Category Archives: travel reviews

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.

Kimpton Mason & Rook DC: Review

Come to DC for the Smithsonian, the tidal basin, and history. Stay a little longer to get the true feel of a city as complex as the political ideologies that built it. 

DC’s Logan Circle is an area in flux. Gentrification has arrived but has yet to rob this enclave of all of its charm and mildly edgy personality.  Seems fitting that Kimpton hotels, known for their eclectic cool, have moved into the neighborhood offering up vintage style and artistic expression at; Kimpton Mason & Rook.  

An unassuming, almost austere, exterior hides a beautifully curated interior that echoes the days of Don Draper and mid-century design. Earth tones, abstract art and a to-die-for sofa dominate the lobby. A nightly free wine reception completes the Man Men vibe. 

Rooms are appointed with small details and custom experiences. Want non-feathered, yet soft and fluffy pillows? They’ll be sure you have exactly what you need to rest your best. 

One touch that struck me was the lack of copious amounts of tiny bottles of toiletries.  Hello, green travel! They’ve opted for full-sized containers in the shower or near the amazing tub. Why is that a big deal? Just think about it. Most hotels have a minimum of five small bottles of assorted products in them. Use a bit (or none) and the next thing you know, it ends up in the trash, and eventually in a landfill somewhere.  Good on ya, Kimpton. 

The mini-bar is stocked with actual healthy snacks in addition to the junk and it’s priced at not so bank-breaking rates. Sneaking off for a grown-ups getaway?  Um, there is a treat in that mini-bar that is perfect for couples. (wink, wink) 

“Living Room” area of the Premier Spa Suite we stayed in during our Kimpton Mason & Rook Staycation

Mason &  Rook goes out of its way to support artists and makers. Borrow one of their Shinola bicycles (shout out to Detroit) and peddle down to the Australian embassy a few blocks away to say,  G’day.  Talk the concierge into telling you their favorite places to hang out. That’s how we were introduced to Studio Theatre. 

As far as makers go, Sarah Rosner head Mixologist at Radiator the on-site eatery, is whipping up can’t-be-missed art in the bar. Her take on a Seelbach graced the pages of Imbibe and is just the beginning of the alchemy she is capable of.  Go have a drink with her, you won’t regret it! 

As for Radiator itself, I’d skip it. Logan Circle has any number of options that are more creative and flavorful. Stroll down a block or two and have some Ethiopian or swing into our favorite brunch spot in all of DC (maybe all of the East Coast) Le Diplomate.  Yes, it’s a chain and in most cases, I’m fundamentally opposed to these, but they won me over with their Café Vietnamese and eggs vol en vent. 

DC is a town where polls outnumber pools. Swimming spots are few and far between and those hotels that do have outdoor pools tend to be much on the anticlimactic side. Mason & Rook’s rooftop pool has a reputation for being one of the best in town. I’ve yet to experience this but plan to rectify that this summer.

Kimpton Mason & Rook Top Tip

Be sure that you’ve signed up for Kimpton Hotels rewards program. This isn’t one of those wait-till-you-have-fifty-stays-before-you-get-a-reward programs. With your very first stay you can take advantage of their Raid The Bar reward offered to Kimpton Karma members.  

The vintage design of Kimpton Mason & Rook DC is befitting of this city that plays home to so much history.

Having taken up the practice of yoga recently, I really appreciated the addition of a yoga mat in our room. It rounded out the personal attention and attentiveness that I believe truly makes this hotel a perfect destination for enjoying both this unique neighborhood and the city itself.  

Loews Loves Pets (and it’s a mutual thing)

Do you travel with your fur family members? If you’ve undertaken the task of even looking into doing so, I’m sure you ran into the same issues we have; outrageous fees, no facilities  or simply no pet-friendly room at the inn. There is hope fellow pawrents. Loews Loves Pets… and it’s a mutual thing. 

Loews Loves PetsIn the fall of 2015 we lost a beloved family member. Don Sonny Corelone Di Paola ascended the rainbow bridge after nearly fifteen years of joining us at the table for meals, napping on baskets of freshly folded laundry and a life-long refusal to own the fact that he was born a feline rather than human or canine. This cat growled at the doorbell and insisted there be an extra chair at the table for him though he never ate morsel.   

