Category Archives: Trip Reports

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?

Thalys Comfort 1 Review: From Amsterdam to Paris on the Little Red Riding Train

High-speed trains link most of Europe’s major cities. It’s often faster to hit the rails rather than fly since you’re able to avoid the delays associated with clearing security and making the trek to and from the airport. After our stay at the Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam City Center, we rolled our suitcases next door to the Centraal Station which was only a five minute walk away. We were ready to begin the next leg of our journey.

Thalys Amsterdam Centraal Station Departure Board

Our trip on the Thalys high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris would take us only 3 hours and 17 minutes and whisk us from city center to city center.

Thalys Amsterdam to Paris Centraal Station

The carriage’s rich red interior matched it’s exterior. Seats on the train’s Comfort 1 (First Class) section are arranged in a 2-1 configuration.

Thalys Comfort 1 Car Interior Amsterdam to Paris

The seats are of a comfortable, though standard, width and are upholstered in plush fabric.

Thalys Comfort 1 Seat Amsterdam to Paris

Controls allow you to recline the seat and pull down footrests let you to stretch out a bit. However, I found the legroom to only be average and might be a bit tight for a taller passenger. I’ll have to say that the space on the Thalys was no way near the ridiculously generous amount of elbowroom provided on our previous journey in Italy’s Frecciarossa Executive Class.

Trenitalia Frecciarossa Executive Class Cabin

Frecciarossa Executive Class

Other amenities in Comfort 1 Class included at-seat power ports and free Wi-Fi.

Thalys Comfort 1 In Seat Power Plug Port Amsterdam to Paris

The internet service was speedy and enabled my Partner F and I to avoid conversation and engage in a non-stop Facebook and Instagram session while onboard. Sigh, yes we’ve become one of “those” couples.

Thalys Comfort 1 First Class Lunch Meal

Our viewing of cat videos was interrupted by a quick lunch served at our seat. A cold pasta and vegetable dish was accompanied by a small green salad, bread and wine.

Thalys Comfort 1 First Class Dessert

Our meal was simple but of good quality and well prepared. We also appreciated the attention to detail in the presentation and enjoyed the chocolate dessert stamped with the Thalys logo.

Before we knew it, we were soon pulling into Paris’ Gare du Nord train station. Another benefit offered in Comfort 1 Class is the ability to pre-book your taxi while onboard. In theory, you’re supposed to be met once you arrive. However, there was a bit of confusion and we weren’t quite sure what to do once we left the train. Thankfully, a helpful train attendant who served us onboard escorted us to the kiosk where we could pick up our taxi. I found this particular service to be of limited value since taxis at the station seemed plentiful and Paris is well served by Uber.

With the sun beginning to set in the City of Lights, we were ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Paris. Have you taken the Thalys high-speed train service? What was your experience like?


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?

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class – Transatlantic Business to Business

In advance of last year’s major devaluation of United’s MileagePlus program, My Partner F and I raided our Household Points Kitty for a New Year trip to Amsterdam and Paris. In addition to ringing in the New Year in view of the Eiffel Tower

Celebrating Ringing in the New Year's Eve Bar La Vue Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile

… we scored a couple of Business Class seats to Europe before the cost to redeem our miles shot up. You see, when you play the Miles and Points “Game” (what I like to call Pointing), you need to constantly be mindful of the principle of Earn and Burn.

United is my longtime “home airline. However, after a taste of luxury in Lufthansa’s Frankfurt First Class Terminal and stretching out in a private bed on upper deck of one of one its 747s …

Lufthansa 747-400 First Class Seat

… I’ve developed a bit of a crush on the German carrier. Fortunately, my Pointing hobby enabled me to compare the two airlines on the same trip. So how did Lufthansa and United compare?

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Pre-Departure Service

The boarding of our overnight United flight from Chicago to Amsterdam was a bit rushed. We received a quick yet professional “welcome aboard” as we cleared the jetway and entered the BusinessFirst (what United calls International Business Class) cabin.

