Traveling: Day of “Logistics & Operations”

Posted by Krista on March 14, 2014

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When I travel, I believe in logistics and operations days. These are days where I really don’t do much but travel and check e-mail. Some people might say — like they said to me so often  in Vietnam — “Oh, you so lazy.” But seriously, I am not lazy. I AM BEAT. Traveling is hard. You need downtime. You need to get organized. You need to do laundry. I try to explain this to some people and they just roll their eyes and tell me that surely, I can do better than whatever it is that I am doing. But these people maybe haven’t lived out of a carry-on for two weeks and they probably weren’t up at 5:45 am this morning, either!

When I’m busy, I’m very very busy. When I’m not, I’m NOT.

So let me tell you about my today so far and then you tell me…

5:45 am: Alarm clock rings at Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi. Hop in shower.

6 am: Get dressed, dry hair, etc etc.

6:20 am: Order room service service breakfast, which was included in my room rate. Technically, I should have done this when I hopped into the shower, but my brain wasn’t really functioning at 5:45 am. Sue me.

6:40 am: Room service arrives. Stir-fried noodles with seafood. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE VIETNAM. Seriously…this place is awesome.

6:50 am: Finish breakfast and leave room to check out of hotel, get money from bank machine next to hotel, and pick up a bottle of water from the Club Lounge. (I like to splurge on club floors. A vice of mine. But it saves on breakfast and snacks and etc. so for me, it’s worth it. Especially when traveling alone.) By the time I get back to my room, it’s 7:15 am.

7:20 am: Grab taxi to airport. I have a feeling I will get ripped off. Note to everyone: don’t ever rely on people who never travel to tell you how long it will take to get to the airport. It takes exactly an hour, but they made it seem like it would take 30 minutes. This stresses me out. Also, taxi driver communicates via giggles. Keep reading.

8:20 am: Arrive at airport. Get ripped off by taxi driver, who claims he can’t make change and has seemingly no understanding of my suggestion he get change, and my attempt to get him change. (I swear, all the drivers are in on this “we have no change” thing together.) I make him promise me that he will use the extra money to educate his daughter. More giggles. I get into HUGE CHECK-IN QUEUE. The hugest of hugest check-in queues. Check in around 9:15 am. By the time I’ve gone through immigration and security, it’s 9:35 am.

10:20 am: Flight boards. I’ve been doing laps around the airport for ages. On the plane, I watch an old No Reservations episode about Shanghai and then I start “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. It’s funny…sometimes.

2:15 pm: Plane lands in Shanghai.

2:15 pm to 2:55 pm: Wander around Shanghai airport, trying to change Vietnamese Dong into Chinese Yuan. NO LUCK. No one wants my Vietnamese money!!! Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I am worried this is going to be like all the Tunisian Dinars I’ve had at the bottom of my drawer since like 2008. If you’re ever going to Tunisia, let me know. And do go, their white wine is lovely.

2:55 pm: Get into taxi at Pudong Airport and head into downtown. I feel confident that I will not be ripped off.  Taxi driver speaks English! BONUS.

4 pm: Arrive at hotel. Taxi driver does not rip me off. Check in and go upstairs. Room key doesn’t work. Go back downstairs. Rather than getting new room keys, they give me a new room. (???) Go to new room. Unpack the important stuff, put the other important stuff in the safe, and get laundry bag ready. (Seriously, $6.50 USD to wash my drawers. I should have done more laundry in Vietnam, where they were only $2.50 a pair.) Set up all my devices for charging.

4:45 pm: Check out hotel public areas. There’s a nice food and wine shop, which is a surprise. I also pick up the spa menu and talk to the concierge. He walks me through the map and I pick up tons of brochures. He also tells me where to get a FOOT MASSAGE. I want to live in China just so I can get foot massages forever.

5:15 pm: Install myself at hotel bar with laptop for official “logistics and operations” time. I confirm my tour for tomorrow morning, (Thank you again, Viator!) I book another tour for Tuesday, and I write down all the details of where I need to be when for tomorrow and Sunday. I also make dinner plans with a friend from business school who lives here and then I try to gchat with a London friend but the connection in the bar is wonky, which is drastically cutting into logisitcs and operations time.

6:15 pm: Give up on wifi in bar. Attempt to take a walk around the block to get some air. Walk outside in my summer dress, bare legs and sandals. HOLY SHIT IT’S COLD. Go back to my room. There’s a message waiting for me from my tour guide about tomorrow. Also, I need a corkscrew to drink the 2008 Chinese Chardonnay I’ve picked up from the gift shop on my way back to the room.

