The Luxury Travel Blog Network – March 2014 Edition

LTBN Luxury Travel Blog

Well, the good news is…. Winter is over in the Northern Hemisphere and that is fine by me! Luckily, it wasn’t a horrible winter for us in the United Kingdom, and I did go looking for snow. How could I not? I went back to Val d’Isere in the French Alps, not once, but twice. You can read about my first experience, right here.

No comments necessary. Straight out of our water villa in the Maldives

No comments necessary. Straight out of our water villa in the Maldives

Spring is one of my favourite seasons of the year – I do love the sun, and have some quite exciting destinations ahead. I am starting the season in style in the Maldives and will be mixing it up a bit. I am looking forward to returning to the Middle East and spending Easter in Abu Dhabi, but will also be exploring Bordeaux closer to home. Find out about my Top 5 Spring destinations, right here.  April is ‘my birthday month’, but I shall be spending my birthday weekend in Paris. Love when Mr. O surprises me ?

What have the ladies and gentlemen been up to? Get ready!

Nadine Jolie continues her Disney exploration (I have to say, I am quite impressed) – there is even a Four Seasons coming in Orlando, so I would actually recommend you had a peek at her article. Really surprising!

Yes, this is another side of Disney

Yes, this is another side of Disney

Katie, who is a proud New Yorker, is planning a trip to Los Angeles (one of my favourite cities in the world). And ahead of that trip, she is doing some research on where to visit. Fair to say that I am adding most of these tips on my upcoming California trip. Because it would be rude not to.

Cocktails at The Wiltshire sounds like a great idea...

Cocktails at The Wiltshire sounds like a great idea…

Paul, the ‘first male member’ of the Luxury Travel Blog Network found a bit of heaven in South Africa, more precisely at the Cellars Honehort in Cape Town. South Africa seems to be calling my name a lot – haven’t been back for years and there is something about this part of the world.

I think South Africa is calling my name!

I think South Africa is calling my name!

And last, but certainly not the least, Kim Marie of Luxury Travel Mom disappeared from the digital world as she discovered the wonders of Cuba – a destination which has not been open to Americans and surely will delight. I have been 4 times, but not in the last 6 years, and these photos did send me down memory lane – and a happy one at that.

Kim-Marie and her daughter had a great time in Cuba. The photos are amazing

Kim-Marie and her daughter had a great time in Cuba. The photos are amazing

Happy reading, happy travels and here is to a fab April!

xo

Mrs O

My hOtel: The London Edition

myhotel

One of London’s recently opened hotels (2013 was a great year for London indeed), The London Edition has been the talk of the town. Why? Because it brought some much needed glamour and design to ‘the other side of Oxford Street’, and being Ian Schrager’s latest hotel venture (in conjunction with Marriott), everyone wants to see what the boutique hotel daddy has been up to.

Located on Berners Street, the London Edition has certainly left a mark in a short space of time

Located on Berners Street, the London Edition has certainly left a mark in a short space of time

I had visited the hotel several times since it opened, but having learned from experience, it is always good to give it a few months for things to get comfortable. And do you know what? I am delighted I waited.

Pre-Arrival

–          Was there any pre-arrival communication by the hotel with myself via email or social media?

Not really. My stay was organised via email.

–          Did I try to engage the hotel via Twitter? Did the hotel interact with me and made me feel welcome/special?

I did and wasn’t very easy to get something back initially, but during my stay the brand account interacted with me. Worth noting that the hotel doesn’t have a dedicated twitter account, which explains this.

–          Has the hotel tried to gather any personal information (e.g. preferences) prior to my stay?

Not really and that was not a problem, at all.

Arrival

Welcome to the London Edition

Welcome to the London Edition

–          The wow factor! What was the hotel decor style?

You cannot be indifferent to the hotel lobby, which is simply stunning. Busy at particular times of the day (or alive, as I like to call it), it was always a pleasure to enter this space. And use it at different times of the day – it has a very different day/night vibe and I found it very comfortable.

–          How quick and efficient was the hotel check-in?

It was fantastic – there are a few touch points from the moment you walk into the door, which staff strategically located to ascertain if you are a hotel guest or not, and I was quickly escorted to the reception area, which is a bit tucked away from the main lobby.

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

I was indeed.

The elegant reception area

The elegant reception area

–          Did I get an upgrade from my confirmed pre-booked room type?

I did indeed and I was upgraded to a Loft Room.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Throughout my stay I never had a problem and plenty of people saying hello.

–          Luggage – how many people did I have to tip before the luggage made it safely to my room? This is cultural, I know

I had a small carry on and it was taken away from me as I was escorted to my room.

–          Wi-fi – was I told anything about it? Was there a charge?

 Obviously there was wi-fi and it is included in all room rates.

Room Experience

We loved our 'Alpine' looking room

We loved our ‘Alpine’ looking room

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Standard rooms have developed a little bit of a reputation for being quite compact, but our Loft King was spacious. Interestingly enough, as soon as you leave the reception area, the hotel feels incredibly… alpine! I wasn’t quite sure why, but the extensive use of wood and the furry bed throws gave me that feel. And very comfortable too!

–          Welcome amenity

Welcome amenity

Welcome amenity

We had love solely rhubarb and apple tarts with a special ‘tea’ on arrival, which changed daily throughout our stay.

–          The bed

Was amazing – uber comfortable and I did not want to leave. Ever.

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

Not a problem in this department.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

For the first time ever, a hotel with an iPhone 5 charger – amazing stuff!

This was very useful, for once!

This was very useful, for once!

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, but we did not use.

–          Coffee and Tea

We had a great mini bar but did not find any coffee or tea making facilities. I would assume it would be very straightforward to order some. Personally, and as I said countless times, I much rather prefer this option.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, and changed daily.

–          Magazine selection – had some nice surprises and doesn’t happen often enough!

Very decent, and included Vogue.

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

We did not have a problem at all.

Bathroom

The bathroom was incredible.

The bathroom was incredible.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom was fabulous. Seriously fabulous.

–          Bath, shower and taps – I am looking for Duravits and Hansgrohes (or other fab brands) around the world. How fab was the shower? And a little pet peeve.. was I able to operate the shower without asking Mr. O for help?

One of each, thank you very much. The did not use the bath, but the shower head was amazing. All state of the art, very white, just the way I like it.

–          Towels – yes, please! How many and how soft and lovely?

Not a problem and plenty.

–          Toiletries – own brand, super brand, baby ones or proper ones? I shall find out!

I was actually surprised by the ‘own brand’ toiletries. But on closer inspection it was revealed that they are Labo and branded especially for edition. I used the shower gel and it smelled lovely.

–          Amenity kit – I don’t want more sewing kits thank you very much, but I will need a shower cap.

All there, as one would expect.

–          Hairdryer – is it a human one, or just something stuck to a wall that only makes noise?

It looked very ‘real’, but I did not use it.

Bar

Oh, where do I start? In the name of research, *only* (who am I kidding, you know me by now!), I had to inspect the 3 bar options the hotel has. And I have excellent things to report (worth noting that I had been before and since my stay and really like the hotel bars. Plural.)

The Punch Room

The Punch Room

One of London’s best kept secrets (or maybe not), the Punch Room is tucked away in the back, after reception. You will find a door on your left (without any signage). I love this place – very unassuming, very relaxed, perfect for various occasions. I love the ‘punch’ concept and the incredible bar snacks. Needless to say, I did not resist.

How fab do they look? And I can assure you, they were delicious.

How fab do they look? And I can assure you, they were delicious.

After dinner, we actually used the main lobby bar every night – it was lively, great for people watching. It was also really quite comfortable (the sofas we chose) and we loved it. I also loved the fact that the bar had Tanqueray Malacca, which is a new obsession and not easy to find. I was at home.

Not difficult to understand why we spent so much time here...

Not difficult to understand why we spent so much time here…

And lastly, the other option you have, is the bar at Berners Tavern, the hotel’s iconic restaurant. We had a pre dinner drink here and also enjoyed it.

Fab bar… fab place!

Fab bar… fab place!

Restaurant

Getting a table at Berners Tavern is still not easy – the restaurant is really *that* popular and a destination in itself. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect menu-wise and was really pleasantly surprised with how modern ‘British’  it was. I had oysters and sea bream and really liked it. Mr. O had steak and raved about it. We shared a coconut creme brûlée, because we could not resist. Dinner costs around £40-70 per person and I thought everything was very reasonably priced. Service was good too.

We also had breakfast, which is served a la carte, and again, great value and good quality. And have you seen how stunning the room looked?

A fantastic room indeed

A fantastic room indeed

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

Very good and we did not have a problem.

