Sunday, February 27, 2011

Las Vegas

I guess it’s fair to say there’s no place quite like Las Vegas. When I’m there I like to check out as many hotels as possible. Does anyone who’s reading this know whether there’s a place on earth that has as many 5-star resorts in such close proximity as Las Vegas does? If so, please share it with us!

I was in Vegas a little over a week ago for the Travel Weekly convention. There’s always so much information at these shows – whether from seminars or vendors – and then when you add to it the dizzying visuals of Vegas…!! Well, let’s just say that the latter had my camera snapping 400 times in 4 days. (That’s quite a bit considering most of the time I was in seminars and not using it!)

This blog post will take us on a brief tour of the Trump International Las Vegas, Aria, the brand new Cosmopolitan, the Wynn, and the Palazzo. As more photos get edited and put on Flickr, I’ll add links to the remaining albums.

Trump Las Vegas
I stayed in the 64-story Trump Hotel, with its 24-carat gold-tinted, floor-to-ceiling windows. A 5-star hotel, the Trump is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. It is completely non-smoking and doesn’t have a casino, which makes for a pleasant—and certainly quieter—environment. The service was unfailingly gracious. Unlike at some of the casino hotels—even the 5-star ones—I never felt like just another body they were trying to move through.

Though the Trump has only one major restaurant, plus one by the pool, the front door is across a small side street from the Nordstrom entrance to a shopping mall, which has the usual mall-assortment of eating establishments. It’s probably a one-minute walk.

There are a lot of crystals and polished brass in the lobby, but the rooms had a quieter sophistication to them.

The hotel’s studio suites (the smallest rooms) are 635 square feet, with beautiful built-ins and a kitchenette boasting Wolf, Bosch and Sub-Zero appliances.

Its 500-thread-count Bellini sheets were the best I’ve ever slept in.

The black rectangle in the mirror is a TV.  A huge shower and toilet stall were on the left.

A plus/minus of the hotel are the rooms’ double-door entries (not pictured). They look impressive. When I first approached my room number, I was really excited about the upgrade I thought I must have received. Opening the (very heavy) door, I found it led to a marble-floored vestibule, which actually served two rooms, not just mine. The first door slammed shut and a second (very heavy) door led to my room.

On the plus side, I suppose the double doors cut down on chatter-type noise from the hall. On the negative side, they were almost impossible to close quietly, so when people were coming and going, you heard twice as many loud slams as usual. Also, if you ever have nightmares about rooming next door to Jack the Ripper, you might want to choose another hotel.

Click here for more photos I took at the Trump Las Vegas.

The trade show was at Aria, a 4,000-room hotel and casino which is part of the new CityCenter. Like the Trump, it’s another 5-star hotel, but definitely more understated in its elegance. It is contemporary, very creative, and sculptural.

Aria is all about the angles.

Click here for more photos from Aria.

CityCenter: Crystals
Another part of CityCenter is Crystals, an ultra-upscale shopping mall. I don’t know what the food is like at Mastro’s Ocean Club, but I could really enjoy eating there!

The Wynn got a lot of publicity when it was built because of its $2.7 billion price tag. Covering 215 acres, it is considered one of the finest hotels in the world, with Five-Star ratings from Mobil, Forbes and Michelin, and a Five-Diamond rating from AAA.

I think it’s one of my favorite Las Vegas hotels for its happy-feeling décor.

When I saw all the trims on the draperies, I understood why the hotel cost $2.7 billion. Have you priced that stuff(!)?

To my mother’s way of thinking, there are never enough photos of me because I’m usually behind the camera. Here’s one of me beside the camera, shooting into a mirror.


Located between the Wynn and the Venetian is the beautiful Palazzo. According to Wikipedia, at its completion the Palazzo “displaced the Pentagon as the largest building in the United States in terms of floor space.” In addition to its mega floor space, this AAA Five-Diamond resort boasts the largest standard suites in Las Vegas: 720 square feet.

