Jan 21

Hotel Review – Executive Hotel Pacific – Seattle

My friend and on a late summer trip to Seattle stayed at the Executive Hotel Pacific in downtown Seattle
When we booked the hotel all look great, good location, amenities, etc.  Right before the trip my friend and was checking things out again and noticed that the hotel was under construction and that there were complaints about the elevators being slow and noise from the work.  She called the hotel and requested a room away from the elevator.
Of course when we checked in we were awarded a room directly in front of the one working elevator. Tired and worn out, my friend did go and complain, but we couldn’t be moved until the following night, but in return would get a bigger room. In the end, there was some noise, but nothing too crazy and our bigger room was nicer with two of us in it.
As for the rest of the hotel.  The rooms tended to have odd shapes and layouts, which is actually something I appreciate, it gives each room a unique feel to it.  The beds were comfortable, the furniture was good and the service was good. The room thing was annoying, but they did do their best to rectify the situation.
The elevator was slow, and actually they completed one elevator and started the new one while we were there, my guess is that both are done now and normal operations continue.
The hotel had a nice cafe attached, good for breakfast in the morning or an ice cream in the afternoon. However, the room could have used more plugs in it, hopefully that’s part of the refurbishment.
Would I stay here again, YES! For the price, location and amenities, the hotel was a good value and offered all we needed.  Another friend visiting in the city stayed in another section and in a cheaper hotel and had no air conditioning and there was a bit of a heat wave for Seattle. We did NOT have that problem and is an easy thing to miss when staying in a hotel in a cooler climate.

Aug 01

The Lady Hamilton Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa

This was my first hotel and my second interaction with South Africans and although the hotel was a bit old, it had everything I needed and the staff was super friendly at the Lady Hamilton Hotel. The room was a little tired, but overall did the job and the best thing about it was that there were all sorts of different plugs and lots of them. Have a European plug, no problem! UK, North American, it’s all-good! I had to actually look for the South African plug in the room.

The room had two beds (which were comfortable), a safe, desk, chair and a heater/air conditioner. The hotel included breakfast (and the omelet maker was one of the best I’ve ever encountered) and drinks in the lobby all day. The hotel does offer Wi-Fi, but only in the lobby. You do need to take a Wi-Fi code from the desk that gave 500mb of data. However, they did not monitor how much data you used or how many codes you took, essentially giving unlimited Wi-Fi.

The staff there was very helpful in booking tours, or helping you find whatever you needed. Although the hotel isn’t in the best area of the city, it’s not in a bad area and there are shops and restaurants a block away.

If I were to offer two areas of improvement they would be in the dinner and the bathrooms. The dinner was just average, nothing exciting or anything that would suck you into dining there; I thought there were better options about 2 blocks away. The bathroom is the area where the hotel seemed the oldest. They could stand to have better ventilation and a counter or two in them. Otherwise the toilet, shower and sink all worked fine.

 

The hotel certainly isn’t a 5 star hotel, but it offered all the basic necessities and more. If you’re on a budget and looking for a nice, clean place to stay, this is a great option.

Jul 11

Novotel Brisbane Airport

Due to my wacky schedule in Australia I ended up flying into Brisbane late the night before my flight from Brisbane home, which meant I needed a place to sleep for the night. While it wasn’t the cheapest option, it was the easiest option; I stayed at the Novotel Brisbane Airport. This is the only hotel on airport property and offers a shuttle service from the hotel to the domestic and international terminals. There is a $5 charge each way, it can be paid in cash or added to your hotel bill.  If you are using this hotel you should check their website for directions on where to find the shuttle at each terminal.

The hotel was actually quite nice and geared towards the business traveler. It was also modern and stylish with lots of plugs for me to charge all my gadgets for my flight home.

The room had a Queen or King sized bed, a desk, seating area, and rack for your suitcase.  Pretty much all you would need for a quick stop over.  I think there was a coffee maker too, but don’t quote me on that.  The room wasn’t particularly large, but there was enough room to move around it.

While there I did have the opportunity to order room service (late flight and lots of repacking to do) and the pizza was actually pretty good for an airport hotel in Australia (I’m a NY Pizza snob).

There is a shopping center adjacent to the hotel. There wasn’t much open early on a Sunday morning, but there is a grocery store and a medical center there.

