My hOtel: Lux South Ari Atoll (formerly Lux Maldives)

myhotel

You may already had a peek at some of my favourite moments of my recent Maldives trip. Now it is time to share details of my hotel stay at Lux Maldives.

Arriving at Male Airport, is just the first step. Yes, it takes a good 11-12h from Europe (I had a great experience with Qatar Airways) but the airport is not the destination. You don’t just get a cab to your hotel… Depending on the location of your island, you will be met by hotel representatives (this always happens) and then either taken to the pier for a speedboat transfer, or to one of the airport terminals. But as we had a fair bit of time before our flight (which usually you do not know, worth noting, and not exactly what we would have wanted, a 3h layover), we headed to the Lux Maldives airport lounge, which was just what we needed. Gave us a taste of what was to come, a chance to reconnect to the internet, and have a bite to eat and drink.

On this occasion, we were to try the new Maldivian domestic airline, Flyme, which flew us from Male to Maamigili ($167 one way), a mere 20 minutes away. We had an on-time departure and the Lux team took care of all our luggage and check in procedures – we were not to see our bags until we got to our room – I liked the sound of that! At the ‘airport’, we and other guests were welcomed by the Lux team, who took us to our speedboat, where a 10-minute journey awaited. And then… we had arrived!

All guest arrivals and departures are always an occasion at Lux Maldives

All guest arrivals and departures are always an occasion at Lux Maldives

Pre-Arrival

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

There was indeed. A few days prior to my departure, I got some very nice tweets which I could call teasers – of cocktails, of sunsets, of beaches. Very nice indeed.

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

Absolutely.

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

I had not asked for anything (except for a doll, for a photo stunt, don’t ask!!). Needless to say, I had a Barbie waiting in my room.

Arrival

Arriving at sunset was quite special

Arriving at sunset was quite special

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

We arrived just as the sun was setting, and I have to say it was stunning. I have a very vague recollection of the check in, for which we sat down, handed over our passport and credit card and within minutes, we were on our buggy.

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

Incredibly efficient and friendly.

–          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 indeed. And called Ana and Simon, which was lovely and very relaxed – we loved the atmosphere at Lux.

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

I had a confirmed Prestige Water Villa and that was the room we got. Very exciting.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

We did. Every time we walked past someone, we were always greeted with a lovely smile, and hello, of course.

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

I hadn’t seen my luggage since we arrived on the big plane to Male airport. And that was fine by me.

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

Yes indeed. It was free of charge and you just needed to log in with your email address once. Easy peasy.

Room Experience
We were driven from reception (located on the Eastern side of the island) to our Prestige Water Villa, which was located towards the West side of the Island. This little drive actually gives you a great sense of place and location – and how large the island actually is (comparing to others).

The West Point. Oh yes.

The West Point. Oh yes.

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Our lovely water villa did not disappoint in any way. At almost 100sqm it was spacious and airy. We had the bedroom (which included also a sitting area), a fab bathroom and the deck area.

–          Welcome amenity

We had a lovely bottle of ScrewCap, a wine from South Africa blended exclusively for Lux Resorts. It was a lovely touch and we enjoyed many other varietals of this brand throughout our stay. Oh well.

–          The bed

It was very good, über comfortable and huge. We slept really well throughout our stay.

Our lovely bedroom

Our lovely bedroom

–          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.

Plenty of space – and I also loved that is was located inside the bathroom, where one usually gets dressed. Very neat, plenty of space and hangers.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

We had a dock for iPhone 4 which we did not use.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Of course – and I  used them for a change. We also had some colourful flip-flops which were incredibly comfortable – I used them at the spa and then on my last couple of days when I discovered how nice the padding was.

–          Coffee and Tea

Yes indeed, but we did not use.

Small touches at Lux Maldives

Small touches at Lux Maldives

–          Free bottled water

Every day, each guest gets a 1-litre bottle of still water a day. Lux Resorts does not believe in overpriced bottles of water (it is actually one of their brand statements, alongside bad coffee).

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

Not here, but we had some books. You need to bring your own magazines and books to the Maldives, as you won’t be able to buy them anywhere.

–          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.

Once I disconnected the iPhone dock, I had my own plug socket (UK type, worth mentioning). Mr O had plenty on his side.

