Fairmont Palliser, Calgary

Fairmont Palliser, Calgary

Fairmont Palliser

Address: 133 9 Ave SW, Calgary, AB T2P 2M3

Phone: (403) 262-1234

https://www.fairmont.com/palliser-calgary/

My Rating: 82%
Price Rating: $$$

Summary of my Stay: I've been fortunate enough to stay at the Palliser on several occasions over the past decade. The hotel provides a consistently pleasant stay in an atmosphere that is both business and luxury oriented. The hotel is perfectly located in downtown Calgary. Everything downtown is within a 5-minute walk: world-class shopping, innovative restaurants, and a vibrant arts scene.

As you pull up to the hotel, valets are eager to look after your ride and assist with your luggage. Up the steps and into the lobby, the first look of the hotel is compact. Between the check-in and concierge desks, guests are promptly looked after. Once checked-in and moving towards the elevators, you pass through the grand lobby which include the Oak Room lounge and Rimrock dining room. The hall delivers the grandeur and pomp you expect from a Canadian heritage hotel. 

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Up to my room, this stay I was upgraded to a Junior Suite. Because it is a former Canadian Pacific Rail historic hotel, many of the rooms are very compact. Though well appointed, the basic Fairmont rooms are tight on space. Also, most of the rooms have limited views of the side of the hotel or the train tracks. Because of this, I highly suggest booking a Signature Room (or a suite) and request a room facing the front of the hotel. Another thing you'll notice is that almost all rooms have compact bathrooms, whether you're in a suite or a Fairmont room. However, I recall the Fairmont Gold rooms were more spacious all around. So splurge and go to the Gold Floor if you can. The Palliser's rooms deliver everything you'd expect in a Fairmont property: wonderfully comfortable bed, fine linens, elegant and tasteful decor. The WiFi in the room was strong and consistent. On two separate occasions, I had issues with in-room telephones. 

Highlight of the Hotel: One of the reasons I choose to stay at the Palliser is the spacious pool area. The pool is bright and elegant and very well kept. The spa is located within the pool area so it is a great place to come and relax. I've had a few massages at this spa and both therapists were very well trained. In addition to the pool, there is also a large hot tub and steam room. Finally, the pool is open until 11pm which is great after a long day of traveling. (Pet peeve is when pools close ridiculously early)

Highlight of my Stay: The hotel's staff is exceedingly helpful. Dawn on the concierge desk always greets you with a smile and a great recommendation. Another staff remembered my dog's name (Oliver) from our last stay months ago. When I had some auto trouble, Neal generously offered to assist and was able to get everything fixed up - going as far as boosting my car with his own truck. The genuine helpfulness of the staff help to ensure that your stay will be personalized and enjoyable. 

Drawbacks:  There are a few drawbacks to the hotel. I had a few issues with the valets and parking. The hotel does not have underground parking, however, stalls do have electric outlets to plug in. My last stay I was there when it was -43C with the windchill. The valets told me that there were no plugs - when there were. Needless to say, my car didn't get plugged in, and it didn't start. Luckily Neal, Palliser staff member (aka Hero) helped me for over an hour and get me all fixed up. Thanks Neal!!! Secondly, you do run the risk of getting a very small room so ensure you book a higher category of room. There are also several small things (such as phones not properly working) that keep this hotel from achieving 5-star status. Finally, there are drawbacks with the food scene at the hotel—the hotel bar closes at midnight for instance.

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Mandapa: A Ritz-Carlton Reserve

Mandapa: A Ritz-Carlton Reserve

Mandapa: A Ritz-Carlton Reserve

Address: Jalan Kedewatan, Banjar Kedewatan, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia

Phone: +62 361 4792777

http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/indonesia/mandapa

My Rating: 98%
Price Rating: $$$$$

Summary of my Stay: From the time I arrived till I departed, the hotel ensured that I felt genuinely welcomed. Mandapa strives to provide an authentic Balinese experience while still providing all the perks of a world-class resort. I stayed at the resort for a week and it was certainly the highlight of my three-week trip through Asia. Mandapa is a Ritz-Carlton Reserve: one of only 3 in the world. Ritz-Carlton reserves strive for the highest level of personal dedication to the guest while preserving the beauty and authenticity of their surroundings. 

You are welcomed to the hotel by the staff with a floral garland of jasmine and orchids and offered a refreshing beverage. This sets the tone for your stay. I was ushered to a seat in a pavilion that overlooked the entire resort including the river and the rice paddies. The view was spectacular. Mandapa is a smaller and intimate resort where service is their priority. After checking in and being personally welcomed by the manager, I was golf-carted down to my villa where my luggage was already waiting for me. 

View of the rice terraces and the resort in the background

View of the rice terraces and the resort in the background

The villas and rooms are top-notch. From the teak wood that runs throughout to the local art that hangs on the walls, to the statues and water features that provide a zen atmosphere, you won't be disappointed. Everything is tasteful and luxurious. Not only was the bathroom the size of most bachelor apartments, it was also supplied with soaps and toiletries that were locally sourced. The villa was perfectly set up for indoor/outdoor living and the view of the pool was mesmerizing as I laid in bed. Words are not enough to describe the room itself, so make sure you watch the video.

The hotel also has wonderful amenities. While my villa had its own pool, I also made use of the resort pool. An infinity pool overlooking the rice fields...it was the perfect place to watch the sunset in the evening. The hotel also offers yoga classes which were a great way to get centered and kick any jet-lag you might have. (PS - yoga in Bali is the equal to "Hot-Yoga" anywhere else in the world because of the natural humidity of the island, so be prepared for an intense work-out). There is also a full spa at Mandapa, however, the prices seemed high, (even for North American standards), so I went to spas right in the town of Ubud. 

In terms of dining, the hotel has a few options. The most notable is Kubu: a culinary experience and destination on it's own. This restaurant is destined for Michelin stars as it takes the sophistication of European cuisine and blends it with Balinese flair. I highly recommend booking in advance to secure one of nine wicker cocoons perched next to the river for a private and intimate setting. Both the Library and Pool Terrace serve exceptional cocktails and lighter fare. I often had my breakfasts at the Sawah Terrace and you can see the spread on the video. All options come with very dedicated service and if you asked for something not on the menu, I'm sure they would certainly try to accommodate. Another great options is that the hotel will arrange dining in unique areas of the resort. Some options include a picnic in the rice terraces, a candelit dinner upon the Sawah cliff or beside the Ayung river, or even a fully gourmet dinner cooked in the privacy of your own villa. 

View of the Ayung river from the Sawah Terrace. This is where I would normally sit at breakfast

View of the Ayung river from the Sawah Terrace. This is where I would normally sit at breakfast

Highlight of the Hotel: Most 5 Star hotels in Bali are going to offer you a spectacular location.  Nothing prepared for the peace and tranquility that I found at Mandapa. The hotel is comprised of only 60 rooms and villas—making the resort feel much more like a home. Mandapa really is a special destination that brings all the luxuries of a world-class hotel right in the middle of Bali's spiritual heart, Ubud. Over the years, and thanks to the book Eat, Pray, Love, Ubud has become a huge tourist destination and the town can be hectic and crowded. This Ritz-Carlton reserve is a few kilometers out of town and allows the guests to find that peacefulness they're seeking. It really is difficult to imagine anywhere more serene than this.

You couldn't find a better spot to do yoga...

You couldn't find a better spot to do yoga...

Or to cool off in the pool...

Or to cool off in the pool...

Highlight of my Stay: The hotel takes great attention to detail and service which allowed me to have an incredible stay. Noticing that I only ate the rambutan from the fruit basket, a very healthy supply of rambutans were replenished the next morning. When going to the pool, the staff come and lay out your pool towels, chair towels and a refreshment tray that includes a juice in a coconut and a tray of fruit. When I came back from dinner at the hotel one night, the pool was decorated with candles and flowers. When you arrive and depart the hotel, all available staff come out to greet you to the resort. And of course all the bases were covered: fresh ice in the room at all times, housekeeping was invisible but immaculate, unfolded clothes just magically got hung in the closet. And when you have two dedicated butlers assigned to your room, you have great expectations. Other hotels might have made the stay feel stuffy and over-polished, where the Mandapa makes you feel more like a treasured family member that has come home to visit. 

My one bedroom villa

My one bedroom villa

The view of my pool...

The view of my pool...

Drawbacks:  There were only 2 drawbacks with the hotel...small things that kept it from getting a perfect score. The hotel's lobby is perched on a cliff that overlooks the river and valley where the rooms and villas are. In order to get back up to the lobby, it is a VERY steep walk so the hotel offers shuttle service via golf cart. Normally it's fine, but on one occasion my cart never showed up and another instance it took a very long time to arrive. Secondly, there is rafting that happens on the river that runs through the property. A few times during my stay, the crowd rafting sounded like a spring break party and ruined the quiet morning. 

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W Sentosa Cove

W Sentosa Cove

W Sentosa Cove

21 Ocean Way, Singapore, Singapore 098374

+65 6808 7288

http://www.wsingaporesentosacove.com/

My Rating: 83%
Price Rating: $$$$

Summary of my Stay: I arrived at the hotel late at night and the property was beautifully lit inside and out. The bell-staff were friendly and efficient. They guided me up the staircase to the lobby where the music from Woo Bar filled the entire main floor. Check-in was personal and quick and within moments, I was being ushered to my room. The room was spacious and well laid out. While the rooms are equipped for every business need, they were certainly designed with fun in mind. There was ample closet space (well done) and the bathroom was oversized. The bed was soft and delightful. I hit the sheets and I was out. Although, I did spend a few moments basking in the technicolor glory of the bedroom before passing out. 
I had a quick bite to eat at WOOBar which was enjoyable. However, the W is known for their drinks and less about their food. And their drinks did NOT disappoint. 
The W Sentosa Cove is very private and really was a nice relaxing break. You get the impression that you're at a private island resort and not in a city of nearly 6 million. 
Fun fact: If you get tired of lounging on your yacht, the hotel is alongside the Singapore Yacht Club. So just pull on in and let the W welcome you.

Nestled in the heart of the Singapore Yacht Club

Nestled in the heart of the Singapore Yacht Club

Highlight of the Hotel: The hotel's pool and spa area were heavenly. The pool is aptly named WET and there was something for everyone and every age. The uniquely shaped pool is open 24 hours/day. So upon arrival, I slipped down and dipped into the refreshing water. The next morning I went back to the pool and saw the signature W prominently displayed. The pool itself is massive and has a swim-up bar. An array of colorful bean-bag floatation loungers was at the edge of the pool waiting to drift guests out into the water. There are areas for kids (aka partiers-in-training) that still keep in line with the aesthetic of the whole resort. Servers were attentive and drink orders were promptly brought poolside. My drink was a variation of a mint pina colada that came with its own inflatable pink flamingo. In the summer months, guest DJs spin at WET and the pool becomes a private party oasis. Indoors, the AWAY spa brought a modern cool flair to relaxation. When you walk into the spa lounge, you are in a casual and elegant beachy surrounding. However, as soon as you go into the change rooms and down towards the vitality pools, you know you're in a spa, unlike any others. The concentrated colors and unique designs take you on a journey. Relaxation pools were heated at different temperatures, rain fall showers were an out-of-body experience and the treatment rooms look like they belong on a spaceship. If you're planning a visit, make sure to book a treatment or two here. 

