February 11, 2011
By: Daniel L. Moses
I might be the only one in the world who hasn’t read the Harry Potter books. Does that make me a criminal? Perhaps, but I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t want an excellent book to ruin a good movie, so I’m biding my time. But let me tell you, I love those Harry Potter movies. Love ‘em! And while they may not immerse me in the world of Potter quite as much as reading Lady J.K. Rowling’s words, it will have to do for now.
Yet just as the last book was written, the last movie is nigh on the horizon. In June, the adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione will grace the silver screen for the last time. So I started thinking (always dangerous), where can I continue the adventure in real life? Which of the world’s most luxurious hotels are the most Harry Potter-esque, and perhaps can give me a nice place to read those books once and for all?
The first one to come to mind was the easiest. The Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando, a Loews Hotel. While the romantic setting of an Italian fishing village might not bring to mind Hogsmeade in all its glory, it will allow you front of the line access to Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure amusement park, home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This themed land is torn directly from the pages of the Harry Potter opus, and in fact was personally approved to the last detail by Rowling herself. And with the Loews brand giving world class luxury and service, the Portofino Bay Hotel is worth its weight in Fizzing Whizbees.
The next stop on the tour of all things Potter might lead to downtown London, a place teeming with wizards and muggles alike. Therefore staying at 41 might be in order, a place that has the market cornered on quiet charm. You can have your own chamber of secrets at 41, and if you must eat a pumpkin pasty, please use a napkin!
Finally, use a little floo powder and head for the north of England towards Newcastle. While enjoying a Geordies footie match, you can slip out to the beautiful Alnwick Castle. On that very ground is where Harry Potter first learned to fly his broomstick, the filming location for Hogwarts Castle. Here you’ll stay at the delightful White Swan — Bondgate Within Alnwick, just outside of Newcastle. You will be transported, literally, to a place that you’ve imagined a million times.
So while the film adventure might be coming to an end, your Harry Potter adventure is just beginning!
By: Daniel L. Moses
February 10, 2011
By: Daniel L. Moses
Most people want romance on Valentine’s Day, but sometimes when thing just aren’t going our way, that’s the exact opposite of what we seek. So I figured I’d save you some time and find the most un-romantic place on Earth. First a couple ground rules: I ruled out anywhere that is currently in the midst of major turmoil, and I fully acknowledge that ANYWHERE can be romantic if you’re with someone you love. So take all this with a grain of salt. Now without further ado, the most un-romantic place on Earth is Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada.
And before they get their lawyers ready to sue me, let me state for the record that the lack of romance doesn’t mean a lack of luxury. Nor does it mean a lack of adventure, in fact quite the opposite, Edmonton is filled with adventure. The skiing is top class, in fact all the winter sports are unrivaled in this part of Alberta, with the Canadian Rockies within sight from any vantage. Winter sports, of course, dominate this part of the world, especially with a day time temperature of 18 degrees as I write this. Fahrenheit, mind you, and if you don’t think being frozen is so bad, Edmonton just might be right for you.
Again, though, this is for the adventurous, and Edmonton has adventure in a more temperate setting: The West Edmonton Mall. Before you scoff, let me point out that this is not just any mall. In fact, it’s the largest in North America and boasts not just a full-sized amusement park, not just a waterpark, not just a miniature golf course designed to look like Pebble Beach, not just an indoor aquatic habitat for sea lions that includes a replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria, but also a bowling alley, arcade, movie theater, pool hall, and performance arena that some of the world’s hottest acts have graced. That goes along with more than 800 stores and restaurants. I’m almost out of breath as I type this!
And while the West Edmonton Mall is incredible, and worth the visit, it’s hardly romantic. But it sure is fun!
There are two hotels worth your time in Edmonton, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. The first, alphabetically of course, is the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, a luxurious property that will fulfill all of your un-romantic notions (and gosh darnit, if you must, a few romantic ones too). Built in 1915 and resembling a French castle, this Chateau on the River will charm you from the word go.
Also in Edmonton is The Sutton Place Hotel. Modern and warm, this sultry property will indulge your every whim. For the highest rollers in the audience, ask for the Royal Suite, a two-story indoor palace.
Finally, if you’re dead set on romance, you can always take a short drive to Banff, where the Post Hotel in Lake Louise will knock your socks off! I suggest keeping them on, though, as it gets a wee bit chilly in the Great White North.
As they say in Canada, “Have a nice trip!”
Editor's Note: Disagree with our writer about Edmonton? Let him know in the comments section below why you think Edmonton is romantic, or where you think the least romantic destination might be...
