Category Archives: Hotels

Hotels

The Milelion’s RTW Trip Report: Westin Westminster and a bit of rental cars

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Westin Doha
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


Our domestic flight from LAX to DEN landed on time, and after we collected our bags we headed off to the buses that would take us to the rental car facilities. The way DEN is structured is that all rental car companies are offsite, requiring a 7-8 minute bus ride to reach.

I’ve written before about the concept of the National Car Executive Aisle, which I really like. All you need to do is book a mid-sized car, and you can go and pick whatever vehicle you want off the lane. Note that there are two different aisles- the Emerald Aisle and the Executive Aisle. I could access the executive aisle by virtue of my Executive membership, which any Visa Infinite holder can get for free.

The selection on the Executive Aisle, as you’d expect, tends to be better. Indeed I saw a whole range of SUVs, full sized sedans and even trucks on the executive aisle. Book a mid-sized car and pick your own upgrade, basically.

I had an SUV in mind until I saw this beauty lurking…

No, not the truck. The Audi. I need to work on my composition skills. But I was giddily excited.

Oh she was a beaut, with less than 3K miles on the odometer. And her registration says she was registered on Valentine’s Day, 2017. I’m not making this up.

The way the aisle works is it’s first come first serve. The keys are in the car, all you need to do is chope one and drive it to the exit. You then present your credit card and drivers license and you’re on your way.

We took her places. She was a delight to drive and although National didn’t spring for the GPS/Satellite radio features, was still head and shoulders above anything else on the aisle.

How much did we pay? US$40 a day. Yup. So the next time you’re thinking about settling for a run-of-the-mill Toyota, remember that a little research can go a long way.

The Westin Westminster was about a 30 minute drive from the airport.

Westminster is a city that’s technically outside of Denver. But we needed to pay a visit to Boulder, and Westminster was at a nice midway point between both cities. Plus, they had free parking. Downtown Denver hotels wanted upwards of US$40 a night for parking.

The lobby was certainly a lot nicer than the Westin LAX. The stone walls and roaring fireplace much reminded me of a hunting lodge.

The staffed checked us in and gave me an option of 500 points or a breakfast credit.

I noted there was a Starbucks in the lobby too.

No suite upgrades were offered, and I couldn’t be bothered to ask for one. The standard room was nice enough, if not the very definition of standard.

I’ve always thought that hotels could save a lot by taking these sofas out of the room. Who really uses them? Squabbling couples?

There was a combination desk/TV ledge that had power plugs and USB outlets built into it.

There were also 2 free bottles of water for being an SPG member, although in practice you can call down and get as many as you need. The front desk also has a minifridge where you can load up.

The bathroom was nothing exciting- large marble countertop, plenty of counter pace.

It had a shower/tub combination

With the addition of a non-standard Westin item to the mix- a makeup remover. That’s great, because by this point in time my mascara was starting to run.

One small feature that really won me over was the power plugs they had put into the side of the bedhead. It’s such a simple thing in retrospect you wonder why more hotels don’t do it.

Having this allows you to charge your devices as you sleep. I can’t think of how many hotels I’ve stayed at which have put the plugs in inconvenient locations. Say what you will, but I’m the kind of man who sleeps with his phone under his pillow, so I value having it at close reach when I wake up. Y’know, to find out how the world has changed while I was asleep.

Breakfast is served at Kachina restaurant in the lobby.

Here’s the menu

I was surprised by how high quality the offerings were. I mean yes, the dish below doesn’t take much skill to assemble, but the quality was really good.

On the second day I tried eggs benedict, with the heart attack sauce on the side

I certainly enjoyed this Westin much more than the one in LAX. It’s probably not the best place for you if you need to access Denver frequently, but its located near enough to the freeway to give you a straight shot into Denver in just over 20 minutes.

Hotel Review: Conrad Koh Samui (Oceanview Pool Villa)

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle:
Touring the Thai Conrads

Thai Airways Business Class SIN-BKK (A350)
Conrad Bangkok (Executive Corner)
Thai Airways Business Class BKK-USM
Conrad Koh Samui (Oceanview Pool Villa)
Thai Airways Business Class USM-BKK-SIN


Our flight was scheduled to land at 8.30am and so we anticipated arriving at the property around 10am. I had indicated this when doing online check-in the night before and requested they email me if able to accommodate an early check-in. Thankfully they were, so we were able to check in about 5h early – definitely a win for us!

