Category Archives: Hilton

DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam HOTEL REVIEW: Modern Lodgings in a Centraal Location

One of the great things about my Miles & Points collecting hobby (what I like to call Pointing), is that it has enabled my Partner F and me to establish an annual tradition of “getting away from it all.” Each year, after celebrating Christmas with families, we jet off to some fun location to spend some quality “couple time” together. Cashing in our Points Kitty has taken us on some pretty awesome vacations over the years.

One such trip involved spending a few days in Amsterdam before making our way to Paris to ring in the New Year. I recently wrote about our Business Class experience on United Airlines and Lufthansa. Once we made it across the Atlantic, we mixed and matched award redemptions from each of our hotel accounts to take care of our accommodations. The first stop on this journey was the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station hotel.

After landing at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, we took the direct train link to Centraal Station, the city’s main rail and public transport hub. As its name implies, the DoubleTree is a convenient five minute walk from the station (turn left upon exiting the building).

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Lobby

The Doubletree’s lobby was bright and modern. We arrived at the hotel mid-morning and were pleased to learn that our room was ready. However, as the official check-in time wasn’t until 3:00 pm, we were informed that it would cost 40 Euros to occupy our room early. Although, we were a bit put off by the extra charge (most hotels have provided me with an early-check in as a courtesy if the room is available), we wanted to just get settled right away so we accepted the offer. Fortunately, this charge never ended up appearing on our final bill. Nevertheless, the hotel’s Front Desk staff was helpful, professional and efficient. We also received a pair of the Doubletree’s signature warm chocolate chip cookies upon check in.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station City View from Room

Our room featured floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the River IJ and an unobstructed view of the Amsterdam cityscape. Tripadvisor reports that these rooms are preferable to other options that face the noisy railroad tracks of the Centraal Station next door.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Queen Room

The room’s furnishings sported clean modern lines and made efficient use of the room’s space. A compact easy chair was paired with a small coffee table. Our Queen-sized bed was firm yet comfortable.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Desk and Work Area

A desk provided sufficient though not overly generous work space. A nice feature of the room was the iMac which in addition to providing internet access served as the room’s television.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station iMac

Wi-Fi in the room and throughout the hotel was speedy and we encountered no access issues during our stay.

As with many boutique style hotels in Europe, the bathroom was highly space efficient. Though small, the room seemed to stop just shy of feeling cramped.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Bathroom Toilet

Although our room lacked a tub, the shower stall was clean, updated and provided strong water pressure.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Bathroom Shower

During our stay, we had lunch in the hotel’s Lobby Bar which served drinks and light meals. We were pleased by the healthy, well-prepared and hearty portions of our selections.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Lobby Bar Meal

The space’s sleek dark wood finishes still managed to impart a warm feel to the space.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Lobby Bar Dining Area

In addition, the room’s “Library Wall” seemed to encourage lingering with a glass of wine or a warm beverage.

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We also had access to the hotel’s Executive Lounge.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Executive Lounge

Like the other public spaces in the hotel, the Lounge featured large picture windows that gave the room an open and airy feel. Pastries and cold cuts were offered for breakfast in the morning. Wine and simple hot appetizers and snacks were available in the evening.

Other dining options include the hotel’s City Cafe for a more substantial meal as well as a Starbucks located on premises.

Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station Exterior Hotel View

Overall we enjoyed our stay at the Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station. The hotel was modern, clean and comfortable. The service was also professional and efficient. However, although the hotel was very well situated from a public transportation perspective, we felt that the Doubletree’s location put it on the outer edge of “tourist Amsterdam.” In addition, the five minute walk from Centraal Station could prove difficult if you’re traveling with a significant amount of luggage.

How about you? Any recommendations for other places to stay in Amsterdam?

