When you have to entertain pre-schoolers and matriarchs in the same reunion weekend, you need a homebase that anticipates and delivers everything.
Stunning sunsets, sparkling waters, and sandy beaches are daily sights in Newport Beach, one of the toniest resort beach cities in Southern California. Along the peninsula’s shore, the busy harbor bustles with pleasure crafts and tour boats, while surfers tackle the hot spots along the city’s beaches. Almost midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Newport Beach is located 9 minutes away from Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, 30 minutes from Long Beach Airport, and 45 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport. Its amazing range and perfect mix of attractions make it a natural magnet for families.
Five generations of our family, 21 members ranging from 20-months to 93-years-old, chose beautiful Newport Beach for our reunion. Surrounded by gardens overflowing with bougainvillea and hibiscus, the über-chic Island Hotel Newport Beach, in the heart of Newport Center, became our family’s favorite homebase. Adjacent to the legendary Fashion Island, this regal 20-story enclave boasts sweeping views of the shimmering Pacific Ocean and the natural beauty of the nearby isles of Balboa, Lido and Catalina.
The Island Hotel is the perfect springboard for many nearby activities. In summer, there is water fun at the Newport Dunes Aquatic Fun Park (1131 Back Bay Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92660; 800/765-7661), a great place for the entire family, which even offers a baby playground and Mother's Beach. In season, there are giant inflatable sports novelties including two huge “icebergs,” a water version of a giant teeter-totter, a climbing dome, floating lily pads and a water trampoline. Year-round rentals of pedal boats, kayaks, windsurfers, sailboats, catamarans and electric boats are available here.
Experience Southern California's premier coastal lusury shopping destination, Fashion Island (949/721-2000; 401 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92660). Reminiscent of a Mediterranean-style village, there are more than 200 specialty shops, including Orange County’s only Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s. But don't spend too much time here. Nearby watersports — including waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing, and scuba diving — are located just minutes away from Newport Harbor and the Pacific Ocean. For those who prefer staying on land for recreation, there’s bicycling along the boardwalk or along the numerous bike trails; hot-air ballooning; and horseback riding.
We had lots of fun at Knott's Berry Farm (714/220-5200; 8039 Beach Boulevard, Buena Park, CA 90620)) in nearby Buena Park. What was once an actual berry farm is now a 160-acres theme park offering world-class rides, unique family shows and one-of-a-kind attractions. The kids and adults went on the GhostRider, Supreme Scream, Rip Tide, Perilous Plunge and Boomerang. We screamed and cheered on the new thrill rides including the Sierra Sidewinder, a coaster that puts a new twist on speed and spin, and Xcelerator, The Ride. At the park's Camp Snoopy, we took part in the Charlie Brown Speedway, JoeCool's GR8 SK8 and the Snoopy Bounce. We played the arcade games, won lots of prizes, and enjoyed lunch at T.G.I. Friday's.
A Luxury Family-Welcoming Resort
Reflecting Southern California’s sun-splashed lifestyle, is the Island Hotel Newport Beach (888/321-4752; 690 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92660), which was just awarded the AAA coveted Five Diamond status for the 17th consecutive year. Crisp finishing touches encompassed the 295 guestrooms and suites furnished in European style and decorated in subtle shades of sage, camel, taupe and yellow. Our family had a variety of seven types of accommodations, each with a private balcony and either a garden or sweeping ocean panoramas. They were all spacious and were able to accommodate two adults and up to three children in easy comfort. There were marble bathrooms with thick cotton towels and terry robes, plush new Stearns & Foster beds with luxurious 300 threadcount bed linens, chenille throws, and plump goose down pillows.
The hotel treated every member of our family as a special guest. Upon arrival, the adults found fresh fruit and chilled bottled water in their rooms. The young ones were absolutely thrilled with their special welcome of a huge, yummy cookie decorated with "X"s and "O"s. An adorable, soft-stuffed monkey, a logo of the hotel, was theirs to keep. The kids and teens, as well as the adults, felt right at home with the hotel's up-to-the-minute technology — wireless Internet access, 42" plasma screen HDTV with Cable service and DVD/CD stereo systems.
We were very pleased with the concierge service that was always ready to assist our large group with suggestions and directions. The twice-daily housekeeping services were greatly appreciated, and the beautiful shell and chocolate left on our pillows were fun to discover each night. Making our stay even more special was the superior service from the entire staff that was always smiling, and more than happy to comply with any reasonable request the kids or adults had.
Fitness Facilities & Spa
The importance of fitness is not forgotten at the Island Hotel. The fitness center, located near the pool, was a welcome sight for the family members who enjoy working out. They used the new Life Fitness treadmills, Lifecycles, recumbent Lifecycle, Stairmaster 4000 and the Life Fitness weight equipment. With racquets in hand, it was on to the tennis courts for another group, and although our golfers opted to just relax, the hotel has preferred tee times available at the nearby Oak Creek Golf Club. For the joggers, walkers and cyclists, there are routes with various degrees of difficulty that meander through nearby neighborhoods, beaches and parkland. Maps are available at the Concierge desk.
