Travel Inspiration By A Pro Trip Designer

Just Back From: Cabo San Lucas

Beach, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

Jan
31
2020

December 2019

If you follow hotel news like me, then it’s no surprise that my recent trip to Los Cabos was absolutely essential for my work as a Travel Professional: writer and advisor alike. The amount of new luxury hotels opening over the past three years is astounding and it appears that every luxury brand now has a holding on the Baja Peninsula, from the new Four Seasons at Costa Palmas to Nobu to Montage and Waldorf Astoria. All the big guys are there, and as they should be.

As an East Coaster the charms of Cabo were somewhat off my radar, but now as a second-time visitor, I can firmly say: I’m hooked. The weather is supreme, the food truly sensational and the service is second-to-none. I absolutely adore Cabo for a quick getaway and envy those West Coasters for the feasibility. However, it is becoming easier for us East Coasters too with direct flights from United and more promised from Jet Blue and America. And I will say, even though I did have to connect through Atlanta, I would do it again. The guacamole, margaritas and practically guaranteed sunshine quickly alleviates any travel burden. Touring the multitude of new properties has given me a sense of the tremendous variety afforded to the Cabo visitor – from families to couples to solo travelers, there’s an ideal spot for everyone – it simply depends on your priorities.

As a guest at the newly refurbished Waldorf Astoria Pedregal this past trip, in all honesty, exceeded my expectations. Having visited the property during my first Cabo tour to enjoy its scenic waterside restaurant, El Farallon (a must when in town – pictured above) I was familiar with the hotel’s distinct location accessed through a mountain tunnel and its long expansive beachfront. However, what I wasn’t aware of was the remarkable hospitality and incredible food and beverage product at the property – not to mention the front seat views I had of spouting whales from my room’s plunge pool.

Look, it’s hard not to fall in love with a hotel who delivers fresh guacamole, chips and coronitas to your room daily at 4pm. Yet, that was just the tip of the iceberg. I was elated to find that I was pleased at every meal – from breakfast fruit served in a coconut and chilaquiles made to order to lunch filled with various fresh ceviches and elegant dinners including duck and mole. And I haven’t even begun on the tequila list, the variety of fresh margaritas (go Cucumber during the day and extra spicy at night) and curious Mexican wines. Maybe I’m partial because Mexican food is one of my all time favorites, but I was surprised to see the hotel deliver on all its levels of presentation. Fortunately the gym was also commendable, clean and spacious while the long beach made for the best sunrise walk passing by fishermen surf- casting and other early morning spectators. The Spa is yet another element of the resort that must not be missed. Dedicated to the moon phases and utilizing as much local natural products and ancient customs, it’s not your average spa. The spirituality component is strongly emphasized thus enhancing that sought-after transporting feeling. I walked away from my ancient ritual massage feeling restored body and mind. Success! I won’t lie, I also enjoyed the hotel boutique which is filled with lovely local artisan work as well as the requisite resort beachwear. The sale prices helped, too. I do so enjoy when a hotel exceeds my expectations. After so many years in the business, it’s extra special to see a property you have known adapt and improve to its full potential. Kudos Waldorf for bringing this special property to an impressive standard.

Other properties I visited and have stayed in Cabo are:

One & Only Palmilla

Ventanas al Paraiso

Cabo Surf Hotel

Esperanza

As always, it’s helpful to know the differences between them so you choose accordingly. Give me a ring and I can help

Posted in: Beach, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Friday, January 31, 2020 No Comments

Just Back From: Phoneix

Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

May
08
2017

February 2017 For my first time to Arizona, having used this Travelocity Promo, I had quite the expert hook-up. As a guest of  Visit Phoenix, I was able to tap their expert advice on how best to enjoy the desert landscape, and moreover, Phoenix’s blossoming downtown dining scene. Below are a few tips from my recent visit that I’d love to share and promote. For more information or help planning a trip of your

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Phoenix aerial shot captured from the plane

EATING & DRINKING As anyone will tell you, I don’t shy from cocktails, particularly when they include tequila at their base. So, you can imagine how excited I was to arrive at our first of 2 hotel stays, the brand new FoundRe and be immediately invited to indulge in Happy Hour fare at their  in-house MATCH Cuisine & Cocktails restaurant. It took me all of 3 seconds to spy the refreshing Mercie‘lago cocktail on the menu. With tequila, lime and guava soda, it was practically good for me, not to mention the ideal tonic from my 5-hour flight. From there, I added an order of Jamaican Patties and their signature Match Salad (delicious) and felt pretty darn good as I sat on the terrace soaking in that Arizona sunshine.