–          Did the hotel interact with me via Twitter during my stay?

A little bit.

–          Location

On the ‘other side’ of Oxford Circus, it was actually quite interesting – for once I was close to Soho, where we went out for dinner one night, and Charlotte Street, where I always wanted to go and never do. It life brings you to the West End, you will not have a problem.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Rooms start from £295 and my King Loft from £490.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Without a doubt.

–          Would I stay again?

Oh yes, and have recommended it to quite a few people who have also loved it. I was very impressed with the London Edition.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Marriott Hotels during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.

A lux weekend in New York City

A_lux_weekend_in_500x100px_HL2

New York is an annual destination for me for the last 15 years. Sometimes, I even manage to make it a twice-yearly event – there is something about the city that never sleeps. The energy, the noise, the iconic buildings – you truly feel at the top of the world.

My last trip was actually a really long one – 10 days, 8 of which for work, so that left me with a weekend to enjoy the Big Apple. I was fortunate enough to stay at a friend’s incredible Philip Starck-designed penthouse in Gramercy, and this was the view from my bedroom every day. Staying at an apartment (and a fab one at that), provided a very different experience – and I loved it.

A room with a view in NYC

A room with a view in NYC

Friday Evening

When in Rome, or New York, rather, one must get acclimatised asap. After landing and settling in at our apartment, my friend Stephane (who was in NYC for the first time) and I needed to stay awake and ready for an amazing weekend. And that meant cocktails, of course.

Make mine extra dirty, please!

Make mine extra dirty, please!

The Four Seasons New York was the chosen venue to begin our fab evening in town – with a fab location on 57th Street between Park and Madison Avenues. The cocktail list is extensive, the bar snacks divine, but I knew what I wanted – a perfectly-prepared dirty martini. And a little bit of Jennifer Aniston, because we should totally become best friends. It did not happen that night, but I know it will in the future – she just needs to meet me.

My friend Katie from Travel Panties and the lovely Jen. She looked stunning.

My friend Katie from Travel Panties and the lovely Jen. She looked stunning.

After a round of cocktails or three, it was time for dinner – and meet two of my favourite New Yorkers: the fab Ashley and Carolyn from The Lazy Travelers. We decided that we should remain local and headed to the Upper East Side, which doubles as the ladies’ playground.

Il Ristorante, by Chef Casella was where we met and stayed for the whole evening. We were actually lucky enough to spend some time with Cesare, who gave us more than the rosemary he always carries in his chef white’s pocket. Great stories, great conversation and, most of all, amazing food.

We had a great evening in the Upper East Side. And loved meeting Chef Casella

We had a great evening in the Upper East Side. And loved meeting Chef Casella

The evening ended at some local bars – I would love to tell you where I went, but these ladies know better.

So great to see Ashley and Carolyn from the Lazy Travelers in their natural habitat...

So great to see Ashley and Carolyn from the Lazy Travelers in their natural habitat…

Before we knew it, we made it past midnight, which was the objective of the evening. But not before I crossed a line…

Making new friends, always...

Making new friends, always…

Saturday

After a good night’s sleep, it was time to start helping the local economy. Because one must. Always. As we were so close, we headed to Eataly for breakfast – and obviously were not disappointed. Located on 5th Avenue and 23rd Street, right by Madison Park, it is an Italian food emporium, where you can experience various Italian cuisine experiences and buy lovely things to bring home.

The Flatiron Building

The Flatiron Building

Just outside, you will also see one of New York’s most iconic buildings – the Flatiron building. And if you continue 5th Avenue down to Union Square, on 14th Street, you won’t be disappointed by the shopping experience.

Before we knew it, it was time to eat again. Shopping can be tiring and one burns a lot of calories. For lunch, I took Stephane to Olives at the W Hotel in Union Square – I have been there many times and it is always a good experience. And a great place for one to drop the shopping bags before planning the rest of the day. It would be rude to deny my friend Stephane the pleasure of her first bellini in NYC. And baby burger, of course.

A small meal…. at Olives NYC

A small meal…. at Olives NYC

We spent the rest of the afternoon in and around Union Square looking for bargains. We were particularly lucky at Nordstrom Rack and DSW Warehouse. Oh well!

A shop with a view (taken at DSW Shoes)

A shop with a view (taken at DSW Shoes)

Before we knew it, it was time to head back home, change and head back out again. We seriously had very limited ‘touristy’ time in NYC and had to make the most of it.

We spent most of our evening at Saxon and Parole – we had an issue with our reservation (which kind of vanished during the evening), but ended up getting a table for dinner, which we enjoyed. The bar scene was also very cool and we were not disappointed.

Saxon and Parole (before everyone arrives!!)

Saxon and Parole (before everyone arrives!!)

We did not have a late night as jet lag meant that our beds were calling our name. Which was fine by us!

I was even lucky to see my good friend Lauren di Marco from Lola Travels in NYC. It is the centre of the world.

I was even lucky to see my good friend Lauren di Marco from Lola Travels in NYC. It is the centre of the world.

Sunday

My friend Stephane was all smiles during our trip to NYC

My friend Stephane was all smiles during our trip to NYC

After another great breakfast at Eataly, we went to the landmark we saw the most times in NYC – right from our fabulous penthouse, every day, all day. I confess it must have been a good 10 years since I last went to the Empire State building, but as it was Stephane’s first visit to NYC, we could not go. Bright and early to beat the queues, we made it. And we were lucky that we got some good views as the weather was strange during our stay.

Empire State of Mind indeed! Fab views from the Observatory at the Empire State Building

Empire State of Mind indeed! Fab views from the Observatory at the Empire State Building

Obviously, we were very hungry after this experience, and walking 20 blocks up to Bloomingdales, where yet another interesting experience awaited. We met Steven (the founder of Walks of Italy and now Walks of New York) and Jeff (who is running Walks of New York) – you may remember some excellent experiences I had with this company in Rome and Milan. I was particularly excited as we were doing the inaugural ‘Highlights of New York‘… walk.

But first things first, and that was a lovely brunch at Le Train Bleu, located on the 6th floor of Bloomingdales (which also went through a refurbishment and was looking particularly fab, I have to say).

Le Train Bleu at Bloomingdales

Le Train Bleu at Bloomingdales

For the tour to start properly, we needed to get on the subway. Me and subways are not particularly good friends, but I thought I would give it a go as it was only for a few stops – and we had strong men with us (just in case). It was a hot summer day, but it all worked OK. Here is a photo you won’t see very often…

Not in my natural habitat.

Not in my natural habitat.

On this tour, which is a group tour and lasts 3 hours, we uncovered the secrets of Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, the New York Public Library, and Times Square.

One day, I will take a train from here

One day, I will take a train from here

We spent a great amount of time at Grand Central station (but I cannot tell you the secrets we were told). I did give the Campbell Apartment (an amazing bar) a miss as it was too early – which means I need to go back on my return to the big Apple.

When in New York, you never know who you will run into. And while we walked from Times Square to Rockefeller Centre, we were joined by someone quite special…

Of course Elmo walks with you every time!

Of course Elmo walks with you every time!

I really enjoyed this walking tour, and would love to thank Walks of New York for doing this special tour for me and Stephane more than 6 months before they launched – tours can be booked from April 18th 2014. The Highlights of New York tour costs $35 per person.

And to end the day in style (after all that walking), we watched the sun set at 230 Fifth Avenue’s rooftop bar. And of course I had to jump!

Oh yes I did!

Oh yes I did!

It was the perfect end to a fantastic weekend. We packed a little bit in, but we also got to spend a lot of time with friends who showed us their favourite parts of this amazing city. Every time I return, I discover something new.

Until next time, New York, until next time!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: on this visit to NYC, I was a guest of my friend Elyse (who I cannot thank enough). I was also a guest of the Four Seasons New York, Il Ristorante, Olives and Walks of New York. Opinions are, as always, my own.

My hOtel: The Diplomat, Hollywood, Florida

myhotel

Located in Hollywood in… Florida, the Westin Diplomat is a resort I know very well – and a place I have stayed at over 6 times in the last 5 or so years. My love for Miami is well documented, but after one last-minute trip years ago, where the only option I had was to stay in this hotel (located 12 miles north of South Beach and closer to Fort Lauderdale), some magic happened. And every time we have since visited the area, we just continued to stay there.

There is something about the Westin Diplomat

There is something about the Westin Diplomat

It is a huge hotel (1000+ rooms), which usually does not tick a box for me. But the rooms are wonderful (especially the suites, and we have tried different ones each time), the beach is fantastic (really nice and quiet), and the nearby area has been a revelation for us – all we need is right there on the hotel’s doorstep.

All I need to be happy, really!

