Category Archives: Hotel Reviews

Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile HOTEL REVIEW: New Year’s Eve in Paris

New Year’s Eve in Paris is another great experience resulting from my obsession with collecting Miles & Points (what I like to call Pointing). After spending a few days in Amsterdam, we hopped on the Thalys hi-speed train. Upon arriving in Paris’ Gare du Nord station, our car service was waiting to whisk us to the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile. For our two-night stay, we dipped into our reserve of Hyatt Gold Passport points.

The Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile is a large conference hotel and, at 34 stories, is one of the few skyscrapers in this part of the city. Public transportation is easily accessible via the Port Maillot Metro and RER (regional commuter train) stations which are located in the shopping mall connected to the building.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Lobby

The large lobby is modern and airy. Our check-in was handled quickly, efficiently and in a polite manner. However, given that the hotel was quite full for the New Year holiday and very busy there wasn’t much time for warmth or personalization. In fact, this interaction typified the service throughout our stay – business-like but not warm.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Club Twin 1

Our assigned Twin Club room was small but efficient. The beds were comfortable and our space included an average-sized desk, which supported a flat-screen TV and a small cocktail table and side chair.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Club Twin 2

Storage space included a large closet / wardrobe that, while deep and spacious, seemed to be oddly designed (e.g. in order to maximize the full use of the space one had to nearly climb inside to slide your belongs into the back compartment.)

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Club Room Closet Space

Another set of drawers and cabinets (which also contained the room’s mini-bar) provided additional storage space.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Storage Space

The bathroom seemed a bit more spacious relative to the rest of the room and featured a toilet / bidet combination and a full-sized tub and shower. The walls of the tub were a bit high and could potentially represent a slight obstacle for individuals with mobility issues.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Club Room Bathroom

Although our room was comfortable enough for our short stay, the furnishings seemed a bit dated and worn. Notable dings, scratches and missing pieces were evident on the desk, side tables and woodwork. In addition, the public spaces such as the hallways were dark and evoked a style reminiscent of what we envisioned the future looked like … back in the late-Eighties 😉

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Hallway

During our stay we had access to the Regency Club Lounge that featured plush red chairs and leather banquettes surrounding low cocktail tables. I actually found the décor of the lounge to be fun in that it straddled the line between French Old World luxury and Moulin Rouge style bordello.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Regency Club Lounge

The lounge was a nice place to write postcards or have a cup of coffee. However, we skipped its breakfast offerings since the wait for seating in the morning seemed long with a line that extended out the door. To be fair, the hotel was booked extremely full which may have contributed to the crowding issues.

The Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile also offers a high-ceilinged fitness center with a variety of cardio equipment.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Fitness Center

Floor-to-ceiling windows highlighted one of the hotel’s best features … the spectacular views overlooking Paris. For example, we enjoyed unobstructed views of the city from our room.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Vew from Room 1

We were even able to spot the domes of Sacre Couer off in the distance. You can spot the famous church on the far right hand side of the horizon in the following photo.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile View from Room 2

Rooms on the other side of the hotel enjoy views of the Eiffel Tower. Although our lodgings lacked such a postcard vista, we were still able to gaze on this classic landmark in the hotel’s 34th floor Bar La Vue. During our stay, the hotel offered a New Year’s Eve package that included a bottle of champagne and a tray of canapés.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Bar La Vue New Year's Eve Champagne

Our admission fee also entitled us to a couple of reserved bar stools on the upper level of the bar where we could observe the action below, await the night’s Countdown and watch the fireworks launched from the Eiffel Tower at the stroke of midnight. The “premium” seating option provided either banquette space or a seat at low cocktail tables closer to the window.

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Bar La Vue New Year's Eve

All in all we enjoyed our New Year’s Eve at the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile and especially appreciated our short “commute” down the elevator and back to our room once the evening’s festivities were over.

Have you ever stayed at this Parisian hotel? What was your experience?

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.

Version 2

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?

