Category Archives: travel reviews

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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Spanish Holiday – Hotel Playa de la Luz Rota, Spain

Spanish Holiday - Hotel Playa de la Luz Rota SpainSouthern Spain {Andalucia} has long been a favorite “holiday” destination for European travelers. This makes perfect sense when one considers the lovely beaches, amazing architecture, history, culture and cuisine.  I recall the first time I met a person on, “Spanish Holiday” while living in Spain.  Partly because – as an American– the term, “holiday” means something entirely different, but also because of the place we met – Hotel Playa de la Luz in my “hometown” of Rota, Spain.

Holiday goers -or vacationers, as we call them– flood into Rota during the summer months just as they do nearly all of the coastal towns in Andalucia. The favored casks of La Tintilla in local bodegas take a back seat to hard cider and flowing sangria, skin sizzles to a burnished bronze {in most cases, save the bulk of visitors from the UK and people like me who end up the hue of ripened tomatoes} on the beaches, and the night life rarely gives way at dawn.

What makes Rota differ from this typical Spanish Holiday foray, comes in the form of luxurious oasis just barely outside the city. I’d been living in Rota for nearly a year before setting foot in the Hotel Playa de la Luz, time lost that I’ve come to regret.

Spanish Holiday - Beach front tapas at Hotel Playa de la LuzNestled on a stretch of nearly pristine beach -a welcome change from the beach I leaved near on the other side of town– the hotel is practically a world away from the bustle. Though Rota itself is a small town, Calle de María Auxiliadora being its one fairly busy main boulevard, in high season the crush of people can be difficult to manage. The hotel gives you a place to enjoy the natural beauty of this part of Spain in a simple, yet luxurious setting that is still close enough to the town when you want to stop in at Bar Christina for amazing tortillitas de camarones – or shrimp fritatta– dance the night away, or roam the quaint little shops and gypsy stores.

La Gaviota, the onsite restaurant takes the best of local ingredients and whips up outstanding tapas. As I type my mouth is watering in memory of their alcauciles rellenos, a stuffed artichoke that is worth the airfare from the states. Once you’ve stuffed yourself with Spanish delights you’ll need a way to burn off those extra calories. The hotel features four tennis courts, a gym, and several pools. You can even ask the staff to arrange horseback riding on the beach for you. If you ride, this is a can’t-miss activity. 

For Americans, the rooms by seem small and sparsely decorated. Getting used to that was a tough one for me, but this is pretty much the standard with nearly any level hotel in this part of Spain. I suppose the idea is that you’ll be spending so little of your time indoors, they’d rather focus on elevating the common spaces. 

Playa de la Luz does this really well. Their white-washed facade and intricate Moorish tile work is evocative of old Hollywood glamour.  Take a stroll along the marble inlaid beach walk and you’ll feel as though Clark Gable is waiting on that yacht in the distance to whisk you away.

Spanish Holiday - Luxury Sunbathing at Hotel Playa de La Luz Rota, SpainTips for Families

The hotel features a playground for kids, separate adult and family pools and during the months of July and August childcare services are available.

Day Trips Nearby

Jerez {35 minute drive} visit a Bodega -Harvey’s is one of the more famous ones– stop by the Royal Spanish Equestrian school to see the famed Lipizzaner horses, eat at the Mercado de Abastos.

Cadiz {45 minute drive} Cadiz is one of my favorite towns in all of Spain. It has everything a large metropolitan city could want without the issues that come with being a city of size. To me its a bit of Paris meets Madrid. There are a plethora of galleries and museums, lovely public parks with sculpted gardens, and an immense amount of history as Cadiz is the oldest continually inhabited town in Spain.

Hotel Information

Address:  Avda. de la Diputación S/N
                     11520 Rota (Cádiz) Spain
                     Tel: 1+ (34) 956 810 500
Website: Hotel Playa de la Luz

Reservations line: 1+ (34) 902 418 428

Visiting Ottawa Canada (aka Myth Busting)

 Debunking Five Myths about Candians by Visiting Ottawa, CanadaAh, stereotypes. Every country and culture seems to have at least a few. Visiting Ottawa, Canada helped me bust a few myths. Travel gives us the ability to be myth busters of a short… only without the walrus mustaches and exploding crash-test dummies. 

