STAFF HOTEL REVIEWS
Wherever we go, we have to stay somewhere. And we're picky about our hotels. So in addition to all of our user reviews, we provide staff reviews to help you find the best (and avoid the worst) places to stay. We sneak in advice about tourist attractions and restaurants too. But we save advice on frequent flyer miles and hotel points, among other travel tips and news, for our Travel Tips blog
Wish to contact us about any of our reviews? Have an "above the rest" property you'd like us to check out the next time we're in your area? Please let us know here.
Archive for the ‘United States’ Category
W South Beach
2201 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, Florida
By: Dave Grossman
HotelMagician.com, January 2010
Book the W South Beach at HotelMagician.com
This was one of my best experiences at a hotel. Ever.
I booked in to the W South Beach for a 5 night stay at the end of January so I could attend a 3 day conference and tack on a couple of R&R days. With rates at this hotel averaging north of $500 for the cheapest room category, I was hoping the hotel (which just opened in 2009) would live up to my lofty expectations. I’ve stayed in more than my fair share of hotels over the years and I’m the first to admit I have a problem with being easily disappointed by them – especially when the room rates are high. But from check-in to check-out, this hotel met and exceeded my expectations time and time again. Sure, I found a few flaws – and I’ll mention them – but after 5 nights here I really wanted to just move in. Incidentally, you can – the W sells residences that are part of the hotel (the condos are scattered throughout the hotel without any separation and you can then rent them out through the hotel if you choose).
So what made this such a great experience?
1) The staff. Management at the W South Beach clearly knows that welcoming staff can make or break the guests’ opinion of a hotel. I was greeted with a warm smile, upgraded from a Wonderful Room to a Spectacular Room (Same room type, higher floor and better view), and while there were no further upgrades available, Vanessa called me twice after I got upstairs with updates on possible other room availabilities (for a fee, of course) and had an Ambassador show me one. She then immediately called after the viewing to ask what I thought. The attention to detail would continue throughout the hotel all week – from the extremely polite workers at the pool who arrange the towels and “towel pillow” on the chaise loungers for you, to the bartender (Richie) who offered to infuse a vodka for me on the spot. The doormen always smiled at me and made me feel welcome.
2) The facilities. You can see the pictures of my room. And that is the smallest kind they have! It’s 570 sq ft not including the balcony. Everything just looks great and they are clearly trying their best to keep everything looking new. Housekeeping was excellent every day and left some complimentary water and chocolates at the evening turndown service. The gym had all brand new equipment and TV on the cardio. The Spa, while not opening until Feb 2010, will likely be fantastic based on the rest of the property.
3) The location. Located at 21st Street and Collins, you are about a 10 minute walk from touristy Lincoln Road and Espanola Way. You are steps from the beach. The Acura car (that is currently complimentary, but I caution may go away at any time) can whisk you anywhere in SoBe from 11am to 7pm and cabs are plentiful.
The “Spectacular” room I was given was at the southeast corner of the hotel, with a perfect angled view of the beach and ocean. There was no balcony above mine so I had unfiltered sunlight (which was perfect for me; if you want a balcony that has one above it for shade, just ask). The room had a sleek and modern tropical feel to it (lots of white). The flat panel TV on the wall was, at first glance, at an odd angle to view from the bed but it turns out you can swivel it! There was a refrigerator/mini-bar that you are free to use to keep your own drinks cold as well as a coffee maker. A selection of alcohol is also available (at a cost, of course) if you are too thirsty to leave your room… There was not one but two iPod docking stations – one on the Bose setup attached to the TV and another on the nightstand. The spacious bathroom, pictured, included a shower with 3 shower heads in addition to a hand-held stream. Be warned, though – the nozzles are powerful!
The (1oo sq ft) balcony was pretty dreamy itself. Two plush chairs with a table were perfect for lounging out there, perhaps reading a book while looking at the waves of the ocean.
The blinds are a bit tough to use. Housekeeping will open them during the day and draw them for you at evening turndown, which is nice because they are a real chore to operate. You need to turn the handle into a crank and then crank and crank and crank until you get them to the desired position.
