Monday, December 10, 2012

"Out of Africa" Day 2: Cape Town to Stellenbosch

(This is the second post in my "Out of Africa" series.  Due to a serious foot injury, I had to cancel my plans for this trip.  However, I will present this blog as if the trip had happened according to the itinerary.)
 
DAY 2: Friday, November 30, 2012
 
I arrived yesterday and spent the day at the Mount Nelson Hotel, but the official tour started last night at the Townhouse Hotel, in Cape Town.  Today is Friday, and it was a busy, but delightful and thrilling introduction Africa.  Here’s a 360o panorama view of Cape Town and our first destination this morning, Table Mountain.
 
We took a cable car to the top.  Wheee!!  The view was spectacular!
 
 
 
 
 
Next, a city tour of Cape Town ended up at the waterfront for a progressive-style lunch, with starters at the Greek Fisherman...

 
Main dish at City Grill...
 

And dessert at Meloncino:

 
Following lunch we left Cape Town for picturesque Stellenbosch.  Stellenbosch is one of the oldest cities in South Africa and the center of the Cape Winelands.  There we toured the Van Ryn's Brandy Distillery, dating from 1845, and enjoyed some brandy tasting.  Yum!
 
 
The dinner and accommodations for Friday night were outstanding.  They were on the outskirts of Stellenbosch at the beautiful Lanzerac  Hotel & Spa sitting amid its 383 acres of gardens and vineyards, with a backdrop of the Helderberg Mountains.  I appreciated its authentic Cape Dutch architecture and classic decor.
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A beautiful venue for a quiet, Friday-night dinner.
 
 
 
 
It would have been nice to have had more time to explore the property, but there’s much to see on this trip, so off we must go!
 
(The three Table Mountain and cable car photos are from Wikipedia.  All other photos are from their prospective official websites.)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

SOUTH AFRICA: Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town


The term “Out of Africa” has come to have new meaning for me.  You see, right at this very moment, I was supposed to be in Africa, and but for a nasty foot injury I would now be on a two-week trip touring South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.  It was a big disappointment to have to cancel my first trip to that continent, but there’s no reason not to take the trip vicariously and to share it.
 
After two back-to-back red-eyes (first from Los Angeles to London, then from London to Cape Town), I would arrive at 7:00 a.m. and be whisked off to the Mount Nelson Hotel. 
 
I have travelled a great deal in the world ... but my favourite hotel is the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town"
— Sir Laurens van der Post

 
To put the above quote into context, the late Sir Laurens was, among many other things, a political adviser to British heads of government and godfather of Prince William.  So in keeping with that glowing recommendation, the ScheckTrek pick for accommodations in Cape Town, South Africa, is the Mount Nelson.

 

(Photo from Orient-Express.com)

I didn’t look forward to the flights, but did relish the idea of arriving at that renowned hotel—soaking in a hot tub, perhaps slipping between some luxurious sheets for a short nap, and following up with plenty of picture taking.

(Photo from Orient-Express.com)

 
 
 (Photo from Expedia)

 
A friend who’d lived in South Africa told me I had to have afternoon tea there—that tea at the Mount Nelson is an institution—so reservations were set for 2:30.
 
(Photo from Orient-Express.com)

 

(Photo from Orient-Express.com)

 
I wouldn’t be staying for dinner.  My visit to the Mount Nelson would be for only 8 daytime hours, just a preamble to the Ntaba tour for travel agents that I would be joining later in the afternoon.  For all the excitement that tour promised, the pace would be a demanding one: the next 11 nights would be spent in 10 different hotels.  But since I love seeing different hotels, that would be a treat for me!
 
More on that next time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Luxury Waikiki Hotels


You've got to admit, Waikiki is seriously cool.


Woody wagon in Waikiki


Al and I went separate ways one day on Oahu so he could do some testosterone touring (spending the whole day seeing the sights at Pearl Harbor), while I took the opportunity to check out three luxury hotels on Waikiki: the Royal Hawaiian, the Moana-Surfrider, and the Halekulani.


