Category Archives: Hotels

Carmela Ice Cream: Sage Brown Sugar Ice Cream

My roommate dragged me to this place. It is walking distance from where we live. It looks like a small ice cream shop in the countryside of France, or wine country in California. Carmela. They have all types of unusual flavors. I tried Cranberry Orange Sorbet. Sage Brown Sugar Ice Cream. My all time favorite is Cardamom Ice Cream and I’m so pleased that is on their menu too. Their cookies are phenominal as well. Lucky for me they are open until 11pm weeknights!

I’m not sure what particularly to recommend there since everything is good. We wrote an article about the best ice cream places in Los Angeles. This place is much better than any of the other ones on the list. It is new, so it didn’t go on our old list. Parking can be an issue unless you go late at night.

I feel that the flavors are masterfully crafted at Carmela. I love the ecclectic gourmet flavors as well. Although some of the other ice cream spots have accentuated gourmet flavors, nobody beats Carmela. Wish I could say more, but it is in the taste, not the written word!

The Starr Pass Marriott in Tucson – the best hotel of my life!

The Starr Pass Marriott Resort in Tucson is no ordinary hotel. It was the most pleasant hotel I’ve stayed at in my life. I would never have guessed purely by looking at their website. The grounds look beautiful, and their website is beautiful too. But, by being there you see what they are about.

The downside
There are very few downsides to this amazing resort, but, I’ll fill you in on them first. They have free parking which is an upside, but it is on the far end of the huge building. It takes about six minutes to walk from parking, go up the elevator and go all the way past the conference halls, spa, stores, and more to get to reception.

The upsides
On a brighter note, the entire staff at this resort are the most helpful and fastest on the draw of any hotel I’ve been at in my life. They answer the phone on the first ring, and there was no waiting around in line. Good service is not only convenient, but it makes me feel good. The service in the restaurant was equally good, and they even threw in a few free items to my happy surprise.

The price tag at this resort is not cheap. It is usually in excess of $200 per room per night. But, in my opinion, it is a pleasure to enjoy at least once per year. If you book two weeks in advance they will give you 20% off, plus sometimes they have packages with meal coupons or spa treatments thrown in. Personally, I want both. Don’t be fooled by the prices, because there is a $29 resort fee tacked on for internet, golf courses, and other amenities — and they have the prettiest golf courses at any resort I’ve ever seen.

The bathroom
It was love at first flush. This bathroom had a sliding wood door which is wonderful. Other places have doors that open into the hallway, or into the cramped bathroom and you have to crawl around the door. Sliding is the way to go. The bathroom had a bath as well as a shower. I liked this concept very much. But, I mentioned to the staff — what if I want to take a “Sbath” or a “Bshower?” Alas, it was not possible. But I really worked that bathroom to the max as I took not only a shower, but a few foot baths. And I enjoyed every minute. The little soaps were cute too and were a nice finishing touch.

The balcony
I enjoyed the fact they gave me a room with a view of the golf course. I’m not sure how wonderful the other room’s views were, but mine was excellent. I guess if you go during the slow season, you get a better pick of rooms.

The room
The bed was comfortable, and the room was spacious enough. I really enjoyed the fact that I had a huge square table where I could do my work. I felt very motivated to do work at this hotel. The feng-shui there is very work-oriented which makes sense as they have serious corporate conferences there daily. When I go on vacation, I take some work with me so I don’t get behind. This location is the best work location I have ever seen as I just feel like overworking the minute I walk in the building.

Meals & Deals
Then, it was time for dinner. I called to make a reservation. As always they answered on the first ring. The French restaurant I wanted to eat at was closed that day, but the other place was open until 10pm. Yay! So, I finished my work, and waltzed downstairs for a late dinner. I enjoyed tasting some of their wines. The local wine unfortunately didn’t work, but I had a very satisfying zinfandel. After that I had green chili cous cous with salmon which was the best cous cous I’ve ever had. For desert I tried their churros with a Mexican chocolate and fruit sauce. I enjoyed taking turns dipping my churros into the various sauces given to me. It was a very satisfying evening and a very satisfying stay.