Check in and check out were easy, and they were happy to help me arrange my transfer back to the airport, as well as let me use all my random spare money to pay off part of my bill.  The hotel was also very aggressive with their wake up call. I forgot about my wake up call and went to the grocery store. When I returned I ran into the guy they were sending to my room to wake up me.  Opps!

The only thing I didn’t like was that they charged a fee to pay off your bill with a credit card.  Otherwise I would definitely recommend this hotel if you have an early flight, long lay over and need a place to crash for the day (they do have day rates) or even a late flight into the city.

Jun 13

Peppers Broadbeach

When trying to choose a place to stay on the Gold Coast, a friend suggested I stay in Broadbeach instead of Surfer’s Paradise due to construction going on in Surfer’s Paradise.  He also suggested I stay at Peppers Broadbeach.

I will caution that Broadbeach is a quieter area, compared to Surfer’s Paradise, but there is shopping and dining in the area. As such, I think this is a better area for couples or slightly older travelers.  As I was looking for a few days of relaxation after seeing Melbourne and Sydney and before starting my G Adventures Tour, I was happy with quieter location.

Peppers Broadbeach is a fancier hotel/resort and is not cheap to stay at. But for a two-night stay it was perfect.  I’ll admit that I hesitated initially due to the price.  But once I saw the prices of other places in the area, I thought the amenities here made it worth the extra money.

My room was a one-bedroom suite (I would classify it as a junior 4 since it had an office area), with a balcony overlooking the beach.  The “room” had a full kitchen, washer and dryer, tub, shower, his and her sinks, and of course a living room.  It was a bit too much for me, though I seemed to use most of the space while I was there.  I did take advantage of the kitchen though and made myself breakfast each morning.

The resort also had a pool, lounge, Zen garden, restaurants and an attached spa. There wasn’t much missing.  There was a shopping center next door and the beach was across the street.  There wasn’t anything that you would want there, that they didn’t have, or wasn’t immediately nearby.

The entertainment system on the TV did have free and for charge movies, which I did take advantage of one night when it rained.  I also took a quick swim in the pool, which had a nice view of the beach.  The best of both worlds.

Overall Peppers Broadbeach exceeded my expectations, the resort was pretty quiet, but offered anything you could need during your stay there and I would absolutely stay there again.

Mar 13

Pop Century Resort

 Back in December I stayed at Pop Century Resort.  Before the Art of Animation this was the most popular Value Resort at Walt Disney World.  I should give my frame of reference before I checked into Pop.  I had stayed at All Star Sports several years ago and since then stayed at a Boardwalk 1 bedroom Villa, Port Orleans French Quarter, Polynesian, Art of Animation family suite and the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  I had gotten a bit spoiled.  I was also with my sister who had only stayed at the Polynesian, which didn’t help with my frame of mind.  I had booked this room when I was planning on going by myself and when my sister decided to come I did offer to upgrade to a better resort, she said this was fine.

When we arrived at the hotel my sister was shocked to see that the resort was “motel” style.  I was like duh, but then realized that having only stayed at the Poly and only really seeing other Deluxe Resorts this probably wasn’t obvious.  It of course meant she hadn’t listened to me talking about other resorts with much attention.

Anyway, I’m not sure she’s gotten over the shock of the “motel” style, but I think the lobby impressed her more then she was expecting.  Although we were able to check in, we were not able to get into our room.  This was the first time this has happened to me and although it’s a bit of a pain, I thought Disney did a good job of notifying us when our room was ready and the room number so we wouldn’t have to go back to the check in desk.

When we returned to the resort it was dark and my sister was still not feeling the motel style with the big giant windows that everyone walks by.  While I guess they’re good for light, they are a little weird too since I can’t imagine leaving the blinds open.

When we walked into the room I think we were both surprised by how small it was, the space was well laid out, but the room was small.

Aside from the small aspect the room was highly functional.  There were 2 full sized beds, a flat screen TV, coffee maker, table with 2 chairs, 1 sink that was separate from the shower/toilet.  In the sink area there was also a bar for hanging clothes, a safe and a shelf for storage.  There was also a dresser with 3 drawers so there was plenty of storage for 2 people.  I have to say the room might have been small but I”m pretty sure the shower/toilet area was bigger then the one at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which I thought was interesting.  But don’t get excited, I only noticed because I had been at AKL 2 weeks earlier and was taking note of such things.

