We were sailing through the Panama Canal when my husband, David, stabbed me in the chest. "Darn, I missed the heart," he hissed, then lunged again.
Isn't it romantic?
Actually, yes. David's attack was during the morning fencing class on a cruise aboard Cunard's Queen Victoria. And his rubber-tipped sword wasn't nearly as sharp as the words we use when we're really fighting.
Playing, that's what we were doing - joyfully recapturing the sense of fun and humor (and yes, passion, too) we had so appreciated when we were new.
Finding, or renewing, that delicious lightness of being together is, to many couples, the very essence of a romantic escape.
If making like Pirates of the Caribbean is not your cup of aphrodisia, how about learning a new sport together - golf, for instance, at a desert mountain resort with couples spa treatments to soothe your aching muscles and stimulate the senses, and a romantic dinner on a scenic tee, overlooking the lush, rolling fairways?
Or, consider snuggling double in a single chaise on a powder-soft Caribbean beach in front of your oceanside room, your skin caressed by cooling trade winds, as you watch a blood-orange sun slip slowly into the sea.
Too tame, you say?
Then seduce each other all over again at a resort-based couples' sensuality workshop, where sex is part of your daily homework.
Or, go for a Playboy-esque romp in a Las Vegas hotel "fantasy suite," where the color scheme is bordello red, the rooms are equipped with "dancer" (stripper) poles, and the showers provide multiple nozzles, overhead light shows, and glass walls that go from frosted to transparent with the flick of a switch.
If you're still with me, come along on some sizzling escapes for lovers.
But don't stop here. Use your imagination and do your own research. Good Internet resources include Hideaways International, Cruise Critic, SpaFinders - or Google away to your heart's content.
Cruise a sea of love
An ocean voyage has stellar romance potential. But making a ship your own personal love boat takes planning and an eye for intimate opportunities once you're afloat.
By booking a cabin with a private balcony (a major trend in cruising, and our No. 1 priority when considering ships), we could make savoring the sea a private affair throughout our Panama Canal cruise aboard the 2,000-passenger Queen Victoria.
As with most ships, we could have room service at no extra charge - and boy, did we ever, dining on our balcony for afternoon tea (this was a proper British ship), late-night snacks, and always for breakfast. Who, after all, wants to start a mellow morning together by schlepping to a crowded buffet line or waiting to be served in a big, formal dining room? Better to roll out of bed to the gentle wake-up knock of a smiling waiter bearing orange juice, coffee and a fresh fruit platter that we could enjoy in our bathrobes on our own little patch of outdoor turf.
And what could set a more tender tone for the night than a sunset dinner on our terrace, smooching between bites, observed only by the rising moon?
We never turned on the cabin TV, and rarely went to productions in the gilded theater, although the Queen Victoria's private boxes, a first in cruising, were tempting for their canoodling potential.
We didn't spend all our time alone, of course. Our fencing lesson with six other couples was a fun way to mix and mingle while still keeping the focus on each other.
After dinner most nights, we took to the dance floor, energetically faking tangos, as couples who actually knew what they were doing gave us a wide berth.
Oh, and we publicly renewed our vows, signing up with 14 other couples for a sweet (and free) group recommitment ceremony conducted by a priest, who restricted his religious readings to the lovely "Love is patient, love is kind" passage from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. Each of us, married four to 51 years, received a signed certificate of celebration.
Too bad David and I didn't think to book a side-by-side couples' massage, each with our own masseuse, in the ship's peaceful spa. Or an hour in the Rasul Cleansing Chamber for Couples, a lovely room with a wall of windows overlooking the sea, where a masseuse gives a brief lesson in basic strokes, then leaves you alone to do as you like with the room's massage table, steam room, shower, and little pots of seaweed mud, sea salts and fragrant massage oils.
David didn't order flowers for our room (I'm allergic, anyway), book a ship photographer to follow us around like celebrities for a personalized photo album, or hire a violinist to surprise me on our balcony with our favorite song (next time, eh, David?).
But he did take my hand as we strolled the deck our last night at sea, and tell me how lucky he felt to be my husband - music to my ears that no violinist could match.
Great but cheaper. A romantic cruise needn't take a queen's ransom. Local and online cruise agents, such as cruisecritic.com, ecruises.com and cruiseone.com, offer bargains, usually last-minute or way in advance. Check out the ship, itinerary and cabin description before you commit.
Make life a beach
A vast stretch of clean white beach, oceanfront rooms with the sand and sea just beyond your patio door or second-floor terrace, a welcoming staff that makes you feel like family - that's my scenario for the romantic beach resort of my dreams. And I found it at the Divi All-Inclusive Resort on Aruba's two-mile Palm Beach.
