Category Archives: Guestwriter

Intercontinental Prague and Luxury Shopping

With a Rolls-Royce Showroom, Poor Wifi

And Great Shopping!

Stayed Mar 2017

After the once-in-a-lifetime stay at the Gritti Palace, I found my way to Prague in the Czech Republic (Or Czechoslovakia for those stuck in a time machine) where the residents are supposedly unimaginably good-looking as I was told.

A quick fuss free ride from the airport put me in the hotel lobby in no time!

The check in was not that fast and as I want to get to my room to rest as fast as possible too, I think I wasn’t too patient. I also opted for the breakfast the next morning as it was not included in my rate.

Having read previous reviews, one thing I noticed was that it was pretty old and another was the Rolls-Royce showroom.

From the lobby to my room, it was indeed obvious that the hotel is pretty old and it felt rather like the late 80s in the elevator.

The room looked rather worn as well but the toilet was rather fine, and the marbled walls reminded me of the incomparable bathroom in the Gritti Palace.

I believe I was upgraded to a bigger but I wasn’t paying attention at the front desk as I was really tired. On the table was a plate of snacks and 2 bottles of water with another bottle of wine, and I still have no idea what Qvijote means even after plugging it in Google Search.

One issue I had was the poor WIFI in the room. I endured it for a day and called the front desk the next day. A router was sent to my room and it solved the problem.

Breakfast was served at the restaurant to the side of the lobby and I felt it was not worth the price, although I was intrigued by the ‘Chinese bowls’ available.

Perhaps to cater to Chinese tourists??

The hotel is really at the edge of the Old Town and a quick 5 to 10 mins walk gets one to the Town Square and the famous Astronomical Clock.

The Charles Bridge and Prague Castle were nearby too but in another direction.

There were many famous brand boutiques in the old houses near the hotel as well and fans would be delighted to find quite a number of items priced at 30-40% less, including LV and Tods.

A pair of Bally shoes bought at the store at the hotel went at 30% less as well.

My UOB VS credit card had a really good workout in the city.

Before leaving the hotel, I finally took a look at the Rolls-Royce showroom, followed by complimentary drinks at the lobby bar as part of my elite benefits.

I was so glad to see ‘Singapore Sling’ listed!

I didn’t have a chance to use the gym and pool but merely took a look and photo.

Gathering my thoughts and opinions, I would say this is an excellent hotel if location is important, but otherwise I was not impressed with the hardware nor the service.

And I didn’t opt for breakfast on subsequent days too.

The price of 75 Euros per night was definitely a mitigating factor.

Happy and Healthy travels!

Hotel Review: Conrad Bali (Conrad Suite Twin)

I recently had a short 2-night stay at Conrad Bali – recent posts at the FlyerTalk thread didn’t seem all that hot about the property, so my expectations were relatively low going in – this ended up perhaps a good thing, since the stay far exceeded my expectations and the property is now in the running for (my mental list of) best Conrad properties around – possibly the best if taking value into account , considering the relatively low cost of a stay there.

The property

Upon checking in, we were notified to some awesome news – we had been upgraded to the new(er) Conrad Suites wing. I got a welcome letter as a Diamond guest – I’m pretty sure the first three benefits listed would apply to any guest staying in a suite; I’m guessing that Diamond members would get to enjoy them (essentially lounge benefits) even if not upgraded.

It wasn’t all perfect – I’d originally booked a basic king room, but the upgraded room came with twin beds. Having said that, these are two queen beds we’re talking about – I wasn’t about to reject a suite upgrade just because of that.

Part of the welcome package includes a map of the property (it says a lot when you need one to help navigate yourself around the grounds). The Conrad Suites wing is at the top right of the map (IV), pretty much the opposite end from the main entrance (1). If this is your first time at the property, it probably makes sense to just let a porter help you with directions and your luggage – they don’t seem to necessarily expect tips, but given the exchange rate even tips of <$1 would probably be plenty.

Walking towards the Conrad Suites wing at night, we were led past the Conrad Suites pool area – it’s a rather stunning view; one that my mobile phone camera really fails to do justice to. Thankfully, the internet offers superior alternatives.


(Image from pic-travel.com.tw)

The room

(Floor plan from the Conrad Bali website – my room was essentially a mirror image of this with twin beds)

When you first step into the suite, you really only see about half of it. Already that’s pretty huge. At an advertised 110 sq. m./1184 sq. ft., the entire area is probably bigger than many homes in Singapore (keeping in mind that there are no bay windows, planters or bomb shelters in here)…

A welcome platter of fruit on the dining table near the entrance. This was changed daily – I felt pretty bad since I didn’t really touch any of it (little space left after stuffing myself at other parts of the property). Hopefully the staff get to feast on untouched items, rather than just disposing of it…

Power sockets at the dining table cleverly hidden away – this hiding thing is pretty common throughout the room. Given that there’s no dedicated work desk (who works while staying at a resort? Probably lots of people, sadly) this allows the area to function as one.

Just behind the dining table lies the kitchenette area, equipped with a sink and Nespresso-compatible (counterfeit?) coffee machine.