Hyatt at Olive 8 Hotel Review – Sleek in Seattle

We were going to be in the Emerald City for a long weekend. Since there was a lot we wanted to see and do, I wanted to make sure that we stayed in a centrally located hotel. Furthermore, for an urban getaway I gravitate towards lodgings with a clean, modern esthetic (such as the Andaz London) or a boutique sensibility (like I experienced at The Boxer Boston). Finally, I wanted to make sure we were comfortable since the last thing I wanted was to be Sleepless in … well, you know where that was going …

Hyatt at Olive 8 Exterior View

The Hyatt at Olive 8 is centrally located in downtown Seattle’s theater district. Major tourist attractions such as Pike Place Market are within walking distance. The hotel is also well served by public transportation and is only a block away from the Westlake Light Rail station, which offers a direct link to Seattle’s SEA-TAC Airport. Seattle is also a great Uber town which means that many destinations across the city are affordably in reach from the hotel by using this on demand car service.

The hotel projects a modern feel softened with the look of natural stone and warm wood finishes.

Hyatt at Olive 8 Lobby View

This tip-of-the-hat to the environment is further exemplified by the fact that the Hyatt at Olive 8 is the first LEED certified hotel in Seattle. Various energy and water saving features allow guests to remain green while enjoying the hotel’s modern amenities. This commitment to sustainability is something that I’m seeing more and more in the hotel world.

Hyatt at Olive 8 Lobby Registration Desk

Our check-in was handled smoothly and professionally. The Front Desk Associate assisting us was genuinely friendly and possessed an earnest, wholesome and squeaky-clean demeanor that can also be conveniently found on any page of a J.Crew catalog.

The Deluxe King Room we were assigned continued the hotel’s Modern Pacific Northwest theme.

Hyatt at Olive 8 Deluxe King Room Bed

The room featured airy, loft-height ceilings, simple clean lines, soothing spa-like color tones and dark wood finishes that warmed up the space.

Hyatt at Olive 8 Deluxe King Room

Next to the bed was a small padded bench that could double as either a suitcase rack or as a spot to slip on your shoes. Nearby, a credenza contained a small refrigerator, glassware and coffeemaker.

Hyatt at Olive 8 Open Closet & Storage

Flanking the room’s entrance hall was an open storage unit that contained ample drawer space, generous open shelving, a place to hang your clothes and a safe.

Our room also had a number of convenience features. These included a combination alarm clock and iPod dock …

Hyatt at Olive 8 iPod Dock

… and ample electrical outlets and plugs for electronic devices on the work desk.

Hyatt at Olive 8 Electrical Plugs

However, a few more plugs located on the bed’s nightstands would have been a much appreciated and practical enhancement.

The hotel also participates in the “Hyatt has it” program that allows you to call down for complimentary toiletries, personal grooming items or even coffee or tea.

Hyatt at Olive 8 Hyatt Has It Program

Within 15 minutes of placing my call, an Associate was knocking on the door with my requested items.

The bathroom was bright and modern …

Hyatt at Olive 8 Deluxe King Room Bathroom

… and featured a walk-in shower stall (but no bathtub).

Hyatt at Olive 8 Deluxe King Room Shower

The Hyatt at Olive 8’s warm modernity extended to Urbane, the hotel’s restaurant where we enjoyed breakfast.

Hyatt at Olive 8 Urbane Restaurant Entrance

Hyatt at Olive 8 Urbane Restaurant Dining Area

Service in Urbane was cordial and efficient. We enjoyed the high quality, attractive presentation and generous portions of our breakfast.

Hyatt at Olive 8 Urbane Restaurant Continental Breakfast

Urbane Continental – Yogurt with House Granola & Honey, Fruit & Croissant

Hyatt at Olive 8 Urbane Restaurant My Favorite Scramble

My Favorite Scramble – Goat Cheese, Red Peppers, Scallion, Home Fries, Toast

Hyatt at Olive 8 Urbane Restaurant Bloody Mary

Urbane Bloody Mary – House Infused Rosemary & Pepper Vodka

The Hyatt at Olive 8 served as a comfortable, well-located and stylish base of operations for our first visit to Seattle. The hotel combines a relaxed, modern elegance with the full range of amenities that one would expect from a large urban hotel. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again on a future visit to the city.

How about you? Do you have a favorite place to stay when you visit Seattle?


Hotel Review: The Boxer Boston – Boutique in Beantown

Boutique hotels often provide a mix of quirky charm, thoughtful design and personalized attention. We were able to experience all three of these characteristics during our stay last Fall at The Boxer Hotel in Boston. Although we encountered a few minor service hiccups, we enjoyed our overall stay at this friendly and well-located hotel.