United Business Class Seat

It took awhile before someone offered to hang up our coats. However, once we were settled we were served a pre-departure beverage and I opted for some sparkling wine. Having something to wet my whistle was a nice touch. However, serving my drink in a plastic cup knocked some of the “ambience” out of sitting in a premium cabin.

United Airlines 767 Business Class Seat Chicago to Amsterdam

On the way back, we flew home from Paris via Munich. I’ve written previously about Lufthansa’s Intra-Europe Business Class Service so I’ll skip the details for now about our pleasant but uneventful Paris to Munich segment. For the purposes of this blog post I’ll focus on our experience on our Munich to Chicago flight.

Lufthansa A340-300 Munich AIrport bound for Chicago

Our flight out of Munich was delayed about an hour. However, once boarding commenced we found that the Lufthansa crew greeted us with friendly smiles and immediately took our coats once we reached our seats.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Cabin Munich to Chicago

Although champagne wasn’t offered, the crisp white wine I chose as a pre-departure was served out of true glassware …

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Pre-Departure Beverage Munich to Chicago

… and set more of an upscale tone for the rest of our flight.

Comparing the Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class Seat

Awaiting us in our United Airlines BusinessFirst seat was a pillow, blanket, headphones and amenity kit.

United Airlines Business Class 767-200 BusinessFirst Seat Chicago to Amsterdam

The seat was comfortable and reclined into a fully flat 180-degree position. Although the compartment felt a bit narrow and “coffin-like” at times, I have to admit the privacy afforded by this seating configuration was appreciated and allowed me to get a solid block of sleep on our transatlantic flight. However, one minor gripe is that there really isn’t a lot of storage space available at you feet so you’ll have to stow your gear for takeoff and landing.

United Airlines Business Class 767-200 BusinessFirst IFE Inf-Flight Entertainment System Chicago to Amsterdam

United’s In-Flight Entertainment options were plentiful and the video screen was large and easy to navigate / operate.

I found the Lufthansa seat to be fresh and modern looking. That said, this is their “old” business class seat and a new version is currently being rolled out across the fleet.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Seat Munich to Chicago

Once again, we found the standard pillow, blanket, headphone, and amenity kit combination waiting for us on the seat. A bottle of water was also ready-to-go in a small nook to the rear of the armrest. Lufthansa’s seat is more open and lacks the privacy you may want if seated next to a stranger for a long flight. In addition, although the seat reclines flat, it does so at an angle. As a result, you may find yourself sliding down the seat when trying to get some shuteye.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class IFE In-Flight Entertainment System Munich to Chicago

I did appreciate that the seat featured more ample storage in front of you. However, the In-Flight Entertainment screen seemed smaller and less sharp than its counterpart on United. In addition, the system’s offerings were more limited and its navigational controls were a bit clunky.

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines In-Flight Meals and Service

Once we were settled in our seats, the United Purser swung by to take my dinner order. She was gracious, polite and referred to me as “Mr. A.” Subsequent interactions with the Flight Attendant crew were more informal though I was addressed as “Sir” throughout the flight. In general, the crew was cheery, friendly and in good sprits.

United Airlines Business Class 767-200 BusinessFirst Cocktail Service and Warm Nuts Chicago to Amsterdam

The evening’s meal started with pre-dinner cocktails and warm nuts. A variety of spirits were available and I opted for a glass of red wine and a Diet Coke.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Appetizer and Salad Course BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

The chilled appetizer consisted of smoked salmon and shrimp. It was served along with a fresh seasonal greens salad with roasted tomatoes, Kalamata olives, baby mozzarella and a choice of blue cheese or balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Bread was served on a separate plate. The presentation of both the appetizer and salad was simple. Although the starters weren’t all that creative, I still found them satisfying and executed well.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Main Course Beef Entree BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

For my main course, I selected the short rib of beef which was served with a red wine sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots. As is typical of “airline steak,” the meat was dry and a bit stringy. My Partner F selected the fillet of salmon with lump crabmeat and unfortunately that entrée suffered the same overly dry fate. That said, the accompanying vegetables were nicely cooked, flavorful and not soggy.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Cheese Course BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

I wrapped up my meal with a fairly standard selection of cheeses …

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Dessert Sundae BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

… along with a customized ice cream sundae (I went the strawberries and chocolate route). I have to admit, there’s always something fun about having ice cream while flying at 40,000 feet.