By: Daniel L. Moses
February 10, 2011
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
A big congratulations to the InterContinental San Francisco for its most recent honor! The luxury hotel-- a tower of translucent blue glass soaring 32 stories above the city skyline-- has just been awarded LEED Gold certification under the U.S. Green Building Council. (LEED is USGBC’s rating system for designing, constructing and maintaining the world’s greenest and most energy efficient buildings.) It's rare to achieve this with an existing building; InterContinental San Francisco is the largest in California to get LEED EBOM certification and the third largest in the US. Since it's debut in 2008, the 550-room hotel has shown its dedication to environmental stewardship. It's not just because of the linen and towel re-use program. Here's how:
• Floor to ceiling windows throughout the entire property that allow for lots of natural light (read: not from light bulbs!)
• Public transportation is used by more than 95% of the hotel’s staff, reducing the carbon dioxide emitted by commuting.
• Retro-commissioning of its energy systems by bringing in a third party to evaluate and upgrade its current systems, making them more efficient.
• A comprehensive recycling and composting program, diverting 80% of the hotel’s generated waste away from landfills and utilizing solar powered compactors.
• Green cleaning methods are used throughout the hotel operations (think hepa filtered vacuums, “Green Seal Certified” chemicals and micro-fiber cleaning cloths).
• Partnering with Renewable Choice Energy to reduce its environmental impact by purchasing renewable energy credits to offset 100% of its electricity and natural gas use, making the hotel’s energy use 100% carbon neutral.
February 9, 2011
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Golfers and golf enthusiasts interested in getting up close and personal with the sport's greatest players during the 2011 WGC-Cadillac Championship should high-tail it to Miami in March. The Doral Golf Resort & Spa-- situated on 650 acres just seven miles from the Miami International Airport-- is offering some special packages for the occasion. Available March 10-13 and starting from $299 per night (single occupancy), the WGC-Cadillac Championship Room & Ticket 2011 Package includes garden view accommodations and daily grounds ticket (individually valued at $40). A second package-- the WGC-Cadillac Championship Golf Package-- has a few more inclusions: full American buffet breakfast and 18 holes of golf on the Gold or White course along with your garden view room. Tickets to the WGC-Cadillac can be purchased in advance. Nightly rates start at $389 for single occupancy and $538 for double occupancy. Two-night minimum stay required for Thursday-Saturday arrivals.
February 9, 2011
By: Katie Tandy
We've heard that the Windy City is welcoming a new boutique 'hotel' Longman&Eagle, an industrial chic tavern and inn tucked into the heart of Chicago. Serving up more than 30 kinds of wet-your-whistle whiskey amid seriously stripped-down style, the new property is a brainchild of four friends who converted an old apartment building into a hip haven.
The first floor tavern has a rather monochromatic design boasting daily-inspired food sourced from local markets. Featuring a wooden floor, a staggered, wood-scrap ceiling, brick walls and utilitarian pendant lighting, the Longman&Eagle tavern is decidedly masculine yet undeniably cozy.
Guests heading upstairs to the six bedrooms on the second floor will discover varying pieces from local artisans (from furniture to art) but all the rooms heavily feature intricate uses of wood as their mainstay. Kitsch and eclectic ephemera also find their way on the shelves, serving as a stylish surprise to guests.
By: Katie Tandy
Donovan House, the decidedly hip hotel located in up and coming Thomas Circle, has unveiled a winter ice bar sponsored by Russian Standard Vodka. Open on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5 pm - 10 pm throughout the month of February, the ice bar is located in the exclusive rooftop pool lounge called ADC (Above DC). Order up a hot mulled wine or creative libation made with house-made infused vodka, and grab a spot by the fire pit to ogle the crowd and the sweeping view over the nation's capital. Daily Candy digs the "Ice Flurry," made with lychee puree, orange bitters, and vodka. We also like the sound of the "Drunken Spiced Cocoa"-- for adults only. Here's Urban Daddy's assessment:
You’ve been up here on the rooftop of the Donovan House hotel in the summer for the great view and the poolside frolicking. But now, it’s as if the whole thing has been transported to Norway.
You’ll lead your date onto the blustery roof and to the bar, which is now made totally out of ice (refrigeration not required). There, you’ll find an ice luge for frosty shots, as well as parka-clad bartenders sliding you glasses of champagne and drinks like the Morello Fire (sake, chili-infused vodka and cherry puree).
Since opening at the end of 2009, the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas has gotten rave reviews for its spa which sprawls across the entire seventh and eighth floors of the hotel. In fact, this urban retreat was recently named a Forbes Five-Star Award-winner. The glam hotel is one of the few in Sin City without a casino, and this zen-like environment is a welcome respite from all the excess of the Strip. The Los Angeles Times is plugging a February deal at the AAA Five-Diamond hotel which includes a third night free, with rates starting at $305 per night, and a "bling-worthy gift certificate': good for $250 worth of merchandise at nearby Mikimoto jewelers:
I wrote about a similar deal at the Mandarin Oriental last year, though it didn't include the gift certificate. I mention this hotel again because room rates are usually expensive, and the deal is a good one for those who crave a bit of non-casino luxury on the Strip.