The pool lit up at night - more pics in the YouTube video

The pool lit up at night - more pics in the YouTube video

Vitality pools at AWAY Spa

Vitality pools at AWAY Spa

AWAY Spa treatment room

AWAY Spa treatment room

Highlight of my Stay: Too often luxury hotels cater more to business clientele than to vacationers who want to have fun. The W Sentosa Cove was designed to be sexy and playful, and the numerous small fun touches were my highlight. WOOBar is a great place to start. Their menu is a vinyl record and my drink was served in a glowing lightbulb complete with powersource. I've already mentioned how cool the pool and spa are. The rooms are colorful and welcoming—certainly not your typical corporate style hotel room. There was a customized poster that welcomed me to the hotel in a spring break type theme. The in-room snack bar was filled with vibrant candies and treats that belong in a Katy Perry music video. In the hallways, a small army of colored Roombas silently attacked the hallway carpets. On the main floor, there are acoustically designed art installations that you pull over your head like a helmet incase you needed to make a phone call while the DJ's music is blasting. And yes, they actually worked. There was an endless supply of little details that made the stay here fun and memorable. 

WOOBar

WOOBar

Thomas Edison Drink at WOOBar

Thomas Edison Drink at WOOBar

Drawbacks: The hotel is privately nested alongside the Singapore Yacht club on Sentosa Island making it is the perfect hotel to explore the Resort World attractions such as Universal Studios. However, it is a 15-20 minute drive into downtown Singapore where you'll find the main shopping and dining attractions of the city. 

Lobby and check-in desk

Lobby and check-in desk

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Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands

10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018956

+65 6688 8868

http://www.marinabaysands.com/

My Rating: 74%
Price Rating: $$$$$

Summary of my Stay: The Marina Bay Sands is an iconic hotel that has drawn worldwide attention for its design and luxurious design. The design is instantly recognizable and the infinity pool is the ideal spot for the jet-setting-selfie-taker. But beyond the aesthetic and remarkable pool, did the hotel live up to the hype?

I arrived early afternoon and the entrance is a chaotic scene of moving vehicles, luggage and people. Through the front doors and towards the check-in desk, you get in line with several dozen other guests who are checking in. To help speed things along, a man with an iPad is ensuring everyone has their ID and confirmation ready. A few minutes later, a lady with a tray walked by and offered everyone a popsicle. If you're forced to wait in line in a tropical country, a frozen treat is always welcome. 

Lobby

Lobby

Check-in was smooth but when I inquired about paying to upgrade my room (something I do at almost every hotel I visit), they were very clear that was not possible. I had booked a deluxe room with a view of the Botanical Gardens, and so even a view of the city would have been preferred, but they were firm that of the 2500 rooms, there was nothing available. Hard to believe but fine. 

The room was ready and I took my keycard and set off to find the elevator bank. There are dozens and regularly people would go to the wrong tower and wrong set of elevators. They are marked but the hotel's design does complicate minor things like this. On my floor, the hallways are pristine, modern and bright. Opening the door and entering the room, the room did not live up the hallway. The room was fine but basic. It was dated and had visible signs of wear. Nothing about the room set it apart or was worth what I had paid to stay there. The bathroom again was alright but forgettable. The balcony was a decent size and the view of the gardens was better than I expected. 

Deluxe room 

Deluxe room 

The hotel is known for having world-class....well...everything. From restaurants with celebrity chefs to the best shopping at the adjoining mall, to the massive casino that is attached to every niche entertainment activity you could hope for. While I was there, I didn't have a chance to check everything out but the shopping at the Mall was impressive (1 million sq. feet of retail space). Every high end label was visible and had an unmatched selection. But the layout of the mall is ridiculous and you're forever taking escalators and stairs to different levels (not just different floors). Among the other attractions, the resort features the ArtScience Museum, a skating rink, 2 performance theatres and a nightly laser show. 

In regards to the restaurant selection, I did eat at Spago by Wolfgang Puck (a personal favourite of mine and one that also provides the poolside menu) and SweetSpot. Spago was great and would make Wolfgang proud. The location atop the Sky Park makes it an ideal location for a casual but quality lunch. SweetSpot was a pricey indulgence but a nice place for a quick sugary pick-me-up. There are 43 restaurants on the property and I'm sure there are a few gems among them. 

Tropical drinks

Tropical drinks

Highlight of the Hotel: Without a doubt, the highlight is the rooftop infinity pool at the Sky Park—191 meters above the ground. The Sky Park is over 1 hectare in size and boasts the world's largest elevated pool. It is a guest-only attraction and it is the main reason to stay at this hotel. It will take your breath away with the stunning view of the Singapore skyline. Even in less than ideal weather, the pool makes for a great place to hang out. The tropical weather in Singapore changes quickly and often, so one moment it was misting and ten minutes later, the sun was beating down. All the while, the pool is the place to be at. 

Sunset 

Sunset 

Highlight of my Stay: Again, the highlight was the pool. I feel the pool is the only reason travellers would pay this rate to stay at this hotel. The pool is unmatched in terms of view and sheer scale. And the fact that entry to the Sky Park is for guests only (and strictly enforced) makes it a decently exclusive place to hang out. 

Panorama shot with Singapore skyline

Panorama shot with Singapore skyline

Drawbacks: The hotel is out of the way and is really only walking distance to the attractions that are part of the complex. Several times members of the hotel staff tried to direct me to a tour bus stop, but never was it actually there. So I ended up taking taxis everywhere I needed to go which worked out fine but wasn't my original plan. 

The hotel really hypes it's restaurants...which also inflates the prices. While I knew the hotel would be a tourist trap, the menu prices were mostly unwarranted. You could dine at Michelin starred restaurants with better views for considerably less than most of their options. 

View from the Botanical Gardens by the Bay

View from the Botanical Gardens by the Bay

They cater very much to the gambler—which shouldn't surprise me since they have a casino. This is another reason prices are inflated...higher margins allow them to comp players without hurting their bottom line. 

At the end of the day, this is a cool but basic, business style hotel with some big name restaurants and a crazy cool infinity pool. If you're looking for a hotel in Singapore, spend one night here. Enjoy the pool and make the most of it. Then pack yourself up and move to another property that will make you appreciate Singapore and all it has to offer. 

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Conrad Tokyo

Conrad Tokyo

Conrad Tokyo

Address: 1 Chome-9-1 Higashishinbashi, Minato, Tokyo 105-7337, Japan

Telephone: +81 3-6388-8000

http://conradhotels3.hilton.com/en/hotels/japan/conrad-tokyo-TYOCICI/index.html

My Rating: 80%

Price Rating: $$$$$

Hotel Exterior

Hotel Exterior

Summary of Stay: The Conrad Tokyo is a beautiful modern hotel just a short walk from world-class shopping on the Ginza. The hotel begins on the 30th floor and affords guests stunning views of the city and Tokyo bay. 

When I checked in, the front-desk agent had a few issues pulling up my reservation even though I had the confirmation numbers with me. Within 5 minutes, it was all sorted out and I was shown up to my room. While checking in, the concierge came over and introduced himself. He also retrieved print-outs regarding a dining reservation that they had made on my behalf for that night. 

Check-in desk

Check-in desk

The room itself was comfortable, spacious, modern and forgettable. Beyond the cute branded rubber ducky and the 'twig in a vase' that I originally mistook for a Bonsai tree, the room was nothing out of the ordinary. There is a large difference between a luxury hotel and a high-end business hotel. The Conrad Tokyo leans closer to the high-end business side. The room did have a nice view of Tokyo bay and the window seating, though awkward to sit, was a nice touch. The bed was very comfortable and the sheets were high quality. The furniture had some signs of wear but overall, nicely appointed. The closets were decent size but not functional. While they did hold my luggage, there was no room to hang any of my clothes. 

Executive King Room

Executive King Room

The hotel does have a gorgeous pool that sported a panoramic view of Tokyo. The fitness facilities also include a full gym and the Mizuki spa. The attendants were friendly and very professional.

Swimming pool

Swimming pool

I had booked an executive room which gave access to a private lounge that served breakfast, cocktails, etc. When I arrived, I was informed that the lounge was being renovated and they had turned a meeting room into a temporary lounge. There was no notice of this on their website at the time of my booking. This was disappointing but it only got worse. The service was subpar, unwelcoming and impersonal. The offerings of food were alright but the atmosphere was clearly not that of an executive lounge. Also, there were too many children there for my liking. I guess I assumed that most executive lounges would be 18+. Dear child - can I please see your business card and credentials? MBA at Harvard Pre-School? Overall, booking a room for the lounge access seemed like poor value in my opinion. 

Make-shift executive lounge

Make-shift executive lounge

Highlight of the Hotel: One perk of this hotel is that they share an airport shuttle service. This isn't a common feature in Tokyo and often forces travellers to take trains or expensive taxis to the airport. For approximately $25 US, I had a one-way transfer to Narita airport. The shuttle was air-conditioned and very clean and comfortable. We were given bottles of water for the hour long journey. Considering my taxi from the airport into Tokyo was approximately $120, this was a great deal. 

Highlight of my Stay: The service that I received from the concierge desk was superb. They arranged (on short notice) dinner at a 2 Michelin Star restaurant. Their communication was quick, professional and precise. They also had tremendous follow up upon check-in. They clearly mapped out locations of stores that I wanted to visit on or near the Ginza to save me time. 

View of Tokyo Bay from my room

View of Tokyo Bay from my room

Drawbacks: Overall, the hotel lacked any personality or charm. It is a well kept property and it is fine for a stay in Tokyo. I was disappointed in the executive floors and wouldn't pay to upgrade again. If you go in expecting a top-notch business hotel and not a luxury hotel, you won't be disappointed. 

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Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills

Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills

Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills

Address: 1-23-4, Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan, 105-0001

Telephone: +81 3 6830 1234

https://tokyo.andaz.hyatt.com

My Rating: 85%

Price Rating: $$$$$

Summary of Stay: I began my vacation at the Andaz Tokyo. I arrived in the evening after a long flight from Vancouver but was warmly welcomed by the staff. I was whisked up 50 floors to the lobby of the hotel and quickly checked-in and taken down to my room. 

View when you first walk into the room.

View when you first walk into the room.

This boutique hotel consists of 164 rooms and suites and is one of the newest 5 star hotels in Tokyo. The design is modern while paying homage to Japanese culture and design. The hotel has a tavern, rooftop bar and a small sushi restaurant. In the same building, there is also a patisserie and American style restaurant. 

Tokyo hotel rooms are infamous for being small and cramped. The Andaz View room I stayed in was anything but. From the moment you step out of the elevator and into the wide hallways, you realize space isn't an issue. The guest rooms are spacious—mine was approximately 650+ square feet. While the room is heavy with teak finishes, the bright green carpet, floor-to-ceiling windows and off-white walls balance the room to keep it bright. 