Bathroom

I am very partial to lovely bathrooms, I have to say...

I am very partial to lovely bathrooms, I have to say…

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

Oh yes, oh yes. It was lovely and spacious.

–          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?

Everything was brilliant and worked very well. The shower was fantastic.

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

Lots, and I loved how they were displayed (i.e. in the wicker basket). They were also lovely.

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

Unbelievable products.

Unbelievable products.

The own brand products were outstanding. The smell and quality were out of this world. So much so, that I begged the hotel for more – I was a happy girl when I left the Maldives only because of these goodies. I am almost through the ones I brought back, and I cannot tell you – the memories that come with the smells. If anyone goes out there, please bring me some (I haven’t got the courage to ask the hotel for more!).

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

All there and in a very colourful display.

How is this for a bath with a view? We did have one on one of the rainy days and loved it.

How is this for a bath with a view? We did have one on one of the rainy days and loved it.

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

There was one but I did not use – I went for the au naturel look.

Sun, pool and beach

No need to leave your room...

No need to leave your room…

Well well well, where do we start? We loved the privacy of our water villa – the sun loungers were very comfortable and the towels were great. With direct access to the sea, what else could you want?

Maybe a bit of sand?

Maybe a bit of sand?

We did not really use the beach, but it looked lovely. Specially at sunset. But we walked around the island and enjoyed many special moments like these…

Our beach. Lovely.

Our beach. Lovely.

We snorkeled a fair bit, and even saw a whale shark – we had a great morning on board the hotel’s catamaran and got to see even more islands and breathtaking scenery. There really are 12 shades of blue in the Maldives.

No filters or comments necessary.

No filters or comments necessary.

Dining

Where would you like cocktails today?

Where would you like cocktails today?

I can’t praise enough the food at Lux Maldives – it was outstanding. We had breakfast every day at the buffet (both the Western and the Oriental one) – and I have to say, it is the only meal where I can enjoy the variety. For lunch or dinner, to be honest, buffets are not for me. So I was delighted with the options we had – a fantastic Indian Ocean restaurant, where we tried a fab Maldivian curry and other local specialities, a great Italian meal and my absolute favourite, the Japanese, where I had one of the best things ever: foie gras sushi. As I said, if I had to die there and then, I would go happily.

Hungry? Oh well!

Hungry? Oh well!

It is worth mentioning that you need to check carefully the meal plan you choose when you book your trip – it pays to be organised (and choose the option where you can dine around). The wine selection was great (and the Screw Cap wine was $35, cocktails from $15) and all drinks were well priced.

Spa

Yes indeed. Le Spa!

Yes indeed. Le Spa!

We had a complimentary treatment courtesy of the hotel, and loved it so much we were back every day. The treatment rooms were stunning (imagine the views) and everything felt very zen. We were uber relaxed and really enjoyed the massages and foot scrubs, and the occasional glass of champagne (I kid you not, this was a package the hotel had for $219 per couple for 90 mins). What I always asked for? Separate rooms as I find couples massages the least romantic thing ever.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

I had some issues with it, but Mr. O did not, so I don’t understand. It worked always well in our room, but not to much in other areas.

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

Yes they did and had a bit of fun.

–          Location

As the only settlement on the island of Dhidhoofinolhu in South Ari Atoll, Lux Maldives is a 25-minute seaplane ride away from Male Airport, or 20 minutes by scheduled flights and a 10-minute boat ride.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Beach pavilions cost from $200 and Water Villas from $400 per night, excluding taxes (18%) on a room-only basis, for low season dates. These can increase 3-fold in high season, which runs from December to March-April.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely.

–          Would I stay again?

I promise I will. We saw a lot of families at Lux, and the happiest children ever – and I have to say we were never disturbed. So I will go back!

Yummy lychee cocktails… I miss Lux Maldives already!

Yummy lychee cocktails… I miss Lux Maldives already!

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Lux Resorts during this stay, on a room and board basis and obviously responsible for any extras, 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.

My Flight: Qatar Airways Dreamliner B787 Business Class – Doha to London

My review of the Qatar Airways Business Class service on the 787 (Dreamliner) between Doha and London.

After a very good first experience with Qatar Airways last year, on a trip to the Maldives, it was clear that the experience was to be repeated, even if we were not planning to actually stopover in Doha this time around. Destination: the same, of course.