6:25 pm: I’ve ended up purchasing an in-room broadband connection because the wifi is so wonky. I finally get back online, Also, corkscrew arrives. The Chinese Chardonnay is OPEN.

So see…it’s 6:30 pm until I’m really settled in a place and I’ve been up for 12+ hours already. I know there’s a lot to see and do in Shanghai, but I’m beat. Room service and Internet it is. Sorry darlings.

7:15 pm: Publish blog post. ;)

 

Posted in China, Hotels, Shanghai, Travel | Comments Off

Review of the Pan Pacific Hotel, Singapore

Posted by Krista on March 8, 2014

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I stayed five nights (four-and-a-half, really, if you consider I arrived at 2 a.m.) at The Pan Pacific Hotel, Singapore and I really enjoyed my stay. It’s a huge conference hotel so it’s a bit soulless at times, but the never-ending wifi connectivity, the awesome pool and gym and the lovely lounge on the top floor with 360 views of Singapore made it a great place to stay for a few days. Here are my pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Attached to multiple shopping malls. At one point, I needed some passport photos. I was a little worried about where I was going to do this, but no worries, one of the malls had a photo booth.
  • Multiple dining options: One afternoon, I had lunch at the Indian restaurant in the Pan Pacific — Rang Mahal — and loved it, even though it was a buffet. (As a rule, I hate buffets. They make me feel both a. gluttonous and b. like I haven’t had enough to eat.) I also ate at the bar one early evening. Really, I only scratched the surface of what they have on offer.
  • Excellent gym, open 24 hours. Only three of the four treadmills were working while I was there though, which was a bit of a bummer during peak hours.
  • The wifi was always connected. None of this signing in every 30 minutes or anything. No username, no password = AWESOME.
  • For each day I stayed, I was allowed to get two pieces of laundry cleaned! If you know what hotel laundry pricing is like, this was a huge deal. This was included in my executive club rate, so it may not be included in other rates.
  • I liked that the hotel doorman remembered me each day.

Cons:

  • Very slow lifts. You would hit the button and sit down because you knew it was going to take forever.
  • I lost my Canon plastic fantastic lens here. (I knew I was going to lose something!) I know I had it in my room and I know it never left the room. I realized it wasn’t in my bag when I got to Vietnam and contacted the hotel immediately. This was roughly eight hours after I left the hotel. They were very sweet and responsive, but no lens. I’m still hopeful it’s somewhere in my suitcase, but it’s not looking good.
  • I thought the Executive Club food in the evenings was only so-so. Not enough variety for me. But I suppose it’s meant for snacks and not for dinner, so there’s that.
  • The bath tub seemed a bit beat up.
  • The window blinds were on remote control. Sometimes I think we over-engineer things. It was hard to get the blinds to come down sometimes. Slightly annoying.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a boutique design hotel, the Pan Pacific ain’t it. But if you’re looking for a hotel that you can easily live in for days on end without ever leaving, this is an excellent choice. When I was comparison shopping, the rate I got at the Pan Pacific got me much more than the rate at surrounding properties, so I was happy with my selection and I would gladly stay here again.

Posted in Hotels, Singapore | Comments Off

Hotel Booking Sites I’m Obsessed With

Posted by Krista on September 21, 2013

Some people like to sit on their couch and watch sports in their spare time. Me, I like to thumb through travel booking sites. All of the travel booking sites. Imagining my next trip. I like to see what the same hotel will cost me on different sites, and if there’s an advantage to booking on one site over another. (Even when I’m not going anywhere.) This was made particularly clear during our trip to Bogota, where Ms. Roam & Home scored us a great discount at the B.O.G. Hotel on Splendia, a new site for me.

If you’re a travel aficionado, I’m probably not going to be telling you anything new. But maybe you don’t know about all these sites. If so, I consider it my duty to tell you. Also, you should really join these sites just for the welcome booking bonuses and referral credits alone.

LuxuryLink.com: $50 credit on your first purchase! Now that’s awesome. I like the global selection of hotels and villas and also the tidy arrangement of what’s on sale (newest, best selling, closing soon, highest percent off retail). Also, they have a selection of vacation packages that are available by auction or “Buy it Now” prices. For example, there’s a great deal at the Miraflores Park Hotel in Lima for two nights for $717 USD. Breakfast for two and massages for two are included in the rate. Visit LuxuryLink.com and search for Miraflores Park Hotel for more info. LuxuryLink.com also includes forums blogs, and live chats too. 17 hotels in London, to give you an indication. Register for LuxuryLink.com now.