A parting hike
The last part of my trip was a short hike around the local hills. I was foolish and hiked in my flip flops, but I was careful and didn’t incur any injuries. It was rocky and steep in some sections. But, it was fun to see the local desert terrain and get some healthy exercise. I don’t know of any other hotels that have on-site hiking trails except in wine country, CA.

I look forward to my next trip to the Starr Pass Marriot. I hope I enjoy it as much the second time around.

8 High End Resorts in Tucson

It might not be a well known fact, but in Tucson, you get more for your money with Real Estate. You can get a multi-million dollar home (California standards) starting at $700,000 in Tucson. Resorts are not badly priced either, but prices are time sensitive. The beauty of Tucson, besides the Saguaros, Ocotillos, and other attractive desert plants is that it isn’t as hot as Phoenix in the summer. Tucson is generally about eight degrees cooler. The heat doesn’t seem quite as oppressive. Also, in my metaphysical opinion, the vibration there is much more mild than other parts of Arizona.

Luxury resort prices in Tucson range from $99 to $499 depending on the resort and the season. Summer time is a great time to get a great deal on a stay in Tucson. Prices are roughly half of what they are in peak season, and you can still enjoy most of the attractions of the metro in the blazing heat. You can still enjoy going to museums, restaurants, caves. Gardens might be a little more difficult on a hot day, but still possible. Hiking might not be a good idea if it is over one hundred degrees, but if you have lots of cold water and know you can handle it, put your sunscreen on and go for it!

(1) The Ritz at Dove Mountain – Most Luxurious & Best Nestled.
This is the king of resorts in Tucson and also by far the most expensive resort that is open to the public. Rooms are around $500 per night in the Winter and early Spring. I loved the staff near the pool. Their outfits resemble those at the Beverly Hills Hotel Cabana! Unfortunately, the parking facilities at this hotel are the farthest from the rooms, so call a golf cart to help you. This hotel is nestled in the hills of Dove Mountain inside a sort of a U-shape in the hills. If you like hiking, there will be a lot of places for short hikes. The menus at the restaurants were excellent with an impressive wine list as well. I appreciated the Cinnabun that I had as I am a man of simple tastes! I wanted to try some of the Cabernets, but I had to drive — maybe I’m not so simple after all. The drive up to the resort is quite an experience. The road goes on and on, and is very attractively laid out as well. This is by far the most beautiful of the resorts and by far the most expensive as well. But, try it out in the summer and see if you like it at less than half the normal cost!

(2) Loews Ventana Hotel – Most Traditional
The uniqueness of this hotel is that they seem to have a clientele of more traditional and old fashioned people. The crowd here resembles the understated old rich where the other resorts seem to cater to the new rich and upper middle classes! You are walking distance from hiking trails, and the food is excellent. I didn’t like how the building has so many perpendicular angles — not good for feng-shui! But, it is an attractive place, and the ancient tree they have in the front is a real icon! Although prices fluctuate, I would assign this hotel as being the second most expensive in the area!

(3) The Hilton Conquistador – Best Service
I was struck by how good the service was. The valets and bell-boys were very meticulously trained, and it showed! I had wine in the restaurant which had an innovative menu. The rooms here are nice, and it is right near the Catalina mountains which are a nice place to hike. Shopping in Oro Valley is upscale and there are a few good restaurants around as well, although the really reputed restaurants are down in various parts of Tucson. I enjoyed meditating at this hotel since the spiritual vibration was excellent — who would have thought! This is my personal favorite, but next time I will try out some other places so I can compare! Pricing here is average for a Tucson Resort and range from around $99 to $199 depending on the season.

(4) Westin Paloma — Best Views!
I stayed at this hotel once. It is nestled in the hills of Northeastern Tucson in a very affluent area. You can enjoy upscale dining and shopping in this area, not to mention proximity to some of Tuscon’s best hiking. I enjoyed desert and a mocha at their restaurant downstairs. I will note that rooms in their resort are in buildings three stories high. If you end up in the basement, it is not as nice in my opinion. Parking is a walk from the rooms which ensures more peace and quiet, but if you have a lot of luggage, it is a hassle. The pool was spectacular and the views were amazing!