Pre-Arrival

–          Was there any pre-arrival communication by the hotel with myself via email or social media?

Our room was booked via spg.com possibly 9 months before our stay – this time around we stayed 9 nights immediately after Christmas, which is always a very busy period. Over time I have come to know the Hotel’s PR team and some tweets took place – especially as the countdown began. As I said before, the hotel knows us well and this is almost an annual pilgrimage for us.

–          Did I try to engage the hotel via Twitter? Did the hotel interact with me and made me feel welcome/special?

Yes indeed.

–          Has the hotel tried to gather any personal information (e.g. preferences) prior to my stay?

Yes, although we did not need much. Due to the time of the year and our arrival team we were keen to have our first dinner booked at the hotel, as well as a round of spa treatments, which were all sorted for us before we arrived. As far as the bedroom was concerned, we were hoping that our SPG status would get us an upgrade to a suite, which thankfully happened.

Always so nice to be back...

Always so nice to be back…

Arrival

–          The wow factor! What was the hotel decor style?

As I said before, this is a huge hotel, but the operation they run is very sleek. We valeted our car, had the luggage sent to where it needed to go and just headed for the check-in desks. The hotel decor is modern but understated, what you would expect from a Westin.

–          How quick and efficient was the hotel check-in?

There was no queue, but our room was not ready even though it was 8pm. The reason? Maintenance had detected something and were double checking it. The check-in lady, who was very nice, by the way, was extremely apologetic and offered us a $50 drinks voucher at the hotel’s restaurant. We simply decided to have dinner first and then check-in (which wasn’t a problem at all). After a long day travelling (we flew to Miami via New York), I was ready for one of the hotel’s signature lychee cocktails.

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

Of course, and as one would expect.

–          Did I get an upgrade from my confirmed pre-booked room type?

Yes, we were upgraded to a Governor’s Suite, thanks to our Starwood status.

The Lobby

The Lobby

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Always, and that is what I think makes this hotel very special: the team. This is quite a relaxed hotel but the staff are brilliant. The door ladies (ladies, yes) are always cheery, the valet boys always helpful and quick and everyone else you see around, always happy to help. It is effortless and it shows at all times. Possibly one of the reasons why we keep coming back year after year.

–          Luggage – how many people did I have to tip before the luggage made it safely to my room? This is cultural, I know

We actually never saw the luggage until we arrived to our room after dinner. We tipped the valet and the first person who took our bags inside. All of them.

–          Wi-fi – was I told anything about it? Was there a charge?

Wifi is free of charge to all Starwood Gold and Platinum SPGs and worked well inside the building.

Room Experience

We could live here without a problem.

We could live here without a problem.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our room was great – uber spacious and made up of a large living and dining room (and a bar!), a bedroom, bathroom, walk-in closet and another room which we used as a working area and the place where everyday we dropped our shopping bags.

All very understated and simply, in true Westin style.

–          Welcome amenity

We were surprised on our second day by a cheese selection and a bottle of wine.

–          The bed

Come to mamma, I am not getting up early

Come to mamma, I am not getting up early

The bed, well, was fabulous. I am a great fan of Westin’s Heavenly Beds – over 10 years ago, this brand reinvented the sleep experience. If you have a mattress topper on your bed, you possibly first found out about it at a Westin hotel. Now every brand has their own version of a bed, which is great news, but as far as I am concerned, it is all Westin’s fault.

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

We had a walk-in closet with plenty of everything. And with a 9-night stay, we needed all the room we could get.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

We had a bose sound system, but not an actual iPhone Dock. We had to be creative when finding sockets near the bed as they weren’t really there (or we would have to turn off the bed side lamps).

–          Bathrobes and slippers

All there and we actually used them for once.

–          Coffee and Tea

We had a coffee maker and starbucks coffee, which we did not use.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, replaced every day (which also a perk for SPG members)

–          Magazine selection – had some nice surprises and doesn’t happen often enough!

To be honest, it was very generic and not particularly interesting.

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

Not around the bed, but we found sockets around the bedroom.

Bathroom

Our spacious bathroom

Our spacious bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our bathroom was large and came with a window, which is something I love.

–          Bath, shower and taps – I am looking for Duravits and Hansgrohes (or other fab brands) around the world. How fab was the shower? And a little pet peeve.. was I able to operate the shower without asking Mr. O for help?

We had a huge bath tub (with bubbles, yes) and a great walk-in shower, and a separate toilet area. All in good working condition, but soon it will be time to change some of the fittings.

–          Towels – yes, please! How many and how soft and lovely?

Yes and lots. I found some of the bath towels really small which was strange in America. But we figured that the ones with a Westin logo were larger. We missed the lack of turndown service every day.

–          Toiletries – own brand, super brand, baby ones or proper ones? I shall find out!

All Westin hotels use their aloe tea brand products. I don’t mind the shower gel, but not a great fan of the hair products. On a long stay like this, we brought our own.

–          Amenity kit – I don’t want more sewing kits thank you very much, but I will need a shower cap.

We had everything we needed, all nicely displayed.

–          Hairdryer – is it a human one, or just something stuck to a wall that only makes noise?

I used it and had no problems with it.

Breakfast

The Club Lounge

The Club Lounge

Breakfast is free of charge to all Platinum SPG members and takes place at the Club Lounge, located on the 33rd floor. This time of the year, there were simply too many of us in the room at the same time, and it was chaotic. There were also far too many children and it was so noisy, we gave up using this service after a couple of days and resorted to using the other cafe options available at the lobby.

Restaurant

Great restaurant… we have eaten here a few times now and never had a less than fantastic meal

Great restaurant… we have eaten here a few times now and never had a less than fantastic meal

I love the hotel’s restaurant, which is called Hollywood Prime. It is elegant but understated and I love the lighting. What I loved the most? Recognising every one at this place, which is interesting as obviously I visit so many places. From the lovely hostess lady, to Laura, the GM and uber sommelier, to Diego, who was also our waiter last time.

This qualifies as a very nice welcome to Miami meal. It was lovely.

This qualifies as a very nice welcome to Miami meal. It was lovely.

I don’t know how they remembered us (or played it very well), but we felt so welcome, I cannot tell you. Laura challenged us to try yet another Zinfandel from the incredible cellar and we were not disappointed – how could we be? We had an outstanding dinner – starting with crab, ending with lobster and steak and this is now part of every trip. It is a great restaurant and worth a visit even if you are not a hotel resident (and also does not feel like you are in a hotel, so worry not). Cost per person, approx $100-150 and worth every penny.

The beach and pool

Love the Diplomat Beach

Love the Diplomat Beach

With a beach like this, who needs a pool? I suppose we all like different things, but without a doubt, the beach is where you will find me. Like every beach concession in Miami, this is operated externally from the hotel and each sun lounger costs $10 a day and can be charged to your hotel room. The gentlemen who run this are excellent and very helpful at all times. You can also order from the hotel pool bar for anything you may want to eat or drink.

The casitas

The casitas

You also have casitas and cabanas, available at an extra cost, if you don’t want to sit with everyone else (this is where you kind of see and experience the size of the hotel!). I was going to try one, but during our stay, we only had 2 sunny days, so we just headed to the beach. Next time I shall try these as they look lovely.

Pool and Beach towels are obviously complimentary (2 per guest), but I think they are a bit tired and need to be replaced.

Spa

One of the nicest spas ever

One of the nicest spas ever

One of the novelties for us, this time around, was the new spa. I have to confess, I was seriously impressed – firstly, because it is branded as a Westin Heavenly spa (I thought, how brave in this day and age) and secondly, because it was truly heavenly. The decor was outstanding, the spa attendants were some of the best we ever had (we wanted to take Ford back home with us) and the treatments were incredible.

We had a complimentary treatment each, but went back for more countless times though out our stay. There were lots of lovely little touches (e.g. when I started my Heavenly massage, I was asked ‘what would you like to focus on today? Hope, love or believe?’ I didn’t quite know what to make of it, and then realised it was a sign which was then placed in a bowl below my face. I cannot recommend a visit enough – and also how great value the treatments were (a 50 minute massage costs $125, excluding tip).

Loved the Spa Cafe too. It all looked so fab..

Loved the Spa Cafe too. It all looked so fab..

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It worked well inside the building (not so much at the pool), but keeped getting us kicked out on a daily basis. We got the hang of it on day 4!

–          Did the hotel interact with me via Twitter during my stay?

Yes, even though it was over New Years.

–          Location

The Westin Diplomat is located in Hollywood, Florida, which is between South Beach and Fort Lauderdale (which interestingly, I never visited). It is also close to Bal Habour (and it’s great shops) and Aventura, which has a great selection of shopping and dining.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Rooms range from $169 to $699 for superior rooms depending on season and $319 to $3000 for suites depending on season.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Without a doubt.

