I stayed in a charming hotel housed in a former monastery in Avignon, but encountered an issue the monks never had to deal with. I couldn’t turn out the lamp by my bed.
At another property in Mexico, the beautiful nightstand lit up, a fun feature during the day. But when the off switch doesn’t work at night, not so much. I had to pull out all my bath towels and drape them over the nightstand so I could sleep.
At a hotel in Seville, I had to call the front desk to send someone to show me how to turn on the TV. I’ve also frozen/been overheated in hotel rooms because I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the thermostat. Or in some cases, couldn’t locate it in the first place.
Those problems will be a thing of the past if other properties follow the example of Aloft Hotels and its new program that’s been referred to as “Project: Jetson.”
Guests at Starwood properties Aloft Boston Seaport and Aloft Santa Clara can enlist an iPad app using Siri that allows them to turn on/off the TV, change the temperature and turn the lights on and off using voice commands.
Here’s how it works. You walk in your hotel room, where you’ll have instructions on the TV on how to set up the voice activation. Then you introduce yourself to Siri and talk to her long enough for her to recognize your voice when you ask her to do stuff for you later.
In addition to adjusting settings in the hotel room, you can also ask Siri questions like “Where can I get Thai food close by?” or “What time does the aquarium open?’ She’s like your in-room assistant you don’t have to share the bathroom with!
Now, if it will just make coffee for me in the mornings.
I never know what to expect when I open the hotel room door in a Kimpton hotel. This restaurant and hotel group is known for its fun and quirky decorating style, with no hotels the same. Yesterday we opened to door to our room in the Hotel Allegro in Chicago and were greeted with carpet and wallpaper in shades of brown and beige, with a pink-and-green painting provided a large splash of color. Kimpton rooms always make me smile.
This group of boutique hotels has 64 properties in 33 cities in the US and Grand Cayman, with international destinations coming soon. Here are five more reasons it’s one of my favorite hotel groups.
1. Good locations
The Kimptons I’ve stayed in were all within walking distance of major attractions, a huge plus for me. My favorite way to see a city is by foot and I love just walking out the front door to explore.
Yesterday I walked six blocks and was at Millennium Park, passing by several stores I hope to have time to return to. When we stayed at Kimpton Topaz in DC we were two blocks from the Dupont Circle Metro station so we could easily reach anywhere in the city we wanted to go.
2. Nightly Wine Hours
Every Kimpton has a nightly Wine Hour in the lobby hosted by a member of the staff. Yesterday I returned weary and overheated after an afternoon of sightseeing, and putting about nine miles on my Fitbit. That refreshing glass of prosecco was a welcome sight, and revived me for our evening out.
A few of the properties have also started a Nightcap Program that includes a small pour of a libation paired with a snack.
Sign up for this free rewards program and you’re eligible for several perks, including free wifi, a $10 bar credit to use in the room or at the hotel bar, and credit towards free nights. You’ll also receive an email for 20 percent off daily rates for stays Thursday to Sunday during your birthday month.
4. Complimentary bikes and yoga mats
Every room has a yoga mat, and select hotels offer yoga classes by the pool or on the rooftop. And all hotels offer complimentary bikes. During a stay at Hotel Monaco in Chicago a few years ago, I hopped on a bike and set off of a ride on the Chicago Lakefront Trail. I had a delightful morning while enjoying the stunning views and getting in tons of exercise.
5. Pet-friendly service
We no longer have a dog (rest in peace, Riley), but if he had traveled with us, he’d be welcomed at any of the Kimpton properties at no charge. Even though he weighed close to 90 pounds. “If your pet fits through the door, we welcome them,” according to the website. Many Kimptons even have a Director of Pet Relations to greet you.
I can predict with 100 percent accuracy that the first day back at work after vacation I will be a big bowl of grumpy. Returning from a fun trip is always hard, and made so much more difficult if you encountered sticker shock from all the Amex charges you racked up, plus several layers of taxes on your hotel bill.
That’s just one reason I love all-inclusives. Go ahead — try that exotic appetizer, island cocktail or froufrou dessert — it won’t show up on a bill later making you regret your indulgence. (At least not for the money spent. The calories are between you and your waistline.)