Myth 1: It’s Winter 11 Months of the Year

Visiting Ottawa in summer is blissfully balmy. In fact an average summer day comes in at around 78°,  almost San Diego-esque, eh? A warm, breezy summer day in the Canadian capital city is perfect for wandering. So much of the sites are within easy walking distance of each other. 

Rideau Canal Ottawa Canada UNESCO World Heritage SiteA stroll along the Rideau Canal is a must. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a marvel of 19th century engineering.  One of the first canals to be designed specifically for steam-powered vessels, the system of locks now conveys mostly leisure craft along the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers. In fact it’s the only canal of the “Great North American Canal Building Era,” to still operate along it’s original route. If you enjoy history, a tour of the canal system is a must, since many of the original structures remain intact today.

MYTH BUSTED

Myth 2: Canadians Only Drink Beer

Sparks Street is a bit like the a low-key version of Time Square. Closed to all but pedestrian traffic these few blocks near Parliament Hill feature kitschy souvenir shops, eateries, bars, and a few upscale shopping areas. Here we did stop by a place called Bier Markt that featured 150 beers from 30 countries. Could there be something to this beer thing?

I like a nice hoppy beer and will try an IPA any day.  I fully expected Ottawa to be a beer city, and I’d have been okay with that. Turns out Canadians dig their craft cocktails too. LIFT Bar, the cocktail lounge inside the Delta Ottawa City Centre (now a part of the Marriott hotel family, yeah!) where we were hosted guests during our stay, makes a mean Mule and even some truly creative cocktails featuring locally produced spirits – and yes, some great craft brews too.

Ottawa Mule Craft CocktailClearing away any doubt that this myth is exactly that, I present you with the following evidence…. Wayne Gretzky Estates.  We picked up a 2011 Merlot made with grapes hand harvested in Okanagan Valley, British Colombia and it was actually quite good!

MYTH BUSTED

Myth 3: Canada is ALL about the Hockey, eh!

We witnessed a man dressed in full hockey gear, including skates, balance on top of a goal while juggling flaming hockey sticks. While you’d think that would have proved the myth, this guy {Paz} happened to hail from LA… eh.  <— which I think I said more than any Canadian we met.

Juggling Flaming Hockey Sticks. Visiting Ottawa, Canada

MYTH BUSTED

Myth 4: Canadians Live on Maple Syrup and (Back) Bacon

Admittedly there is plenty of maple and Back Bacon {known to we Americans as Canadian bacon} to be found. Even in the Eggs Benedict at LIFT restaurant – not sure I was so much into that. Ottawa is a very metropolitan city boasting a vibrant food scene with plenty of influence coming from the French. Hello poutine and pastries. The farm-to-table options come in a dizzying array from a rainbow of produce and artisanal cheeses at the famed ByWard Market to scratch-made Italian staples at several area eateries.

ByWard Market Ottawa Canada

You can NOT leave Ottawa without eating BeaverTails. I know what you’re thinking, I thought it too. Eew gross, Canada! Wrong. SO wrong. BeaverTails are oddly-named, flaky, rich, light and airy pillows of crispy pastry topped with awesome. Start with the maple butter {obviously} and work your way through the menu. You’ll thank me, even if your waistline won’t.

MYTH BUSTED

wa

Myth 5: Canadians Are SO Polite

I was pretty sure the minute we drove into the parking garage at the Delta – which is shared with the public – and were greeted by a smiling hotel employee {obviously on his break} who was all to happy to show us the best spot to park in, give tips for cutting down on the cost of parking, and welcome us to his city, that this is a myth that could not be busted. Once at the front desk, the busting prospects looked even more bleak.

Usually when you check-in at any hotel, the front desk staff is cordial. Even at the most luxurious of properties the script is pretty much the same. “Can we help you with anything while you’re staying with us?”, “How was your trip?”, “Would you like help with your bags.” All perfectly polite – and expected– inquires.  Then there is Alex.

Spires of the East Block Building of Canadian Parliment Ottawa
Weathered spires and French architectural influences abound on Canada’s Parliament Hill.

