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Rancho Valencia Resort named best U.S. hotel by U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News & World Report on Tuesday named  Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., the best luxury hotel in the United States. 

Rancho Valencia near San Diego received a 5-diamond rating from AAA last week and already had a five-star rating from Forbes. It also made Conde Nast Traveler's 2015 World's Best Hotels Gold List.

"Word of mouth has gotten out there, and momentum builds" Jeff Jacobs says of the resort's newfound fans. He leads an investment group that bought the property in 2010 and invested $30 million to upgrade the site.

Even with the changes, the character of the boutique resort remains. "The owners of the original property in 1989 did an incredible job of building a resort with 52 rooms on 45 acres," Jacobs says.

In selecting the best hotels of 2015, U.S. News ranked 2,558 properties in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, according to a statement.

The magazine looks only at luxury hotels that have 20 rooms or more and weighs the opinions of travel...

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Valentine's Day gift from Paul Gauguin Cruises: $200 spa credit

What happens when you add the romance of a South Pacific cruise to Valentine's Day? On Paul Gauguin Cruises, it means a $200 on-board spa credit and extra goodies too.

The cruise line's Valentine's Gift Package is good for cruises on the MS Paul Gauguin. The ship carries 332 guests and sails around Tahiti and other French Polynesia and South Pacific destinations.

The gift is good for those who reserve a cabin by Feb. 14 on any Paul Gauguin cruise through the end of the year. The $200 credit -- one per booking -- allows you to pick from spa treatments at the ship's Deep Nature Spa by Algotherm.

A glance at the spa's services online shows $200 would cover two 25-minute massages or two 30-minute body scrubs. Or you could spring for the 40-minute Aroma Steam Bath for two which costs a little more ($210).

Other extras include a bottle of sparkling wine and a box of chocolates.

Sample fare on the luxury cruise line: $3,995 per person, based on double occupancy, for a seven-night cruise to...

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Hawaii cacao farm lets you sample the chocolate fruits of its labors

Hawaii and chocolate may not seem like a natural pairing, but visitors to a Big Island cacao farm will find they go together nicely, especially if they sample the goods.

Home Tours Hawaii, a company that provides various culinary experiences, recently launched its latest tour, one that takes guests to Kokoleka Lani Farms, the cacao farm near Kona.

Participants learn that cacao is the name of the squat tree that produces the pods full of the beans that become cocoa after fermentation and roasting.

Co-owner Greg Colden takes visitors to his stand of cacao trees, picks a ripe pod and slices it open so the raw beans can be tasted. Later, in the factory, Colden demonstrates the cacao-to-cocoa transformation and shows how the beans’ chaff is used to make soap.

After the morning tour, guests can try a continental breakfast that includes chocolate espresso muffins and bars of Madre chocolate. Madre uses Hawaiian-grown beans, including those from Kokoleka Lani Farms, to create chocolate in its...

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Good bets for Super Bowl partying in Las Vegas

As the clock ticks toward the Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, fans who will be spending the weekend in Las Vegas have a tantalizing decision to make: Will a humble hot dog be enough when dishes such as chili shrimp skewers and Grandma’s meatballs are available?

It will be a big weekend for sure: Last year, bettors in Nevada wagered a record $119.4 million on the Super Bowl. The Nevada Gaming Control Board said the combined earnings for sports books statewide totaled more than $19.6 million.

Because this is the big game, you’ll want to get the eating/drinking options right if you're in Las Vegas. Here are some good bets. I’ve even tossed in an option for the kids who obviously can’t sit next to Mom or Dad at an adults-only party.

PBR Rock Bar

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3 California hotels among Gayot's 10 best new hotels of 2014

The quirky Wayfarer hostel in Santa Barbara and much acclaimed Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles have been cited as two of Gayot's 10 top new hotels in the U.S., according to the guide's website.

Gayot took stock of newcomers in 2014 and ranked those worthy of a tryout. The boutique Kinzie Hotel in Chicago takes the top spot for its location and Chicago map murals on the guestroom walls, according to Gayot's website.

Five of the 10 are in the West, and the New York City area and Florida claim two each.

The Wayfarer is the guide's budget pick for 2014. You can get a private or dorm-style room with "free breakfast, a terrific pool and a community kitchen worthy of the most discerning gourmet chef," Gayot says.

It's pretty hard to beat the sheer beauty of the 1927 United Artists building that Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles took over. The ornate theater, the Chapter restaurant and the rooftop pool put the hotel at No. 3. (Gayout liked the in-room acoustic Martin guitars too.)

Here's Gayot's...

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Super-small boat cruises offer 2015 sailings to Scotland's western islands

Big cruise lines are rolling out their 2015-16 itineraries on luxury ships -- and so are new super-small ones, which operate just one boat on cruises to Scottish islands.

Hebrides Cruises isn't the only single-boat cruise line that operates in Scotland but it is among the newest.

The company last year started taking visitors to the Hebrides islands off the west coast of Scotland.

This year it offers eight itineraries -- to places like Mull, Skye, St. Kilda, Mingulay, Shiants -- aboard the Elizabeth G, a former Norwegian rescue boat. It holds just 12 guests on four- to six-night sailings, and a naturalist and nature photographer come along too.

Prices range from 830 to 1,800 British pounds ($1,245 to $2,700).

Argyll Cruising launches this year with a converted wooden fishing boat that accommodates just seven guests. It debuts with four itineraries on three- to six-night cruises to destinations such as Arran, Ailsa Craig and the Mull of Kintyre, according to a statement.

Prices range...

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