products including its Ultra Facial Cream. For those who have the time to invest in looking as youthful as possible, Tammy Fender (tammyfender.com) has an entire at-home regiment kit for the truly dedicated.

     Men have been taking an increasing market share in the fragrance industry.  Ralph Lauren’s Polo Red and Diesel’s Fuel for Men are popular fragrances. 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. 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. Ralph Lauren makes a fragrance gift set that includes a box of Dylan’s Chocolates while Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb gift set includes parfum, shower gel, and body cream. Lampe Berger Paris’s Cocoon Boxed Set contains has what it calls an Ocean Breeze Home Fragrance in a stylish satin glass case.

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      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 Covered Cherries and Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates (vermontnutfree.com) is perfect for anyone who might have allergies to nuts of any kind. Josh Aryeh, a Queens Hatzolah Ambulance volunteer driver, started Fruits In Chocolate (FruitsInChocolate.com) just across the Nassau County border in Inwood three years ago. As the company name indicates, Aryeh’s company places pieces of fresh fruit inside premium dark chocolate. They are kosher and are sold at a wide variety of retailers.

      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 but 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.

     Cheryl’s (cheryls.com) has a Valentine’s Day gift box of its popular cookies while Harry & David’s has gift baskets of its popular Moose Munch popcorn as well as its many other confections.

      Couples who are coffee drinkers and who don’t mind a touch of saccharine kitsch should purchase Care Bears his and hers mugs.

      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 Bailey’s recent creation, Espresso Café Creme, and Kahlua are safe bets. France is renowned for red wine but Calvados Boulard is a fine brandy from its Normandy region. Ireland now has competition in the cream liqueur industry as evidenced by South Africa’s Amarula Cream.

      Sparkling wines as France’s Lillet Rose and Italy’s Banfi Rosa Regale 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.

     If you prefer smooth over sweet, Glenfiddich 12, Macallan, Usquaebach, 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. Blue Nectar Reposado Special Craft Tequila will remind many of a cognac because of its sweetness. Bacardi’s Gran Reserva 8Anos is a very easy-to-imbibe rum. If you prefer a Japanese rice-based clear wine, try Ty Ku Sake and its newest flavor, Ty Ku Sake Coconut.

     Red wine not only goes with a romantic meal but according to a lot of medical research also offers cardiac benefits. California produces a lot of fine and affordable wines in the $15-$50 range. 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, BR Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Simi Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Woodbridge by Mondavi Merlot. For those wanting to spend a little more on a California red, Michael Mondavi’s Animo Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $85.

     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.

    If you want to go off the beaten path, North Carolina’s Old North State Winery last year named a semi-sweet red in honor of Ozone Park native Cindy Lauper’s signature hit, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

      G By Guess has created a line of clothing for both men and women based on the popular Fox Television show, “Empire.” Piccolo New York has a terrific selection of scarves, hats, gloves, and ponchos for women.

       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. Naja (naja.co) makes sensual intimate wear in the deepest shade of red. Plus-size women can find eye-catching intimate wear at Ashley Stewart. For those who want less racy nightwear, Lunya (lunya.co) makes silk pajamas and loungewear. JR United (thetowelfactory.com) makes high quality cotton bathrobes.

    And yes, Valentine’s Day is the biggest holiday for the sensual pleasure industry. K-Y, Fiera, Loob Lube, 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. Pretend to be a tourist and go up to the 86th floor Observation Deck of the Empire State Building.

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     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. 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 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. Cool 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.

    Sunglasses are as necessary in winter when the sun’s rays are indirect, particularly in the late afternoon. Carrera makes stylish aviators for both men and women. Covry Eyewear (shopcovry.com) has retro style shades including the kind that Marilyn Monroe favored.

       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.

       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.         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. 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.

       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.

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    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. San Diego’s mass transit system is surprisingly good.

       The greater Los Angeles area offers countless choices of where to stay. Santa Monica has the famous pier, a terrific beach, expensive resorts, and a new rail system that takes you into downtown LA in around 45 minutes. Another option is centrally located West Hollywood which is located adjacent to Beverly Hills and it has a lot of reasonably priced restaurants and lodging properties as well as plentiful night entertainment.

      I could write an entire article just on San Francisco’s romantic side. Astoria native Tony Bennett summed it up best in his signature song, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” when he sang of “little cable cars that climb halfway to the stars.” I will add that the seals and sea lions at Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf also add to the romantic mood.

 

      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 which takes you back in time to Barry Goldwater’s Arizona.

      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.

     Our 50th state, Hawaii, long ago replaced Niagara Falls as America’s top honeymoon destination. Maui’s Grand Wailea and Ritz-Carlton Kapalua are both elegant tropical resorts. Hawaiian Airlines will be implementing seats that can turn into beds in their Premium Cabin seats on flights between JFK and Honolulu later this month.

      There’s no shortage of travel websites as anyone who has seen those ubiquitous Trivago commercials on television will attest. Booking.com is an excellent resource to find hotels at the best price, particularly at the last minute, without getting a headache.

       Happy Valentine’s Day!