Bedroom area

Bedroom area

While many hotels claim to have views, the Andaz does not disappoint. My view of the city and Tokyo Tower was incredible. There was a sofa that ran the entire width of the room alongside the windows. At night, the Tower lit up and the spectacle continued. But not to worry, blackout shades ensured I could still get a great night sleep. 

Japanese hotels are also known for having extremely firm mattresses. The Andaz bed was the ideal mix of firm and soft and the sheets were incredibly smooth and inviting. Bedside was a master control that managed lighting, curtains, etc. 

The bathroom is also worth noting. My room had a generous walk-in shower and soaker tub. After a long flight, the soaker tub was a very nice feature to have. The sink area was set upon a long slab of polished teak—again keeping with Japanese design. The room was also equipped with a Japanese washlet toilet—it included features such as bidet washing, seat warming and dryer. Beyond the fixtures, the bathroom was well stocked with toiletries including dental kits, brush, comb, vanity kit, etc. Another nice touch was that the towels were scented with their seasonal scent. 

Tub and shower

Tub and shower

The hotel houses the AO Spa with 5 treatment rooms. Hotel guests receive complimentary access to the pool, saunas and gym. Everything was sleek and modern—and from the 37th floor, you get an amazing view of the city no matter which direction you look. There are locker room attendants handy to help show you around. On a side note, bathing caps must be worn in the pool at this hotel. Not something I had encountered before. 

Swimming pool

Swimming pool

The hotel attracts a young jet-set crowd under 40 and Andaz caters to them. I missed the complimentary happy hour where snacks and wine tastings were offered but I raided the mini-bar—everything except alcohol is complimentary. 

Highlight of the Hotel: On other reviews for this hotel, people were disappointed with the location of the hotel. I actually felt that it was an ideal central location to get to many different places. While only blocks from the Tokyo Tower, a fifteen minute walk in the other direction landed me at the Imperial Palace. Another ten minutes and I would have been on the Ginza. The neighbourhood was quiet, clean and convenient. 

Neighbourhood

Neighbourhood

Highlight of the Stay: 2 highlights from this stay. First, the view blew me away. The video and photos don't do it justice. The floor-to-ceiling panorama of the Tokyo Tower is something I'll never forget. So ensure you opt for the View room. Secondly, the bathroom was stellar. From the toiletries to the scented towels, to the heated toilet seat and the Japanese style bathtub, to the Kimono robes and polished teak counter, the bathroom was a standout. It was beautifully and functionally designed and it was joy to use. 

Enjoying my morning coffee in the hotel robe

Enjoying my morning coffee in the hotel robe

The love is in the details...

The love is in the details...

Drawbacks: There were a few failings here. I had tried to correspond with the hotel on 2 occasions via email. First time I received no reply from the concierge. Second time I received a very delayed response. I followed up to the reply in regards to arranging a driver at the airport but they did not arrange it and did not reply back to me until I was already checked into the hotel. There was more than 48 hours for them to reply and they did not. And when I was in the hotel, I asked for some information about local sights and the concierge barely tried to answer my questions. So this was unfortunate and unacceptable. On a more minor note, the bell desk was very slow with luggage both during arrival and check-out. After waiting twenty minutes in my room, I finally hauled it down to the check-out desk myself. 

Plum blossoms—just don't ask the concierge where to find them in public. 

Plum blossoms—just don't ask the concierge where to find them in public. 

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JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa

JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa

JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa

Address: Isola delle Rose, Laguna di San Marco, 30133 Venice VE, Italy

Phone: +39 041 852 1300

www.jwvenice.com

My Rating: 78%

Price Rating: $$$$

Summary of Stay: I began my Italian vacation in Rome and ended it in Venice. Venice is a remarkable city that will certainly charm it's way into your heart and memories. However, I'm not sure the JW Marriott will do the same. Don't get me wrong—the JW Venice has all the makings of a 5 star world class hotel. What it is missing is the charm and elegance that brought you to Venice in the first place.

The only way to arrive to the private island is by boat and most likely you'll be on the JW Marriott's private shuttle boat. The journey takes about 20 minutes and it is a smooth ride. They follow their schedule like clockwork and guests are boarded first come, first seated. The boat is elegant and begins to stir anticipation of arrival at the hotel. 

Upon arrival, the main hotel is a short stroll from the dock. If you have luggage, the hotel's bell staff will look after it for you. Check in was swift and very friendly. Seated in comfortable chairs, the attendants had key cards in my hands within minutes. 

I was shown up to my room—which was beneficial because I later got lost. Down a long hallway and up the elevator and down another hallway, I arrived at my room. The room was fine. It was very clean and comfortable and lacking of anything that would make it memorable. The bed was enjoyable and the WiFi decent. It was about average size and at least I had a view of the gardens.

Dopolavoro is the hotel's big dining attraction. It was recently awarded a Michelin star (Venice doesn't have a large selection of Michelin starred restaurants) and the dining room and bar area are pleasing and low key. The chefs grow their own herbs and some vegetables on the island which ensures the freshness and quality of their creations. I didn't dine at the restaurant as I was more interested in exploring the scene in Venice proper. 

Sagra Rooftop Restaurant is your other choice for dinner. It's not large enough to accommodate a hotel of this size and I waited 40 minutes at the bar for a table. Finally, I finished my cocktail and gave up. (I'm not the most patient person in the world). But the drink was good and the food did look and smell appealing.

The hotel also prides itself on the spa. It is in a separate building and not near the main hotel. Had the weather been a bit more cooperative, I would have been interested in getting a massage and soaking up some sun by their pool. But it wasn't meant to be on this trip.

The hotel also attracts an interesting crowd. Because it has a pool, it attracts a lot of families. It seemed popular with monied twentysomethings who prioritize WiFi over history. Also there were a lot of Russian and Korean guests when I was there. Everyone (except the families) seemed to keep to themselves and that was fine with me. 

Highlight of the Hotel: To me the highlight of the hotel is the pool. After having been in stunning pools throughout the world, the JW Venice doesn't come close. However, it has a decent view and is well attended. Venice is a city that requires a lot of walking so the pool is a much needed haven after hours of hoofing it on the cobbled streets. 

Highlight of the Stay: I rarely wear a hotel robe. Who knows if its been worn before or if its clean? Half the time they have the texture of sandpaper. It's just not my thing. However, the robes in the room were incredibly plush and soft and I made a habit of wearing them. Sadly, at a hotel of this calibre, I would have expected the highlight to be something a bit more substantial. 

Drawbacks: There is a bit of a list here so I apologize. The hotel is on a private island and too far away from the main attractions of Venice. You are at the mercy of the hotel shuttle-boat and the last transfer from Venice to the hotel is at 12:30am. A quote for a water-taxi to the hotel was 300 euros so you don't want to miss the hotel's shuttle-boat. There were some glitches with the technology in my room. A Light-switch was crosswired and a coffee machine had an alarm on it that went off daily at 3 am. It was quickly unplugged. The hotel lacks character and after a day of exploring Venice, it is a bit disappointing to come back to this minimalist business style hotel. Finally, Venice is a logistically difficult city to travel within. If you arrive via the train station, you'll need to take the water bus and several flights of stairs up and down to get to the dock where the hotel shuttle-boat is. I had two suitcases and it was an absolute nightmare. If you are arriving at the airport, don't bother with anything besides a private water taxi. It'll cost 200 euros including tip but there really is no other sane way. On your way back to the airport, check with the concierge to see if any other guests are interested in sharing the taxi and splitting the fare.

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Rome Cavalieri

Rome Cavalieri

Rome Cavalieri

Address: Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101, 00136 Roma, Italy

Phone: +39 06 35091

https://romecavalieri.com/

My Rating: 95%

Price Rating: $$$$$

Check out our video tour of the Rome Cavalieri and see the penthouse that Leonardo DiCaprio's stayed in for 6 months.

Summary of Stay: I started my Italian vacation at the 5 Star Rome Cavalieri before a 2 week cruise. The hotel looked almost too good to be true from it's’ reviews, photos and ratings. Naturally I was skeptical. However, from the moment I arrived in my chauffeured BMW, I knew that this hotel was deserving of all of its accolades. I also understood why Leonardo DiCaprio called the Rome Cavalieri home for 6 months while he was in town filming. (Check out the YouTube video to get a glimpse of the spectacular penthouse he stayed in!)

Upon exiting the vehicle, the perfumed gardens greet you before the attentive staff have an opportunity. My bags were quickly whisked out of the vehicle and I was welcomed by a door man who showed me to the reception desk. From here, I was escorted to a private area where a cosy chair and drink were offered to me. Check in was quick and simple and the check-in staff were very welcoming. The same check-in agent, took me up to my room and gave a quick tour of the suite and gave me an overview of the property. 

Entrance

Entrance

The Vista Suite was extremely spacious and had a lovely layout with a view over the city and pool area. Had I been a floor or two higher, I would have seen the Vatican from my balcony. The balcony was furnished with two chairs and a small table. Back indoors, there was a very comfortable sitting area with a sofa, two oversized chairs, a flatscreen television and marble fireplace. There was also a large desk—but luckily I didn't need to use it. The king size bed was extremely comfortable and had 3 different sizes of pillows so you could easily find the one that fit best. The property has a renowned art collection and each suite has historical and original art on it’s walls. Moving towards the entrance, there are 3 closets with very ample storage, safe and plenty of hangers. And of course, the mini bar was perfectly stocked with top shelf liquors and snacks. The marble bathroom was roughly the size of a bowling lane—very long and narrow but well laid out. The walk in shower to your right, then further along sinks and vanity area, and further beyond is the bathtub, bidet and toilet. Another nice touch was the Tuscan toiletries by Italian fashion designer Salvatore Ferragamo (including eye cream, face masks, soaps, etc).

My Vista Suite...

My Vista Suite...

The hotel’s classic European style is everything you’d expect from an iconic 5 star hotel but it doesn’t lack the modern amenities we have grown accustomed to. Rooms are draped in expensive silk fabrics and black-out curtains and the recessed coloured LED lighting accentuates it nicely. The desk is ornate and grandiose, but it also offers both European and North American plug-ins. The wall mirror in the bathroom doubles as a television—while I didn’t watch TV while I got ready, it was useful to update me on the weather and news highlights. 

One of the reasons I was so drawn to this hotel was it’s lovely pool areas. The hotel boasts one indoor pool and 3 outdoor pools—set among 15 acres of private gardens. There are several poolside attendants to help set up chairs, get towels and to offer drink service. Beyond the pools, there is a state-of-the-art gym that was just renovated and reopened before I arrived. The gym has everything from personal trainers to a variety of fitness classes. There are also two clay tennis courts and a jogging circuit. If you are looking for something more relaxing, the Grand Spa is the perfect spot to get a massage or a facial. 