Complimentary Nespresso-compatible coffee pods and TWG teabags. They replenished these while tidying in the morning as well as during evening turndown service, so you know what to do if you’re aiming to maximise your souvenirs from a stay…

Tucked away from view are two mini-fridges (mini-bar plus an extra one with some extra bottles of water), the bin, cutlery, crockery, a kettle, a toaster, and even a juicer. I guess that was one thing I could have done with some of that complimentary fruit.

Adjoining the dining area is the living area, with plenty of sitting space and a flat screen TV. There’s a ceiling fan here for air circulation, in addition to the air-conditioning. This was the only TV with easy access to HDMI ports, and though they seemed to have disabled the input button on the remote, it was possible to switch to HDMI input using the physical button on the TV set.

Just outside the living area was a little balcony. Not pictured – a day bed. I was on the ground floor, though, so the balcony lacked privacy. It allowed quick access towards the pool, but since there’s no way to lock the door if you exit that way, it ended up not being used very much during the stay.

At this point we’re only halfway through the suite – here’s a quick video to give an idea of the scale of the place, unfortunately taken in that annoying vertical format that works better for mobile viewing (yes, it was meant for Instagram use).

The bedroom area is also equipped with a ceiling fan. When checking in, the front desk officer had offered to push the twin beds closer to each other to form a mega (faux super-king?) bed. We’d declined the offer, but given the default positioning of the twin beds, I’m not sure how much this would have changed anything!

(Not pictured – another flat screen TV for your in-bed viewing pleasure. This one is recessed more deeply in a fixture and doesn’t offer easy connectivity to personal devices.)

Conrad Bali offers a free monkey toy (presumably a reference to the Monkey Forest near Ubud). We initially thought it was a female monkey wearing a dress, but now we think that’s actually a sarong.

More stuff hidden at the bedside tables – apparently, a simple bottle of water is too unsightly to go uncovered.

The bedside radio offers support for mobile device connectivity, but it’s older equipment supporting older iOS devices. Better than nothing, I suppose?

Moving on towards the dressing area, there’s a dressing table opposite the closet.

Yet another hidden object – this time, a hairdryer.

 

Also a hidden power plug (presumably for the said hairdryer) and various miscellaneous kits.

 

Closet. Open; functional. There are nice, fluffy bathrobes provided – also more fanciful-looking (traditional?) robes.

It’s probably a worrying sign when a hotel provides bug spray in your room – I think you get mosquitos at the balcony area, but if you keep the doors closed you should be fine. They also provide a straw bag that comes in handy when going to the pool.

Finally, there’s the bathroom. Two sinks, a bathtub accompanied by a small TV, a toilet and shower. There’s a gigantic ottoman in the middle of the bathroom that looks pretty comfortable… but also rather unnecessary?

The default Aromatherapy Associates bath amenities, as with other Conrad properties, can be swapped upon request – I usually prefer the Shanghai Tang ones, but I think the default ones are fine too.

The grounds

The lagoon and main pool in the resort are less exclusive than the suites area (and thus more crowded), but still pretty nifty. I thought the lagoon in particular was pretty interesting since it sloped into sandy beach-like areas at certain parts, offering an area for kids to safely play with sand.

I saw some floats being used in the main pool, so I guess it’s cool to use them there. Plenty of opportunities for fun for kids, which is great since they’re not allowed at the Conrad Suites pool.

There’s a gym on the property – other than acknowledging its existence and providing these two pictures, I can’t really say much more about it.

There’s a general lounge area called Reflections that has some seating and a pool table. It was unattended when we walked past at night, but we were able to help ourselves to the pool equipment on our own. Unfortunately, there was only one proper cue stick, and the table was also in pretty poor state.

Near the Conrad Suites wing is a chapel – it seems like the property handles numerous weddings.

Beyond the chapel is the beach. It seems to be a public access area, since there were some hawkers walking around trying to sell their wares. Regardless, a very nice area. There are cabanas along the beach maintained by the property, though you’ll need to pay a fee to make use of them. No such charge for the beach chairs.

The beach faces east, making it a great place to enjoy the sunrise.

Once you get back to the Conrad Suites wing, you’ll see a sign reminding you that children are not allowed at the pool. It helps to maintain an exclusive feel, but given that the suits are so huge (and thus great for families), it can seem rather  counter-intuitive to make families travel further to the main pool and lagoon.

The (restricted) poolside cabanas here are free to use, unlike the beach-side ones around the rest of the property. They’re great for just spending a lazy afternoon, with the option of easily going in and out of the pool.

Hotel staff send you wet towels and ice water when using the cabanas, with a menu to make additional orders. They’re not pushy about it – we didn’t order any additional items, though they looked relatively affordable as far as resorts go.

Breakfast (RIN)

The Japanese restaurant at the Conrad Suites wing serves as a possible venue for breakfast. It’s the one recommended for Suites (and Diamond) guests. I also suspect that the quality of food is better here than at the other restaurants.

When having breakfast there, you can order a number of items off their a la carte menu. A special shout out to their French toast in particular – it’s done with thick-cut French loaf, which was remarkably soft and really quite delightful.