The pool / beach:
The pool area, like most in South Beach, doubles as a bar/club at night. Perhaps this is why it was designed the way it is. In what I found to be one of the hotel’s only shortcomings, the pool area is decidedly too small for the size of the hotel. There are 130 day beds for a hotel with 400 rooms (assuming 2-3 guests a room would be 800-1200 on a full day). I was told that on sunny weekend days, people need to get down by 9am to get a chair. In addition, the beds are squeezed so tightly together that you can’t help but feel you are imposing on whomever you are sandwiched between. On the plus side, the pool itself is nice, designed as an “infinity pool” with overflowing edges and kept between 80 and 85 degrees. You can also get a full breakfast or lunch menu as well as drinks from the many waitresses at the pool. The W also has it’s own section on the beach, which if more people used would probably help the overcrowding at the pool! I went to the beach on my last day and had tons of room as well as access to nearly the same menu from the beach waiters.
There is a basketball court and a tennis court available. I was also told that Whatever/Whenever can arrange for tennis lessons.
Food and drink:
The W South Beach caters to the crowd that can afford their rates with a top “name” restaurant in Mr. Chow. It’s one of the “see and be seen” places of South Beach and if that is your scene, you will enjoy it. Solea is their Spanish themed restaurant with tapas and is the only breakfast option. They do have free coffee at the entrance to Solea. One thing missing from the W, though, is a grab and go option. A Starbucks would probably have fit in perfectly here. If you don’t want to sit down for a fancy breakfast, you’ll have to leave the hotel. I found a Cafe Bustelo 1.5 blocks north which did the trick. As for drinks, the bar in the Living Room has a very extensive menu of mixed drinks and the bartenders are keen to make you whatever you want provided they have the ingredients. They are definitely in the class of bartenders you would refer to as “mixologists” and that suits the atmosphere of the W South Beach perfectly.
I also toured the Fantastic Suite (the lowest category of Suite) which has more space, a “plunge tub” (which seemed cool to look at but perhaps a bit impractical to use), and a larger outdoor area with day beds. Here are pictures of the Fantastic Suite:
As of January 31st, 2010, the spa had not yet opened.
Starwood Preferred Guest Benefits:
A side note for members of SPG. The 4pm late checkout benefit for elite members is not always honored here as the hotel is considered a resort and that makes this benefit at their discretion. If they are not too busy, you should be able to get a 1pm checkout. Also, for SPG Platinum members, all suites are considered Specialty – so an upgrade from Wonderful to Spectacular or Fabulous studio is all you should expect. They will sometimes upgrade higher if, for example, they are out of Spectacular and Fabulous but have a Fantastic or Oasis suite available – however, those are not considered standard Platinum upgrades.
The W South Beach is like a home away from home. The property and the staff are all top notch. If you like the South Beach “scene”, you will feel right at home here as well. If you’ve stayed here, please add your comments below!
1919 Connecticut Avenue NW,
Washington, District of Columbia (DC)
By: Dave Grossman, Hotel Magician
We checked into the Hilton Washington on a prepaid rate of $119 + tax – not bad for a weekend rate in April in the heart of D.C.
Unfortunately, $119 was about what the hotel was worth – which is to say that while the hotel was completely “acceptable”, it was not at a level of luxury I’d expected when booking and, thus, seemed more appropriately priced than a “deal”.
Check-in was not very smooth. While we’d booked a room with 2 Queen Beds, at checkin we were told that (as a Hilton Honors Gold member) I’d been upgraded to the 9th floor. However, that room was not ready (at 8:30 pm no less) and we could either wait “an hour or more” for the room or accept one on the eighth floor with two double beds. The clerk was anything but apologetic and after a 5 hour drive, we accepted the downgrade so we could get on with the trip.
Further, the Executive Lounge was closed early due to a water leak issue and, while we were told we could still go up and ask for beverages to be brought to us, there was nobody at the lounge desk and when I walked in, I was treated to a surly “we’re closed” while I was mid-explanation about how we were told we could still come up for beverages.
