March 24, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
The media is abuzz: Louisville's 21C is the hottest thing this side of the Mississippi. The newly-opened boutique hotel-- listed on the National Register of Historic Places-- is part of what the New York Times calls Louisville's "downtown renaissance." The 90 rooms (including six premier suites) are elegantly decorated and are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including 42' flat-screen televisions and WiFi. But this masterpiece is not merely a luxury boutique hotel; 21C is also a museum of contemporary art, housing pieces from the owner's mind-blowing $10 million art collection. (Philanthropists Steve Wilson and Laura Brown, a husband and wife team, are the co-developers.)
The award-winning hotel that is oft considered the best city hotel in the United States has a dining room to match. Seasons Restaurant is an opulent dining experience, both in its gorgeous seventh-floor setting overlooking Chicago's avenues, and in its creative Franco-American cuisine. The new executive chef brings with him an 11 year career with the company. A Chicago native, Hickey is a frequent shopper of neighborhood ethnic markets, incorporating local, organic products into his distinct menus of American cuisine.
Seven months ago, four-star executive chef Robert Sulatycky left Seasons for Napa Valley to pursue his dream of becoming a winemaker. Since the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons hotels are sister properties, that left Kevin Hickey, the executive chef of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, responsible for the entire kitchens of both hotels. The guy says he has literally been running across the street in his chef whites as many as four times a day, "writing menus, driving the creative force, being involved with events." How do you do it? Dish asked. "I don’t know," Hickey replied, "but I delegated a lot. I have great sous chefs and put a little bit more work on their shoulders." One set of those shoulders belongs to the executive sous chef at the Ritz, Mark Payne, a UK native with credentials that include nine years with the Four Seasons family from properties in Nevis (West Indies) to New York City. Clearly Payne and Hickey each performed at the top of their culinary game because Hans Willimann, general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, has announced that as of April 1st, Hickey will become the executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel and Payne will be promoted to the top toque position at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Both chefs expect to have their new dining room menus in place by mid-May.
When it opens in 2010, the 450-room luxury hotel will be the tallest in the world. Intercontinental recently signed a deal with Shanghai Greenland Group, one of the leading real estate and property management companies in China, which will add more hotel rooms in Shanghai and Xian, as well as the hot Intercontinental Nanjing. To be located within the Nanjing International Financial Center, the world's tallest hotel will boast pool, spa, dining, and excellent conference and business facilities. Take that, Dubai.
March 22, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Dubai's got it all. But the mouth-dropping reflex still hasn't been tempered with each new juicy detail I learn about Dubai's growth. (With the progression of developments from the initial underwater restaurant, the globe's unique seven-star hotel, the private manmade islands of The World, and indoor skiing facility at the SnowDome.) Instead, I marvel at the UAE's new craze for speed: the Ferrari theme park slated for Abu Dhabi and the MotorCity Autodrome and Business Park in Dubai. MotorCity is a fully-integrated auto/motor sports facility with racing track, humongous grandstand, surrounding office park with conference facilities, entertainment, dining and retail complex, and-- get this!-- a "destination development" for upscale villas in a residential community called UPTOWN MotorCity. How rad.
It's that time of year again. MGM Mirage-- which now owns over half of the hotel rooms on the Strip-- is spending a whole lot of cash on its Vegas spring cleaning. $800 million on upgrades, in addition to the $7 billion they're shelling out for the Project CityCenter development, expected to open in 2010. After all, you've got to spend money to make money, as the Las Vegas Sun explains: "the idea is to continue to attract big spenders." Last year they spent big bucks on upgrading a wing of MGM Grand, building high-end Skylofts, adding two restaurants from Chef Joel Robuchon, and serious upgrades at Mandalay Bay. What's in store with this year's spring cleaning? Renovation of the outdoor pool and beach area at Mandalay Bay to add a bunch of new deck space and cabanas. Remodeling of the Rumjungle bar and revamping of the 3950 restaurant, with the addition of a celebrity chef. A new nightclub at Luxor. A new restaurant and bar at Excalibur. A new Japanese restaurant at Mirage. And the biggest upgrade of all: a Cirque du Soleil show inspired by the music of the Beatles, to debut in May at the Mirage.
After the tragic mess left by Hurricane Wilma, Cancun is slowly making a comeback. The Presidente Intercontinental Cancun Resort has recently reopened, with some profound improvements. They've renovated each guest room and suite, revamped the Club Floor, redesigned the lobby, enlarged the pool, added a new oceanfront bar with nightly live music, and added a new open air restaurant. Not to mention a wider (and whiter) beach. Actually, as the hotel explains:
due to its privileged location, added more than 15 feet of additional frontage to its spectacular private beach, one of the largest and most beautiful in Mexico and featured as one of the "World's Best Beaches" by the Travel Channel.
Forget the spring break hordes (they're all in Key West and Panama City, anyway); now's the time to head south of the border.
Palma de Mallorca-based Barcelo Hotels and Resorts recently acquired the five-star Karmina Palace Hotel along Mexico's Pacific Coast near Manzanillo. The 324 all-suite, all-inclusive resort has long been known as a world-class, premium destination, and the new Barcelo management will surely only enhance that reputation. (Barcelo operates 10 luxury properties throughout Mexico.) This baby-- for which they shelled out $48.2 million-- is rated AAA Four Diamond and offers an 18-hole golf course, swanky accommodations, three restaurants and four bars, eight swimming pools with waterfalls, children's club, fitness center and spa, and a theater. The Barcelo Karmina Palace Hotel is uber-family-friendly, and superior service is not abandoned with the convenience of the all-inclusive plan.
Change is afoot in the Eastern Europe outpost of Bulgaria. Its 20th century history was marked by the power struggle between paternalistic Russia and wary western Europe (which sought to break up the Russian stronghold and thus carved away Macedonia to the Balkans), but the country is now slated for entry into the European Union in 2007. And as the Financial Times reports, the Black Sea coastal beaches have recently become prime real estate for investors:
The Moscow government has already invested in this area of Bulgaria's coast, with plans to build two five-star hotels on a promontory enclosing the south side of the beach. And more buyers – institutions and individuals from Russia, the UK, Ireland, Spain and France – are circling, eager to get in on Europe's latest emerging market property boom.
Investment in upscale development is good news for Bulgaria's economy, and in addition, the government has realized the importance of legislation protecting the coast: banning high-rise buildings, creating new zoning regulations, and setting aside green space. Looks like Bulgaria is on the path to becoming Europe's new second home hot spot.
Pay $5 for a snack box with a cardboard-tasting sandwich and mushy apple? I don't think so, say many luxury travelers, who are opting for delightful gourmet take-out meals offered by their upscale hotels. As the Miami Herald reports:
...the posh Peninsula Beverly Hills sells takeout platters of blue fin tuna, poached salmon and Cobb salad in narrow cardboard boxes with suitcase-like handles for about $20. Guests at the Hotel Plaza Athene in New York can order a chicken club or shaved roast beef sandwich packed with monogrammed cloth napkins and a reusable thermos from the hotel's "Goodies to Go" menu. Hotels aren't just filling doggie bags with food from their restaurant menus. Some are devising special dishes that travel well and stay tasty at room temperature.Now that's a way to build loyalty among your (happily-satiated) clients.
March 17, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
Tony Ryan-- founder of Europe's beloved and enormously successful airline Ryanair (this is the airline that paved the way for the new model of competitive low-fare carriers, after all)-- is investing in a new low-fare airline in Mexico. Viva AeroBus will take off in September, servicing major Mexican domestic markets as well as big US cities like LA and Houston.