Boxer Hotel Location

The Boxer is located in Boston’s historic North End and just down the street from the TD Garden. The hotel is an easy walk or short cab ride to such major attractions as Faneuil Hall, Boston Common and the Old North Church. Public transportation stops as well as the city’s commuter rail North Station are also nearby. The neighborhood immediately surrounding the Boxer is comprised primarily of nondescript government and office buildings. However, several restaurants and bars are just a couple of blocks away.

Boxer Hotel Check-In – Grace Under Pressure

We were in Boston to attend a family wedding. Quite a few of the wedding guests were also booked into the hotel and the front desk associate checking us in made a special effort to try and group our party together in nearby rooms.

Boxer Hotel Boston Lobby

Although ultimately, he was unsuccessful in doing so, he was patient, friendly and professional throughout the whole process. His earnest and customer service oriented approach paralleled that of the rest of the youthful hotel staff we encountered throughout our stay.

Boxer Hotel Public Spaces – I Feel Like I Should Be Smoking A Cigar

The Boxer Hotel is located in the unique wedge-shaped Flatiron Building which was constructed in 1904. The hotel’s esthetic blends traditional late 19th century style with a modern and industrial feel.

Boxer Hotel Boston Bar and Restaurant

Public spaces have been designed to reference an “Old World Mens’ Club” feel though the tone has been updated with clean and modern lines. The hotel provides free Wi-Fi in the lobby as well as well as complimentary wireless and wired internet access in each guest room. A computer kiosk and printer is also available for guest use.

Boxer Hotel Deluxe King Room – Jewel Box Meets Steampunk

As is the case in many boutique hotels, our room had “just enough” space but not a lot of room to spare. Although our Deluxe King Room was small, it was well-designed and efficient.

Boxer Hotel Boston Deluxe King Room

Rooms in the hotel are decorated in tones of blue-gray complemented by dark wood finishes. Although the room’s look was “dark” it felt cocooning and I often found myself wishing I had the time to curl up for a nice nap.

The industrial accents of the hotel’s design appear again in the wrought iron accents of the combined desk area and open closet / storage unit.

Boxer Hotel Boston Desk and Storage

Storage space seems limited but should not be too much of an issue if you’re only staying for a couple of nights.

The hotel provides free Wi-Fi in the rooms along with an iPod Dock …

Boxer Hotel Boston iPod Dock

… as well as conveniently located electrical outlets.

Boxer Hotel Boston Generous Electrical Sockets

The bathroom was small but functional. The white walls and marble-look ceramic tile were nicely complemented by dark wood accents and brushed metal finishes. I did find, however, that the sink seemed a bit small.

Boxer Hotel Boston Sink and Toilet


Boxer Hotel Boston Shower

We didn’t have a tub in our room. However, the shower stall was a reasonable size and the water pressure was strong.

Room for Improvement – Character Leads to Quirks

It’s important to remember that sometimes a stay in an historic property has its trade-offs. In addition, to the “jewel box” sizes of the rooms, another annoying quirk was that the building’s primary elevator seemed to take forever to arrive. In addition, although I have high praise for The Boxer’s eager and courteous staff, I found that service in Finch, the hotel’s restaurant and bar, was pretty slow as the establishment seemed to be chronically understaffed.

Pluses Outweigh the Minuses

Nevertheless, we enjoyed our time at The Boxer and would stay here again. In many ways our experience at The Boxer had much in common with our stay a few months earlier at the Andaz Liverpool Street in London. The rooms were comfortable, the staff was friendly and we appreciated the unique character and design of the hotel.

Boxer Hotel Boston Room Art Wall Mural

These elements are what keep us coming back to “boutique” hotels.

Have any of you stayed in a “boutique” hotel? What was your experience?

Andaz Liverpool Street London Hotel Review – Looking Forward by Looking Back

After we wrapped up our great trip to Italy last summer, my Partner F and I spent a few days in London before hopping on our flight home. Cashing in some of my Hyatt Gold Passport Points, we booked a three-night stay at the Andaz Liverpool Street. Andaz is Hyatt’s “boutique hotel” brand and provides a high design environment combined with some nice “value added” amenities.