Not a great start.
The room itself was perfectly fine – nothing very modern but not very aged either. No flat screen TVs in these rooms but an adequate selection of cable stations were offered along with the usual selection of pay movies.
The next morning, the Executive Lounge was open and, I’m happy to say, the service was very good. When I asked for a newspaper, the lounge attendant promptly offered to go downstairs and get me one – which he did. That is the kind of service that should be given throughout a 4 Star hotel. Free wifi in the lounge is also a nice touch.
One thing the Hilton Washington has going for it, regardless of service, is its location near Dupont Circle. Convenient to the subway, restaurants, bars, lounges, and area attractions yet just off the beaten path enough to not feel trapped in tourist land, the hotel is very well situated.
I’d stay here again, but only on a sub $120 rate. I wouldn’t pay a premium to stay here. The hotel does also offer an outdoor pool, fitness center, and a nice looking restaurant/bar option. We did not have an opportunity to sample the fare.
Other Hilton family Hotels in the Washington DC area include:
Homewood Washington DC Downtown
Doubletree Guest Suites, Washington DC
Embassy Suites, Washington D.C.
Capital Hilton- Washington DC
Hilton Washington DC – Embassy Row
Embassy Suites, Washington DC Convention Center
Hilton Garden Inn, Washington DC Downtown
Hampton Inn – Washington DC Convention Center
Embassy Suites at the Chevy Chase Pavillion – DC
Doubletree Hotel – Washington DC
Hampton Inn Washington DC
W Seattle, 1112 4th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
Dave Grossman, Hotel Magician
The W Seattle strikes us as a very typical W. That is to say, if you generally enjoy the W experience, this hotel should be no exception.
It’s not quite as modern-funky as, say, the W Montreal where the bedrooms have windows leading into the bathrooms (which may or may not be your thing). But it has the full “W vibe”.
Room types start at “Wonderful”, then “Spectacular” (which we were told is just a Wonderful room on a higher floor or with a better view), then “Cozy Corner” which is much like a “Wonderful” except with a long entrance area and, of course, corner windows which does give the room a more spacious feel. We did not see the suites.
Amenities are typical of a W: Bliss Spa products in the bathroom, nice flat panel plasma TVs, overpriced Voss water waiting for your consumption on the nightstand. They are modern, chic, and comfortable. Both rooms we tried (a Wonderful and a Cozy Corner, had either a lounger or a couch-like area by the window on which to relax. The beds, in Starwood style, was extrememly comfy.
The Staff: Very typical of a W, we found some to be extrememly helpful while others struck us as quite conescending in that “this is the W and you are lucky to be our guest” kind of way. But again, this is how W’s tend to be so a regular W guest would not be taken by surprise.
The “Living Room”, as they call the main lobby area, was cozy with many chairs and couches as well as free Wifi – a nice touch. At night, it becomes a bar for the ultra-hip.
There is also a crictially acclaimed restuarant in the W Seattle, called Earth and Ocean (http://www.earthocean.net/) – well known for the house-made charcuterie.
The location: The W Seattle hotel is very central within Seattle, on 4th Ave and Seneca St. It’s only a 10-15 minute walk to the Pike Place Market, the main shopping areas, Pioneer Square, or the shopping center that houses the monorail entrance (to get to the Space Needle). There are also approximately 25 Starbucks within walking distance. As an aside, do try the local “Top Pot” doughnuts, sold by area Starbucks stores. They really are that good.
Other recommended Seattle hotels:
Courtyard by Marriott Lake Union
Warwick Seattle Hotel
Sheraton Seattle Hotel
The Paramount Seattle, a Coast Hotel
SpringHill Suites by Marriott Seattle Downtown
Mayflower Park Hotel
Hotel deals beyond Seattle
A Selection of Things to Do in Seattle:
- The Pike Place Market. Start from Union and 1st Ave and walk from there. There’s a lot of ground to cover! Be sure to watch the guys selling fish and tossing them to each other (and sometimes into the crowd!). It’s just in side what is called the “Economy” area of the market. But you can’t really miss it.