(5) Omni National – Most Centrally Located
This resort offers golf and spa treatments and is right in Northwest Tucson not far from the 10. Enjoy a sauna, steam room, pool, cabanas, yoga, aerobics, zumba (sorry, but no catumba,) and many types of massage and body treatments. I haven’t stayed there yet, but it is on my list. I might just drop by and sample a massage and a glass of wine next time I’m in town!

(6) JW Marriot Starr Pass Resort & Spa – Most Picturesque Golf Courses
This resort is west of the 10 freeway near the hills. It is a quick drive to do some hiking in the Western part of Saguaro National park or see the Desert Museum or Old Tucson amusement park. Enjoy BBQ, steaks, grilled food, tequilas, Starbucks, patio and poolside dining! I think I’ll order a desert latte (not sure if that exists.) Unfortunately for me (and you) their website fails to list items on their menus from their six restaurants!

(7) Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort – Most Romantic & Nice Spanish Hacienda Architecture
Here is yet another Northeast Tucson resort that I haven’t been to. I’ll comment more once I have visited there! Enjoy sports, soother, or aromatherapy massage. They also have reflexology and prenatal, not to mention mud wraps! Did I mention couples massage? I told you this place was romantic! They have horseback riding as well, and you will not be far from hiking trails!

(8) Miraval Resort & Spa – Most Remote!
Note: This resort is closed to the public. You can only get in with a reservation or appointment to take a tour. Prices to stay there are around 700+ per night.

This resort is farther from the city than the other ones. It is an hour due North in the City of Catalina. You are near some great hiking here. This spa offers Ayervedic, Asian and other types of massage and skin care, not to mention stretching and other types of bodywork. It is in a remote and very scenic part of the desert, so you will be surrounded by palm trees, mountain views, unusually shaped pools, and beauty on all sides. Enjoy gourmet food too at their cactus flower restaurant! Also, enjoy a drink at the Brave Bill Lounge, Palm Court juice bar, or Oasis Poolside Bar! I’m a little disappointed that their elaborate web site fails to mention what their actual culinary offerings are, but I’m sure they’re good!

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Corporate standards in a hotel chain

Attention to quality makes so much difference at a hotel

Hotel reward programs. Which ones are best?

I love to travel. I’m not rich or anything, but nothing is better than exploring different environments and getting a break from the rat race. From long time back I have been a member of Choice Privileges. They advertise on television these days with very goofy commercials. Their reward program is one of the best I’ve tried and one of the most generous.

The Choice Network

There are many hotel chains that are part of the Choice network such as Comfort Inn/Suites, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Cambria Suites, Suburban, Roadway Inn, Econolodge, Clarion, a handful of boutique hotels and more!

Racking in the points is easy if…
The point accumulation for each stay changes based on when they are having promotions. Promotions are usually during the off seasons, but that is okay, because I travel throughout the year. Sometimes your point accumulation is based on a percentage of what you spent, and sometimes you get points per stay. It is easy to rack up tons of points if you jump from hotel to hotel every night.

My strategy
When I travel, I want to stay where I want to stay. I choose the general area, and want to stay at a hotel I like. Choice doesn’t always have a hotel, or a hotel that I like where I am going which is why I am a member of several other networks. I like to keep my options open. But, if you stay at one of Choice’s less expensive locations, with an AAA card, you can book a room for around $50-80 in many cases. Choice often offers 8000 points for every two stays. You can cash in your points to get hotel rooms from 10,000 to 16,000 points in most cases. Rates vary from hotel to hotel and from season to season so don’t quote me on that point offering. Basically, if you stay three times during a promotion, you can get a free room! There is no other hotel network that generous on a regular basis. Now, you know why Choice is generally my first choice!

