Hotels

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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?

Hotel Review: Hyatt Regency Boston

Hyatt Regency Boston reviews

Since the BOS-DUB flight on Aer Lingus tonight flies out of, um, Boston, I decided to build in a day to explore this culturally rich city. As a base, I decided on the Hyatt Regency Boston.

It’s a Hyatt Category 3 hotel, meaning it’s 15,000 Gold Passport points per night, and also eligible for use with the annual free night certificate given as a perk to cardholders of the Chase Hyatt Visa.

Since I’d already redeemed my annual free night certificate earlier this year at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I redeemed 15,000 Gold Passport points.

Daily rate was $313/night

Daily rate was $313/night

This saved me $313 for a one-night stay, which means I got a value of 2.1 cents per point – and meets my 2 cents per point minimum. However, since I’m a Chase Hyatt Visa cardholder, I’ll get 20% of those points back due to a promo they have going on right now until July 31st (but you had to register by March 31st). That gives me even more value out of the points redeemed – closer to 3 cents per point. Considering how easy it is to earn Ultimate Rewards points, I consider Hyatt stays one of the best uses of Ultimate Rewards – especially with this 20% discount going on.

Getting there and check in

After getting off the Amtrak train at Boston’s South station, it was a short 10-minute walk to the Hyatt Regency. The streets in Boston drive me absolutely batty. I’m a lover of the grid. Well-planned cities like Chicago and Phoenix appeal to my sense of order greatly. I can deal with New York’s mish-mash of a kinda-sorta grid. But Boston is something else altogether.

Once I found the Hyatt Regency, I entered through the sliding glass doors. You have to take an elevator up to the lobby on the 3rd floor, and from there, you have to take another elevator up to your room. So to enter and/or exit, you always have to take two elevators. This design feature/flaw was not my favorite thing in the entire world, and I can see how it could be confusing to some.

Ground floor entrance of the Hyatt Regency Boston

Ground floor entrance of the Hyatt Regency Boston

Check-in area on the 3rd floor

Check-in area on the 3rd floor

The desk agent was very, very welcoming and acknowledged that I was Platinum with Hyatt. After just a couple of minutes, we headed up to our room.

The room

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Hotel Review: Hyatt French Quarter New Orleans

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After leaving the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, we grabbed our bags (well, I grabbed my Tumi T-Tech) and wheeled them over to the Hyatt French Quarter.

Hyatt French Quarter exterior

Hyatt French Quarter exterior

Checking in

It was the height of Mardi Gras. The day before Fat Tuesday.

All of the hotels were on a wristband system and checking them at the door. And the staff at this location could not have been any more welcoming or gracious. Especially Magen (hope I spelled her name right). She was at the check-in desk and consistently provided amazing hospitality service at every turn. Kudos to the check-in staff here!

As soon as we wheeled through the door, the concierge at the door verified that we had a reservation, and we were able to walk right up to our room within minutes. It was one of the best check-in experiences I’ve had at a hotel: fun, quick, welcoming, and thorough. Really, they couldn’t have done a better job, especially considering it was a holiday in the city.

Upon walking in, I noticed the beautiful decor, the wine bar and breakfast/cafe area, and the fact that this is a small boutique hotel of only 4 floors (a far cry from the 30+ floors at the Hyatt Regency from earlier that morning!).

Upon walking through the doors

Upon walking through the doors

View of the lobby

View of the lobby

Powdered Sugar, the cafe/breakfast area

Powdered Sugar, the cafe/breakfast area

Seating inside Powdered Sugar

Seating inside Powdered Sugar

Batch, the wine bar/cocktail lounge

Batch, the wine bar/cocktail lounge

Hotel directory - only 4 floors

Hotel directory – only 4 floors

The room

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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: Hyatt Regency New Orleans

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After arriving hella late to New Orleans, me and my partner Jay hopped in a cab and made our way into the city. A cab from MSY to the French Quarter area is $33 flat each way, just FYI.

