Great Layover: Vancouver International Airport

US arrivals hall
Courtesy of YVR

Ugh. Layovers. We’ve all had to while away the hours at airports, but regular travelers know that every so often, a layover can be more respite than penance. Such is the case with Vancouver International Airport, a modern marvel with art and architecture to die for.

In addition to high-tech design that includes soaring ceilings, lots of skylights, and sculpture from the region’s indigenous tribes, there’s a leafy, indoor aquarium/park area ideal for destressing, and loads of boutiques and food outlets that are a notch above the standard airport fare.

What makes YVR (the airport code) equally distinctive, however, is the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel. Sure, other hotels have airports, but have you ever stayed in them? What you usually get is a musty, generic, not terribly hygenic, overpriced room, and a complete lack of serenity or style. The Fairmont, by contrast, is an oasis not only for guests, but travelers just passing through on layover. Read on for the best ways to spend your layover at YVR (for once, you can hope it’s a long one).

vancouver airport parkCourtesy of YVR

Some people like to get their layover exercise by strolling the airport shops, and YVR doesn’t disappoint. Be sure to pick up some pure maple syrup, maple cream cookies (delish) and smoked salmon in Duty Free or at one of the specialty shops. But if you’re looking for a serious work-out, consider dropping $15 to use the Fairmont’s health club, pool, and jacuzzi.

Afterward, soothe sore or travel-fatigued muscles at the luxe Absolute Spa. In addition to massage, there are the usual pampering facials, body treatments, and mani-pedi’s. Or perhaps you’d prefer to unwind over a drink (Canadian whiskey, anyone?). Hit up the swanky Jetside Bar or GlobeYVR restaurant, which has floor-to-ceiling, sound-proof views of the runway. Jets literally take off from just yards away. And yes, there is great airport food: think creative, seasonal PNW fare, with some ingredients (notably, honey, herbs, and greens) sourced from the Fairmont’s own hives and gardens (most of the chain urban farms on their rooftops; this being an airport, a separate farm is located nearby).

exterior fairmont vancouver airportCourtesy of Fairmont Vancouver Hotel
Should your layover require an overnight, business meeting, or other function, the Fairmont YVR is definitely the place to be. It’s also convenient to downtown, because the clean, speedy Canada Line public transit system connects to the airport. Be sure to take advantage of the transit by visiting the outstanding public market on Granville Island (which will require a short cab ride or walk from the rail system, FYI), or hopping off in buzzing Yaletown, home to Vancouver’s trendiest shopping and dining. Outdoorsy types will want to connect to a bus that will take them to sprawling Stanley Park, with its miles of hiking trails.

The 300+ rooms at the Fairmont YVR all overlook the runways, either for arrivals or departures (again, soundproof glass makes for stunning, yet quiet, visuals). Some rooms are equipped with telescopes; one floor is reserved for hypoallergenic bedding and skin products. Other rooms are pet-friendly. The natural light is plentiful, the bedding plush, the bathrooms cushy (suites come with hand-hewn jade from a British Columbian quarry). With accommodations like this, layovers are…fun.

room at fairmont vancouver airport
Courtesy of Fairmont Vancouver Airport

Vancouver itself is a progressive, outdoorsy city that takes full advantage of its stunning location nestled in the Coast & Mountains region. But even if you never make it past the airport, it’s sure to leave you with a positive impression that leaves you longing to return.

Missing your pet when you travel? Just borrow one

I love my two cats and I miss them dearly them when I travel for extended periods of time. Though there are more and more options for traveling with a pet, I’m still not about to bring them with me. It’s just too expensive, too much of a hassle, and too much stress on the pet to fly them with me for a two-week jaunt. So they stay home and I snuggle-attack any furry friends I happen to make along my travels.

For dog lovers, there’s another option available. As Peter Greenberg showcases in a video posted on his site, several hotels around the country are now offering special pet “rental” programs. At select Fairmont hotels, guests can borrow a dog for a day to take it out on a walk around town.

At the Fairmont Tremblant in Quebec, Gracie the canine ambassador is available for walks. At the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston, Catie the former guide-dog fills the role. Other hotels offer similar programs, like the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek. Greenberg also highlights a program run by a shelter near Aspen. The shelter “rents” out dogs up for adoption for play dates. Many local hotels like the St. Regis and The Little Nell even allow the dogs to stay overnight. Of course, as Greenberg points out, the hope is that the temporary owner will then become a permanent one.