Splendia.com: For every friend you invite, you receive a 20 euro credit. Splendia says they offer 3000 luxury hotels worldwide and I just checked out the London selection and it is pretty impressive. (48 hotels as of this writing.) I like the “Splendia Club” aspect which gives you 2% of the total amount paid for a booking as a credit on future bookings. (If you become a Gold member, you’ll get 4%.) My Bogota trip earned me $16.02 for use on a future booking, but you need at least 20 euros to get started using your credits. The site offers a small number of private sales each day. Register for Splendia.com now.

TabletHotels.com. Earn 25 Tablet Credits per reservation and earn 25 credits when your friends book. A Tablet Credit seems to be equivalent to $1 USD but that’s not entirely clear to me just yet. They have 55 London  hotels on their list. I like how if a hotel’s ratings fall below 16 points, they take the hotel off their list. They have a small selection of private sales (there are two active right now), along with a general section of deals. They have travel guides written  by hotel concierges, a magazine, and a cool membership program called “Tablet Plus.” With Tablet Plus, you pay $195 a year and that gives you access to upgrades, special perks, and bonus amenities. Register for TabletHotels.com now.

JetSetter.com: You’ll earn a $25 credit for every friend you refer who makes a booking. They offer 34 London hotels. There are daily deals, which I think is one of the main attractions of JetSetter.com. I love to live vicariously through the daily deals. Also, there are editors’ picks and a magazine. You can also pay $250 for a travel consultant who will help you plan your next trip, which is a neat feature. When checking out the different hotels on offer, it looks like JetSetter sometimes arranges a few perks with different rooms. For example, at The Royalton in New York, the Jetsetter rate for deluxe rooms also includes a 2 p.m. late checkout, and for Loft Suite Kings and Alcove suites, the Jetsetter rate also includes two free signature cocktails per stay. Register for JetSetter.com now.

I did a little price comparison of deals from the four sites over here on a Google doc. I was looking at the Miraflores Lima Hotel because all four sites offered it. One of the main differences I found between the sites is whether they offered rooms with cancellation penalties or not. You can see that in the pricing. (I took the best available price from each site, regardless of cancellation penalty.) Hard to say who comes out on top after you factor in things like Splendia’s membership credits and things like TabletPlus from TabletHotels.com. Also, LuxuryLink had a GREAT package deal if you were up for the Junior Suite option. Lots to think about…

Posted in Hotels, Travel | 4 Comments

B.O.G. Hotel, Bogota

Posted by Krista on September 17, 2013

IMG_6655Ah, the calla lily. I had no idea I loved the flower so much until I entered a hotel that was full of them. I have to wonder if this is a year-long thing for the B.O.G. hotel in Bogota or seasonal. Regardless, I loved the B.O.G.’s calla lilies. And I really liked the B.O.G. hotel as well.

IMG_6456The hotel was all about light and texture. Check out the panel behind the bed. Burlap-y. (We saw the same texture later in the craft market. We’re not sure if this is a typical Colombian textile or not.) The handles on the closet doors were leather and metal. The curtains on the windows, gold and gauzy, and the sheets on the bed very crisp and very cool and smooth. A comfortable sleep, except for the smoke detector that chirped at me at a piercing volume in the middle of the night. (The hotel investigated and couldn’t find anything. But I swear to you…loud smoke detector chirps two nights in a row! You know the type…the ones that make you bolt straight out of bed in the middle night wondering “What’s happening? What’s happening?)

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The lovely bar on the ground floor — always curiously empty during our stay and wont to close by 10 pm  — served a mean lulo fruit mojito. I sort of needed to lie down after this baby.

We saw very few guests during our stay at the B.O.G. This is either because we were visiting in the off season, or Bogota is not yet on your travel map. If it’s not there, it should be. We felt safe and secure during our entire visit to Bogota, the food was great, and the people were friendly and helpful. If you do visit Bogota — and you should — I’d recommend the B.O.G. hotel. My one note would be about the hotel’s location. Bogota is a big city, and the B.O.G. might not be super-convenient to everything you want to do and see. That being said, taxis are cheap and plentiful, so if you’re willing to sacrifice location for style, you should do it. Do it!