A journey from London to Male, is actually very straightforward – a 6.5h flight to Doha, Qatar and a very speedy (under 1 hour) connection to Male, which we successfully accomplished, as did our luggage (the flight time from Doha to Male is approximately 4h30). On the return journey from paradise, I picked my flights carefully so I could do one thing: try Qatar Airways‘ new Boeing 787, aka the Dreamliner and test its new business class product.

The new Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The new Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Check-in 

All business class passengers check in at the Premium Terminal in Doha. This terminal is an oasis of tranquility and beautifully designed. When you arrive, a hotel-style bell boy takes your luggage and escorts you to the check-in desks where you get to sit down.

Fantastic first impressions on arrival at Doha's Premium Terminal

Fantastic first impressions on arrival at Doha’s Premium Terminal

We had landed from Male at around 10pm, and headed out to Doha for dinner, so when we came back at around 1am, we had no luggage with us. We were flying business class (there is no first class on the B787), but I had asked Qatar Airways if we could use the First Class lounge as an exception, as we had to ‘overnight’ at the airport (it would make no sense to sleep at a hotel for 3 hours).

Security

Well, there was no one except us. No fast track as the whole terminal is fast track and a breeze.

A truly luxury travel experience awaited...

A truly luxury travel experience awaited…

From security, you head up the escalators towards the lounge area. At the reception area, you are personally welcomed and directed towards the correct lounge – the First or Business Class. They are very similar in style, but differ in size (business class is larger) – one of the main differences is the spa and wellness offering, which I was really keen to try.

Outside the lounges, and available for all premium passengers are a business centre, prayer rooms, smoking rooms (also available inside each lounge), a family room, medical facilities and a games room (pictured further down). Plenty to do while you wait for your flight! There is also a small duty free area on the main floor, close to the departure gates.

The Lounge

All I could possibly want for a short connection

All I could possibly want for a short connection

I had been to this lounge before and was truly impressed – and this time around I wasn’t disappointed either. We were able to use one of the bedrooms available for connecting passengers, and did manage to get 3 hours sleep, before having a shower, breakfast and make our way back to London.

We slept well (but were a bit cold as we were unable to control the air con) and breakfast was outstanding. When we woke up at 5am the lounge was busy and smelled delicious. I have to say that the food selection would rival any 5-star hotel in the world. There were also made-to-order options, which we didn’t try as we were keen to spend the rest of the time at the business class terminal, where we found everything to be quite similar. There was a lot of staff and everyone was very keen to help and see if we (and everybody else) needed anything.

Great food selection at both lounges

Great food selection at both lounges

Due to the early time of the day, we abstained from any alcohol but I did see a considerable selection and the magic cocktail making table – I was gutted not to try one of the made to order cocktails, but I shall leave something for next time. We made our way towards the boading gates where mini shuttles or cars escort passengers to the plane.

Getting ready to board

Getting ready to board

We were delighted to be surprised (again) by a private transfer – and I have to say, it was fantastic. We got to board the plane before everybody else, which was actually handy (and I could take some photos without looking a little bit silly).

This is how one boards a plane, Qatar Airways' style

This is how one boards a plane, Qatar Airways’ style

The Flight

There is nothing like a new plane. Loved the cabin interiors of the Dreamliner

There is nothing like a new plane. Loved the cabin interiors of the Dreamliner

–          Welcome

We were welcomed by name by the crew, who I have to say, were very attentive throughout the whole flight. We were escorted to our seats, which you cannot actually see on the photo above as they were at the very back of the cabin. Once we realised we were still on our own, the crew obviously let us wonder around so we could see the cabin in more detail.

Here you can see a bar, at the rear of the cabin. Our seats were just behind, which was actually quite a private area.

Here you can see a bar, at the rear of the cabin. Our seats were just behind, which was actually quite a private area.

–          Amenities

On our seats, we found a little white (for ladies) or black (for men) pouch by Salvatore Ferragamo. It included face cream and other beauty products, as well as perfume. We also had an eye mask, socks and ear plugs – please note that this was not an night flight (it was a 6.30am departure, and therefore no pyjamas, which we had on other flights).

