Category Archives: luxury

Where to Stay in Dublin – The Fitzwilliam Hotel

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelDublin, Ireland is a unique city where old and new, history and innovation blend in a harmony rarely found in any major metropolitan city I’ve visited. The options for entertaining oneself are endless, as are the places to rest your head. When I’m asked where to stay in Dublin, the answer is easy – The Fitzwilliam Hotel.

I’ve stayed in countless hotels around the globe and learned that all of them can be measured by four things; location, amenities, staff, and value. Here is how The Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin measures up…

Location, Location, Location!

The Fitzwilliam sits at head of Grafton Street directly across from the famed St. Stephens’ Green. A large section of Grafton Street is closed to all but pedestrian traffic and features endless options for shopping and dining. Though I will say that I wasn’t so impressed with the stores… what American wants to go to Dublin and shop at the Disney Story? Not this one. 

Far more alluring was the ability to walk – literally across the street– and into St. Stephens’ Green. If you didn’t already know, this public park was the model for New York City’s Central Park, and I’m sure countless other public squares. One of my favorite areas in the park is the gardens around the Caretaker’s Cottage, which is directly in front of the Fitzwilliam.

Saint Stephen's Green Caretakers CottegeThe DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) tram stops within walking distance of the property. There are taxis galore in the area, as well as pedicabs and horse drawn carriages (take one to the Guinness Store House for a fun twist.) Concierge will happily help you with securing a bicycle if you’d like, though the streets are quite busy – I’d fall and need stitches!

Amenities

Sure there is a gym, doesn’t every hotel have one these days? What the Fitzwilliam has that most don’t, is Spirit. Part salon, with a little bit of spa, Spirit ascribes to a wonderfully holistic and natural approach to beauty services. Treat yourself.

Not many hotels can boast three excellent on-site restaurants, let alone one with a Michelin star. The Fitzwilliam can.  Thornton’s is fine dining at its best, thus the star. Citron is a more relaxed, yet still upscale dinning experience that boasts some modern twists on Irish classics. Their Celeriac soup is simply divine! Pop into the Inn on the Green for a great breakfast, or a lovely lunch in this cozy place that makes you feel at ease. Note: the charcuterie plate is HUGE! 

Any good hotel, in my book, must have a fabulous bathtub and plush robes. Not having this can be a deal breaker. The bath at Fitzwilliam was a deal maker!

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThere is also a wonderful tea available seasonally on the balcony that overlooks the city.  Free (reliable) wi-fi and in-room safes that are large enough for a laptop are both pluses.

Staff

Here is where the Fitzwilliam sets itself apart. From the doormen who take the time to ask you where your day is taking you with sincerity to a concierge staff who call your room to ask how they can help make your stay even better, to the housekeeping staff that leave lovely notes, this place makes you feel so very welcome. Many a hotel will send up a welcome amenity. At the Fitzwilliam we got a delivery of Dairy Milk bars and crisps with a note from the front desk telling my daughter how those where their favorite childhood treats.

Get to know the concierge while you’re here! These folks are gems, working with them is akin to having your own private guide to all things you love that can be found in Dublin. Seriously, this is a service they should charge for – I’d pay. 

Each and every staff member we encountered was warm, helpful and never overbearing, which speaks to the earnestness that takes this from hotel to a fond memory and a place you long to return to. 

“Some places you stay. Other places stay with you.” ~Me

Value

The Fitzwilliam is a luxury property, and the price tag reflects that – our stay in the off-season and was £395 per night. That said, the location, and service were well worth the price. Being so centrally located, you need not spend extra money on getting around. Having the concierge as your guides is a huge service, adding to the value.

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThe Fitzwilliam is also a member of the Preferred Hotel Group – their iPrefer program is one of only three hotel loyalty programs I personally belong to. Why?  Their points add up fast, you always get free wi-fi, early check-in and/or late checkout, and they take the time to learn your (and your family’s) preferences ensuring that they follow you across all their member properties.

Glamping at Firelight Camps (Ithaca, New York)

There comes a time in life where once must face certain truths. Revelations like; I’ll never enjoy eating foie gras, will not willingly jump out of a perfectly good plane and camping is better suited anyone but me. Now glamping, that is a different story. 