On a recent trip to Cancun, I visited three gorgeous all-inclusive properties, all part of the Palace Resorts. This hotel group has eight properties, with four in Cancun and one each in Jamaica, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen.
They all offer a friendly flower/drink welcome at check-in, free wifi, 24-hour room service, gorgeous beachfront locations, nightly entertainment and luxurious accommodations. They have two features I’d never seen before — a huge whirlpool tub for two (right in your room!), a CHI hair iron and an in-room liquor dispenser. I used two out of three, and kept my distance from the other. And let’s not forget the amenity that really fills me with joy — the swim-up bar. So how do you choose?
The best way is to pick on the basis of who you are traveling with. But here’s an important note: whichever resort you are staying at, you have access to the others, with the exception of Le Bianc. A 24-hour shuttle service runs between the properties while a ferry can take you from Playacar Palace to Cozumel Palace. And if you book a five-to-eight night stay, you’ll receive $1,500 resort credit to use for visits to the spa, golf, romantic dinners and tours.
With limiting the choice to the three properties I visited, I’d return to these:
Freezing my way through yet another arctic plane ride, I asked the flight attendant for a blanket. “We haven’t had those since the ‘80s,” he snapped and scooted away.
It is rare to find pillows and blankets in coach class, and when you do, they are just recycled repositories for germs from passengers past. So I prefer to take my own to ensure a small measure of comfort. These are three pillows I’ve found that are worth dragging around the airport and onto the plane.
I’d never seen a product quite like this before. Jet Comfy was created by a two gentleman who met in a hotel bar in Tahiti, and after lamenting the uncomfortable flight they had endured, decided they could create a better travel pillow.
This new product is designed to support your neck while in a seated position. The compact pillow extends, then attaches to your armrest where you can adjust it to a comfortable position. It has a removable microfiber cover over 2” of memory foam. As a bonus, it has two built-in power packs for recharging your devices. Comes in blue and grey: on sale for $49.99.
Made of high-quality fleece, this blanket wraps me in warmth. My favorite feature is that it’s also a pillow to perch under my iPad on my lap or put behind my back for lumbar support. A Velcro handle makes it easy to attach to my suitcase when it’s not in use. It’s machine washable, a mandatory feature for anything that touches the inside of an airplane. Comes in blue and charcoal for $19.99.
I was a bit skeptical about this double-decker inflatable pillow, but I love it. The raised sides offer support for my neck and the removable velour cover is super soft. There’s a media pouch to slip my phone or earbuds in and it folds down into the size of a soda can for easy transport. Comes in grey and blue for $19.99.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
This may be the most relaxing place on the planet.
We’d been to this historic 1400-acre resort in Cashiers, North Carolina, several times before so I’m not sure why it struck me on this most recent visit to High Hampton Inn. I love this place, and this total sense of relaxation, unlike what I experience anywhere else, is just one reason why. Here are three others:
There are no phones or TVs in the accommodations at High Hampton, which include 166 rooms and suites in the inn and several cottages scattered about the property. There is one TV in the large lodge, which we concluded is a concession to avid sports fans.
Unlike several years back when cell phones had terrible reception here, you can now get fairly good reception and the inn has good wifi. Yet somehow we found ourselves tucking away our phones, tablets and laptops for more old-fashioned pursuits. We agreed that having access decreased our stress, as we knew people could get in touch if they had to.
We didn’t get in the car once during our two-night stay. We hiked, kayaked and lounged by the lake. On a walk the first day, we discovered the bocce ball court and I played my first game. Other activities include golf, tennis, fishing, llama hikes and even a falconry experience.
At night, we enjoyed live music in the cozy tavern, although we declined the bandleader’s quest for karaoke singers, being massively untalented in the vocal arena.
The main lodge is the scene all-ages nightly activities at 8:45, which include bingo games and other parlor games the children loved. It’s the kind of place where your kids will engage in a heated game of chess without a thought to the video games they left behind.
