Going Our Way: A relaxing reunion for 10 college friends

By K.C. Summers
Sunday, January 10, 2010

Who: Vicki Cork, 50, of Adelphi, and nine former college chums.

Where: Anywhere, as long as it's relaxing.

Why: The gang's turning 50 this year, so it's time for a reunion.

When: June or July for four or five days.

Budget: $1,500 per person.

"We are not necessarily looking for something grand or exotic. The goal is for us to visit with each other in a fun or unique environment."

Vicki Cork had only one stipulation when she asked us for help planning a trip for 10 Howard University alums: Keep the diversions to a minimum. "We would prefer someplace that doesn't call for a lot of activities that would separate us or call for a lot of sightseeing," Cork told us. "We would just like to spend time talking."

Got it. This is no time for big-city explorations, whirlwind tours or complicated itineraries. Here are five destinations that are low-key yet high-impact, perfect for those who simply want to sit back in a serene setting and reconnect. And should anyone want to actually get up and do something, either singly or as a group, the options are there. All prices quoted below are per person based on double occupancy, for four-night stays in late June. They include all fees and taxes, but not tips and incidentals. Oh, and you can add spouses and kids at will: All of these spots are family-friendly.

-- An old-fashioned mountain resort. If you haven't stayed at West Virginia's legendary Greenbrier (800-453-4858, http://www.greenbrier.com), get ready for a shock. The National Historic Landmark is a quirky mix of the genteel (afternoon tea, formal dining room), the wacky (it houses a secret bunker built during the Kennedy administration for use by Congress in case of war) and the genteelly wacky (the retina-searing, preternaturally psychedelic decor by 1940s designer Dorothy Draper still dazzles). Best of all, though, is the resort's spectacular setting in the lush Allegheny Mountains. Rates for the Meal Plan Package start at $375 per person (as part of a $749-for-two package) per night and include breakfast, afternoon tea, dinner and all resort fees and taxes, plus some activities, such as swimming in the to-die-for indoor pool (also designed by Draper) and nightly movies. Not included: spa services and, well, a whole lot more. The Greenbrier really does nickel-and-dime you, but it's still one of those places you should experience at least once. It's about a five-hour drive from Washington. (For more on the Greenbrier, see The Impulsive Traveler, Page F6.) Total per person, not including transportation: $1,498.

-- A modern-day spa. At Red Mountain Resort & Spa, a resort about two hours northeast of Las Vegas in Utah's spectacular red rock country (877-246-4453, http://www.redmountainspa.com), you can participate in invigorating group hikes, mountain biking, yoga and swimming, in addition to spa stuff (resurrection botanical facial, anyone?). But don't worry; there's a package deal for just hanging out, too. With the Stay & Dine package, you get accommodations, three meals a day at the on-site "healthy gourmet" restaurant and a minimum of diversions: use of the indoor and outdoor pools, walking trails and fitness center. If anyone in the group decides to get moving, there are outdoor adventure trips, fitness classes, golf and more for additional fees. Spa and salon services are also available a la carte. And by the way, the males in your group need not shy away, since this spa attracts just as many men as women.

June Stay & Dine rates start at $177 per person ($159 plus $18 taxes and fees), for a total of $708 per person. Bonus group perk: Each person gets a $100 resort credit, applicable toward spa services, personal training and more. Round-trip air on Southwest from BWI Marshall to Las Vegas runs about $350, and two full-size rental cars will add about $285 (Budget on Priceline). Total per person, not including gas: $1,087.

-- A Club Med. There's a lot to be said for an all-inclusive beach resort. And there's even more to say when it's conveniently located in the United States, such as Club Med's "village" in Sandpiper, Fla. (888-932-2582, www.clubmed.us). A four-night stay at the resort -- on the east coast between Miami and Orlando, about a 30-minute drive from West Palm Beach -- runs $1,172 per person double with the "Book Now" online promotion and includes round-trip airfare from Washington, ground transfers, accommodations, all meals, drinks, sports and activities -- not that you want those! But if you're tempted, there are tennis and golf, archery, inline skating, sailing, skateboarding, softball, cardio, flying trapeze lessons (a Club Med hallmark), bocce ball and swimming in pools or at the "beach" -- in this case, along the St. Lucie River. Or hop in a cab for the 20-minute ride to the ocean. Total per person: $1,172.

-- A mini-cruise. Okay, this one's five nights. But that's the shortest voyage available from the Port of Baltimore, and since most of the group lives on the East Coast, the convenience of cruising out of Maryland is hard to resist. Royal Caribbean's June 26 voyage on the Enchantment of the Seas, for example, starts at $999 per person double, plus $79 in taxes and fees, for a total of $1,078 for an interior cabin. Since there's only one port stop -- Kings Wharf, Bermuda -- there's plenty of downtime aboard ship. When you reach the island, you can do the pink-sand-beach thing, shop in St. George or just soak up the British ambience, but you might just want to stay on board, enjoying the ship's bungee trampolines, rock-climbing wall, pools and solarium. Meals are included, natch, so the only additional expenses will be drinks and tips (assuming you can stay away from the spa and casino). Details: Royal Caribbean, http://www.royalcaribbean.com. Parking at the Port of Baltimore is $15 a day, so have friends drop you off. Total: $1,078.

Cruises are cheaper out of Florida, of course, but you have to consider the time, expense and all-around hassle of flying to the port. If you take this route, though, there are lots more options. The Carnival Imagination's four-night sailing June 21 from Miami to the western Caribbean, for example, starts at $329 per person, plus $48.59 in taxes and fees, for a total of $378 for an inside cabin. The ship has a resort-style pool, nine-hole mini-golf course, water park and adults-only retreat. Ports of call: Key West, Fla., and Cozumel, Mexico. Airfare from BWI Marshall to Miami is about $175 on American, and shuttle service from the airport to the port runs about $140 for 10 people each way, or $28 per person round trip. Details: Carnival Cruise Lines, 888-227-6482, http://www.carnival.com. Total: $581.

-- A dude ranch. Whoa, steady there. You don't have to participate in any of the ranch's horseback riding, cattle roundups or overnight camping trips. Instead, come for the incomparable mountain air, stunning scenery and starry nights. Most Western ranches require seven-night minimum stays, but a few are more flexible, such as Runamuk Guest Ranch in Roundup, Mont., about an hour from Billings (406-323-3614, http://www.runamukguestranch.com). The fifth-generation working cattle ranch is set amid sandstone rimrocks, pine forests, meadows and valleys. The guest lodge, furnished with family heirlooms from the 1920s and '30s, has four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a large kitchen, laundry facilities and a living area, and sleeps 12. All-inclusive rates are $265 per person per night and include transfers, lodging, ranch meals, unlimited horseback riding, cattle drives and more. Massages, yoga and alcohol are extra. Round-trip air from Washington to Billings (no nonstops, alas; connect in Denver) runs about $465. Total: $1,525.

Interested in having us help plan your trip? Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/goingourway.

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