IMG_5690.JPG

The hotel also has a few dining options that are worth bragging about. La Pergola is Rome's only 3 Michelin star restaurant and proudly sits atop the hotel. Under the reign of chef Heinz Beck, La Pergola serves the very finest in Italian cuisine while providing panoramic views of Vatican City and Rome. L'Uliveto Restaurant, Cavalieri's less formal option, is open morning, noon and night. The restaurant excels at both local and international dishes. In warmer months, tables spill out over the terraced steps that overlook the pool. I had breakfast here and was amazed by the selection and quality of the foods. Furthermore, the service was incredible and although breakfast was served as a buffet, I received better attention than almost any other restaurant I've been to in ages. The orange juice was delightful and I had the best spring roll of my life. Sunday brunch here is done in a big way and it is a destination in and of itself. Beyond the two restaurants, the Imperial Lounge is a private club-floor lounge open to suite guests. It is the perfect place to grab a drink, have afternoon tea or read the morning paper with danish. The concierge in the Imperial Lounge was especially helpful in making some last minute arrangements and printing off some documents for me. 

Breakfast at L'Uliveto

Breakfast at L'Uliveto

A few things to note about the hotel is that it is about 15 minutes from the city centre of Rome. Don't let this deter you as the hotel offers a shuttle directly to the Spanish steps and from here you can walk anywhere in central Rome. Also, hotels with incredible pools always attract families but the children I encountered here were quiet, polite and always well behaved. 

Finally, my stay at the Rome Cavalieri was near perfect. Looking back there were only 2 strikes against the property. #1 - The telephone operator did not call me back to confirm my late check out, but when I called back she apologized and was able to grant my request. #2 - I got an electrical zap from a poorly grounded lamp on the desk in my room. But beyond those two minor incidents, the hotel and the service exceeded my expectations in every way. It's been a long time since a hotel truly wowed me and it was the perfect way to kick off my European vacation.

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Majestic Hôtel-Spa

Majestic Hôtel-Spa

Majestic Hôtel-Spa

30 rue La Pérouse

Paris, France 75116

Tel: + 33 (0)1 45 00 83 70

http://www.leshotelsbaverez.com/en/home/majestic-hotel-spa/

My Rating: 84%

Price Rating: $$$$

Summary of Stay: I actually had no plans to stay at the Majestic; I was booked at their sister property, Hotel Regina. There was a computer issue and Hotel Regina was overbooked and they called me the day of, asking/telling very politely that I had been bumped to the Majestic. They mentioned it had a pool and I stopped listening after that. 

Hotel Regina, Raphael and Majestic are all 5 star properties owned and operated by Les Hôtels Bavarez. All three specialize in delivering Parisian charm to their guests.

The Majestic is not a grand old hotel—the lobby is clean, modern and slightly underwhelming. Beyond the marbled floors lay colorful couches that lead to an attractive lobby bar and standard concierge desk. Towards the elevators is a very small restaurant that is mostly used for breakfast. Overall the main floor is a bit disappointing compared to the finishes of the rest of the building. 

Check-in and concierge desk at main entrance

Check-in and concierge desk at main entrance

Lobby bar

Lobby bar

I was upgraded to the Prestige Suite which was a true delight. It was the entire top floor of the hotel and had terraces on both sides. The suite was at least 1200 sq. feet and included 2 bathrooms, full kitchen and dining room, living room and two outdoor living sets on the terraces. All the rooms were decorated in old world French charm with deep rich colours and fabrics. When the suite was last renovated, a lot of thought was been given to the finishes and functionality. Abundant lighting, oversized closets and storage, oversized tub with outdoor view and modern kitchen all add to the comfort and elegance of the suite. You really need to watch the video to be able to take it all in. 

Living room

Living room

Bathroom view while having a bath

Bathroom view while having a bath

Service at the hotel, with the exception of the concierge desk, was very consistent. Staff at the restaurant were warm and welcoming. Turn down service was basic but there. The bellmen were quick, efficient and helpful. 

Highlight of the Hotel: The clear highlight of the hotel is it's spa area. It has a full service spa where you can get an assortment of treatments. The rooms are modern, spacious and lit more like a nightclub than a traditional spa. The fitness facility is where I spent most of my time. The gym is surprisingly equipped with all the modern machines you'd find at any top rate gym. It is spacious, well ventilated and bright. The pool is in contrast dimmer lit so that the ambient lighting takes full effect. It is a private oasis away from the hectic city. The area is beautifully tiled and really sets this hotel apart from others. I made sure I came down for a swim each afternoon and morning.  In addition to the pool, there are also infrared saunas and steam showers to use. The pool area does attract families to the hotel - and if I had kids, this would be an ideal choice. 

Highlight of the Stay: The highlight of my stay was my room and the views. The view of the Eiffel tower and the Sacre Coeur was priceless. I spent every moment I could on the terrace. I had champagne out on the terrace at night and watched the light show on the tower. In the morning I had my coffee and breakfast out there overlooking the Parisian rooftops. To have such wonderful outdoor space is a rarity in Paris and I wanted to take full advantage of it. 

Drawbacks: The main criticism of the hotel stem from a few difficulties I had with the concierge staff. Most of these involved getting taxis. On one occasion they asked where I was going and I told them (a popular store on the the Champs-Élyséees) - they called a taxi which I waited 30 minutes for. However, no one told me it was a 5 minute walk. Another time they got me a taxi to the airport, the taxi charged me the 7 Euro surcharge for an advance call, when the surcharge should have been 4 Euro as the concierge had just called them when I came down to leave. Also, the hotel is across from the Peninsula which I saw had a regular taxi line, so you can just walk across the street, get a taxi instantly and with NO surcharge. I also asked them to move back a dinner reservation for me which the concierges seemed very confused about - but they eventually got it changed with a few clicks on the computers. The concierge team was very eager, but I don't believe they have the training that they require to provide the level of service a 5 star hotel requires. Finally, be aware that the hotel is at the Arc de Triomphe - not nearly as central as the Hotel Regina or Hotel Raphael. So be prepared to walk or taxi where you need to go. 

Flowers throughout the property

Flowers throughout the property

Lovely common areas

Lovely common areas

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Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme

Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme

Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme

5 Rue de la Paix, 75002 Paris, France

Phone: +33 1 58 71 12 34

http://www.paris.vendome.hyatt.com/

My Rating: 76%

Price Rating: $$$$$

Summary of Stay: So this is a difficult review to write. But I'll clarify everything momentarily. The hotel is a 5 star property that I think is best targeted to business clientele. It has almost every amenity you would expect (minus a pool) but also comes along with a cool, impersonal approach. The hotel lacks charm and personality even though rooms start at $1000/night. It is consistently rated one of the top 5 hotels in Paris and one of the top 50 in the world. But lets get down to particulars.

The lobby area is nice and bright and there is a courtyard which is the jewel of the hotel. Flowering trees and canopied tables offer a space that is functional and beautiful. The entrance and check-in area are a long hallway of marble. It is slightly unwelcoming if not for the half dozen 'bonjours' you'll receive from the doormen, security, concierge, hostess, etc as you walk to check-in. 

Restaurant off the lobby

Restaurant off the lobby

Checking in was quick and easy and the attendants spoke perfect English. Up to my room and my luggage was not far behind me. Also surprising, no luggage tags were given during my entire stay—even when I stored luggage after check-out. I'm going to assume that the staff are just that good that they don't require using them. 

The room was a decent size with plenty of natural light. Upon reserving, I had requested a room with a balcony and that is exactly what I got. It had a small terrace area with trees and shrubs that just added some much needed French charm to an otherwise standard room. Looking back at my hotel room, there are really only two things that set it apart from any other business hotel that I've stayed at. 1) The statues around the room that were incorporated into the lamps, etc. They were interesting and perhaps a bit too much for a small space, but definitely unique. 2) The gold fixtures in the bathrooms that added a nice touch of luxury. 

But first, I like to point out the good things. The closet was well designed and gave enough room for luggage. The bed was comfortable and the view of the courtyard was decent (if I wasn't going to have a view of the Eiffel Tower!). There was an excess of lighting so really you could have any lighting possibility you required. The complimentary oversized bottles of Evian were nice and not common in Paris hotels. Turn down service came very early, but was nice to see. 

So then the hiccups came. I had spent the afternoon in my room unpacking and everything was fine. The room temperature was great and I really did begin to unwind. I went out for a late dinner and when I returned around midnight, the temperature of my room had gone from 18C to 27C. It was like an oven. I checked the AC and it was still reading 17.5C (I'm Canadian—I like a cool room). So I called down to the front desk and a technician was at my door within 15 minutes. He didn't speak English but he figured out that there was a problem when he opened the door. He tirelessly worked on the AC until about 2:15 am. At this point, I was tired and drained from the heat and just wanted to go to bed. I opened the windows and told him I needed to go to sleep. By now there was no more hot air blowing at least. I know hotels are going to have technical failings—and I'm not going to rate them based on that. However, it is how they deal with it that concerns me. At no time did anyone at the hotel offer to switch my room to one that was less tropical. That should have been the fist step.

I slept in as I was tired and didn't fall asleep till almost 3:30am when I finally cooled down. Check out was at noon and I had arranged a late check out until 2 pm. Laying in bed trying to get in a few more winks, I heard my door open and a man came in. Seconds later, after him seeing me sleeping, he apologetically spoke several French words and abruptly left the room. I assume he was another technician that came to look at the air conditioning unit. However, he didn't knock on my door or ring the doorbell. This is unacceptable. 

Now...the hotel's Manager of Rooms and Service did meet me at check-out and apologized personally for everything that happened. They suggested a way to make up for the stay which I accepted. I don't believe that this is something that would normally occur at a stay at any Park Hyatt, but perhaps for them, it was unfortunate that it happened to someone with a blog. Again, they did try and correct the situation as best as they could, which is why they weren't rated lower. 

Highlight of the Hotel: When I think back about the hotel, not a lot grabs me. However, I did enjoy the balcony I had. I had champagne out there after a long day of shopping and it was nice to have a piece of outdoor space in a busy city like Paris. Also, the location really is ideal as it is in the very heart of everything. Great shops, restaurants and the Seine are just steps away. 

Highlight of the Stay: Where the hotel shines is it's concierge team. Sebastian especially should win an MVP award. Every recommendation the team made was impressive—from shopping to food to entertainment. The dinner reservation that Sebastian made for me was perfectly suited to me in terms of atmosphere, quality and charm. This dinner turned out to be one of my best memories of Paris. I really think that they have one of the best concierge teams around.

Drawbacks: I've already discussed the details of my stay and the happenings there. Beyond that, I think the main drawback to this hotel is the lack of charm. This hotel has incredible potential: perfect location, awesome bones, qualified staff, stunning courtyard, palace distinction, etc. However, the hotel is forgettable. The next time they do a redesign or remodel, I think they should lean on stronger French influences and go upscale Parisian chic versus NYC boardroom. 

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Maison Souquet

Maison Souquet

Maison Souquet

10 Rue de Bruxelles,  

Paris, France 75009

Phone:+33 1 48 78 55 55

http://www.maisonsouquet.com/

My Rating: 93%

Price Rating: $$$$$

Summary of Stay: Maison Souquet is a converted 'pleasure house' from the days when the Moulin Rouge was at it's highest glory. Set in Montmartre and a minutes walk to the cabarets, Maison Souquet can easily be classified as the sexiest hotel in Paris. But this is more than just a hotel swathed in silks and velvet—the hotel is a cut above the rest based on personal service and attention to detail.