Yes, the woman who spent her childhood summers in a musty old military surplus tent, reveled in solar showers, and would never dream of an RV has become tent-adverse and is raising hotel kids. In fact, during one stay at a lovely Residence Inn in Charleston, North Carolina, the youngest picked up the room phone and was appalled to learn there was no concierge. 

Frog Pond at Firelight Camps Ithaca New YorkWould I ever be able to show them the joys of camping? Did I even want to? I mean, solar showers sort of suck. Maybe easing them in would be the key… or not.

The teen daughter and I set out to test this theory with an epic road trip to Upstate New York, where we’d be guests at Firelight Camps in Ithaca for a glamping experiment. Would she survive without bell service… and, um… electricity?

I’ve written about Firelight Camps and the whole glamping trend before, but I’d yet fully experience it for myself. {I doubt a pop up tent in a suite at the Four Seasons counts.}  

firelight camps Ithaca new yorkFirst impressions count, and Firelight’s first impression knocks it out of the park, as it sits on the grounds of the La Trouelle Hotel – a quaint resort with some beautiful architectural features.   The camps themselves are behind the hotel, which is a little disorienting at first.

Once you make your way down the the “lobby” tent, where you’re greeted by not only chic-camp decor but a friendly host, the “awkward” wares off.  Our host welcomed us with local wine, gave us the lay of the land.. where the bath house is {a real bathroom, with real showers and even a sauna}, what was available on-site, and what wasn’t. There is no electrical outlet in your tent. That said, there are battery operated lanterns that light things up fairly well and do double duty as USB chargers.

Glamping at Firelight Camps Ithaca New YorkThe lack of outlets fades away the minute you step inside your tent and see the REAL bed – with actual sheets, and pillows you don’t have to blow up! Each tent also features a balcony with chairs and a table. Ours looked out over a small ravine and was the perfect spot for enjoying tea with the birds. 

Though there isn’t room service, you can make reservations at the steakhouse that is also located on the property. We choose to head into the town of Ithaca, which is just a short drive away from camp. Ithaca is absolutely charming, and the foodie scene is strong. We had the best meal at North Star Pub {recommended by our host} and enjoyed watching a parade that was part of the city’s annual festival with a theme of “Better Together” celebrating the artist in everyone.

Back at camp, the fire surrounded by a luxury seating area blazed as craft cocktails where whipped up and deep conversations had. There was a fierce game of horseshoes going on as well. Gourmet S’mores? Yeah they had those too.

The bed was sublime. The only bug we encountered was on the outside of the tent, and try though he might, he wasn’t getting through that canvas. Thank god! The frogs sang us to sleep from the nearby pond. 

In the morning we noshed fresh fruit, pastries, and locally produced yogurt topped with the famed granola made by chef/owner Emma Frisch who also happened to be a finalist on Food Network Star Season 10 and is the owner of Frisch Kitchen.  Not your typical hotel breakfast, for sure.

Luxury Glamping Touches at Firelight Camps Ithaca New YorkSo how did Firelight do with the teen? She really enjoyed the bed, got over the no electricity thing, and says that she wants to hike nearby Buttermilk Falls – this from the kid who says “Ugh, nature… it’s all over me!” That I’d have to credit our host with, he was very enthused about all great hiking in the area.

There is a certain serenity to Firelight that I’ve not found at “traditional” camp grounds. While families are welcomed with open arms, I’d caution that this isn’t a place for the rambunctious. That said, it’s perfect for a family like ours who is looking to break out of the suite life and get back to nature without having to sleep on the ground… or use a solar shower.

 

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Loews Philadelphia Hotel (review)

Union League of Philadelphia buildingWith a view of the William Penn statue atop City Hall on one side, and the neon glow of the sign that crowns the top of Benjamin Franklin House, a noted restaurant on site and many of the most popular attractions within walking distance, the Loews Philadelphia Hotel is a unique gem.

Location! Location! Location!

Some of the best views of the Philadelphia skyline can be found on the 33rd floor of this historic building, which is actually the very first skyscraper ever constructed in the United States. Looking out the windows of our own room, it was easy to imagine how awe struck  people of 1932 must have been when gazing upon the city for the first time from a bird’s eye vantage point.

