Personal Paradise

April 2018 View more

Choosing the right vacation spot can be chancy, like using Tinder to find the ideal mate: Glitzy photos and glowing descriptions can sometimes camouflage a real letdown.

Some years back, for example, my wife and I signed up for a tropical island package that seemed like a steal. Indeed, it was, except we were the ones who got robbed.

We still laugh about aspects of the trip, like  Marianne discovering her propensity for violent seasickness when we were already miles offshore. Or the half-hour death-defying drive on the wrong side of road, in a rental whose steering wheel and shift lever were on the wrong side of the car. But we never found the humor in the two-hour waits at our hotel’s restaurant—even for breakfast—or the power outages that meant no air conditioning nearly every afternoon.

Fortunately for Naperville magazine readers, we know three destinations that are virtually foolproof—the only surprise you’ll encounter will be the magnificent views. You still have the dilemma of choosing just one, but we’ve thought of that, too: Take our vacation compatibility quiz at the end of this post to identify your very own personalized paradise.

Niagara Falls

Engineers plan to “shut off” Niagara Falls for ten months in 2019, diverting the Niagara River so that bridges can be repaired. So 2018 may be the last chance for a while to see the three waterfalls that straddle the international border between Ontario and New York—but that’s not the only reason to go. Ordinarily, I am not a touchy-feely person, but seeing the Falls in person made me emotional. The thunder, the glow and the impossible immensity gave me a sense of euphoria and connectedness. It’s different, I’m sure, for every individual, but the Falls are something you want to experience.

Stay at the five-star Niagara Falls Marriott Fallsview Hotel & Spa and see Horseshoe Falls directly out your window on the Canadian side of the Falls. Suites range from $124 to $349 per night.

Because the Falls seem like such an otherworldly spectacle, most visitors crave a tactile encounter, such as a descent through a tunnel for the “Journey Behind the Falls,” to stand adjacent to the deafening wall of water, smelling and tasting the mist that soaks their hair and the complimentary ponchos.

Adventurous chaps can soar 220 feet above the river gorge on one of four ziplines facing the Falls, while more contemplative souls will love the two-hour hike on the boardwalk overlooking the Great Gorge Rapids.

Most popular is the 30-minute ferry ride to the base of the Falls, which lets people feel the vibration of 150,000 gallons of water per second cascading from above. (We declined the ferry ride, however, when I saw the upper and lower decks of the 80-foot craft filled with passengers, rail to rail. The ferry services have impeccable safety records, but such overloading goes against everything I know about seamanship.)

From Naperville, Niagara is a nine-hour drive; from O’Hare, it’s a 90-minute flight—a pretty light travel commitment to encounter what could practically be the eighth wonder
of the world.

Bora Bora

I was 16 when I first fell in love while reading Mutiny on the Bounty. The idyllic lifestyle
and romance of first mate and mutineer Fletcher Christian and a Tahitian woman named Mauitua left me with a yearning I knew would not be assuaged until I journeyed
to the South Pacific.

Bora Bora is one of 118 tropical islands, including Tahiti, comprising French Polynesia. Surrounded by a turquoise lagoon and protected from the sea by a coral reef, it is renowned for snorkeling, scuba diving and luxurious bungalows built on stilts over the world’s most beautiful water. The average high temperature is 85, and there’s not a single poisonous insect or snake.

I spoke with Linda Hall and her husband Mike Hall, the charismatic TV anchor of Big Ten Network’s “Sports Lite,” about their five-day honeymoon trip.

“The day we left Bora Bora, I told Mike I was going to start planning our next trip there,” Linda says. “You can jump right off your private deck into the clear waters,” evoking the scene from the 1984 film The Bounty, in which a young Mel Gibson (as Fletcher Christian) swims with his Tahitian girlfriend au naturel in the blue lagoon.

The suburban Chicago couple flew from O’Hare to Los Angeles, then on to Tahiti in an eight-hour overnight flight. From there, they took a half-hour puddle jumper to Bora Bora and the St. Regis Resort, which features 89 units, five restaurants, two pools and lavish optional amenities, such as having a private butler.

The five-star Regis is not cheap: A six-day package, including airfare, runs approximately $6,500 per person. But the island offers many other hotel choices at less than half that price. Mike described the trilingual staff—who speak French, English and Tahitian—as “professional and friendly,” but he also appreciated the privacy of the isolated quarters. “We hardly left our bungalow,” says Linda.

