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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu St. Helen’s, Dublin

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Ireland was my last hurrah with the Club Carlson program, which is now dead to me.

After leaving the Radisson Blu in Limerick and kissing the Blarney Stone, we drove into the city of Cork, and then looped back up to Dublin to stay our final night at the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s in Dublin.

Arrival and check-in

The hotel is located in an area that is rez. ee. dent. shul. OK?

That means that traffic is terrible at rush hours, because people are going to or from work.

It’s about 3 miles (~Whatever kilometers) from Dublin proper, but there is free parking in a huge lot right in front of the hotel. For late night escapades, you can easily get a taxi to the city center and back.

The reason I chose this location was because:

  • It was a new property for me
  • It was near the M1 which goes right to the airport
  • The property looked gorgeous

Because I had an early-ish flight back to Boston on Aer Lingus, I wanted to hop right on the highway and get outta there.

I knew the traffic would be bad, and I budgeted time for that, but wow. It was really bad. We were stuck on the same 3-block stretch for over 20 minutes.

Anyway, arrival and check-in.

We parked in the rain after a lovely day in Cork, and walked in.

You’re instantly transported to some other era, where opulent mansions still exist.

Upon opening the door to the Radisson Blu St. Helen's

Upon opening the door to the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s

Indeed, this property is a 1700s estate converted into a hotel. And it is lovely.

The desk agents checked us in within a few minutes and told us how to climb through a maze and get to our room.

Hallways of the Radisson Blu St. Helen's

Hallways of the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s

Again, no upgrade to a business class room, but we figured we’d eat in the lounge at DUB and then again on the flight over. So whatever. Ireland was 50/50 with the upgrades for Gold status elites in the Club Carlson program (through the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature which is now deep in a sock drawer and will never be used again).

The room

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu, Limerick

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After an underwhelming experience at the Radisson Blu in Galway, we hopped in our rental car and drove the ~2 hours to Limerick.

Through Shannon to Limerick

Through Shannon to Limerick

It was a pretty easy drive, except for the zillion confusing roundabouts.  And the fact that I don’t really know how I got to the Radisson Blu in Limerick other than dumb luck and some hairpin turns.

It’s literally one weird turn off the highway and then a narrow road into a parking lot that also randomly has a hotel in it. There seemed to be nothing around, but apparently it was only 15 minutes into downtown Limerick.

We didn’t end up going into the city because there was a marathon going on that day. Traffic was terrible and there was no parking. Instead, we drove to Killarney National Park for a day trip (though I could’ve spent several days there).

In a forest in Killarney #Ireland

A photo posted by Harlan Vaughn (@harlanvaughn) on

Anyway, we got to the Radisson Blu in Limerick and had a bite to eat and put our things down before we left again. But it was a fine crash pad.

Irish beers at the bar

Irish beers at the bar

Arrival and check-in

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu, Galway

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After getting the rental car out of the tiny garage at the Radisson Blu Royal in Dublin, I used Google maps to guide me out of the city and onto the highway that would take us the short drive into Galway (a little over 2 hours).

A pretty straightforward drive across Ireland's midsection

A pretty straightforward drive across Ireland’s midsection

We’d heard really mixed reviews about Galway, and were excited to explore the town for ourselves.

All was going smoothly until the home stretch into the city of Galway.

Arrival and check-in

The city is changing the entire flow of traffic, and the directions I’d pulled up were no longer accurate. One-ways were rerouted, or closed, and the road that the Radisson Blu is on (Lough Atalia) had horrible traffic. I had to figure out the reroute while driving on the left side, in a city I’d never been to… and I had to pee so bad OMG.

The roundabouts are the worst.

We finally got parked at the Radisson Blu after a few false turns. As soon as I got in, I found the bathroom, then went to check in.

There was some sort of convention there I guess, as there were all these teenagers draped and strewn about all over the lobby. But we checked in relatively quickly and the desk agent was beyond nice.

Again, we were upgraded to a “Business Class” room which included free breakfast.