–          Would I stay again?

Oh yes, it is just a matter of when. I really like this hotel – and I cannot explain why. Or maybe I just have.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I received 2 complimentary spa treatments during my stay (one for me, one for Mr. O). To find out more information about the Westin Diplomat, visit its website.

My Flight: British Airways Club World (Business Class) – London (LHR) to New York (JFK)

A review of British Airways Club World Business Class

The British Airways Club World (Business Class) cabin is one I know very well and which, in my opinion, delivers exactly what I want on a regular basis – great service, food and drink (add extra chocolates to that) and comfort. Here is how a recent flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK went.

A good travel experience does not begin when you arrive at your destination. For me, it is pretty clear – it all starts at the airport. Long-haul flights for me, are very special moments – it is code for ‘me’ time: no interruptions, time to catch up on movies and TV, bubbles and of course, continuing to believe that ‘there are no calories up in the air’, especially when it refers to chocolate. Don’t ask.

Check-in

The BA First Check-In area at LHR

The BA First Check-In area at LHR

Checking in at London Heathrow’s terminal 5 is always a breeze. I call this one of my ‘spiritual places’ (it is where many travel adventures) and it really has a calming effect on me (as soon as I enter the terminal). It is bright and airy, very quiet and there are no queues. Club World passengers have many dedicated check-in desks, but as a BA Executive Club Gold Cardholder, I am also able to check in for any flight on the First Check In area. I chose the latter as there was no queue (and because it always feels special).

When you approach this area, you are greeted by BA ground staff and directed to the next available check-in desk. Ours was short but sweet – the ground agent was nice and seemed particularly excited by our final destination (which was Miami, via JFK) – everyone wants to escape the British winter.

 

Security

All business class passengers (as well as silver and gold cardholders with a guest) can use the Fast Track security lane, which usually works well (but depends on the time of day). We had 5 people before us on our lane and it took us around 10 minutes – most people were leisure travellers and they took their time.

 

The Lounge

The BA First Lounge at London Heathrow T5

The BA First Lounge at London Heathrow T5

We could use either the BA Galleries lounge (as can all business class and silver cardholders) – both at the main terminal (T5A), where you have a choice of North and South lounges (I prefer the South one), but you can also use the lounge at T5B, the satellite terminal where our flight was to depart from.

As a gold member, I love stopping by the First lounge, and obviously we did so. This lounge is for First (who can also use the *heavenly* Concorde Room) passengers and Gold cardholders.

On this occasion, the lounge was very busy, although finding a place to seat was not a real problem. However, finding a clean one, proved more challenging. BA has recently changed the catering on its Heathrow lounges (with some hiccups, but I do think everything is OK now), but I feel that there is less staff than before. Do not quote me on this, but it was clear on this occasion (and other subsequent visits). It feels that you need to get hold of someone, rather than have someone come to you, which used to happen. We did find someone, who promptly cleared the table we intended to use and we placed our order: an epic bacon and egg made-to-order sandwich, aka my favourite breakfast.

Another area of the BA First Galleries Lounge at T5

Another area of the BA First Galleries Lounge at T5

You have a buffet available (which has improved a lot) – and obviously it changes during the day. You can find a very good selection of continental breakfast items – bread, cheese, hams, muffins, pastries, cereal, etc, as well as bacon, and all the things you need for a full English breakfast. I must confess I rarely use the buffet as I love the made-to-order selections – so I always make sure I have enough time at the lounge, although I never had to wait more than 10 minutes at any time.

You will also find a full coffee, tea and soft drinks selection and, of course, the fab champagne and wine bar. As it was early in the morning, I actually did not have any Taittinger (which is back on offer, both the rose and the lovely Prelude brut). The champagne selection changes every now and then (and I really was surprised to find a brand like Castelnau on offer for a while, alongside a lovely Bollinger. But we are back in Taittinger World, and that is a good place to be).

Love Taittinger. No comments necessary.

Love Taittinger. No comments necessary.

The lounge offers a wide newspaper selection, but the magazine options can be completely hit or miss. Sometimes you have a good day and you can get ‘normal’ magazines (like Tatler, CN Traveller, Vanity Fair, Hello, etc), but most often than not, it is full of ‘airport lounge’ magazines, and I am not sure who reads them. I was able to get a copy of Hello! (I have a little trick which I shall not divulge… well, basically, you can ask!), but nothing else. I hoped I would get more on the plane, which actually happened (as normally).

I tried to use the Elemis spa, but I couldn’t get a slot. Sadly, this has happened a lot lately, and I always feel that there aren’t enough therapists for the number of treatment rooms. You can also try to use the T5B Elemis Spa, but there was no availability either, not even for a chair massage. It is not a deal breaker, but I do confess I like my pre-flight mini facial.

I think the lounge, overall, is outstanding – it is a really nice space, tastefully designed and decorated and you don’t find lounges like this everywhere. I am very lucky that this is my ‘home’ lounge and it is the one I measure every other lounge in the world against. It is a busy lounge, because obviously it is the ‘home’ of British Airways.

The Flight

–          Welcome – we boarded the plane using the fast-track lane. When we got to the door, we were greeted by name (which is always a nice touch. All it takes it a quick glance at your surname…). We also got the ‘Welcome back, Mr. and Mrs. O’Reilly’, which I have to say, is one of the things that really mean something to me. It is silly, I know, but it is all about the little things. Our seat was on the main floor (the upper deck, which I usually prefer, was full), but we had the last row facing a wall, meaning that one of us had no other passenger contact, which I quite like (sounds very anti-social but given a choice, I prefer not having a stranger climbing over my seat).

The BA Club World cabin. Wished I could tell you which type of plane it was, but I do not speak 'airplane', I am afraid.

The BA Club World cabin. Wished I could tell you which type of plane it was, but I do not speak ‘airplane’, I am afraid. (Photo credit – Wikipedia Commons)

–          Amenities – on our seats, we found a pillow, a duvet and noise cancelling headphones. As we got ready to sit down, the crew came round with drinks (champagne or water) and also brought the amenity kit, which turned out to be the new one, which was introduced in late 2013. I was quite intrigued as it looked completely different from the previous ones (it was time for a change!). Elemis was kept as a brand (which I find interesting – I like it, but I don’t love it. I have been thinking about a new brand to suggest to BA and I can’t think of another brand which would fit the bill, besides Aromatherapy Associates and REN, both used in the First Cabin, *sighs*). Love a good first world problem.

$_35

With the change, there is now a male and female version (obviously Mr. O and I got one each), which makes perfect sense as we have different needs. To be fair, the products included are better than before. The lip balm and the moisturiser in particular. The ‘bag’ is given to you folded, but once you open it, it becomes quite a large bag, perfect for shoes, or underwear, or just ‘stuff’ for future trips. I have been using mine as a ‘tech bag’, where I put all the adapters and cables and what-not. I think it is also great as an overnight laundry bag, for example. It also includes a pen now (which was only given to you in World Traveller Plus, aka Premium Economy), but interestingly, it is unbranded.

Worth noting that I almost had a heart attack when I realised that the ear plugs and the eye mask were not included. Why? Because most people don’t use them (and worry not, they are available on request). But what you don’t know is that the ear plugs in Club World (and no others in the world – believe me, I have tried everything), keep my marriage alive and well. Without going into too much detail, they are the only ear plugs in the world that work for me, and block out, let’s call it ‘noise’ (and what every friend that flies Club brings me back – unused, of course). For years you were unable to buy them, but thankfully there is a similar model available for purchase in the UK now. But I was counting dearly on both pairs for the upcoming trip ahead, and was delighted when the cabin crew brought me not one, but 10 pairs.

–          Drinks service – As stated previously, we were offered a glass of Taittinger champagne when we boarded, and before the main meal (which was lunch, on this flight), you are offered a pre-meal drink, as normal. I choose a kir royal (not pictured), as well as water. I declined the nuts and asked for the pretzels (which I prefer), and the crew gladly got me some.

I got the window seat and the wall (just the way I like it)… and the bubbles too!

I got the window seat and the wall (just the way I like it)… and the bubbles too!

At this stage, you are also given a menu which lets you know which options you have during the flight. It has good variety and more and more healthier choices, clearly marked.