View from the 33rd Floor observation area. Named among the best views in the entire city. (photo credit: Loews Hotels)
View from the 33rd Floor observation area. Named among the best views in the entire city. (photo credit: Loews Hotels)

This hotel is perfectly situated in a downtown area packed with things to see, do and eat.  Reading Terminal Market is just one block away, Independence National Historic park – where you’ll find the liberty bell, Independence Hall, and more–  an easy six block stroll. It seems every block between here and where you might like to go, has it’s own character, architectural wonders, and unique artwork. You can easily leave your car in the parking garage and not miss it. 

Loews Philadelphia Hotel (review)
Wifi forgotten as she watches the city below, wrapped in her favorite hotel robe.

Amenities

12 Fit Spa is a unique mix of spa and gym. There is a heated two-lane lap pool and cardio center, as well as saunas. You can still get a body treatment or facial, but there isn’t a lounging or kiddie pool.

Bank & Bourbon the hotel bar and restaurant is a hip take on American classic cuisine and cocktails with a modern twist.  Read on for our favorite offerings from the kitchen.

Loews Hotel Philadelpia (review)Staff

Let me start by saying that we shared the hotel with what seemed like a very large convention of some sort. The place was packed. Even with a huge volume to deal with, some of the staff still really went above and beyond.

Anthony in Concierge was our unofficial, personal ambassador to Philadelphia. From the moment he helped with our bags, to every time we passed by the desk, he had a smile and a tip for us. We’d have never headed over to Reading Terminal Market without his advice, or known that there was a great sports memorabilia shop right behind the hotel – the 10 year old was thrilled at that news! He guided us along the six block walk to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  In short, the guy is a gem. 

We have a family tradition when traveling, the ‘Room Service Dessert Picnic.’ This sweet indulgence is what we use to bribe the kids into not bugging us for sweets everywhere we go. Everyone gets to order one dessert of the menu and has to share. If I’m being honest, it’s my favorite part of the trip too.   

Cheryl in Room Service helped make this one of our best picnics ever. She guided us through the extensive menu, asking what the kids’ favorite flavors were, telling us about her favorites, describing each treat as though she were the host of a Cooking Channel show.

Loews Philadelpia Hotel The fresh-made donut (warm and fluffy) topped with vanilla bean ice cream and cookie crumbles, served with a side of bourbon caramel sauce was a HUGE hit. Pastry Chef at Bank & Bourbon might be getting a love letter from this family.

Value

Loews Hotels are luxury-level properties, so you can expect that you won’t be getting that $49 rate you found on that discount site. That said, you can find a luxury level room for around $200 on a weekend night. For comparison in the area other luxury hotels – like say a Ritz Carlton – run about $275 for a basic room. 

Valet parking runs around $46 a day. Bringing along your furry family member? Loews hotels do an amazing job at being pet-friendly.  At this location you can get dog-walking route maps, pet placemats, water bowls, treats, doggie pick-up bags and more for $40. They even have pet sitting options as well as their human babysitting services.

Loews Philiadelphia HotelFor Families?

Our family spends a lot of time in hotels… like, a lot. The kids themselves have become experts in their own right on what makes a great amenity and whether a hotel is really family-friendly. The teen was impressed that Loews hotels think of her age group by presenting them with music download gift cards. In her words, “Bonus! Saving data for the win… Mommm.”

Guests 10 and under receive a “Loews Loves Kids” welcome gift. Our kids didn’t get these, but in all fairness this could be because staff didn’t notice them as they were glued to the wall of TVs in the lobby lounge.  This property also has “Kids Closet,” offering things you might want or need during your stay, like;  board games, books, car seats, strollers, night-lights, potty seats, baby bathtub, baby blankets, outlet protectors, self-contained DVD players with age appropriate DVDs—and more.

Loews Philadelphia Hotel Bank and BourbonHotel Info

Address: 1200 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Phone: (215) 627-1200
Website: loewshotels.com

 

Loews Annapolis – Girls Night In

Sometimes even the promise of fun with your favorite fab females isn’t quite lure enough to get you through all the prep and primping involved in a girls night out. Maybe what you need is a girls night IN? Um.. what is that? That’s exactly what I recently asked the folks at Loews Annapolis hotel. The answer has become my new favorite thing. 

Travel, I love it, but boy can it get exhausting when you’re the one in charge of everyone. From the booking to the packing, to the occasional refereeing I earn that room service wine.

