Destination: Orlando. Don your Mickey Mouse ears, grab your Orlando Magicard, and hit the parks. The amusement park hub of the world promises fun in the sun (along with stress in the lines pre-ride, and dizziness--and possible death-- apres nausea-inducing ride). And now Florida's Funland is getting bigger and badder than ever, with luxury hotels cropping up like the migraines at Epcot. The Hilton Orlando Convention Center is slated for 2009, with construction starting this year. With 18 storeys and 1,400 rooms, the hotel will be connected by a pedestrian sky bridge to the Convention Center's North Concourse. With a whopping 130,000 square feet of meeting space, the new Hilton is certainly "poised to take advantage of a booming Orlando convention market." Not to be outdone, InterContinental is plotting its largest hotel worldwide-- the InterContinental Resort and Residences Orlando-- within the $800 million luxury destination resort dubbed Palazzo del Lago. Comprised of luxury hotel and condo units, the waterfront Palazzo will also be an appendage of the Convention Center, competing with the Hilton for an on-time 2009 debut.
Surf in Europe?! You betcha. Complete with bros and babes and board(ie) shops galore. Forget the Cote d'Azur-- in the summer months, Biarritz is where it's at. Europe's surf mecca is also a chic Atlantic resort town, steeped in the rich history and culture of the Basque country, just ten miles from the border with Spain. Before surfers discovered Europe's best break and catapulted Biarritz to the world's top ranking surf spots, 18th century doctors recommended the seaside climate as therapeutic for sick patients, who made the haul from all over Europe. The cat was out of the bag, and royalty and high-rollers inevitably followed the herd to this Atlantic paradise. In 1854, the wife of Napoleon III-- Empress Eugenie-- constructed an elegant and stately Palace on the beach, where guests continue to descend today for unparalled luxury. Following the tradition of art de vivre, the Hotel du Palais continues to indulge its privileged guests with elegant refinement, luxurious touches and impeccable service.
Hotel du Palais, Five Star Alliance
Andrew Harper drooled over the fashionable Leopard Lounge, naming it the Hotel Bar of the Year. Leading Small Hotels of the World decided this pad is the Best Hotel in Europe (2005). Not too shabby for a lakeside pied a terre that dates from 1872. In fact, most of the world's remaining royalty (and folks that just feel like kings and queens) concur that the hotel's 39 rooms and suites provide the best accommodations in Switzerland's largest city, and perhaps the world over. Balconies provide heart-stopping views over Lake Geneva, the Jet d'Eau and the towering peaks of Mont Blanc. (And the Presidential Suite, rest assured, has bullet proof windows, among other amenities.) From May 10 through the end of the year, the Hotel d'Angleterre is offering a Suite Dreams package, for a luxurious weekend of indulgence. The package includes Junior suite lake view accommodations, buffet breakfast daily, afternoon tea, Aroma therapy set, and in room champagne upon arrival. Starting at CHF 1,590 for two people.
Hotel d'Angleterre, Five Star Alliance
The NYT reports on the phenomenal building boom that is transforming Shanghai at a feverish pace. My recent memory of Shanghai (2004)-- a landscape ravaged by industry, blanketed by pollution, and marked by strangely toxic sunsets over the Bund but also steeped in fascinating history and culture-- is barreling towards an unrecognizable future. The biggest city on Earth is about to get a whole lot bigger: host to the biggest ports, one of the biggest automobile factories, the biggest shipyard, Asia's largest shopping mall, and mammoth, futuristic skyscrapers dominating the Pudong riverfront. Shanghai's got its eye on surpassing New York in magnitude, size, and industrial infrastructure. And the trends I noticed a few years ago-- skyscrapers shooting up as quickly as bamboo stalks, the neon hovering and enormous in the smog, the transformation of the cosmopolitan face of modern China-- will continue at breakneck speed. As reported by the NYT, conservationists and critics bemoan the city's cultural losses: the architecture and personality of a city that has such a storied history, including its 19th century imperial division into autonomous colonial possessions, each ruled by the Brits, French and Americans. Historical neighborhoods of winding alleyways, open air markets and rich, authentic street life are set to be demolished.
Like China's capital, which is undergoing a crash rebuilding program in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics, Shanghai is using its role as host of the World Expo to shift what had already been a hugely ambitious remake into high gear. By the standards of recent urban development projects in the West — the so-called Big Dig in Boston, say — the scale of what the city is undertaking is astounding.
Along the western banks of the Huangpu River, site of the historic Bund thoroughfare, a 2,000-plus-yard-long stretch of the waterfront is being razed and redeveloped. The essence of the Bund, a virtual museum of Western architecture, flush with classical, Gothic and Art Deco landmarks, will be preserved, but densely inhabited neighborhoods at its edge are already being demolished.
Talk about ambition. As the city "aims for the top as it ascends the hierarchy of world cities, with one eye on longtime champions like New York, and another on its fraternal rival, Beijing," its rich heritage will perhaps be lost forever. Best to get there fast before a new breed of skyscrapers (already twice as many as New York's) paves China's quintessential urban cityscape.
We recently noted that Loews Hotels assumed management of the Washington, D.C. landmark-- The Madison Hotel. But what we didn't note is the hotel's Special Introductory Rate, to celebrate Loews return to the nation's capital during the springtime season of perfect temperatures and beautiful cherry blossoms. Check into Washington's traditional establishment (and check out Loews's signature style)-- for as low as $179 a night. Offer is valid for Friday and Saturday evenings through June 24, 2006.