As our hearts began to heal, we  found there was room behind the scar tissue. In the spring we welcomed Gordon von Ottawa du Barkhimedes (a eleven-week old French Bulldog) to our family. Gordy is our first dog as a family. 

Being cat pawrents really never put a kink in our travel style. Aside from the occasional jumping into an open suitcase and refusing to budge, they pretty much could care less if we were head out-of-town without them. I’ve my suspicions that there may have been some wild feline soirees going on in our absence.  

As newly minted puppy familiga it became rapidly clear that Gordo was going to have to earn his travel wings. We started him out with his first trip to NYC as soon as the vet cleared him to be social. The guy road tripped like a pro from day one. I think he may have learned bye-bye faster than sit!

Travel with DogsWe learned, “I’m sorry we don’t allow pets,” even faster. When we did find hotels that would welcome Gordon our bill would shoot up an average of $100. Ouch! Adding insult to financial injury, that green bought you exactly nada beyond allowing the dog in the building. Then we found Loews Hotels! 

As hotel chains go, Loews has long been one of our favorite. Why? Service. Loews takes attentiveness to the next level.

Staying at the Loews Regency New York a few years back I mentioned at check-in that my husband and I would be enjoying our first kid-free getaway in over two years. When we got back to our room after an afternoon in the park there was a bottle of wine and some sublime chocolates waiting alongside a note telling us to enjoy ourselves. When we stayed at Loews Grand Pacific – where I made it abundantly clear that I was the family Harry Potter nerd – the concierge spent a good twenty minutes giving me all the insider tips on navigating the nooks and crannies of Diagon and  Knockturn Alley.  Alohomora big time, fellow Potter heads! 

The most abundantly clear example of the unique, genuine and warm welcome at Loews (that seems to be a corporate philosophy)  came when we brought Gordon along to celebrate Lil Nugget Number 4’s big tenth birthday.  Let’s back things up just a bit…

Em is our youngest. She started planning her tenth birthday, along with her gallery opening and Oscar acceptance speech when she was about three years old. Where some girls her age love Barbie she loves her travel journal, glitter isn’t her thing but a good hotel bathrobe is (she has a collection.) It really wasn’t a huge surprise when in lieu of a birthday party she asked for a bubble bath, room service and taking Gordon to a hotel.  

The bummer of having a late-summer birthday is that travel isn’t quite as doable. The upside for us is that we’re surrounded by great staycation destinations like DC, Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland. Another huge plus is that Annapolis is rated one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country.  The trifecta of birthday awesome for Em is that there is a Loews in Annapolis. Which brings us back to where I started telling you about what makes Loews hotels so unique for families that travel with fur family in tow.

Now back to where we were…

Checking in at Loews Annapolis is more like being welcomed home. Yes the floors are polished marble, walls are hung with nautical themed works of art and fragrant arrangements of flowers abound, but there is zero pretension. How can one be aloof when they melt at the sight of a puppy? That’s exactly what the front desk staff did when Gordo walked in the joint.

Loews Loves PetsThe blue carpet rolled out for both Em and her fury lil bro. She got birthday hi-fives, well-wishes and covert questioning about what her favorite treats are. He got a welcome goody bag packed with handmade treats, his own Loews water bowl, accident bags and even a sparkly bit of bling for his collar.

Yes, we were hosted guests of this particular Loews but this sort of welcome is the norm not the exception. When you pay to bring your four-legged family along Loews makes sure you get value beyond a room at the inn. 

That hospitality and attention to detail, in my experience, applies to all guests at every Loews. Every time we’ve been guests the staff has always asked if we were celebrating anything. If we were, they’d make sure to celebrate along with us by sending notes, treats or just remembering every time you passed by in the lobby.

Loews Loves PetsWhile chatting with the staff at Loews Annapolis I made mention that Em’s last birthday was New Orleans themed. Not sure why the kiddo is so enamored with The Crescent City (she’s never been) but she is. Her room is decorated with masks, fluer de lis and street signs from the French Quarter. He asked if we’d stayed at the Loews New Orleans. I didn’t even know there was one (travel blogger, fail.)