So next time you are traveling and missing your pets at home, you may not be out of luck. Just look for a hotel that offers one of these innovative pet-lover-friendly programs.

[via Peter Greenberg]

Big Island Hawaii: The Resorts of the Kohala Coast

The Kohala Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island might not look like what you imagine when you think of Hawaii. While the grounds of the many resorts that line the coastline are lush and green, once you leave the confines of the property, you’ll see a land that’s almost barren, dotted with tiny shrubs and long expanses of hardened black lava from the last eruptions of the now dormant Hualālai volcano. It’s not the jungle filled with waterfalls that you might have envisioned (for that, head to the Hilo side), but the otherworldly landscape is still beautiful.

If you want exciting nightlife or are traveling on a budget, there are better places to stay on the Big Island. But if you want carefree luxury, beautiful beaches, seaside golfing, and waiters at the ready to cater to your every whim as you relax by the pool, check out the resorts of the Kohala Coast.

Divided into four main resort properties, the Kohala Coast is home to eight luxury resorts. I had the chance to briefly visit them all and to stay in two, and I saw that each one has its own style, advantages, and disadvantages.

Waikoloa Beach – Waikoloa Beach Marriott and Hilton Waikoloa Village
Best for families with active children.

The Waikoloa Beach resort complex seems like a great choice for those who want to be able to stay busy without renting a car or leaving the resort complex. I can see spring breakers, older couples, and definitely families with young children loving the amenities, but if you want something that feels a little more intimate, I’d recommend you go elsewhere.

The Hilton Waikoloa Village is the largest of the eight properties in terms of number of rooms. There are over 1200 rooms on the 62 acre resort. It looks like it’s been picked up from Disney World and transplanted here to Hawaii. In fact, like Disney World, there is a tram system that transports guest around the hotel. There are four pool areas (one is adults only) with swim-up pool bars, waterslides, waterfalls, and lazy rivers. There’s a beach and ocean-fed lagoon for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and boogie-boarding, a fitness center, tennis courts, and golf course. The hotel offers a whole host of activities like hula classes, luau dinner, lei-making demos, pool parties, and live music.

The hotel also boasts the area’s only dolphin encounter, the Dolphin Quest. I had the chance to experience the encounter and while I thought it was well done, there really wasn’t the opportunity to “swim” with the dolphins as advertised. Instead, we donned life vests and stood in the water while we learned about dolphin commands and were able to pet the dolphin as it passed by. Then we floated in the water while the dolphin swam beneath us a few times and snorkeled as the dolphin swam around the small lagoon. I’d recommend the activity for kids, and suggest having a family member camp out on the shore and take photos – the ones sold in the gift shop are quite expensive.

There’s a nightclub for adults, several restaurants, spa, and onsite shops. Basically, it’s dream come true for a family managing hyperactive kids, and a nightmare for honeymooners looking for privacy.

Average rates range from $260 – $400, though they do offer specials that start as low as $199 per night, making this an attractive choice for families who want a full-service resort but are traveling on a budget.

The Waikoloa Beach Marriott offers some of the lowest rates in the area. Basic rooms rates range from $199 to $320 per night, and the resort also offers some great package deals that can help you save on car rental, golf and spa treatments. The resort looks like a typical Marriott with a bit of Hawaiian flavor added into the decor. There is a restaurant, lounge, coffee shop, and commissary onsite and the resort hosts a luau dinner. Several other restaurants and shops are within a mile’s walk.

There is an onsite golf course, fitness center, spa, swimming beach, nature reserve, and two pools.

Mauna Kea Resort – Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and and Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel
Best for couples,honeymooners and families with older children who want a swimming beach.

The Hapuna Beach and Mauna Kea hotels are owned by the same company and are located on the same property (though they front different beaches) but the similarities seem to end there.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel opened in 1965. At the time, it was the most expensive hotel ever built and was the favorite Hawaiian retreat of many celebrities. Eventually it grew outdated, so when it was damaged in an an earthquake a few years ago, the owners took the opportunity to close it down and do a complete overhaul, spending $150 million sprucing up the decor and reducing the number of guest rooms (making each one larger). The 258 guest rooms are now stylish with colorful accents and modern furniture. They have flat screen tvs, iPod docks, and L’Occitane bath products. The hotel features a pool, sandy beach, fitness center, two golf courses, 11 tennis courts, several restaurants, luau, spa, salon, shopping, and Hawaiian culture classes.

Guest rooms all have private lanais, and room rates range from $450 to $850.