Best Western
I am also a Best Western rewards member. Best Western is an eclectic chain of hotels that don’t belong under the same brand. There are hotels with urban themes, beach themes, gold country themes, desert themes, and more. The quality of the staff ranges from wonderful to horrible as well depending on where you stay. The rewards system is better than nothing. But, basically if you stay around twenty times, you can rack up enough points to get a free stay. If you are going to stay with them anyway on a regular basis, then it is worth it. But, if you really want to rack up points, Choice is the network for you if they have hotels where you are going to stay.

Hilton, Hyatt, and other programs
The other chains out there are not so generous with points. Sure you can get points, but you need to stay about 15-20 times in general to get a free night with these plans. You can use credit card points to get free stays too, but you need to really spend a lot of money to get anywhere. If you can use your business expenses to rack up points, that is a good strategy that I used for years.

Other strategies
If you are not particular when you stay at a particular place, you can wait for them to have a really inexpensive night. It is often easy to bargain with hotels when they are under-booked. There are also many websites where you can get bargain basement prices on hotels. I prefer to book direct because I don’t like fooling around with websites. I also ran into a hotel agent by sheer accident. She got me great rates at very classy places downtown which I enjoyed tremendously. But, you can do what works for you!

Boutique hotels, what are they all about?

Besides the cool name and concept, boutique hotels are a lot of fun. I have stayed at a handful of boutique hotels and will vouch for the experience. Not all boutique hotels are alike, and prices can really vary. There was one in Sacramento that was very reasonably priced around $100 per night while others can go as high as $400.

The design…
The concept of a boutique hotel is that they are very unique first of all. You will not feel like you are in a chain hotel by any means. The design is generally very thoughtful and you can tell that they spent a mint hiring an interior decorator. There are normally many little finishing touches. The note pad might be cutesy tootsy, and the design of the dresser might match the carpeting. But, there’s more.

The staff…
The staff at a boutique hotel are typically a lot more fun than regular hotel staff. Almost all hotels choose front desk folks who are pleasant to talk to. It is sort of a must in the industry, otherwise your clients will be repelled. But, boutique hotels typically have staff that are not only pleasant, but really interesting and cool as people. I tend to spend far too much time gossiping with the staff whenever I go to this type of place. Many of our local cafes have very cool staff too — maybe they should merge coffee houses and boutique hotels together since the type of people they attract are similar.

The extras..
A stay at a boutique hotel is not complete if you didn’t receive a few things that are above and beyond what typical hotels offer. One place in Napa offered mini chocolates upon my arrival. A maid actually came to my door in uniform and asked if I would like some chocolates. I informed her that I was a chocoholic and that I would take a few extra — thanks very much! Another hotel offered me a few glasses of free wine with a voucher. The lady in the wine area actually got my jokes (nobody else does, must be because they are in a University area.) One hotel had a concierge that gave me hiking advice, map printouts and more.

Customized breakfasts…
Several of the boutique hotels I went to had customized breakfasts. They let you check off a form, and they give you the breakfast you ordered — they bring it to your room. OMG!

The cost of a boutique hotel tends to be about 70% higher than an economy hotel. Is it worth it? My feeling is that my emotional health is so much better after staying in one of these places. It is just so pleasant having nice people to talk to, and getting little extras. It makes me want to go into the hotel business and do lots of little unique things that nobody else does as well.

Does your hotel room have mites? It might!

Do you travel a lot? I do. If you stay at high end places, you will have clean hotel rooms — guaranteed.
But, if you travel on a budget, you might be better off roughing it and sleeping in a tent.

Mites are a microscopic life form that live on laundry or bedding materials that haven’t been washed for a while. To get rid of them you can spray poison, but that will kill your plants and will make you feel depressed, or even sick as your body reacts to the toxicity. The easier solution is to wash your bedding.

Budget hotels don’t charge much, and by definition, don’t maintain their infrastructure in as thorough a way as the higher end guys do. Hotels have to wash their sheets every time a guest leaves, or with long term guests, every few days. But, how often do they wash the blankets or bedspreads? To me, the difference between a desirable hotel and a yucky one is how often they wash the bedding — ALL of the bedding. How quiet the hotel is, and how nice they are to you the next morning matter a lot too..

