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Queens Chronicle

Valentine’s Day Gift and Travel Guide

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013 10:30 am

Getting the right gift for that special someone on Valentine’s Day, or for any romantic occasion, is never easy. Here are some ideas that just might help.

We may as well start with those reliable standbys, flowers and chocolates.

Woodside native Jim McCann started his company 1-800-Flowers during America’s bicentennial celebration in 1976, and it’s become to the floral industry what McDonald’s is to fast food restaurants. Despite its name, a visit to the 1800flowers.com website shows that the company has expanded from bouquets and now competes with such full-service online gift vendors as Amazon, Ideeli, QVC and HSN.

Mass chocolate producers such as Godiva, Ghirardelli, Ferrero Rocher and See all make tasty confections. Norman Love Confections, out of Naples, Fla., has a wide array of candies as well.

Long Island City has quietly become a hotspot for chocolate manufacturers as it is the home to two rising companies, Gnosis and Antidote, both of whom make cacao products that are rich in anti-oxidants.

Harry & David’s moose munch has always been one of my guilty pleasures, but the company has expanded into healthier fare such as nuts and fruits, and even offers a Fruit of the Month club membership for those who enjoy trying different types of apples, berries, grapes, cherries and citrus.

Valentine’s Day has quietly approached New Year’s Eve as an important sales holiday for the spirits industry. Red wines are a natural for setting a romantic mood, and medical studies indicate that moderate imbibing of reds is good for heart health. I like a full-bodied mild wine that is not bitter to sip. My favorite American red is Benton-Lane Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Another red wine that I recommend is d’Alessandro’s Nero d’Avola Syrah from Sicily.

For those who like more traditional alcohols, here are some more choices. Stolichnaya, Svedka, Skyy, Grey Goose and Smirnoff have long been household names for vodka. New Zealand’s Broken Shed is a newcomer whose smooth taste is perfect for creating a tasty screwdriver. If you want to enjoy a vodka that is easy to sip without having to mix it with another beverage, try Smirnoff’s Kissed Caramel.

Margaritas are quickly approaching screwdrivers in terms of popularity. Jose Cuervo even has a line of ready-to-serve margaritas right out of the bottle. For those who prefer making their own margaritas from scratch, try Jose Cuervo’s Especial Tequila Gold, Don Julio’s Anejo, Herradura, El Jimador or Partida Tequila.

If you are curious about Japanese booze, try either Ty Ku Sake or Yamazaki Whisky.

Of course, if you are serious about whisky you have to go with either Johnnie Walker or Macallan.

If softer spirits are more your style, Valentine’s Day is a great time to sample liquers such as Disaronno Originale, Baileys Old Irish Creme, Kahlua, Hennessy Cognac, Cointreau and, for those who really savor sweetness, Godiva Chocolate Liquer. LeSutra has recently introduced a champagne-style sparkling liqueur.

One of the best kept secrets in the fragrance business is that colognes have been rivaling perfumes in terms of industry gross sales. Avon signed up Yankees captain Derek Jeter to slap his name on its Driven line. Likewise Cloudbreak made sure to make both a men’s and women’s line when it got a license from the Bronx Bombers and Major League Baseball to create NY Yankees Fragrance. Two newcomers who deserve to break through the crowded fragrance market are Emeshel and Dossage, the latter of which was launched by former Jackson Heights resident Tara Durkan. Tara showed a nice sense of humor with her company’s men’s and women’s Dossage 8, which is a tongue-in-cheek play on the iconic Chanel No. 5. Fluer d’Amour is a French perfume that has a rich musk and Mediterranean citrus scent.

Of course when it comes to high-quality but very reasonably priced fragrance products that have names that make you smile, no company can approach Demeter Fragrances. Demeter was started and is still run by long-suffering season Mets ticket holder Mark Crames. Among the scents in Demeter’s sizable library are Vanilla Cake Batter, Sneakers, Funeral Home, Riding Crop, Dirt and Sex on the Beach.

Skincare products are catching up to fragrances in terms of sales volume. Baby boomers have always taken pride in trying to look as youthful as possible. Succeeding generations are very much aware of the importance of taking care of one’s appearance. Even the most macho of guys is now using moisturizers, cleansers, body butters and anti-aging serums. Clarins, Avon, Jack Black (not the comedy actor), Burt’s Bees, Shiseido, Turo and Jan Marini all have skin care lines for men.

Newer names in the skin care products industry that are manufacturing high-end products are Dr. Brandt’s, Tilth Beauty, Vbeaute, Doctors Skin Prescriptions, Merlot Skin Care, Bio-Logical, and Glo, which also makes a number of colorful lipsticks and nail polishes.

Long Island jewelry designer Nancy Rosen has added more pieces to her Housewives Jewelry line, named in honor of those delightfully self-absorbed women of Bravo’s various “Real Housewives” reality series. Jill Zarin, who starred in “The Real Housewives of New York” a few years ago, has both her own clothing and jewelry companies. A great product to have to keep your jewelry from looking tarnished is Shine by Colle. Shine is a mousse that rejuvenates your valuables.

Watches are the most popular form of jewelry because of both their practicality and wide-ranging price points. Fossil, G-Shock, Timex and Long Island City-based Armitron produce fashionable timepieces that won’t break anyone’s budget. If you want to spend a little more but get a lot of luxury in return, check out the House of Horology timepieces. The company was started by Forest Hills High alum Lawrence Leyderman.

Handbags also run the gamut in terms of price and quality. Vera Bradley’s cloth bags have long been a favorite because of their lightness and decorative designs. Tvachia, a company based in Atlanta, makes premium leather bags and clutches that run anywhere from $150 to $300. If you want to get a less formal bag, Desigual and Paul Frank both make fun and durable totes.