That night when she and her pup were snuggled up after an epic round of Monopoly, I booked her first trip to NOLA. Knowing there would be a Loews to welcome us, I couldn’t resist. We’ll be spending Thanksgiving in the Big Easy and bringing Gordon along!

Loews Loves Pets - Hotel room birthday sorieeWhen you find a place that feels like home, you know you need to be there. Thank you Loews for hosting this one stay, but even more for giving us more reasons to travel with the WHOLE family!

If you travel with fur family in tow, stay tuned for our article in the holiday issue of Skimbaco Lifestyle Magazine. We’ll be dishing on more tips for travel with pets including how essential oils can make it easier for everyone. Check out the autumn issue that’s live now. 

Loews Loves Pets 

Save

Save

Save

Exploring Saint Mary’s County Maryland: Rural Charm and Hospitality

Exploring Saint Mary's County Maryland

One of the pitfalls of being well-traveled is a tendency to look too far beyond your front door. Truth is any new adventure, no matter how near, is still worth having. Embracing that idea is how I found myself a few hours from home exploring Saint Mary’s County Maryland.

Much of the county is dotted with bucolic encampments of cattle and fields of corn. Formerly a seat of tobacco cultivation, some of that land has been converted to wine production. Which brings us to our first stop, a winery!

Port of Leonardtown Winery

This small winery boasts a bevy a awards and accolades for its small batches of surprisingly sophisticated {surprising to me that is because much of my experience with Maryland wines has fallen a bit short of a trip to Montepulciano} wine. Setting it apart from most wineries is the fact that Port of Leonardtown is a cooperative of growers. Each producer tends to their growth and harvest, the bounty is then turned over to an in-house vintner. The resulting product is uniquely, Saint Mary’s County Maryland.

20160501_130102-1

Just outside the tasting room is a small park with a beautiful, copper roofed gazebo. Making this stop family-friendly. Wine + Family Time = Bonus

Up next, I go back to the Navy…

Patuxent River Naval Air Museum

Have you ever walked into a place you’ve never been before and been overwhelmed by a sense of déjà vu? … all over again. This is that place for me.

The lobby of the newly redesigned museum is designed just like a hangar bay.  A bay that was so reminiscent of the one I worked in daily as part of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two known as the Circuit Riders back in my day. Standing at the wheel of a vintage Navy helicopter that is the focal point of the room, completed the sense of having been there before.

20160430_142438

Tucked along side the helicopter you’ll find a brief history of naval aviation dating back to the days of the brothers Wright and forward into space travel. It’s both an informative and adventurous visit when combined with a stroll down the tarmac outside the building. 

You’ll find historical and unique aircraft along that tarmac and even a very cool prototype or two. There are hands on exhibits and flight simulators as well.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to share this part of my history with our kids. They’ll have some epic fodder for essays this school year, for sure.

Historic Leonardtown

While we’re on the subject of time travel, fans of Marty McFly and Doc Brown will fall in love with the historic section of Leonardtown. Standing in the town square it’s as though you’ve stepped back in time, or onto a movie set.

Red bricked buildings boast painted marquees of businesses long gone. Quaint shops and small eateries line the cobblestone streets. At the center, a town square dedicated to Leonites who’ve served their country, completes the Mayberry-like vibe.   

One of our favorite stops was Heritage Chocolates – for obvious reasons… like, um… handcrafted confections of chocolate covered bliss. Bonus points for the entertainment value of watching someone making these sweet treats – I-Love-Lucy-Style.

20160430_113351-01

The historic jail is a must-see for history nuts, like us. Hold up behind the stone walls of this small building is a chronology of crime and punishment, the history of a local doctor and philanthropist and a treasure trove of period items donated by residents for the preservation of the town’s history. 

Into the paranormal? Fancy yourself a bit of a ghost hunter? Be sure to make time to learn about Moll Dyer, her rock and the rumors of witchcraft that still linger in the air. 

20160430_185712

Where to Stay 

Where you stay can be the biggest factor in the success of nearly and adventure. On our Saint Mary’s County expedition our base camp was perched on a tiny strip of land just big enough for two way traffic and buildings (mostly on one side,) called Saint George Island. Just driving to the Island Inn & Suites is an adventure as the tide laps at the grass that hugs the road. 