You could also head into the restaurant to help yourself to the buffet spread. Various options including hot food, pastries, cereal, salad and fruit. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

 

I was particularly impressed by the stir-fried (Japanese style) beef they had on offer. The chicken katsu was pretty good too (a little tough, but very tasty).

Breakfast (Suku)

On our second morning we tried out breakfast at the largest on-site restaurant.

You also get to order from an a la carte menu.

The spread here was even larger, at least partially by virtue of being a larger space catering to more people. Again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

 

I particularly enjoyed the wider range of fruit available (including mangosteens and passionfruit).

All in all, despite the larger spread available, I thought the quality of food was better at RIN. That said, it was still a very enjoyable meal.

Afternoon tea (RIN)

Afternoon tea is served at RIN from 3-5pm. You get to order drinks off a menu and they serve a tray of snacks and pastries for tea. We generally found these all to be enjoyable.

 

Evening cocktails (Club lounge)

From 5-7pm you can go to the club lounge (just one storey above RIN) for evening cocktails. Again, you get to order off a menu – quite similar to the tea drinks menu, but with alcoholic options as well. We didn’t realise food would be provided as well; these were also quite enjoyable.

Conclusion

Given that it’s an Asian beach resort, an immediate comparison with Conrad Koh Samui jumps to mind. When I’d stayed there earlier this year, I was pretty much blown away by the experience. Conrad Bali hasn’t dethroned that experience, but given the price difference I’ll have to say this place offers a lot more bang for buck (I’d paid about S$180 per night including taxes for this; it was a sale rate, but if you manage to catch it a 50% flash sale it’ll be even cheaper). Imagine pairing this with the Citi Prestige 4th night free offer – 4 nights here at less than S$600 would be pretty sweet!

Even if you don’t get upgraded to a suite (I suspect it’s rare for Golds or lower), I’d say that there’s enough on the property to make for a very pleasant stay. The suite experience might be worth an additional investment, though it would severely erode the bang-for-buck advantage.

Conrad Koh Samui was kinda a bucket list item of sorts for me, but I personally find it too pricey (even if paid in points) to justify a return visit anytime soon. An affordable alternative, Conrad Bali has sufficiently impressed me to to displace it as the go-to option for a nearby beach resort.


Louis believes he caught the premium travel bug after attaining KrisFlyer Elite Gold and occasionally being upgraded while shuttling between the UK, Singapore and Japan (in economy class). These travels have led to a wonderful marriage, as well as a burning desire to maximise his frequency of travel in business class or better.

He travels with a gryphon plush toy, Griffles, which often stands in for him in vacation photos. Griffles continues to amuse (and confuse) air stewardesses, hotel staff and just about everybody else, all around the world.

Oman Air B787 Business Class CGK-MCT-FRA Review

Shannen’s quest for premium travel began with a taste of SQ’s First Class and The Private Room, where a good 5 hours was spent in the company of champagne, lobster and Chilean sea bass. Playing with Google Flights and fighting to foot the bill (especially when there are 10X points to be earned) count amongst her newly found passions.


Flight: WY850 CGK – MCT, 30 April 2017
Aircraft: Boeing 787
Flight time: 7h 55min, 14:50 – 19:45
Class: Business (fully flat)

Layover: 6h 15 min

Flight: WY115 MCT – FRA, 1 May 2017
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9 JET
Flight time: 7h 5 min, 02:00 – 07:05
Class: Business (fully flat)


On the first leg from Jakarta to Muscat, I was surprised to see the old business class seats. According to the crew, we were on a leased plane so it had not been fitted with the new Apex suite (reviewed by Lucky here) but were reassured that we would get to enjoy it on the MCT – FRA flight.

WY850 CGK - MCT Boeing 787 business class
WY850 Oman Air CGK – MCT Boeing 787 business class

As I was travelling with my partner, I was happy that there was no privacy screen- however, this would be annoying for solo travellers. The seat was spacious and immediately (as this was my first longhaul business flight) I put the seat into bed mode and exclaimed how amazing it was to be lying flat on a plane.

Oman Air business class – Our seats
Oman Air business class Nicolas Feuillatte champagne

Kimberley, a very lovely and friendly FA, came over to introduce herself and welcome us onboard with Nicolas Feuillatte.

A little while later, amenity kits and headphones were distributed. I didn’t like that the amenity kit was presented in a plastic wrapper, which makes it look brand new but cheap.

Oman Air business class amenity kit
Oman Air business class amenity kit
Oman Air business class amenity kit

The amenity kit contained Amouage toiletries- we learned later while exploring the airport that Amouage is an Omani luxury cosmetics brand. I didn’t find the pouch itself particularly attractive. It’s a bit gaudy, and both male and female passengers received the same kit, which I thought was poor effort. However I did love the actual packaging of the amenities within, which looked very classy in black and gold. I put on the socks immediately (thin but still comfy). I also appreciated the addition of eye gel!

Oman Air business class unbranded headphones
Oman Air business class unbranded headphones

The menus were already in the cubby hole under the armrest with a bottle of water.

The crew started serving Arabic coffee and dates.