Hallways of the Radisson Blu Galway

Hallways of the Radisson Blu Galway

The hotel is about a 10-minute walk from the pedestrian area of town where most of the shops and restaurants are concentrated. From there, it’s another 10-minute walk to the other side of the River Corrib where the “real” Galway is located – lots of authentic pubs and shops over there.

The room

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Special Guest Review: Exploring Ireland’s Radisson Properties

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My partner Jay wrote an article about our hotel stays at the Radissons of Ireland. I’m still working on full reviews of all the properties – they’ll be posted soon.

I thought it might be nice to read a different viewpoint and hear a new voice. Jay recently opened the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature card (pre-devaluation) and is still getting the hang of this points and miles business. So our trip to Ireland trip really was a last hurrah with Club Carlson – for both of us.

Ireland is Club Carlson HEAVEN, by the way. They have hotels in every major Irish city (see map below). It’s really too bad that not only are BOGO award nights going away, but categories are going up, AND the free night certificate they give after $10,000 in spend is only good in the United States.

Anyway, I’m also working a few new articles for the What to Do series. I’d definitely welcome other guest writers that would like to share their viewpoints about the best places to stay, where to eat, and how to get to your neck of the woods. Feel free to email if you’re interested – I’d love to learn about new places!

Without further ado, take it away, Jay!


We stayed at almost 50% of the Radissons in Ireland (4 out of 9)!

Our Radisson/Club Carlson Circuit

In order, we stayed at:

  1. Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dublin
  2. Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa Galway
  3. Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa Limerick
  4. Radisson Blu St. Helen’s Hotel Dublin

That’s a lot of Radisson!

Blu Royal, Dublin

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Royal, Dublin

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Getting there and checking in

After flying into DUB and picking up the rental car at the airport, we drove down into the City Centre of Dublin (you can take the N1 the entire way there).

With a little huge amount of help from Google Maps, I navigated my way toward the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Dublin. There is a small parking facility attached to the hotel with a discounted rate of 10 Euros per night – which is a steal to park for 24 hours – so I parked there and went to check in.

The check-in could not have been any better. Francois, the desk agent, was so kind, welcoming, knowledgable, and professional (he’s the French one – his words!). He recommended a few good places in the area and we chatted a bit about Dublin. After a few minutes, we were all set with an upgraded Business Class room that included free breakfast. Sweet!

Check-in area at the Radisson Royal Blu Dublin

Check-in area at the Radisson Royal Blu Dublin

Restaurant on the ground floor

Restaurant on the ground floor

Lobby seating

Lobby seating

The hotel bar where they serve O'Haras stout beer - yum!

The hotel bar where they serve O’Haras stout beer – yum! (Sorry about the blur!)

The property is beautiful. It’s clean, bright, and airy inside with lots of really nice touches. Definitely one of the nicer Radisson hotels I’ve stayed in.

The room

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Club Carlson: Dead to Me

Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

Forgive the histrionic title.

I tried hard to be a Club Carlson fanboy for a long while. I Club Carlson-ed my way through Europe last year, stayed at their resort in Fiji, and just came off a trip to Ireland where I stayed in four Club Carlson properties (Ireland is Club Carlson heaven).

I’ve always considered Club Carlson to be my auxiliary program, after Hyatt, but their prices and properties have been so aligned with my travels recently that you’d think they were primary.

They were the little hotel loyalty program that could. But now it seems, and in the words of my Mom, that they’ve gotten too big for their britches.

After the recent round of devaluations, it’s kinda like… um, you have some nice properties but you’re not all that great. Now their award chart is Hiltonesque, and so is the sudden about-face from generous to… what’s the word I want to use here? Brash?

I’ve already shoved my Club Carlson Visa Signature card in a drawer. The plan is to get the 40K anniversary bonus and then cancel it. Within a week, I went from being one of Club Carlson’s biggest cheerleaders to where I am now – a hater! I won’t mess with their program any more. It falls into the realm of “not worth it.”