While it was just the two of us on this trip, we saw plenty of large groups of multi-generational families joining in the fun. Continue reading
One may assume that attending an event called The International Festival of Love may require just a few love beads and a sarong. I did know better than that – after I enthusiastically accepted the invitation based on the name and location alone (Bermuda!) I did my research. The festival offered a more spiritual vibe, with would require real clothes.
Bermuda is an island, right? And it would be warm in February. Wrong on both counts. The average temperature in this island found roughly parallel to South Carolina is 68. And it’s hardly tropical.
So when I packed my floral sundresses, flip-flops and sunscreen, I looked like I was searching for the nearest limbo line and an umbrella-embellished rum drink while other guests were dressed in somber shades of gray and black and elegantly drinking their gin and tonics. So that’s mistake #1.
1. Took the wrong clothes for the location.
I generally do well at fitting in with where I’m traveling. I pack black, black and more black for Paris and stylish walking shoes for any European destination. In India I knew to cover my shoulders and wear long pants for many of the sites we visited.
When I’m unsure, a quick bit of research guarantees I won’t pull a “Sex and the City 2” – called torture porn by one reviewer – and wear wildly inappropriate clothes.
Yet somehow I missed this one. But I learned my lesson and have not repeated that mistake.
2. Took the wrong clothes for the weather.
I’m not a complete idiot. Years ago when I was packing for a summer trip to Colorado I did check the average temperature there. But I was sweating in the 90-degree heat, and kind of didn’t believe it. How could it get down to the 40s at night?
So we get to Breckenridge, where the thermometer never rose about 60. We wrapped ourselves in blankets to go on a boat ride and shivered through a picnic. I wore the same pair of long pants and the Breckenridge sweatshirt I hurriedly bought the first day every single day. Ok, maybe I did wander into idiot territory.
I just did the same thing last week on a trip to eastern California. While searching the weather forecast, I saw lows of 43, so I packed my travel down jacket. I never wore it once, while I had no appropriate clothing for the day in Death Valley when the temperature on the van reached 150. That is not a typo – 150 degrees.
We were allowed to leave the van on very short excursions, while being admonished to constantly down water. Stepping out of the van felt like walking into a giant hair dryer. I had packed not one pair of shorts, and resorted to wearing my hiking pants and one sleeveless shirt. Again.
I read a quote recently that said, “Make mistakes. Learn from them. Move on.” Apparently, I’ve only incorporated one of these steps when it comes to packing this most necessary item.
My solutions to this situation have been varied.
– Word my husband’s boxers
– Wore the one pair of underwear I had, wash it, and alternate with a bathingsuit bottom
– Considered buying the piece of dental floss that was marketed as underwear at the resort where I was staying in Panama, but rejected both the high price ($15) and low coverage. I tend to prefer the other way around on any underwear purchase.
I have no explanation and no excuse for making the same mistake four times. One solution would be to leave several pairs of underwear in my suitcase. But my husband and I switch back and forth with suitcases, and I’m not sure that method would work well for either of us.
I’ve decided to employ another method. I scrawled a large sign with a Sharpie and put it in my pajama drawer, as I always remember those. It’s a kind note to myself, intentionally not mentioning my past transgressions. It simply says, Forgetting anything, Jan?
Let’s hope not.
Security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson are stretching practically to Chattanooga. But the airport is making changes to speed up the process. One of these was unveiled this week.
The South Terminal checkpoint has been closed for three weeks while two security lanes were revamped with a new system designed to speed up the process of passengers unloading their items into the bins.
Because of its high volume, (hello, busiest airport in the world!) Atlanta is the first airport in the country chosen to test out this system, modeled after one at London’s Heathrow Airport. Delta put $1 million into implementing the new system.
Here’s how it works. Rather than grabbing a bin at the beginning of the lane yourself, loading it up, and waiting your turn to pass through, several people can line up at once and large bins roll up in front of them. They can all load their bins simultaneously, which then slide through on a conveyor belt.
I used these bins in Heathrow a few months ago and was delighted by them. Here are the pros and cons of the new system: Continue reading
Travel apps help me navigate in new cities, keep track of all of my flights and check out the wait times in security lines. Oh, and also locate the best food (well, relatively) at the airport.