Lingerie is an acceptable present as long as your relationship is beyond dating, and it’s no shock that the Kardashians have put their name on intimate apparel. The Kardashian Kollection is sold exclusively at Sears. Betsey Johnson was one of the pioneers of the downtown New York new wave fashion scene in the 1980s, and she is still going strong with her Betsey Johnson Intimates, which cover the spectrum from pajamas to bathrobes to romantic nightwear.

Kumi Kookoon is a company that specializes in silk products from robes and pajamas that would please Playboy founder Hugh Hefner to sheets and pillowcases. Bedding and nightwear do not get more romantic than these products.

For more options, log onto the website myintimacy.com.

If you want to play it a bit safer, you can’t go wrong getting a present for the home. Lands’ End has a large selection of pillows, decorative candles, bean bag chairs and linen towels. The Museum of Modern Art Design Store has everything from paintings to vases to earrings and clocks.

Sunglasses have always been important for vision and they have increasingly become a fashion statement. ICU and Zeal Optics have quickly become inexpensive alternatives to high-quality but pricey brands such as Ray-Ban and Oakley. If you are not sure what kind of sunglasses to get, you can’t go wrong getting a gift certificate from a Solstice boutique.

Getting in shape is the most popular resolution that gets made at New Year’s. One way to keep that promise is to buy fashionable athletic wear. Sportiqe has fashionable hoodie sweatshirts and T-shirts that are perfect for a brisk run or walk. Athletic Recon is a new company out of Newport Beach, Calif. that makes jackets, running shorts and workout pants. Working out with someone special makes exercise less of a chore.

Technological products are always useful. The Amazon Kindle Fire is a small tablet that allows you to download books and access the Internet. Lenovo, Acer, Samsung and Motorola all make fairly inexpensive tablets that are far more portable than laptops. Samsung’s Galaxy Note II has been labeled a “phablet” by many of its users because it’s larger than a traditional cell phone, which makes its screen and keypad easier to work than those on an iPhone. Samsung officials shy away from using the term “phablet” for some reason.

In this world of email and tweets, there is something to be said for old-school stationery and writing someone a letter with a Parker Pen. Calligraphy should not be a dying art. Both Bonnie Marcus and Seltzer Goods have created a large selection of clever cards and notepaper to help make a meaningful impression on someone.

New York has long had a reputation for not only being an exciting city that never sleeps but for also being a romantic one. Spirit Cruises offers superb dining and on-board entertainment as you sail around New York City after you embark from Chelsea Piers. Statue Cruises has boat rides to both Ellis Island and, of course, the Statue of Liberty. Manhattan by Sail provides a great way to both sightsee and learn how to sail. There is an America’s Cup fantasy in a lot of us. I would suggest that you wait for the weather to warm up before trying it, however.

CityPASS and its rival New York PASS are companies that sell cards that you can purchase that allow you to visit a number of museums and other points of interest, and even enjoy a ride on the venerable Circle Line, for one all-inclusive price. The catch is that you have to do it within a very limited amount of time depending on the card that you purchase.

A fun, though occasionally painful experience if it’s done right, to have a his-and-hers massage at a top-flight spa such as The Red Door Spa, Spa Merge, Spa Martier, and the Mandarin Oriental at Columbus Circle.

After seeing a show or concert, grab a nightcap at the Two-E Lounge at the posh Hotel Pierre across the street from Central Park. My suggestion is to try one of their molecular cocktails.

But although New York may be the greatest city in the world, we all need to escape it every now and then.

If you don’t mind the cold, Montreal has a lot of Paris’ charms but it’s a lot closer and a lot less expensive.

The Umstead Hotel is a five-star resort located in the Raleigh, NC suburb of Cary. Its Heron Restaurant is one of the Southeast’s best, as is its spa. Just as Montreal is an hour-long flight north of LaGuardia, Raleigh is an hour’s flight south of it.

The Grande Colonial Hotel in the San Diego coastal neighborhood of La Jolla is celebrating its centennial this spring. Its warm staff make you feel as if you are the owner of the hotel. The Grande Colonial is a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean, which means that you get a great view of the sunset as well as being able to see the seals and sea lions who call La Jolla Cove home.

South Florida always has understandable appeal this time of year. The Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan, a suburb of Palm Beach, has a scrumptuous Sunday brunch and top-notch amenities. Down I-95 in Miami Beach, the South Beach Ritz-Carlton has just undergone a $10 million room renovation. Its Di Lido Restaurant is located literally on the beach and has won numerous culinary awards.

I have always had a soft spot for Sunny Isles Beach, located five miles north of the Ritz-Carlton on Collins Avenue. This area has undergone a world of changes from its Motel Row days. Sadly, the Rascal House, its famous deli, is long gone, as are most of the affordable mom-and-pop lodges. There are still a few of the old names such as the Golden Strand, the Thunderbird and the Newport, but their neighbors are now posh hotel high-rises such as the Acqualina and the Trump (the Donald licenses his name to Miami hotel magnate Michael Dezer.) Sunny Isles is located closer to Fort Lauderdale Airport than to the more congested Miami International.

Queens’ own JetBlue services Raleigh, San Diego and Fort Lauderdale with frequent daily flights.

If you still are undecided about what to do for Valentine’s Day, here is one last idea. A company called Box of Kisses has his-and-hers gift box sets for $36 that contain cologne or perfume, skin lotion and a card game that when played leads to lots of kisses.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Welcome to the discussion.