–          Drinks service 

The surprise of this trip was the fantastic lemon and mint juice, which I had on every leg of our trip to the Maldives. Yes, I declined champagne. It was fantastic and this was how I chose to start this trip. Obviously, there was a good selection of non alcoholic and alcoholic drinks (and Rose Bollinger, yes! Interestingly, the brut option was Lanson, which isn’t quite the same. I wonder why!)

My first Qatar Airways experience last year brought spiced chai to my life. This time around, the mint and lemon juice. I have the chai at home now, but not sure how I will find the lemon juice! Ideas?

My first Qatar Airways experience last year brought spiced chai to my life. This time around, the mint and lemon juice. I have the chai at home now, but not sure how I will find the lemon juice! Ideas?

–          In-flight dining

Oh, I had a lighter breakfast at the lounge, as I was really looking forward to having a meal onboard. On my Maldives leg I had missed out on the ‘Arabic breakfast’, and I was determined to try it. And I got it – and loved it. I seriously think I was middle eastern in one of my other lives as I simply adore the food.

We had 2 meal services, one after take off, and one before landing (the flight was around 6h). Qatar continues to work with various Michelin-starred chefs and you can choose if you would like Western, Middle Eastern or Indian food. I went for Middle Eastern all the way – I first had the Arabic breakfast, and before landing I had the Arabic meze and the grilled halloumi salad.

I loved the menus (which are in a nice binder) and the food was outstanding.

I loved the menus (which are in a nice binder) and the food was outstanding.

–  In-flight entertainment

Oh, I went to town, I have to say. The screen was huge and the selection was almost overwhelming. And what I really liked? The incredible selection of films, not only western style, but also from Bollywood and China. I did actually spend a good 20 minutes just going through the ‘world blockbusters’, but ended up watching some of the latest Hollywood releases.

The IFE system worked very well and you could access it via the touch screen or the iPod style remote. The flight had wifi too (which is still a novelty in my part of the world), but I decided I had plenty to do and see and did not use it.

Very good in flight entertainment

Very good in flight entertainment

–          The seat 

The new business class seats are, without a doubt, a huge improvement from the previous generation. Our little capsule was very spacious and had plenty of space for personal belongings, with a shelf, a side storage area (for magazines and water, for example) and a fully controllable seat. Needless to say, this seat turns into a fully flat bed and it is comfortable.

The new Qatar Airways Business Class seats were very good.

The new Qatar Airways Business Class seats were very good.

I also felt that there was enough personal space should you not be travelling with someone you knew – this may seem a small thing, but it really matters.

Final thoughts

Needless to say, I had (yet another) exceptional experience with Qatar Airways, who has recently joined Oneworld, and makes it even more interesting for frequent flyers partial to this alliance, like me, to try this airline on future trips. I was impressed with the new cabin, service and the food and drink. Our flights were also always on time, which is always appreciated. Will I fly again with Qatar Airways? Absolutely – the connection in Doha is not a problem at all (it is actually quite nice to have a break), and its destinations are particularly interesting for me. I shall be back!

Until the next flight…

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: Mr. O and I were upgraded on our trip by Qatar Airways, on the basis that we purchased an economy ticket ourselves, and subject to standby on some of the legs. All the effort and attention were greatly appreciated. Opinions are, as always, my own. An economy ticket to Male, in the Maldives via Doha from London Heathrow costs from £565 return including taxes, and from £2600 in business class.

Mrs. O’s birthday giveaway – lux and love for my readers

Oh, I know, I can be lovely sometimes ? Birthday month has been amazing – it started in the Maldives, then a lovely weekend in Paris (totally unexpected, but that is Mr. O for you) and I have a great Easter trip in the Middle East to look forward to – you can read all about my top 5 destinations for Spring, right here.

Who was a happy girl in Paris? Me! Photo by Flytographer

Who was a happy girl in Paris? Me! Photo by Flytographer

But as I said, I get more pleasure in giving, than receiving (not always, but you see what I mean), so I thought I would organise an incredible giveaway to thank my readers for their continuous support. Turning 35 is not a milestone in itself, so one might as well have fun with it.

