Hotel News We Noted: April 13, 2013

capella pedregal lobbyWelcome to spring, “Hotel News We Noted” readers. If you live on the East Coast like we do, you’ve been experiencing downright balmy weather and it’s making us crave summer resort escapes, ocean breezes and open-air roof terraces. Lucky for you, we have lots of that kind of info in this week’s column. This week, as always, we round up the best, the worst and the most interesting news in the hotel industry, tracking resort openings, pampering packages and other reportings from our travels – which this week includes a recap of our recent trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Have a hotel we must visit or a tip you can’t wait to share? We welcome your feedback and comments, so feel free to shoot us an email or leave a note below with ideas and thoughts.

Over-The-Top Hotel Package: Viceroy’s $500,000 Once-In-A-Lifetime Wedding
Television and magazines have shown us that a wedding can certainly be a lavish affair. But by just about anyone’s standards, a $500k wedding package is over the top. As part of a celebration of their new experiential video, Viceroy Hotels and Resorts is offering a Destination Wedding Package for just that price. But what do you get for half a million? The package includes:
· A Marchesa bridal gown
· Fitting and alterations by exclusive couture tailor Madame Paulette in New York
· A complete Marchesa for Lenox china set (12 settings)
· A three-night destination wedding for up to 75 guests at the Viceroy Hotel or Resort of your choice, which includes a Welcome Reception, Rehearsal Dinner and Wedding Ceremony and Reception
· 60 Guestrooms at any Viceroy Hotels and Resorts property for the three nights of the wedding

While this package seems quite expensive, it does include an all-expenses paid wedding for you and 75 guests, plus your gown and china. What do you think? Would you buy this once-in-a-lifetime offer, or get a house instead?Travel Recap: The Latest On Cabo’s Hotel Scene
Cabo has long been a playground for Hollywood’s rich and famous, a safe yet tropical jaunt down from LA that’s known for its high-end hotels and discreet service. It’s also one of our favorite vacation destinations, and we just returned from a five-day trip.

This time, we stayed at Capella Pedregal. The area’s newest ultraluxury resort opened in 2009 and doesn’t disappoint. With fewer than 100 rooms and a spa ranked as one of the top ten in the world, the hotel features amenities that most would deem celebrity worthy, including private plunge pools in every room, personal assistant service and entrance through a man-made tunnel carved into Pedregal Mountain. It’s no wonder that A-listers like Reese Witherspoon have made this a regular stop in their vacation rotation. Visitors seeking a true VIP experience should opt for the Estrella Suite, which overlooks the resort and offers prime sunrise views, or a beachfront Casita, which features a private beach area, oversized pool and bathrooms that open directly to the outdoors.

We also visited two of the area’s other grande dame hotels: Las Ventanas Al Paraiso, a Rosewood property, and Esperanza, an Auberge property. Both have their own loyal followings, and also boast fewer than 100 rooms. Notable updates at Las Ventanas include a newly re-launched spa menu focused on holistic treatments, a new menu at their fine dining restaurant focusing on high-end specialty dishes from around Mexico and plans to close the property in May for several weeks to complete new luxury villas on the beachfront. Esperanza also has made recent updates to their spa and fitness center, and continues to boast one of the best fine dining restaurants in the Cabo area, Cocina del Mar, located on a rocky outcropping with exceptional sunset and views of crashing waves.

In other notable Cabo hotel news, San Jose del Cabo just got a new boutique hotel opening of its own. This slightly quieter and more traditional town is located about 30 minutes from Cabo San Lucas. The 72-room Hotel El Ganzo (which translates to “The Goose”) boasts a rooftop bar, three farm-to-table restaurants, a Film Club, a recording studio accessible through a trap door in the lobby floor, a full-service spa and a cool line-up of artists and musicians in residence. Located at the base of the marina in an old fisherman’s wharf, the property offers exceptional views of the Sea of Cortez as well. At just $193 per night for the opening rate, this property’s a steal and well worth a visit.

Want more Cabo news, plus images of the trip? Check out our photos on the Gadling Instagram from this past week.