Hospitality here is the hidden gem of Saint George. The staff is warm, welcoming and excited to share their home with you. Borrow a beachcomber bicycle for a ride down to the park at Piney Point or take to the water with one of the kayaks they offer. Our favorite activity was watching the sun set from the balcony after a walk down the boat pier behind the hotel. They also have a public fire pit and will even supply wood and marshmallows for roasting. 

20160501_082056-01

Saint George Island is fairly isolated, but that is part of the charm. You won’t find a grocery store or gas station on the island but both are easy driving distance. Next door to the hotel is The Ruddy Duck a nice little eatery offering local favorites and some very good craft beer, which by far makes up for the lack of “night life” on the island. 

Though it may not be a place that gets huge marque in the travel space, exploring Saint Mary’s County Maryland is certainly worth the trip. 

Save

Save

The Cornstalk Hotel in New Orleans (or that time I spotted a ghost)

The Cornstalk Hotel New OrleansWhen a place has been inhabited since 1840, there are sure to be a few stories infused into its walls.  The Cornstalk Hotel in New Orleans certainly has a few. Here, at the most photographed hotel in one of the most picturesque cities in the country, my ghost story begins. 

Let’s start with a stroll down Royal Street. It’s 1840, New Orleans is a bustling port city cradled in a crescent giving access to both the ocean and the great Mississippi. In a stylish home – not far from Jackson Square — a husband worries that his wife is suffering from a deep longing for her Iowa home.

In one of the most romantic acts, still able to be witnessed well over one-hundred years later, the man commissions an iron-work fence. Wait? What? Stick with me here. The man requests a grand gate made in the shape of the swaying stalks of corn that dominate the landscape of his beloved’s home.  Rising above the sidewalk of Royal Street we can still see this love letter today.

The Cornstalk Hotel New Orleans Famous FenceWhen the rare opportunity for my husband and I to getaway -sans offspring — came up, I chose The Cornstalk Hotel for this story alone. Besides, staying in New Orleans should be an adventure in the extraordinary and staying somewhere this old and ornate is like time travel.

Our stay was lovely. Sitting on the balcony, I felt like a grand dame of New Orleans society, nodding at the endless gatherings of tourists that stopped to snap photos of the hotel. The proprietor joined us on the veranda as we listened to guides from the hourly ghost tours stop to regale their audiences with tales of the rooms we’d be spending our weekend in. 

Perhaps that played into the bumps and knocks we’d hear all weekend. Maybe the flickering lights were just due to faulty bulbs. Buildings settle over time, door frames warp. Could it be that was the reason the door to our bathroom would slowly swing open hours after I know I closed it?

As night deepened and we returned to our room, the sounds of Bourbon street in the distance started to fade. Yet whispers still drifted to our window. Looking out our window hoping to guilt people into moving on quietly! I noticed not one living soul.
The Cornstalk Hotel New OrleansThere are no smartly dressed concierge here waiting to fill your every request. You won’t find marble soaking tubs with relaxing jets. The nearest spa is a stroll away.  The house is old, it has an air of mystery to it. The beds are made of rich woods with ornate carvings. Fireplaces are encircled with stone and gilt ironwork. Victorian touches from chandeliers to window dressings give one the feeling of having traveled back in time.
 
Make time to sit on the balcony. As the sun starts to set, look to the buildings across the street. Do all the people walking by seem solidly in the same plane as you are? I snapped a photo from that spot. The day wasn’t foggy, nor particularly humid. My camera lens was clean, the battery new. Yet I could almost be convinced I caught something or someone, spectral. Judge for yourself…
Haunted Hotels in New Orleans

The Cornstalk Hotel – New Orleans, Louisianan

Address: 915 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Website: thecornstalkhotel.com

Phone: (504) 523-1515

Price Point: $179 – $324 – depending on season and day of the week.

Note: As mentioned, this is an old house. Though it is also a quaint boutique hotel, it isn’t exactly what I’d personally consider luxury. That said, I’d gladly go back again. It really is a very unique place that is worth staying.

If you are planing to visit New Orleans with children, this may not be the hotel for you.  

 

Save

Save

Save