Hotel Crashing: The Underwater Room, Manta Resort, Pemba Island

There is a place where you can belt out The Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea” without a lick of irony, a smidgen of skill, or any regard for your neighbors’ eardrums.

A place where you can “sleep with the fishes.” Where you literally sleep with fishes darting all around you. Except, if you’re like me, you won’t be “sleeping with fishes” at all because the whole experience of watching fish swim around your room all night while lying in bed makes sleep completely impossible.

Underwater room at Manta Resort, Pemba

I’m talking about the underwater room on Pemba Island, one of the islands that make up Zanzibar right off the coast of Tanzania.

Let me start by telling you a bit about Pemba Island. It is lush and green. It is surrounded by impossibly clear aqua waters, teaming with coral and fish. Pemba is also the leading producer of cloves, according to Brittanica.com.

Pemba is very, very off-the-beaten path. According to one tourism source, Pemba’s sister island, Zanzibar has 150 hotels. Pemba has just seven (including a couple that may be more B&B style lodging)

It is very remote – you can take a small plane from Dar Salaam on the mainland to tiny Karume airport in Pemba’s main town of Chake-Chake. Then you’ll need a driver to take you on the hour-and-a-half drive through Ngezi Forest Reserve and up to the Manta Resort on the far northern part of the island.

Pemba transportation options
A Pemba “bus”

Along the way, you’ll pass by thatched huts, the only other traffic on the road is the insistent mosquito-like drone of a scooter or two.

Pemba auto shop
Pemba auto shop

Manta Resort is pretty remote. You won’t be venturing out to any neighboring villages to grab a drink or dine in an area restaurant. There aren’t any. Nor are there any TVs, telephones, gym. Wi-fi is only really available at the lobby/reception area and it is spotty at best. I pretty much gave up on checking email or Instagram after the first afternoon.

The accommodations are spartan – small, private stucco villas with open bathrooms and no air conditioning but stunning ocean views. It’s an all-inclusive setup and there is no menu. You’re server (or “fundi”) gives you two options at each meal and you pick one. But it’s all very fresh and healthy, and there’s almost always a fish option.

The entire vibe at Manta Resort is unpretentious, laid back and friendly. It’s clear that the resort is community-focused and gives back in many ways – jobs, schooling, fishing and coral conservation. Their foundation, the Kwwanini Foundation, has several initiatives aimed at sustainable economic development with an eye towards preserving what makes the island unique.

But what really makes Manta Resort unique and is, quite honestly, the main draw is its’ underwater room.

Photo via Manta Resort
Photo via Manta Resort

Continue reading Hotel Crashing: The Underwater Room, Manta Resort, Pemba Island

Hotel Crashing: 4 Other Places We Stayed in Sri Lanka

Because I really cannot top our stay (and odd massage experience) at the Signature Amaya Kandalama, I’m condensing (ha!) the rest of our hotel accommodations in Sri Lanka into this one little (ok, NOT little) post. Most of them were one-nighters anyway, with the exception of the beach house in Unwatana. But they each had their own odd charms.

Langdale by Amaya in Nuwara Eliya – This is another Amaya Spa and Resort and a hotel listed among the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The description on the SLH website says Langdale is “a picture of old-world elegance in Sri Lanka’s tea-growing heartland,” and that is certainly true.

Exterior of the Langdale Amaya, Sri Lanka

It’s got a very old school, British colonial feel to it, which is always something that makes me slightly uncomfortable, especially in a country as colorful Sri Lanka where the culture is just so vibrant. And that tea country setting is just spectacular.

 

Instead, the Langdale feels like a stuffy British outpost/country with impeccably manicured grounds (the grass looks like a carpet), squeaky floors, a preponderance of chintz and even a dusty reading nook at the top landing. If I were to compare it to something in the U.S., I definitely would not put it in the luxury category. Maybe, more like an inn or a bed-and-breakfast.

Continue reading Hotel Crashing: 4 Other Places We Stayed in Sri Lanka

Hotel Crashing: Signature Amaya Kandalama, Sri Lanka

So here’s a basic outline of our first day (2 days) getting to/and/around Sri Lanka.