One complaint I’ve had about several Disney resorts and I had here too is poor lighting, why is it so hard to make a well lit hotel room?  As for the room themeing, I thought it was weak.  I expected something in the theme of the years I was in (50’s) instead it seemed there was one generic Disney design with Mickeys’ on it.  I wonder if this is an area where they might improve the resort during the next refurbishment.

We didn’t spend too much time in the common areas of the resort.  Actually, I had planned to take a walk around the resort, but when I got sick half way through the trip I was lucky I got out of bed, I certainly wasn’t going to walk around the resort.  And after being at Art of Animation I understood the layout of the resort anyway.  The main pool area was large with lots of seating and a bar like area.  We didn’t get to go to the pool, we were way too busy on this trip, but it seemed pretty typical of a Value Resort.

The food court was great though.  It was pretty typical for a value resort, but I could tell that before the Art of Animation, this was probably the best food court on property.  We mostly ate breakfast here, which offered pretty much anything you might want in some way – waffles, pancakes, breakfast burritos, or eggs.  Nothing exotic, but all the basics.  For lunch and dinner they had the usual stuff: burgers, salads, pasta, pizza and some special items.  There is also an ice cream station.  I didn’t try the Twinkies Tiramisu or the tie-dye cheesecake, I’ll leave that up to you!

Overall I liked the resort, there were no giraffes or views of the Magic Kingdom, but it certainly offers all the necessities at a low price.  When I stayed at All Star Sports for a week I felt like it was too long in such a small room, on this trip I was only there for 5 nights and was barely in the room so it was fine.  But if you’re a larger family or staying on a long trip you should keep in mind that the rooms are small and it could get a little tense after a few days.

Has anyone else stayed at Pop Century, what did you think?

Nov 28

Swim To The Left

On my September trip to Walt Disney World I stayed at the new Art of Animation Resort.  This is the last post in a series on the resort. The first post was a general overview of the resort and the common areas. The second post is about the layout and function of the family suites, it is loaded with photos of the Lion King suites.  In this post I want to discuss the theming of the resort with an emphasis on the Cars and Little Mermaid sections.  I wont be covering the rooms at the Little Mermaid section, they are the same as at Pop Century and I didn’t get to see them to see the enhanced theming there.

After checking in to the resort the directions to my room were to swim to the left, it seems the Finding Nemo section is outside the lobby.  Disney really embraces the theming of the resort, even down to telling you to swim through the Nemo section and calling the buildings in the Cars section Garages.

Wheel Well Garage
Tow Mater Garage
Luigi’s Garage

As a Value resort Disney did stick with the larger then life icons that are used at the other value resorts, but they’ve stepped it up a notch here.  At each area the icons are to scale of one of the main characters in that theme and include more decorative items then at other value resorts.

Crush
King Triton
Ursala
Ariel

The exerior of the buildings are unique in this resort too, this is contingent on the fact that it is the only value resort with interior hallways.  On the sides facing out of the resort there are larger then life black and white animations.  On the sides facing in there are colored images representing the films, my room was placed right where a giraffe was drawn, it’s like someone called ahead and told them who I am.  The public places in each section of the resort are themed, in Cars the walkways are roads, in Lion King they are trails, similar to what they did in the Animal Kingdom.

Little Mermaid Exterior
Mermaid building end
Lion King Building end
Cars building end
Cars drawings
Exterior of a Finding Nemo building
Inside the buildings the carpets were special to the theme, in the Lion King it was a dirt trail with different animal prints.  There is also art work representing the films in the main entrance areas of the building and on each floor. The cars rooms have traffic cones and the hallway carpet has hubcaps and checkered flags.  The hubcaps are from the cars in Cars.
Lion King Hallway Carpet
Cars Room Carpet
Cars Hallway Carpet

Inside the rooms the layouts are exactly the same, but the furniture and fixtures are different for each theme.  Typically in a value resort there would be a picture, the comforter and maybe a few other little touches designed around the theme of the resort area.  However, at the Art of Animation, every piece is themed to the resort.  Lamps, mirrors, carpet, even the furniture and shower tile is specific to the theme.