Article Update: Hotel Wi-Fi
Last week, we told you that IHG had made a big deal over the advent of free Wi-Fi for their loyalty program members, and we mentioned a few other hotels that also offer a similar benefit. We inadvertently forgot to mention that Canadian-based Fairmont Hotels and Resorts also has offered complimentary Wi-Fi for their President’s Club loyalty program members worldwide since 2006.

[Image Credit: Capella Pedregal]

#OnTheRoad On Instagram: Cabo San Lucas

ticketGreetings, everyone! This week I’ll be taking over the Gadling Instagram feed (find it here) as I head to the sunny shores of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

You’ll get an inside glimpse at my travels, including a tequila school, sunset horseback rides along the beach and lots of spa scouting. It’s a hard life, but someone has to do it.

Cabo San Lucas
is known as a celebrity paradise, and this trip will show followers what it’s like to travel just like those very A-listers we read about in magazines. I’ll be staying at the ultra-luxe Capella Pedregal, a AAA Five Diamond Resort with the eighth best spa in the world, according to TripAdvisor.

We’ll also visit hotels like Las Ventanas and Esperanza, both of which are popular celebrity vacation destinations.

If you’ve been to Cabo before, feel free to leave suggestions of places we should visit or things we should do during the trip. If you haven’t, follow along for inspiration.

Not on Instagram? You can also check out full post trip coverage in our weekly column, “Hotel News We Noted.”

[Image Credit: McLean Robbins]

Know Your Spring Break Legal Rights

Spring Breakers, did you know that anyone boarding a plane is covered by a “passenger bill of rights?” Or that in Mexico you’re guilty until you can prove yourself innocent?

Lawyers.com’s editor in chief, Larry Bodine, has some legal insights that Spring Breakers should digest well before their first Jello shot – particularly the 120,000 students heading to Mexico this year.

What can I do right this instant to be safer on Spring Break?
Sign up for the U.S. government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It’s free, and in the feds’ own words, “It allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.”

What’s another thing?
Look up the U.S. consulate or consular agency closest to where you’re staying. At travel.state.gov, check under Country Specific Information for a list of agencies in your destination. Print copies for you and your travel mates and enter the information in your cellphone.

Is there an app for that?
Yes! There’s a Smart Traveler Program app for iPhone and Android.

American laws apply to me everywhere, right?
Wrong. Bodine says many college students think American citizenship grants them immunity from laws in other countries. This isn’t true. If you’re in Mexico or Jamaica or the Dominican Republic or anywhere, you are subject to that country’s laws and punishments. “There are a lot of semi-innocent things we do the U.S. that are crimes in Mexico,” Bodine says. “Walking on the street with an open alcohol container is a crime. Getting off the bus without paying. Taking off your clothes on the beach.”

In another country you can’t count on something like Panama City’s Spring Break Court to minimize the repercussions. “The laws in Mexico are very different,” Bodine says. “If you’re charged with a crime, you are presumed to be guilty, and you have to prove you are innocent. If you are arrested, you’ll be held for 48 hours before you get to make a statement. If they want to charge you, you can be held for a year without bail.”

Check the most recent edition of a reputable guidebook for laws.

How can I find out about open-container laws?
In Mexico, it’s illegal to walk on the street with an open container of alcohol. Costa Rica made it illegal last year. The law varies by country, so ask a bartender, a hotel manager or concierge or a security officer about your destination’s law once you arrive. Ask about public intoxication laws, too. And research them before you go.

Why do the police seem cool with the “anything goes” thing?
Police might let the good times roll – but they often crack down when there’s a car accident, a fight breaks out, someone gets belligerent with the cops or danger otherwise looms, Bodine says. You don’t want to be anywhere near these incidents. Find someone fun and rational to hang out with if you want to make sure to stay out of jail.

I’ve been arrested. Whom should I call?
Bodine says your first call – and only call, if just one is allowed – should be to the U.S. embassy or consulate in the area where you’re staying. Consular officials can provide information on the local legal system and help you find a local attorney, but they can’t get you out of jail.