–          In-flight dining – as my starter, I picked the ‘tarragon and orange cured salmon gravlax with vegetable caviar’ and I have to say, it was outstanding. It came with a fresh salad, which I also ate. For my main course, I had a ‘seared fillet of British beef with horseradish, dill and chive sauce, broccoli, courgettes and sweet potato mash’. And although it didn’t look like fine dining (it was the sauce, of course), it was also delicious. For dessert, I did everything I could to resist the key lime pie (only because I was heading to Miami and there would be plenty of it) and had the cheese selection, which is obviously something I don’t have a lot of when I visit the USA for obvious reasons. On offer were ‘Coastal Cheddar’ and ‘Somerset Camembert’ with grapes and biscuits. On recent flights (and everywhere in the UK), traditional crackers have been replaced by oat biscuits, which I personally really do not like. I expected these and was pleasantly surprised by the new flat breads which were also lovely.

My lunch onboard

My lunch onboard

In terms of wine selection, there were 2 reds and 2 whites available – I had a Chateau Favray Pouilly Fume 2012 with the salmon and a glass of Meiomi Pinot Noit 2012 from California, as I was heading to that part of the world. Both were very good. 

Prior to landing, we were served ‘traditional afternoon tea’, which I must confess, is one of my favourite BA meals. It comes with 3 sandwiches and warm scones with clotted cream and jam. And your choice of tea (mine was Earl Grey).

During the flight, you have access to the ‘Club Kitchen’ where you can help yourself to snacks during the flight and in between meals – I am particularly keen on the chocolate and sweets basket, I must confess. You can find a selection of wraps, fruit, salads, ice cream and drinks. If you need anything else, there is always a crew member around to help you out (especially if you want an alcoholic drink).

–          In-flight entertainment – Obviously the screens are not of the same generation of the new A380, but they are reasonably sized and worked well during my flight. Needless to say, I went to town with the films and I think I only slept a couple of hours, as there was a lot to catch up on. There is also a power plug to charge any devices, which I did not use.

The Club World seat

The Club World seat

–          The seat – the seats are absolutely fine and I love the cabin colour (I cannot wait to try the new new ones, which are grey and also look the part). They recline to a flat bed with the help of the footstool and I cannot fault them. They are wide enough, comfortable enough and I like the privacy you get if you have a window seat. The cabin has a 2-4-2  configuration with seats facing each other, so Mr. O and I can have lunch and look at each other (very romantic). If I am travelling solo, there is a little screen that you can put up.

The BA Club World seat before it turns into a flat bed

The BA Club World seat before it turns into a flat bed. Photo credit: BA

Final thoughts – we had a really good flight, as usual. The crew was really nice and friendly, nothing was too much trouble – this is what I expect from BA, and I got it. Flights from London to NYC in Club World cost from £1650 return.

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

PS. You can also read other flight reviews – BA Club World (Business Class) on the A380, World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) on the new A380, and for the BA001 all business class service from London City to JFK. See also other airlines including Qatar Airways (Dreamliner), Jet Airways (Premiere) and JetBlue (Mint).

My Top 5 destinations for Spring 2014

As much as I love the mountains, I must confess I am much more of a Spring and Summer person. So it is only natural (and human), that I am counting the days until Spring finally arrives – and possibly all the good things that come with it.

I am taking quite a few trips this Spring (the beauty of weekends and short flights), and I am very excited about each and one of them! So here are my Top 5 destinations for Spring.

Maldives

Yes, I am going back, and literally cannot wait. I loved the Maldives last year, and vowed to go back as soon as possible – and true to my word, I shall be back in late March for a long stay.

I will do something similar to what I did last year, and will split my almost 2 weeks away in 3 hotels – I am looking forward to the seaplane transfers, I must confess. A little bit of variety sounds ideal.

This pool is so calling my name!

This pool is so calling my name!

My first stop will be at the Lux South Ari (formerly Lux Maldives), which looks just wonderful. With 4 kms of beaches, I intend to inspect every single grain of sand. Many of my readers have visited this island resort and gave me really good feedback, so I am very keen to report back with my thoughts.

My second hotel will be incredibly looking Constance Halaveli – and I have to say, I am lost for words and losing sleep over it. Doesn’t it look stunning? A water villa awaits us…

I may never leave… you have been warned!

I may never leave… you have been warned!

And last, but certainly not the least, I am looking forward to the newly-opened Iru Fushi. There is something about new hotels and this particular one seems quite unique. I love knowing that I will have a stunning deluxe villa with a pool, which will be only mine and Mr. O’s. Will be a great contrast from the other two properties and a great place to end this incredible Maldivian adventure.

Hummmmm, I can see this being a very nice place...

Hummmmm, I can see this being a very nice place…

On this trip, I will be flying with Qatar Airways and I cannot wait – it will be a journey and a half, just like last time!

Abu Dhabi

This will be the background of a new series "Mrs. O in Arabia"

This will be the background of a new series “Mrs. O in Arabia”

Easter will bring something completely different. After having a little taste of the Middle East last year, I have decided it should be a destination in itself. A BBC documentary made me want to book flights to Abu Dhabi and a very lively debate with my Twitter and Facebook followers took place. I asked where I should stay, and the choices were obvious.

The Shangri-La will be my first host – and I have to say I am really looking forward to it. Not only it looks fabulous, it was the hotel my readers could not stop recommending. I know I am in for a treat.

From there, I will head to the Rosewood Abu Dhabi, which will be a complete contrast – a new hotel, very design-led and a brand I love. I recently stayed at their new London hotel and cannot recommend it enough.

A more urban experience awaits...

A more urban experience awaits…

And for the rest of my stay, there will be another place you can find me – and that will be in the desert. As it will be my birthday week (birthday month celebrations shall commence in the Maldives, obviously), I really want to end it in style. Again, a readers’ choice (and many of them!): the stunning Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort.

An oasis of peace and quiet (I hope!)

An oasis of peace and quiet (I hope!)

Paphos, Cyprus

May will also bring exciting destinations and I am particularly looking forward to Cyprus – a place I visited 10 years ago for the first time.

Yes, this is Cyprus - and I am so going to find this beach...

Yes, this is Cyprus – and I am so going to find this beach…

This time, I shall be staying at the lovely looking Columbia Beach Resort, which has some great reviews and seems like the perfect location for some exploring around the island. And we love Cypriot food, so I think we will be in for a treat.

Looking forward to some understated luxury closer to home… in Cyprus

Looking forward to some understated luxury closer to home… in Cyprus

Bordeaux, France

Later in the month, France is calling again. How can one have enough of this incredible country? I shall be spending a foodie weekend in Bouliac, which is also known as the ‘balcony of Bordeaux’, which I feel may become of one my spiritual places. The stunning Relais & Chateaux Le Saint- James will be our home away from home – and I cannot wait for those stunning views from our bedroom. And the food. And the wine.

This is what les francais call 'a room avec a view'. I say oui oui, bien-sur!

This is what les francais call ‘a room avec a view’. I say oui oui, bien-sur!

Puglia, Italy

And in June, I will be spending almost a week in a special place – Salento, in Puglia (i.e. the heel of Italy). I know the food won’t be bad (hummm) and it looks very pleasant to the eye too….

My stunning Italian villa...

My stunning Italian villa…

I will be staying in a stunning 5 bedroom villa courtesy of Passepartout Homes, and I am really looking forward to a bit of Italy in my life (one cannot have too much Italy in one’s life, I must say). It comes with all luxury-hotel amenities and concierge services, but with all the privacy, so it should be interesting.

Spring is upon us and I cannot wait to take you on these journeys with me. And after these, well, summer awaits.. but that is a whole new story to tell!

Counting the days!

xo

Mrs. O

A lux weekend in Amsterdam

A_lux_weekend_in_500x100px_HL2

Amsterdam and luxury don’t usually go together. But I completely disagree – I have been to Amsterdam a good 5 times before, always for business, and the city always left me wishing I stayed for longer.

Last year, thanks to Sabine de Witte, I enjoyed an amazing weekend in Amsterdam – lux all around, great hotels (I loved the Pulitzer, a hotel I have stayed at many times and has character and a lot of Dutch quirkiness and the Sofitel Legend The Grand, which is possibly in my top 5 of hotels ever), design shops, architecture and amazing people. I wanted another Amsterdam fix again… so I got the girls together, and we headed back. Because there was lots to do and see… and enjoy!

A room with a view from the Pulitzer Hotel

A room with a view from the Pulitzer Hotel

We picked possibly the busiest weekend of the year – or ever, as the MTV awards were taking place, which left us competing with every pop star who was attending for the best hotel rooms. Getting a room, any room, in any 5-star hotel, was incredibly difficult – but thanks to my SPG points and status, we were able to get the last two rooms at the Pulitzer, which was to be our home for our Dutch adventure). Stress over, time to enjoy…

Friday 

I checked in before the girls (who were travelling from Paris), and simply enjoyed the views from the rooms – turned out they were all connected so we had a lot of space to play!). Before I knew it, Lauren from Where in the world is Lola, Mary Anne from Jetset Extra and Ashley from The Lazy Travelers had arrived and it was time to hit the town. We were on a hotel hopping mission – the girls weren’t familiar with the city and I wanted to make sure they saw some of Amsterdam’s finest spots – because you are spoiled for choice. Oh well, someone had to do it!