The hotel is small luxury boutique with only 20 suites. Every guest is greeted by name and the staff make a huge effort to get know each one personally. They make it very clear upon check in that whatever you wish, they can get for you, be it a Belgian microbrew or tickets to a sold out show. They pride themselves on being able to deliver. 

Hallway to the bar and outdoor area

Hallway to the bar and outdoor area

The rooms are ornate and decorated liked the inside of a jewel box in the Belle Epoque style. This style transport you back to the set of the Moulin Rouge movie where you can imagine Nicole Kidman entertained her gentlemen callers. Because of the nature of the building, the deluxe rooms are on the small side as seen in my video. I strongly recommend booking the junior suites as they really are worth every penny. 

The junior suite I was in.

The junior suite I was in.

The hotel has an incredible bar on the first floor where I was treated to a complimentary signature cocktail. Again, your wish is their command. They will make whatever cocktail you desire, and considering their collection of rare spirits, it won't be difficult for them. Beyond the bar, is a beautiful sun room bathed in natural light that is used as a breakfast room. But honestly, this is the kind of hotel that I would not expect the crowd to be up early enough for breakfast. This hotel draws an international crowd that enjoys decadence and late nights. 

Bar area

Bar area

Highlight of the Hotel: Nikolas the butler. It seemed like he worked 24/7 and was always there when anything was requested. Nikolas is exceptional at his job and just makes great things amazing. From assistance with packing, to giving me a tour of the hotel, to ensuring my dinner reservations were looked after, and making sure I booked my spa appointments, Nikolas looked after everything. When I was in the spa, he brought down a signature cocktail adorned with rose petals. When I moved rooms, he and the room attendant packed up everything and moved me into the new suite. When Nikolas saw that I had come back to the hotel with a few bottles of champagne, moments later he was at my door with an ice bucket and champagne flutes. This is the service that often lacks in other 5 star properties. Although it wasn't the case, I felt like Nikolas was my own private butler by the incredible service he provided. 

Lobby

Lobby

Highlight of the Stay: It's rare to find a 5 star hotel in Paris with a pool. It's extraordinary to find one where you have the entire pool and spa to yourself. As a guest of the hotel, you are entitled to 1 private hour at the spa. It is a treat after a day walking around the city. They have a treatment room as part of the facility where you can book an array of massages and facials. The eucalyptus steam room with star-like lighting was great to renew myself. And then to have to a private pool to plunge into afterwards...well it brought me back to life after a great night out. This really was a priceless experience. 

Private spa area

Private spa area

Drawbacks: Montmartre isn't for everyone. There are some great restaurants and cabarets nearby and the Sacre Coeur is a 15 minute walk, but there is very little shopping nearby. The metro is a 3 minute walk which can get you anywhere you want to be. But the small distance away from the main centre is a small price to pay to be at Paris's coolest address. 

View from the junior suite I had

View from the junior suite I had

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Marquis Faubourg Saint-Honore

Marquis Faubourg Saint-Honore

Marquis Faubourg Saint-Honore

8 Rue D'Anjou, 

Paris, Île-de-France, 75008

Tel: +33 (0)1 44 80 00 00

http://www.marquisfaubourgsainthonore.com/fr

 

My Rating: 87%

Price Rating: $$$$$

Summary of Stay: I spent four nights here at the Marquis on my recent trip to Paris. The hotel is a luxury boutique hotel right in the middle of the world's best shopping. Literally, Hermes, Chanel, Louboutin, YSL and Dior are just steps away. So if shopping is your reason for visiting Paris, this is the ideal location.

Exterior

Exterior

This hotel is the former residence of the Marquis Lafayette and is an 18th century mansion converted into a 18 suite luxury boutique hotel. There is charm everywhere you look from vintage maps on the walls to historic wainscotting and gilded embellishments. There are orchids in nearly every room bringing a richness and a colour throughout the hotel. 

he hotel's main lobby lounge was always empty even though there was a makeshift bar there. I think the introduction of a happy hour would be a nice way to get the guests down there and have the space used. It really was too beautiful to be under used. 

Lobby

Lobby

My room was a junior suite and was approximately 400 sq feet. There was a tonne of natural light with 3 large dormer windows that looked out onto the street. There was a small dressing area with a closet that proved very handy when packing and unpacking. Plus it gave a distinct area for me to put all my shopping packages. The combined bedroom sitting area was cozy. While the entire room flowed seamlessly, the desk and TV seemed a bit disconnected. Like they hadn't found the perfect piece of furniture so they just built it and put it there. And since it was there, why not put the small flat screen on it? The TV was small, but I never turned it on once in 5 days. The bed was very comfortable and very high thread count sheets. But the real star of the show was the bathroom. Separate walk in shower, clawfoot bathtub, toilet, bidet and double sinks filled out this very large bathroom. But it was all the little extras that put it over the top. Heated marble floors, heated towel rack, plush bathrobes, Hermes toiletries, wired in TV speakers and so much more. The bathroom really was an oasis. I am a total shower guy but even I had to relax in the tub one night.

Junior Suite

Junior Suite

Highlight of the Hotel: I think one of the reasons that I especially enjoyed my stay here was that everything was very well looked after. That is very vague, but its really the only way to describe it. Starting with the property itself, there is not a mark or scuff or blemish anywhere. The hotel is perfectly preserved and maintained. It is rare to find a hotel, especially a historic one, in such perfect condition. Service was spot on. When my luggage arrived late from the airline, it was placed in my closet waiting for me. When I left an unfinished bottle of diet pepsi out overnight, it was thoughtfully placed back in the fridge for me. If I left a sweater thrown over a chair, the room attendant had folded it and laid it on the chair. All the little unasked touches.

Thoughtful welcome

Thoughtful welcome

Highlight of the Stay: Again it comes down to the service here as well and all the little touches. There was a welcome tray with fruit and chocolates upon my arrival. When I asked the front desk attendant/concierge about where I might do some shopping for Parisian brands, he headed me in the right direction. However, when I came back to the hotel, there was an additional list of other brands he had thought about for me. At breakfast, after the first day, the server knew my coffee order (even though the server changed - my coffee order came out consistent). A bit surprised, one day the server asked if I would like an omelette, which I said sure. So the breakfast went far beyond just the basic continental breakfast that was laid out. And besides the omelette being oneof the best I've ever had, the server never minded that I came down 10 minutes before breakfast service ended. 

Bathroom

Bathroom

Drawbacks: Just 3 quick drawbacks that held the hotel from getting a higher score. First, turn down service was inconsistent and I only received it my first night. Next, weeks before my arrival I had emailed the hotel inquiring about a private tour to the Champagne region. I generally like a say in what vineyards I go to and don't need to do all the cellar tours, I'm more there for the tasting and less the show. So I tend to move at a quicker pace and like to do it solo. They got back to me with a quote and confirmed it was private and that it was in a Mercedes. I booked it. The morning of the tour, I get a call from reception saying my van was there. I went down to find a big Mercedes touring van. Ok. Then I joked to the driver and said that the van was awfully big for the 2 of us - which he replied that we had other people to pick up. So it was not a private tour at all - it was perhaps a semi-private because we were a smaller group. But the vineyards we visited were disappointing and overall, I wish that the concierge had done a better job of listening to my request because it really did spoil my outing. Finally, the hotel's neighborhood is very quiet at night and expect to have to go for a good walk in order to find your dinner at night. The concierge recommended one place that I found very overpriced and just average. However there is a really small Italian bistro down the street that was a hidden gem—plain and small but great value and wonderful food. 

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The London Edition

The London Edition

The London Edition

10 Berners St, London W1T 3NP, United Kingdom

Phone:+44 20 7781 0000

http://www.editionhotels.com/london

 

My Rating: 88%

Price Rating: $$$$$

Summary of Stay:

I was looking forward to my stay at the Edition which is the partnership between Ian Schrager and Marriott International. Schrager is a hotel visionary and changed the entire hotel market in New York. Now with the Edition brand, he is taking his expertise to a global market. I spent six nights in total at the London Edition and was very pleased with my stay. The hotel is a bustling hotspot for younger travellers who want an alternative to more traditional London properties. Over the six days, I never saw a staff member over the age of 35. They are all impeccably groomed and sexy. That is likely the best way to describe the London Edition: sexy. From the lush velvet couches and chrome orbs to the dimly lit bar scene and neon ‘O’, this is not your typical London address.

Front Entrance

Front Entrance

Check-in Desk  (photo courtesy of Nikolas Koenig)

Check-in Desk  (photo courtesy of Nikolas Koenig)

Nestled between Fitzrovia, Soho and Oxford circus, the hotel is centrally located to walk to amazing shopping, shows, clubs and world class dining. There are a handful of tube stations within a 10 minute walk to get you elsewhere in the city. The street is quiet, residential and very safe.

Upon arrival, the doormen helped me with my luggage and escorted me to the front desk. The check-in desk is tucked away, making the lobby look more like a private club than a hotel. Check in was seamless and my room was ready even though I was hours ahead of the check-in time. The bellman was at my room waiting with my luggage by the time I got upstairs. Nicola, the front desk agent, showed me up to my room (another nice touch) and walked me through everything in my suite.

Both rooms I had were very bright with natural light. A lot of thought has been given to the planning of the rooms. There are headboard lamps for reading in bed. There are multiple power outlets built into the desk so you don’t have to reach underneath to plug in your computer. The room was stocked with a variety of cocktail glasses, not just typical generic wine and highball glasses. The bed had a plush duvet on it but also had a great faux fur throw—a nice touch so you can have your afternoon nap with it instead of having to mess up the bed. And the fact that it was the exact same faux fur throw that I have at home gets them bonus points.

The room itself is larger than most London hotels. It is wood paneled to try and mimic the inside of a yacht stateroom. The wood paneling adds to the richness and coziness of the room without making it feel closed in. My one room had a decent sized closet but you couldn’t easily get to it because of an armchair placed directly in front of it. Rooms also had full black-out curtains which is helpful when you have jet-lag.

The bathrooms were huge. The walk in showers could fit an entire football team. The showers were a real treat and essentially doubled as a steam room. The rest of the washroom was equally spacious with an oversized white porcelain trough sink. The entire washroom was bright white and it had a spa-like feel to it.

The staff, with one exception, are excellent and professional. They greeted me by name on day one and were always very welcoming. I had a few issues with the concierge desk—sometimes they just disappeared and the front desk helped me out. Another time, I emailed the concierge desk regarding a missing item that I think I left at the hotel and have never received a reply. Beyond that, the staff met all expectations.

I didn’t eat at Berner’s Tavern, the formal dining room at the hotel. However, I ordered room service regularly. I think the 2 eggs on toast for 7 British pounds was one of the best deals I saw in all of London. I did also check out the hotel bar. The bartenders were very attentive and have a great knowledge of mixology. They also do a great job of getting drinks to everyone even though the bar can be 5 people deep with people.