Cars room number signs
Cars Living Room, notice the couch, Lamp and Coffee Table
Cars Shower Curtan
Cars bed, notice the headboard and lamp
Cars Bathroom
Cars Bathroom
Cars Kitchenette
Sleepy Mater
Cars Kitchen Table
Cars Hallway Lights
Lion King Living Room Lamp

There are some other nice touches at the resort.  One example is the license plate of Mater, it’a  reference to the Animation 101 course all Pixar animators must take.

This might be my new favorite resort.  Depending on my group size and prices, I would always put this resort on my list for my travel agent to look into.  I hope this resort sets a new standard for Disney for improved functionality and theming.

And for those of you who are wondering at the orignal plan for this resort as the second half of Pop Century, the Lion King would have been the 70’s and Mermaid the 40’s.

Nov 14

Art of Animation Resort Family Suites

This is the second post in a series of posts about the Art of Animation Resort, there really is that much to say. The first post was an introduction to the resort and covered public areas.  The last post will cover the theming of the resort.

Here are some of the basics of this resort: it’s a value resort on the opposite side of Hourglass Lake from the Pop Century Resort.  The resort has traditional value resort guest rooms and family suite guest rooms.  There are 4 themed areas of the resort: Cars, Lion King, Finding Nemo and the Little Mermaid (traditional value resort rooms).

On my trip I stayed in a Lion King suite, it was about 640 square feet and had 2 bathrooms, a bedroom, kitchen, living room and can sleep up to 6 people.  The buildings that house the suites all have interior hallways and you require a room card to the building to gain entry via RFID, a very nice security feature.

When you walk in to the room (my room at least) on the left is a full bathroom and the living room with the kitchenette.  On the right side is the kitchen table, and bedroom with full bathroom.

The first bathroom has a pocket door leading to the sink area, then there is another door separating the toilet and tub with shower head.  I love this set up as it allows multiple people to use the bathroom at the same time.

Sink Area
Shower Curtain
I LOVE the tile work

The living room has a kitchenette, it has a small refrigerator, small sink coffee maker, microwave, and some plastic and paper goods.  It’s nothing fancy, but enough to warm up bottles or make a quick breakfast.  Next to that is the couch, which folds out into a bed and will sleep 2 people.  There is an additional chair, coffee table, TV on a TV stand/dresser and a rack for hanging clothes.  Under the rack is a box you could use the top of the box for storage, or sitting on.  The box opens from the front (not the top) and is storage for the pull out coach bedding.

Coffee Table
Kitchenette
Living Room fixtures
The reason I picked Lion King

Opposite the bathroom is the kitchen table, it seats 4 and has night tables on either side.  The table folds down creating another bed, a full size bed for sleeping 2 people.  This bed has a regular mattress, the same as they use at Pop Century Resort.  I was going to sleep on it, but couldn’t be bothered with moving all my stuff from the bedroom.

It’s a table
and a bed!

In the bedroom there is a queen sized bed with night stands on each side as well as a dresser/TV stand.  There is a full bathroom off of the bedroom, it has a sink, toilet and shower, but no bathtub.  It’s large and spacious with ample hooks for your towels.  But the sink is not separated from the toilet and shower.

Bedroom
Master Bath

Overall the rooms were well laid out and spacious.  I’m not sure I would put 6 adults in here, but 2 adults and 4 children would work, assuming you don’t require too much counter space.  I will talk about theming in a future post and about the tour of the resort in yet a third post.

Hallway Artwork

But who do I recommend the resort to other then everyone?  Obviously families, but I would also suggest it to young woman or woman traveling alone.  With the number of families at the resort the potential for a creepy person seems like it could be lower, but more importantly the card access to the buildings and the interior hallways adds a layer of security you’ll only get at deluxe resorts and for the price, this is a better deal.

Sep 12

OHEKA Castle, Long Island, New York

I remember as a little girl my Mom pulling up at a street a few miles from home and telling me that there was a castle down the road, as a little girl, that was just the coolest thing EVER!  In August, as an adult, I finally got to see that castle – OHEKA Castle in Huntington, LI.

In the next few weeks I will post about the OHEKA Castle tour with the history of the estate.  But the short story is that in 1984 (about when my Mom would have told me about its existence) a family bought this old dilapidated castle and refurbished it to be a wedding location and hotel.  Last year I bought a Groupon for a one night in the hotel, I paid less then $200 for a $500 a night room.