  • A 14-hour flight from D.C. to Seoul on Korean Air First Class.
  • A 6-hour layover at the Seoul Airport.
  • An 8-hour flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka.
  • Land at 3:15 a.m. and meet our driver, Tillie.
  • Drive about 3.5 hours in the darkness (and occassional rain) to Dambulla Cave Temples, dodging school children, dogs, tuk tuks, roadside stalls with open fires, etc. all along the way.
  • Climb 350 very steep, very slippery and uneven stone stairs in oppressive heat and humidity to see said Cave Temples. (no air conditioning, obviously)
  • Spend $2 to recover in the small but well done (and, more importantly…air conditioned) Cave Temple Museum
  • Drive 15 minutes or so to Signature Amaya Kandalama and collapse.

First Class Korean Beer

Honestly, Signature Amaya Kandalama could have been a roach hotel and I would not have given a flying Fig Newton. I probably still would have declared it the most luxurious and wonderful accommodations ever known to man.

Sigiriya Rock Sri Lanka
Sigiriya Rock, aka “Hell-to-the-Nah Rock”

Luckily, it was not a roach hotel. Not at all. It’s pretty upscale for Sri Lanka. It actually reminded me of some of the resorts we’ve stayed at in other tropical locales. In fact, the Sri Lanka National Cricket team was staying there the same time as us (they apparently had a match in Dambulla).

Continue reading Hotel Crashing: Signature Amaya Kandalama, Sri Lanka

Hotel Crashing: W Hotel in Seminyak, Bali

It’s cold here in D.C., y’all. Like, eye-tearing, nose-running, teeth-achingly cold. Yes, the cold makes even your teeth hurt. It’s crazy.

And I won’t even get into my whole frozen fingers and toes situation.

So, with that in mind. I thought we might go back in time (to around August or so). Time to revisit someplace more forgiving and less frigid. Someplace where the gentle breezes warmly caressed our pale, pale, Northeastern skin. Ah, Bali.

Bali sunset
Bali sunset.

Our first couple of nights in Bali were spent at the W Hotel in Seminyak, a very fun and touristy little town down on the coast. Think lots of hotels, restaurants, bars, boutique stores.

We love W Hotels and have stayed in lots of them (including the one in Istanbul right after it opened. Oh, and the one in the French Quarter where I split my head open.), so we knew a bit what we were in for. And the W Hotel in Bali definitely lived up to the brand.

bag of beach goodies
Bag of beach goodies

Check in was smooth and easy. We cooled off with a cucumber/minty/lemony type drink and a wet cloth while they processed our upgrade to a private villa.

Reception at the W Hotel Bali
Reception at the W Hotel Bali

Then we went to our villa, opened the gate and saw all this.

private pool

private pool again

Private pool again again

Then we basically disappeared and barely emerged from our villa. And lived happily ever after.

The Villa at Bali W

I’m just kidding. Sort of. We did spend a lot of time in our room.

Room view at the W Hotel Bali

Bathroom at the W Hotel Bali

Oh, actually, our villa had two rooms to choose from. A master and then another, slightly less opulent room with two beds.

Second room at our villa

For just the two of us. Crazy.

Bar area between the rooms
Bar area between the rooms

But when we did leave our little bit of paradise, we found the W Hotel to be just gorgeous. And the staff were amazing. So friendly and helpful. We even had the GM come out and say goodbye to us as we were sadly leaving.

W Hotel Bali

W Hotel outdoor bar

W Hotel Bali deck bar

The perfect oasis. I would probably chop off one of my frostbitten ears to be in one of those loungers right now.

W Hotel Bali Private Villa loungers

Hotel Crashing: Le Meridien Lav Split

I’m pretty fond of French fries. So you’d think I’d be excited about finding a French fry in our very fancy room at Le Meridien Lav Split.

A singular French fry on the floor in the sitting room of our allegedly recently clean, certainly recently entered room.

Le Meridien Split

It became our mascot. Whenever we would leave the room and reenter, I would immediately check to see if it was still there.

To be fair, the French fry was eventually removed. I was kinda sad about that.

I don’t mind saying….I did not like Le Meridien. It was outdated and desperately in need of an upgrade. It had a very 80s vibe.

 Le Meridien Lav Split.

 

Le Meridien Lav Split.
That would be a towel on the floor of a common area. It was there to soak up a leaky door.