To be honest, my mom and dad discovered Divi in the 1970s. They fell in love with the low-rise - just two stories - beach-hugging lanais, informal atmosphere, and minimal nightlife that might have bored action-seeking couples, who gravitated to the high-rise casino hotels down the beach.
Like other Divi devotees, my parents returned year after year, relishing hours alone together on the beach, but also forming close same-time-next-year friendships with fellow guests and much of the staff. I joined them one spring and watched my fiftysomething mother giggling like a schoolgirl as she swam just offshore alongside her Divi-girlfiend Cathy. My father, parked in a palm-shaded chaise with a thick James Michener novel, smiled at Mom's slow progress, and at the sweeping view of sand, sea and wispy white clouds.
"This," he said, spreading his arms wide to encompass the scene, "is a mahaiya" - the Yiddish expression for "heavenly."
Divi isn't quite as sedate anymore, I discovered after a 24-year absence. A big spa and high-tech gym have sprouted at the resort's neighboring, less-quiet sister, Tamarijn (guests at both properties have access to all facilities), and the weekly schedule lists a slew of activities, from snorkeling clinics to beach soccer, and, alas, beer drinking/hot dog-eating contests. All rooms have high-speed Internet access and sleek black TVs with satellite programming (they didn't even have in-room telephones in my parents' day). Across the street, Divi's Alhambra Casino stays open until 4 a.m., timeshare condos are propagating, and a lagoon-studded nine-hole golf course undulates below a gourmet restaurant overlooking the signature hole.
But the gorgeous beach and seascapes, and perfectly placed lanais, remain unchanged, as do the laid-back mood and the caring connection between staff and guests.
Gazing at the sun sinking into a silvery sea, my hand entwined in David's, I could see in my mind's eye my mom and dad walking hand in hand into the shallows for a little "dunk" before dinner.
Their Divi, I thought, gratefully, is still very much a mahaiya.
Great but cheaper. It's no easy matter getting to Chez Pierre, a tiny resort with just six rustic beachfront bungalows on four-mile-wide Long Island, an out-island of the Bahamas. You have to fly to Nassau or Exuma, then take a puddle-jumper or ferry to Long Island. But it doesn't get any more secluded than this, and the reasonable rate includes breakfast, dinner, and use of bikes, kayaks and a catamaran.
Share two-for-tee times
The Boulders, a swank golf resort in the Sonoran desert foothills north of Phoenix, gives fore-play a new meaning with couples' Golf and Spa packages. The golf is on two stunning championship courses that wind through rocky outcroppings and alongside giant saguaro cacti. The spa is a branch of the California serenity sanctuary the Golden Door. Learn to play or improve your swing together, with private lessons from the pro. Then hit the course, remembering this mantra: "It's only a game. It's only a game."
For variety, put your marriage on the rocks with a private boulder-climbing class, mountain-bike ride, or guided meditation walk through the circular Labyrinth maze in the Golden Door's courtyard.
Afterward, indulge in an outdoor couple's massage - perhaps one of the American Indian-inspired rituals, where the therapist rattles a rain stick, chants Hopi blessings, and "smudges" the air around you with a smoking bundle of fragrant sage to purify your spirit, then kneads you into oblivion.
Dinner in the restaurant? Nah. Instead, arrange for a candlelit "tee-box dinner," with your table overlooking the fairways and mountains beyond, and the waiter delivering the food and wine, course by course, via golf cart.
Then retire to the mesquite-burning fireplace in your adobe casita, set amid a jumble of prehistoric boulders, and rock-a-bye, baby.
Great but cheaper. For a more down-home learning vacation, sign up for a five-day Couples Dance workshop, learning swing, waltz and Argentine tango, all to live music, at the Augusta Heritage Center Workshops in Elkins, W.Va. Each morning starts with a "Waltz Across Breakfast" dance to get the juices flowing. My husband and I needed an afternoon nap to remain vertical for the nightly community dance and lively jam sessions around campus.
Master Sensuality 101
It's not all sex. In fact, the five-day "Partners, Pleasures and Passion" workshop run by Miraval Resort outside Tucson, Ariz., is more about intimacy. Facilitators Lana Holstein and her husband, David Taylor, both Yale-educated physicians, take couples on a journey of emotional, spiritual and sensual growth that my husband and I found life-changing.