What will happen if I get caught smoking pot in Mexico?
The U.S. State Department’s website says: “The importation, purchase, possession or use of drugs can incur severe penalties, including imprisonment without bail for up to a year before a case is tried, and imprisonment of several years following a conviction.” Don’t even risk having some in your pocket.

I’m 18 and can drink legally in Mexico. Can I also bring home alcohol?
No. Once you land in the U.S., it’s illegal for you to have it. Chances are it will be confiscated when you go through Customs after you land.

What should I do if I am the victim of a crime?
“Notify the authorities,” Bodine says, “but don’t let the hotel or tour company or restaurant make the report. You should also call the U.S. embassy.”

What rights do I have at the airport?
If you’re bumped from a flight because it is oversold or canceled, the airline is required to give you a paper detailing your rights. The airline employees rarely offer it, but you can ask for one. Bodine says the law requires the airline to rebook you on a different flight, and if that flight isn’t scheduled to arrive within two hours of your original flight, the airline is supposed to pay you 400 percent of the one-way fare for that leg of the trip. But again, don’t expect the airline to be upfront about this. “Ordinarily, they’ll offer you as little as possible,” Bodine says. “They’ll put you up in a hotel and offer you a $300 travel voucher. If you don’t ask for [your full entitlement], they won’t give it to you.”

If your flight is canceled or delayed by weather, the airlines don’t owe passengers any compensation.

Going to Mexico? Read the U.S. State Department’s “Know Before You Go” page for Spring Breakers, and brush up one more time with this video:

[Editor's note: Got legal questions? This isn't legal advice. Try reaching out to the folks at Lawyers.com!]

[Photo credits: top, Mnadi via Flickr; bottom, Spengu via Flickr]

Over-The-Top Valentine’s Travel Experiences: Day 4

capella pedregal estrella suiteWe’re categorizing all things romantic over the next few weeks here on Gadling, focusing on “over-the-top” travel packages that allow you to declare your love in true high style.

Today’s package comes from one of Mexico’s most luxurious resorts, Capella Pedregal, located in Cabo San Lucas. (You may recall that Capella’s Washington, DC property is the subject of our ongoing “Birth of a Hotel” feature.)

This February, Capella Pedregal has unveiled a “Month of Romance” series of packages, including the sumptuous Passion Ablaze offering, whcih includes:

· Five nights Beachfront Suite accommodations, located directly on the beach
· Luxury car airport transportation
· Private Yacht Ride to Lover’s Beach, with on-board Champagne and dinner on the beach
· Custom piece of jewelry for each night of stay, designed by Chan Luu
· 80-minute Art of Couples Massage
· Private beach-side astronomy lesson
· Private beach dinner for two
· Welcome bottle of Clase Azul Super Anejo tequila
· All food and beverage, including a private dinner in the La Cava wine cellar

· Romantic rose petal turndown
· Glass blown heart memento

While the package is a rather mind-blowing $40,000, it’s worth noting that the one-bedroom beachfront suites generally run at about $2,500 a night for these dates, and so the package isn’t really that much of a stretch from a regular week’s stay.

If you’re still looking to go luxe but not break the bank, the three-night “Heart to Heart” package, featuring many of the same amenities in an ocean view guestroom starts at $3,290.

[Image Credit: Capella Pedregal]

Crime In Mexico: Is Baja Safe For Travelers?

baja sunsetFifteen years ago, my brother who lives near San Diego took me to coastal Baja in Mexico and the experience has stayed with me ever since. We ate fish tacos, went swimming at a sublime, deserted beach and fell asleep on the beach to the sounds of the surf. In December, I’m heading west to visit my brother again, this time with my wife and sons, ages 3 and 5, but when I asked him to take me back to the same places we visited long ago he told me that it wasn’t safe.

“No one goes down there any more,” he said. “Those places are all ghost towns.”