The layout was disjointed, weird and completely counterintuitive. For example, we couldn’t really find a hotel bar in which to enjoy a sunset drink. There was a large open bar right off the lobby with no separation whatsoever. We almost stopped there one night for a drink, but quickly abandoned that idea when we got an earful of the evening’s talent: an old man playing a saxophone along to a CD accompaniment.

I will say: the female staff at Le Meridien were all incredibly hot. Not at all helpful, but very attractive. So….there’s that.

Le Meridien Lav Split.

 

OUr room at Le Meridien Lav Split.

Just to give an example: They had these glass cases displaying a special Le Meridien beach bag. It was pretty cute, featured some art work by a Croatian artist and some of the proceeds went to a local charity. We asked at the reception desk if we could see one, and how we could go about purchasing one, if they still had the design I wanted. Confusion descended. Many consultations and phone calls later, just as I was losing my interest, I was told to go down to the spa and purchase the bag there.

By the way, the spa desk area, was about a million miles away and had turnstiles. Not sure why, but it had entry gates similar to the metro entry system. So, so odd.

I guess the Meridien name has some major currency because the place was packed with vacationing families. This became especially apparent in the chaos that was the pool area. It was very packed and not so relaxing.

Pool and beach at Le Meridien Lav Split.
It was a very beautiful pool and beach, with gorgeous views.

Honestly, it was a bunch of little things with Le Meridien Split – the room with an ocean view did have a slight ocean view, visible just past the lovely industrial rooftops of the commercial strip where a lot of the restaurants, yacht and dive shops, and ice cream shops were.  Or the fact that the advertised shuttle service was inconveniently out of service during the entirety of our stay. Or the free wifi that would not accept our login and password, requiring a couple of calls to the front desk and more confusion.

But, I must say, Le Meridien is the first hotel I can remember staying in that gives you a free French fry as an amenity.

View from balcony at Le Meridien Lav Split.
Our balcony view
View from balcony at Le Meridien Lav Split.
The other side of our balcony view

Hotel Crashing: Villa Dubrovnik

I was riding the metro to work the other morning, a pretty mundane task, since I’ve done it pretty much every working day for the last 10 or so years I’ve been in D.C. It was 7:45 in the morning and already a muggy 78 degrees. I had just walked the 10 minutes from my house to the station and missed my train by mere seconds. It was pulling out of the platform while I bounded like a madwoman up the escalator stairs, whacking my fellow commuters with my lunch bag, purse, and umbrella (late afternoon showers predicted).

The next train would be 5 minutes.

As I stood on the platform with sweat rolling down my professionally-attired back (and even my knees – how do knees sweat??), dabbing away with a soppy Kleenex at rivulets of sweat that were careening through my carefully applied makeup, and willing another train to come in the opposite direction, merely for the novelty of creating some type of breeze, my mind whirled back to Villa Dubrovnik and the gentle non-humid, breeze-carrying air of the Adriatic.

Villa Dubrovnik, Croatia
The entry to the Villa Dubrovnik

Sometimes, memories can be unintentionally painful.

Especially memories involving sunshine playing so brightly on the cool blue water that it made your eyes hurt.  You had to squint to protect yourself from the twinkling starburst-like effect.

Yes, Villa Dubrovnik was lovely. It was beautiful. It was sublime. And like most good things, it’s both pretty pricey and a bit difficult to get to.

Villa Dubrovnik Croatia view
The view from our room balcony.

The 56-room boutique hotel is situated on a cove just a short walk south of the charming Old Town. It’s a lovely (and shaded) 20-minute walk from Old Town, along a very narrow switchback lane that’s almost impossible to find if one’s driving there from the airport. Oh, you may well be adequately armed with maps and Google directions, but you’ll soon find they are utterly useless. Primarily because maps and directions use things called “street names,” and there are no street signs in Dubrovnik.

In addition, because the roads surrounding Dubrovnik are carved into the hillside and involve a number of switchbacks, you will catch tantalizing glimpses of your far-off hotel, but there will be no discernible way of actually getting to it.

When we finally arrived at the Villa, the valet asked us how many times we’d had to drive the entire loop around the Old Town before we found the switchback.

We only did the loop once before stopping and asking someone. The local guy assured us that the blue sign with the red circle with the line through it did not, in fact, mean that you could not drive down the street that eventually got us to Villa Dubrovnik. Silly us.

which sign
I’m sorry, which sign is it?