Our first stop? The incredible Sofitel The Grand, which used to be the City Hall and well, it isn’t anymore. Besides being a fab hotel, it is also the home of Bridges, one of the best restaurants in town. With a very cool bar, where we *had* to start our evening.. with a cocktail, of course.

A dirty martini for me, yes please. Was kind of getting under the city's skin. Or not.

A dirty martini for me, yes please. Was kind of getting under the city’s skin. Or not.

One thing that sometimes scares me when you are going to a michelin-starred restaurant and are going to have the tasting menu, is how much you have to eat – I know that we are talking small portions, but sometimes it can get a bit much. I loved the Dutch sense of practicality, and how they read us perfectly well – I couldn’t quite believe when the Maitre d’ said that they would love us to try the shared tasting menu – where 2 of us would get one dish, and the other 2 would get another, with its respective wine pairings. This made dinner very exciting (as if the company and the location were not enough!) as we were very keen to see what the other two were having. We had an incredible meal, and I cannot recommend this restaurant (and hotel) enough.

Stunning dishes at Bridges, in Amsterdam

Stunning dishes at Bridges, in Amsterdam

After a good ‘almost three hours meal’ – think 4 girls who had not been together… for 3 days, we had a lot of catch up on – we decided to go for a night-cap. We were a little bit tired after a long week of work, but it would be rude not to.

I had been to (and loved) the Conservatorium Hotel before, and obviously knew about its fab Tunes Bar (tried and tested before, not taking chances here). As it happens, 2 out of the 3 lovely ladies (excluding yours truly, of course) have a thing or three for gin – and the bar only offers a selection of 30 gins (and 6 tonics… served in what I call proper gin glasses).

I much prefer this version of Amsterdam by night. And the people were so good looking.

I much prefer this version of Amsterdam by night. And the people were so good looking.

The bar was heaving and we had a great time just people watching, whilst trying on various gin combinations – personally, I was not disappointed at all. How could I?

4 friends enjoying a gin in one of Europe's coolest cities. Sounds like a good weekend to me.

4 friends enjoying a gin in one of Europe’s coolest cities. Sounds like a good weekend to me.

Saturday

We had a reasonably early wake up (almost double digits but not quite), so we actually went to bed quite early. Because a lot of exercise awaited. We were to walk around Amsterdam for more than a couple of hours, in the company of Tim, a ‘scholar’ (check us out!) who offers one of the many bespoke private walking tours run by Context Travel, who provide these services for ‘the intellectually curious’. Private tours cost from €300 per group.

Doesn't Tim look like Jack Whitehall? Photo by Flytographer.

Doesn’t Tim look like Jack Whitehall? Photo by Flytographer.

I love the idea of walking tours (private ones, of course) – you get to see the city from a completely different perspective and get more than the odd soundbite. I have to say I was a bit surprise to find myself walking around the Red Light District at 11.30 am (and also how busy it was – not sure if still night trade or day one). Seeing these things by day (I have to say, I love the honesty of the concept – there is supply and demand, there is a market, do it safely and legally. No one is forced to go and have a look) made it a bit harsher than I ever remembered – certainly part of the experience.

From risqué areas, to more modern ones, we got a really good balance. We even walked around a few markets which is one of my favourite touristy things to do – food markets tell you a lot about a country and its eating habits, and very rarely I resist bringing something edible home.

We had really good rapport with Tim - we were smiling all around. Photos by Flytographer

We had really good rapport with Tim – we were smiling all around. Photos by Flytographer

Needless to say, we loved having our Flytographer with us, to capture such moments. This was my third experience with this brand, which I simply adore – I don’t think I can’t travel without Flytographer anymore – enough said! (A 30-minute session costs $250, and an hour session $350. The memories? Priceless)

Before we knew it, it was almost 3pm – not quite sure where the time went, but our legs certainly needed a rest. Instead of lunch (which we desperately needed by now), we were to try something quite different: High Wine at The Dylan Hotel. Think afternoon tea for the ‘intellectually interested’. Served between 3pm and 6pm, and for €39.50, you get the same concept of afternoon tea, but with delicious savoury small courses.. and wine! The Dylan is a lovely boutique hotel located not far from the 9 streets (and our hotel), and truly special.

Loved the High Wine at The Dylan

Loved the High Wine at The Dylan

At this stage, for some reason, I started not to feel well – I wasn’t 100% during the week, and just started to feel really tired, which was a real shame. But I joined the girls while we visited one of Holland’s good and great brands – who doesn’t remember those Bols bottles at bars? I didn’t actually knew they were cocktail liqueurs, so I really enjoyed a trip down memory lane (visually!). If we were to do something touristy, this was high on my list.

Hummmm, which one to choose?

Hummmm, which one to choose?

After this very interesting experience, we headed back to the hotel to change for dinner. Needless to say, that room service was what I needed, as well as a 12-hour sleep. I was exhausted after 2 weeks non-stop (of both work and play) and my body just said stop. So I did. The girls went out and had a lot of fun.

Sunday

We were up at a very respectable hour – with double digits, which is what I need each Sunday. And to be honest, if I am travelling, I behave exactly the same way – we all have work weeks ahead and rest is absolutely necessary. After a lovely breakfast back at our hotel, it was time to get wet. Or maybe not!

We were curious about which boat was to pick us at at our private mooring at The Pulitzer

We were curious about which boat was to pick us at our private mooring at The Pulitzer

In my first trip to Amsterdam, many moons ago, I did one of those more commercial canal tours, and really did not enjoy it. On subsequent visits, I had the pleasure of enjoying a private tour (many canal hotels have their own boats and offer these to guests, The Pulitzer being one of them). But this time around, I really wanted to try a private charter company, and we had a great time, navigating Amsterdam’s canals for one hour with Private Boat Tours. A 1h tour starts at €240, which is outstanding value for money (our boat comfortably fitted 10 passengers).

We gave the bar a miss, but really enjoyed the commentary of our captain. Amsterdam is a stunning city and the best way to see it is by foot and/or by boat.

What a way to spend a morning! Loved our private canal tour!

What a way to spend a morning! Loved our private canal tour.

And from the our stunning boat, it was time to have our last meal in Amsterdam, before returning to the airport and saying goodbye to the girls. The place for Sunday brunch? The Bluespoon at the Andaz Hotel. I had been to the bar on my last visit, and also for brunch (and planned to return on Saturday night) and I really wanted to go back. There is something wacky about this hotel, which again is very design-led. But there is also something very special about the desert table – you couldn’t get Lauren away from it!

The desert table was to die for. I almost did.

The desert table was to die for. I almost did.

And after a group hug, it was time to say goodbye. Once again, Amsterdam surprised us – there is something about this city and the people, that make you want to go back. For us, it is a mere 45 minute flight away, and so culturally different, and unique.

Lauren, myself, Ashley and Mary Anne shot by Flytographer. I miss you, ladies!

Lauren, myself, Ashley and Mary Anne shot by Flytographer. I miss you, ladies!

And I will be back, and it won’t be long.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Bridges Restaurant, Tunes Bar, Dylan Hotel, Context Travel, Flytographer, Private Boat Tours and the Andaz. Thank you to the Amsterdam Tourist Board who helped us organise the visit to the House of Bols, but not much more. Opinions are, always and as you know by now, my own.

My hOtel: London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square

myhotel

There are some hotel brands which come with pre-conceptions. But things are changing – and the large hotel chains are going through personality changes, like we all do. When Marriott’s PR team invited me to try their hotel in Grosvenor Square, I wasn’t so sure – but the location was fantastic (for my life in London) and they quite rightly pointed out that I had enjoyed previous stays at the St. Pancras Renaissance and the JW Marriott’s Grosvenor House (where I got to play with dolls and drink gin in the nursery suite). These are all Marriott brands (as is the sexy and brand spanking new London Edition, which I have also tried, loved and will be reviewing soon here on the blog).

And do you know what? I discovered a gem in London. So going out of one’s comfort zone does pay off sometimes – here is how my stay at the London Marriott Grosvenor Square Hotel went.

The London Marriott Grosvenor Square

The London Marriott Grosvenor Square

Pre-Arrival

–          Was there any pre-arrival communication by the hotel with myself via email or social media?