Posted in Bogota, Colombia, Hotels | 1 Comment

The Ritz Carlton, Cancun

Posted by Krista on September 14, 2013

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I booked myself a package holiday to Cancun the other week. Part of me wants to laugh at myself about this. But first let me tell you the situation: I spend enough time in South Florida as it is (family ties), so I’m kinda over Miami and Fort Lauderdale. And for a beachy weekend getaway from Chicago, there are really only two tropical places you can easily get to on United Airlines, my airline of choice because of my miles. (Haters, don’t be hating.) The two places you can get to easily via a direct flight from Chicago most days of the week are Cancun, Mexico and San Juan, Puerto Rico. I do really like San Juan — especially the old Colonial part — but I like shrimp tacos better. (Although shrimp tacos are technically more a west coast of Mexico thing.) So Cancun it was. (I also toyed with Panama but it’s a longer flight. Some other time, perhaps.)

Anyhow, because it’s August in Mexico, you can get some pretty good deals. (British friends, take note. Because all the currencies are still in your favor.) So I ended up flying business class to Cancun and staying on the Club floor at The Ritz with food and booze all included — as long as I wasn’t expecting filet mignon or anything — for what I personally considered to be a decent deal. (Not a steal. A deal.) Other things for me to consider: I was by myself and I didn’t want to feel like I was interloping on anyone’s honeymoon — always a risk in a lot of Cancun hotels. So my options were fairly limited: the Westin, the JW Marriott, or The Ritz.

The Ritz it was it. And let me tell you…this place is OLD SKOOL. Pink marble everywhere, oil paintings, woodwork, brass. WOW. It all felt pretty weird and out of place in this very beachy, touristy town.

IMG_6432But…the beach out back was pretty fantastic. Really an awesome beach. I spent a lot of time in the water. I miss salt water.

And the SERVICE. The service was fantastic. Any time I turned around with the slightest thought of “Maybe I should…” someone was there to get me a drink or offer me a menu or bring me a cool towel.  When I left, one of the staff members HUGGED ME and in a nice way and not a creepy way.

IMG_6428The shrimp tacos poolside were awesome, if expensive.

IMG_6439And the Argentinian sparkling Chardonnay Malbec in the lounge was interesting and different and, well, it helped to pass the time as I read book after book after book and tried to figure life out. (Still working on that.)

IMG_6425Ohh…and there were BABY TURTLES waiting to be hatched! Everywhere! July – September is turtle season in Cancun.

The Ritz Carlton Cancun is about to undergo some major renovations, so I would stay away from here in the near-term. But come November or December, if you’re looking for a nice place to relax with classy service, this is a good choice. You could do worse. (Note that it’s not technically all-inclusive. But if you go for the Club Floor, you can definitely make three meals a day out of things.)

Posted in Cancun, Hotels, Mexico | Comments Off

The Dean Street Townhouse Revisited, London

Posted by Krista on August 31, 2013

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Ah, The Dean Street Townhouse. I loved you so much during my first and only other visit in 2011. You were clean and neat and perky and cozy. I told anyone and everyone who was going to London that they should stay with you.

Fast forward two years…the carpet is stained, the bed dips, the tile grout is rotted (or missing entirely) and it’s 4 p.m. on a Saturday and you still have not cleaned my room. You give me free flip-flops, BUT THEY ARE FOR TWO LEFT FEET. You are nice, you apologize, you buy me a glass of wine. You tell me that you are going to replace the carpet after I leave. I use ALL OF THE COWSHED in the shower, but I am still not satisfied. You are not the same hotel. And I don’t want to stay here again. Ok, thanks, bye.

Posted in Hotels, London, United Kingdom, WC1 | 4 Comments

Andaz Liverpool Street, London

Posted by Krista on August 20, 2013

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I was in London in July for many reasons. Three hotels during my stay, also for many reasons. The Andaz Liverpool Street was my first hotel. Let me start by saying that this is a very high quality hotel, so in a way I feel bad about what I’m about to say. BUT there were just so many quirks. Particularly, they were quirks that were totally in the control of the hotel.

So firstly…lovely arrival. I’m not 100% sure how I feel about their more or less deskless arrival area, but it was fine and neat and different and I am all about trends in the hotel industry, so it was fine. They were very sweet and wanted to take my luggage to my room but I was jetlagged and just wanted to shower and change immediately so I said no. And I hate feeling like I have to tip someone else to do something I could have done myself.