But from the moment you arrive, everything at Villa Dubrovnik becomes effortless. The service is beyond excellent; there’s not a single thing that hasn’t already been thought of, and the staff accommodates every request in a totally relaxed and unobtrusive manner. You won’t get scolded here for carrying a glass of your own wine into the top floor Proscuitto and Wine Bar. The bartender merely asks if you need anything else.

Don’t like the exact position of the sun on the rock and concrete sunbathing area just below the hotel’s cliffs? You just find one of the patiently-waiting nearby staff to lug the sun-lounger, ginormous umbrella, and all your gear to a different, more remote spot, preferably making them scramble over rocks like a billy goat. Oh, and feel free to ask him to bring you another mojito on his way out.

Villa Dubrovnik, Croatia

Oceanside at the Villa Dubrovnik, Croatia

On one particularly breezy morning, the staff did not set up the tables on the outside deck of the restaurant for breakfast. A stubborn family of guests were determined to sit out there with their newspapers flapping in the breeze. Instead of informing the family that they weren’t serving outside that morning, the staff just quietly brought out the table cloth and service sets. Predictably, the family soon moved inside. Nobody seemed in the slightest bit bothered.

The hotel architecture was just gorgeous – modern and sleek, it blends seamlessly into the cliffs and every room has a view of the sea, the Old Town or the island of Lokum (or all three).

Room at Villa Dubrovnik, Croatia

Room view at Villa Dubrovnik, Croatia

We were in a corner (executive) room on the fourth floor, which oddly enough, is the first floor/reception area, with three more floors being built beneath it and two floors above it. Even more confusing, the entrance is just an elevator shaft at street level, which takes you down to the reception/fourth/first floor. Confused yet?

Stairs at Villa Dubrovnik, Croatia

Don’t worry. The hotel is small enough, you won’t get too lost. On the first floor are the spa, an indoor pool, and outdoor deck with covered cabana beds, in case you don’t want to sunbathe on the rocks.  Adjacent to the pool is a garden area where you can have lunch al fresco and the stairs leading down to the rocks, a changing area, and to a dock for their vaporetto to take you to the Old Town.

Actually, this brings me to my only complaint about Villa Dubrovnik, which is the erratic vaporetto schedule. It’s sporadic at best, and dependent upon totally calm seas. There is a shuttle service when the boat is out of commission, but that may be little use if you are stuck in the Old Town and don’t know that the boat has been decommissioned.

Boat at Villa Dubrovnik

But more annoying is the fact that there’s no service at all for about 5 hours in the middle of the afternoon. We had a late lunch in the Old Town one afternoon, finishing up around 1:30 and had to take a cab back because the last run was at 1:15. Plus, the last trip back from the Old Town was around 11, which was a bit early for late diners.

The third floor has a library lounge and the restaurant which has unbeatable views of the Old Town walls. We had breakfast there every morning (my favorite was the smoked salmon with capers and arugula.) We also had a fantastic dinner there one night – I almost licked my bowl after eating the seafood risotto.  The scallops were also great. It was one of my favorite meals of the trip.

Delicious risotto at Villa Dubrovnik, Croatia

We went up to the Proscuitto & Wine Bar every night at sunset to have a glass of Posip, which was a nice way to kick off our evenings. We were at the hotel right before the high season began (on July 1, when rates totally skyrocket), so I don’t know if it was the time of year or what, but the bar was hardly ever busy.

The rooftop bar at sunset
The rooftop bar at sunset.

The busiest it got was late one evening after a free concert in the Old Town by Croatia’s top pop star, Severina (I’ve included a video of her performance below). The concert was a gift to Dubrovnik to celebrate Croatia’s accession to the EU and there was a rumor that there would be fireworks after the show, so a bunch of guests gathered at the bar to watch the fireworks. Alas, the fireworks never came, which became a running joke for us the entire trip.

Severina's stage the day of the show in Croatia
Severina’s stage the day of the show.
Dubrovnik walls at night
The sky, sans fireworks

Anyway, we loved Villa Dubrovnik – excellent location, fantastic staff, gorgeous rooms and shared spaces. And our room had a hot tub on the deck, so that pretty much seals the deal in my book.

Patio hot tub at Villa Dubrovnik

The rocky cliffs are a far cry from the sweaty metro platform that makes up my typical day. But, vacations must be paid for somehow, and when I close my eyes as the next train blasts warm air into the station, I can almost imagine I’m standing on our private deck at the Villa Dubrovnik again.

