Vacation travel is stressful. There, I said it! Interminable security lines, pat downs (otherwise illegal or at least inappropriate except between consenting adults), news of revolutions or airport bombings create high anxiety when traveling.

Getaways are supposed to be relaxing, a way to connect with my inner Buddha. But lately, I’m exhausted after a three-hour flight, taking me days to recover before I can enjoy my destination or reacclimatize when I return home.

Recently I hit on a surefire way to avoid pre and post holiday fatigue. While making plans for our Caribbean cruise from Miami, my husband and I decided to spend a few days in Miami pre departure to de-stress and get in the vacation groove. After the cruise instead of disembarking and racing to the airport we tacked on a few days in Fort Lauderdale to unwind before returning home.

To many, the idea of spending time in two busy cities—for relaxation—might sound a little nutty. The uninitiated think cruising means reclining in deck chairs while sipping rum drinks garnished with paper umbrellas. Not us. At each island stop we snorkel swim or sail (hold the paragliding, thank you very much!) When the ship’s at sea, our days are filled with exercise classes, tennis or golf lessons, spins on the dance floor and late nights in the casino.

In the past we would return from vacation needing a vacation. Not this time. Here’s a sampling of our new anti-exhaustion plan.

Pre-cruise Miami spice
“Would you like a glass of champagne,” the attendant coos as we pass through the doors of the Ritz-Carlton. While the hotel is in the heart of the bustling Art Deco district, the mood inside is Zen like. Once the famous DiLido Hotel, the Ritz-Carlton underwent a $200 million renovation. In a bow to Art Deco aficionados (like me) they preserved many of the former DiLido Hotel’s features including the mirrored finish of the black terrazzo floors and the grand lobby staircase.

We sip chilled bubbly as we head to a corner ocean-view room on the VIP Club Floor (the Ritz-Carlton is the only hotel in South Beach that has one). Staying on this floor gives us access to a spacious private lounge with assorted creature comforts. Breakfast, lunch, mid-day snacks, late afternoon cocktails and evening chocolates and cordials are served in a comfortable clubby setting. Our hotel became our sanctuary.

Since people-watching is my favorite Miami sport, the hotel’s see-and-be-seen DiLido Beach Club sates my appetite. Is that Lady Gaga or a wanna-be? Madonna? Cameron Diaz? I get a sugar rush from devouring the eye candy. We wash down Tandori Chicken Flatbreads with icy Mojitos before settling in at the infinity–edge pool with its unobstructed vistas of the Atlantic. Soon after, the ultimate decadence appears — a “Tanning Butler.” Wearing a custom-made holster filled with assorted sun screen products, an Evian spritzer and sunglass cleaner he offers to apply sunscreen to my shoulders and back. Only in Miami, as they say.

Days are filled with lazy strolls to trendy outdoor cafés, chic boutiques and edgy galleries that line Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive. Colorful characters abound — a twenty something brunette in a hot pink bikini teeters by in four inch platform shoes adorned with glitzy palm trees. Oops! A tattooed skateboarder, earbuds in place, nearly knocks Ms. Hottie off her shoes. Meanwhile, a multi-pierced jogger tugs a jeweled-encrusted leash, coaxing two pugs to keep pace.

Because Miami is an incubator for trends, we avoid any store we can visit at home. Curiosity lures us into AllSaints Spitalfields where row upon row of vintage Singer sewing machines line the front windows. Artfully displayed frocks have skin tight bodices and skirts are draped, crinkled or distressed. There are beads and bows and biker boots and colors range from inky blues to black. And in this town, art is a big deal, literally. Massive works by pop artist Romero Britto are dotted about. Britto’s Lincoln Road gallery — the only one in the U.S — boasts his colorful (and expensive) paintings. For fans who can’t drop thousands on an original, his outrageous designs embellish objects from coffee mugs to luggage.

Art in hotels is another Miami trend and is epitomized by the Ritz-Carlton’s multi-million dollar collection. More than 40 works of art by a dozen internationally acclaimed artists are scattered throughout the hotel not the least of which is an impressive Miro etching and an enormous mural by Xavier Calero that covers an entire wall.