The future

My hotel strategy moving forward will be Hyatt as a primary program and IHG as a backup for when Hyatt isn’t available. I never got into Starwood and honestly don’t see why others trip over themselves to earn that 1 Starpoint per dollar with the SPG Amex.

The reason Club Carlson got themselves into a huge devaluation is because they printed Gold Points left and right. Even still, 70,000 points for one night in a European Radisson? No way. And with $10,000 of spend on the co-branded credit card, I get 1 free night – but it has to be in one of their sub-par US properties? I’d rather run that money through a 2% cashback card and get $200 back – which is about how much a night in a US property would cost.

Speaking of companies printing too much of their points currency… American’s AAdvantage program is gearing up to devalue in 2016 it seems like. They are giving out wayyyy too many miles this year. #predictions #Nostradamus

Bottom line

There’s been so much spilled ink typed words about Club Carlson’s devaluation recently that I thought I’d throw my hat in as well.

While in Ireland this past week, I absolutely loved the Radisson Blu Royal in downtown Dublin. It was bittersweet, though, because I felt like I was having a last hurrah with Club Carlson.

Easy come, easy go. The free award night from having their credit card, and the reasonable redemption rates, were what put Club Carlson on my radar. Before that, I’d never even stayed at a Radisson. And from here on out, I don’t foresee myself messing with Club Carlson’s now-stingy and untrustworthy program too much more. Maybe just to burn the points that are left in there.

Is anyone else moving on from Club Carlson right about now? Are their recent devaluations – arguably overdue – a deal breaker for the entire program?

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Beke Hotel, Budapest, Hungary

Dang, I am behind on my posts.

I should continue my “Get Me to NOLA” saga, think some more about my best advice or write more about what to do in Iceland (the plan is to cover the entire perimeter of the island, in parts).

But then I realized I have still left out parts of Eurotrip 2014 after reading Travel is Free’s awesome review of the Radisson Blu Beke in Budapest this morning. I stayed at this hotel too and wanted to contribute my review and photos, because I’d argue that the room I stayed in looked even more 1970s than theirs.


Getting there

I went to the Radisson Blu Beke Hotel in Budapest in early October of 2014, right after staying at the Park Inns in Munich and Vienna.

Screenshot 2015-03-05 12.14.15I got out at BUD after flying in from VIE on an Austrian flight, paid for with 15,000 United miles. I’d already researched how to take public transportation and went to buy a bus and train ticket at the tourist desk in the airport. I walked out, hung a right, and the bus was already waiting there. I didn’t understand the announcements and relied on Google Maps to show me where to get off. Then, I took the train and got out at the bus and train terminal near the Radisson Blu Beke, and walked there in about 10 minutes.

Check-in

I found the check-in process to be really pleasant, actually. I was checked in by the assistant manager of the hotel, as I arrived in the middle of a tour group coming in, and he seemed to be supervising and helping with the overflow. Even with dozens of people in line, I was checked in in about 10 minutes, which was blazing fast, considering.

While in line, I looked around and noticed a bar attached to the lobby, and made a mental note to check it out. Along with my room key, the assistant manager gave me a coupon for a buy-one-get-one drink, which was a nice touch. It definitely did its job of getting me into the bar.

He also acknowledge my Gold status with Club Carlson and told me I’d been upgraded to a suite… sweet!

The room

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Hotel Review: Park Inn by Radisson, Abu Dhabi Yas Island, UAE

I stayed here as part of my RTW trip last year, following a superb flight on Etihad in Pearl Business class from MEL-AUH. South Pacific to the Middle East on Etihad using American AAdvantage miles is a sweet spot. For the 14 hour flight, they only charge 45,000 AAdvantage miles each way. That is a crazy steal of a deal on an amazing product.

I was also able to somehow convince United to let me drop CAI-JFK on Egyptair (which is a dry airline) in favor of Lufthansa AUH-FRA-JFK, which were pretty decent (and very “wet”) flights. It left us with an 18-hour gap to fill, and we didn’t want to stay in the airport the entire time. I poked around and decided to pay $90 for the layover at the Park Inn Yas Island. 18 hours would be plenty of time to sleep, eat, take a dip in the pool, shower, and get back to the airport.