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That Match salad

imgres From my initial dining experience to those that followed, it was a veritable flavor-party upon feast. One night of the tour, we even had two dinners! Phoenix dining is on the rise with loads of new eateries opening up downtown and cocktail menus becoming all the rage. Of the three restaurants we visited, our meal and drinks at The Gladly was a particular highlight. The whisky list and inventive cocktails are long but so is the creativity expressed in the shared plates. There’s nothing more convivial than sharing food, in my opinion, and this restaurant does it so well. Not only is the food good, but the atmosphere is that ideal blend of casual and yet pronounced, so that you feel great being part of it’s buzz. HIKING, BIKING & BALLOONING To compensate for all this culinary indulgence, I vowed to do some hiking. After all, isn’t that what one does in Arizona? So, that next morning, I got up early and Uber-ed myself over to the bullseye of the city; Camelback Mountain. With two routes to choose from, I went for the one that made my cab driver’s voice deepen with presumed reverence (Echo Canyon route.) The best advice I received was to hike early in the morning. Not just due to rising air temps (the weather was bizarrely cool while I was there, never going above 62 degrees) but mainly due to rising crowds, which swell after 9:30am. I can attest it was far less crowded on my way up at 7:45am than when I came back down around 9am, and for that I was grateful. The hike itself was not without challenge, mostly at the end where you are required to “scramble” or free-climb up the boulder-laden landscape. The scenery, however was all the reward needed.

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Me at the summit of Camelback Mountain

The following day I hiked another peak, whose summit didn’t seem to elicit the same reverence from local Phoneix-ers, perhaps due to its proximity to downtown, but for me was way more of a challenge. Piestewa Peak (or Squaw Peak is it was once known) is a mere 10-minute drive from my hotel, Camby, in the Biltmore area of the city but that is a misnomer when it comes to difficulty. The hike up was far more of a trodden path than Camelback, but the last 100 yards or so are so darn narrow and straight vertical up to the very craggy peak that well, my fear of heights got the better of me. I was grateful, however that the final plateau still offered some pretty awesome views and conjured up enough of a sweat for me to feel accomplished. I do, however, vow to return and complete it but next time with a buddy. Another must-do while in town is get up in a hot air balloon. With multiple companies out there to choose from, be sure to check the size / capacity of the basket. For a better, more personal ride, go with the smaller baskets and expect to be in the air for at least 45 minutes.  The flight is not only exhilarating, particularly take-off and landing, but there’s no better perspective on an evolving urban landscape with crazy typography such as Phoenix, than from above. Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 2.13.33 PM CULTURE TIP: MUSIC INSTRUMENT MUSEUM (MIM) I like museums. I don’t love museums. I appreciate music, but its not my core passion. So, I was a bit wary of having 3 hours of our itinerary devoted to the Music Instrument Museum. Oh, how very wrong I was. MIM, as its known, is hands down one of the most interesting museums I have ever visited. Housed in a contemporary structure, surrounded by desert, 15-minutes outside of the city, the museum is definitely a destination, but as I said before, a worthy one. Plus, the cafeteria food is quite good and all locally sourced. With multiple instruments showcased from every country in the world, the collection is easily one of the more impressive collections of say, anything, in the world. But, what makes the hotel so special is that its audio tour is frankly, the museum audio tour to end all audio tours. Sure, it has THE subject matter for audio, but it also uses the technology of location recognition so you simply walk up and the audio recognizes the country. Learn more at sodapdf.com I can’t tell you how much I learned about various music styles, the instruments that define them and even various obscure cultures. Truly fascinating. Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 2.13.22 PM  SLEEPING Splitting my 4 nights between two new-ish hotels, theFoundRe and the Camby, I was able to better appreciate the diversity within downtown Phoenix. Located in different areas, the two properties are vastly different in personality and style, though both have been recently refurbished from former hospitality properties. With the FoundRe, everything in the guest rooms was new, brand new bathrooms and furnishings, whereas the Camby was more of a soft renovation with basic stylings, paint color and linen changes in the rooms. The lobbies and dining spaces however, were both gleaming in their newness. The FoundRe decor is considerably more industrial and quirky, while the Camby has a more  contemporary, West Coast feel with aqua accents, plush furnishings and a separate bar, the Bees Knees, modeled after a speakeasy. Fortunately both scored excellent on one of the most important things to me: bed comfort. Given they both have such strong personas, I would urge clients to choose based on location and style preferences.