I know you are dying to know what the prizes are…

7-nights at the stunning Masseria Il Trullino in Puglia, Italy, courtesy of Passepartout Homes

More than the Dolce Vita, with Passepartout Homes

More than the Dolce Vita, with Passepartout Homes

Yes, you read it right. Your own 5-bedroom luxury villa in this stunning part of Italy (the heel of the boot, to be precise), perfect for a week away with family and friends. The prize is valid from 1st October 2014 until 31st May 2015 and obviously is subject to availability. To find out more about Passepartout Homes (and the incredible villa options they offer), click here.

1 night at the Four Seasons Hampshire, UK

You shall be Lord or Lady of the Manor...

You shall be Lord or Lady of the Manor…

I have very fond memories of my stay at the Four Seasons Hampshire – one never forgets the first English sun tan (and you can read all about it here).  One lucky winner with get to enjoy the perfect English countryside luxury experience in the usual Four Seasons style – prize includes one night in a deluxe room, with breakfast for 2 guests. Valid Sunday through Fridays and excluding Saturdays, Bank Holidays and festive periods. Valid for six months and it is subject to availability.

A Night at Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam and Personalised Historic Vase Gift

Get ready to be dazzled by this Sofitel...

Get ready to be dazzled by this Sofitel…

Located in the old City Hall building in Amsterdam, the Sofitel Legend The Grand was one of my Top 5 city hotels ever – beautifully designed, located and with incredible service (read my review here). The prize on offer includes one night in a Superior Room with breakfast for two, subject to availability. The winner will also be gifted with a porcelain vase engraved with the winner’s name; the vase is officially registered as a historic monument and features characteristics dating back to the 1920s.

A 30-minute photo-shoot with Flytographer in one of its 85+ locations around the world

Some of my favourite Flytographer moments around the world

Some of my favourite Flytographer moments around the world

I adore Flytographer – it is almost fair to say that I cannot travel without them. Firm believers that memories are the best souvenirs, I would love to invite a reader to experience the Flytographer experience in a location of their choice. I have tried Flytographer 5 times in the last 6 months (in Lisbon, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Rome and Paris), and cannot recommend it enough – they are, without a doubt, the best photos I have from my trips. To find out more about Flytographer, click here. Prize valid for 12 months.

A meal for two at the fantastic Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, in Oxfordshire, UK

One of the most exceptional dining experiences in the UK. And also where I celebrated my birthday last year. Coincidence? Maybe not!

One of the most exceptional dining experiences in the UK. And also where I celebrated my birthday last year. Coincidence? Maybe not!

Since opening in 1984, the Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons has achieved the highest awards and accolades of any restaurant and country house hotel in Great Britain and is regarded as one of the very best in Europe. One of the few restaurants in the world to retain 2 Michelin stars for 29 years, it remains a mecca for gourmets the world over.  2014 celebrates the hotel and restaurant’s 30th anniversary, led by the legendary Raymond Blanc.

The prize is dinner for two people, including coffee & petit fours (this prize must be taken before the end of June 2014, Sunday to Thursday night inclusive, subject to availability).

For followers wishing to book a meal at Le Manoir (separately from this prize), simply  tweet @lemanoir and be offered a complimentary glass of Champagne du Manoir before dinner (Sunday – Thursday nights inclusive, until the end of June, subject to availability).

High Wine for two at The Dylan in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I kind of think this beats Afternoon Tea...

I kind of think this beats Afternoon Tea…

Indulge in The Dylan’s very own interpretation of High Tea – High Wine. Their Sommelier selects four wines, depending on seasonality, which the Chef matches with four amuse style savory bites. A delicate afternoon treat served daily between 3 and 6 pm. I recently experienced High Wine at The Dylan in Amsterdam and cannot recommend it enough. The prize is valid for 12 months.

Lounge Access and Security Fast Track for two from UK Airports courtesy of No1 Traveller

I am a true believer that a travel experience begins when you get to the airport...

I am a true believer that a travel experience begins when you get to the airport…

Start your holiday in style courtesy of airport hospitality specialist No.1 Traveller, who is offering  a pair of tickets to any of its airport lounges located at  Heathrow Terminal 3, Gatwick – North and South Terminals, Stansted or Birmingham, in the UK. The winner and a guest will be able to take advantage of No.1’s bistro, fully tended bar, self-service pantry table, free WiFi and selection of newspapers and magazines. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also receive complimentary premium security lane access so they can speed through the queues like a true VIP.