Villa Dubrovnik, Croatia

Hotel Crashing: Westin, Marriott in Lima

I love, love, love hotels.

I love the sometimes modern, sometimes classical, sometimes retro, but always sweeping and grand front desk areas.

I love the smiling friendly people who work at the front desk area and the way they focus so intently on their little screen while trying to find you the absolute best room upgrade.  I love the concept of a concierge to help you with every single little request, no matter how weird of small.

I love the music they play in the lobby and all the lovely flower arrangements. I love the free coffee in the lobby in the morning or the free wine in the evening and the chance to make small talk with fellow guests.

Lilies in Lima
Lilies (my favorite) in one of our rooms.

I love the huge, luxurious beds with the fresh clean sheets and towels every single day (and sometimes in the evening, if you’d like) and the pillow menus that let you pick the firmness and composition of your pillow. I love room service and I definitely love the toiletries.  Oh, and the turndown chocolates.

Basically, I wish I was Eloise (especially since she lived at the Plaza. Can you just imagine what the robes must be like?? I. Die.)

One of the best compliments my co-decorator XFE and I ever got was, “You’re house looks like a W Hotel.”

To me, walking into a hotel is kinda like opening a present. And then opening the door to the room is like opening a present inside a present. There have been many a time when we’ve opened the door to our room and I’ve looked back and thought, “Is this all for us? All of it? We don’t have to share it with anybody?”

Which is all to say: We stayed in some pretty freaking great places in Peru.

Lobby at the Westin Lima Peru
Like this one.

We stayed at two hotels in Lima. Because, really, why wouldn’t you hotel hop when you get the chance? Actually, our Lima hotels bookcased our trip down to Paracas, so we chose the second hotel based on its proximity to the car rental drop off. I mean, that wasn’t the only reason we picked it, but it did make it an attractive option.

First we spent two nights at the Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center in the San Isidro neighborhood. It’s the newest major hotel in Lima and was the tallest building in the country when it opened in May 2011. The lobby was gorgeous with lots of dark wood, and low couches and open-sided fire pits in the lobby bar area.

Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center in the San Isidro neighborhood.
Fire pits!

We were immediately upgraded to an amazing executive suite on the 19th floor. This suite had a living room, eat-in dining area, powder room and master bath; and a humongous bedroom with panoramic views of the financial district. In total, it was 700 square feet. Basically, a little more than half our house. Yeah. It was basically, slightly bigger than the lower half of our house.

Bedroom, Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center in the San Isidro neighborhood.

 

Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center bathroom

They had the most amazing lilies in vases throughout. Our “room” smelled like a really upscale florists’ shop.

Living room at the Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center
Our living room. For two nights.

We also got access to the Westin Executive Club Lounge a couple of floors up (home of the legendary best pisco sour we had the entire trip). Poor people: listen up. There’s this big secret amongst the rich people out there, which is: They get to eat for free! Like, every meal. And sometimes even drink for free! And it’s pretty good stuff! I mean, it’s not like a full menu or anything, but there are usually meats and cheeses and salads and sandwiches. In the morning, there are even free mimosas to go with your pastries, sausages and eggs (although, if I do have one complaint, it’s that the scrambled eggs are always a bit runny for my taste at these executive lounge places. But the same could be said at any breakfast buffet, really. Blech.)

westin lima welcome
Free food! In our room! Thanking us for staying with them. KRAY-KRAY.

I swear, if I’d known all of this free food stuff was going on when I was a poor college student, I would have spent all my time lurking outside hotel executive clubs. It’s insane.

Between the amazing room and the free food and wine, I really didn’t even want to leave the hotel. Ever. And we didn’t even have time to check out the other amenities, (although I hear they had a fantastic heated indoor pool.)

Closet at the Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center
Oh, did I mention the walk in closet?

Eventually, we did have to leave, and it was a very sad day indeed when XFE had to pry my claws off the door frame so we could check out.

The JW Marriott in Miraflores was our next hotel in Lima, and while not quite as amazing as the Westin, it was still pretty damn nice.  Or, actually, I should say that the room itself wasn’t as luxurious, but I actually preferred the executive club at the Marriott better. It’s true I liked the Marriott club food slightly better, but primarily it was because our fellow club attendees were vastly more entertaining (there was a fighting couple sitting nearby who it turns out weren’t a couple, but were actually work colleagues who were quite fed up with each other. Also: an exceedingly large man explaining a diet that he was on, and a bunch of other personal things, all very loudly).

