Spoil yourself at the Four Seasons Hong Kong

When the Four Seasons Hong Kong was completed in 2005, it entered one of the most competitive markets in the world. Hong Kong is home to a collection of premier hotels, all constructed to take advantage of the city’s stunning scenery and appetite for luxury services. In my search to review the best that Hong Kong has to offer, the Four Seasons is certainly the definition of grandeur and style.

One of the hotel’s best assets is its location. Situated near the base of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, the hotel rises 45-floors above the IFC mall and Central / Hong Kong MTR Stations. This means that while a Bentley airport-pickup can be arranged, the hotel is directly above the quick & convenient Airport Express rail line – and at the center of most of the city’s major destinations. It’s just a short walk to the famous Star Ferry Terminal, Midlevels Escalators, and late night hotspot Lan Kwai Fong.

The downside is that the hotel doesn’t offer a direct view of the emblematic skyline that is often associated with the city – as some of the top competitors do (the Intercontinental, Peninsula). But the views from the hotel are spectacular in their own right, and the proximity of the hotel to attractions in Central is preferable to the Tsim Sha Tsui side.

To the North: panoramic views of Victoria Harbor and the rapidly growing ICC building – with Kowloon sprawled out beneath and encompassed by the peninsula’s jagged mountains. On the opposite side: a flawless view of the peak & surrounding skyscrapers, making it impossible to mistake the fact that you’re in the very heart of the city.

There are four restaurants that are open to the public, including an award-winning French restaurant named Caprice, and Chinese restaurant Lung King Heen – the only restaurant in Hong Kong to receive three Michelin stars.

A fifth restaurant is only available to hotel guests at the poolside and provides more casual dining experience. The outdoor sun deck has several pools that overlook the harbor and the adjacent skyline. It’s relaxed and family-friendly, and a welcome escape from the 90 degree summer heat & humidity.

One of the hotel’s finest services is undoubtedly the wide range of luxury Spa treatments. Guests that schedule an appointment at the Spa at the Four Seasons are invited to arrive early and enjoy a variety of top notch facilities in the Vitality Lounge. The lounge is a series of beautifully lit and decorated rooms featuring a sauna, steam room, vitality pool, and personal relaxation area – complete with food & drinks, a personal television and music.

When it’s time for the treatment to begin, a staff member will lead you upstairs to one of seventeen rooms – the best of which have a perfect view out on to Victoria Harbor. Ambient music and aromatic candles compliment the view to create an elegant atmosphere for the private session.

From 250-million-year-old Himalayan salt scrubs to mud wraps and massages, there is a full lineup of unique appointments that aim to refresh physical well being and mental focus.

Overall, the Four Seasons Hong Kong is a great choice if you want to be in a prime location with a full list of luxury services at your fingertips. If you’re making an extended stay for business, the Four Seasons also has an exclusive development of residences that are available with a one-month minimum stay.

As expected, luxury comes with a price tag – rooms start at around $540 USD and appointments at the Spa start around $60 USD.

More information is available on the Four Seasons’ website.

Pet hotels for the truly insane true pet lovers

The Dog HouseHotel month wouldn’t be complete without a rundown of animal houses — you get a vacation, so why shouldn’t your pet?

The photo above is a pet hotel in Michigan called The Dog House – The Ultimate Dog Retreat at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. The guest dogs enjoy filtered water, walks with the professionally trained staff, a cage-free environment, and private, outdoor play areas. It’s a great way to not have to worry about your pets on your vacation — just bring them with you and let them get pampered, too! The Muse Hotel in NYC is another pet-friendly institution, complete with bones and a pretty doggie bowl.

How do you get your pets to these pet-friendly hotels? Well, some airlines will allow you to bring your dog with you in the cabin, and there’s also Pet Airways, which will fly your pooch for $150 – $300 without you (warning: they don’t go to Michigan yet).

Do you think we can get some pets to join The Laviators Club?

Anyway, you can find a lot of pet-friendly hotels on the net (start here), but for the pet who truly deserves the best? Take them to France. Hotel Fouquet’s Barrière is an unmatched destination for spoiling your shmoopie. Not only is it Paris’ newest five star luxury hotel, but here’s what your pets will get:

  • Deluxe plush pet bed in-room upon arrival
  • Special baskets, bowls and dishes
  • Mats embroidered with pet’s name, placed next to owner’s bed (I mean, seriously??)
  • Vittel water upon arrival
  • Meals (available via room service) of gourmet fish, chicken or beef accompanied by wild rice, steamed vegetables or homemade pasta
  • Selection of special toys

… and all for free. If I happen to go to that hotel? I’m gonna tell them I have a pet. And that it’s named after me. So that I can have a mat with my name embroidered on it and some special toys.

Forget boarding your “baby” next time you need to get away; send them on a vacation of their own.