The Andaz Liverpool Street opened in 1884 as the Great Eastern, one of London’s original railway hotels. The architects of this red brick Victorian building also designed the UK’s Houses of Parliament. However, once you enter the lobby you enter a stylish environment that deftly combines the modern with the traditional.

Andaz Liverpool Street London Atrium View

The boutique hotel experience begins during check-in. There’s not a traditional “front desk” when you enter the lobby. Rather, Associates approach and welcome arriving guests and use iPads to complete the registration process. We found the staff to be youthful, friendly and eager and that this level of service was consistent throughout our stay.

I booked us a Standard Andaz King room which featured a comfortable king bed and spacious desk.

Andaz Liverpool Street London King Bedroom

The modern bathroom sported vintage touches that paid homage to the hotel’s roots.

Andaz Liverpool Street London Bathroom

The room’s efficient design ensured that we had “just enough” space for two people. Although you won’t feel cramped in a Standard Room, if you need more “room to roam” you might want to consider booking one of the larger Deluxe rooms or Suites.

Some additional nice touches at Andaz hotels are the complimentary in-room Wi-Fi, free non-alcoholic drinks in the mini-bar and a small selection of free snacks for when you get the munchies.

Andaz Liverpool Street London Free Drinks in Mini-Bar

Andaz Liverpool Street London Free Snacks

Finally, since we were celebrating a “signature birthday” for my Partner F, the hotel was kind enough to provide us with a nice welcome amenity.

Andaz London Liverpool Street London Welcome Amenity

The Andaz Liverpool Street is located in East London and is within easy walking distance of such tourist sites as Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The hotel is right next door to the Liverpool Street Train and Underground station, which provides numerous public transportation options.

We were so impressed by the Andaz Liverpool Street that we’ve made another reservation for our upcoming trip to London.We’re looking forward to coming back!

Posing with Londi Character on Thames South Bank Centre London

Have you ever stayed at this hotel or one of the other Andaz properties? What are your thoughts?


Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Review – Tuscan Elegance Meets Old Hollywood Glam

After a wonderful stay on the Amalfi Coast last summer, we boarded the high-speed Frecciarossa train, which whisked us from Naples to Florence in just under three hours. For our lodging in this beautiful city, we returned to the Hotel Brunelleschi which combines Tuscan elegance, Old Hollywood Glam and a location just down the street from the Duomo. The hotel served as our base of operations on our last visit here two years ago and we were eager to return.

My Partner F and I tend to travel like Cher on tour. Given the amount of luggage we had with us, we thought it would be best to have a car pick us up at the train station. When booking our reservation on the hotel’s website, we arranged for a car transfer and were pleased to see the driver with a sign waiting for us at the end of the platform at Santa Maria Novella. After a short drive, we pulled into a narrow street and the courtyard of the Hotel Brunelleschi.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Pagliazza Tower

Source: Hotel Brunelleschi

The hotel incorporates the Pagliazza Tower which is the oldest building still standing in the center of Florence. Tour groups regularly stop in front of the hotel to make of note of this fact but keep a respectful distance. The Torre della Pagliazza, which in English means the Straw Tower, was used as a women’s prison during the Middle Ages. Its name derives from the straw used to stuff the prison mattresses. Interestingly, most of the women in the prison were not criminals but rather individuals who refused to marry the men their parents had arranged as future husbands.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Lobby

Source: Hotel Brunelleschi

The Hotel Brunelleschi renovated its rooms and public spaces a couple of years ago. The feel is modern and lux with just the right amount of bling that gives it a bit of an Old Hollywood Glam feel. However, you still get a great sense of place as the design deftly incorporates the building’s historical architectural features. Exposed beams and brickwork complement the lobby’s rich clay and earth-toned terrazzo floors. The detail and craftsmanship of the furniture along with leather accents and artwork provide an appropriately Tuscan medieval feel.