It’s been a long time since I stayed at a Marriott. I guess I thought they were a bit dated and appealed more towards and older clientele. Our room basically enhanced my pre-conceived impressions. There was nothing wrong with the room per se (in fact, the ocean view was very nice), but after the grandeur of the Westin, it seemed kinda basic.

JW Marriott in Miraflores, Lima, Peru

However, it did the trick and provided a good home base for our last, short evening in Lima. Also, the front desk staff was great and we were particularly grateful they remembered our 2 am wakeup call so we could catch our 5:30 flight to Cusco.

View from the JW Marriott in Miraflores, Lima, Peru

Couple of other notes about the Marriott: the location is great. You’re right across the street from the Larcomar mall, and there’s a casino next to the hotel. In case you’re feeling lucky. In fact, we saw quite a few people straggling in as we were leaving for the airport at 3 am, including a proud Longhorn dad explaining craps to his two young UT-togs-wearing sons as they waited for the elevator. If I hadn’t been so bleary-eyed, I might have grabbed a cup of free lobby coffee and made small talk with them. But I had other hotel rooms awaiting me in other parts of Peru.

 

Hotel Crashing: Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas

Last week, I talked about my favorite place that we stayed at in Australia. Today, I’m talking about my least favorite place. Actually, that’s a bit harsh. I didn’t dislike the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas, but it definitely was not my vibe.

So let’s take a trip in the way-back time machine to our vacation to Australia, specifically, our time up north in Queensland, which is the equivalent of Australia’s Caribbean, very tropical, lots of sun, lots of rain.

Sheraton Mirage, Australia

The Sheraton Mirage is very much in the vein of Caribbean resorts. It totally reminded me of all-inclusives we’ve stayed at in Dominican Republic and Mexico – huge, multi-building properties set on lush, gorgeous grounds, acres of lagoon-like pools, with private access to pristine beaches.

Room 2115 at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia

However, staying at the Sheraton Mirage is like travelling back in time, to the 1980s, specifically. To a time where white wicker furniture was accented with peach and turquoise cushions featuring a tropical, palm pattern.

Beach access at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia

The place was massive. The lobby, which I think had recently been updated, was the size of an airport terminal. Huge. Like, we’re talking an echo huge. And it was never very busy, so I don’t know why it needed to be so large.

Room at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia
Welcome to the Jungle.

The desk staff when we arrived was very nice and courteous. No check in drama. (And I will say, the management responds to every comment onTripAdvisor, which is very impressive.)

Room at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia

We made our way to our upgraded room, which was miles from the front desk.

Room at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia

The room was ginormous. It had a patio and large windows with plantation shutters overlooking part of the lagoons. The 1980s design aesthetic was in full force. There was even a control panel by the bed that was fabulously 80s.

Time traveling at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia

But the bathroom! Oh the bathroom. It was a marble temple dedicated to the God of 80s Excess. Gordon Gecko would have been quite comfortable in there.

Time traveling at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia

We only stayed there for two nights and we really didn’t make use of the facilities. We were out early in the morning and back fairly late in the evening. We had our own car so we didn’t have to rely on the shuttle to go into downtown Port Douglas, so I can’t speak to how that works. We also didn’t really eat there (I think we had room service one night, but I don’t really remember it), but we did notice that the menu prices seemed really, really high.

Time traveling at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia
Yep, that’s a boom box.

It’s a nice resort, I suppose, if you just want to go somewhere and relax by the pool (you can’t go in the ocean most of the year because of jellyfish). We saw a lot of families and older people there, probably people who had been going there for years and years.

Mini bar at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia
The deluxe mini bar set up. Yep, those are cheese AND crackers.

Oh, and speaking of older people, we noticed that there were warning signs on everything! Signs warning you how to use the tub, signs warning you about how to use the shutters, signs warning you about the weight of the doors. And, of course, a warning about ants. It was crazy.

Warnings at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia

be careful!
More jacuzzi tub warnings. Shit must be dangerous.

Warnings at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia

It’s an interesting place. They’re definitely trying hard, but it’s just really old and dated.