So, when I’m researching hotels for trips to places I’ve never been before, only two questions arise in my mind:
(1) How often do you wash the bedding, and
(2) Will you respect me in the morning (by observing the don’t disturb sign)

The Hotel With the Locked Windows

It is such a shame. There was this particular Comfort Inn that I really liked. The staff was really nice. The rooms were okay. The location was great as it was close to tons of great restaurants and shops. But, then something happened. On my last visit, they decided to lock all of the windows shut. I started off on the ground floor and thought it was a safety precaution. Then, they moved me upstairs and that window was locked too. The staff thought it was to deter people from smoking.

I called the 800# to complain about this hotel. I learned that Comfort Inn basically lets their branches do as they like with no regard for how that affects branding. The hotel apologized to me and said that they could remove the lock upon request. I don’t have time to book a hotel, ask for a window lock to be removed, and hope they don’t forget to do it. I’m not going back to that place.

When I book a hotel room, I am paying not only for a room, but for oxygen. Whomever said that air is free has another thing coming to them! There are a few hotels near airports that do not have openable windows because of the rattling. There was another in Reno that had closed windows and not enough oxygen for me to be able to stand being there. I have a heart condition, I need air. If I don’t get it, I start palpitating. Is it so hard to offer your clients clean air without them having to specifically ask for it? It is even more important than having a toilet. Imagine having to request a toilet with your room.

Later on I learned that the locks were to prevent babies from jumping out to their death. I’m sure that happens a lot. I think that giving me 2 inches of an opening is enough to keep my lungs filled and protect rambunctious babies.

I would like to make it clear to Comfort Inn & Suites that your branding is compromised every time you let your branches do whatever they feel like. Every time I had a bad experience at one of your branches, I trust the brand less and less. If I know a particular branch is good, then they are good in my book, but new and unknown branches are not. There is no reason to allow your name to be tarnished by branch managers!

Hotel Breakfasts – are they all they are cracked up to be?

Hotel breakfasts at economy hotels seem like something they are forced to do, but don’t want to do. They want to have the breakfast open for as few hours as possible, because there is a small hourly fee they have to pay to have it managed. The selections for breakfast items seem to be very limited to non-perishable items, styrofoam, and items containing white flour. Putting aside how Raisin Bran and oatmeal are your only healthy choices at most breakfasts, you have to crawl over other people like ants, sticking your hand between to overweight people, just to fumble to get your spoon for your oatmeal. If there is hot food it is always bacon, sausage, eggs, or hashbrowns. There are rarely any other choices, and choices are rarely healthy!

Wouldn’t it be nice if hotels thought about the pleasure of their guests when designing their breakfasts? It wouldn’t cost much more to make breakfast a little nicer. Imagine having an espresso machine and someone to operate it. Imagine having some of the guests opt to get particular items delivered to their room at a particular time. Imagine having longer breakfast hours so that you have fewer people in that room at any particular time. All of these would make the dining experience a lot more pleasant.

Boutique hotels often put a lot of thought into all details of their service. They typically charge double what an economy hotel costs. Why is it that the only people who put any thought into their work charge double? Couldn’t you put a little though and charge 10% more? What is the market price for thought-trons these days anyway? It seems that good service is a very rare commodity and people just want to deliver less and take more. It is a rare treat when someone makes your life pleasant!

Corporate Standards in a Hotel Chain

I used to think that branding standards for hotels was something that higher level management took very seriously. After all, a serious branding error could cost your business your entire reputation and lose billions. I recently learned that many chains let the branch managers have a lot of freedom to run their branch in ways that are very unattractive to customers as well as to their workers.

I have been to many hotels that blatantly disregard the do not disturb sign to the point where I just don’t trust the entire chain anymore. If you are doing a late checkout they will harass the hell out of you. You will get phone calls, and multiple knocks on the door. Many times they will try to enter my room while I am naked in the shower.