For our stay we booked a Superior Executive Room which featured a comfortable queen sized bed.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Superior Executive Room Bed

The room also included two chairs, a small table, writing desk, flat screen television and a luggage rack / bench at the foot of the bed. Hardwood floors in a herringbone pattern and vintage moldings served as a softening counterpoint to the room’s contemporary furnishings.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Superior Executive Room View

Although the room wasn’t exceptionally large, I did find that it provided “just enough” space for two people to move around comfortably. In addition, high ceilings contributed to a general feeling of spaciousness.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Superior Executive Room Bathroom

The bathroom was generously sized and sported marble finishes, updated bath and shower as well as modern fixtures.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Superior Executive Room Closet Space

Although the room lacked dressers, the closet area provided several shelving areas for storage as well as a mini-fridge and safe. We had no problem finding space to stow our luggage and to put away our clothes for our four-night stay. A quirky, yet very practical, feature of the room was the little pictograms on the light switches that informed you exactly which lamps you were turning on and off.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Superior Executive Room Light Switches

The hotel provides free Wi-Fi. I found the signal strength and speed to be adequate in our room. However, there were a couple of nights when Internet service went offline but resumed by the following morning.

Rooms were promptly made up as soon as we left. In the evening, we enjoyed a turndown service which included a slippers laid out at our bedside along with candy and a small card with the following day’s weather forecast left on the nightstand.

Also included in our rate was an expansive morning buffet offering a variety of breads and pastries, cold cuts and fruit juice, milk, coffee and tea. Hot items such as eggs, potatoes, sausage and bacon were also offered.

Hotel Brunelleschi Florence Breakfast Room

Breakfast is served in the bright and airy Salone Liberty and in the Sala del Pozzo everyday from 7:00 to 10:30. Although the hotel was quite full during our stay, we never had a problem securing our preferred table every morning. The servers at breakfast were polite, cheery and attentive.

This service standard extended beyond breakfast and was displayed by each member of the hotel’s staff we encountered. We were regularly greeted with a friendly buongiorno every time we passed hotel personnel in the hallways or in the lobby area. In particular, the hotel’s concierge staff was very helpful in suggesting restaurants or things to. We were particularly impressed that one of the concierges, Sergio, remembered us from our previous visit two years ago.

The Hotel Brunelleschi is very centrally located. The Duomo is only a 3-minute walk away and other major attractions such as the Uffizi, Piazza dell Signoria and Ponte Vecchio are all within a 5-10 minute radius of the hotel. Most importantly, a branch of Grom, our favorite gelato place, is just around the corner.


We would definitely stay at the Hotel Brunelleschi again. The elements of location, service, style and comfort all come together at this establishment. What about you? Do you have a favorite place to stay whenever you’re in Florence?


Hotel Marincanto Positano Review – Hercule Poirot Should Have Slept Here

Agatha Christie does a great job of situating Hercule Poirot in some pretty luxurious locations. Whether its’s a carriage on the Orient Express, a Nile steamer or a secluded Black Sea resort, if you’re going to have a murder you might as well have someplace comfortable for the great French … sorry Belgian … detective to interrogate the suspects.

It’s that combination of 1920’s glamour in a spectacular setting that characterized our stay at the Hotel Marincanto in Positano this past July.  Minus, of course, a dagger embellished body lying face down in the lobby.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Lobby View to Breakfast Room

Our driver Salvatore “Junior” (check out my earlier post on Driving Mr. Daisy for more details on our tour of the Amalfi Coast the day before) dropped us off at the hotel and we made our way from the street level entrance into a small glass-walled elevator that brought us down to the main reception area.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Lobby Reception Desk

Our check-in experience began with a warm welcome from Enza who was manning the front desk that afternoon.  Enza was bright, enthusiastic and promised that she would make our stay very special as we were there to celebrate a “Signature Birthday” for my Partner F. As we arrived, another guest was saying good-bye and declaring that this was her third time staying at the the hotel and that her stay was absolutely perfect … a very promising sign! Note: This was in contrast to our previous check-in at the Hilton Sorrento Palace (See my Staging Hotel post for more details.).

We arrived around noon and Enza informed us that our room would not be ready for about about an hour.  We stored our bags and took the opportunity to start familiarizing ourself with our surroundings and decided to enjoy the sun on one of the hotel’s numerous outdoor terraces.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Outdoor Terrace First Impressions

As soon as we walked outside the spectacular views confirmed that we picked the right hotel for our stay in Positano. We had to wait about 1.5 hours until our room was ready.  However, we had arrived early and I can think of worse places to cool our heels.