United Airlines 767-200 Business Class Pre-Arrival Meal BusinessFirst Chicago to Amsterdam

Prior to landing in Amsterdam, a light breakfast was served. The chilled deli selection consisted of Swiss cheese, Black Forest ham, Genoa salami and turkey. Fresh fruit, a croissant and yogurt rounded out the meal.

United BusinessFirst also offers an Executive Dining option that allows you to be served your main meal followed by dessert based on your own schedule.

Turning to Lufthansa, I’ve heard others comment that Business Class service on the German carrier, while efficient, can sometimes be less personable and even “robotic” in nature. On our flight from Munich to Chicago, I noticed that several members of the crew, although professional, seemed to lack a “warm and fuzzy” quality. Fortunately, the Flight Attendant serving our seats provided us with a great deal of personal attention and was quite engaging and attentive.

Our experience on this flight may have actually been an early “trial run” of Lufthansa’s Business Class Signature Service. This concept has each flight attendant focusing on only a limited number of passengers in an effort to personalize the in-flight experience. Blogger Lufthansa Flyer wrote a more detailed post on the Lufthansa Business Class Signature Service, which is continuing to roll out in additional markets.

I kicked off dinner with cocktails and found that Lufthansa’s spirits menu was more extensive than United’s.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Cocktail Munich to Chicago

Drinks were served off of a cart and I opted for a Campari and Soda. However, I was surprised that packaged nuts, in contrast to the warmed option served by United, accompanied the cocktails.

Appetizers consisted of Aniseed marinated Salmon with Potato Salad, Basil Vinaigrette and Cream Cheese Mousse with Chives.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Salad and Appetizer Munich to Chicago

The small Seasonal Leaf Salad was less “hearty” than United’s option. However, it’s simple presentation was actually a nice compliment to the more creative appetizer. The quality of Lufthansa’s bread selection was better than that of United’s. I chose the Pretzel Roll which was served on a separate plate.

Since I was having trouble selecting a wine to go with dinner, the Flight Attendant cheerfully suggested that I have a “wine flight” and served me all the options that were being offered that evening.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Main Course Beef Entree Munich to and Wine Flight Chicago

Just as on my inbound United flight, I went for the beef option and chose the Fried Tenderloin with Chocolate Red Wine Sauce, Potatoes us Gratin and Green Beans. Although the beans were a bit soggy, I found the meat sauce and the potatoes to be rich and highly satisfying. In contrast to United’s beef option, Lufthansa’s tenderloin was juicy and flavorful. However, it was served a bit more on the rare side than some diners might enjoy. That said, I prefer my meat “Joan Crawford bloody” (just watch Mommie Dearest and you’ll know what I mean) so I thoroughly enjoyed my meal.

A cheese plate, that was a bit more refined than United’s course, was served to wrap up dinner.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Cheese Course

The selection for the evening consisted of Ashed Goat Cheese, Morbier and natural Yogurt Cheese with dried Apricots.

Dessert was a Mascarpone Pear Cake with Passion Fruit Sauce.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Chocolate Snowman Dessert Munich to Chicago


Unfortunately, the pastry was so delicious that I had scarfed it down before remembering to take a picture. Therefore, you’ll all just have to settle for this photo of my Lufthansa Chocolate Snowman which was all that remained of the dessert course.

Since our flight was landing in the late afternoon in Chicago, Lufthansa served a pre-landing meal that was much heartier than the breakfast option provided on United.

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Pre-Arrival Meal Munich to Chicago

A hearty Belgian Goulash Soup with Apple Wedges accompanied a Mixed Leaf Salad with Quinoa, boiled Egg, Zucchini, Cherry Tomato and Red Radish served with Yogurt Lime Dressing. A savory Bread Twist and Chocolate Raspberry Cake rounded out the meal.