Oman Air business class – Arabic coffee and dates
Oman Air business class – Arabic coffee and date

The date was extremely sweet. I enjoyed my first taste of Arabic coffee- it tasted almost like herbal tea.

After take-off, dinner was served in several courses:

Oman Air business class appetiser- Salami and melon bruschetta

I skipped the salami bruschetta because it didn’t look appetising at all, but I tried the melon one and thought it was tasted pretty nice and fresh.

I had ordered the chicken soup to start and it arrived with adorable butter rolls.

Oman Air business class appetiser – Asian-inspired chicken soup

I was expecting a clear broth but instead I got what tasted like blended oatmeal with chicken flavouring. So I fobbed it off to my partner (who enjoyed it) and asked the crew if I could have the traditional Arab mezzeh platter instead, which they brought to me right away.

Oman Air business class appetiser- Traditional Arabic mezzeh

I am partial to middle eastern food and went to town on this. The stuffed red pepper and roasted tomato dip were delicious. The samosa crust was quite greasy but I liked its spinach filling.

Oman Air business class main – Chicken shish tawook

The crew served the main course shortly after clearing my plate from the appetiser course. The chicken breast had a surprisingly good texture but it was under-seasoned. The pumpkin was also bland. The potato wedges hidden behind were quite spicy and delicious, though slightly soggy. I had ordered the fruit platter for dessert which came with a completely unnecessary sugar syrup drizzle that I didn’t appreciate.

Oman Air business class dessert- Seasonal fruit (with unsolicited sugar syrup)

My partner ordered 2 desserts:

Oman Air business class dessert – Tiramisu coffee and mascarpone trifle
Oman Air business class dessert – Gourmet ice cream

While I didn’t have any, my partner claimed that neither dessert was good. The tiramisu tasted more of cream than anything else and the ice cream was already in a sorry state (as pictured) when it arrived at his seat.

As our tables were cleared, the FA asked if we wanted any coffee or tea. I ordered a mint tea with honey and it was served on a mini tray with a little jar of Egyptian honey on the side, as well as a separate mini saucer for the tea bag.

Oman Air business class – Arabian mint tea with honey

I had never been more excited about bedtime. There was no mattress pad but I felt that the seat was comfortable enough without one. I loved the pillow- it was thick and fluffy. However, the seat fabric trapped a bit too much heat- I woke up feeling quite hot.

Oman Air business class – Mood lighting in the cabin

About 1.5h before arrival, the lights were switched on and we were served a quick snack.

Oman Air business class refreshment

I didn’t eat the cheesecake but my partner loved it. The extremely stale roll was slathered with diced cucumber and some unidentifiable squash dressed with mayo. This time, the samosa contained ground lamb in a tomato sauce and was pretty delicious, but the snack as a whole was a let-down.

Upon arrival, we headed straight to the Oman Air business class lounge.

We had 6 hours to burn. The Oman Air complimentary 15-min massage offered to passengers was something I had been looking forward to. When we reached the counter, we asked the staff how we could book our slots and were informed that they could take our reservations on the spot. We were offered 12am and 12.15am as there was only 1 masseuse on duty.

The hot food spread was great- the middle eastern food on offer was very delicious.

Oman Air MCT lounge – spa treatment room

For the massage, I chose the hot stone back therapy. I was instructed to lay on my front, fully clothed, and the masseuse draped a towel over me. She warmed two stones in some kind of heater on the countertop and kneaded my back with them. After a long flight, it was a truly amazing 15 minutes of pure bliss.

We had decided not to leave the airport because the temporary visitor’s visa cost nearly 100 USD and for 6 hours, it just wasn’t worth it. So we read, tried to nap on the sofas and ate a bit too much to while away the time.

At 1am, it was finally time to board our flight towards Frankfurt. The holding pen was packed and there was no priority boarding. Instead, all passengers were simply herded onto buses in waves to board the plane.

WY850 Oman Air MCT – FRA Boeing 787 business class Apex suite cabin

My jaw dropped when I entered the cabin- the new seats were gorgeous and looked sophisticated. One thing we immediately noticed was that the window seats offered much more leg room than the aisle seats.

It was quite a full cabin but shortly after stowing away our carry-ons, the very efficient FA offered us some pre-departure Nicolas Feuillatte. No one introduced themselves to personally welcome us onboard, which was understandable given the almost-full cabin. The crew then distributed the same amenity kits we received on the previous leg. The crew also went around offering Arabic coffee and dates, which I declined.

Oman Air business class – Our seats
Oman Air business class – seat control

I loved the control with the different seat modes (for take-off, dining, flat bed, angled flat bed). They were idiot-proof and convenient.

Once again, the menus were left under the armrest- the wine menu was exactly the same as that on the previous leg.

Oman Air business class – IFE
Oman Air business class – IFE control

I explored the much newer IFE, which came with a touchscreen control. One can navigate their offerings via the control like a smartphone, which I thought was quite interesting and modern. However, as with most non-smartphone touchscreen contraptions, it was a bit laggy.

It was past 2am local time after take-off. I had eaten my fill at the lounge so I wasn’t interested in more food. I was almost dozing off at this point so I quickly informed the FA not to wake me up for dinner and also made my breakfast order. I really enjoyed the new seat- the seat fabric was more breathable and stayed cool throughout the flight.