80s excess at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia
Yep, those are fish. The carpet has a fish design.
80s excess at the Sheraton Mirage, Australia
A close up. Yep, still fish.

Hotel Crashing: Barossa Pavilions

It might have been breakfast with the kangaroos that made Barossa Pavilions my favorite place of all the places we stayed in Australia. But more likely, it was the light-up rubber ducky.

Duck at Barossa Pavilions, Australia

We approached Barossa Pavilions in the dark, after a long day of travelling and celebrity spotting. Since it was dark, we couldn’t really get a sense of how amazing the place (and the view) was. But we did get a sense of how great our pavilion was from the moment we walked in.

Barossa Pavilions, Australia

Barossa Pavilions consist of six separate freestanding little houses, well-spaced apart to guarantee absolute privacy and amazing and unobstructed panoramic views of the Barossa Ranges. They are located on 75 acres of stunning hillside near the town of Lyndoch, which is about an hour-and-a-half northeast of Adelaide.

River Two house at Barossa Pavilions, Australia

It’s so private we never saw another person during the three nights we were there. Each pavilion is controlled by a keypad and an access code, so there’s no front desk or check in. The owners text you the access code on the day you arrive and you just drive up and park in front of your pavilion.

The location could not have been better. It never took us longer than 30 minutes to drive to any of the wineries we visited or back at the end of the day.

The pavilions themselves were adorable. They were very modern and minimalist, with a simple open floor plan and wall-to-wall windows running the entire length of the unit. They’re all the same (with some slight decorating differences) and are designed for couples (no kids allowed).

Living room/ kitchen of River House 2 at Barossa Pavilions

The owners really did think of everything. The well-decorated living room had a selection of DVDs, magazines and even an iPad. The sectional couch was very comfortable and cozy.

Each villa is totally equipped with a modern and well-stocked kitchen with just about everything you could possibly need, including breakfast provisions featuring local foods.

Food basket at Barossa Pavilions

It had cereal, handmade muesli, locally baked wood oven bread, selection of spreads, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, bananas and pancake mix. In the fridge were champagne and orange juice, butter, free range eggs, double smoked bacon, cream and milk, yogurt. Seriously, it was more food than we could finish.

Provisions at Barossa Pavilions

There was also fresh coffee beans for the slightly complicated and oh-so-fancy espresso coffee machine, a selection of fine leaf teas, homemade cookies, chocolate fudge and a very nice small bottle of local port.

welcoming gift at Barossa Pavilions

The amazing deck ran the length of the pavilion and had a porch swing and a barbecue grill, which we made use of each night, rather than eating out. By this point, we were pretty sick of eating out every meal, and we really liked feeling like locals and going to the butcher, the baker or checking out all the mysterious items at the grocery store.

Deck overlooking Barossa Plains in Australia

We’d pick up something each day on our way back to the pavilion, I’d sit on the porch swing, and XFE would get his grill master on. His lamb chops are better than anything at any restaurant anyway. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to enjoy one of the wines from the wineries we had gone to that day.

The front bathroom had a washer/dryer unit as well as a shower and L’Occitaine toiletries, while the back bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub, bubble bath, candles and matches, and even a rubber ducky.

Tub at River House 2, Barossa Pavilions

The property was so peaceful, you really felt like no one else was around. We’d walk around in the evenings and look at the bazillions of stars.

Bedroom at River House 2, Barossa Pavilions

And then there were the wild kangaroos.

kangaroos at Barossa Pavilions

We saw them two of the three mornings we were there. You’d see a group of them – usually 3-4 — (fun fact: a group of kangaroos is known as a mob) calmly munching away at the dry grass, rooting around with their forepaws. We would try not to startle them and go about our morning, but checking every few minutes to see if they really were there.

kangaroos at Barossa Pavilions

They’d eventually get full and look for a bit of shade where they’d collapse on their side before the heat got too much. They’d loll around, scratching their stomachs with their short arms. It was so indescribably awesome.

Between the amazing accommodations and the great kangaroo show, we really did have to pull ourselves away each day. By far one of the best places we’ve ever stayed.

slice of heaven at Barossa Pavilions

Someone here in the Virginia wine country should really take note and replicate this type of accommodation. There’s way too much of what XFE and I call “Colonial Chintz Chic” in the accommodation choices up here.