And after contacting Budget, the company we’d reserved a car with at its LAX location, and being told that we weren’t allowed to take our rental car down to Mexico, I wondered if perhaps my brother was right.day of the dead in mexicoCrime in Mexico is serious business and anyone who suggests that safety isn’t a legitimate concern is kidding themselves. But I’ve been traveling to different parts of Mexico for years, including recent trips in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and I still believe that there are parts of the country that are safe to visit.

In March, I wrote a piece about safety in Puerto Vallarta in the wake of an armed robbery incident involving cruise ship passengers, citing crime statistics indicating that several U.S. cities have higher murder rates than Puerto Vallarta. The post generated nearly 100 comments, with readers deeply divided on the issue of safety in Mexico.

The U.S. Consulate in Tijuana has a useful page on how to avoid being a victim of crime in Baja with a host of common sense tips, such as stay sober and avoid traveling at night. The most recent State Department travel warning for Mexico, issued in February 2012, has the following segment on the safety situation in northern Baja.

You should exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. Targeted TCO assassinations continue to take place in Baja California. Turf battles between criminal groups proliferated and resulted in numerous assassinations in areas of Tijuana frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours throughout the city. In one such incident, a U.S. citizen was shot and seriously wounded. According to the Government of Mexico, as of August 2011, the city’s murder rate was approximately 20 per 100,000. During 2011, 34 U.S. citizens were the victims of homicide in the state. In the majority of these cases, the killings appeared to be related to narcotics trafficking.

Most observers agree that southern Baja, including Cabo San Lucas is generally regarded as safe. But in an effort to help readers decide if northern Baja is safe to visit, I reached out to two writers with extensive experience there. Nikki Goth Itoi is the author of the indispensable Moon Guide to Baja, the guidebook you want to pick up if you are considering a visit to Baja. And Carla White, a resident of the Ensenada vicinity for ten years, is the editor of Baja.com , a terrific resource for anyone planning a visit to the region.

nikki goth itoi moon guidesNikki Goth Itoi, author of the Moon Guide to Baja

Mexico has gotten a lot of negative publicity due to the narco-violence there. How has that impacted Baja?

Tijuana is a much more interesting place now for visitors because it’s become a city for locals. All the tourism dried up, so now it’s a local scene. There are galleries, cafés, artsy places that don’t just cater to people from San Diego popping over for the night. It’s not as Americanized.

What safety tips do you have for visitors to Baja?

In terms of safety, all the basics apply. Be careful where you go. Don’t go out late at night. Don’t go to the red light districts. Be as inconspicuous as possible. Stay in well-lit places and don’t drive at night. It comes down to common sense in traveling to a foreign country. There’s going to be petty crime and that kind of stuff happens.

You have two young boys, ages 6 and 4, would you hesitate to take them to northern Baja right now?

No, I wouldn’t at all. I’m planning that trip right now.

Some would call you crazy, right?

People have this sense that Mexico is to be avoided, period. Rosarito is a ghost town. But those who live down there think there’s a comeback in the making in northern Baja and it’s centered on food and wine.

People have to do what they are comfortable with. If you’re worried about safety and headlines you saw in the news, you’re not going to have a good time. I don’t try to win people over.

beach in baja stormy dayCrime in Mexico is covered in the U.S. media more than crime in U.S. cities is. If you look at crime data for major U.S. cities, the numbers are lower in Baja. If they’re not comfortable, some are better off staying in San Diego, but Baja has a lot to offer.

The people are very warm. The hospitality is wonderful. Between the eco travel opportunities and the food, wine and cultural opportunities, there’s a lot to discover in Baja. So if you are intimidated by Tijuana, go east and use one of the quieter border crossings. You can also go in a caravan – with a group, there’s always safety in numbers.

You spent time traveling alone and also with your kids researching the book in Baja. Did you ever have any safety issues?

I’ve never had any issues whatsoever. We’ve been pulled over for questionable reasons in Tijuana, but it’s always been fine.

carla white baja.comCarla White, editor of Baja.com

You’ve lived just outside Ensenada for ten years. Is Northern Baja safe?