The newcomer to Vegas is the Cosmopolitan, which opened in December 2010. If you thought the Wynn was costly, this one, with its 3,000 rooms, was a $3.9 billion project. I thought those beads might have been plastic, but I guess not!

Kind of a glitzy place.

Part of a light fixture in the buffet restaurant

Click here to see more Cosmopolitan photos on Flickr.

Now that we have the Internet, Facebook, blogs, Twitter and Flickr, can it really be said that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rome: Hotel San Anselmo

The TripAdvisor review was entitled, “Five-Star Luxury for Three-Star Prices.” The cost was indeed 3-star for our dates of travel in Rome, but the luxury was 5-star plus.

The ScheckTrek Pick for Rome: the Hotel San Anselmo.

This was, hands down, the most romantic hotel we’ve ever stayed in. It was unmistakably opulent, but in a fresh way. I actually fantasized that the owner bought hotels just so she would have something to spend money on!

Every room at San Anselmo is individually decorated. For this reason, if you want to consider staying there, it might be a good idea to spend some time on their website and request the exact room you’re interested in. The one above is the Camera delle Poesie (“Room of Poems”—note the wall). It’s the one I would have wanted, all other things being equal. The important thing that wasn’t equal, of course, was the price. At the time of our visit, San Anselmo’s rooms were one of two prices, with the higher price being 50% higher than the lower. Based on a quick check, that seems not to be the case now.

We saw no reason to pay 50% more for the room above, when we could get the room below, L’Angelica, for the lower amount.

(All photos from ScheckTrek.)
 And L’Angelica came with the bathroom pictured below.

The hotel’s logo is in marble on the floor. The workmanship was so good, it took some looking even to find the two seams in the outer maroon band in that logo.

Venetian mirror and crystal chandelier

You could literally float in that tub. True to European tradition, there’s a bidet next to the toilet.

Stone stairs and a stories-high crystal chandelier

An example of some of the furniture that could be seen even in upper-floor halls


The hotel manager was literally on the phone with the owner, who was asking him why that woman was talking so many pictures of the hotel. (She had seen me on the closed-circuit television.) All was well when he told her I was a guest there. I was flattered that they thought a professional photographer had come to scope them out. :)

Well, the place was very photogenic!

The bar. Drinks or sandwiches could be ordered here and taken to the lounge.

This is the breakfast room! Note the gold leaf on the vaulted ceiling.

Every cup of cappuccino was topped with a heart.

Breakfast room wall sconces

This is also in the breakfast room, on the way to the lounge. The gilded candelabra dates from the 800s and came from an old chapel of the family.

The lounge

Imagine even how much mitering had to be done on multiple layers of mouldings. They cut corners all right (in the mitering), but not on cost or quality of workmanship.

The steel-faced fireplace was like nothing we’d seen before.

Every detail was thought out.

The outside entry area

The San Anselmo is located on Aventine Hill—one of the seven hills of Rome—in an upscale, diplomatic residential area. (The residence of the Egyptian Ambassador to the Vatican is just a few doors away.) It’s only a 15-20 minute walk to the Coliseum, but it’s removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, which we and previous TripAdvisor reviewers found a plus. It’s much more pleasant to hear the sound of birds on awakening than that of honking horns.

The downside is the climb back up the hill after a day of sightseeing. It’s fine in the cooler weather of October, when we were there, as it will definitely warm you up by the time you reach the top. I wouldn’t recommend it in summer heat and humidity, but taxis are available. (I can’t yet speak to how quickly available they are in the summer.) Even factoring in the cost of a taxi in the evenings, in our experience the hotel was still very well priced for its exceptional quality and design.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Riverside, CA: Mission Inn

(Photo from Mission Inn website)

I pen this blog on February 6, 2011, cognizant that it would have been the 100th birthday of one of the best loved of our recent US Presidents, Ronald Reagan. In an effort to honor his memory, we’ll feature the hotel where he and his bride Nancy spent the first night together of their very happy married life.