Just like on United, Lufthansa offers an “Express Service” meal option for those passengers who prefer more time for working or sleeping. The multi-course meal consists of a cold entrée, appetizer, salad, cheese and dessert upon request.

Conclusion – Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class

Service on both airlines was generally friendly. However, I have to give the edge to Lufthansa which seemed to offer a more personalized and warmer experience. That said, since the United leg of my journey was an overnight flight, some allowance needs to be made for the fact that the Flight Attendant team was likely moving expeditiously through the service in order to maximize their passengers’ sleeping time.

When it comes to food and drink, Lufthansa also takes the lead. The quality, variety and creativity of the meal selections were definitely a notch above that of United. Although I would place my hometown carrier’s meal service in the “not bad” category, it was hard getting past the more “institutional kitchen” flavor of the food options.

Comparing Lufthansa and United Airlines Business Class

Where the Friendly Skies comes out ahead is in its “hard product.” I much preferred United’s true 180 degree lie-flat seat to the “angled” lie-flat seat on Lufthansa. United’s BusinessFirst seat offers you the best shot at getting an uninterrupted block of sleep on an overnight flight. That said, Lufthansa’s new business class might soon level the playing field.

How about you? What’s your favorite Business Class product?

United Club San Diego Airport LOUNGE REVIEW – From Terminal to Terrace to Tarmac

After spending a great week on the beach in San Diego’s North County, I was a bit melancholy about leaving town. Fortunately, I had one last opportunity to enjoy Southern California’s sunny, wide-open spaces in United Airline’s new lounge at San Diego International Airport.

The 5,842 square-foot United Club is located is located on the upstairs Mezzanine level of the airport’s newly expanded Terminal 2 West.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Entrance

Immediately past the check-in desk, is the Club’s modern bar area.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Bar Area

The San Diego lounge is the third club to feature the airline’s new design concept. Clean-lined modern furniture complements the space’s beige, cream, grey, stainless steel and marble-look finishes. The overall feel of the place is light and airy. The color palette is calming and spa-like.

Behind the bar is a dining area with café tables and lounge chairs.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Dining Area

Adjacent to this space is a self-service snack area. Since we were leaving on a morning flight, the food options consisted of bagels, cereal and doughnut holes. Coffee, tea and juice were readily available. In addition, a refrigerator below the counter contained small cans of juice and milk.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Food Options

Beyond these areas, additional banquette and café table seating is available under a large vintage aviation photo.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Cafe Seating

This section overlooks a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that open out to my favorite aspect of the San Diego United Club.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Outdoor Terrace Seating

An airy terrace overlooks the terminal’s new Sunset Cove atrium food court. From this Mezzanine level vantage point you can enjoy panoramic views of the airfield and the nearby Point Loma seaside community.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge View from Outdoor Terrace

Comfortable lounge chairs with convenient access to electrical outlets are arranged in conversational groups of four.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Seating

High top bar chairs provide additional seating and power ports at a countertop that runs along the perimeter of the United Club’s terrace.

United Club San Diego Airport Lounge Seating Overlooking Tarmac

The fresh look and open spaces of the new San Diego United Club make it one of my favorite lounges in the airline’s network. Have you visited this lounge before? What are your thoughts?

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?


Old School Souvenir Shopping in Italy – Disco Swimsuits, Man Purses and Johnny Carson Jackets

We went to Italy last summer and all I have to show for it is a leather man purse … Oh yeah, and some Disco-era swim trunks as well as a jacket that either Johnny Carson or Rodney Dangerfield would have been proud to wear in their heydays.

Some of my best souvenir finds arise from the unexpected. For example, after checking into the Hotel Marincanto, our beautiful lodgings in Positano, my Partner F and I decided to hit the streets of this gorgeous seaside town in order to get our bearings.  A few steps away from the hotel, we spotted the following two gentlemen in a store window:

Maria Lampo Positano Mannequins in the Window

Maria Lampo is the owner of the shop and a longstanding fixture on the Positano resort apparel scene. I’d describe her design style as bold, colorful and harking back to a peasant influenced, Disco-era aesthetic.  In my opinion, the late 1970s will NEVER go out to style.

