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Off-the-Grid Immersive Vacations

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MongoliaYurtWe thought technology would make life easier. And in many ways, it has…but when it comes to vacationing, the wireless frontier of cell phones, PDAs and laptops makes it nearly impossible to leave work behind.

You’re supposed to be relaxing by the poolside, and instead you’re shielding your laptop screen from the glare of the Caribbean sun.

Midway into your yoga session, the buzz of your cell phone breaks into your alpha waves.

Some would call this a connectivity addiction, and others would argue that you don’t really change your lifestyle when you change your location.

But is this a hard and fast rule? Thankfully…no.

The good news is that destinations are recognizing that travelers need a break. Sometimes even a forced break. But a real break nonetheless, and not one that involves scanning the horizon for cell phone service.

And the timing couldn’t be better: Family vacations are on the rise, and more travelers are opting for immersive, hands-on experiences over passive travel. So taking yourself off the grid on your next weekend getaway is easier than you might think.

Some destinations have are going all out with the concept. You might remember last summer, when the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers (www.sheratonchicago.com) announced its BlackBerry Check-In program. Guests were encouraged to hand in their BlackBerry upon check-in, and the staff would lock it in a safe.

On a similar note, the Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley (www.fourseasons.com/siliconvalley) targeted high-stress technology slaves with an opportunity to disconnect and recharge. When you book a mini “Luxurious Low-Tech Yoga Retreat,” you check in your PDA and cell phone upon arrival. The package includes one-night accommodations, two yoga sessions and a one-hour spa treatment for about $300 a night.

But if you’re really looking to disconnect, you’re probably going to want to head a little further into the wilderness than Chicago or Silicon Valley. How about Vermont? The Rabbit Hill Inn is so far off the grid that your cell phone won’t work there.

In fact, even the locals don’t have cell phones. Guest rooms also have no televisions or phones. There is WiFi available at the Snooty Fox Pub (located on the property), but the staff urges guests to let go of the “electronic leash.” So what are you supposed to do?

How about hiking, biking, golfing, horseback riding on the property’s 15 acres? You can also take cooking classes with Chef Jeff Fairman from the inn’s restaurant or try a five-course tasting dinner with wine pairing. And to get a real “taste” of Vermont, head to the local maple syrup farm and, of course, grab some Ben & Jerry’s on the way. Room rates range from $195 to $355 a night. 802-748-5168, www.rabbithillinn.com

DiscoveryCoveYou can’t get much more family-oriented than Orlando. But to get away from the Disney crowds and into a more eco-friendly experience, immerse yourself into the marine world at Discovery Cove. After all, no one at the office can reach you when you’re underwater!

Discovery Cove is a sister park to the world-famous SeaWorld. It was created to give guests the opportunity to interact more closely with the marine creatures that families discovered at SeaWorld. With an underwater zoo of more than 10,000 bottlenose dolphins, fish, rays, and various types of sharks, it’s not just an immersive vacation (literally), it’s educational, too!

A Trainer for a Day Package (starting at $478 a person) includes 30-minutes of swimming with dolphins, a small-group “deep-water dolphin interaction,” riding on the front of the dolphin, a behind-the-scenes tour of dolphin back areas, and a lesson in animal food preparation. Also, through the end of August, the Twilight Discovery package (starting at $259) is available for a limited number of guests every evening, which includes wading with the dolphins, snorkeling in the Coral Reef, and dinner (hint: The night ends with chocolate fondue!) 877-434-7268, www.discoverycove.com

The Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, Georgia, is so off-the-beaten-path that you have to take a 40-foot lobster boat to get there! The boat departs from Fernandina Beach, Florida and takes about 45 minutes to get to the island. Cumberland Island is a national seashore and is also Georgia’s largest island… they say that Cumberland is larger than Manhattan, and there are only 50 year-round residents.

The Inn is a 19th century mansion, with no phones or TVs in the rooms, and absolutely no Internet. In fact, your hosts request that you make any necessary phone calls before you get to the island. There is one radio phone on site for emergencies (no charge), and if you can even get cell phone service, they ask that you take your conversation outside. Room rates range from $350 to $575 a night. 866-401-8581, www.greyfieldinn.com

Want to really get away from the stresses of daily life? Go Zen.

We’re talking about the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York. The monastery is located on 250 forested acres in the Catskills. A monthly weekend introduction to Zen training retreat invites guests to learn the “Eight Gates of Zen.” Start on Friday and enter the strict monastic schedule, which includes walking meditation, chanting and bowing, working together in silence, and participating in the workshop sessions. The retreat concludes on Sunday with a formal talk by one of the Zen teachers or senior students. It goes without saying that there are no televisions or Internet on site, and cell phones are not allowed at the monastery…there’s no reception in this mountain location anyway. Weekend rates start at $225. 845-688-2228, www.mro.org

How about a yurt?

MaryRoseYurtThese portable sleeping tents were first used by nomads in Central Asia, and have been co-opted by travelers who want to sleep outside with some of the comforts of home. At Mary Rose Herb Farm and Retreat in Bristow, Indiana, you can rents out two yurts, each with two beds, antique furniture, electricity and year-round climate control. Included in the experience are fondue and a pot of Mexican hot chocolate in the evenings. Guests can also take advantage of the plentiful fishing and hiking trail, plus Japanese outdoor tubs and massage services. Rates are $84 for up to two people and $17.50 for each additional person. 812-357-2699, www.maryroseherbfarm.com/yurts.htm

If that’s not adventurous enough, how about sleeping in…a lighthouse. At the Keeper’s House Inn in Isle au Haut, Maine, they’re not kidding about the no electricity, no phone, no television concept. It’s their selling point.

Innkeepers Jeff and Judi Burke, formerly Berkeley hippies, equip you with oil lanterns and candles to lead you through the dark nights. The Burkes collect food from the sea and from their organic garden, make their own diesel fuel from vegetable oil and even extract drinking water from the sea.

This is an entirely undeveloped area, which means that to reach the lighthouse, you actually have to take a mail boat! It’s worth it though, because you’ll be privy to a beautifully unobstructed view of the ocean and its marine life. Weekend rates for two guests (plus bicycle rentals) are $1,250 to $2,000. 207-288-5818 x15 www.keepershouse.com

Now this is one for families—a treehouse and spa. The Out ‘n’ About Treesort is located on 36-acres of land just outside of Cave Junction, Oregon. This 18-treehouse complex is presumably the world’s largest clustering of treehouses. Try the Swiss Family Complex, which is two treehouses connected by a swinging bridge, or the Treepee, an 18-foot teepee in the trees. It’s a wonderland for both kids and adults who can swing down the Giant Zipline, climb on swinging bridges and navigate ropes courses. A new addition to the complex is Deva Spa, a full-service spa facility that is, yes, located on a treetop. Rates range from $120 to $220 for two to four guests. 541-592-2208, www.treehouses.com

OK, when we say immersive, we really mean it with this one…where you can spend a weekend sleeping underground! Kokopelli’s Cave Bed & Breakfast is located 70 feet underground in Farmington, New Mexico. Carved into 65-million year old sandstone, the entrance is located in the cliff face. You have to walk down steps cut into the sandstone, down a ladder and into the one-bedroom cave, which is fully furnished with carpeting, electricity, and hot and cold running water.

Best of all? The cave is located in the Four Corners region, which means that you can take some time for yourself as you watch the sun set over four different states—New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. Now that’s unwinding. www.bbonline.com/nm/kokopelli