Luxury Vacations That Take You Out of the Tourist Bubble

December 23, 2015, 1:00 PM UTC
Photography by Eliot VanOtteren Sea Island

In a globalized world, it can be hard to find a restaurant, coffee shop or even a hotel room that doesn’t remind you of back home. For a growing number of travelers, though, the sameness is a bit of a turn off. They crave “authentic” experiences and want a taste of local culture.

Now luxury hotels around the world are doing what would be once-unthinkable: They’re offering their pampered guests grittier excursions. In five-star palaces in cities from San Diego to Istanbul, hotel staffers are helping guests venture to dive bars, down-home restaurants and funky, residential neighborhoods that the affluent might never dream of visiting at home.

Mix with the hoi polloi

Especially popular are hands-on opportunities to shoot, spear or shuck your own meal, escorted by area experts. Hunting and fishing are making a luxury comeback, capitalizing on the fascination with local ingredients. The hoi polloi are definitely part of the appeal now. At the St. Regis Aspen Resort, a $2,900 program includes a beer and Thug yoga, a class outside the resort with local snowboarders and skiers.

The trend’s roots extend to hotel architecture and design. When the W Hollywood was built five years ago, designers didn’t shield al fresco diners from the colorful denizens streaming from the adjacent Hollywood and Vine subway stop. Elsewhere, hotels are abandoning the cookie-cutter looks that distinguish a worldwide brand in favor of reflecting the locale, warts and all.

“Luxury isn’t what it used to be, said Sandra Micek, Hyatt’s senior vice president, global brands. “We think of contemporary luxury as being defined by personal experiences. It can be eating at a taco shack on the beach and seeing an exhibit at a museum. That combination is interesting.”

Of course, at some point, it may become difficult to determine if these itineraries are real attempts at cultural understanding or voyeuristic voyages. Is there really anywhere “authentic” anymore? Travelers and hotels seem willing to find out.

Fishing for cockles with locals in Antigua

Hotel: Hermitage Bay, Antigua :

The Excursion: Wade into thigh-deep swamp water alongside a local fisherman who demonstrates how to pick cockles from the calf-deep mud with your toes. Swing back to your luxury cottage, one of only 27, and await your chef-prepared, cockle-centric meal.

How much: Hotel rooms, $1,000 and up nightly per couple; cockle expedition, $25 to $40 per person.

Graffiti trip in Brooklyn


Hotel: Park Hyatt New York 

Excursion: Through online initiatives and hotel concierges, Park Hyatt guests will be informed about personalized, self-guided “insider” experiences at the brand’s 36 properties. These include a suggested itinerary where art fans could take a graffiti-viewing trip to Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, followed by a slice at Roberta’s, a local-legend pizza joint. In Tokyo, guests may be guided to a fish auction and food truck enclave. For Park Hyatt guests, "knowledge is currency and it's not just the latest MOMA art exhibit," said Sandra Micek, senior vice president, global brands for Hyatt.

How much: Excursions, free. New York rooms begin at $750 per night.

Catching octopus in Mexico

Hotel:  Four Seasons Punta Mita, Mexico

Excursion: Octopus Catch & Cook is a culinary excursion that takes guests free-diving without the usual scuba or snorkel gear in Bahia de Banderas. The hands-on experience begins with a training session and boating to the bay where they’ll spear their very own tentacled cephalopod mollusk. The adventure concludes with an interactive cooking class to prepare fresh octopus ceviche.

How much: Rooms begin at $930; fishing expeditions are $225 per person.

Hunting quail in Georgia

Hotel: Sea Island: Georgia

Excursions: At the luxury resort on Georgia's coast, women can pull on their hunting boots for a weekend hunting excursion at the resort's Broadfield Sporting Club & Lodge. Guests get lessons at the on-site clay target shooting school before setting out for quail at a 5,800-acre preserve. A resort chef can handle the messy transition from field to table. The weekend also includes private cooking and mixology lessons using ingredients gathered from  Broadfield's bee hives, gardens and hunting and fishing trips. The finishing touch: "Farm-to-face" facials and massages using local produce.

How much: $2,500 per person

A bar crawl in Chicago

Hotel: Hotel Lincoln, Chicago 

Excursion:  The "Dive On In" package lets guests drink like a local on a curated bar crawl through the Lincoln Park and Old Town neighborhoods. At check in, travelers’ guest rooms are prepped with a Chicago beer and bar snack. The package deal also includes a map of the watering holes, special offers at the bars and reinforcing breakfast at neighboring Perennial Virant.

How much: Package rates begin at $299 a night.