So right when we landed, we found the chauffeur desk at AUH and took a car to the Park Inn, courtesy of Etihad (I believe the chauffeur service has since been discontinued on award bookings).

Etihad chauffeur desk

Etihad chauffeur desk

That photo encapsulates the whole experience I had that day: kind of a blur.

I did one of those where I showed up and crashed into the bed without taking pics first (bad blogger!), then woke up in a haze to a cloudy day and decided to catch up on email rather than swim.

Check in desk

Check in desk

Walkway to elevators

Walkway to elevators

When we got to the hotel, it was still the middle of the night. We were dead tired, but the check-in agent was fast and kind, and we veritably collapsed into the separate twin beds.

Hallways

Hallways

The room

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu, Terme di Galzignano, Italy

After arriving in Venice on Swiss from ZRH, I picked up the rental car and set about orienting myself in the direction of Padova (Padua), Italy.

I went to Italy for my “round” birthday. After reading up on Venice, I made the executive decision to stay off site at the Radisson Blu in Terme di Galzignano. I wanted the freedom to spend a day or two in Venice, and then drive down to Florence if I wanted. I also wanted to see some of the Italian countryside, and it seemed like the resort was well-situated for day trips in multiple directions. And so it was.

My boyfriend and I booked 4 nights. We both have the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature, and both used our BOGO award night for 2 nights each.

We booked a “Superior Room” for 57,000 Club Carlson Gold Points for each 2-night block.

Premium room award rate

Premium room award rate

Premium Room description

Premium Room description

But why the Superior Room? 

We are both Gold in the Club Carlson program, wifi is free at all of their hotels, and for what’s it worth, breakfast is included in every room rate here. I might’ve even scored an upgrade to this room, owing to my status.

I just didn’t want to chance it. It was my birthday trip, and I wanted to be assured of my room choice before I got there.

The normal booking rate is 38,000 Gold Points, so we paid the extra 19,000 points to have our room preference locked in. Plus, I wanted to make sure I had the view of the hills. It was admittedly a purely emotional decision, and probably not the smartest, but I feel like for special occasions it’s worth it to have the peace of mind.

And also, Club Carlson points are just so easy to earn. So I never really overthink my redemptions with this program.

Getting there and first impressions

Dear lord, driving in Italy just about gave me a brain aneurysm – the highways are so poorly signed. Even though Padova was a “straight shot” on the map, in actuality, it required about half a dozen exits, each one leaving me second guessing for miles (or kilos) if I’d done the right thing.

The route to Radisson Blu

The route to Radisson Blu

When we finally got onto the one correct highway, I saw a series of (tiny) signs pointing toward the next turn, until finally, after about a hour, we were at the Radisson Blu.

It is very isolated. There is nothing going on in the hamlet of Terme di Galzignano.

There was another tiny town nearby, Battaglia Terme, that had a couple of restaurants and not much more.

Parking was easy outside of the Radisson Blu, and we went inside to check-in. It was a beautiful, sunny day and right away, the resort felt welcoming and friendly.

The agent checking us in spoke little English and we don’t speak Italian, so it involved a huge variety of hand movements, but after a few minutes, we had our room keys. He wrote down the phone number to the hotel office and indicated that they spoke English if we needed anything. Despite the language barrier, we understood that they recognized our Gold status, combined our reservations, and were fine to let us keep the same room all 4 nights.

Then we headed up to Room 306.

The room

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Hotel Review: Park Inn by Radisson Danube, Bratislava

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As part of Eurotrip 2014, I found myself in the position of being on a train to Bratislava, Slovakia.

I suppose stranger things have happened

I suppose stranger things have happened

Once there, me and my friend Angie got out of the train station, hopped in a cab, and promptly got scammed by a cabbie with a hot meter. Between that and the somewhat griminess of the train station, I was kinda definitely thinking, “What the hell did I get myself into?”