Oman Air business class breakfast – Greek omelette, hash brown potato, sautéed spinach, grilled tomato, chicken chipolata sausage

I was woken up slightly under 2 hours to landing for breakfast. The omelette was delicious. Unsurprisingly, the hashbrown was really soggy.

Oman Air business class breakfast- Creamy natural yogurt with mango sauce

The yogurt was served a little while after I had started on the omelette. It was nice and refreshing. The FA didn’t pro-actively offer any beverages as he cleared my table so I ordered a latte.

Oman Air business class – Latte (served in an espresso cup?)

Before the captain announced our approaching arrival, we were offered hot towels on dishes.

Oman Air business class – Pre-arrival hot towels

Seat: This being my first business class longhaul trip, I hadn’t set any expectations at all. I guess I got really lucky with the Apex suite as it seems to be one of the best business class seats at the moment.

Food: The food was good, but not amazing. The snack meal especially was disappointing- they were basically cold bits of bobs of bread and meat.

Lounge: I enjoyed the MCT business lounge because of the amazing food and the 15 min complimentary massage. But perhaps they could work on expanding the nap room since Oman Air layovers are often during ungodly hours for >5 hours.

To sum up: If you’re thinking of flying Oman Air, I would strongly recommend booking a flight with a much longer layover to justify the cost of the visa. 6 hours in the lounge can be pretty painful if you’re travelling alone and especially if you have to spend half the night there and there are no vacant day beds. And don’t forget to book your complimentary massage as soon as you check in to the lounge.

THE PLAZA Seoul Autograph Collection (finally I can get the wifey something from Hermes)

ratatouille is in love with food, cooking and travel (who isn’t). Apart from cooking up a storm in his kitchen and worry about the calories, he is blessed to be able to undertake occasional travels around the region for his work. Sharing is caring, he feels. And this is how he shows that he cares for mankind.


THE PLAZA Seoul sits right smack in the CBD of the Korean capital and walking distance to Myeong Dong. To qualify to be a hotel in the Autograph Collection, the hotel has to have some sort of uniqueness in itself and exudes its own personality and spirit. What that means, I leave it up to your imagination. Personally I think it’s Marriott’s take to rope in more cool looking establishments to soften their stiff Americanised corporate image in view of competition from the boutique hotels and the ultra cool. Like they say, no two hotels in the Autograph Collection are the same. We shall see how THE PLAZA Seoul fares.

THE PLAZA Seoul (photo credit: Marriott Rewards)

Getting to the hotel from the Incheon Airport is not difficult as it sits right on top of the City Hall Station. From the airport you could take the AREX direct to the Seoul Station and then transfer on the subway dark blue line to get to City Hall Station. This travel mode should take 1.5 hours while a taxi should take about 45 min to 1 hour, depending on the traffic. It costs me about S$50 for the taxi ride.

Test your eye sight to locate the stations (photo credit: Seoul Sublet)

Once I arrived at the hotel, the porter asked me for my name and he ushered me to the lift rather than to the check-in reception at the main lobby. It was then I realised that I could be getting a room upgrade and club lounge access. True enough, when we reached the 18th floor, the club lounge was there and a pleasant looking lady staff took over and proceeded to check me out in. Such is the benefit of a Marriott Rewards Gold Elite member. Depending on availability, there will be a room upgrade to your existing booking. For this business trip, I was booked on the Deluxe guest room so the upgrade will put me up on the Premier Suite, which is the next higher. Other perks like guaranteed late checkouts and lounge access/free breakfast are part and parcel of the Gold status.

A look at the different rooms and rates for THE PLAZA Seoul

I checked in after 5pm on a Monday and the club lounge was empty except for one guest boozing away on his laptop. Check in was a breeze and I took a few pictures of the club lounge before heading to the room.

View from the club lounge overlooking the City Hall. This was where the people assembled back in January when they protested against the former President Park Geun Hye.
The seating by the window
The booze
The non-booze
One of the magazines in the club lounge. How apt..

My abode was on the 20th floor. Let the pictures will tell you a thousand words.

View of the living room area. The bedroom is to its right.
The couch. And yes, there are complimentary Kyoho grapes.

This is a small walk-in wardrobe which I really didn’t like. It’s red in colour!? and the lights are dim. Obiang to the max!
Bar and working area. Not bad with the Nespresso offerings.
A peek into the fridge bar

I like this mutli-functional touch screen device that can control everything in the room. But I must complain about mis-representation. My room looks nothing like shown.

So far the room seems ok, apart from the eerie-looking red coloured wardrobe. The living area is good size for up to 2 persons to sit comfortably on the couch to watch tv. The bedroom is small but neat enough and does not feel claustrophobic.

The toilet is bright lit and is just ok, with a separate shower and bathtub. Nothing to shout. Then my eyes shifted to the shower amenities…

Oh man. Finally I could get some Hermes for the wifey. Thank you THE PLAZA!

Before we goo-gaa over these, let me just say these Hermes smell pretty normal with a citrus overtone. I don’t feel/smell a million bucks after using them.