This is the third in our series of Hawaii hotels.  The first was the 5-star Kahala (about 15 minutes from Waikiki), followed by the 3-1/2 star Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, with its great views.  The following three are sort of a cross between the two: they’re luxury hotels, but unlike The Kahala, they’re right in Waikiki.





ROYAL HAWAIIAN

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel


The Royal Hawaiian (a.k.a. “Pink Palace,” a.k.a. “Grand Dame of Waikiki”) was completed in 1927 at a cost of $4 million.  This pink stucco icon of Waikiki Beach is of Spanish-Moorish architecture, said to be influenced by screen star Rudolph Valentino, who was popular at the time.  Early guests of the Royal Hawaiian arrived by sea, often with numerous steamer trunks for extended stays, and sometimes accompanied by servants and even Rolls Royces!  It’s still a nice property, but these days, drivers of Kias are also welcome.  It is, however, a good idea to like pink! 



Wonderful architectural details in the balconies
at the Royal Hawaiian






One of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's open-air lobbies




Umbrella tables with wicker chairs at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel




Beach cabana at the Royal Hawaiian




MOANA-SURFRIDER

Fleur-de-lis-studded facade of the Moana-Surfrider Hotel


The Royal Hawaiian may be thought of as the Grand Dame of Waikiki, but the title of “First Lady of Waikiki” goes to the Moana-Surfrider, which opened its doors a quarter-century earlier, in 1901.  One of the landmarks at the hotel is the 100+ year old banyan tree in the courtyard.  It’s 75’ high, with a span of 150’. 

The hotel was done in a delightful mixture of Old World styles.


Detail of the turn-of-the century architecture
at the Moana-Surfrider





Brass letter box in the lobby of the Moana-Surfrider




Ionic capitals in the lobby of the Moana-Surfrider





Rest and relaxation on the Moana-Surfrider’s front porch





Bride (one of many in Waikiki) on stairs of the Moana-Surfrider





HALEKULANI

The Halekulani


Of all the hotels I stayed at or scouted out on Oahu, The Kahala was the most luxurious and the most secluded.  That seclusion was aided by the fact that it was a 15-minute drive from Waikiki, which may or may not be considered a plus.

If one wanted to be right in the thick of things on Waikiki, but still have the sense of somewhat being away from the throngs of the area, the ScheckTrek pick would be the Halekulani.  One of the things I love about the Halekulani, in addition to its beautiful location and views, is that there are a lot of nooks and crannies and lounges and places to explore—and they aren’t already full of people.  It provides a feeling of space in Waikiki Beach, and that’s saying something!




The beautiful La Mer restaurant at Halekulani

By the time I reached the Halekulani, I was ready for lunch.  By happy serepdipity, I found that Orchids (Halekulani’s all-day restaurant) had closed for remodeling, and La Mer (their AAA 5-diamond restaurant) was serving from Orchids’ menu for lunch.  So while the food was good, it might not have been 5-diamond.  However, the price was less, and my meal was served in a 5-diamond setting—and setting always trumps the food for me!  What a treat it was to eat there!
 


The view from my table at Halekulani’s La Mer






Champagne lunch at La Mer, at the Halekulani






Bird thief caught in the act at the open-air La Mer restaurant


I enjoyed exploring the relatively (this is Waikiki) peaceful grounds of the Halekulani.



"Hidden" nook at the Halekulani

I assume this private sitting area goes with a ground-floor suite at the Halekulani.  The pottery piece is the fountain you’ll see in the next photo.
 


Bathing cuties at the Halekulani






Pool area at the Halekulani






Brides, brides everywhere in Waikiki!





Day-time view of House Without A Key, with its century-old Kiawe tree


House Without A Key gets very busy as evening approaches, as it's considered the best place in Waikiki for cocktails. There's live Hawaiian music, and former Miss Hawaiis perform hula dancing.



House Without A Key has entertainment during the
cocktail hour and into the evening.





Mai Tai with an orchid—better than an umbrella drink!