I am a Hyatt Platinum member so I was upgraded to a king room. It was nice. But I could feel the people who had slept in the bed before me. I hate a mattress that dips.

Then, I felt like an idiot because #1 I couldn’t figure out where to put the room key to turn the lights on (hint: the thermostat) and #2 I couldn’t find the hair dryer, which they say is in the desk — and it is — but I still couldn’t find it. I had to call the front desk both times.

So then the wifi. MEH. At a hotel of this caliber, the wifi should be all connected, all the time. If they can do this in hotels in the middle east, they can do this in LONDON. For the love of God. My iPhone 5 kept dropping the connection and it is not my phone’s fault.

OK, the bath tub. It is seriously two feet high, if not taller. There is no step. So you really have to throw yourself into the tub and hope you don’t slip and fall and break something. I was frightened. I am a normal person. And I was frightened. Do NOT grab the towel rack to swing yourself out of the bath tub because it is HOT. HOT. Don’t. (Really, I am curious about their insurance claims.)

There is like NO sound proofing in this hotel. And hotel staff have NEVER been trained to use their INSIDE VOICE when they are outside guest rooms. From around 8:30 to 10 am the two mornings I was there, there was shouting, yelling, and MUCH SLAMMING of doors, particularly on Sunday. (Also, when I checked in on Friday around 1 pm.) I don’t even know where these doors were that they were slamming, but they were slamming them. Many times. Like every two minutes because at one point, I counted. (Although maybe it was the plumbing system? I don’t know. It sounded like doors slamming.) I was really trying to sleep in on Sunday morning and it was totally impossible. I mentioned this to Daniel the manager when I checked out and he was very nice and polite about it. But I don’t know. I am your guest. I shouldn’t have to tell you these things.

Almost lastly, the plumbing system. It is loud. They use some sort of vacuum to pull the water out of the sink and the toilets. Old building.

lastly, my reservation was complicated. I am acknowledging that. I booked one night through BA for free with Avios and then I booked the 2nd night directly and combined the reservations. I emailed the hotel in advance to combine the reservations. I still got a bill for the first night. Daniel was very helpful in having it removed.

OH WAIT…the nasi goreng from room service. IT WAS DELICIOUS. You should get it. and the free non-alcoholic minibar was awesome. Meantime beers for 5 quid which I actually think is an okay value for a hotel.

Location…The Central Line is RIGHT there. You can get anywhere in London in about 20 minutes. Really, the best. OK, it’s not surrounded by the British Museum or anything, but it is easy to get to/from.

The Verdict: Probably wouldn’t stay here again. Deathly afraid of that bath tub and too much SLAMMING.

Note: A version of this review appears on TripAdvisor. I would like to note that I feel that a lot of the reviews of this hotel are fake given the lack of detail in many reviews. 

Posted in EC2, Hotels, London | Comments Off

Why You Should Get TripIt Pro

Posted by Krista on June 15, 2013

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Let’s start with the free stuff. I am totally in love with TripIt. I book some flights, I book some hotels, I forward the email confirms to plans@tripit.com and it creates nice little itineraries for me. But then it goes to the next step…landing in London at 11 am? TripIt knows where your hotel is and will estimate how much time it will take you to get there. In my case, TripIt has estimated two hours from Heathrow to the City, which I think is a fine estimate, based on my experience. (But you don’t know about my superb airport-leaving skills. I will be in the City, if I’m lucky, in one hour and fifteen minutes.) TripIt will also add the average daily temperature and map everything out for you so you know where you are.

But now let’s talk about TripIt Pro! TripIt Pro will track all of your hotel and airline loyalty programs. (Except for United and American for some reason.) So as you can see in my screenshot, I have 43,385 points that will expire in 60 days. Hence my mad dash yesterday to move my Virgin Atlantic miles to  Hilton HHonors before they expire next month.

And ALERTS! The TripIt alerts are awesome, and my experience has been they come in before my United alerts. Has my flight changed gate? Is it delayed? What baggage claim has been assigned to the flight? These all pop up as handy e-mail alerts AND notifications on my iPhone.  There’s also a cool feature I haven’t used yet that, in case you are stuck in a middle seat, you will get a notification when a better seat becomes available. Check out the full list of TripIt Pro features.

TripIt Pro is not cheap really — it’s $49 a year — but if you travel a lot and like instant information and if you want to track all your hotel loyalty programs (and ID numbers!) in one place, you should get it.