Yes there was. The hotel stay was sorted weeks before, but having arrived from a long trip where I had some luggage issues, I did get in touch with the hotel the day before as I needed to ensure that some of the items that were in my luggage could be provided. I am never one to ask for much, but I really needed some hair straighteners (usually mine, of course!) and a good hairdryer. The hotel’s guest team were lovely and told me not to worry as they obviously have good hair dryers and have hair straighteners available for guests (on request). It is something silly, but I really appreciated the gesture.

–          Did I try to engage the hotel via Twitter? Did the hotel interact with me and made me feel welcome/special?

Interestingly, the hotel engaged with me, days before my arrival, saying they were looking forward to having me stay. Usually, I ‘take the first step’, and have to confess I was quite surprised. Pleasantly, of course.

–          Has the hotel tried to gather any personal information (e.g. preferences) prior to my stay?

I volunteered some (see above)!

Arrival

The multimedia wall

The multimedia wall

–          The wow factor! What was the hotel decor style?

With such a traditional exterior (appropriate for the area, of course), I have to confess I wasn’t expecting the multimedia wall which dominates the lobby, which is quite compact. It is quite a feature and it adds a touch of ‘modernity’. I then approached the check-in desk, and it would be fair to say that it had quite a different style.

The check-in area at the London Marriott

The check-in area at the London Marriott

It would be fair to say that it was an interesting combination of old and new, a theme that continued throughout the hotel.

–          How quick and efficient was the hotel check-in?

I arrived at the hotel at 8am, not expecting to check in at all. I had a busy day in London and just wanted to leave my suitcase. I was indeed surprised to know that my room was ready so early in the day. The reception team was very good (not just on check-in, but throughout our stay).

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

Yes I was, and as I checked in, the guest services team came to greet me and escort me to my room.

–          Did I get an upgrade from my confirmed pre-booked room type?

I had no idea what room type I was assigned. During my stay, I had a Club Balcony Room.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Very good throughout the whole stay.

–          Luggage – how many people did I have to tip before the luggage made it safely to my room? This is cultural, I know

I had a small carry-on bag and took it with me to the room.

–          Wi-fi – was I told anything about it? Was there a charge?

Wi-fi is not free of charge, but my room rate included Club Lounge Access and Internet (this is also given to those with the appropriate status on the Marriott loyalty programme).

Room Experience

I really liked my room. I really did.

I really liked my room. I really did.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

I was really surprised and quite impressed. It was really modern but subtle and I loved the bed! It looked very welcoming and do not get me started on the outdoor space – a lovely surprise in London, I have to say.
–          Welcome amenity

One of my welcome amenities

One of my welcome amenities

I had different welcomes on each day of my stay, but I had to say, this was the sweetest. I loved the cheese selection and the quince liqueur, paired with the coffee mousse and the macarons. And a glass of wine, of course.

–          The bed

The bed was lovely and uber comfortable. The pillows were also very good and we slept really well.

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

Everything was fine in this department.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

There was an iPhone dock for iPhone 4s, which Mr. O used.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes, of course, and slippers were brought to the side of the bed on turndown.

–          Coffee and Tea

Yes, there was a kettle and a selection of teas and coffee, which I did not use.

I did not play mini-golf, but I really enjoyed my little private outdoor space.

I did not play mini-golf, but I really enjoyed my little private outdoor space.

–          Free bottled water

Yes and changed daily.

–          Magazine selection – had some nice surprises and doesn’t happen often enough!

Not very inspiring, I have to say (Where magazine). But to be fair, a lot of ‘proper’ magazines and newspapers could be found at the Club Lounge.

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

Not a problem, all very easy.

Bathroom

Great bathroom

Great bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom cannot be faulted in any way – it was white and modern. I quite liked the bathtub which would let you overlook the room and the fireplace should you be that way inclined.

–          Bath, shower and taps – I am looking for Duravits and Hansgrohes (or other fab brands) around the world. How fab was the shower? And a little pet peeve.. was I able to operate the shower without asking Mr. O for help?

All state of the art, as they should be. The shower was outstanding.

–          Towels – yes, please! How many and how soft and lovely?

They were fine, but not amazing. A little room for improvement here.

–          Toiletries – own brand, super brand, baby ones or proper ones? I shall find out!

We had baby L’Occitane toiletries, which is a solid brand with good quality products.

The L'Occitane amenity kit

The L’Occitane amenity kit

–          Amenity kit – I don’t want more sewing kits thank you very much, but I will need a shower cap.

Very good shower cap and I did like the nail file.

–          Hairdryer – is it a human one, or just something stuck to a wall that only makes noise?

It was good and so were the hair straighteners that the hotel let me borrow during my stay.

Breakfast

The Club Lounge

The Club Lounge

For rooms and guest with Club Lounge access, breakfast is served in this room (as are snacks and drinks during the day). I have to confess I found the room a bit soulless – possibly as it had no natural light. It wasn’t busy when we visited either during the day or at night, but we didn’t feel inspired to spend a lot of time in this room.

During the rest of my stay, I chose the Maze Grill, which offers a buffet and a la carte options. To be very honest, the eggs on all occasions (including when made to order), were not impressive and really were ‘hotel eggs’. There was a good bread selection, but the fruit not so much. I was expecting more and was not very impressed, to be honest.

Bar

The Luggage Room

The Luggage Room

I do not know how I have never heard about this place. With a separate entrance from the hotel, the Luggage Room was one of the nicest bar surprises I have ever had. It was lovely – a bit dark (loved the decor), sexy and very comfortable. We loved it and have been back since our stay. Service was outstanding (we needed a lot of help selecting the cocktails as the selection was vast). If you find yourself in this part of town (the lovely Mayfair), do go as you won’t be disappointed in any way.

Mint juleps, anyone?

Mint juleps, anyone?

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

I did not have a problem during my stay.

–          Did the hotel interact with me via Twitter during my stay?

Yes, indeed!

–          Location

Outstanding – you are in one of London’s most iconic squares, in the heart of Mayfair. And steps from Oxford Street….

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Standard rooms start from £209 and Club Balcony rooms from £429 per night. Outstanding value for money.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

I would without a problem.

–          Would I stay again?

Yes indeed. The room was really good and comfortable, service was also spotless and we adored the bar.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Marriott Hotels during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.

The Luxury Travel Blog Network – February 2014 Edition

LTBN Luxury Travel Blog

February is the shortest month of the year, but who says it is the most boring? Absolutely not!

This month, we have added a boy to The Luxury Travel Blog Network – the one and only Paul Johnson, the founder of A Luxury Travel Blog. An authority in the world of luxury travel blogging, it is good to have some diversity! This month, Paul stayed at the Polurrian Bay Hotel,  a member of Luxury Family Hotels, and arrived just in time to see the sun setting over the Atlantic from his room.  Read all about it here.

Cornwall, in the West of England is simply stunning

Cornwall, in the West of England is simply stunning

 

Katie from Traveling Panties has recently visited Nevis (as in the Nevis from St. Kitts & Nevis), a place I must confess, I am curious about. It has more to do than just lie back on the beach (something that particularly takes my fancy, I won’t lie) – and it looks sooooo pretty! Find out what else there is to do and see in this little paradise.

There are more than just beaches in Nevis...

There are more than just beaches in Nevis…

The lovely Nadine Jolie, fresh back from her honeymoon, discovered a very exclusive place… not in London or Paris, but in Anaheim, California. She had a fab time at the Club 33 in… wait for this… Disneyland! A members-only club, founded by Mr. Walt Disney itself, it has old Hollywood glamour written all over it! Read all about it here.

Yes, you are at home, Nadine

Yes, you are at home, Nadine

Kim-Marie, aka Luxury Travel Mom, took 2 of her lovely children to the Aulani Disney Resort in Hawaii (I am sensing a Disney theme here – who knew there was so much Disney lux and love?). While the kids loved it, it is fair to say that Kim Marie ‘adored’ some of the local cocktails (aka the Mai Tai)… and the adults only pool (as I would). Tough life, but we are doing all this on the name of research, promise. Read all about it here.

Something tells me I would also be partial to Mai Tais

Something tells me I would also be partial to Mai Tais

I had a relatively quiet month – I had an adventure and a half trying to renew my passport (a must in Mrs. O’s life). It was so easy, I had to go to Portugal and do it. Sadly, it was not a positive experience. But the good news is, I have a passport again and I will be shortly off to Val d’Isere (yes, again, I am a repeater, as you know) in the French Alps, for a week of skiing (and apres-skiing, something I am very good at) and then, to the lovely Maldives – I cannot wait to see the sun again.

