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Queens Chronicle

Valentine’s Day gift and travel guide

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Posted: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 10:07 am | Updated: 10:13 am, Tue Feb 4, 2014.

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 but 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.

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. Lia Sophia is another jewelry designer who makes quality pieces for less than $100.

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.

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, and just about anything from the Indiana cloth tote manufacturer, Vera Bradley, are safe choices. Beckett Simonon, a new company which makes fine leather dress shoes for men at a third of the cost that you would find the same pairs at Allen Edmonds, makes a popular weekend getaway leather bag, the Potenza.

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 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 Burt’s Bees, Derma-E, Glow Skin Care, Dr. Brandt, Menaji, Turo, and the terrifically-named Kiss My Face are all recommended.

Household goods have become popular Valentine’s Day gift items in recent years because of their practicality. They also display the gift giver’s creativity. Scented candles add a romantic touch to an evening. Estancia Monterey County Collection has an aroma that reflects Central California wine country while Calypso St. Barth Candles come in a trio of scents.

The recent polar vortex reminded everyone in these parts about the importance of staying warm on frigid days. Hearth Cabinet (hearthcabinet.com) manufactures the only ventless fireplace approved by the New York Fire Department.

Michael Aram is Neiman-Marcus’s top decor designer. At michaelaram.com, you can select from picture frames, wine stoppers, and petri dishes among many other items.

If there were such a thing as a Valentine’s Day stocking stuffer, a Lego storage container, which comes in bright yellow and has early ’70s graphics, is an ideal place for cookies and other sweet snacks; while Coolgear’s Coca-Cola Tray is a fun place to store your wallet, keys, and other valuables when you get home.

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. High rents have made the local bakery an endangered species but Internet-based companies are filling the void. If you want to try candies from all over the world log onto to sugarfina.com while if you miss the kind of goodies that you used to get at your public school bake sale, check out treathouse.com. Godiva still makes great chocolates but so do See’s (sees.com) and Gnosis Chocolate which is made right here in Long Island City.

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 pies 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 White Chocolate Liqueur, Baileys Old Irish Creme 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 (rock guitarist Dave Matthews has an equity interest in Dreaming Tree Wines which makes Simi Landslide). If you prefer a blend of California reds then try a bottle of Apothic Red. 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.

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 at knixwear.com, lelo.com and aerie.com, and of course, Victoria’s Secret.

I remember how revolutionary it was in the 1970s when Dr. David Reuben wrote the best-seller, “Everything That You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask)” which was quickly followed by Dr. Alex Comfort’s “The Joy of Sex.” Books on intimacy comprise one of the largest sections of Barnes and Noble. The Sinclair Institute (sinclairinstitute.com) out of North Carolina is your one-stop-shop for books, videos, and paraphernalia for all things erotic. We’ve come a long way since the early ’70s.

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. If you want to see a lot of points of interest in a short period of time, purchase a CityPASS or New York Pass.

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 percent female. Just as more guys are using skin care products more, they are also going in greater numbers to spas such as Red Door 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. To learn which spas are having promotional deals, log onto spaweek.com

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 are 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 p.m. 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 on the outskirts of town.

For those who want to stay 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 have a wide array 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.

The Los Angeles seaside community of Santa Monica is also known for its sunsets and its arts community. The Shore Hotel in Santa Monica is proud of its L.A.-new age vibe as it offers yoga lessons for couples and will prepare picnic baskets if you want to enjoy a homemade bite at the world famous Santa Monica Pier or at its spectacular beach underneath.

The nearby Hotel Bel Air offers couples packages that include a multicourse dinner from Wolfgang Puck’s Restaurant while its sister property, the Beverly Hills Hotel, can make you feel like a movie star, or at least a big shot entertainment executive with a cabana at the Polo Lounge.

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. If you want to cross over to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls you are going to need a passport and be willing to wait awhile when crossing back into the USA.

Niagara Falls is less than 20 miles from Buffalo. You should stop by New York State’s second largest city if for no other reason to shop at the many wonderful antique shops on Hertel Avenue.

Atlantic City has endured some tough times as many places have welcomed casinos including Queens. The good news is that means that the various 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 or intimidating as its overly hip neighbors, the Revel and the Borgata are.

Cruise lines have had a number of bad news stories lately such as ships having to turn back because of an outbreak of disease and a passenger falling overboard after becoming inebriated. Keep in mind that these are rare exceptions as many people who take cruises often insist that it’s the only kind of vacation that they will undertake.

Starting in April, Carnival Cruises will host a concert series called “Live!” that will bring entertainers such as Jennifer Hudson, Olivia Newton-John, Trace Adkins, and the rock groups Foreigner and Chicago on board.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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