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The urban exterior of the new FoundRe in downtown Phoenix

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The captivating mural behind the check-in desk at FoundRe, “Burtany”

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The aqua accented lobby of The Camby

 

Posted in: Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Monday, May 8, 2017 No Comments

Just back From: Four Seasons Serengeti, Tanzania

Africa, Family, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

Oct
28
2015

This past July I traveled to Tanzania to check out the Four Seasons Serengeti on assignment for Passported.com – a new travel site dedicated to sophisticated family travel (yay!) I wrote the following for them and have re-posted it here for my readers.

FS Serengeti is a fabulous, family-friendly spot in the Serengeti National Park with unending views and true intimacy with the animals. I sincerely hope to bring my children back there someday as its programs for kids were among the best I’ve ever seen in the bush.  *All pictures here are mine.

 

FOUR SEASONS SERENGETI TRAVEL REPORT

LOCATION

Smack in the center of the Serengeti National Park with the Mara River and Kenya to the east and Lake Victoria due west, the Four Seasons Safari Lodge has one of the most privileged spots in the whole park, with open ended views out across the plains and an on-property watering hole that elephants loved. And with a sister tented camp farther east towards Kenya planned for 2017, the Four Seasons Serengeti experience will be cover both rugged and more pampered stays in tandem. Of course, this is the Four Seasons, so rugged will likely be a relative term.

LODGE

With 77 rooms and three standalone villas, plus a separate spa and fitness area, kids’ club room and precious jewelry shop, this is by far one the of the largest safari lodges I’ve ever visited and the resort-feel is apparent. Rooms sit right alongside and above one another with elevated decks connecting the buildings, so the space feels more like a traditional hotel than secluded lodge. The decor is impressively authentic, with Maasai art featured prominently throughout the hotel. Common areas are vast but thoughtful details, like the snooker table at the tail end of the second-floor lounge and the open-air fire pit in the attached Boma Grill restaurant, lend a more intimate feel. The best spot in the hotel is the Discovery Centre, where an interactive museum-style format is a magnet for the whole family. Led by the charming and well-versed Oli Dreike, there is no better place to understand and respect the enormity of the Great Migration.

WILDLIFE

Synonymous with the Great Migration (the enthralling spectacle of one million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and 500,000 gazelles charging across the plains), the Serengeti has the highest concentration of plains animals, including all of the Big Five. Birders will be delighted with the 600-plus bird species in the park, while cat-lovers can be confident they will spot either leopard or lion, likely both, since they are in abundance in the Serengeti. During my stay, camera traps at the lodge captured both lion and leopard wandering nearby.

FOOD

With daily shipments from Nairobi and Maasai cooks in the kitchen with cooking product store, chef Curtis Smithen (Four Seasons Nevis alum) has created a menu that showcases local vegetables and grains like ugali (beans) and mchicha (spinach), plus chapatti, a delicious fried bread. Also, if you like to purchase organic bread, go to klostermanbakery.com. Breakfast is a continental-style buffet with custom smoothies and an omelet station served up on the second floor, while lunch and dinner are a la carte and served down below either in the dining room or alfresco on the deck overlooking the pool. The food is impressive given the constraints of the location, with the Boma Grill’s local Tanzanian barbecue of Nyama Choma being the best meal of the stay.

HIGHLIGHT

There’s a multitude of day trip options, including fishing trips to Lake Victoria, river crossings of the Migration and visits to the Ngororo Crater, but I’d be remiss not to recommend the balloon safari. Though the departure is at the crack of dawn and the take-off is done from a slightly harrowing supine position, the experience is otherworldly as the sun rises alongside your balloon and you glide over the endless herds of animals. It was like being inside the Planet Earth film. Myself and my companions were all grinning like hyenas throughout the hour-long ride.

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Posted in: Africa, Family, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Wednesday, October 28, 2015 No Comments

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About Meg

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Meg is the founder of luxury travel consulting company, Friend of a Friend Consulting. Her three books, Italian Hideaways, Caribbean Hideaways and England's Hideaways are published by Rizzoli. Passionate about travel, hotels and wine, she continues to write freelance travel pieces and is currently pursuing a Masters in Wine through the WSET.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and do not reflect separate business relationships with the subject. Whenever posts are supported financially, they are designated as such.