Before heading out for dinner, I make a quick visit to the in-house gym. Now this is a gym that is located in another building next to the main hotel. To get there, you have to cross a small road behind the hotel and  get to the building next door. The gym is located on the 16th floor. This is one of the best hotel gyms I have ever been into and it beats many of those membership ones. The equipment here are new, the space is big and even comes with a golf driving range. Some equipment are weird looking but soon I realised their benefits. On the 17th floor is the main gym area while the 16th floor houses the reception desk and men’s sauna and grooming room. The ladies’ area is on the 15th. And finally the swimming pool and aerobic studio is on the 18th. 4 floors of fitness and well-being. Wonderful!

Front desk of the fitness centre on 16th floor
Outside the gym on the 17th
The first few equipment you will see on the 17th floor. This is some kind of a vibrating belt machine.
Guess what this is for?
For this!
Roller machines! Perfect for my sore shoulders. The oma seemed to be enjoying herself.
There is also a machine to measure blood pressure.
Full length mirror and yoga mats. Regular sessions are held for instructor-led stretching sessions.
Colourful dumb bells. I like!
About 20 thread mills, elliptical trainers and so on. Comes with a nice view too.
Spent my 20 minutes on this machine before dinner.

 

Driving range
Choice of irons and clubs

 

Took a photo of one of the locker rooms on the 16th floor. Very nice looking and men go about stark naked in them. So only one photo!

The saunas and shower facilities were good. The swimming pool was warm and has a lifeguard present. By far this is the best fitness centre I have been too, especially for a hotel’s. I reckon that this is also a member’s gym based on the type of visitors and the locker rooms. If you don’t have your gym attire, you can loan the in-house pink t-shirt and blue shorts (that’s the reason why you see the gym visitors in the same attire). No sports shoes? No problem. You can loan that too.

The next morning I decided to visit two breakfast areas for the sake of writing this article. The first one was on The Seven Square located on the 2nd floor. This was the common area for paid buffet breakfast, and this breakfast was part of the rate which I had paid. The spread was good and some of the items were uniquely Korean in the form of kimchi and cold noodles.

Chef working on my eggs
I liked the French toasts here. They were light and fluffy.
Fresh juices
Noodles station. Cooked upon order.
Cheese that I liked

Breads and pastries
What I had from all that spread…

It was about 9:30am by the time I finished and it is coming to the end of breakfast service. I made a rush to the club lounge to have a look what is up there. The spread there is probably 30% of what the main buffet breakfast offered. But since this is offered free of charge to Gold Elite members, there is nothing to complain about.

The cold section for the breads, cereal, fruits and so on.
The hot section. That’s all about it. Stark contrast, well it’s free..

THE PLAZA Seoul suits the business traveler as well as the holiday maker. Roughly US$200 for a room is not a bad rate given its location and the service. For me, I like the service from the staff who are ever so friendly and the fantastic fitness centre that I can spend the whole day in. Travel safe and well, everyone!

Testing my 360 camera at The Gritti Palace and the Carnevale di Venezia

If it’s good enough for Scarlett Johansson

Attended the Carnival incidentally

Stayed Feb 2017

The Santa Maria della Salute

 

The highlight of this particular trip was Venice. Italy has always been a place to visit for me, and in fact, I made my refundable bookings for Venice in Jun 2016, even before my visit to Rome in October 2016.

I had always been interested in the Gritti Palace which has been frequently featured on many ‘The Best’ lists and is probably the best hotel in Venice.

I first knew about the hotel 2 years ago when it was featured on the Starwood Hot Escapes site and yet the discounted rates were still almost 1000 Euros per night!

So, I searched for a good rate and decided on 28th Feb 2017.

It was still more than 400 Euros per night at a refundable rate but that was the lowest I’ve seen it at.

Subsequently, the rates increased and even the prepaid rates were more than that.

I made a booking at the Westin as well but due to changes to my flight itinerary, I cancelled it some time later.

Closer to the trip I realized that Feb 28 was the last day of the Carnevale di Venezia which definitely was a factor in the increase of the hotel rates.

Looking for the hotel was not very easy as the buildings in Venice looked pretty ancient and the hotel did not look particularly outstanding.

Easily missed Sign
Exterior

 

Entrance

 

On the other side of the door is expectedly a transformation from the plain exterior to an opulent interior.

Key Deposit
Lobby and Check-in
Lobby

 

Check in was done seated and done by Ms Frederica who informed me that I have been upgraded to a nice suite!

However, it wasn’t ready yet and I was asked to spend some time in the waiting area.

Waiting Area

While waiting, I explored the ground floor a little as well, looking at the décor as well as the outdoors.

Random Object
Stairs
Entrance to Restaurant Club del Doge
An Antique Chair not to be sat in

The hotel has its own jetty for guests arriving by water taxi which costs 110 Euros per way.

This is actually just double the price for a group of 4 as the water bus still costs 15 Euros per way per person but is so much slower and only arrives at designated stops.

Private jetty

To the left of the jetty is the great view of the Santa Maria and indeed magnificent.