I was booked in a Whitney Room, the second level of rooms offered at the castle.  Mine was not the one they feature on the website, but it had similar features.  When I first walked into the room I saw a fireplace, it’s not an active one, but it still felt like a good way to start my stay.  The room had a large King bed, a sitting area opposite the fireplace, a desk, closet, full sized bathroom and 32 inch flat screen TV.  Two things that surprised me, the TV was kinda small, though I doubt it’s heavily used in a hotel like this and the TV didn’t have HD service on them.  It doesn’t cost more for the upgraded cable boxes and I think the TV can display HD.  Odd.
Whitney Room
Sitting area and fireplace

The bathroom had a traditional tub, but with jacuzzi jets, a fun way to relax after the stressful day I had had at work.  The toiletries were by L’Occitane and there were complimentary waters and snacks in the rooms. What?  I got free wifi, and snacks, crazy!

Tub

The main floor of the castle has a foyer, ballroom, large party room, several small rooms for parties, a bar and restaurant.  There is also lovely grounds to walk around outside.  But here is one of my biggest problems with the place, it was very stuffy.  There are beautiful grounds, but no one said, feel free to take a walk outside. Every door was closed and none marked, I felt like I was sneaking around the place trying to find my way outside.  I of course got outside and walked around but I felt a little funny.

View from the back of the castle

The following morning I went to breakfast in the ballroom, it was a nice continental breakfast spread – muffins, donuts, bagles, fruit, yogurt, and oatmeal.  As an average person it was a little akward, there were staff there to clear the tables and get you anything you needed.  Although they didn’t hover, they were often standing around doing nothing.  I’m not used to that kind of attention.

Formal Gardens

I checked out just before the 11AM checkout time and while waiting for my tour of the castle I met Gary, the owner of OHEKA Castle.  It was totally unexpected and a nice touch that made the castle feel more welcoming.  In case you are wondering, Gary does have his own suite on the 3rd floor of the hotel.

Would I stay here again?  Well since I live 10 minutes away, probably not.  Maybe for a special occasion, but at $400 a night minimum it better be a VERY special occasion. If you’re visiting Long Island and looking for a special treat, this is a very unique spot and would make a memorable experience.

Aug 01

Contiki Northern Adventure Hotels

I’m not going to review each of the hotels we visited on the Northern Adventure as many of them were similar, instead I’ll go with some broad generalizations.  I will exclude the hotels in Las Vegas and Chicago though as they were a bit different from the typical hotels on this tour.

The hotels were generally hotel/motel style.  The best one was a Comfort Inn in Salt Lake City and the worst was in Kanab, UT.

A few hotels did have pools – Keystone, SD; West Yellowstone, WY; and Kanab, UT.    

All hotels had free Wifi, but the wifi in Kanab was terrible – slow and constantly disconnecting you.  Some required passwords (usually provided with your keys at check in), others were open wifi. 

The quality of the hotels varied, some were modern and new, others were old but had character, like wood carved beds.  No promises that they were hand carved, but they looked like it.  But the beds and pillows were comfortable, rooms were clean and with one or two exceptions, the rooms were spacious for two people and their luggage.  Some had elevators, others did not.  We were usually on the first or second floor and I only had to carry luggage up and down the stairs once. On more then one occasion I did have the very last room in the hallway. 

In Chicago we stayed at the Best Western, Grant Park.  The location was EXCELLENT if you wanted to go to Museum Campus.  It was also only 2 or 3 blocks from the “L.”  The immediate area did not have much, but there was a Walgreens and a restaurant within 2 blocks.  The hotel itself was old and a little sad looking.  But, the beds and bedding were new and comfortable, along with the bathroom.  The hotel did have wifi and I think it also had a pool, though I never saw it.

In Las Vegas we stayed at Harrah’s, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Las Vegas, Harrahs is centrally located on the strip, but is an older hotel.  The Casino wasn’t as nice as the newer hotels, but the rooms were very nice, especially after staying in all those motels along the way.  They did NOT have wifi, they only had wired internet and it was very expensive.  They did have a pool, but the one time I went there is was crowded and there was no shade and not many misters for 100+ temperatures.

Overall the hotels on this tour were pretty good.  None were fancy, but they were clean and provided all the amenities you needed.  Many hotels also had the shower/toilet separate from the sink which was nice when getting ready in the morning and at night.