P.S. Just to be clear, this is my personal endorsement of TripIt and TripIt Pro. I have no relation to them whatsoever. 

Posted in Blogging, Hotels, Travel | 1 Comment

51 Buckingham Gate, London

Posted by Krista on January 22, 2013

BedroomThis is a belated review of my nearly two-week stay at 51 Buckingham Gate in London back in October. Let’s get the blog-stuff out of the way. I paid for this stay myself, but lest you vastly overestimate my personal worth, through a right conspiracy of forces in my personal life, I was able to stay here at a very, very good “discount” that was completely, totally and utterly unrelated to my blog. I never would have stayed here otherwise. (And no, work didn’t pay for this either.) I am being deliberately mysterious here because  I am just trying to figure out if what I did for the discount was worth it and that evaluation is still in progress. I don’t want to mislead you until that evaluation is complete. More to come around April.

IMG_4585Anyhow, even at just one bedroom, the flat I occupied at 51 Buckingham Gate — just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace — was bigger than both of the flats I lived in while I was in London. The bedroom in my suite was huge. The living room/lounge was huge. The master bath/en-suite was HUGE. Heated towel racks galore — and Molton Brown products — for just me. Plus an extra half-bath just in case.

That being said…it kills me to say this…SIZE IS NOT EVERYTHING. The Dean Street Townhouse and its lovely small rooms completely outshone 51 Buckingham Gate. So too did the room at my first stay at a Firmdale Hotel — The Covent Garden Hotel. Both Dean Street and The Covent Garden go luxury in small spaces over large spaces with, um, a half-hearted attempt at luxury. Another hotel also very good: The Zetter. All of these hotels had such a better mix of furnishings, service, and on-site beverage programs.

IMG_4592Because let’s face it…I got kicked out of the bar each evening at 9 p.m. 9 p.m.! I wasn’t there every evening, I promise. But I was there for a few. And around 8:45 pm each time, the staff would tell it was time to go — I was welcome to stay and avail myself of butler service — but the staff was going home.

IMG_4583Bah. Thinking back to what I liked about the place…I liked the Molton Brown products, and I liked the Whole Foods gift basket they gave me because I was staying more than six days. (That being said, I would like to speak to the person who assembled the gift basket because I think they could have put together a more useful combination of stuff. I have a liter of olive oil I’d like to get rid of now.) I liked the twice-daily room servicing, and I liked the library/cafe area.

IMG_4582I didn’t like the carpets in my room (they’d seen better days), nor did I like the windows (they let in the chill). The master bath, while HUGE, was old and in dire need of a refurb. I did not like the location most of all —  the area south of Buckingham Palace is a wasteland of government buildings and is just very, very boring.

In short, even should the fates again conspire to put me here, I’d only say yes because I miss London so desperately that I am open to selling any part of my soul. (Seriously.) Otherwise, you can find me arbitraging on Hotwire.

Posted in Hotels, London, SW1 | 4 Comments

Sleeping & Eating in Orlando, Florida

Posted by Krista on January 21, 2013

Marriott

Quickly…over Christmas, I did that thing I usually do. I headed up to Orlando to visit my dad’s side of the family. My aunt and uncle have a timeshare in Orlando and — gasp — they actually use it. (Most Americans buy timeshares and then quickly realize they just can’t use them and then they try to sell them and can’t.) We stayed one night at the Marriott Cypress Harbour and boy am I glad my dad is a senior citizen, because without his discount, this would have cost us over $400 bucks just for one night. (My father was happy to stay at the Quality Inn 4.5 miles away for $62 bucks a night. Not me.) We got 15% off our rate because he is over 65.

Hot tub

The Marriott Cypress Harbour is an apartment hotel and our room was HUGE. As was the hot tub. A little disconcerting, this hot tub. I let my dad have this room. I took the smaller guest bedroom, above.

I guess if I were a family with two children, this place would have been the perfect setup. For a father and daughter traveling together though, there was no easy access to alcohol, which was a problem. There was no minibar and the bar at the clubhouse required a car to get there. (I often joke that my father would never survive a trip to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. No red wine.) That being said, my bed was comfortable and the blackout curtains were awesome.