We are very aware of the articles that come out about safety in Mexico and we roll our eyes. We watch the San Diego news down here and we look at the U.S. and go ‘wow,’ the crime that goes on up there is so random. I have friends and relatives in L.A. and Orange County who won’t come down here because they’re afraid. It’s difficult to explain to them that we find it safe here. They think we’re crazy.

Have you ever been robbed or had any other safety issues there?

I had an ATM issue in Rosarito a couple years ago. Someone tried to grab my card. I was robbed. I went to the police and they were very responsive, in fact, the Rosarito government was very responsive as well. But this same kind of thing happens in the U.S.

Did the thief drive you around and make you withdraw money at various ATMs?

No. He didn’t have a gun. I walked into an ATM booth and I had already put my pin code in and a young, nice looking guy at the machine next to me said, ‘Oh, here, let me help you with that.’ And I told him I didn’t need help. And he was very aggressive and out of the corner of my eye, I saw another guy approaching the booth, so I actually abandoned my card and just got out of there. For me, it was personal safety first. They were able to withdraw $2oo or $300 from my account.

What about other people in your social circle. Have any of them been robbed or had other security issues?

About two years ago, there were some burglary issues up and down the coast. But there were no violent attacks that I’m aware of.

How would you compare the safety and crime situation now compared to a few years ago?

Things definitely got worse when the economy hit the skids a few years ago. I can’t speak to Tijuana as much; I’m more familiar with Rosarito and Ensenada. Tourism from the U.S. just stopped and that may have inspired some of the crime that happened. I’ve lived here for about 10 years and I’ve felt safer here than I’ve ever felt in the U.S.

Recently we’ve seen things improve. We’ve seen more tourism – not necessarily from the U.S., but from Mexico and Europe, and an upswing in the economy. And the government has stepped in and has been very sensitive to travelers and tourists.

Of the areas in Northern Baja that are frequented by tourists, are there any you would advise people to be more cautious in than others? Or avoid entirely?

bajaNot really. I even love Tijuana. It has the best restaurants and is a fun, interesting place. But I wouldn’t be hanging out in the bars there after midnight! A tip that I would give any traveler is to stick to the toll roads, especially at night. I would use the same precautions in Baja that I’d use anywhere in terms of doing things after dark. As far as specific locations, I think I would stay in the main, touristy areas.

What about Ensenada?

I feel very safe in Ensenada. I’m not a bar scene person but I feel comfortable in Ensenada after dark. You just have to keep your eyes open.

So for Americans looking for a safe beach getaway in northern Baja what do you recommend?

I would highly recommend Ensenada. There are great hotels and it’s super sensitive to travelers’ needs and desire for safety. And I don’t not recommend Rosarito Beach.

A good outcome to all the bad press Mexico has gotten in the U.S. is that it created a hyper-awareness here, so I think tourists can feel safe here as long as they pay attention to their awareness and surroundings.

What about police shakedowns in Baja. Are they still a fact of life?

A lot of people have had occasions where they’ve been pulled over and it turned out to be a shakedown. I would say that was happening quite a bit about six years ago. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve had nothing like that happen recently, nor am I aware of it happening to anyone else in my community in many years.

But if you are pulled over, is it best to pay the bribe or insist on going down to the police station?

It seems easier to pay $20 and go on your merry way but you need to tell them to take you to the nearest police station. Maybe you were really speeding and it was a real ticket but you’re better off either way. A lot of Americans go down to Baja and think, ‘Wow, I’m in another country. I can do whatever I want here.’

Some people think they can drink themselves into a coma and then hit the road, and it’ll be fine because this is Mexico. But the bottom line is that if you are pulled over, the best bet is to go to the police station. And ask for their identification. If it’s a scam, you’re calling their bluff. And make sure you have insurance and have your paperwork with you.

Note: There is no definitive answer to the “Is Baja safe” question. If you talk to people who have gone there and were robbed, the answer is ‘no,’ it isn’t safe, and if you talk to people who have gone and enjoyed themselves the answer is ‘yes’ it was fine. As our experts said, every traveler needs to decide what they are comfortable with.

[Photo credits: Flickr users Ani Carrington and uteart; Nikki Goth Itoi and Carla White]