And what can I say about Miami’s outdoor “museum”? Eight hundred pink, blue, green and neon-trimmed Art Deco buildings surround The Ritz-Carlton, the largest concentration of them in the world. After three glorious days we bid Miami adieu. A 15 minute taxi ride takes us to our ship, rejuvenated and ready for our vacation.

Post cruise
We danced. We drank. We stayed up too late. No wonder we’re drained. In need of detox, I bolt to the hotel’s spa shortly after arriving at the oceanfront Ritz-Carlton in Fort Lauderdale. Before I can say ‘organic’ I am scrubbed, wrapped and rubbed.

“B-r-e-a-t-h-e,” whispers Maria, my therapist as I unwind in a candlelit treatment room. The spa’s color palette is as soothing as her hands. Seashell shades of creamy white to taupe embrace walls, draperies and carpets. I sniff a variety of scents in search of one that suits my senses before I’m slathered in jojoba beads, kelp mud and oils. What can I say about a massage? I’ve had hundreds and this one is one of the best. Honest. Afterwards I am genuinely relaxed and somehow energized.

Cocooned in a thick white robe and mesmerized by the spa’s ocean views, I linger. I wrap my hands around a steaming cup of green tea and plan two blissful experiences for the next day (yoga wellness and a detoxifying slimming massage).

I can’t delay my spa departure a moment longer. My husband is waiting (snoozing?) in our private cabana, one of 10 spread out on a secluded level overlooking the Atlantic. Alberto, our concierge, reviews our perks — a refrigerator stocked with fancy waters, iPod docking station and flat screen TV, something I refuse to turn on when I can gaze at sailboats and the Good Year blimp. How do I love the service? Let me count the ways. We ask for a newspaper. Three arrive. Lunch? Lobster Salad Naan Wraps with Avocado Aioli arrive in less than 15 minutes. (Insider tip: If you want sun, rent a cabana in the morning. If you want shade, rent in the afternoon when the sun shines on the opposite side of the hotel.)

To set the record straight, we do not always travel in such grand style. We pick and choose our splurges. This is one of them. The sleek white exterior of the contemporary Ritz-Carlton with its dramatic glass-walls that curve to mimic ocean waves is a knockout. Our room is straight out of Architectural Digest–a leather-wrapped chest mingles with traditional mahogany accent pieces and Plexiglas lives happily with crystal. It is the only AAA Five Diamond hotel in Fort Lauderdale.

Even though the Ritz-Carlton is a stone’s throw from picturesque Las Olas (the shopping heart of downtown and several fine museums) we don’t travel far from the hotel. Everything we need to recuperate from our journey is right here.

We opt for casual dinners. Each night we mosey through the two enormous steel gates off the lobby into the Via Luna Bar. The space is intoxicating, in more ways than one. An impressive 13-foot high hand-painted mural of King Neptune and his horses rests above an illuminated butterscotch onyx bar. We slither onto luscious leather bar chairs and gaze at the ocean, visible through floor to ceiling windows. Since we only want a light bite, bar menu choices are ideal. Pizza from a wood-burning oven, said to be the chef’s grandmother’s recipe, is a standout (at $10, it’s also the best food bargain in town!)

On our last night, we experience an around-the-world wine tasting in “The Vault,” the hotel’s 5,000 bottle cellar. Sommelier Don Derocher is one of a handful of people who can make me listen — and understand — the nuances of fine wines. He has assembled an eclectic collection that includes limited production “cult” wines sought by collectors as well as affordable yet unusual wines and spirits. To preserve the wines, The Vault is kept at 55-degrees so I am immediately swathed in a faux fur stole, a nicety provided to every female imbiber.

We sniff and swirl and sip six different wines as Derocher answers my questions sans even a hint of snootiness. I ogle a 113 year-old, $8,000 bottle of Pierre Frapin cognac ($895 for a snifter portion) but refuse to pick it up for fear I’ll drop it. Ditto for a bottle of La Tache Pinot Noir priced at $4,000, the most expensive bottle in The Vault. Our wine tasting is considerably more affordable ($50 a person). It’s easy to understand why Derocher’s cellar has garnered Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.

So there you go. After three days of post-vacation R&R we are reenergized and ready to return to reality. But I have a hunch we’ll return to these retreats soon for another dose of their restorative powers.

For more information:
Ritz-Carlton 800 241-3333 www.ritzcarlton.com