Hotel Crashing: W Retreat and Spa, Vieques

The W Retreat and Spa in Vieques is like the hipster, musician boyfriend you dated way back in the day: uber-cool, way too sexy and smart for a nerd like you. Your street cred is instantly bumped up just by telling people that you are staying at such a cool, unique, and awesome “retreat.” But just like that no-good boyfriend, the W will let you down in a million different ways.

The W Vieques isn’t a bad hotel: there are a lot of great things about it. Like I said, it’s pretty hot to look at. The rooms, the grounds, the lobby, the restaurants and communal spaces are stunning.

The rooms and public areas were designed by Spanish-born Patricia Urquiola of Milan-based Studio Urquiola, and they incorporate a lot of Spanish touches like macramé lamp shades and large colorful murals. They also used a lot of reclaimed wood and local artwork, which is a nice touch. And they had some interesting unique touches like a pool table, acoustic guitars on stands, and a huge outdoor firepit that folks could sit around every night and listen to the ocean.

W Hotel, Vieques, Puerto Rico

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Hotel (and Airplane) Crashing: OpenSkies, Le Meridien Etoile

Now that we’ve wined and dined and shopped our way through Paris Poe-style, you might be wondering (or, more realistically, not) how we came to be on this fabulous last-minute trip.

Blame Travelzoo.

My travel-agent-for-life XFE and I are both signed up for Travelzoo’s weekly email deal alerts. And every week we’re tempted beyond belief by last minute deals. I guess it was only a matter of time till we succumbed.

And that’s when we first learned about OpenSkies, a subsidiary of British Airways.

OpenSkies is an all-business-class airline operating non-stop service from Newark and Dulles to Paris-Orly Airport. With only 84 passengers per flight, the 757 aircraft, which typically holds 220 passengers, is roomy and comfortable while providing privacy and personalized service.

Open Skies seat

The wide, comfortable seats recline almost completely and have extendable foot rests. It was like I was being cradled. I slept both coming and going. They also gave you these little packages with socks, eye masks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, which was very nice. And the leg room? Holy stretched legs, I couldn’t even reach the seat in front of me, which was a problem when I wanted to get one of my magazines, but as my friend Linda would say, “First World Problems.”

Can't reach

The crew provided personal in-flight entertainment systems that had games, TV shows, and lots of new movies and documentaries. Well, new to us since we never go to the movies. We watched The Hangover II on the way over (meh) and Bad Teacher (hilarious – and I’m not even a Cameron Diaz fan) on the way back. I tried to watch Midnight in Paris on the way back as well, but only confirmed my annoyance with all things Woody Allen (seriously, how is he still allowed to make movies?). I fell asleep during that one.

OpenSkies promise “freshly prepared gourmet” meals, which is a bit of a stretch (the breakfast croissant was particularly bad and less-than-fresh, ok, stale is what we’d call that), but it is probably fair to say it’s better than average airplane food, which isn’t exactly a high bar. They also promise wine, champagne and spirits, which was not a stretch and was indeed, available and free.

Open Skies to Paris dinner

OpenSkies also provided access to airport lounges where complimentary drinks, snacks and wireless internet was available. Sidenote: The lounge at Orly far surpassed the Dulles lounge in terms of snack choices. For example, they had these individual packets of marinated green olives called Oloves. Single serving, doesn’t need to be refrigerated. GENIUS. I loved them so much. When oh when will we get some of these here??

Anywho, the whole experience on OpenSkies was pretty great. We had weather problems in DC, so unfortunately, we were delayed about an hour and a half, which is unfortunate, but no fault of the airline. They came by with champagne and nuts and kept us up to date on the situation.

On the way over, my personal entertainment thingy wasn’t working, so they brought me a new one. And, my seat wouldn’t recline, but luckily, the flight wasn’t full and we were able to move to two other seats in the back to sleep. Annoying, but not a big deal.

The only glitch on our way back is that the universal plugs kept cutting in and out and XFE’s personal entertainment thingy ran out of battery juice and wouldn’t charge. They brought a new cord, but it really was just a wonky plug. If you pushed the thing in all the way, it turned red; if you left it hanging out, it turned green.

With the October special they’re advertising on their site, it’s a great deal for what you get. I would definitely fly them again.

While in Paris, we rested our weary little heads at Le Meridien Etoile, a Starwood property, naturalement.

It’s located in a nice neighborhood near the Porte Maillot metro stop and across the street from a mall that we never made it to. There were tons of little restaurants all around and the whole area had a great neighborhood vibe. It was also walking distance to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysee. And, as we discovered the second night, you could even see the Eiffel Tower from our room.

Le Meridien Etoile
View from the room.

We had a very nice room (7056), probably larger than most European hotel rooms. It was nicely decorated, very W like, with crisp white linens, modern chrome and dark sleek wood. And an odd light/art piece thingy.

Room at Le Meridien Etoile

Room at Le Meridien Etoile

The bathroom was fine, although only a shower and only a half glass partition (no shower curtain). I felt like all the cold air was coming in and all the water was splashing out! Also: the water didn’t get very hot, but admittedly, I like my showers scalding hot, so that’s more of a personal peccadillo. The toiletries were made especially for the hotel, I don’t remember the brand, and they were very pleasant. XFE, of course, brought home a stash of them. But since the only thing he bought himself in Paris was a jar of Dijon mustard, I’m prepared to humor his hotel kleptomania.

Shower at Le Meridien Etoile
We showered with this lady every day. Ah, the French.