One hotel decided on a whim to lock their windows so you can’t get any fresh air. What were they thinking? I’ll never go back there ever.

Another hotel is a class act and they really take the cake. The manager is from India and trained the maids to be very loud when doing their work. They bang so loud on doors that if you are in a neighboring room, you will be very disturbed by their loud knocks and their loud cries of “Maid service.” In India making a racket is cultural, especially for midnight guards. I have lived in India before and have to get out of bed at 3am to tell nitwits to shut up and stop making rapping sounds. Indians sleep through anything and are culturally immune to noise, but I am not.

Anyway, the situation got so bad, that I will not go back to that particular hotel again. I went to the competition which is a lot more expensive, and has a lot of noise from the nearby highway. I noticed that they had a new employee — a girl. This girl was someone I knew from the other hotel. She had had it up to her eyeballs with that manager as well, and didn’t want to work at that particular Best Western branch ever again. The manager not only taught the maids aggressive treatment of clients, but he was aggressive with the staff there. I heard that he threatened them one day with firing them all and hiring “his own people.” There are many Gujaratis (people from a particular province in India) in the hotel business. He could get them to drive up from Sacramento easily if he would pay a small travel fee. But, when you are in the hospitality business, I think it is beneficial to be hospitable. The hotel business is ideal for people who are warm, welcoming and attentive to the needs of their guests. This manager in question seems to be a slave-driver at best.

Many hotels have stripped down breakfasts with tiny rooms, and limited choices of stale bagels, cereal, and all the styrofoam plates and plastic utensils that you can handle. If it is part of the branding of your hotel to have a 3 hour stripped down white flour and styrofoam type breakfast, then all the more power to you. But, hotels with better branding strategies tend to avoid this and provide a longer breakfast in a larger, nicer room with more choices.

Additionally, I will say that some hotels use very strong cleaning solutions that leave a smell behind. Not necessarily a bad smell, but sometimes a strong smell. That is an item that could be standardized. One of my favorite hotels has a faint gas smell in room 219. Nice room, but the laundry machine below has a gas leak.

There are many things that hotel branding professionals should consider when trying to make a name for themselves (or trying to preserve their name.) It seems that many of the economy chains are ignoring good branding practices. Good branding is not expensive, but can lead to a lot of increased revenue. It is worth hiring a professional to assist in these matters

Showerheads at Hotels can be a dealbreaker

When you go to a hotel, the first thought that goes through your head is, “Is it nice?”
There is more to nice than you think. Many hotels seem nice and then turn out to have many defects.
On the other hand, many run down hotels might have very friendly staff members (and friendly roaches too.)

I wish that economy hotel chains would standardize the types of shower-heads that their branches use. Some branches want to save water. So, you get a very thin stream of water that takes forever to rinse off the soap. Then there are the adjustable shower-heads. These ones go from a widely distributed thin stream that goes everywhere except on your body, to a shiatsu water attack. Once again, not a good experience. Next, there are the shower-heads which are too low. If you are from India, you might notice that the standardized height for counters there is lower, because Indian ladies are a few inches shorter than American ladies. Hmmm. Most hotels in America are managed by Indians, and many of them put shower-heads low, when their customers are typically tall.

Then, there are the shower curtains that never make it past the top of the tub resulting in flooding. There are stoppers which are missing which makes it hard to soak your feet or anything else for that matter. Toilet seats made of thin plastic that break when you sit on them. Then there are the other types of toilet seats that fall down the minute you put them up.

Next there are doors to bathrooms that open the wrong way!

In any case, I think it is reasonable to have showers at a reasonable height that have a reasonable amount of water pressure for a flow of water that is pointed at your guest’s body. Having it adjustable makes sense if the choice of adjustments are comfortable. But, having three adjustments all of which are a nightmare just doesn’t cut it. Invest in water technology! You won’t regret it!

There are many things to think about when you run a hotel — if you run a hotel, I suggest you start thinking.

I bet the economy hotels which there was a way to have a “watered down” shower-head. The irony is that the purpose of these showers is to give you as little water as possible!