Please note that premium security lane access is available at Gatwick, Stansted and Birmingham only. This prize is valid for one year from the day the winners are announced. Lounge entry is subject to availability.

Travel with style… without any luggage, thanks to First Luggage

Yes, you travel without the bags… it does sound wonderful.

Yes, you travel without the bags… it does sound wonderful.

First Luggage is the world’s leading international door-to-door luggage collection and delivery service – I shall be trialling their service on my upcoming trip to Abu Dhabi and so will a lucky reader. First Luggage collects your luggage from your home (or any nominated address), then safely and swiftly transports them directly to their destination – be it a hotel, villa or other address. It avoids excess baggage charges and alleviates struggling to the airport with baggage, allows for simple and swift check-in, and then crucially no baggage collection at the luggage carousel at the destination airport. You go straight from plane to car to final destination point seamlessly.

The prize includes the transfer of up to two bags (weighing up to 20kg each) to and from a destination of choice (excluding Mauritius, Egypt, Malaysia, Canada, Russia, China, Canary Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and all destinations in South America). Prize to be taken by 31 December 2014.

A double pass for the Eating Italy Testaccio Food Tour in Rome

Ooops, I did eat my way around Rome with Eating Italy. And no regrets.

Ooops, I did eat my way around Rome with Eating Italy. And no regrets.

Eating Italy Food Tours offers food tours in two of Rome’s coolest neighbourhoods. They showcase the food and family-run establishments that locals know about but tourists rarely stumble upon. I spent a morning with my sister eating my way around Rome and have to say I was very impressed. And did not eat for 2 days afterwards.

A Sweet Secrets tour in Paris with WonderfulTime

This tour was one of my birthday treats in a recent weekend in Paris. You cannot eat lunch before - you have been warned.

This tour was one of my birthday treats on a recent weekend in Paris. You cannot eat lunch before – you have been warned.

Together with Alex on WonderfulTime’s “Sweet Secrets” tour, you’ll search for the most delectable treats Paris has to offer. The best pastry chefs and chocolatiers in the chic and sophisticated Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood know Alex, your private tour guide, well, and are glad to open their doors to her and her guests. Always on the lookout for the highest-quality ingredients for her own dessert creations, she also has the good fortune to get tips from some of the greats about the raw materials and specialty products they use. One of her favorite pastimes is visiting the hottest pâtisseries and chocolatiers that are the talk of the capital, and she can’t wait to share her knowledge.

Like what you see? Well, to take part in this competition, it is simple….

1. Subscribe to the blog by email (see box on the right of the screen). 

2. Share this post via your preferred social media channel (Facebook, Twitter or Google +)

3. Answer this question, by commenting below: what was your favourite birthday ever? What did you do? Also, let me know which would be your favourite prize.

Entries will be accepted until Friday 25th April 2014, 12pm noon UK time. Winners will be randomly selected and announced at 5pm UK time on the same day.

This competition is now closed. Winners have been contacted.

Good luck!

xo

Mrs. O

Top 10 Cocktails Around the World

Mix up a few ingredients, carefully, of course, and you may be up for moments of happiness. I love cocktails and am frequently asked which are my favourites. I cannot answer that – it would be like asking a mother to choose their favourite child – so for this article, I chose 10 cocktails I enjoyed recently, on location.

Travel for me is all about the memories – the times shared with friends and family. Meeting for drinks is one of my favourite past times – and one I am particularly good at.

1. Mango and ginger Mojitos in the Maldives – perfect to watch the sun set.

Mango mojitos? Yes, please

Mango mojitos? Yes, please

2. Punch in London – going back in time is not a bad thing.

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.

3. A Kir Royale with a view in France. Because one needs to rest after skiing.

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

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

4. The perfect Gin & Tonic in Madrid. Because Gin tastes better in Spain (the glasses must have something to do with it).

This is what I call a gin & tonic

This is what I call a gin & tonic

5. A very dirty martini in Beverly Hills. Where were you all my life?

Very dirty martinis... loved them!

Very dirty martinis… loved them!

6. The first summer Pimms of the season, at home in Henley on Thames. British summer in a glass.

A Pimms with a view (mind the plastic glass.. health and safety and all...)