After dinner with my hubby and friends at House Without A Key








Sunset on our evening of cocktails and dinner at
House Without A Key, at the Halekulani



And so ends our tour of Waikiki.  Next time, the Big Island!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel

Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel

Last week we covered the uber-5-star Kahala Resort, located a 15-minute drive (but worlds away) from Waikiki.  This, the second in our series of Hawaii hotels, will present the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel (AWBH), pictured above, which we’d booked for a travel group we organized for Waikiki.  It served our purposes extremely well, and we came to understand, first-hand, why the hotel has a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor.  It’s very well managed, and that was something that, as a travel advisor and event planner, I was thankful for every day.



The really special thing about the AWBH is its location and its outstanding views!  As one man in the group said, “When I can be directly across the street from the beach and have this kind of view, why do I need to keep spending $500 a night in Waikiki?  I’m going to come back here!”



What kind of view was he talking about?  Here’s the Diamond Head side:

Diamond Head, as seen from the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel


In the interest of full disclosure, I did frame the photo to cut out most of the ugly roof of the next hotel.  Obviously, the lower floors would have part of the good view obstructed.



If I pan to the right from the same room:

Diamond Head and ocean views from room #2522 of the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel



If I pan further right still:
Beach and ocean views from the balcony of room #2522 at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel



Keep in mind, room #2522 at the AWBH is only a “partial ocean-view room.”  By way of comparison, at The Kahala, which I reviewed last week, this was the view from a partial ocean-view room (which goes for $660/night):

Partial ocean view from room #906 at The Kahala


The Kahala is a fabulous resort, and I would recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to go there should do so.  But I must give credit where it is due.  The AWBH is a moderately-priced hotel, and the views—even from a partial ocean-view room—are amazing! 



Here’s what it looks like from a junior suite, room #2527, on the other side of the hotel (still not an ocean-front room):

View toward Waikiki from junior suite #2527 at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel



View from the balcony of junior suite #2527 at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel

Couldn’t you stare at that water forever?


So, wonderful as it was to look out and see Diamond Head, the next time we think we’ll book a junior suite on the other side of the hotel.  Another advantage to the Waikiki side is that our balcony on the Diamond Head side was very narrow—just the depth of a small side chair (which I could barely move from the room onto the balcony).  The Waikiki side had standard-depth balconies, and the junior suite we saw had two of them!  Either way, I suggest booking through a travel agent who’ll go to bat for you to get a high floor, as that will make a big difference in your view.



One of the nice features at the AWBH was their “Breakfast on the Beach.”


"Breakfast on the Beach" at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel


One of these bags was waiting in our room (a second was available on request), and each morning we filled it up at the poolside continental breakfast buffet.  The selection was plenteous, but for those who really wanted an omelet, they were available on a cooked-to-order basis for a very reasonable charge.



Want to try a purple-poi-filled goodie for breakfast at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel?





“Breakfast on the Beach,” er, around the pool at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel





I suppose some people took their bags to the beach, but we joined the many others who preferred to sit around the pool and enjoy the live music and hula dancing.



Hula dancer, poolside at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel



One morning, Elvis even joined us!

“Elvis” at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel



What’s the catch? you ask.  Free breakfast, great location (on the quieter end, relatively speaking, of Waikiki Beach), fantastic views—and yet, it’s moderately priced. 



Hmm, the d├ęcor is, well...


Room #2522 at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel



I don’t quite get the bold red and white action in the bedding (which appears nowhere else in the room or bathroom)—combined with yellow walls (bright yellow in the bathroom), gold draperies, and black-and-brown sort of tiki-patterned carpeting.  The overall effect of the sleeping room, especially, was somewhat dark and dingy-looking—other than the bed (which certainly wasn’t!). 





Bathroom of guest room #2522 at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel


The shower curtain picked up some yellow with its palm-tree print (another theme that’s repeated nowhere else). 



I think once the hotel invests some money into updating the guest rooms with some lighter, fresher colors, we could see the room rates take quite a hike.  So if you prefer a bargain, go before they do it!  And in the meantime, no problem: don’t focus on the room, just look at the view!