Element Hotels: made for do-it-yourself foodies

Back in 2006, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. made a bit of history when it launched the first hotel brand that requires all of its hotels to pursue LEED certification. Element Hotels, which are designed for longer stays and come complete with multi-purpose, modular furniture, flat-screen televisions and fully equipped ENERGY-STAR appliances are not only aesthetically appealing, but are also about as eco-friendly as anyone can get.

Yet, it’s their flagship culinary program in partnership with Whole Foods that makes a stay at Element Lexington truly value-added, especially for health conscious foodies. Along with the hotel’s many delicious amenities, which include a “Rise” breakfast bar, featuring an array of healthy options from hot sandwiches and smoothies to a complimentary “Relax” evening reception (occurring four nights a week) complete with savory appetizers, beer and wine, Element Lexington will offers Whole Foods cooking demonstrations for its guests right on the premises.

Cooking classes will take place twice a month, and will feature five Whole Foods fresh ingredients or less, so guests will be able to easily recreate these meals back in their rooms. After the cooking class is over, attendees then have the opportunity to purchase a “Meal-in-a-Bag” (for $15.00 or less for two servings) to cook on their own, making both shopping and cooking a breeze. Additionally, guests will get to take home co-branded recipe cards and special coupons to be used at the Bedford Whole Foods. For those wanting to shop for themselves, a special shuttle from the hotel will run several times weekly to the grocery, and for folks that don’t have that kind of time, ingredient order forms will be provided to have groceries delivered and even unpacked in guestroom kitchens.

In keeping with all things organic, Element Lexington has also planted a vegetable garden on the property which boasts in-season delights such as Roma tomatoes, basil, cantaloupe and cucumbers. Produce and herbs from the garden will be used for both Rise breakfast menu items and the Relax evening reception along with the weekly outdoor summer BBQ featuring organic meats, garden burgers and soy hotdogs grilled up each Wednesday by the general manager of the hotel.

Yet, the culinary perks don’t stop here. “Restore”, Element’s on-site organic pantry, offers healthy on-the-fly snacks 24 hours a day, and twice a week guests can ride the hotel’s complimentary shuttle to the local farmer’s market in order to pick up their own produce. And, it won’t be difficult to work off all those calories since Element offers an array of complimentary wellness programs including bikes to borrow, running maps, a full-service fitness center and an all-saline, chlorine-free pool.

Clearly the culinary landscape for travelers is forever changing and evolving, with more of us, especially business travelers, seeking healthier, budget-friendly accommodations that allow for independence along with a sound commitment to the environment. With this in mind, it’s nice to see the hotel industry starting to respond.


The Fabulous Lobby of El San Juan

The El San Juan
When I recently visited Puerto Rico, my mother and father told me I must go see the lobby of El San Juan. “You’ll feel like you’re in ‘Casablanca,'” said my mom, and Dad said that it is honestly the most beautiful hotel lobby he has ever seen — anywhere in the world. How could I resist?

When we arrived at the Isla Verde (a district of San Juan) beachfront luxury hotel, we quickly discovered there was some kind of prom going on in a ballroom somewhere, but nevertheless, the three separate lobby bars and the shops surrounding them were abuzz with all kinds of people. Silver-foxes danced to the salsa music of the live band (they were really good!), locals chatted on dates, and well-dressed tourists from all over looked comfortable, and were perhaps made a little more elegant simply by their surroundings.

Even if you’re not into the Rob Wynne -esque teardrop art or the outrageous chandelier, you will love the mahogany ceilings, the like of which I’ve never seen. I’m pretty sure that’s what my dad was talking about. There’s also an area of the lobby draped in sheer red curtains — inside is just a sitting area, but it’s made mysterious and seductive by its privacy.

I did a little research into the Waldorf Astoria Collection‘s El San Juan Hotel & Casino, and learned that it’s one of the oldest hotels in the area — it was built in 1957, and was renovated when Waldorf Astoria bought it in 1998 (with millions and millions of dollars). It features a pool with a waterfall and swim-up bar, eight restaurants, and twelve bars and lounges, as well as shopping and, as you might guess from the name, a dazzling casino.

Here are more pictures of the old school glamor and opulence you’ll find at El San Juan. You don’t even have to stay there to appreciate this lobby — I recommend stopping by on your next trip to Puerto Rico.

Gadling hotel review – Aloft by W Hotels

This hotel review will give you a closer look at one of the newest brands in the Starwood chain. The Aloft hotels are touted as a “vision of W hotels”.

The Aloft hotels are smaller than W hotels, located outside the city center and offer rooms at a substantially lower rate. That said – the vibe and general “hipness” created in W Hotels is most certainly still present.
There are currently 25 Aloft hotels ready for guests, with 40 more opening by the end of 2009. This shows that Starwood really is committed to the brand, but it also means fans of Aloft hotels will have an easy time finding one for any upcoming stays. The Aloft concept is offered all over the world.

The hotel provides rooms with queen or king beds, no suites or executive style rooms. The rooms themselves are surprisingly well designed and a real departure from the usual blandness of most airport hotels.