From what I saw of the Hapuna Beach Prince Resort during my three night stay there, it needs some of the TLC that’s been showered on its sister resort. With a perfect location on beautiful Hapuna Beach and ocean views from every room, the hotel has a lot of potential. But the decor is outdated (peach walls, carpeted floors, and comforters that have started to pill), the amenities are basic, and while the hotels lacks any “wow” factor in the romance department (making it an unlikely choice for honeymooners), it’s also not ideal for families with young kids. The single pool is just a basic pool – no crazy waterslides of fun fountains – surrounded by lounge chairs and “reservation-only” cabanas.

My biggest complaints about the hotel were the outdated decor, the lack of any safety latch on the room’s doors (a concern because non-guests could access the property via the public beach), and the less than enthusiastic service I received from staff. The friendly and caring service I was told about by resort representatives (who themselves were the epitome of friendly) was no where to be seen. Upon arrival, I pulled up to inquire where self-parking was. The bellman told me, but didn’t mention that it was quite a walk from the garage to the front desk – a walk with no signage directing you where to go once out of the garage. After stumbling around with my heavy bags for a few minutes, I made it to the front door where the bellmen watched me struggle to the front desk with no offer of help. The front desk person didn’t crack a smile until she checked my name on the computer and when I later called with a problem with my Internet connection, the response was similarly apathetic. Especially for the price ($415 to $615 for single room, $1350 for a one-room suite) I expected better service and higher quality rooms

There are four on-site restaurants, spa, salon, and kid’s club at the hotel, but the big draw is the beach. Connected to Hapuna Beach State Park, it offers sandy white beaches, mild waves, and reefs for snorkeling. There are beach chairs available for use, but you have to sign for resort towels. As an added bonus, guests at the Hapuna can use the amenities at Mauna Kea.

Hualālai Resort – Kona Village and Four Seasons Hualālai
Best for honeymooners and those seeking privacy, luxury and romance.

There’s more I’ll say about Four Seasons later, but suffice to say, it’s nice. Really, really nice. But it’s Four Seasons, and the resort was recently rated the number one beach resort in the US by Travel and Leisure, so you probably already knew that. With four pools, a kids club, three restaurants, golf course, culture center and unparalleled service, it’s worth every penny of the pricey room rate (which starts at $500 per night).

Kona Village is the perfect place for honeymooners or anyone who wants to feel like they are on their own private island. The resort definitely delivers “barefoot luxury”. Assorted hale (huts) are scattered around 82 acres of lava, black sand beach, palm trees, and ancient fishing lagoons. Dirt paths connect the hale to the pebbly beach and to the three resort restaurants. There are also three lounges, including the Shipwreck Bar, built from the resort’s founder’s boat when it broke apart on lava rocks. Guests can arrange for private candlelit dinners on the beach, and the resort’s luau is considered one of the best on the island.

I was able to attend the Wednesday Night Hula Mana Luau, featuring authentic kalua pig (smoked in an underground imu), mai tais and entertainment. During the luau Hawaiian dancers perform hula, sing and chant, and tell the stories of Hawaiian history and culture. While the food didn’t floor me, I loved that the Luau was more than just fire dancers (though, there was a fire dancer) and hulu girls. The stories behind the dances and chants were presented well and included lots of insight into Hawaiian history and traditional Hawaiian culture.

There is a pool onsite, but with all the water-sports offered, you might not ever use it. The resort offers SCUBA certification and diving, snorkeling, stand-up paddle-boarding, outrigger canoe paddling, deep-sea fishing and surfing.

Rooms feature traditional Hawaiian patterned quilts, mini-fridges stocked with soft drinks, and twice-daily housekeeping service. They don’t have tvs or phones, which means staff member communicate with guests through notes left on the door. A coconut serves as a “Do Not Disturb” sign. Just leave it on the stairs and you’ll be left alone.

Rates that include three meals a day range from $700 to $1200 per night, but frequent promotions help bring the cost down.

Mauna Lani Resort – Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows and Fairmont Orchid
Best for families and couples looking for a luxurious, intimate setting that still offers lots of activities.

The Mauna Lani Resort complex hours both the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows and the Fairmont Orchid, two distinct hotels that are connected to each other (and to the surrounding shops and restaurants) but a system of free shuttles. Both offer luxurious rooms, beautiful beaches, and lots of family friendly activities.