While in Orlando, we had lunch at the Copper Canyon Grill, where my order of rotisserie chicken was large enough to feed fourteen people. (America, this is why you’re fat. Really.) Our server also told us he was a green beret in Afghanistan, and my dad and my uncle, both servicemen themselves, thought he was lying. So that was awkward. (We didn’t tell him he was lying. We just discussed it during and afterwards.) Everything here was nice enough by big-box-chain-restaurant standards though. Speedy service, plenty of tap water, and they very easily dealt with our party of ten.

Copper Canyon Grill on Urbanspoon

Denny'sAnd before we sped off to the airport the next morning, we stopped at Denny’s at 11037 International Drive. (Remember, I’m not as sophisticated as you might think I am.) And I was again given pause for thought. Do you wonder why there is an obesity epidemic in America? Things like The Grand Slamwich exist, that’s why. Potato bread!! That being said, the service at Denny’s was super-chipper and speedy. There’s something about diner service in America: these servers are not precious, they’ve seen it all, and they are as flexible as flexible can be.

Denny's on Urbanspoon
 

Posted in American, Florida, Hotels | 1 Comment

Sleeping in Florida

Posted by Krista on October 2, 2012

I was all over the great state of Florida last month. Three hotels in three nights. It was a combination of vacation, phase one of my mom’s surgery, and what ended up being a bit of a travel nightmare because I got terribly ill and wasn’t allowed anywhere near my mother after her surgery.

It’s interesting, staying in three hotels in three nights. You notice things you might normally not once you get to the second hotel. And by the time you get to the third hotel, you’ve got a little bit of a routine going.

The first hotel, The Crowne Plaza Z Ocean in Miami Beach. I stayed here on points, and well, while many people might like it here, it just wasn’t for me. The staff was spacey — they checked me into someone else’s room and then they forgot to clean my room two days in a row — and the hallways were pretty dingy and knocked up. Plus, they had signs like this.

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If you’re going to provide something that looks like a refrigerator, why not just make it a refrigerator?

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Oh, and then this drove me crazy. The real refrigerator door opened one way, while the cabinet door opened the other way. Designed by a man, I’m sure. (Sorry, men.) Ah, and the bed has some sort of plastic wrap on it, and they forgot to give me toilet paper and one of the TVs didn’t work. Oh, and the front desk staff kept calling me “Honey.” Honey? SHUT IT.

Then, I flew to Gainesville, in northern Florida, during an electrical storm. On a super small plane. Everyone on the plane screamed in unison at one point. That wasn’t fun. But we survived, and I checked into the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center and it was pretty amazingly nice for a basic hotel. Check-in was seriously the fastest I’ve ever encountered, there was free wifi all over, and the restaurant served some pretty tasty (albeit not creative) food. My Uncle George said the burger he had in the bar was the best he’s ever had, and my Uncle George is 75 years old, so that means something to me. I was so ill at this point that all I did was sleep, so no pictures for you. Sorry! But I can tell you that the bath products were surprisingly nice, and the sheets were surprisingly soft.

After I was told to leave Gainesville, I had to find my way back to Orlando by myself. (My original plan was to head home with my mom to West Palm and take care of her for a few days. The doctors said NO WAY once they picked up on how sick I was.) I took a BUS to Orlando because it was cheaper than renting a car, and I was kinda excited about this because they promised free wifi on the bus. Well, there was no free wifi, and when I finally got to the bus depot in Orlando, there was a big sign that said, “We will not refund your ticket if the wifi didn”t work.” (Couldn’t get a photo.) Seriously people…if you have to make a sign that says that, doesn’t that tell you that THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG. And why do you put pictures of business people working on their laptops all over your buses if you can’t delivery on your branding? Red Coach USA, I am looking at YOU.

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And then I found myself at the Hyatt Orlando Airport. The staff was amazingly cheerful and lovely, which I needed after all the planes, trains and automobiles. And MY ROOM OVERLOOKED THE RUNWAY, which was kinda awesome. (I love airports, remember.) Oh, and then the hotel is attached to the airport, so you could wander around the food court and shops which was fun for a while, until my cold medicine ran out. This is a super high volume property — you can tell. But the staff and the bits like the runway made it a star for me. Not a star? The $52 I spent on room service. Gah.

So…my trip to Florida didn’t turn out like anything I planned. I wish I had thought to load my iPad up with movies and stuff because I definitely spent a lot of time traveling around. And I wish I had brought more practical clothing than little sundresses because I was freezing half of the time on planes and buses. I also wish I had status on American Airlines because let me tell you — checking in at Miami Airport totally sucks. Actually, Miami Airport just totally sucks in general.