Berners Tavern (photo courtesy of Chichaus)

Berners Tavern (photo courtesy of Chichaus)

Highlight of the Hotel: Comfort. The hotel is really built with comfort in mind. The beds and linens are heavenly. The chair at the desk looked cool but terribly uncomfortable—but after sitting for a few hours writing, I was shocked to find how ergonomic it actually was. The showers were a delight. The hardwood floors were a pleasure to walk on after a long day of walking. Turndown service was consistent every night (which for some reason is a rarity in 5 star hotels!) and there was always complimentary water left on the nightstands.

Highlight of the Stay: I slept really well here. I know that sounds obvious but sleep quality is sometimes a rarity in a strange bed. I fell asleep quickly, deeply and woke up refreshed daily. The black-out curtains helped. There was no AC vent blowing directly on me. There was zero outside noise. The room was completely dark. Perhaps the wood paneled room mimicked the yacht enough that I felt rocked to sleep as if I were drifting on the ocean. Probably not, but whatever it was, it was a winning equation.

Lobby and bar (photo courtesy of Nikolas Koenig)

Lobby and bar (photo courtesy of Nikolas Koenig)

Lobby and bar  (photo courtesy of Nikolas Koenig)

Lobby and bar  (photo courtesy of Nikolas Koenig)

Drawbacks: The hotel would have been rated in the 90s if I had gotten a reply to the email I had sent post departure. I would definitely return here and would highly recommend my friends and family stay here. After all the stuffy old hotels in London, it was great to stay somewhere that new how to take a stunning old building and convert it into a modern oasis.

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The Langham London

The Langham London

The Langham London

11 C Portland Pl, London W1B 1JA, United Kingdom
+44 20 7636 1000

http://www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london/

My Rating: 80%
Price Rating: $$$$$

Summary of Stay: The Langham is steeped in deep history having originally opened it's doors in 1865. It is one of the best known traditional hotels in all of London. You may recognize it from James Bond's Goldeneye or a variety of other films. Perfectly situated just blocks from the Oxford Circus tube station, it is in the heart of all the best shopping. 

Upon arrival, you enter into the lobby that is flanked and adorned with beautiful flowers—mostly roses when I was there. The scent and pop of colour are impossible to ignore in the cool marble entrance.  A few steps away, check-in was efficient even though my room wasn't yet ready. My luggage was stowed and was waiting for me in my room when I returned. 

Entry

Entry

The Langham has undergone extensive renovations over the past years. All the common areas have been thoroughly modernized and great care has been taken to restore the hotel to its original glory.

My room was comfortable but disappointingly less interesting than I had hoped for. It was basic and on the small side. The bathroom seemed disproportionately large compared to the rest of the room. The toiletries were oversized and delightfully pleasant. The hallway carpets just outside of my room were dirty and there were food scraps there that remained for several hours. Otherwise, the property was pristine. 

I also visited Artesian—the hotel's cocktail bar that has won the title of "World's Best Bar" for 4 consecutive years. That is a pretty lofty title to live up to but it did not disappoint. The drinks are pricey but worth it. I fell in love with my first choice: a gin concoction that was served in a box. When you opened the wooden box, a cloud of smoke came out and your glass was illuminated from below. Here, presentation and taste are everything. 

Artesian Bar in the hotel

Artesian Bar in the hotel

Highlight of the Hotel: It is rare to find a hotel in London with a pool, nevermind a stunningly beautiful one. While the fitness facilities and spa are extremely tricky to get to, they are worth the hunt. The pool is an oasis and I was the only one there when I visited. Another bonus is that hours for younger guests are regulated. So if you want to have quiet time you don't have to worry about sharing it with children. 

Stunning pool

Stunning pool

Highlight of the Stay: The only reason I would return to the hotel is the Langham lounge—a private lounge for hotel guests. The service is better than many Michelin starred restaurants. The cocktails never stopped. The variety of the food was elegant and tasteful. The lounge attendants would stop by and ensure you had everything required to have an amazing day or evening. It was the perfect mix of having a trusted bartender and caring concierge—all wrapped into one. 

Langham Lounge

Langham Lounge

Gilded desserts adorned with flower petals

Gilded desserts adorned with flower petals

Hello cocktails!

Hello cocktails!

Drawbacks: Besides the cleanliness of the hallway and the smaller hotel room, the hotel is what I expected. Did it leave a huge impression on me? No. Was I disappointed? No. 

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Riviera Palm Springs

Riviera Palm Springs

Riviera Palm Springs

1600 North Indian Canyon Drive,

Palm Springs, CA, 92262, United States  

Phone: (760) 327-8311

http://www.rivierapalmsprings.com/

My Rating: 85%

Price Rating: $$$

Summary of Stay:

On a trip to Palm Springs, a friend and I stayed at the Riviera for ten days. Like every hotel in Palm Springs, weekend stays are much more expensive than weekday stays. When I spoke to Reservations, they were willing to extend the weekday price to us because of the length of our stay. This saved us over $2000 US between the two rooms and it was a great start to personal attention.

We arrived well before check-in time but our rooms were ready for us. Check-in was easy and quick which allowed more time to soak in the bold and colorful lobby of this historic hotel. The attendant gave us clear directions where to park the car closest to our rooms. This was helpful because the resort is large—covering over 21 acres of prime Palm Springs real estate.

Lobby

Lobby

Our rooms were on the ground level and while the buildings are older, everything had been beautifully renovated. I have read several reviews of the property and many people comment on the age of the property. It is a historic property built in the late 1950s. The hotel has been extremely well maintained while preserving the nostalgic charm. Are the walls thin? I’m not sure—I never heard anyone over the ten days. Did I hear people walking above me? Nope. Now let’s focus on the positives! The room is stunningly appointed. You want old Hollywood glamour with a modern twist? Here it is. My deluxe king room was almost 350 sq feet and was flooded with natural light overlooking the pools and gardens. It was exceptionally clean and bright and the pops of color added a playful drama. The art on the walls reflected the bygone era that made this hotel famous.

The hotel has several choices for dining and drinks. Circa59 is it’s main dining room and it is better than average, but not remarkable, with both food and service. The dramatic and sexy Starlite Lounge is the place to have drinks and I suggest you go even if you aren’t a guest of the hotel. It is stylish beyond description and it draws an attractive crowd especially on the weekends. We couldn’t actually get served at Sidebar so we left, so while I can say the service was lousy, I can’t comment on the cocktails. There are also two pool bars that are busy on the weekends with the young Hollywood crowd.

Starlite Lounge

Starlite Lounge

Pool Bar

Pool Bar

Highlight of the Hotel: The highlight of the hotel is it’s pool area. The gardens are perfectly manicured and there were flowers in bloom. There are two pools and plenty of deck chairs to help you work on your tan. There was an abundance of fresh pool towels and bikini-clad servers from the pool bar frequently stopped by to take drink orders.

The pools are on the cool side so they are more enjoyable in the afternoon when the sun is scorching and you need to be refreshed.

On the weekends this really is the place to be seen so bring your sexiest swimsuit and your designer sunglasses and whatever book happens to be on the best-seller’s list.

Finally the pool area must also be seen at night. The hotel does a grand job of illuminating the gardens and the pools. Along every pathway there is a combination of unique and interesting lighting alongside fire-pits and torches. 

Highlight of the Stay: I think the history of the hotel has to be the biggest highlight. The Riviera is drenched with celebrity happenings. While having drinks one night, Reba McEntire glided past us. But the Queen of Country Music is not the only celebrity royalty to stay here. The King, Elvis Presley, and his band were regulars at the hotel. Frank Sinatra made the Presidential Suite home until he finally bought a house a few blocks away. The suite still has a chip on the bathroom sink where a champagne bottle hit that Frank had thrown at wife Ava Gardner. Years later daughter Nancy Sinatra would perform here. Marilyn Monroe was a guest. Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo are rumoured to have skinny-dipped here on more than one occasion. Sonny & Cher, Bob Hope, Raquel Welch and Desi Arnez were regular performers here.

While having celebrities be past guests of the hotel might sound like an odd highlight, when you are there, you feel their spirit and energy. You can imagine Elvis and his entourage loudly parading out to the pool. Marilyn having quiet drinks in the privacy of a cabana. Frank and his crew showing up in convertibles to the front valet. It all adds a richness to the experience.

From left, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Jack Carter perform at the Riviera in Palm Springs. PHOTO COURTESY OF PALMS SPRINGS LIFE ARCHIVES

From left, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Jack Carter perform at the Riviera in Palm Springs. PHOTO COURTESY OF PALMS SPRINGS LIFE ARCHIVES

Elizabeth Taylor poolside

Elizabeth Taylor poolside

Drawbacks: When reading the recent reviews, I saw that most were quite negative. I had an incredible stay here and so I wanted to address a few of the concerns.

  1. Distance. The hotel is not downtown but it is on the main road. Palm Springs is a small town but it requires a car. So this to me was never an issue. If you go out and don’t want to drive, there are plenty of taxis.

  2. Issues with staff. We were treated like royalty, especially by Kitty our reservation agent. The Starwood Group acquired the hotel from Noble House Hotels and perhaps the change in management has negatively affected guest’s stays. But Starwood is usually very consistent and I can’t imagine that what I have read is 100% accurate.

  3. Resort Fee. $35/night - this is an increase to what I paid but it is still not bad considering there are a few perks. In-room coffee, self parking, Wi-Fi, daily newspaper and business centre access. Its getting up there but it’s not terrible. I’ve paid over $75 US per night to park in San Francisco a few hours away.

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Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

900 West Georgia Street

Vancouver

British Columbia, Canada

V6C 2W6

TEL + 1 604 684 3131

www.fairmont.com/hotel-vancouver

My Rating: 84%

Price Rating: $$$$

Summary of Stay: I’ve stayed at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver dozens of times and I have collected any overwhelming number of memories there. I’ve ended a relationship there. I have spent Halloween, Christmas, New Years and my birthday there. I’ve been there with my parents, groups of friends and by myself. It has often been my home while I’ve been in town for concerts, conferences and festivals. The hotel is classic and timeless and always welcoming.

As you approach the hotel, you understand why it is nicknamed the “Castle in the City.” The gothic chateau stands out in a city filled with glass skyscrapers. It’s signature green copper roof can be seen for a mile away and is reminiscent of a classic CP Hotel.

Check in has always been a breeze and the attendants are more friendly and accommodating than at most hotels. Usually I receive an upgrade without asking and the one time I wasn’t happy with my room, I was quickly and easily moved into a lovely corner suite.

This is a historic hotel and rooms are a mixed bag. I was once given a room that was the size of a small walk-in closet—honestly my luggage did not fit in the room. But as mentioned, the hotel swiftly handled my concern and I was moved to a much more spacious room. Most rooms are decently sized and have multiple windows. Nowadays, I tend to book a One-Bedroom suite or a Gold Floor room. The One-Bedroom suites are especially large with a completely separate living room area which is perfect for entertaining. Their Gold Floor lounge is a nice feature of the hotel and just adds to the luxury of any stay. Gold Floor rooms are also a more comfortable alternative to a regular Fairmont room. Rooms are richly and classically appointed and transport you back to 1939 when the hotel originally opened to welcome King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

In recent years, the hotel has undergone some renovations—primarily to the lobby and restaurants. Griffin restaurant shut down and has been converted in to retail space. 900 West has been given a facelift and expanded into a restaurant and lounge renamed Notch8. Notch8 is the Fairmont’s attempt to score points in Vancouver’s trendy culinary scene. Beyond this, room service has always been consistently satisfying.