Girls night in at Loews Annapolis HotelTo be honest, I’ve daydreamed of escaping to a hotel all alone just to save my own sanity. Hole up with a good book and an even better bottle of wine, that’d do it. Until the folks at Loews Annapolis reached out and invited me to come down for a girls night in with some fellow bloggers, creatives, and journalists – now pals.

Before that invite I hadn’t ever really put much thought into enlisting my friends to abscond with me to a hotel, sans kids, just to enjoy ourselves. Cue the “I coulda had a V8,” forehead slap.

What a brilliant idea. I’m stealing it!  

How to have a Girls Night In…

1. Pick a Hotel with a GOOD Restaurant

BAROAK at Loews AnnapolisYou cook all the time, a Girls Night In is your chance to have someone cook for you. Don’t settle for blah! Find a hotel that has a good -if not great– restaurant on property. This will let you indulge without the need of designated driver. BONUS, your yoga pants are just steps away in the room.

Nestled inside the modern-nautical themed Loews Annapolis is port of culinary bliss – BAROAK. What it lacks in pretension it quadruples in flavor and creativity.  Here fresh and local meet over live music and an extensive craft beer menu.

Chef Marcus Donovan – right hand knife to Chef Teddy Folkman who’s moules fromage bleu are legend – served up a tasting menu that took Chesapeake Bay food traditions and tossed them a curve.  Fried oysters topped with pickled shallots have the familiar flavor of a mignonette topped raw oyster, but with crunchy, creamy and somehow more brine that the classic. Pair that with a Scoville Jalapeño IPA from local Jailbreak Brewery and it’s sweet, spicy, salty, crunchy, creamy, mildly hoppy HAPPY town!

Rumor has it that Chef Marcus might be turning Maryland’s iconic Smith Island Cake into deep fried nirvana – I’ll take one for the team and taste test that for ya. I’m selfless like that.  

2. Bathrobes 

That ratty robe you wear at home might be perfect for pop-tarts and lukewarm coffee, it is NOT fit for your Girls Night In! Loews Hotels know their way around a robe.  In fact, the only hotel robe I’ve ever purchased to bring home was from a Loews property {yeah, purchased… that’s it}   It simply is not possible to be anything but relaxed when donning a fancy hotel bathrobe. Go ahead, try to prove me wrong.  

3. Get Your Girlie On

Treat yourself in a little ‘beautification vacation.’ Loews Annapolis arranged for a lovely couple from a local nail salon to come in and give fabulous in-room mani-pedis. While not every hotel may be willing to go that extra mile, there is no reason you can’t make an appointment at a nearby nail studio, set up treatments at the hotel spa, or go old school and do each others nails like back in middle school. Just no freezing the bras, m’kay?    The great thing about Loews hotels in any city, is that they will go that extra mile to make your stay everything you want it to be. This is a brand that really does treat you like family when you stay. Heck, they’re even renowned for welcoming fury family members in style. {be warned if you click on this link you may die from the adorable therein}  

4. Remember Girls Just Wanna Have FUN

 Just because you’re not hitting the club, doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had. S’mores outdoors are fast becoming a hotel trend. Toss a robe over those PJs, grab that bottle of bubbly and head out to the fire pit. Hey, it’s your party you can s’more if you want to.  Not up for ooey gooey bliss? How about ordering that non-Disney flick on the hotel menu, having room service send up some pizza and wine? It’s your turn to have a good time.     It’s also okay to toss some adventure in there too. We had a soggy blast setting sail aboard the Schooner Woodwind, rain and all. Find that fun thing to do in the city where you stay, and do it. No kids, no hassles, just you and your gal pals. Most any hotel concierge will help you set up your outing.   

 

A photo posted by Lara D (@dipaolamomma) on

Now, go start plotting your escape. Not only is it totally okay for you to make time for YOU, you’ve earned this!

Summer in a Ski Town – The Resort at Squaw Creek, Lake Tahoe

Gorgeous views from the lobby of TheResort at Squaw CreekIt may seem odd to think about visiting a destination best known for world-class skiing when the only snow you’re likely to find is in a cone.  As it turns out some ski towns have nearly as much to offer in the summer. The Resort at Squaw Creek, Lake Tahoe makes for a great base camp to test that theory. 