There is a lift in the hotel and the keys are still in use rather than magnetic cards.

The corridor was contrastingly plain to the other parts of the hotel.

Corridor
Room Key with a nice tassel

The suite I received is named the Serenissima Suite and has a toilet in the living space.

Living Room
Toilet in the Living Room
Minibar

On the table were the welcome gifts and fresh flowers.

Welcome gifts and drink
Beautiful!

The spa menu was on the table beside and the prices expectedly steep.

The spa!
Hundreds of Euros!

Taking out my tripod and new camera I took a photo of the living room and voila!

Living Room Gritti Palace Suite – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The bedroom was also as opulent as can be and I definitely felt like a king on the bed.

The very comfortable bed!

The door to the left led to the dressing table, the wardrobe and the very ostentatious bathroom.

An aged mirror
A peek into the bathroom!

A full marble bathroom with Murano glassware made my day as I would probably never spend money on such an ornate setting in my own home.

Toilet
Double Basin
Gorgeous Bathtub
Murano glass for rinsing the mouth? Sure!
Acqua Di Parma products

Of course I had to take another 360 photo of the bathroom!

Bathroom Gritti Palace Suite – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

After a good rest in the suite, I went out to attend the last day of the Carnevale and to enjoy the costumes on display!

But, please leave your key at the hotel key deposit.

Many of the locals were very nicely dressed in the traditional costumes and masks and I think some of the tourists looked more than they were celebrating Halloween.

As the celebrations ended, I returned to the hotel for a good dinner at the Club del Doge.

The staff really do remember which room the guests are in as I was given the correct key without asking upon reaching the counter.

The setting of the restaurant was warm and calm and the service was attentive.

A great end to an exciting concluding day of the Carnevale.

Restaurant Entrance
Club Del Doge Interior
Menu
Bread
Starter
Seafood Pasta!
No idea how to describe this! Haha
Nice plate….
Seafood Fry
Complimentary Venetian snack

And I was back in the morning for breakfast!

Club del Doge in the day
Fruit spread
Yummy pastries
Cold cuts
A drink in the morning? Go ahead!
Water for me
Pies and Tarts
Snacks!
Nice display!
33 Euros for a simple Continental Breakfast? I’ll take the buffet
53 Euros per person? Glad my rate includes breakfast!
A la carte menu
What I ordered
Even lemons come with a ribbon

After a great breakfast, I took another walk around Venice and explore the famous sights including the Rialto bridge.

Before leaving the hotel, I took a look at the ‘Hallway of Fame’ for the celebrities who have stayed here.

Of course, Ms “ScarJo” is there.

As well as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

And many others, past and present.

Greta Garbo
Elizabeth Taylor
Margot Hemingway

 

A wonderful stay at a hotel that I have been looking at for several years. A good upgrade to a suite which was going for 2.3k Euros per night.

Onwards to the next destination!

Happy And Healthy Travels!

Intercontinental Lisbon, Out of Egg Tarts and No Movie

Can’t get enough (and of) Portuguese Egg Tarts

And I didn’t get my free movie benefit

Stayed Feb 2017

I found myself in Lisbon in the attempt to escape the high hotel rates in Barcelona which was hosting some convention and the nightly rates was 2-3 times more than usual.

I figured the savings could pay for a ticket to another city to explore and one-way TAP Portugal flights to Lisbon were going for less than $100SGD!

In addition, I was looking for an opportunity to use my Ambassador Cert from the IHG (Intercontinental) Programme and Intercontinental Lisbon was a great opportunity to use it!

The first night on the (refundable) Ambassador rate was 165 Euros and I got the second night free with the cert. (Unfortunately the second night was going for 145 Euros so that meant less savings for me.)

The prepaid rate was about 140 Euros per night so it was about 115 Euros off the joining fee of the programme.

The hotel was near town and on the side nearer to the airport, and so it was prefect for my quick visit to the City of Seven Hills.

The ride from the airport was smooth as the driver was acquainted with the hotel and needed no help in directions.

Upon arrival, the staff helped me with my luggage spontaneously and the front desk was just at the entrance as well.

Front Desk to the left

I was assisted by a new employee who was being guided by a senior and she was really quite slow. I didn’t mind as I wasn’t in a rush and in a forgiving mood.

All of us have been beginners at some point in time.

The walk from the hotel to town was generally downhill and quite easy and I would advise taking a taxi back to the hotel in view of this. Unless you really want to train those glutes.

My itinerary for Lisbon was quite sparse so I got convinced at the Front Desk to buy lounge access for my stay.

So after checking in and surrendering my Ambassador Cert, I was shown to the elevators and made my way to the way.

On my way to the room, the optical illusion of a full 4-legged table at the lift-landing caught my eye.The room was a fair size and consistently with the Intercontinental feel.The double basins were nice to have when traveling with a companion.

 

I was rather curious about the extension pod on the desk which had USB ports as well as power points for Europe and UK (and Singapore) types of plugs.The view from my room was towards downtown and gave me an outline of the route. The rooftop garden pictured is at the Four Seasons next to the Intercontinental.

I took a look at the minibar prices. Quite significant I say.