A Pimms with a view (mind the plastic glass.. health and safety and all…)

7. A mango margarita in Mexico. The juice was freshly squeezed, which makes it count towards your 5-a-day, for sure.

Más mango margaritas, por favor!

Más mango margaritas, por favor!

8. Lychee caipirinhas in the Maldives. Possibly the best drink ever.

Lychee Caipirinha

Lychee Caipirinha

9. A glass of Taittinger on board. Because you know it will be a great flight.

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

I am off for 8 hours. Do not disturb.

10. Vermouth at 11.30am in Madrid. Would be rude not to partake in a national pastime.

Vermouth in Madrid, just go with it

Vermouth in Madrid, just go with it

Based on the memories, and the moments around each cocktail, I cannot help but smile – life is to be enjoyed with people you love and make you happy.

Which shared moment comes to your mind? And where? Would love to know!

xo

Mrs O

Finding 12 shades of blue in the Maldives

On my recent trip to the Maldives, I learned something truly fascinating: there are 12 ways to describe the word blue in the local language. And blue just happens to be my favourite colour.

I don’t know the actual words (and I did try to google them), but here is my interpretation of what I saw.

1. ‘I can see 12 shades of blue without trying too hard’ shade of blue. And if I take a deep breath, the world stands still.

It really was (at Lux Maldives)

It really was paradise at Lux Maldives

2. ‘I will never leave my room because I have a pool and the sea’ shade of blue. On one of the days, we were so lazy we ordered in breakfast and lunch, and I am not ashamed to admit it (says she who never orders room service, ever).

No need to go anywhere. At Constance HalaveliNo need to go anywhere. At Constance Halaveli

No need to go anywhere, when you have a room like this at Constance Halaveli.

3. ‘I am really tired from swimming, I will just rest for a couple of hours’ shade of blue. And I can just stare at the horizon. Or read a book.

I sat down for hours at Iru Fushi

I sat down for hours at Iru Fushi

4. ‘I will never go to a beach with other people’ shade of blue. And if I see someone else, I will wonder what they are doing there.

Not a soul, if I don't want to see anyone - at Iru Fushi

Not a soul, if I don’t want to see anyone – at Lux Maldives

5. ‘It is quite refreshing to see other colours rather than blue’ shade of blue. If you leave your room for a walk around the island.

Blue goes well with white sand. And green. At Constance Halaveli

Blue goes well with white sand. And green, at Constance Halaveli

6. ‘I have just realised that my clothes are also blue’ shade of blue. Seriously, 80% of the clothes I took were indeed blue. I kid you not.

Navy dress, a tan and a smile. Sunset happiness at Iru Fushi

Navy dress, a tan and a smile. Sunset happiness at Iru Fushi

7. ‘I will only drink juice if the colour matches with the rest’ shade of blue. And I cannot tell you how lovely this freshly squeezed papaya juice was.

How is that for the perfect colour combination? At Lux Maldives

How is that for the perfect colour combination? At Lux Maldives

8. ‘This is my type of airport’ shade of blue. No need for lounges and business class (who am I kidding?)

It was a little bit noisy, but oh so convenient. Arriving in style at Constance Halaveli

It was a little bit noisy, but oh so convenient. Arriving in style at Constance Halaveli

9. ‘If I stay in the water all day, my legs will finally get darker’ shade of blue. Because I was almost transparent when I arrived to the Maldives. Seriously.

Good to see some magic happening to my legs. At Iru Fushi

Good to see some magic happening to my legs at Iru Fushi

10. ‘When the sun sets, it is time for a gin and tonic with a view’ shade of blue. One of my favourite moments of the day.

Only here I watch the sun set with intent. At Lux Maldives

Only here I watch the sun set with intent – at Lux Maldives

11. ‘The clearest water in the world’ shade of blue. 

And one cannot be happier either. At Constance Halaveli

And one cannot be happier either. At Constance Halaveli

12. ‘One can be really good at something’ shade of blue. I am almost an Olympic champion at ‘beaching’, I kid you not.

I am better at this than skiing. At Iru Fushi.

I am better at this than skiing. At Iru Fushi.

What is your favourite shade of blue?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Lux Maldives, Constance Halaveli and Iru Fushi on my recent trip to the Maldives.

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).