The bed is up to the usual high standards found in most Starwood properties – a good mattress, good linens and of course, a hip alarm clock.

Each room is furnished with a decent size desk, cordless VOIP phones, flat panel TV. The smart designers built a desk/table over the otherwise ugly window AC unit. On the desk is a nifty docking station – more about that later.

The bathroom area is equally well designed, and offers Bliss amenities, a walk-in shower and a frosted window providing natural light in the shower area.

In the bathroom area is also a coffee/tea maker, a complimentary bottle of water as well as several blends of tea and coffee. Above the coffee maker is a rack with magazines (Wired, New Yorker, Spin and Dwell). I found the magazines to be a really nice touch, and much better reading material than the usual stuff left in hotel rooms.

One of the (geeky) highlights of the room is the multimedia docking station on the desk – instead of trying to reach behind the TV for its inputs, Aloft provides a nice box with HDMI, VGA, Component and audio, as well as several power outlets. My suggestion – bring the cables you need for your laptop, and lie in bed enjoying a DVD or movie off Hulu instead of trying to find something decent in the channel lineup.

That said – the TV channel lineup was quite excellent. The hotel offered almost 100 different TV channels, including most of the ESPN content, Showtime and a surprisingly good “wake up channel” which is a really nice way to wake up in the morning, thanks to the wake feature in the TV.

Unlike normal hotels where the services guide is provided in a tattered binder, all the hotel information for Aloft guests is provided through the TV or the welcome page when you log in to their (speedy) wireless. The hotel information options also offer local weather and some other interactive features. Of course, you can also order the usual lineup of overpriced Lodgenet movies.

One other surprise was when I called for a rollaway bed (for my daughter). Instead of the rusty old folding bed most hotels provide – Aloft delivered a bright orange duffel bag to the room. The duffel is part of “Camp Aloft” and contains a twin size Aerobed and a Hungry Caterpillar comforter. Needless to say that this was a huge hit.

If you happen to be traveling with a pet, you’ll be happy to know that you can bring your four footed friend along with you – in fact, Aloft welcomes them with their “arf” program. Dogs get their own special bed, a bowl and a doggie bag with complimentary treats.

The entire ground floor is one open and spacious area. It is home to the lobby, pantry, “w xyz bar” and several very comfortable seating areas. Around the seating areas are loads of board games, as well as a pool table! Despite the loud remixed music, the whole space feels very welcoming and comfortable.

The pantry is open 24/7 and offers a decent variety of soda, juices, sandwiches and other snacks. The pantry is also where you’ll be able to buy breakfast, as the hotel does not have its own restaurant.

Rooms come with their own unstocked small fridge. The front desk sells an assortment of handy items, including various painkillers, allergy relief, stain removers, intimacy kits and even several board games.

Given its close proximity to the airport, you’ll be happy to learn that Aloft caters to passengers with several handy tools – the hotel WiFi page offers a direct link to online check-in services, the lobby is home to 2 touch screen computers with printers and a large flat panel TV with departure information for O’Hare – brilliant. Of course, the hotel also provides a complementary shuttle service to and from the airport.

This particular location (Chicago O’Hare) offers self parking and valet. Self parking is $18/night with full in/out privileges. To get in and out of the garage requires you to have your ticket validated at the front desk, which is a bit of a pain if you are coming and going a lot. The hotel has a heated/cooled skywalk, which is perfect for the cold Chicago winters or the blistering summers (though summer this year has been quite lousy).

The hotel is also home to a swimming pool and fitness center, and guests can relax in the outdoor courtyard while getting some work done or enjoying a drink from the bar.

All in all a very hip place to stay – without being too pretentious. The whole atmosphere is cool, yet welcoming. I’ve stayed at W hotels quite a bit, and often felt they were a little too hip for me. The Aloft concept feels great, though it does take a little getting used to being greeted with “Aloha!”, but the smiling staff do a great job of making you feel welcomed. Their positive attitude towards pets and kids is a breath of fresh air, and a very good reason to pick Aloft over other hotels at your destination.

The only minor issues I had with the hotel are its lack of a restaurant and the complex parking procedure.

Rooms at Aloft hotels start at just $79, though these rates are of course only valid on certain dates/days of the week. Summer rates for the Chicago O’Hare Aloft hotel appear to be higher during the week and drop to just $79 during the weekend.

You can book a room at an Aloft hotel through your favorite hotel site, or directly through the Aloft web site.

One final tip for people visiting the Chicago Aloft location – within walking distance of the hotel is the fabulous Muvico movie theater. This multi-screen theater is one of just a handful of all-digital theaters in the nation. If you really like movies, you’ll love the Muvico Premier – a private level of the theater offering food, alcoholic beverages, reserved seating, free popcorn and complementary valet parking. Best of all (for adults) – the Muvico Premier level requires all guests to be 21 or older.