The hotel has a very well equipped gym on site and it is popular with guests. It also has a large pool and hot tub area which should be the next place renovation money gets allocated. In its current state, it is adequate at best.

The hotel is also home to a few of the best shops in town. Some of the international names include Louis Vuitton, Gucci, St. John and Omega. They can even charge and deliver your purchases directly to your room.

One-Bedroom Suite

One-Bedroom Suite

Fairmont Gold Room

Fairmont Gold Room

Fairmont Gold Lounge

Fairmont Gold Lounge

Highlight of the Hotel: Location, location, location. Vancouver is a very walkable city and Hotel Vancouver is in the centre of it all. In one direction, you can head towards the harbour front and Gastown. Hit the seawall and head down to Stanley Park to check out the totem poles. Go the other direction and you’ll hit trendy Davie St. and the gay village which will lead you down to English bay. Stick right on Robson St. and check out the best shopping in the entire city. Follow Robson down and you run into Yaletown and eventually Chinatown. Just remember to take the hotel umbrella in your room as you never know when you might encounter a drop of rain. And if you time I suggest you take Mavis, the Hotel's Canine Ambassador, for a walk through the neighbourhood. 

Harbour

Harbour

Mavis, the hotel's Canine Ambassador

Mavis, the hotel's Canine Ambassador

Highlight of the Stay: On one instance, my mother and I were staying at the hotel just before Christmas. The Gingerbread Tea, the seasonal version of their afternoon tea, was very highly recommended by the concierge. At that time, tea was served in one of the lounges but now they have relocated it to the Panorama Roof on the 15th floor where you have a beautiful view of the Vancouver skyline. It was certainly a highlight and my mother still talks about their curry chicken sandwiches. (Hotel Vancouver, if you’re reading this I’ll do anything for the recipe!) But afternoon tea is a great tradition and where better to have it than Vancouver’s castle?

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Drawbacks: After 75 years, the hotel occasionally shows it’s age. The pool area needs a refresh and hallways needed a bit of TLC. I miss having more dining options on site but if you walk out the doors, you have hundreds of worthwhile dining options within a 5 minute walk.

Pool area

Pool area

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Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort and Spa

Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort and Spa

Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort and Spa

Address: 158 Ferny Ave, Surfers Paradise QLD 4217, Australia

Phone:+61 7 5592 9800

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/oolsp-surfers-paradise-marriott-resort-and-spa/

Entrance

Entrance

My Rating: 85%

Price Rating: $$$$

Summary of Stay: Surfers Paradise is deserving of it’s name. It is an idyllic spot on Australia’s Gold Coast that has been voted one of the best beaches in the world. Although Surfers Paradise is home to only 20,000 people, it has everything a sophisticated traveller needs.

I booked 10 nights at the Marriott in Surfers Paradise and was initially concerned that I might get bored on the Gold Coast after being in Sydney. But this was most certainly not the case.

Upon checking in, I was greeted by the staff and shown to the front desk. I was welcomed with a glass of champagne and a welcome chocolate. I was still shaking off a bit of a hangover from the night prior in Sydney, but it seemed rude to refuse such a generous gesture. I inquired if there might be any upgrades available and they mentioned that they had already upgraded me to an ocean view room. Perfect. The lobby is massive, stunningly appointed and flooded with light. Lots of thoughtful and interesting decor throughout the main areas.

Lobby

Lobby

I entered my room and it was exactly as shown online. Clean, modern, bright and maybe a bit boring. Luckily there were a few punches of colour to give the room some life. However, the room was more comfortable than it looked. The bed was delightful and soft. The desk was well designed and I spent many hours there writing. The red chair by the window was comfortable enough for me to curl up in and read—so much so that I actually took it out on the balcony to enjoy. I wish I could praise the bathroom as much. Clearly when renovations were being done, the bathrooms were ignored. They were extremely clean but stuck in the 1980s and clearly did not reflect the aesthetic of the rest of the room. A big shout out to a large enough closet to house all my luggage and clothes—not an easy task.

Guestroom

Guestroom

Outdated bathrooms

Outdated bathrooms

The resort is home to a few restaurants and bars. Citrique is the hotel’s big draw and boasts an award-winning seafood buffet—$85 Australian dollars and in my opinion, it’s extremely overpriced for the value. Misono Japanese Steakhouse and Sake Bar seemed out of place in the hotel and I didn’t try it out. There was a silver lining though. I spent several evenings in Chapter and Verse Bar where the staff, cocktails and food were all outstanding. Often I would come down here with a novel and have a relaxed time. The pool bar also hit all the right spots: awesome casual food, friendly service and huge drinks. Sure you pay a small premium for poolside service but it was totally worth it. Did I mention the drinks were awesomely huge? I have to rave about the room service. I rarely indulge in room service because I honestly prefer to dine in a beautiful restaurant with actual service. But the first night I arrived, I just felt like a quiet meal in-room and I was surprised by the quality and the value of the room service. Dialling for a meal became a fairly regular event during my stay. Finally, there is a small cafe by the front doors of the resort. They serve elevated, and pricey, coffee shop fare—gourmet sandwiches, imported snacks and the perfect cup of java. I would usually get my breakfast here each morning before heading out.

Citrique's seafood buffet

Citrique's seafood buffet

Chapter & Verse Bar

Chapter & Verse Bar

Highlight of the Hotel: It would be quite a challenge to find a hotel in the area that has a better pool area. Sandy beach on site. Check. Several grottos and lazy river. Check. Massive hot tub. Check. Waterfalls. Check. Quiet pool areas. Check. Saltwater lagoon filled with tropical fish where you can swim and snorkel. Check. Full bar. Check. Gigantic tropical tiki drinks. Check.

White sand beach

White sand beach

Highlight of the Stay: As mentioned, I was worried that I might get bored by myself on the coast for a week and half. The concierge team ensured that did not happen. They were a wealth of information and helped with everything from dinner reservations to arranging private transportation. The real highlights were a number of the tours they suggested for me:

  • Fly-in snorkeling tour of the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island (Amazing)

  • Trip to Currumbin Animal Sanctuary (Incredible)

  • Sky High Afternoon Tea at Q1 Seventy7 Cafe (Mind-blowing views, mediocre tea service)

  • Private Hinterland and winery tour in a Hummer (Very Enjoyable)

  • Mount Tambourine Glow Worm Caves and Observatory Tour (Just ok)

Drawbacks: I had a wonderful stay at the hotel but I was disappointed with a couple things. Citrique was a big disappointment and certainly did not live up to the hype. Guestroom bathrooms really need a refresh. Also, I think the hotel is large enough that it should have an airport shuttle bus. I recall the taxi ride being rather steep.

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Cheeca Lodge & Spa

Cheeca Lodge & Spa

Cheeca Lodge & Spa

Address: 81801 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036, United States

Phone: +1 305-712-7166

http://www.cheeca.com/

My Rating: 84%

Price Rating: $$$$

Summary of Stay: After a week in Miami, I took my parents down to the Florida Keys to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. I had searched the internet for a resort that was away from the party scene of Key West but would give the full experience of being in the Keys. I finally picked the Cheeca Lodge and booked our rooms.

Islamorada is approximately an hour and a half drive from Miami and Key West is another 2 hours further. The village of Islamorada is made up of several keys and the resort is situated on Upper Matecumbe Key. The drive along the keys is beautiful and serene. Any anxious drivers, including my mother, do not need to worry as the roads are spacious and side-guarded. It is easily one of the most amazing drives I’ve ever done.

Overseas Highway 

Overseas Highway 

Turning into the driveway of the hotel, you are surrounded by lush tropical gardens on both side as you are greeted by a security guard at the gate. Within moments of confirming us, we were driving past the 9 hole golf course and up to the main lodge. We were promptly greeted by the bell staff and ushered in towards the check-in desk. We were upgraded to One Bedroom Suites and were shown where they were located on the property.
Our suite, although not an ocean-view, was oversized and well appointed. Nearing almost 700 sq. feet, it was more like a fully furnished condo than a regular hotel room. It was equipped with a fully stocked kitchen with bar stools, small dining table and a large living room with full media center. The separate bedroom had a king bed and room to spare—this lead into the spa bathroom with jacuzzi tub and glassed in rain shower. The large screened-in balcony was comfortably furnished and we spent most nights out there. The entire room was exceedingly clean and every day I was impressed with the thoroughness of the housekeeping staff.

~P  hoto courtesy of Cheeca Lodge & Spa

~Photo courtesy of Cheeca Lodge & Spa

The hotel is luxurious but it has a very comfortable homey feeling—like you come here every weekend. Furniture, be it at the pool or in-room, were clearly selected with comfort in mind. The mindfulness of screening-in the balcony is brilliant. The staff at the property know you by name and remember your preferences. For instance, every time I went to the pool, one of the attendants would instantly bring over a beach umbrella after I requested one the first day we arrived.

~P  hoto courtesy of Cheeca Lodge & Spa

~Photo courtesy of Cheeca Lodge & Spa

~P  hoto courtesy of Cheeca Lodge & Spa

~Photo courtesy of Cheeca Lodge & Spa

Highlight of the Hotel: The hotel has wonderful recreation facilities that are all included with your resort fee. There are 2 heated pools as well as the manicured beach area. One pool is adults-only and this keeps it peaceful for those wanting a quieter scene. The main pool is nestled near the beach and really does make you feel the tropical quality of the islands. My mom even commented that the resort reminded her of our time in Maui. The gym has state-of-the-art equipment with strong air-conditioning (necessary in Florida) and offers fitness classes. There are 6 tennis courts hosted by a USTA professional who can help you improve your swing. You can hit the 9 hole executive golf course that was designed by Jack Nicklaus. There are paddle boards, sea-kayaks and bicycles available for your use. One day my dad signed out a fishing rod and caught a fish ‘this big’ at the end of the hotel’s 525 ft pier.

~P  hoto courtesy of Cheeca Lodge & Spa

~Photo courtesy of Cheeca Lodge & Spa

If you are coming with kids, the hotel has Camp Cheeca—an eco-focused day camp for kids aged 5-12. They offer a variety of activities from swimming, scavenger hunts, fishing and arts and crafts. I’m a fan of hotels that have activities available for kids to allow parents time to themselves. And while there were kids at the resort they very well behaved and well mannered.

Highlight of the Stay: Beyond the overwhelming recreational activities available at the hotel, there is so much to do in the vicinity.  One afternoon was spent swimming with and training the dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center—definitely worth checking out (https://www.dolphins.org). Another day was spent at the Turtle Hospital where you can take tours of their facilities and learn about the sea turtles up close (http://www.turtlehospital.org/). There are also some incredible restaurants in the nearby area with our favourite being Chef Michael’s. Make sure you order the hogfish! (http://foodtotalkabout.com). This gem of a restaurant is within walking distance of the resort. 