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach HOTEL REVIEW – Surf, Sun and Scrambled Eggs

Oh the weather outside is frightful.
But the beach is so delightful.
And since ChiTown’s covered in snow.
Let me go, let me go, let me go

… to the Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach

I usually spend part of the Holidays with my family in San Diego’s sunny North County. I’ve experimented with a few places to stay in the area. However, for the past two years I’ve made the Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach my West Coast base of operations for Christmas.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Exterior Sign

The hotel’s California Mission style architecture distinguishes it from the non-descript design one usually associates with mid-priced chains.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Exterior View 1

The covered entry drive, flanked by palm trees, provides a warm and welcoming first impression as you pull up to the building.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Exterior View 2

The hotel’s rooms surround a central courtyard that contains the hotel’s pool  …

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Courtyard View 1

… as well as attractive outdoor public spaces planted with abundant greenery that gives the grounds a resort-like feel.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Courtyard View 2

One of my favorite amenities at the hotel was this seating area, which was the perfect place to enjoy an evening glass of wine in front of a roaring fire.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Outdoor Fireplace

The staff manning the front desk was cheerful and eager to be of assistance when I checked in.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Lobby Registration Desk

I encountered this positive and welcoming attitude consistently throughout my various stays at the hotel. In fact, I have yet to encounter an Associate at the hotel who seemed like they were having a “bad day.”

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Lobby

The Lobby area in the Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach is open and inviting.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Lobby Fireplace

Seating areas featuring comfortable couches, grouped together in a cozy living-room style arrangement, surround a double-sided fireplace.

Rooms are decorated with contemporary furnishings in a color palette of rich chestnut browns, warm goldenrod and royal blue.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach King Room

My king size bed was complemented by a cherry wood headboard which matched the spacious work desk, ample chest of drawers supporting a flat screen television and credenza containing the room refrigerator and coffee maker.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach King Room 2

The room’s bathroom provides ample counter space along with a shower / tub combination.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach 2

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Bathroom 1

The hotel’s amenities and services include complimentary Wi-Fi, a Business Center with computers and printers and a fitness center with a nice variety of cardio equipment and free weights.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Fitness Center

Gold-level members of Hilton’s HHonors loyalty program receive a complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast in the hotel’s full service restaurant.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Breakfast Buffet

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Cook-to-Order Breakfast

The cheery and engaging servers in the restaurant matched the high customer service levels provided by their colleagues throughout the rest of the hotel.

However, one of the best features of the hotel is just outside its doors. The Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach, as its name implies, is located right across the street from the ocean.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Lifeguard Tower

A stoplight and crosswalk provide easy access to the beach ….

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Walk

… where you can wrap up your day by enjoying a classic Pacific Ocean sunset.

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Sunset

The Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach offers the combination of a gorgeous location, friendly service and comfortable rooms that keep me coming back for more.

How about you? Do you have a favorite place to stay in the San Diego area?

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Hotel Review – A Hula Dancer in Every Room

Sometimes who you travel with will define your choice of a hotel. This past May our family traveled to Honolulu to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. Since this would be our first time in Hawaii, we all wanted to stay someplace that evoked a real “sense of place” and evoked a “tropical island vibe.”  In addition, since my Dad is known for being well … uh cheap … we required a hotel that offered some good value for money for our six night stay. The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk fulfilled both of these criteria and made for a very pleasant stay for our family.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Pool View

We arrived at the Embassy Suites around 8:00 pm and checked in at the registration desk, which was located in the hotel’s open-air lobby and driveway.  Our room was ready and as we completed our check-in arrangements, the efficient and professional staff served our group some fresh, cold guava juice as we waited.  The feeling of warm tropical breezes helped set the tone for our upcoming Hawaiian holiday.

This property is the only all-suite resort hotel in Oahu. Since we were going to be in Honolulu for six nights, having the extra space of a suite to “spread out” made our stay comfortable.  Although hotel prices in Waikiki are generally not cheap, I found that the Embassy Suites offered excellent value for money.  As I comparison-shopped for hotels, I found that for roughly the same rate as a standard room in other nearby mid-range / upscale hotels, I was able to book a suite with a full buffet breakfast included at the Embassy Suites.

The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk consists of two high-rise towers with an open air Grand Lanai on the fourth floor separating the buildings.  The Grand Lanai is the location of the hotel’s pool, breakfast area, bar and meeting rooms. Our room in the Hula Tower overlooked the hotel’s pool area and consisted of a living room with a sofa bed …

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Living Room

… and a flat screen TV.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Living Room 2

The Suite also included a small dining area that featured a mini-fridge and microwave.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Dining Area

This feature was really convenient since it provided us a place to store cold drinks and snacks over the course of our stay.  We were able to stock up on provisions at the ABC Store located across the street from the hotel.  This branch of the ubiquitous Hawaiian convenience & souvenir store chain (another one was located just down the street about a block away) also featured sandwiches, fresh refrigerated ready meals and hot takeaway options.