The lounge was located on the ground floor, in an extension from the lobby.

Lounge Entrance

 

Hot dishes

 

Egg Tarts!

I was quite happy to see egg tarts in the lounge and took a few of them. Quite good I must say.

After finishing the first batch pictured above, I waited for the next serving.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

No more came.

And so we had a little Taittinger in disappointment about the egg tarts.

The gym was fair and empty as usual.Well, the best egg tarts are still at Belem where the queues are long but still move rather fast.

Coupled with chocolate milk, they were simply heavenly!

 

For the night before I left Lisbon, I wanted to watch an in-room movie which is a benefit of the Ambassador programme.

I asked the Front Desk about that benefit before dinner and was told I was not entitled to it.

I tried again after dinner with another staff and was told the same answer.

And so, I just rested early for that night.

In the post-stay feedback, I typed this in and received a reply that I was indeed able to watch one free movie as part of my benefits.

As an apology, I was suppose to receive 1k points but I have just realized that I had never checked if I got it in the end.

Oh well, to me, it was just a good-to-have.

Overall, I was pleased with the hotel and the rates were indeed not bad!

Happy and Healthy Travels! (Egg tarts are not healthy btw.)

 

How I almost got quarantined and a mistake upgrade at Westin Rome

Should I have been sent to the hospital? + Amazing Mistake Upgrade at Westin Rome
Fever and Dubai do not mix well

Stayed October 2016

While writing this entry, I was thinking if I should split it into 2, but I decided I needed to reduce my backlog as much as possible.

From the St Regis, I moved to the nearby Westin which have much better online reviews.

The walk to the Westin wasn’t too bad even with luggage, and I was also eager to leave the small room at St Regis.

There, I had an amazing upgrade due to a special set of circumstances.

The hotel is easy to spot as the exterior looked really classic with the balconies and cupola as in the picture above.

Entrance

Front Desk and Lobby
Staff were less eager as there were many more guests moving around and I was attended to by Mr Flaviano who took my card and processed an authorization of a fairly large amount.
With that, he showed me to my room and proudly said I had been upgraded to a Via Veneto Suite!
Via Veneto Suite!

This was when my companion got concerned and asked Mr Flaviano to check on my booking.

I was asked to just rest in the suite while the check was being done and I was assured that the suite has been assigned to me and I shouldn’t worry at all.
The suite has a really big and impressive living room, decorated with paintings and opened up to a nice balcony with nice views of the city.
 The bedroom looked pretty normal with a nice chandelier. Perhaps I should just say less impressive when compared to the living room. Normal does seem to be an understatement.

The bathroom was more than fine and the bathtub came with Jacuzzi jets. That, I really liked.

I had trouble with the dual shower head which I never did figure out the proper usage.
On the table were some nibbles and a bottle of Martini as welcome gifts.

So what happened?First, I had booked a Junior Suite under a refundable rate (which I advise to do when booking in advance) and had changed the rate and room type subsequently.

My changes were acknowledged by the SPG system, however, I think the hotel booking was not updated.

That explains the large pre-authorization amount (I remember it was 1500 Euros) and I do think the upgrade could have been a mistake. Of course I can be wrong. Perhaps the hotel is really that great to elite members!

With the issue resolved (without a gigantic hole in my pocket), I did my usual exploration of the hotel.

I made my way to the lower lobby which leads to the meeting rooms, the business center and the gym.

Lower Lobby

Meeting Rooms
Business Centre

Breakfast the next morning was solid with a nice range and good quality in a opulent restaurant.
Not as grand as the St Regis surely, but it is only a meal…

However, it was also much more crowded and I had to wait for some time before being seated.

I took a walk around the lobby extension before checking out which was very efficient.

I returned the bottle of Martini to the front desk as I was already very surprised by the upgrade and that I do not drink alcohol either.

Sadly, I did not manage to bid farewell to Mr Flaviano and thank him for his help.

After that extraordinarily upgraded stay, it was time to home and my flight home was via Dubai.
The transit time was several hours and, after some research, I figured I could go see the famous Burj Khalifa!
The metro system was easy to use and I had a short but great time in Dubai!
Unfortunately, I started feeling unwell at this point.
A sore throat, chills, body aches and lethargy hinted at a possible fever.
Luckily, I managed to board my flight home to Singapore!
During the flight, I felt worse as time went by and I really wanted to go home as soon as possible for a good rest.
While I was glad to be in Business class for a better rest, I was also disappointed that I couldn’t really enjoy the experience.
I took comfort in the fact that I didn’t fall ill during the trip, but only at the very end.
The flight landed safely and I proceeded to disembark. 
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of my woes.

On reaching the gate, I was picked up by the temperature scanner for having a high reading.The airport staff stopped me and motioned me to the side.Oh Dear!

I was questioned on several things, including how long I was and what I did in Dubai, and if I came into contact with camels. I gathered there were concerns of MERS from the Middle East.

My temperature reading was less than 38.0 Celsius, so I was simply told to go to the hospital if I got worse by the protocol. 

 I was elated at that, because who wants to end a holiday with a visit to the hospital?

Happy and Healthy travels! (To myself as well!)