- The Space Needle. Just take the monorail from Pacific Place Mall (600 Pine St.). $2 each wasy as of July 2007. The monorail was built for access to the Space Needle due to its distance from downtown. The 605-foot tall Space Needle was completed in December 1961 and officially opened a mere four months later on the first day of the World’s Fair, April 21, 1962.
- Have a lunch at Armandino’s Salumi (309 3rd Ave S). It’s only open Tue-Fri 11am-4pm and you will probably wait 30-60 minutes online (your best chance of getting a spot at the communal table or few other two seaters is before noon or after 2pm). Get some cured meat sampler plates or perhaps try the Porchette sandwich – slow roasted pork with fennel and carrots, in a sandwich, optionally with their fresh mozzerella or provolone cheese.
They put a garlic spread on the bread first and will top with peppers and onions on request. Really well known spot but possibly off the beat of some standard guidebooks.
- The original Starbucks. Located in the Pike Place market and with no tables or chairs, experience where it all began for the now-global coffee chain.
- More espresso. Duck into any of the espresso bars around town for a cup of real joe. Seattle knows coffee.
- The Underground Seatle tour (www.undergroundtour.com/ ). Leaves from Pioneer Square daily. Learn about the orgins of Seattle. Did you know that in the early 1900′s, the sidewalks were up to 30 feet below the streets? Why? Nobody wanted to pay to put the sidewalks at street level after the city was rebuilt after a fire burned the whole town down. Streets were raised one story to allow for better sewage but the city didn’t want to pay to redo the sidewalks. People had to navigate ladders to cross the street and many were killed either falling off drunk or being crushed by objects falling from the street. Learn more about the Underground Seattle at this fun tour.
Luxor Hotel and Casino
3900 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV
By Dave Grossman, Hotel Magician
The Luxor is currently what we would describe as an “up and comer”. Since being bought by MGM, it’s obvious there are big plans for this hotel and casino built in the 1980′s and virtually unchanged ever since. Right now, we’d call it average – but so is the price, so it will still fit the bill for a good many travelers.
For this hotel, a simple Pro and Con list will probably work best.
- Decent location, near the end of the Strip but next door to Mandalay Bay on one side and Excalibur on the other – with inside walkways into both. It’s also convenient to the Airport.
- It’s mid-range casino means that you can get comps here for lower wagering on table games than you would elsewhere. Playing the $10 games may not get you much, but they will rate you. Next door at Mandalay Bay, they’ll not-so-nicely scoff at you if you are playing with anything less than green. For similar wagering, you’ll also earn about twice as much in comps at Luxor.
- The Pyramid. It’s cool… although the nicer rooms are actually in the Tower.
- The pool. It’s not as Flash as the Hard Rock or Mandalay but it’s a big pool with lots of seating. It attracts people of all ages.
- The rooms in the Tower section are nicely renovated.
- The price. The Luxor is usually quite a good deal relative to other big casinos on the strip.
- Not one but two Starbucks!
- It lacks the “Flash Factor”. You won’t find the celebs here. But, really, most don’t care about that.
- The food. We’ll be honest. It’s not good. It’s not the worst, but it’s not good. MGM needs to overhaul the Luxor‘s dining concepts ASAP. We’re talking a brand new buffet with brand new food, a brand new cafe, and some designer dining options like the MGM Grand has.
- The location. For some it’s a nice location but others might prefer to be more mid-strip – near Caesar’s Palace, Planet Hollywood, Paris Las Vegas, Wynn, etc.
- The check-in. It took a long time. And despite our package including a supposedly special “Tower Check-in,” the Tower Check-in was closed when we arrived forcing a very long wait on the main line.
Overall, it was fine. Nothing extravagant but not bad either. We’d stay again if on a budget.
Bare Pool Lounge Bar
3400 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109 US
By Dave Grossman and Josh Sanders, Hotel Magician
In recent years, Las Vegas has really upped the ante for exclusive nightclubs. But the group behind happening nightspot “Light” saw a relatively untapped market – getting that same crowd to party during daylight hours.