The bathroom was spacious and well kept.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Bathroom

The separate bedroom had a king-sized bed (rooms with two queen-sized beds are also available) …

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Bedroom

… with another flat screen TV. The room also featured a dresser and armoire.  It was great having the ample storage space for our clothes since a six-night vacation pretty much dictated the need for multiple costume changes over the course of our stay.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Bedroom Storage

Although we were only located on the 7th floor of the hotel, we did manage to get a peak at the ocean in between the buildings (the Trump Hotel Waikiki is right next door) which made for some great sunset views from the room’s balcony.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Ocean Sunset View

The balcony also featured a small table and two chairs so you could use it as a great vantage point for your morning coffee or a nightcap.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Balcony ViewAm I looking “wistful enough” in this photo?

A full buffet breakfast (6:30 am to 10:00 am) is included in the price of the hotel.  The buffet offered a wide variety of traditional morning options including fresh fruit, cereal and bread / bagels.  Hot options such as French toast, bacon, sausage, potatoes and steamed rice were rotated regularly. In addition, a cooked-to-order egg / omelet station was also available.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Buffet Breakfast

The hotel also features a nightly Manager’s Reception (5:30 pm to 7:30 pm) with complimentary drinks and snacks on the Grand Lanai with Hawaiian entertainment on select evenings.  Outdoor morning Yoga Classes are also offered on weekly basis.  In addition, free Wi-Fi, a Business Center and a Fitness Center round out the amenities that are available.

The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk is very conveniently located.  Although it’s not located right on the water, the beach is only about a 5 minute walk away and we were able to incorporate a morning oceanfront stroll into our daily ritual.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Near Beach

The adjacent Waikiki Beach Walk area features a wide variety of shops (including the two ABC Stores I mentioned earlier) and restaurants within easy walking distance.  Just down the street is Kalakaua Avenue which is one of Waikiki’s main thoroughfares and home to most of Honolulu’s luxury hotels and designer flagship stores.  Also not far away is the Royal Hawaiian where my Partner F and I had our evening nightcaps (see my earlier post Starwood Starpoints Starstruck – The Mai Tai Made Me Do It for more details) and where we attended our first luau (see my earlier post Royal Hawaiian Luau – Book It Danno! for more information).

Service at the hotel was consistently friendly and welcoming. In particular, the service staff at the breakfast buffet always were cheery and ready to assist.  Their positive attitude really got our days off to a great start.  I was also very impressed that when we were looking for the Business Center (which turned out to be located in the adjacent Aloha Tower), one of the office personnel stopped what she was doing in order to personally escort us to where we needed to go. That type of proactive action went above and beyond the call of duty.

My only complaint with the hotel is that I heard quite a bit of elevator noise (e.g. the mechanicals of the cab going up and down) in my bedroom.  Although a minor annoyance, I didn’t find the sound distracting enough to merit a room change.  That said, on any future visits I’ll be sure to request a room as far away as possible from the elevator to avoid this problem. While I’m at it, I’d probably also request for a room much higher up in order to improve my (partial) views of the ocean.  In addition, the quality of the wine, drinks and snacks (consisting of primarily of potato chips and pretzels) could also stand to be upgraded.  However, free booze is free booze so I guess I can’t complain TOO much!

Although the Embassy Suites is part of the international Hilton chain, the hotel didn’t feel cookie cutter.  Hilton made a real effort to infuse local Hawaiian flavor into the décor and atmosphere of the hotel.  Each night, little cards that recounted bits of Hawaiian history (e.g., the origins of the Luau, Surfboards, Lei-Making, etc.) were left in our room.  Hawaiian-themed artwork and furnishings decorated the rooms and public areas.

Of course, what really made our visit complete was the private hula dancer we had in our room …

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk Hula Dancer Lamp

Hey, what’s wrong with a little John Waters style kitsch from time to time?

How about you? Do you like a little “local flavor” infused into the style and atmosphere of your hotel?

Hilton Sorrento Palace Hotel Review – A “Staging” Hotel for our Italy Vacation

I have to admit that I knew I would not be a very fun person after our transatlantic flight. We were on the way to Italy for our vacation this past summer. Even after I stuffed myself with hardboiled eggs and consumed large quantities of Diet Coke in the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge during our layover (see my Lufthansa Lounge Lizard post for more details), I was still not “all there” once I hit the ground.