We reserved a Junior Suite and were assigned Room 212.  Shortly after settling in, Enza sent a small welcome gift to our room …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Welcome Prosecco Before

… which after consumption sparked the need for an afternoon nap.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Welcome Prosecco After

It’s a good thing that our room was comfortable! Our Junior Suite included a small table and two chairs and an antique chest of drawers,which along with a hallway closet, provided ample storage space.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 Room View

The room also featured two generously scaled arm chairs …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 Seating Area

… a flat-screen television, DVD player and refrigerator.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 Room View with Chairs and Tables

Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel.  However, I found that signal strength and speed was a bit spotty (though still functional) in our room.

The bathroom was spacious and had a picture window that opened onto the room’s terrace.  This ensuite doesn’t have a tub. However, the water pressure in the shower was strong and the towels and bathrobes passed the “generous, white and fluffy” test.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite Bathroom

Although I found the facilities to be very clean, I do have to admit that the shower stall could have stood with a bit of “freshening up” … perhaps some new grout and a new shower head would do the trick.

The queen sized bed was comfortable.  However, you should be forewarned that the bed is unusually short (e.g., my Partner F and I are far from being long-legged and we found that we each “just fit” lenghthwise on the mattress.).

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 Bed

Along with the rest of the hotel, the room featured vaulted, high ceilings, tile floors and bright white-washed walls that wonderfully framed the blue ocean visible from the Juliet balcony at the foot of the bed.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Balcony View Morning

At night we would leave the window open and go to sleep listening to the sounds of the waves washing up on the shoreline below.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Balcony View Afternoon

In addition to the Juliet balcony, we enjoyed the room’s small private terrace …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 View from Exterior

That included a table and two chairs …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 Private Balcony

Note: There’s a small walking path right below the terrace which somewhat reduces the privacy and seclusion of the room.  However, there isn’t a lot of foot traffic on the path.  In addition the view you get from the terrace greatly compensates for this minor issue …

Hotel Marincanto Positano View from Junior Suite 212 Balcony

… now there’s a vista that’s truly toast-worthy!

Hotel Marincanto Positano View from Balcony Prosecco Toast

The terrace was also where I enjoyed my daily limoncello nightcap.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Evening Limoncello Nightcap on Balcony

Of course, following an evening filled with wine, prosecco and limoncello, it was nice to know that a buffet breakfast was included in our room rate.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Breakfast in Sunglasses

Along with my morning cappuccino, I was able to fill up on fruit and cereal …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Breakfast Buffet Fruit and Cereal

… cheese and a wide variety of Italian cured meats …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Breakfast Buffet Meat and Cheese

… and pastries!

Hotel Marincanto Positano Breakfast Buffet Pastries

On a rainy day, we could have eaten indoors.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Breakfast Room

However, we were fortunate that the perfect July weather allowed up to enjoy our morning meal alfresco everyday on the Marincanto’s dining terrace.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Outdoor Terrace for Breakfast

The hotel’s other outdoor features include an infinity pool and private sun deck.  However, we skipped those amenities on this trip and made the LONG TREK DOWNSTAIRS …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Stairs down to Beach

To the pebble beach at the base of the cliffs below the hotel.  The facilities “downstairs” include a beach club which provided toilets and changing rooms, rented beach chairs and featured a restaurant …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Beach Club

Where we enjoyed some great oceanside lunches …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Beach Club Lunch

Hotel Marincanto Beach Club Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

… and spent a couple of lazy days drinking Campari and sodas as we watched the yachts bobbing in the water.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Drinks on the Beach

We really enjoyed our stay and will likely make the Hotel Marincanto our “go to” choice for lodging on future trips to Positano.  The Marincanto is conveniently located just down the street from some interesting shops and only a five minute walk to the center of town.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Exterior View

There are certainly more exclusive and famous options for hotels in Positano.  However, the Hotel Marincanto offers distinct character, Mediterranean charm, spectacular views and upscale amenities at a price point that, while not inexpensive, puts it in the category of “attainable luxury.”  More importantly, the Marincanto’s entire staff creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere for all of its guests.

That said, I was somewhat “disappointed” that our stay at the Hotel Marincanto was noticeably free from Agatha Christie-style drama.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Outdoor Terrace Flowers

I guess, we’ll just have to save the murder, intrigue and international espionage for our next visit …

How about you? Have you ever stayed at a hotel where your “room with a view” simply took your breath away?




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!