Until next month!

xo

Mrs. O

A lux ski weekend in Val d’Isere, France

Val d’Isere in the French Alps – two words that make me smile immediately. Why? Because it brings back great memories from other ski breaks, and it is a resort, which in my opinion, has it all – postcard pretty, incredible ski, great food and do not get me started on the apres-ski.

The pretty Chalet Lhotse awaited...

The pretty Chalet Lhotse awaited…

On this trip, I was to try the newly renovated Chalet Lhotse. To say that Chalet Lhotse is unique, would be an understatement. Located in the heart of Val d’Isère, this chalet truly wowed me – which doesn’t happen every day. But it is not everyday that you get to spend 4 days in a place which looks like this – with its very own personality, it has an interesting decor style (very alpine, very furry but also very warm).

When you walk in, you have the chic ski room on your left, and then, on your right, your own private bar (which we tried and tested after dinner). And then… you have this. Without a doubt, the most beautiful private pool I have ever seen in the Alps. I have to say, I was excited!

The first thing you see… and it is all yours

The first thing you see… and it is all yours

But first things first, I had to inspect my own room – and I wasn’t disappointed with how spacious it was. I would have probably preferred white bed linen and a bit less fur, but other than that, it was faultless. I loved the tempurpedic mattresses and I slept like a baby, every night, throughout my stay. The woodwork was something else (throughout the whole chalet), and I really liked some of the very unique furniture pieces.

My alpine chic bedroom at Lhotse

My alpine chic bedroom at Lhotse

My bathroom also looked the part. I loved the HansGrohe walk-in shower, and I stayed there every day longer than usual – it was amazing! The only slight downside? That you need to get wet (and cold) to turn it on as the tap is not located before you walk-in. Every day, it was a bit of an adventure, but by day 4, I had totally mastered it! I have to say I loved the Elemis toiletries and the special ‘sleep well’ set, full of lavender goodness.

Very stylish and chic, a very nice bathroom

Very stylish and chic, a very nice bathroom

After unpacking, it was time to meet the others upstairs and get ready for some cheese and wine tasting – God, you have to love all that France has to offer.

Life is all about the simple things. Cured meats, cheese and wine. Oui, s'il vous plait

Life is all about the simple things. Cured meats, cheese and wine. Oui, s’il vous plait

The 2nd floor of the chalet is the social floor, where besides one of the 6 bedrooms, you will find the stunning lounge, dining area and kitchen. The chalet comes fully staffed with a chalet manager, 2 chalet staff and Bruce, the outstanding chef. All meals (breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner) and drinks are included throughout your stay – you need only make sure you ski enough to make room for the extra calories. Which I did, of course.

Very spacious and truly wow

Very spacious and truly wow

There is something about the mountain air, which makes me sleepy, especially on the first night. So after an early night, I was ready to face the mountains – and in Val d’Isere, they are so so so so amazing…

Oui, the mountains were calling...

Oui, the mountains were calling…

One thing I need to confess – I am a morning skier. I do enjoy skiing, but I don’t like skiing all day. So every time, I head for the slopes for 3h, with my private instructor. It may sound a bit silly, but I have done this on every ski holiday in the past 10 years. I am a decent skier, but I don’t like skiing with friends (how anti-social). Skiing is an individual sport (for me), and I don’t want to slow anyone down. I like doing things at my own pace, and during my stay in Val d’Isere, my mornings were spent with Ken, the founder of Progression Ski.

And every time I ski, I learn something new. I have to say Ken was incredibly patient with me – and he was also so funny. I love a bit of Scottish humour and don’t get me started on the accent. I had already skied this season, but I suffer from ski amnesia, which is why there is no other way round for me.

Ken, the pro and the obedient student. A good partnership, I have to say

Ken, the pro and the obedient student. A good partnership, I have to say

Remember when I said I was a bit anti-social? It is only during the mornings – because we always get together for lunch. Always. And there is nothing better than lunch with a view. On the first day, we went to La Solaise, where I adored the fish specialties and the Moroccan lamb couscous. I never made it to dessert, but I did enjoy a glass of Veuve.

It is so worth taking the time to stop and enjoy lunch. No burgers, please.

It is so worth taking the time to stop and enjoy lunch. No burgers, please.

Where did I spend the rest of the afternoon? At the chalet, of course. While my ski companions, well, ski.. I love taking those 2 precious hours before everyone is back to do something quite unusual: to take a nap. It is the only type of holiday where I make time for naps and they are usually glorious – and I cannot live without them.

After a nap, I went for a apres-ski massage. Do not think nice and relaxing – after a whole morning (or a whole day for most people), those muscles need a bit of TLC and the old ‘no pain, no gain’ applies here. Which is OK. The chalet has its own massage room, right by the pool, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and gym. These treatments are obviously not included in the cost of the chalet, but a 1-hour massage starts at €80, which is good value for the Alps (and anywhere else, really).

The Chalet Lhotse Massage room

The Chalet Lhotse Massage room

After a swim and a shower, I did have to try the afternoon tea – which is different every day, and very dangerous as you may not have enough room for dinner. I must say, every meal was incredible – I was also pleasantly surprised with how healthy the menus were. And delicious. And doesn’t the dining area look amazing?

Dinner with a view indeed. Perfect for a holiday with friends and family.

Dinner with a view indeed. Perfect for a holiday with friends and family.

The mountain air called me for an early night (what is up with that? Day 1 I understand, Day 2 and 3 not so much) – I couldn’t say no!

The next day, Ken and I ventured to other slopes – I would love to tell you where I went, but I have no idea. It is one of the things I like about having a private ski instructor – I don’t need to worry about a thing. The chalet team takes your skis and puts them in the car for you, and you are dropped off right by the slopes. There is no walking required – and there is always a helping hand with your equipment, which as a girl, I really appreciate.

A stunning morning in Val d'Isere

A stunning morning in Val d’Isere

The morning was cold, but the sun came out, which makes it so so lovely. I have to say, I love skiing at the end of January when there are no crowds, and you pretty much have the place to yourself (and a few other lucky people). If it is sunny, it is glorious – and we were lucky!

Despite my massage the day before, my legs still hurt – so we took a little cheeky break. I love the mountain cafes and the sun loungers – I had to try to get a bit of colour, just a teeny tiny bit.

And relax….

And relax….

And before we knew it, our 3.5h morning was gone. And I skied like a goddess at the end – I felt really really good! And happy, with that unmistakable sense of accomplishment.

I went back to the chalet to get rid of my ski boots and took the Gondola to the Folie Douce, where we were all meeting for lunch. A Val d’Isere classic, this place is epic. We had a fabulous meal, as always, at La Fruitiere, and then indulged in a bit of apres-ski fun at the bar, with everyone else.

What is that on the right? Snail soup. Delicious!!

What is that on the right? Snail soup. Delicious!!

This time around we were not just treated to a great show by the fab Kelly, but also by a hilarious ‘at your table’ magic show. It was so much fun, I cannot tell you. Priceless!

A kir royale with a view. Je t'aime, Val d'Isere

A kir royale with a view. Je t’aime, Val d’Isere

After a bit of fun, it was time for the last nap (of course). And the last dinner. And the last drinks, which always make me sad. Because I love the ‘mountain’ lifestyle and this break was fantastic.

Time for a little (and beautiful) gin and tonic, another stunning meal, and I have to say, an epic party in our bar.

How stunning was my Hendricks?

How stunning was my Hendricks?

But worry not, I will be back in Val d’Isere before I know it.

Au revoir,

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Consensio Holidays, who organised a perfect stay in Val d’Isere at Chalet Lhose. The recently renovated exclusive Chalet Lhotse is located in the heart of Val d’Isere, enjoying stunning views of the La Face piste. The chalet is complete with luxurious mountain décor, six ensuite bedrooms, spacious dining and living areas, and its own gym, bar and spa area. Prices start from £20,900 to £78,900, depending on the season, for  a week’s exclusive use of the fully staffed, chalet. This includes 7 nights’ accommodation in the luxury chalet and use of its facilities, in resort private chauffeur service, daily breakfast and afternoon tea, children’s lunch and supper, champagne and canapés, an open bar, personalised evening meal menu (6 nights) and a 5 star service throughout the week. Consensio can also arrange transfers, hire cars and private flights.

Progression Ski school in Val d’Isere runs private lessons from 3 hours to a full day, and group lessons, or clinics (maximum 6 people) for Skiers and Snowboarders. Lessons are available for complete children as well as more advanced adults looking to improve skills. Prices start from £192 for a three hour private lesson, and £233 for 5 days of 3 hour group lessons. 

La Folie Douce – The original lively après bar offers entertainment on the slopes throughout the winter season and features the exquisite restaurant, La Fruitière.