When they did venture out, it was to take a boat taxi for water activities, and once to the five-star La Villa Mahana, where they dined like royalty until the bill came—and Mike discovered he’d forgotten his wallet.

“Sheer panic coursed through my veins,” he says, “as I realized we were on this foreign island and just consumed this expensive meal and were still a long boat ride away from anyone who could even vouch for us.” But the waiter merely smiled at the couple and said they could call with a credit card number after they got back to their bungalow.

“For another excursion,” says Linda, “a boat picked up five couples and brought us to different locations. First we swam with sting rays and tiger sharks, then went to deeper waters with coral and more tiger sharks, then finally to the deepest waters where we swam with 11-foot lemon sharks.”

It’s been more than a year, but she can still close her eyes to bring some of it back: the floral scent of the entire island, the vibrant color of the lagoon and its soothing quietude.

“Secluded in that bungalow,” says Linda, “all you hear are the calm waters below.”


It’s easy to spot Midwesterners in the province of Alberta, Canada—we’re the ones standing still in the middle of the sidewalk, or bumping into other tourists, while staring open-mouthed at the mountains rimming the town.

Behind the grocery, or at the end of Banff Avenue (the town’s main thoroughfare), mountain peaks define the landscape and seem to lend a clearer focus about one’s place in the universe. The resulting sense of well being is one of many reasons why Banff’s Lake Louise, a sparkling glacier lake embraced by the Canadian Rockies, is a favorite travel destination.

What also distinguishes Banff National Park is its myriad of outdoor activities: glacier walking, mountain biking, ice climbing, kayaking, dogsledding, horseback riding, backpacking, downhill skiing, ice skating, horse-drawn sleigh riding, snowboarding and gaming at the Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino in Kananaskis.

For Type A personalities, there are bundled packages for filling every second of the day. Pay $135 to ride an enclosed gondola over the mountain range, then descend to the Kicking Horse River for an afternoon of white river rafting. Add $63 to top off your day with a 90-minute “flight” through mountain tree tops, transferring between seven different ziplines.   

The palatial Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a view of the Victoria Glacier, has suites from $290 to $590. Excellent other lower priced suites, condos and B&Bs are plentiful in Banff.

And as for the world-renowned Canadian friendliness? It’s always free of charge.

North or south? Mountains or ocean? Take our travel compatibility quiz to find your ideal vacation destination. Just circle the letter that best describes you and find your ideal match in the answer key.

On a coach or bus tour,
a. I open the window for a full sensual experience.
b. I enjoy sitting back and seeing the sights.
c. I ask the driver if I can take the wheel.

When it comes to dining,
a. I am a big fan of alfresco.
b. I prefer American cuisine.
c. I will try anything once.

My idea of vacation is
a. sea, sun and salsa dancing.
b. rest, relaxation and more rest.
c. doing something that I cannot do at home.

Others might describe me as
a. adventurous.
b. laid-back.
c. intense.

Regarding travel and vacation costs,
a. money is no object.
b. money isn’t everything.
c. I like to get as much as I can for my money.

On my day off, I’d have fun
a. flying a kite.
b. curling up with a good book in front of the fire.
c. monitoring the police radio.

When it comes to socializing,
a. I enjoy making new friends.
b. I have just as much fun when I’m alone.
c. I am more of a leader than a follower.

Emotionally speaking,
a. I am an extrovert.
b. I withhold trust until it’s earned.
c. I march to the beat of a different drum.

As a couple,
a. our romantic pinnacle is still ahead.
b. we understand each other implicitly.
c. our romance is on fire.

Travel is mainly for
a. relaxing and recharging
b. learning and growing.
c. testing myself.

Answer Key

If A is your most frequent answer, you are an artistically inclined and open minded traveler for whom the exoticism and romance of Bora Bora is the ultimate travel destination.

If your top answer is B, you are a curious and optimistic—but also pragmatic—traveler for whom Niagara Falls is the best choice for recreation, wonder, enlightenment and escape.

A plurality of C answers means that your proactive inclinations and passion for life will make any destination the right one simply because you are there. But Banff, more than the other two, will felicitously fulfill every expectation and demand.