The Hyatt Regency New Orleans is about 6 blocks from the French Quarter, where most of the “action” of that blurry string of days took place.

I made a map!

I made a map!

As you can see on the map, New Orleans is chain hotel heaven. There are properties from IHG, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood, etc.

The reason I picked this the Hyatt Regency is because I have an affinity for Hyatt, and because, over the circus that was Mardi Gras, I couldn’t find a block of consecutive days anywhere else. So, I had to move hotels – twice. But it’s good because I get to write about them now.

From my vantage point now, I liked the Hyatt Regency the best. It is a little off the well-worn French Quarter track, and isn’t particularly pedestrian friendly as it’s technically in the CBD (Central Business District), but I had no trouble getting around on foot. Might be a consideration for others, though.

Checking in

We bounced in at around 2:30pm. Check-in was supposed to be at 3pm, but judging from the constant stream of people going in and out, I could tell they might have trouble turning the rooms over so quickly.

We checked in on February 15th, and this image came to mind and made me lol:

The agent at the check-in desk told me the room wasn’t ready yet, but offered to take out bags and showed us where we could wait and grab a snack or a drink. How long would the wait be? I asked. 20 minutes. That’s nothin’. I was happy to try a New Orleans craft beer for a bit while the room got ready.

  We headed over to Borgne, the restaurant attached to the lobby. We were told that happy hour started at 3pm, but that we could order and ring everything in after 3pm. The happy hour was awesome! $3 local craft beers, $7 pitchers of sangria, $3 well drinks.   We ordered a pitcher of sangria (which was yummy and spicy), and I ordered a stout beer: the SPB Southern Prohibition Hipster Breakfast Oatmeal Stout, which is actually brewed in my home state of Mississippi. It was delish!

SPB Southern Prohibition Hipster Breakfast Oatmeal Stout - nom!

SPB Southern Prohibition Hipster Breakfast Oatmeal Stout – nom!

By the time that all went down, I went over to the check-in desk again and out room was ready by then. Perfect! So that is my check-in story. And here are some more pics.  Read More

Hotel Review: Grand Hyatt, Melbourne, Australia

Grand Hyatt Melbourne

I’ll go ahead and make this the most anti-climatic review EVAR: I loved the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne.

We came here off the heels of the InterContinental in Sydney and directly before an awesome Etihad flight that left us in the UAE, which was challenging for me, and a brief stay at the Park Inn Yas Island before heading back to the US of A, which closed our epic RTW trip that started in Fiji. Whew, that was a long sentence.

Anyway, side note, do NOT take a taxi from the airport. MEL is really far from downtown Melbourne, and a taxi was about $70USD. My eyes almost popped out of my head once we got there and I saw the price. Landing at the airport feels like you’ve arrived in the middle of the outback… and driving into the city takes a solid 45 minutes. I recommend the airport bus – it’s so much cheaper and takes just a little longer.

The Grand Hyatt is located right in downtown Melbourne, in the middle of numerous destinations, close to the water, the arts district, museums, trains, everything really…

It was a great home base for a few days in Melbourne, and as a Hyatt Category 3 property for only 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night, it is a total steal. One of those hidden gems in the system that is so worth taking advantage of.

Rooms here are often over $500 a night

Rooms here are often over $500 a night

However, since it was so centrally located, I went ahead and redeemed for a Club King room – I knew I could pop in and out of the Club Lounge for snacks and drinks throughout the day, and I wanted that breakfast! I often receive outsized value from the Club rooms, as I know I get my money’s (or points’) worth in drinks alone – especially when it is so easy to come and all day.

After paying the taxi driver, we headed into the Grand Hyatt. Checking in was a breeze. They were pleasant and helpful, and offered up details about the area, but weren’t overly long about it.

Entrance to the Grand Hyatt Melbourne

Entrance to the Grand Hyatt Melbourne

We learned that we could have breakfast in the restaurant instead of the Club Lounge for a small co-pay (I think about $20 extra), so we went ahead and added that to our room to start off with… pics will be below.

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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