Alex took the time not only to ask those questions, but to find out what we liked, what we might want to discover about his city, and even give us tips about things we’d never have known about without him. He took out a map and walked us through the best things to see, when to go where, and gave as an impromptu history lesson. It was like having our own personal guide to Ottawa. Then there was Eric.

Eric turned out to be the name of the friendly staffer from the car park, as well as a stellar Bellman.  Gift bags to keep the kids entertained. Cold drinks to refresh weary parents who got stuck a Canadian Customs {that’s a story for another post, oi!} and even setting up late evening reservations for the whole crew on the pub side of LIFT. Then there was Annie.

Things were looking pretty damn polite at this point!

In the interest of full-disclosure, we are Elite level Marriott rewards members and make it a point to snag club level rooms anytime they are available. Tip: DO THIS! If you’ve got more than one kid it pays for itself. Marriott Clubs often offer free breakfast, snacks, and enough refreshments and libations to cover the additional cost several times over.  Also, as I mentioned before this was a hosted visit. Annie had no way of knowing that though. Each morning she greeted us as though we were long-lost pals returning to visit her! Any question we had, any little thing the kids asked for, she made sure it was taken care of. You just can’t put a price on service like that. Though this Delta property hasn’t quite gotten to the level of offerings that you typically see in Marriott Clubs, Annie’s shining smile made it feel as top-notch as any other. Then their was Parliament.

Living in the Washington D.C. area, we’re used to dower-faced officials. Hey, things are rough these days and their job is to watch out for bad guys, not make kids giggle. The Canadians seem to have been able to balance the need to keep a wary eye out, with their penchant for polite. 

Are All Canadians Freindly or What
Polite, and hilariously cool.. the Guards of Parliament Hill. I can’t be the only one thinking “Benny Hill” here, can I?

That feeling of warm welcome extends from the folk watching over the buildings of Parliament, to the locals who gather to share a spot on the lawn any given summer evening to watch the story of Canada – from the First Peoples to modern Canadians– unfold in multi-media magnificence; Northern Lights.  Hundreds of people gathered for a free show and not one tussle, no salty stares, not even an frenzied rush to get the best spot. Then there was the cab driver.

Rude. Angry. Took the long way around to get a higher fare. Though he did mention that was from Indonesia.

MYTH CONFIRMED (so far)

Visiting Ottawa, Canada was such a blast we’ll be back to bust a few more myths during Winterlude. Plus.. um.. MORE Poutine!

Stay tuned for more on Canada’s Delta Hotels joining the Marriott brand and a full review of our stay at Delta Ottawa City Center.

Poutine Canada's Gift to the WORLD
Poutine from a Food Truck. Or as the teen calls it… “Deep fried bliss smothered in happiness gravy dotted with cheesy nuggets of awesome.” Yeah, pretty close.
 Field Notes On Visiting Ottawa, Canada:

The trip to Ottawa, Canada was amazing everyone was so nice we stayed at a beautiful hotel called Delta. Alex, at the front desk was so amazing he suggested a lot of fun activities to do.One of the doormen even gave me and my brother gift bags. My mom gave me a tip to give him. He was very happy, and said thanks.

Next we went for a walk. There were little shops outside, and I got some new jewelry, a ring from a very nice lady and a name bracelet form a funny guy who showed us where to get poutine. Then we went to dinner. I had ribs on a plate so huge that it took up the whole table!  

So we went to a pastry shop and a tasted sweets. The wifi at the hotel was was very good. Housekeeping left chocolates on the pillow and my favorite robe. The pool was amazing and the outdoor lounge was relaxing.

The next day we went to a war museum it was very interesting and sad too. After that we went down to the gift shop, it was a little overpriced but I got a owl necklace. I had my very first  beavertail, they are so yum! Goodbye Ottawa, until we meet again.  

Emily – Field Reporter {age 9}

Delta Hotel Ottawa City Centre.png
Chic updated suite at the Delta Ottawa City Centre. Can’t wait to introduce you to the Smart Desk!

Disclosure: As you know, from time to time I’m asked to visit places, attractions, and hotels as a hosted guest. That said, my thoughts and opinions are always my own. Honesty, you deserve nothing less.

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 

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