The guiding premise is that "conscious loving," with sex as a path connecting body and soul, is a learnable skill. With commitment, time and energy - and a little better understanding of male and female anatomy and physiology - we could each become expert lovers in the fullest sense of the word, Lana and David assured us.
So, with 15 other couples ranging from 30- to 70- something, married a few months to 50 years, we practiced "soul-gazing" - looking deeply into each other's eyes in a way that opened our hearts. And we experimented with kissing like we had all the time in the world to explore the texture and nuances of each other's lips. Most important, we learned to listen, really listen, to each other's yearnings, fears and disappointments, and to create space for healing, so a deeper connection, and yes, a more passionate sex life could blossom.
No one had to publicly share personal problems, and any intimate touching was conducted in the privacy of our room.
When not "studying," my husband and I took long walks together along paths flanked by cacti and delicate wildflowers and indulged in daily spa treatments, included in the workshop price.
Good news - we all graduated. David and I still soul-gaze daily and listen to each other better, but we rarely do that kissing thing and can't remember half the vital learnings we vowed never to forget.
Time for a refresher course.
Great but cheaper. The Omega Institute in rural Rhinebeck, N.Y., offers a weekend workshop, "Getting the Love You Want." Taught by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, cocreators of Imago Relationship Therapy and coauthors of Receiving Love, the workshop emphasizes increased intimacy and spiritual growth through the development of new communication and awareness skills. The program is open to singles and couples of any sexual orientation.
Make naughty nice
Just try keeping your hands off each other when the two of you walk into one of the erotic-themed fantasy suites at the Palms casino resort in Las Vegas. The brazenly bawdy rooms have hot pink, crimson and other come-hither color schemes, fur and leather accents, mirrored ceilings, prominently placed beds - some vibrate or rotate - and "show showers" with flashing strobe lights and stripper poles.
Pack your sexiest underwear and raciest thoughts.
(Memo to her: Wear your highest, spikiest heels - all night. Memo to him: Present her with a long-stemmed red rose, lamenting, hands over heart, that it could never be as beautiful as she is.)
FYI, the fantasy suites have extra soundproofing - to minimize the noise from couples playing loud music, no doubt.
Great but cheaper. If high-stakes love nests are beyond your budget, create your own fantasyland at any hotel by bringing along mood-setting props - scented candles (if allowed), red lightbulbs to temporarily replace the white ones in the lamps, massage oil galore, a boom box with soulful CDs or iPod downloads, maybe some feather boas, and whatever else tickles your fancy without damaging the premises. We once brought an inflatable bed to a lakeside rental cabin, set it up on our discreetly placed outdoor deck, and slept au naturel under a canopy of stars.
Booking a Romantic Getaway
List price for cabins with balconies start at about $2,500 per person double occupancy for a 12-night Mediterranean cruise. But check with online cruise discounters for deals. Couples massage, from $238 for 55 minutes; Rasul Chamber, $75 an hour; flowers, from $25 a batch; photographer, $80 an hour; musician, $50 an hour.
Budget cruise.. Various lines. Check with local cruise agents, www.ecruises.com or www.cruiseone.com for seasonal bargains. A recent ecruises ad offered a four-day western Caribbean sail out of Miami aboard the Carnival Destiny starting at about $500 per person for a stateroom with a balcony; $400 for an outside cabin with no balcony.
Divi All-Inclusive Resort
Ocean-view rooms list for $500/day per couple, less in summer, but deals often can be found at online hotel-booking sites such as www.hotels.com or www.travelocity.com.
Long Island, Bahamas
$150 per night per cottage ($170 for stays of less than five nights), including breakfast and dinner.
The Boulders resort & Golden Door Spa
Golf and spa packages start at about $700 per night, including daily spa or golf choice per person. Private golf lessons cost $70 per half-hour; tee-box dinners require a minimum $500 food and beverage expenditure; couples massages cost $335 for 50 minutes.
Augusta Heritage Center workshops
Davis and Elkins College
1-800-624-3157, Ext. 1209
Five-day Couples Dance workshop, part of Dance Week, starts Aug. 2. Price: $430 per person; local lodgings from about $60 per night per room with private bath. Other themed weeks run throughout July.
Five-day workshop "Partners, Pleasures and Passion," runs year-round. Price: from about $6,500 per couple, including lodgings, meals, daily spa treatments and other resort activities.
Weekend workshop "Getting the Love You Want," with Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, runs Sept. 25 to 27. Program cost is $395 per person; campus housing for two nights, including all meals, starts at $335 per person.
Palms casino resort
Fantasy Suites with "show shower" and dancer pole start at $2,000 per night.
- Judi Dash