Marriott Cairo to renovate main palace

Gadling Labs spent a good chunk of time in Cairo this past September so we perked up when we heard about an update to our favorite Marriott. The hotel, splayed on the central island of Zamalek, is a calm, warm slice of history in the stir-crazy beehive of Egypt. Apart from two looming towers and a massive courtyard, the hotel is centered around an ornate, historical palace, originally built in 1869 to house guests for the Suez Canal opening.

That palace is the focus of the big news this fall, as the Marriott has just announced a comprehensive renovation to the building as well as several other changes to the property. Big improvements will be made to facets of the palace, which includes over a dozen meeting rooms, the Omar Khayyam Casino, a dozen places to eat and drink and a battery of shops — all while keeping the historical angles of the property well-preserved.

In addition to the main palace improvements, a swath of rooms in the west wing will be eviscerated to make space for a larger, more comprehensive spa facility. Those updates are scheduled to finish some time in 2012.

All total, the full renovation should add a great deal of improvement to an already outstanding property on the banks of the Nile. We can’t wait to get back to check things out.

Hotel Review: The Verdanza Hotel in Puerto Rico

Formerly a Holiday Inn (and long before that, a 60’s era tennis club and hotel), the Verdanza Hotel in Puerto Rico underwent major renovations as it transitioned from chain to independent hotel. The local ownership remained the same, but the decor, attitude, and commitment to the environment is all new.

The vibe here is young – both the GM and the chef are the youngest to hold those titles in any hotels in the San Juan area. The sleek lobby features a colorful hanging chandelier as its focal point, and the bar, Coladas, is full of the hip and sexy people until late every night. The rooms have been completely redone, with the addition of mini-fridges, LCD TVs, iPod docks, better-quality bedding, and organic bath products.

Additional green features have also been implemented. The staff uniforms are made from recycled polyester, the used cooking oil from the kitchen is converted to biodiesel, the stationary is both recycled and recyclable, and the water used in the kiddie water park adjacent to the pool is reused. In the year that all lights have been replaced with LED lights, energy consumption has decreased by 50%.

We recently stayed at the Verdanza Hotel and discovered that, while the vibe is sleek and sexy on the surface, traces of the old Holiday Inn still seem to linger. The parking lot clearly visible from the pool’s green vinyl lounge chairs suggest its former incarnation, while the white and orange pod-like chairs in the Eighty 20 Bistro and the complementary wired internet access point to the future. The added services and special events go above and beyond what you’d find at any Holiday Inn as well.

Over breakfast, the hotel’s Director of Public Relations, Lorraine Ortiz, explained that the goal of the 222-room Verdanza Hotel is to provide the feel of a smaller hotel with a more personalized experience. Services like custom-made picnic baskets, free pedi-cab rides to the beach (which is less than a five-minute walk away) and special events like Art and Friends, a monthly exhibition of works from young artists, do just that.

The Verdanza Hotel is located one mile away from the airport – just look to the left as your plane lands and you’ll see it – in the Isla Verde district. While it’s close to the beach it is not conveniently located for those who wish to explore more of Old San Juan. A 20-minute 75-cent bus will take you into town from the hotel, but to get back later in the evening, you’ll need to spring for a $20 flat-rate taxi back. Rates at the Verdanza Hotel range from $160-200 per night, so if your goal is to spend time in Old San Juan, you’d be better off staying in in the city and saving money on transportation each day.

The Verdanza Hotel offered a media discount on the room, but the views expressed are entirely my own.

“Dress Rehearsal” rate offered at the new Sanctuary Hotel in NYC

The Portland Square Hotel in New York is getting a face lift next spring. By fall of 2010, it will be reopen as the four-star boutique Sanctuary Hotel. During the final days of operation, guests who stay in one of the already renovated Sanctuary Studio rooms will receive a discounted rate of $159 per night and get a preview of what the rest of the completed rooms will look like.

The new rooms are decked out with European linens, plasma tvs, and iPod docking stations. Some will have unique design features like exposed brick or metal beams, and all will feature open plan bathrooms with rain showers.

The “Dress Rehearsal” rate of $159 is good through March 31, 2010. When the hotel officialy opens in the fall, rates will be nearly double, at $309 per night. Guests who book a room at the preview rate and then offer feedback about their stay will also receive a $50 credit towards a future stay.

Only nine of the 125 rooms have been renovated as of yet, so the rate may not be available on all dates. To book the deal, you can call the hotel reservation desk, or just type in the code DRESS1 and book online.

Heathrow to get a facelift

Before I had been to England, Heathrow Airport seemed a magical place in my mind — a place that emblemized everything British, from black cabs to girls in Union Jack-flag dresses. Plus, the Beatles had been there, so it must be amazing. But when I got there and took my first few steps on British ground, I was surprised; it was dingy and a bit smelly, a mish mash of cultures and consumerism and not really what I’d imagined Britain to be at all.

It’s true — Heathrow is shabby and outdated, despite being one of the busiest and most important airports in the world.

But 2008 is set to be the year that all changes for LHR, according to this article — it’s getting a facelift in the new year, and construction is expected to end in 2012. What can the 68 millions travelers who pass through there each year expect to see? Well, for starters, a fifth terminal is being added. And renovations will be happening that are aimed at bringing the ‘glamour’ back to air travel.