After three years of construction and $350 million spent on resort redevelopment, Georgia's exclusive Sea Island hot spot is ready to dazzle. The elegant 1928 hotel-- regularly hosting royalty and international dignitaries through the 20th century-- was ready for some work, and the new Mediterranean style main building (with the meticulous restoration of the legendary Spanish Lounge) is absolutely stunning. Guests are already shelling out the dough for coveted guest rooms, the summer season promising to be booked solid. And who can blame them? The epitome of Old World elegance, these rooms feature wood beamed ceilings, 500-thread count Italian sheets, Turkish stone baths, Bulgari White Tea toiletries, antiques and original art, and are draped in custom-designed hand-loomed Turkish rugs. Of course, there's also the appeal of the attentive private butler service and impeccable Southern hospitality. Additional developments are in store for this award-winning resort: the construction of a new Spa at Sea Island is slated to open in October, and the Beach Club is expected in Summer 2007.
The Cloister at Sea Island, Five Star Alliance
In a week, Westin is opening the doors to luxury in its first property in the South Pacific. Say hello to the new Westin Denarau Island Resort and Spa, Fiji. A five-star oasis surrounded by tropical gardens and long, palm-graced sandy beaches. The old Sheraton got a $15 million makeover and morphed into a brand-spanking-new Westin, its style and architecture designed to reflect Fiji's cultural heritage. The resort's new Heavenly Spa is the largest in Fiji. Set within a 1,350-square meter meditation garden, the Spa features eight Fijian-style treatment bures and two suites, a Vichy shower treatment room, a hydrotherapy room, a wet-edge lap pool, and Jacuzzi. Hit the gym (Westin's WORKOUT Powered by Reebok fitness center is packed with state-of-the-art equipment), soak up the rays by the three-tier swimming pool, enjoy the beach and extensive water sports program, or play some tennis or golf. The introductory rate of $183 a night is almost too good to be true. The special promotional offer includes luxurious accommodations, full breakfast, a spa credit, complimentary dinner for two, and complimentary champagne in room upon arrival. Available through June 30, 2006. But keep in mind that from April 20-October 2006, the resort is still undergoing minor construction, refurbishing the remaining guestrooms.
Truly the first of its kind, Shangri-La's newest venture in the Middle East is three-hotels-in-one, and it single-handedly ups Oman's luxury hotel rooms by 60 percent. Set within 124 acres of landscaped gardens, overlooking the mountains and gorgeous waters of the Gulf of Oman, the Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa is just 20 minutes from downtown Muscat. The destination resort is comprised of three hotels (Al Waha, Al Bandar, and Al Husn), 19 restaurants and bars, three private beaches, 6,000 sq meters of swimming pools, and a CHI spa. And don't fret; this oasis hideaway isn't without its own nightclub. With the third hotel (Al Husn) now opened, the resort counts 680 sea-facing rooms with private balconies, terraces or patios. The separate Chi Spa Village will be fully operational in May, consisting of private villas for rejuvenating treatments, three freshwater swimming pools, 19 (count 'em!) food and beverage outlets, meeting rooms and an open-air amphitheater. Did I mention the Oman Dive Center, Kids Club, Dolphin and Whale-watching trips, and marina? O- Man!
Take your pick between Ritz-Carlton's two, sun-kissed Naples hotels and get fantastic discounts this summer. From your guestroom balcony in the AAA Five Diamond Award Golf Resort, gaze out over the rolling green of the 36-hole Greg Norman-designed Tiburon Course. Or if golf isn't your thing-- take a room with a Gulf View at the elegant Ritz-Carlton Hotel Naples, a grand seaside resort with exceptional amenities including spa, pool, and gorgeous beach with watersports. Between June 1 and September 30, the "Summer Sand and Sun" package starts at a mere $159 per night at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort and $199 at Ritz-Carlton Naples. Additionally, they're giving out resort credits left and right: stay for three nights and get a $100 resort credit (for dining, spa treatments, resort apparel in the gift shop, go wild!), five night stays score $200 credits and when you stay a full week: $300.
Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort Naples, Five Star Alliance
Ritz-Carlton Naples, Five Star Alliance
Starting Friday June 16, gourmands unite in Aspen for three days of pure hedonistic cooking pleasure: wine tastings, cooking demos, and loads of special events. Food and Wine's Aspen Classic is orchestrated by leading star chefs like Mario Batali, Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Jacques Pepin, and Wolfgang Puck, and oenophile/wine extraordinaires like Steve Olson, Joshua Wesson, and Daniel Johnnes. Cooking demonstrations vary from preparing day-to-day dishes to perfecting culinary masterpieces: "Del Posto Favorites" with Mario Batali, "Sunday Suppers" with Suzanne Goin, "Easy Entertaining" with Jacques and Claudine Pepin, "Spago Classics" with Wolfgang Puck, "Real Creole" with Emeril Lagasse, "Shrimp Master Class" with Ming Tsai, "Rib University" with Steven Raichlen… (drooling, yet?) The wine-tasting seminars are equally as enticing, showcasing wines from Southern Italy to Washington State, New Zealand to Chile.