Hogfish at Chef Michaels

Hogfish at Chef Michaels

Drawbacks: As I mentioned before, this hotel is designed for relaxation. If you are looking for a more lively scene, head to Key West or Miami. Beyond that, the hotel also has a daily resort fee of $45 + 12.5% tax. The food at the hotel was ok but nothing memorable. 
 

Dining by the pier  ~P  hotoog H courtesy of Cheeca Lodge & Spa

Dining by the pier ~Photoog H courtesy of Cheeca Lodge & Spa

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Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa

Address: 100 Boyes Blvd, Sonoma, CA 95476, United States

Phone:+1 707-938-9000

http://www.fairmont.com/sonoma/

Beautiful fountain by the hotel entrance

Beautiful fountain by the hotel entrance

My Rating: 91%

Price Rating: $$$$

Summary of Stay: I have stayed at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn five times before and every time I am impressed with it’s consistency. They have a talent of making a trip or getaway into an unforgettable memory. The resort is an oasis for relaxation.

This historic hotel was originally built in the late 1800s but burnt down in 1923. This hotel was built on the site of the Boyes Hot Springs. A larger hotel was rebuilt in 1927 in the Spanish mission style. Sadly, the hotel fell into receivership during the Great Depression and remained closed until 1933. Since then it has undergone numerous renovations to revive the hotel back to it’s former bright pink glory. The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is also a member of the Historic Hotels of America.

On our latest stay, as we drove up the keyhole driveway to the valet, we could not help but notice the line-up of Teslas in the drive. The hotel offers free parking to hybrid vehicles as part of it’s Green Partnership Program. As we walked to the lobby and past their lawns, I noticed signs that said “Brown is the New Green” and that they were watering their grass less because of the California drought. The hotel is clearly dedicated to the environment and it was nice to see.

Lobby

Lobby

Check in was quick and easy and the front desk attendant was fun and welcoming. Because we were staying at the hotel over a holiday they suggested that we speak with the concierge team to make dining reservations. The concierges did a great job of coordinating everything for us for our stay.

I had booked a Wine Country Junior Suite and had a beautiful patio that looked out over the gardens. The suite was spacious, comfortable and in pristine condition. It had everything I would want in a suite: generous seating area, jacuzzi tub, spa shower, mini bar, big flat screen television and fireplace. I have also stayed in the Mission Suite, which is nice, but I much prefer the Junior Suites for the layout.

Wine Country Junior Suite

Wine Country Junior Suite

Sitting area

Sitting area

Spacious bathroom

Spacious bathroom

Dining at the hotel is a bit of a treat. My friends raved daily about the room service (Lemon pancakes are to die for). North 38 is a relaxed atmosphere for a casual dinner or just a glass of wine. The hotel offers a complimentary wine hour with local wines alongside a variety of cheese pairings at a cost. The cheeses were exceptional and worth every penny. Sante is the formal dining option at the hotel and has won both AAA 4 Diamond and Michelin star designations.

North 38

North 38

Sante

Sante

Highlight of the Hotel: The Spa is an exceptional destination on its own. It has regularly been ranked one of the top 10 spas in America and rightfully so. The 40,000 sq foot spa facility sits atop the Boyes thermal springs which is said to have healing properties. The mineral water has lead to their unique bathing ritual that includes several thermal soaks, a eucalyptus steam and cool plunge showers. I’ve had 6 massages at the spa over the years and they have been excellent except one. The spa also offers watsu massage—an in-water massage that takes place in one of the thermal pools. Other signature experiences include the Sonoma Lavender Facial, the Wine-Country Recovery and the Chardonnay Olive Oil Body Scrub. If you are planning to visit, be sure to check out their monthly special and remember that Fairmont Presidents club members get a discount on spa services.

Watsu Pool at the Spa

Watsu Pool at the Spa

Spa area

Spa area

Highlight of the Stay: The hotel does everything it can do to help its’ guests relax. The spa is wonderful and I make it my main priority during each stay. There is a welcome bottle of wine in your room to help you unwind. There is a gentle hint of woodsmoke in the air from the multiple fire-pits throughout the property. Every twenty steps or so you can hear the gentle streaming of water from one of the numerous water features around the property. Even the signature apricot toiletries (which they discontinued using but if you request it, they will supply) have a marvelous relaxing perfume. Furthermore, if you want to go into town, just ask the valet for a drive so you don’t have to worry about driving or getting a taxi. One less thing to worry about.

Drawbacks: If you are staying in one of the suites, they are sprinkled around the resort and finding them is often like working through a maze. Especially if you’ve had a glass or wine of two. Beyond that, the outdoor heated pool was sadly too cold for us to use in the winter months.

 

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Bellagio Las Vegas

Bellagio Las Vegas

Bellagio Las Vegas

3600 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109, United States

+1 888-987-6667

www.bellagio.com

My Rating: 91%

Price Rating: $$$$

Summary of Stay: The Bellagio is a landmark in Vegas and rightfully so. I’ve stayed at this hotel more than a dozen times and during each stay I find yet another thing that impresses me. But let’s start from the beginning.

As your vehicle pulls up along Las Vegas Boulevard, it’s impossible not to be taken in by the 8 acre fountain lagoon. In action, these fountains have literally stopped traffic as tourists want to take in the largest free show along the strip. With over 1200 nozzles, 450 lights and synchronized to various famous pieces of music, the fountains hit heights of over 450 feet.

Fountain from above

Fountain from above

When you pull up to the main entrance, you notice the large bank of doors that leads to the nearly 4000 rooms inside. Through the doors it is impossible not to have your breath taken away by the 2000 hand-blown glass flowers, by famed artist Chihuly, that adorn the ceiling. The vivid colors and intricate lines draw your eye upwards and past the lobby to the sun-soaked conservatory. The conservatory hosts seasonal floral displays of the grandest scale. Animatronic parts, waterfalls, larger than life animals completely made of flowers can be found in their often changing exhibits.

Chihuly hand-blown glass flowers on the ceiling of the lobby

Chihuly hand-blown glass flowers on the ceiling of the lobby

Conservatory Display - Summer 2015

Conservatory Display - Summer 2015

Because I treat gambling like a sport, I can bypass the check-in lines and go to the ‘Invited-Guests Only’ check in attendants. Unless you are staying at a 5 star boutique hotel in Vegas, you’ll likely have to wait in a line. But don’t worry - they move quickly and there is usually a half dozen attendants or more working to get guests quickly checked in.

There are a variety of room choices at the Bellagio - from private villas and presidential suites to resort and fountain view deluxe rooms. I generally get a Salone suite - which has a tasteful living area and an expanded bathroom with a tub that has a floor to ceiling window. This suite is roughly 850 sq feet and have varying views. The rooms live up to the 5 star standard and you notice it everywhere from the plushness of the towels to the stunning wall paper to the impeccable cleanliness. In 2011, the hotel spent more than $70 million on upgrading the rooms of the main tower, but honestly, the rooms have always been pristine when I’ve visited.

The Bellagio resort has an incredible pool facility for it’s guests. Towering cypress trees line opulent pools that looks like Venus designed them herself. Though the pool area can get busy and loud on weekends during summer, the rest of the time you’ll have no issue finding a pool chair and relaxing. If you plan to spend a day poolside, I highly recommend booking a cabana for added comfort and privacy. Not far from the pool is the Spa - which I have heard good things about but have yet to try.

I have heard people ask why they should spend much money on a hotel in Las Vegas when they are barely in the room. Well there are several important factors to consider. The hotels in Vegas are actually the main attraction. If you want to stay at a non-descript inn down the road you can, but you’ll be envious of the glamour and appeal and luxury of these hotels. And if you plan to spend very little time in the room, you better be somewhere you can rest perfectly and sleep well. Lower budget hotels aren’t going to have black out curtains, perfect air conditioning, sound-proof rooms and 24 hour room service. Finally most people go to Vegas for an average of 3-4 nights so splurge. Live the high life and treat yourself in a city that knows how to take care of it’s guests.

Lake like lagoon reminiscent of Lake Como

Lake like lagoon reminiscent of Lake Como

The Bellagio has some interesting history. It was originally conceived and built by famous hotelier Steve Wynn and was designed after Lake Como town in Italy. The property sits on the original site of the Dunes hotel - but after it was demolished and with a budget of $1.6 Billion, the Bellagio became the most expensive hotel in history when it opened in 1998. Two years later, Steve Wynn sold his company, Mirage Resorts (which owned The Mirage, The Bellagio, Treasure Island, Golden Nugget, 50% of Monte Carlo, and more) to MGM Grand Inc. for almost $6.4 Billion. Wynn went on to build a series of namesake hotels including the Wynn and Encore Las Vegas and the Wynn and Encore Macau. Steve Wynn is currently working on his third installment in Macau, the Wynn Palace opening in 2016 and Wynn Boston Harbour in 2018.

Right in the middle of the Vegas Strip

Right in the middle of the Vegas Strip

Highlight of the Hotel: One thing most visitors to Vegas complain about is how much walking they do. Hotels are built on such a grand scale that they actually look closer than they are. One trip I averaged 22 kms/day from walking around casually on the strip. The Bellagio is housed perfectly in the middle of the strip and across the street from Caesars Palace and their Forum Shops, and also adjoined to the City Centre complex via monorail. Whether down the immensely long hallways or half down the strip, you will be walking a lot. So take my advice and spend a premium to be close to the action.

Monorail that links Bellagio to Aria and City Centre

Monorail that links Bellagio to Aria and City Centre

Highlight of the Stay: The hotel is a mecca for all things entertainment. It houses the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art which regularly updates its exhibits. Here you find  world class art from Picasso to Warhol, Faberge eggs to modern sculptures. The casino floor is massive but it also offers something for everyone. Although minimum bids at the tables are often higher than other casinos, the dealers are entertaining and charming and make it worth the premium. ‘O’ by Cirque du Soleil is still one of the hottest shows on the strip and is certainly one of my Top 3. Dining at the hotel is an attraction in itself with restaurants like Michael Mina (see review under Eats + Drinks), Le Cirque, Olives, Jasmines and the 2 Michelin starred Picasso. If you are looking for something more casual the Bellagio Cafe is a personal favourite but the Buffet is one of the best in the city. If you are looking for something more lively, there are several swanky cocktail bars, but the real jackpot is the two headlining ultralounges: Hyde and The Bank. Both venues are celebrity magnets and attract a sexy monied crowd. Dress codes at both are strictly enforced.

'O' by Cirque du Soleil 

'O' by Cirque du Soleil 

The patio at Picasso restaurant, winner of 2 Michelin stars and an incredible view

The patio at Picasso restaurant, winner of 2 Michelin stars and an incredible view

View at Hyde Nightclub

View at Hyde Nightclub

Drawbacks: Vegas can be a busy place and Bellagio is certainly one of the main hubs. While I love staying here, if you are looking for something low key, quiet and relaxing, I would likely pick another destination. Bellagio provides a romantic and whimsical place to stay while being in the heart of all the best the city has to offer.

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