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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.  

 

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The Summer Wind – Sailing in Baltimore

Sailing Excursions in Baltimore MarylandEvening comes and as the sun begins to set. A warm glow lingers among the soft breezes drifting across the Chesapeake Bay. Late summer is the  season that sailing is at its best here in Maryland. The Summer Wind brings a new charter option to sailing in Baltimore.  

We all have our, “Happy Place.” A boat with billowing sails gliding across glassy water is that place  me. Funny that a kid who grew up in the desert loves to be on a boat. Perhaps more odd that the entire time I was in the Navy I rarely set foot on one. Now that I’m living just a short drive from the Chesapeake bay I sail as much as I can. 

Typically that means either a jaunt to Annapolis or taking the bridge over to the Eastern shore. I was thrilled to recently learn that American Sailing Tours has pulled anchor from its original home, sailing the Delaware River off the coast of Philadelphia, and docked in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor bringing The Summer Wind with them.

I’ll admit they pretty much had me at the name of this 48-foot long schooner. “The Summer Wind,”  is one of my absolute favorite Sinatra songs. 

Owner (and skipper) Tom Kirwan captained us out onto the harbor for our latest Travel Massive meetup.  As the 50-foot sails unfurled guiding us past the iconic Domino’s Sugar sign, Tom and I chatted about his life as a sailor – which started before he was even able to walk.

The Summer Wind - Sailing in BaltimoreKirwan brought The Summer Wind to Baltimore in 2015 for its first season. Today, she is the only sailboat of her class offering public sailing excursions out of the Inner Harbor. While American Sailing Tours offers the staple harbor tours and sunset sailing, what sets it apart is Tom and his crew.

There is zero pretension aboard The Summer Wind. You won’t find stuffy folks with ascots and jauntily positioned sailing caps here. When you sail with Tom and his crew you feel a true connection to people who love what they do, and where they do it. They’ll regale you with tales of Baltimore’s maritime history, fill you in on the points of interest as you pass by, and make you feel as though this were your boat. 

Relax on deck with a glass of wine. Here you’ll find comfy seating, polished wood siding, and of course some great conversation. Below decks is more seating and the head {sailor-speak for the facilities – I swear I never even used that term in the Navy, past boot camp. It’s just weird.} 

Saling Excursions in BaltimoreBe sure to make some time either before you set sail or when you drop anchor, to explore the Harbor East area where you’ll find upscale boutiques, a movie theater, and great eats. Wit & Wisdom at the Four Seasons is the perfect place for a wonderful meal or nibbles. It is just steps from The Summer Wind’s birth.  Lobster corn dogs, mesquite smoked mussels in a champagne beurre blanc, black truffle popcorn… need I say more?

The summer wind came blowin’ in from across the sea. Next time you’re in Baltimore… come sail with me! 

The Summer Wind - Baltimore

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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