In addition, I had booked us on an all day tour the following day.  Since I knew we would feel like zombies on our first day in Italy and would be out and about on the second, I didn’t want to book a hotel that was  “too nice” since we wouldn’t be spending all that much time on the property to enjoy it.  We just needed a good place to sleep off our jet lag. It’s at this phase of the trip where a “staging hotel” comes in handy.

Of course, I still wanted to be comfortable and didn’t want any “surprises.” Staying at one of the major international hotel chains fits these parameters since you have a reasonable assurance of consistency associated with a “brand name” hotel.  I chose the Hilton Sorrento Palace for this reason.  In addition, I was able to cash in 100,000 HHonors points that paid for our two-night stay.


Source: Hilton Sorrento Palace

The Hilton Sorrento Palace is a large conference hotel situated in the hills above Sorrento. It’s about a 12-15 minute easy walk to the center of town. However, bear in mind that your return journey will involve a modest uphill climb.

The hotel’s public spaces have a funky “late 60s Mad Men vibe” …

Hilton Sorrento Palace Lobby 1

Including this fire pit area (anyone spot Hugh Hefner or Sean Connery here?)

Hilton Sorrento Palace Firepit

Source: Hilton Sorrento Palace

We arrived at the hotel around 3:00 pm and were pleased that our room was ready for us.  Although the check in procedure was efficient I found that our the Front Desk Clerk seemed to be in a mood that bordered on “surly.”  Although he wasn’t rude, we didn’t experience a “warm Italian welcome.”  On the other hand, his colleague next to him who was checking in some other guests seemed animated and friendly.  Maybe our guy was just having a bad day.

I currently have Hilton HHonors Gold Status that I received from holding the Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express card (see my earlier Hot for Hilton post for more details on why I applied for the card and my Burn Points Baby Burn and Starwood Starpoints Starstruck posts for how my Pointing strategy has changed since then).   As a Gold Member I received the following Welcome Amenity in our room:

Hilton Sorrento Palace Welcome Amenity

Receiving a full bottle of Limoncello was a nice touch and I was able to enjoy this Amalfi Coast specialty as a nightcap on every evening of our Italian vacation.  We also received two bottles of water in the room.  However, the hotel neglected to include bottle openers (sigh … details).

As a Gold Member I was also upgraded to a Sea View room …

Hilton Sorrento Palace Sea View King Guest Room

Source: Hilton Sorrento Palace

… which featured a balcony with two chairs, a small table and this great view of Vesuvius:

Hilton Sorrento Palace Sea View Room of Vesuvius

The room was clean and fresh and featured a refrigerator / mini bar which had enough spare space to include a few of your own things (e.g., my bottle of Limoncello!).  The housekeeping service seemed pretty efficient and our room was made up relatively early in the day.  The bathroom was spacious and the shower provided good water pressure.

The signal for the in room Wi-Fi was a bit spotty and it required you to register each device for 24 hours of access.  This is important to know since if you try to access your iPhone, iPad and laptop in the room you’ll be charged 7.50 Euros for each device per day.  Fortunately, the free Wi-Fi in the lobby was pretty speedy and I was able to get my internet access charges waived because of my HHonors Gold Status.

Another nice benefit of my Gold Status was access to the hotel’s Pompeii Executive Lounge …

Hilton Sorrento Palace Pompeii Executive Lounge

… which provided a Full American and Continental Breakfast daily from 7:00 am to 10:00 am and Evening Snacks from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm.  Breakfast offerings included bacon, sausage, eggs, cold cuts and assorted breads and fruit.  Coffee and prosecco (mimosas anyone?) were readily available. The lounge also featured a well-stocked cooler filled with beer, assorted juices and soft drinks.  I was so relieved to have a source for my much needed afternoon … and morning … Diet Coke fix!  The Lounge also had access to a large outdoor terrace with great views where you could enjoy your breakfast or drinks.

You also benefited from a sweeping panoramic view of the Bay of Naples from the expansive terrace bar and restaurant that opens up just beyond the hotel lobby.