As we browsed the racks of colorful clothing we noticed framed photos on the walls of the various celebrities who have made their way to this little boutique. In my halting Italian, I asked one of the salespeople whether they carried a particular style of paisley-patterned “disco swimsuit” in a men’s husky size. Over the course of our conversation I commented on the familiar faces on the wall posing with the proprietor.  Suddenly, out of the corner of the room I hear a loud and cheery voice exclaim: I AM MARIA!!!

Maria Lampo Positano with Celebrities

Maria graciously let us take a picture with her and we followed in the footsteps of such stars as Dustin Hoffman, Billy Zane and Colin Farrell. I don’t think we’ll make it on the store’s “celebrity wall.”  However, we did receive a lovely red handkerchief as a complimentary parting gift from this very sweet woman.

Maria Lampo
Via Pasitea, 12/14/16
Telephone: 089 875021

A few days later, we left the Amalfi Coast and took the high-speed train from Naples to Florence. Florence is one of our favorite destinations in the world.  Once we enjoyed the city’s marvelous culture, food, and views, our attention turned towards SHOPPING.

We spent a long morning wandering around Florence’s San Lorenzo Market.  After a few hours of exploring the multiple stalls, we were about to reach our “shopping saturation point” when we made one last stop at a vendor of high quality leather goods. Adriano Pelletteria’s shop was located right behind the stall and we stepped inside.

I don’t know. Maybe it was the thrill of being surrounded by such beautifully crafted leather goods. Alternatively, it could have been the heat of the day that clouded our judgment.  However, after a few minutes in the store the concept of owning a “man purse” suddenly seemed very logical.

Pelletteria Adriano Leather Florence Shopping for Man Purses

After all, it was big enough to carry our iPhones, guidebooks and spare change so the bag was PRACTICAL, wasn’t it?  Plus, there were all those Italian, French and Spanish guys walking around and THEY looked perfectly naturally sporting the bags.  I guess the only question that remained was “Who wore it best?”  (note: Please be gentle with your comments folks!).

Adriano Pelletaria
Stand n. 83 – Via dell’Ariento, 43
Telephone: 055 281654

Finally, we were on our way to visit Santa Croce when all of a sudden another bright and sparkly item distracted us. Well, actually in the case it was a plaid jacket that caught my Partner F’s attention. We just had to pop into this clothing store for a few minutes …

Barnaba Clothing Store Florence Exterior

Barnaba carries a full line of tailored men’s and women’s apparel (much of it with an English influence). It seems like it had been a slow shopping day prior to our arrival.  Once the Americans gushing over “vintage this and vintage that” walked in, the two women working in the shop that day sprung into action and started bringing out various for items for us to look over …

Barnaba Clothing Store Florence Ties on Display

Of course, our main reason for being there were those plaid jackets that we just had to have …

Barnaba Clothing Store Our Purchases

Via Martiri del Popolo, 47-55r
Telephone: 055 240707

I’ll be the first to admit that when on holiday I’ve been known to suspend any normal sensibilities regarding practicality or taste when I’m in a souvenir-shopping mode.  Therefore, I’ll bet you’re wondering just how many of our Italian purchases made it out onto the streets of our hometown. Well I did hang out at the pool in my disco swimsuit … but with a towel strategically draped over me most of the time.  Oh, and sadly the man purse is still enjoying a restful slumber in the pretty felt bag it came in.  However, as for that plaid green jacket …


… I come up with any excuse possible to wear it!

Yes, we do tend to “over buy” when we go away on vacation.  However, in addition to coming home with overstuffed suitcases that bump up against most airlines’ allotted weight limits, we also return with some fun stories about how we came across those particular souvenirs as well.

How about you? Do you have any “souvenir stories” to tell? I’d love to hear them!