The Mission Inn is located in Riverside, California, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, and is that city’s #1 landmark. In addition to the Reagans, who honeymooned there, and the Richard Nixons, who got married there, it has played host to eight additional US Presidents (partial list includes Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, and George W. Bush) and at least one California Governor during his tenure (Arnold Schwarzenegger). A greatly edited list of social leaders and entertainment giants who’ve been there includes Susan B. Anthony, Jack Benny, Andrew Carnegie, Bette Davis (who was married there), Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, William Randolph Hearst, Bob Hope, Harry Houdini, Helen Keller, Joseph Pulitzer, John D. Rockefeller, Booker T. Washington, James Brolin and Barbra Streisand. It has also drawn its share of artists.

Don O'Neill's watercolor, Mission Inn Towers.

What we’re wondering is, why haven’t we been there? We may have to rectify that!

The Mission Inn was built primarily in the first 35 years of the 20th century, as an addition to a small, late 19th century structure. Generally considered the largest Mission Revival building in the United States, it is actually an eclectic collection of styles, including (for the architecturally-minded) Spanish Gothic, Spanish Colonial, Spanish Colonial Revival, Mission Revival , Moorish Revival, Renaissance Revival, and Mediterranean Revival. With all those revivals, I’m surprised not to have seen Oral Roberts' name on the past guest list!

(Photo from Mission Inn website)

When I view this photo, especially with the bougainvillea in bloom, it seems a bit much. But at a time when so many hotels—like cars—look generic, I find it almost refreshing (in a busy sort of way) that this one doesn’t. And what’s wrong with saying, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there”? It is, after all, a hotel. And, no doubt about it, this one is interesting!

The Mission Inn contains narrow passageways, flying buttresses, a Cloister Wing (with catacombs), castle towers, minarets, a medieval-style clock, leaded- and stained-glass windows, a five-story rotunda, Mediterranean domes, a pedestrian skybridge, and two original mosaics by Louis Comfort Tiffany (per Wikipedia).

032409 Riverside Mission Inn 086
(Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Gerry la Londe-Berg)
This shot looks somewhat more subdued and is very reminiscent of the Green Hotel / Castle Green in Pasadena, which was built about the same time.

032409 Riverside Mission Inn 097
Photo courtesy of Gerry la Londe-Berg

(Photo courtesy of Saroy)

Placing one’s foot onto this property must feel like stepping into a different place or time—or both.

(Photo from Mission Inn website)

(Photo from Mission Inn website)
Mission Inn Restaurant

(Photo from Mission Inn website)
Las Campanas, probably taken during the Festival of Lights

The rooms at the Mission Inn are individually decorated. The basic rooms are quite plain in décor. Below are some upgrades. The hotel has been in the process of remodeling, so you might want to request a remodeled room if you go.
(Photo from Expedia)

(Photo from Expedia)

(Photo from the Mission Inn website)
One of the Presidential Suites, of which no two are alike

The above Presidential Suite has amazing architecture, but the furniture, even though the style is in keeping with the room, seems a little tired to me. The website wouldn’t allow me to copy a photo of their Superior Presidential Suite, which was updated and upscale, with fresh white slipcovers on the chairs in the living area and a beautiful trestled and vaulted wood ceiling.

The Mission Inn has a TripAdvisor rating of 3.5. One would hope for better. Some problem areas seem to be:

• Noise from events, which are big at the hotel and can be very loud and go till the wee hours. Ask for a quiet room away from wedding/party functions.

• Noise from the street. The property fills a city block, so is bordered by streets on all four sides. Some past guests complained of the loud revving of motorcycles on the busy roads. Because some or all of the windows are original, they are lovely, but provide no improved sound insulation.

• Necessity of early booking for the hotel’s restaurants, even for breakfast. It is especially crowded during the winter Festival of Lights.

Having said that, the consensus seems to be that it’s a real treat to visit the property and explore its nooks and crannies and quirky architecture. The area around the inn is also said to be interesting and full of character.

And if some relaxation is needed after a night of poor sleep, the spa looks very, very inviting!

(Photo from R.D. Olson Construction website)
The Spa

Hmm, we have an anniversary coming up. If we’re early enough to get brunch reservations, maybe, in honor of the Gipper…