Let’s just say I’m glad to be home and I like my own bed!

Posted in Florida, Hotels | 1 Comment

Sleeping in Spain

Posted by Krista on August 14, 2012

I spent a week sleeping, eating and drinking in Spain last month. It’s interesting, spending time in three different hotels over a relatively short period of time. And none of them being quite perfect. It shouldn’t be hard to run a good hotel, it really shouldn’t be. And what’s odd is that out of all of these, the cheapest one is the one I’d go back to. Here we go.

Hotel Urban, Madrid

Hotel Urban, Madrid. Billed as a four star property. Service more like two star. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s how it goes down. I pull up in a taxi outside the hotel. A bellman who smells like all his clothes got wet and he wrinkled them up in a ball and left them in a dark place and tightly-enclosed space for a few days opens the taxi door. I get out. Before I can pay the driver, he’s taken off with my luggage, but not in that helpful way. It’s like he’s gone, gone, disappeared. I check in, and the desk clerk has a very confusing conversation with me about the Internet, but I’ve been awake for 24 hours so maybe it’s just me. He hands me two pieces of paper, each with a different username and password. He tells me they are good for 90 minutes.

Someone takes me up to my room. I immediately take all my clothes off because I feel pretty disgusting. (For various reasons, it took me a really long time to get to Madrid, and I am covered in white wine, thanks to my somewhat obnoxious seat mate on the way from Chicago to Munich. When, when, when will I sit next to that totally awesome person on a plane??) There’s a knock on my hotel room door. I’ve seriously been in my room for 3 minutes and it’s after 3 pm. I don’t want to answer, but they knock again. It’s the hotel staff, and they want to check the minibar. NOW? No. I don’t think so. I send them away and take a shower in the bathroom, which has a moldy, water-damaged ceiling. Later, I avail myself of the free wifi in the bar, where the service is sweetly inattentive, but then I pass out.

The day I am to check out, my room is blissfully dark and cold and I am trying to sleep in a little bit. My hotel room door opens at some point. It’s housekeeping. I check the time. It’s 8:40 am AND I HAVEN”T CHECKED OUT YET. They want to clean the room. WTF. I am mad. And then I do go to check out and they try to charge me for all this Internet access that I apparently bought in advance BUT no one ever gave me access to. What I objected to most was the tone the front staff used with me. That I was an idiot. That I didn’t know how the Internet worked. I left angry.

Hotel Regina

Next up, Hotel Regina in Madrid. And I have low expectations because I’ve spent 47 euros a night on my room here. But although it’s basic, it’s SUPER clean and has all the right things, including some of the world’s best black-out blinds. (Rendered useless by leaving the door open to the bathroom, which did not have blackout blinds.) There’s FREE WIFI and lots of it, although it’s occasionally slow. There’s a supremely inexpensive cafe for breakfast with very professional service, and most of all, the price is right. This is a TripAdvisor favorite and I can see why. My two complaints would be that the hotel reception can be a bit too busy and bustling at times, and I hate shower curtains. But I liked that the local business people came in for a coffee and a drink at the bar and I liked the location and the free wifi.

Hotel Convento das Claras

Field trip! Hotel Convento das Claras in Penafiel, Spain. In the Ribera del Duero. A beautiful property and a beautiful location. But the staff! It’s not that they were mean or bad…they were just so clueless and not helpful. It was terrible. Trying to organize a taxi to the airport was like trying to schedule brain surgery. Only one person could talk to the taxi driver and that person wasn’t there so I had to wait 12 hours to talk to the right person and of course that person only worked in the middle of the night. How about having a guest file, people?

And the rooms were a bit not perfect. I laughed when I saw how the beds were made in my room. (See pillow on left bed.)

Ah, and the spa. Have you ever had a facial from a heavy smoker? Trust me, you don’t want to.

The only staff member who was nice and helpful was the morning I checked out…he knew I was leaving at 5 am, and he put out a complete breakfast for me. (I have to apologize to everyone who came in for breakfast at 9 am though because I’m sure all the bread was stale and the meat was sweaty by then. I told him I just wanted something small. I couldn’t believe what they put out for me.)

So in short, so much potential…wasted.

At least there was free wifi.

So…I’m back from Spain and catching up on life and everything else. More to come on my travels as well as restaurants in Chicago and elsewhere. Yes!

Posted in Hotels, Madrid, Ribera del Duero, Spain | 2 Comments