Enter “Bare Pool Lounge” at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas. Open from 11am to 7pm, Bare caters to a very exclusive crowd, ushering in the same people skipping the lines at the hottest clubs while turning away most of the rest save for high rollers and beautiful babes.
But this is exactly why you’ll want to spend a day here if you can. The majority of the crowd here is extremely attractive and its European-style means that bikini tops are optional. Bare has been marketing itself extensively and we were a bit afraid it’d be more hype than reality – but this was not the case.
It’s a pretty small setting – we guessed there was about 150 people total, including guests on the lounge chairs (waiter service), day beds and private nooks (bottle service), and a VIP area for special guests (celebs and high-rollers).
If you visit without bottle service, you are in competition for one of the lounge chairs and there are not many. Else, you will either be hanging out by the bar or staking out a piece of the side of the pool for your belongings. There are no changing areas or locker facilities. Not ideal but you’ll still feel pretty good about being here.
Bare succeeds in delivering exactly what it aims to: a a beautiful and exclusive setting for beautiful people to spend the day relaxing in and around the pool and enjoying some fine food and drink while the DJ does his thing. Pitchers of margaritas and sangria replace the tradition “bottles” you expect from bottle service at a nightclub.
Hot Tip from the Hotel Magician:
Thursdays are unofficially “Exotic Dancer” day where local dancer beauties show up and kick back.
The best way to get in is to call in advance, at least a day before, for reservations.
Standard rates as of this writing are $40 for men and $20 for ladies on Fri/Sat/Sun and $30/$10 on Thurs/Mon. (closed Tues/Weds). Without being on “the list”, your best bet is to arrive by 10:45am for the 11am opening. It’s the same “get there early” technique you’d use at a hot nightclub.
For a big group, you’ll need to pay for bottle service and food to reserve your spot.
Bare Pool: (702) 791-7442
MGM Mirage hotel reservations
North America > United States > Vermont
Silas Griffith Inn
By Dave Grossman, Hotel Magician,
We had a lovely 2 night stay at this historic Inn located in Danby, Vermont – about 15 minutes from Manchester. The Inn is, as most B&B’s tend to be, owned by a husband and wife team. She runs the kitchen (Emma’s) and he mans the front desk.
Located on top of a hill near the (extremely small) town’s church, the Silas Griffith Inn consists of a main house that includes reception, a lounge area for guests, and one guest room, and a large second house which houses Emma’s downstairs and several guest rooms upstairs. There is a hot tub located outside which, while open year round, might be a bit scary to get out of during the cold snowy winter months! There is an outdoor pool as well. We stayed in Georgia’s room which was very nice. Our favorite feature was the fireplace which doubled as the heater – controlled by thermostat! Nice bath amenities were provided although it was a bit small and lacking a tub. You can only expect so many modern amenities in a historic Inn!
The Inn has some modern comforts but would be considered more “homey” than upscale. Breakfast at Emma’s was absolutely delightful. Like your own mother’s cooking. We sampled pancakes, French toast, omelets, bacon (the excellent Vermont maple coated kind!), sausage, and fried potatoes and were impressed both mornings. Everyone there was extremely polite as well and made us feel right at home. We did not sample the dinner fare as we wanted to explore Vermont more.
Hotel Magician Hot Tip
For dinner our first night we ventured to another Inn called the Swiss Inn. They served a wonderful Swiss dinner of raclette and fondue and we’d go back anytime. A word of warning on driving there, though: In Vermont some roads close during winter and become snowmobiling trails. This makes certain routes *much* longer. In this case, Danby – Mt.Tanbor Road was closed making the travel from Danby to the Swiss in about 40 mins rather than 20. There are also no warnings that a given road will end until you are right up on the end – and in-car GPS’s will not know the difference. On the way back to New York, we stopped at the Equinox Resort in Manchester. Far pricier than the Silas Griffith Inn, the Equinox Resort is also one of the oldest Inns in America. Look for a future review.