The "Lucky in Love in Zen City" package can be booked through February 28, 2011, and is subject to availability.
February 7, 2011
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
The David Burke Kitchen just opened last week, but New York's food bloggers are already in a tizzy. The "modern locavore joint" is located in The James Hotel's basement-- radically transformed with rustic exposed beams and glass walls framing the kitchen and wine cave. The New York Times Diner's Journal describes the signatures found on the American menu (think dry-aged ribeye steak) and the chef's innovative touches: "like using a duck press to extract the juices from the heads of giant prawns for the sauce for his bucatini with prawns, or combining veal skirt steak and sweetbreads with crab meat to redo the classic 'veal Oscar.'" The hearty cuisine uses locally sourced ingredients; portraits of the farmers who supply the kitchen are framed on the restaurant's walls. We also like the sound of the artisanal cocktails and homemade sweet and savory "pop tarts" at the Treehouse Bar.
Looking for a romantic escape for Valentine's Day? Book a stay at The James New York to enjoy this stellar new eatery, and get an unbeatable deal for the occasion: A three-night stay for the price of two at the newly introduced Penthouse Loft. Renowned international designer Piet Boon curated the interiors, featuring a wet bar, freestanding tub and double shower, and a sprawling living room with river-to-river Manhattan views.
Foodies, rejoice! There's a buzzworthy new restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand's City of Sails. Named for its eight kitchens, the new resto at The Langham inspires diners to take a culinary journey through world cuisine. From designer sushi prepared on demand to freshly baked naan bread pulled steaming from the tandoors, the $2 million (NZD) Eight Restaurant has a team of passionate chefs who will serve up what you're looking for. These diverse kitchens were named after different journeys. Think Silk Road (wok and dim sum), Spice Route (Indian tandoori and curries), Tōkaidō (sushi and sashimi), Route 66 (New York style grille), Great Ocean Road (seafood and oysters), Garden Route (salads), Champs-Elysées (pastries, crêpes and cheese), and Dessert Road (desserts).
Langham Hotels is celebrating the debut of Eight Restaurant with a competition where one lucky winner will snag an unforgettable prize: a Global Culinary Journey staying and dining at Langham Hotels worldwide. Each time you dine at Eight Restaurant, from now through April 25, 2011, you'll be entered for a chance to win:
· Three nights luxury accommodation at The Langham, Hong Kong dining at T’ang Court (2 Michelin stars) and also Ming Court (2 Michelin stars).
· Three nights luxury accommodation at The Langham, London dining at the newly-opened Roux at The Landau, the latest restaurant by the famed Roux brothers.
· Three nights luxury accommodation at The Langham Huntington, dining at The Royce by the acclaimed chef David Féau
· Return around-the-world economy airfares for two people from Auckland to Hong Kong, London and Los Angeles. (Full terms and conditions apply)
Struck down with a bad case of winter blues? Nothing a little chocolate and wine can't cure, says the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. (We'd add Florida sunshine as a key ingredient in this winning recipe.) Jet down to Orlando for a restful weekend in the Sunshine State with plenty of chocolate and bubbly to heal your winter-weary soul. The luxury hotel is launching "Waldorf Astoria Chocolate, Wine & Romance Weekends" exclusively for overnight guests on Feb. 12-13 and 19-20, 2011. During these weekends-- when chocolate and wine take center stage-- suites are available starting at $289 on Feb. 12-13 and $309 on Feb. 19-20. Here are some of the sweet surprises in store for lucky guests:
Art and Chocolate: A Walking Tour – learn more about the hotel's collection of commissioned artwork, and sample chocolates that are paired to add inspiration to each painting.
Bar du Chocolat: A Chocolate Extravaganza – experience nearly 30 a la carte chocolate treats from Waldorf Astoria’s display of decadence. Peacock Alley is transformed into a chocolate boudoir, offering an evening of self-indulgence. Guests can choose from a selection of chocolate treats from the hotel’s talented pastry team, including handmade chocolate truffles, exotic chocolate cakes, pillows of chocolate mousse, and bowls of bon-bons.
Smooth Jazz: Featuring Joseph Billups Duo – enjoy nightly entertainment in Peacock Alley, where the Smooth Jazz Trio will add spice to the night.
The Marriage of Chocolate and Wine: A Seminar – Learn what wines pair the best with chocolate.
For the Love of Wine: A Tasting Experience – A casual wine tasting experience that features the best new wines available this year – the hotel's 10 favorite new wines! Note: not chocolate related.
Chocolate perks at Spa by Guerlain – Pair your spa treatments with chocolate treats (and complimentary champagne!), all weekend at Waldorf Astoria Spa by Guerlain