The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel puts a strong emphasis on preserving Hawaiian culture and educating visitors about the ways and traditions of the Hawaiian people. Cultural tours of the historic royal fishponds (which date as far back as 250 BC) as well as the ancient petrogylph fields are led by the incredibly informative resident historian Danny Akaka. The resort is also quite proud, as justifiably so, of its green efforts. Condé Nast Traveler named it one of the world’s top luxury eco-friendly resorts for its solar energy innovations, which have resulted in the resort generating more solar electric power than any luxury resort in the world. Golf Magazine also recognized the resort for its environmental stewardship during the construction and use of its eco-friendly golf course.

Awards and accolades aside, the Mauna Lani has a lot going for it as a luxury hotel for families and active couples. There’s an onsite fitness club, free snorkeling equipment, and bikes available for riding around the sprawling property. The kids club includes a 9-hole kids golf course and an intro to snorkeling class. Each of the 343 guest rooms, which start at rates of $270 per night, has a private lanai, mini-fridge and flat screen tv. 90% of the rooms have ocean views. Two-bedroom bungalows also feature gas grills and private plunge pool. There is a spa, four restaurants, 24-hour room service, and guest laundry. Like other resorts in the area, the hotel also offers wedding packages, which start at $550.

The Fairmont Orchid is ideal for honeymooners and couples who want a luxury experience but still want a range of activities to choose from. It’s also great for adults who may be traveling with kids but still want a bit of romance in their vacation. The 540 guest rooms have AC, internet, private lanais, and are decorated in muted tones and with plush linens. 10 tennis courts, 24-hour fitness center and a 36-hole golf course keep guests busy, and a kids program with arts and crafts and educational tours will entertain the kids. The grounds, while quite large, still manage to feel intimate thanks to lush landscaping and romantic torches that light the way at night.

The Fairmont Orchid, like the Mauna Lani, works hard to be eco-friendly. The Fairmont is the only resort in the area that recycles 100% of its waste. It uses low wattage bulbs, landscaping is done with indigenous plants that are drought-resistant and require less watering, and herbs and produce grown onsite are used in the hotel’s seven restaurants. I sampled the sushi at Norio’s Sushi Bar and Restaurant, which uses “locally sourced, organic, and sustainable items whenever possible,” another way the Fairmont works to be eco-friendly in its practices.

One of the biggest draws of the Fairmont is its “Spa Without Walls.” This alfresco area offers guests the chance to have a relaxing massage to the sound of a trickling waterfall while a warm breeze blows on their skin. The massage I enjoyed was one of the best I’ve ever had. My masseuse was knowledgeable and made me feel comfortable, and the sensations of being outdoor made the experience even more pleasant.

Rooms at the Fairmont Orchid generally start above $500 per night, but some great promotions and discounts have dropped the prices as low as $199 per night recently, allowing guests to afford the hotels romance and luxury even on a small budget, and keeping occupancy rates as high as 79% even during low-season.

The trip was paid for by the Kohala Coast Resort Association, but the views expressed are entirely my own.

“Fairmont Fit” program supplies sporty guests with running shoes

Before every trip I tell myself that in between sightseeing, wine tasting, and multi-course gastronomic feasts, I’m going to get in some physical activity. Then I start packing my carry-on and, when things get tight, the workout clothes and running shoes are the first things to get cut.

Despite my good intentions, I’d rather pack an extra pair of heels or save room for some souvenirs than squeeze my bulky running shoes into my bag. And I’m sure I’m not alone. To make it easier on people like me, Fairmont’s “Fairmont Fit” program provides guests with a gently used pair of running shoes in their size to use for the duration of their stay.

Guests must be members of the Fairmont President’s Club loyalty program and pay $10 per stay for the Fairmont Fit program. The shoes need to be requested in advance; they are cleaned after every use and replaced each season. In addition to use of the use of the shoes (available at 56 Fairmont hotels), guests can also use Adidas workout shirts and shorts or capris, yoga mat and stretch band, and an MP3 player loaded with 1,000 songs.

Who am I kidding? I’m not going to go for a run even if the hotel does lend me some kicks. But for the more dedicated, it’s a great way to pack light and still be able to maintain your workout routine on a trip.

[via Travel+Leisure]

How green is your hotel?

Not too long ago, any hotel that had one of those “please reuse your towels” signs in the bathroom was considered “green“. But with new hotels upping the ante by adding more features that reduce waste and environmental impact, it takes a lot more than that to truly be green. Here are some of the greenest hotel features to look for in an eco-friendly hotel.

Sheet and Towel Reuse Programs
Literally, this is the least a hotel can do. Asking guests to reuse towels and only changing the linens every few days or between guests no doubt saves water (and money for the hotel) but those positive contributions can easily be negated through other actions. If this all the hotel does, it might just be more frugal than green.