The apps I use most frequently are:
If I had a quarter for everyone I’ve told about Waze, I could buy my own plane. Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. All the info is in real time, so if there’s a jam up ahead, the “Waze lady” as we call her, calmly navigates you around it. Even when I’m driving in my own hood, I check with her for the best route to take.
This app has lists of all the amenities available at airports, from what retail outlets are on your terminal to where to eat. Reviews have tipped me off to the best food. It won my heart when it led me to a killer reuben sandwich in O’Hare. Continue reading
A pop-up vineyard, new themes and location for the tasting tents, new class schedules: big changes are in store for The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival this year.
The festival is in its sixth year and as co-founder Dominique Love said at a recent press event, “We want to stir things up in year six.” Here are three ways she and co-founder Elizabeth Feichter are mixing it up this year at the June 2-5 festival.
If you’re looking for me during the month of June, chances are I’m chilling and sipping a refreshing glass of wine in the Vineyard in the City, the first pop-up vineyard in the country.
Remember way back when Atlanta was going to get a new symphony hall on 14th Street behind the 1180 building? Well, that site is now slated for a mile-high skyscraper, but this summer this grassy plot will be transformed into a vineyard. A huge tent with a capacity for 80-100 guests will be the spot for private parties and events during the festival, while trucked-in 30-40’ trees will provide shade.
The vineyard will be for reserved for festival use through June 5, but will remain open for the rest of the month for private events and public programming, like lunchtime classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
These tasting tents are my favorite food experience ever. Year after year I somehow find myself up to the Herculean task of trying just about everything without busting a button open right there. (Tip: loose, flowy dresses are both a fashion statement and a ticket to comfort no matter how much I overindulge.)
Partly due to its huge success and partly due to continuing construction in the Midtown area, the AFWF ran out of space in its previous location for the Tasting Tents. The good news is the festival snagged a fantastic semi-private area in Piedmont Park close to the Monroe Drive parking lot. The new location has more space, a flat landscape, a fountain and grassy areas. It’s much more fun to plop down in the grass than pull up a patch of asphalt to take a minute to enjoy the tasty morsels.
In the past the tents have been organized into trails like the Fried Chicked Trail, the Barbecue Trail and the Bourbon Trail. This year a major theme is “Ingredients” and tents will be organized around that, with themes like Southern Staples, Pairings and Provisions (with a peanut butter and jelly bar!) and the Road Trip Tent. Also new this year are a Farmers Market and Live Fire Tailgate where chefs will prepare veggies, meats and fish over an open flame.
Rather than starting Friday afternoon, this year the Tasting Tents will be open Friday night and in the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday.
The tents are about a mile from Loews Atlanta Hotel, where the classes are held. A shuttle and golf cart service from the 12th Street entrance will be available, although as Elizabeth said, “You’re eating and drinking all day. Just walk it off, people!”
In years past classes, aka Learning Experiences, have taken place over three days. This year the tasting seminars and cooking, technique and grilling classes all take place on Friday and Saturday.
The festival is also experimenting with the concept of adding master classes, which will be longer and more in depth.
Dominique acknowledges that one challenge they face is the perception that the focus is only on Atlanta restaurants, when chefs come from an area spanning from Texas to Washington, DC.
“We want Atlanta to be the host, but also a gateway to the southern dining experience.”
And this is one experience you don’t want to miss.
It couldn’t have been easier. After grabbing my luggage at Denver International Airport, I looked for signs for the Transit Center, exited the terminal, took a long escalator down and right out to the station platform for a train to downtown Denver.
I purchased my fare for $9 at a ticket kiosk and boarded the train car for a comfortable ride, just 37 minutes from the airport to Union Station.
From there it was a short Uber ride to my hotel, saving me lots of time and money for the 23-mile trip from the airport. There were plenty of racks for luggage. I didn’t notice them, but read there are outlets for charging your devices.
The trains depart every 15 minutes, starting at 4:30 a.m. and running until after 1:00 a.m.