And there’s not nearly enough wild kangaroos.

matches
Can we just talk about how adorable these matches are? As a redhead, I thought they were the cutest things ever. I did not take them, however. Only the ducky. (Did I mention he lights up?)

 

 

Hotel Crashing: St. Regis Bangkok

I’m having caviar withdrawals. And my butler hasn’t brought me my morning cappuccino or left marzipan by my bed during turndown service in over a week. And I love my marzipan. This is wholly unacceptable.

Marzipan at the St. Regis, Bangkok
I especially like them when they’re shaped like little miniature fruit.

Such is life after a first-class vacation.

Yes, we used airline miles and flew first class the entire way to and from Australia, stopping in Munich and Bangkok along the way. The DC-Munich flights were on Lufthansa. The Munich-Bangkok-Sydney portion (and reverse flight) was on Thai Airways. I’ll go into more details about the first class section on those two airlines a bit later in the week. Let’s suffice it to say, we ate a Petunia-sized amount of caviar.

Petunia loaf
“I’m not sure what you’re thinking about, but please put the mini toasts down.”

But let me first talk about the St. Regis in Bangkok. While yesterday I said I wasn’t that fond of Bangkok, they do have a lot of very luxurious hotels. In fact, the St. Regis was right next to the Four Seasons. And, while I was very, very depressed by the poverty in Bangkok, my white man’s guilt was washed away in the marble soaking tub before I was lulled to sleep every night on 300 count Egyptian cotton sheets and plush pillows that practically cradled my head. No insomnia in Bangkok.

The St. Regis Bangkok opened a year ago, and from the moment you get there, its’ pure class. Huge ornate front doors open onto a cool white marble lobby. (Fun fact: it was like Bangkok Fashion Week or something while we were there and the Karen Millen show was held in the St. Regis lobby. No celebrity sightings though.)

Lobby at the St. Regis, Bangkok

You’re not allowed to lift a finger, not even to punch the elevator button to take you up to the fourth floor reception desk. Seriously, there are two hotel employees standing by the elevator to push the up button.

IMG_5306

We stayed two nights in one of the 15  Caroline Astor suites (not the one on the website, however, but still very nice, but we had normal windows, not those amazing panoramic ones on the website).

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

A long entry hallway had an entry table and a powder room before you entered the living room.

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The room was of course gorgeously decorated with beautiful Thai artwork and furniture mixed in with more modern, traditional furnishings. Everything was so plush and padded, especially the carpets and area rugs.

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Oh, and of course there were fresh flowers throughout.

Flowers in the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Flowers in the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The bedroom was similarly stunning, with a large king bed and luxurious linens and tasteful accents, including the glass base lamps and the adorable silver end tables .

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The bathroom was ridiculous – from the engraved mirrors above the double sinks to the rainshower/steamer. I am a bathroom girl and I think I could have happily lived in this one. There really was no reason to leave it, except to grab some more marzipan. The tub had a pillow for crying out loud.

Bathroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Even more ridiculous was the swimming pool, which was a gorgeous black infinity pool surrounded by tropical plants and sweeping views of The Royal Bangkok Sports Club and the Bangkok skyline. Near the pool was their Elemis Spa, which smelled divine.

Pool at St. Regis, Bangkok

Bangkok Sports Club

We also took full advantage of the free wine hour, which was held in a small dark library-type bar called the Decanter.  It was quite cozy, the pours were pretty generous and there were yummy meats and cheeses.

The suites come with the St. Regis’ world class butler service, who are renowned for their packing skills. However, since we had no luggage and basically three outfits apiece, our butler Jo could only help us with reservations and directions. Jo was impeccably dressed in a three piece suit and tie each time we saw him, which is insane when you consider how unbearably hot Bangkok was. All I could think about the whole time was “how does he get to work? Does he bring his clothes separately and then change?”

And Jo staged the suite each evening, turning down the lights, putting on soft music, putting slippers by the bed, laying out robes, replacing all the towels, and putting out the above-mentioned marzipan.

Turndown at the St. Regis, Bangkok

It was all pretty surreal at first, but its’ amazing how fast you can get used to having people push the elevator button for you.  Ever since we’ve gotten back, I often find myself just standing in the elevator at work, perplexed that no one has stepped forward to take on this heavy task for me.

Now if I could just train Petunia to put my slippers by the bed for me……