Bulk Toiletry Dispensers
Every time you check into a hotel, you’re provided with small bottles of face wash, body wash, lotion, shampoo and conditioner. Even if you’ve only used a minuscule drop, those bottles are tossed out and restocked at the end of your stay. This happens every day, for every room sold, at hotels all around the world. That’s a lot of tiny bottles clogging up landfills. The greener option being implemented in many hotels is to install bulk dispensers (similar to soap dispensers in public restrooms) that dole out small amounts of shampoo, soap and lotion without the extra packaging.

Local and Organic Cooking
Hotel restaurant chefs that use local, fair-trade, sustainable and organic ingredients get a gold-star for for being green. Using local products means that the food travels less to get to the consumer, which in turn means less energy is used and less emissions are added to the air from the planes, trains and trucks that transport food. Organic ingredients are created without the chemicals and pesticides that can harm the surrounding eco-systems, fair-trade products support local farmers, and sustainable foodstuffs are made in a way that doesn’t deplete the natural resources of the area. Hotels that employ these practices in their restaurants are doing something that is not only healthy for their guests, but is healthy for the community and environment as well. The hotel gets even more bonus points if some or all of the produce comes from the hotel’s own garden.

Green Lighting Practices
Replacing fluorescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR certified compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) means that a hotel will use 75% less energy per year. While hotel guests can do their part by turning off all unnecessary lights when not in the room, some hotels, like the LEED-certified Orchard Garden Hotel in San Francisco, make this easier by requiring the lights to be activated by key card. The key card, usually attached to the hotel key, must be inserted into a slot in order to turn the lights on. Since you’ll obviously need to take the key and lighting key card with you when you leave the room, there’s no way you can leave the lights on while you’re out.

Green Building Materials
The buildings at Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge in Alaska are constructed from scavenged driftwood, the mattresses and bedding at the Asheville Green Cottage in South Carolina are made from all organic materials, and the walls at Los Manos B&B in Colorado are built of local adobe and the ceilings are insulated with cellulose from old newspapers. All of these properties are using green building practices that help conserve precious resources. Using recycled, organic, scavenged and eco-friendly (like low-emission paints) materials in the building process makes a hotel green from the very beginning.

Reducing Water Usage
The El Monte Sagrado in Taos, New Mexico filters its wastewater into pure drinking water, but there are plenty of other ways hotels can save water that are a littler easier to do. Many green hotels install low-flow regulators in showers and toilet tanks, and some even put in automatic-timer showers that shut off after a certain number of minutes. (You can restart them with the push of a button, but the ticking clock serves as a powerful reminder to make it quick). Hotels in temperate areas have chosen to do their landscaping with tropical plants, which require less water to maintain.

Alternative Power
Many hotels are looking to alternative sources of power; the Alpine House in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, gets all of its power from wind turbines. Look for hotels that boast the use of solar and wind power for even part of their energy usage. Hotels that use shade trees and crosswinds to cool rooms, rather than air conditioning, also increase their eco-friendly factor.

Recycling Programs
All the paper used in the Hotel Triton in San Francisco, from napkins in the restaurant to stationary in the guest rooms, is made from recycled materials. Of course, after it’s used, it still gets tossed out. I’ve never seen a recycling bin in any hotel I’ve stayed in, and I highly doubt that housekeeping takes the time to separate recyclables from trash. As a result, plenty of paper, aluminum and plastic that could be recycled ends up getting tossed. Any hotel that offers recycling bins in the room is one step up on the green ladder.

Green Cleaning Products
Using non-toxic, all-natural cleaning products helps reduce the amount of dangerous chemicals that get into the water system and cause pollution. Look for hotels like Denver’s Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast which uses only baking soda to its clean tubs, sinks and toilets.

Other Green Practices
When combined with some of these larger-scale practices, the smallest acts can help make a green hotel even more eco-friendly. All Fairmont hotels offer free parking for hybrid cars, the Vancouver Hilton offers an alternative fueling station, and many hotels will provide free bikes for guests to get around on. Stocking guest rooms with glass drinking cups instead of plastic and relying on natural lighting as much as possible in public areas are two additional practices that make a big difference.

I doubt there’s any hotel that employs every single one of these practices. But it’s a safe bet to say that the more of these strategies a hotel uses, the greener it is. No hotel will have zero impact on the environment, but choosing a hotel that take does its best to use environmentally-friendly policies will help make your travels greener.