At one time or another all the adults headed to the new 4,000-square-foot Spa at the Island Hotel for an "exotic global island voyage." With nine spacious treatment rooms, we were all easily accommodated and loved the pampering of the aromatherapy oils and cozy heated blankets. Each of us had a choice of a Classic Swedish Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Reflexology, Lomi Lomi, Stone Therapy, Balinese Island Escape, or the special pampering of the signature Island-themed body rituals – an energizing Island Volcanic Detoxifying Wrap, the relaxing Island "Boreh" Bali Spice Remedy, or the revitalizing Island Tropical Splendor. Everyone emerged invigorated and glowing.
All ages gravitated to the sparkling 3,000-square-foot pool bordered by cabanas with ample amounts of plush padded lounges, tables and umbrellas. During the afternoon we reconnected with silliness and giggles as we swam, socialized and enjoyed a snack. We loved the added touches of luxury service that included spritzers and iced glasses of water and lemon. At night, our family gathered around the towering stone poolside fireplace, on soft couches with plump pillows, and exchanged memories and stories of the day.
Various Dining Options
Family meals were a focal point of our reunion. Lunchtime found us poolside at the hotel's Palapa Bar where an easy menu of salads, sandwiches and hamburgers worked well for us. Another option was the Palm Terrace, surrounded by an "urban oasis" theme, where Executive Chef Bill Bracken offers his soulfully inspired Small Bites. They're open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
While the adults were dressing for dinner, several of the young ones gathered in one of the rooms to watch an in-house movie. We surprised them by ordering some healthy snacks from the unique Movie Snack Menu, choosing tortilla chips with guacamole and roasted tomato salsa, ultra nachos, and fresh veggie crudite with ranch and blue cheese dips, which they all loved.
Looking for some local flavor, we enjoyed dinner one night at Tommy Bahamas (949/760-8686) which specializes in coastal cuisine in a relaxed, fun environment. The patient wait staff offered good service, and the menu captures diverse flavors while the kids enjoyed ordering off their own menu of favorites.
Another evening we enjoyed a sumptuous dinner at Canaletto Ristorante Veneto (949/ 640-0900) just steps away from the hotel in Fashion Island. There we dined on mouthwatering authentic Italian cuisine highlighted by such specialties as housemade ravioli filled with baked pear. Their dry pasta here is imported from Italy, and fresh pasta is made on-site. For the children, half portions were served without question, as well as a wide selection of wood-fried thin-crust pizza using homemade dough and San Marzano tomato sauce. To top off our meal most of us chose the rich and delicious chocolate and vanilla gelato, while others vied for the mango and cherry sorbet. The service here was impeccable, and the wait staff could not have been more patient and courteous.
Some New Summer Fun at the Island Hotel
The aspiring chefs in the family will enjoy Saturday afternoons with an exclusive behind-the-scenes culinary experience, "In the Kitchen with Bill's Gang." A limited number of participants will be able to visit the heart and soul of Palm Terrace with a tour led by Chef Bill Bracken himself. Then there is interaction with other chefs and team members from the Butcher Shop to the Prep and Line Prepartiona Stations in the kitchen, and, finally, to the Pasty shop. Of course, delectable tastings are included. This fee for this adventure is $95.
What better way to end a summer weekend than to gather for a pool party at the hotel? Spend Sundays enjoying delectable family-style barbeque fare by Executive Chef Bill Bracken, swimming with the family and relaxing poolside at Palm Terrace. During Summer, 2009, BBQ is served from 5pm to 8pm and families can swim from 3pm to 9pm. The fee for the barbeque is $34/Adult, $12/children under age 12, and children under age 5 are complimentary.
A Cruise to Remember
A highlight of our reunion weekend was a thrilling Summer Sunset Cruise onboard the Hornblower Cruises & Events (888/467-6256; 2431 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach, CA 92663) magnificent “Wild Goose.” Along with breathtaking views of the sunset from the deck, we had front row seats to view the sailboat races. This world renowned yacht, once owned by John Wayne, has his photos and memorabilia displayed throughout the yacht’s three levels. The two hour cruise features complimentary appetizers and drink specials. The kids had free room to roam, the adults were relaxed, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the tasty fare, the spectacular changing views, and each other. The crew was incredibly helpful and as nice as could be.
In addition to Sunset Cruises ($28/pp) there are nightly dinner cruises and weekend champagne brunch on many of the Hornblower yachts. Boarding is at 6pm and sailing is from 6:30 to 8:30pm. Parking is available for a fee of $8.00 in the lot. Highchairs are only available on the dinner and brunch cruises.
Photos by Mel Greenberg
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.