However, I am happy to report, I ultimately found Bratislava to be a progressive city, one rebuilding itself, modernizing in the right ways, and moving full-force into new and diverse industries. The atmosphere of the city was energetic. I could feel the momentum and drive in the air, which was wonderful.

And aside from that one cab driver, everyone else was completely kind and even eager to talk. I also saw lots of tourists, which apparently Club Carlson hasn’t caught onto yet, because the Park Inn by Radisson Danube is a mere Category 1, requiring just 9,000 Gold Points for two award nights (if you have the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature card).

The Park Inn by Radisson Danube shares a space with lots of vendors on the ground/retail floor, but it’s fairly obvious where it’s located – at the base of a little square, nearest to the river. I had to look for the sign and wasn’t sure exactly where I was going, but I went with it and ended up at the right place (the taxi driver only gave vague hand motions and spoke no English so I wandered away after being scammed for 20 Euros – grrr).

Check-in was very routine. I was placed in a “Business room.” The agent acknowledged my Gold status and thanked me for staying. Then I headed to the elevator and up to my room.

The room

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What is Club Carlson Visa’s annual 40K Gold Points bonus worth?

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I’ve said over and over that I think the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature card is one of the best for everyday, non-bonused spend. In addition to 5 Gold Points per dollar on every purchase, you also get buy-one-get-one-free award bookings, and an annual bonus of 40,000 Gold Points by renewing the card – which is $75 per year.

Got my annual 40K Gold Points bonus!

Got my annual 40K Gold Points bonus!

My bonus posted a couple of days ago and got me thinking: what is the annual bonus actually worth? Or rather, what could it be worth? After Club Carlson-ing my way through Europe a few months ago, I can firmly say, “a lot.” But I like putting numbers and values to things, and hence this post was born.

Club Carlson has an awesome online interactive tool where you can filter hotels by category… which is pretty sweet. They currently have Categories 1-7, but for this post, I’m only going to focus on 1-5.

Category 1

This category can get you 8 free nights at Club Carlson properties.

How?

With the buy-one-get-one (BOGO), you pay just 9,000 Gold Points for every 2 nights. Even if you book 8 nights at Category 1 hotels, you’d still have 4,000 points left over – and realistically if you stay 8 nights in a hotel, you’ll get 5,000 more from room charges (make sure to charge everything to your room at Club Carlson properties, because with the card you get 30 POINTS PER DOLLAR20 points per dollar for being Gold + 10 more points per dollar for using the credit card – which is insanely awesome!). And then you could book 10 free nights. 🙂

A few Category 1 properties that jump out at me are:

8 nights in Sofia would run you ~$500

8 nights in Sofia would run you ~$500

8 nights in Bratislava would also run you ~$500

8 nights in Bratislava would also run you ~$500

This is a pretty sparse category, but if you are in the right place at the right time, it could really be a boon.

Category 2

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Resort Fiji Denarau Island

From the way overdue files… 

To NAN

As part of my epic RTW trip, my first two segments were JFK-LAX in American First Class, then LAX-NAN (Nadi, Fiji) on Fiji Airways (formerly Air Pacific) in economy.

You know, I gotta say… it was about an 11 hour flight time, an overnight flight. Even though the seats didn’t recline, it really wasn’t that bad. The seats were spacious for economy, there was great IFE, and they served meals and snacks.  I wadded up a hoodie and tried to fall asleep as best as I could, considering.

I knew going into it to set my expectations low, but the flight was actually pretty comfortable. The cabins had great colors and were designed well, the flight attendants were personable, the food wasn’t amazing but at least they served us full meals, and I can’t complain too much about the economy seat, honestly.

And when the plane door opened up in Fiji, I felt my lungs and skin instantly moisten from the humid Pacific air. I’d been in a particularly frigid New York winter with too much dry radiator heat and the humidity was so welcome and wonderful.

It’s always an odd feeling to walk around in a tropical place holding full winter regalia, but I was happy to be in Fiji for the first time. Very… island.

Booking the room

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