Hilton Sorrento Palace Lobby 2

The meal was perfectly fine, though nothing special.  However, unfortunately it seemed as if the waitstaff had taken “surly lessons” from the guy handling our check-in earlier in the day.  That said, we were seated at a table just at the edge of the terrace where we were able to enjoy watching dusk transform into night and the lights of Naples start to flicker on.


Source: Hilton Sorrento Palace

As we were wrapping up our meal we saw a series of sky lanterns rise up from the waters’ edge and drift up into the twilight.  The effect was magical and served as a pleasant way to wrap up our first day in Italy.

Despite the service hiccups we encountered during our stay, I would probably stay at the Hilton Sorrento Palace again.  The hotel is a clean and comfortable place to sleep off your jet lag after a long transatlantic flight.  In addition, the Hilton Sorrento Palace features a large pool area that we didn’t use on this visit but seemed like a nice amenity.  The hotel is also conveniently located near the Pompeii archeological sites and Sorrento would be a great jumping off point for a day trip to Capri.  The “stage is set.”  Now we’re ready to explore the Amalfi Coast … stay tuned!


Hot for Hilton – A New Target for My Pointing Activities

Lately I’ve been obsessing quite a bit over Hilton … no, not that one. Come on folks, everyone know I’m more of a Kardashian type of guy (not). What I’m talking about is another key element in my Pointing strategies.  Just as United is my preferred carrier, Hilton has emerged as the hotel chain upon which I’ll be focusing my attention.

My ultimate goal is to be able to book a few days at the Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand. This is an absolutely stunning hotel that consists of a series of one bedroom villas perched over the ocean. An award stay at this property will form the cornerstone of a Dream Trip I’m planning. Right now, the going rate at the hotel is $700 or 50,000 Hilton HHonors points per night.  Since it’s highly unlikely I’ll be able to convince my Partner F to fork over the dollars to pay the standard rate, it looks like points will be the way we’ll get ourselves to this tropical island.

Over the last year I’ve been accumulating a few points here and there.  There have been a number of special offers to earn points by “Liking” various Hilton brands on Facebook and opting in to receive promotional text messages.  Surprisingly, I haven’t been overly spammed for my efforts and the marketing outreach hasn’t been too intrusive.

I was even was able to take advantage of trading in points from My Coke Rewards, Coca-Cola’s loyalty program, for 8,500 Hilton HHonors points.  Of course, that involved drinking ALOT of carbonated beverages.

Oh yeah, I even managed to squeeze in a hotel stay along with all of those other Pointing activities.

However, in order to achieve my goal of recreating the perfect Hangover 2 experience (minus the booze, drugs, sex and memory loss – umm, wait that doesn’t leave much left, does it?), I’m really going to need to up the point accumulating ante. As I indicated in an earlier post, awards earning credit cards and the related sign up bonuses play a key role in my Pointing strategies.

Hilton offers a variety of co-branded credit cards that provide both generous sign up bonuses and serve as vehicles for ramping up your Pointing through bonuses awarded for spending in everyday shopping categories.

After evaluating these various options, I settled on the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express.  This card provides a welcome bonus of 40,000 HHonors Points after your first purchase along with the opportunity to earn 20,000 additional HHonors points after you make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of your card membership.

The Surpass Card also earns 6 HHonors points for every dollar that you spend at supermarkets, drugstores, gas stations and for communications expenses such as wireless, home telephone, cable TV and satellite TV purchases.  You earn 3 HHonors points for each dollar that you spend on all other purchases.  In addition, the Surpass Card, allows you to earn 12 HHonors points per dollar spent across Hilton’s portfolio of brands.

Finally, the Surpass card provides me with a year of Hilton HHonors Gold Tier Benefits (including a 25% points bonus, late check-out privileges, complimentary benefits) and access to reduced points requirements for awards.  For example, my Partner F has the standard Hilton HHonors American Express Card which allowed us to book an upcoming 5 night stay in London for 160,000 HHonors points instead of the usual 200,000 HHonors points.

With the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express I’ve added another workhorse card to my wallet.  In future posts I’ll provide a more detailed comparison of the merits of the various Hilton rewards cards as well as how the Surpass Card fits into my overall daily spending and Pointing strategies.

In the meantime I’ll continue my trip research by re-watching the Hangover 2, The Beach and Brokedown Palace. On second thought, anyone out there have any other movie recommendations?