Bathroom Le Meridien Etoile

Meridien bathroom 2

Overall, the hotel public spaces were very modern and hip with low couches and marble tables. We went into the jazz bar our first night for a nightcap and while there was no cover charge to sit at the bar, the drink prices were exorbitant (like 17 euros for a gin, and another 4 or so for the tonic), so we ended up skipping the drink and going up to our room.

Ah, and about going up to our room – the elevator makes weird noises! One morning it was running water that sounded a bit like a toilet overflowing. Other times it was birds or jungle noises. Kinda odd. We giggled every time.

All of the concierge(s? – when plural, is it with an ‘s’?) were wonderful. Very patient and helpful. We even called one when we were standing outside a club that would not let us in. They called the club, but alas, we still weren’t let in. Read my Yelp review for L’Arc for the full story on that. Not the concierge’s fault, but still very annoying. We definitely would definitely stay here again and recommend it to others. The location, staff and rooms were great.

Paris street art

This picture is apropos of nothing. Except the fact that we were walking down the street and I told XFE that we should keep our eyes open for tag art. We had seen Banksy’s documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” a few months ago and so I knew there is a lot of graffiti/tagging art in Paris. Literally, five seconds later, we looked up and saw this piece by Space Invader. Pretty awesome.

Hotel Crashing: The W Austin

Aaaannnnd, I’m back! Did you miss me? I would say I missed blogging, but that’s kind of a lie. OK, let’s just say I did miss blogging (there was plenty of brag-worthy stuff to share), but I drowned my sorrows in copious amounts of barbecue, queso, and chicken fried steak.

That’s right. There are men chopping brisket behind me.

But, my absolute favorite pain-numbing agent while I was torn away from my blog was actually a hotel.

See, unlike my little friends who just travelled on North Korea’s first cruise ship, XFE and I were ensconced in luxury at the W Hotel in Austin. And man, was it swanky. Total rock star treatment for three great nights.

The W Austin is located in the new and trendy 2nd Street district, which meant plenty of shops and eating within walking distance. We ate at two nearby places including the newly-opened and very good pizza and wine place, Coal Vines (I had an amazingly awesome pizza with ricotta and tomatoes when I arrived in Austin late Thursday night, well after regular dinner time) and the newest outpost of hipster hangout Jo’s coffeeshop (I can only vouch for the chorizo breakfast tacos – decent, not great).

XFE also ate at Lambert’s (without me that Thursday night), but was disappointed. He’s become quite the brisket snob, and thought that while the crust on Lambert’s brisket was good, there wasn’t enough smoke on the meat. In case you were curious.

But back to the W. Thanks to XFE and his platinum Starwood status, we got upgraded to a “cool corner” suite, which has three rooms – a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom with large Jacuzzi tub, separate shower stall and enclosed toilet.

Cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin

Design wise, everything had a very cool Western-bohemian aesthetic, with a few nice Austin music touches throughout. There were lots of tufted leather ottomans with oversized hammered silver trays on top of them, tastefully embroidered curtains, and colorful accent pillows on the large gray velvet sectional in the living room. The artwork on the wall reflected the fact that Austin City Limits has a new studio on the property, with pictures of musicians on the walls. The 52-inch TV in the living room was ridiculous.

Cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin

But perhaps the best part of the corner room was the views. Our corner suite looked out over the rapidly changing downtown landscape and nearby Town Lake. Oh, and that view? It was also available from the Jacuzzi tub.

Cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin

Cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin

The toiletries, as with all the W’s we’ve stayed at were Bliss products. Nice extra amenities I hadn’t seen before included individually-wrapped loofah sponges and eye-makeup remover. The bathroom vanity had a mirror with a cool white design etched along the edges that I would totally have stolen if it wasn’t so large. Also, the silvery textured wallpaper was super glamorous. My only quibble with the bathroom was that they just had a regular old shower head in the glass shower. I was expecting one of those rain shower thingies. It just seemed odd to go standard when everything else had been bumped up.

View from the cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin
View from the cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin

We did use the gym one day – it was huge and very nice. Everything you could possibly need and then some. I did wish the treadmills had fans on them, though. The large windows let in a lot of sunlight and I got pretty sweaty, but that’s par for the course with me.

Since we’ve both been to Austin a few times now (and are returning again in October), we spent most of our down time at the pool, instead of running around town. The pool was unbelievable. Just gorgeous. We had it pretty much all to ourselves on Friday, but it was definitely crowded on Saturday. Lots of beautiful people the likes of which I never encountered in my seven years of living in Austin. The pool area also had great waitresses like Dawn who were willing to bring you nice tall mojitoes that went down pretty smooth in the 100-degree heat (but it’s a dry heat!). The security guy checking the list at the pool entrance is probably pretty necessary (I bet a lot of interlopers try to get in there), but the neon green wristbands seemed a bit much. Like we were going to the club or something.

Pool at the W Hotel Austin
Pool at the W Hotel Austin

Speaking of clubs, the downstairs bar areas were jammed packed while we were there. Again, with the types of people I’ve never seen in Austin. It looked like a “Most Eligible Dallas” in that place. We stopped by the one of the three bar-type areas that made up “The Living Room” each night, but only for one drink. It was pretty dark and crowded and service was (understandably) hit or miss.

With so many great restaurants in Austin, we did not eat at the W’s restaurant, Trace, but a quick look at the menu definitely has my curiosity piqued.

Overall, the entire staff from valets to check-in managers was great, and efficient. I look forward to our next stay at the W for the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. I have a feeling that after all the eating we’ll be doing, we’ll need that extra large oversized bathtub.