The Resort at Squaw Creek, Lake Tahoe

All about the lake – Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe itself is the largest Alpine lake in North America. Boating, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding are just a few of the ways to enjoy this stunning natural wonder with water so clear in some spots that you can see to a depth of around 70 feet.  At times it reminded me of the waters off the east coast of Jamaica.

(photo credit: Squaw Valley Lodge / CC BY-SA 2.0)
(photo credit: Squaw Valley Lodge / CC BY-SA 2.0)

What is there to actually do at a ski resort in summer?

The simple answer? Lots!

Hike through stunning mountainsides dotted with waterfalls, hidden lakes, and a rainbow of beautiful wild flowers. 

Waterfall on the Shirley Canyon Hiking Trail - Lake TahoeTake an aerial tram ride up 2,000 vertical feet to High Camp where a pool, museum, outdoor activities, bar and cafe await with stunning views from an elevation of 8,200 feet. 

Go horseback riding on trails that cross streams and wind up into the mountains giving breath-taking views of protected forest ranges. Who knows, you might even run into a local or two. We met up with a Black Tail deer who could have cared less that we were there, she was so busy munching.

Horseback riding at Alpine Meadows - Lake TahoeOr, you could just hang out by the pool. The Resort at Squaw Creek has large recreation pool, plunge pool, 120-foot water slide, a children’s pool and 3 outdoor all-season whirlpools.

Worked up an appetite? The food scene at Lake Tahoe holds its own with the well-developed tastes of Foodies visiting from the San Francisco bay area. The Resort at Squaw Creek boasts three eateries open year-round, as well as two open seasonally.

Stop in for breakfast at Cascades and indulge in a buffet that features great artisanial eats like local honey, cheeses, and pastries. Don’t miss the build-your-own Bloody Mary Bar. 

Build-Your-Own Bloody Mary BarHave Sweet Potatoes Deli box you up a lunch for your outdoor adventures. Their quinoa and tomato salad is sublime.

Signature cocktails share center stage with gorgeous views, and innovated, gourmet dishes at Six Peaks Grille. Fine dining by the fire? I’m in.

Crispy Duck with Blueberry Confit - Six Peaks Grille at The Resort at Squaw Creek, Lake TahoeThe Spa, aaah! In my mind no hotel property should be allowed to call itself a resort if they don’t have a great spa. Squaw Creek earns their “resort” cred with a spa that Condé Nast Traveler named among the Top Five Resort Spas. 

It may not be the biggest, but it melds perfectly into the “nature vibe” of the area making the experience immersive, and unique. I thoroughly enjoyed their Coconut/Honey Sugar Scrub treatment, and highly recommend asking if Norma-Jean has any openings when you book any treatment at the spa.

How are the rooms? It just so happened that during my visit The Resort at Squaw Creek was celebrating it’s 25th anniversary by getting some work done. Rooms are in the process of being updated with modern amenities, like: marble tiled bathrooms with separate soaking tubs and separate showers, and chic resort decor. The rooms are actually more like micro-apartments with a kitchen stocked with utensils, appliances and tableware, making them great for families.

I will say that the refrigerator in my room was odd. The shelves were so narrow that you couldn’t fit a full-sized wine or soft drink bottle in without laying it flat.  

The Resort at Squaw Creek - Renovated RoomThe renovations are being done in two stages, the first complete already with the rest expected to be finished by the time ski season arrives. I’d suggest calling the property to book your room so you can request one that has been updated.

Tips

If you’re flying in from the East Coast, consider departing from New York if you can. JetBlue has recently opened up a non-stop route from JFK to Reno.

The Resort at Squaw Creek is about an hour drive from the Reno airport. Don’t bother renting a car, there is shuttle service from the resort to just about anywhere you want to go. Instead, make a reservation with Sierra-Tahoe Car Service.  Not only will you get a reliable ride in a full-sized SUV with room for your family and gear, you’ll also be able to take in the sites on the scenic drive up to the resort.

The holidays are a great time to stay at the resort. In fact, there are some great sales coming up just for that time of year.  They won’t be advertizing these prices so be sure you’re in the know by signing up for info

Sunset on Lake Tahoe

 

As you know, sometimes I get the opportunity to visit places as a hosted guest of the destination. I was hosted on this trip. That said, I received no compensation and was not required to write a review of any sort. Everything you just read is 100% my honest opinion, because you deserve nothing less!