After clearing immigration, we picked up our rental car from Hertz and started heading over to the hotel, about an hour’s drive away. There were a number of small roads, especially towards the end, but if you’re an experienced driver I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough – we really appreciated having the freedom to explore the island (and nearby eateries – more on that later).

So, about an hour of driving later, we had arrived at Conrad Koh Samui.

Checking in

The arrivals area is essentially an open air lounge where you’re served some iced drinks while waiting for logistics to be settled. It also features a stunning bird’s-eye view of the grounds. It’s beautiful. I spent minutes just looking at it.

(There’s also not that much else to do while waiting for stuff to be settled, but really, it’s beautiful.)

We were issued some vouchers (I only redeemed the four complimentary drinks; the others required a certain levels of spending that I wasn’t quite prepared for) as well as (for the Diamond member) the chance to win something in a lucky draw.

Prizes apparently range from ice cream to complimentary spa treatments. We won for ourselves… a complimentary piece of soap.

Some (other) people just have all the luck.

Another check-in gift (actually delivered later to the room) – an amenities gift set. Given that it’s the exact same stuff they have lying around the bathroom, I was not particularly enthused about getting a complete set like this. It could make a nice gift for some people, I suppose.

Diamond members usually get upgraded, but unfortunately for us the property was fully booked. Having effectively received an extra 5h on the property though we weren’t too fussed, especially since the villas are essentially identical other than proximity to the beach (for one-level upgrades) or additional electronics in the room (for two-level upgrades).

We stayed in Villa 217, which ended up being a pretty good location due to its (relative) proximity to the breakfast restaurant and unobstructed view from the villa (as listed on FlyerTalk).

The room

It’s a villa. It’s large. It’s roomy. It’s nice.

The fruit bowl is more substantial than most hotels I’ve been in. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of a mango. I suppose that actually makes me rather easy to impress – just throw in a mango and I’m good.

Also, free macarons.

There’s also a rather large walk-in closet space…

A rather large bathroom…

A rather large bowl-shaped bathtub (you feel kinda like a wonton in soup, soaking in this thing)…

A shower, and the commode.

Essentially, everything’s large. There’s a great sense of space, especially for the average Singaporean used to living in apartments.

There’s also your private outdoor area (well, as private as it can be – the row of villas above us probably could see us quite clearly if they’d wanted to) with deck chairs and that awesome private pool.

It’s actually a pretty standard (small) private pool, actually – what really made it awesome was the view. There is an almost indescribable sense of wonder that comes upon you when staring out into the vast, boundless ocean. Very calming; almost therapeutic. The fact that you could do so while dipping in your own private strip of water is pretty amazing.

I also made the mistake of not bringing a float to the property – lounging in the pool would probably have been even more enjoyable with one of these things.

Aaron’s post described catching the sunset as the highlight of his trip, so I was somewhat bummed that I wasn’t able to catch an awesome sunset while on the property (it was rather cloudy the evening I attempted to do so), but c’est la vie!

The grounds

So a large roomy villa is all very well and good, but at some point you are likely to want to go out and explore the rest of the property. In case you want to get into a larger pool, the communal one does offer the same breathtaking oceanic view.

There’s also the gym, which we used primarily as a bypass to get to the beach deck level.

You can probably tell that we are sporty types.

At the beach deck you get access to some hammocks. Fun stuff.

There’s also an area with umbrella-like shelters and outdoor seating furniture. Also, hammock-like webbing suspended over rocks. I was too chicken to stay on those for long (visions of falling to my death danced in my head), but if you are confident enough of the structural integrity of those things it is rather comfortable to just lie there.

There’re also the floating platforms and hammocks suspended over the sea, but we didn’t really want to get wet at that point in time, so this is as close as we got to them:

Breakfast

Breakfast is served at Zest, the restaurant pretty much at the centre of the property (marked #4 on this map). Happily enough, it was a short walk away from my villa.

We opted to be seated outside, with front-row seats to the the ocean view. Seriously, I couldn’t get enough of that stuff.

Upon being seated you get to order an egg dish. I have no idea if you’re allowed to get a second – one was sufficient for me. I ordered the Thai Egg Benedict, which was (comparatively) unique and pretty enjoyable.

Aside from that, there’s the buffet spread, which though not earth-shaking did offer more than sufficient food to fill you up. Interestingly enough, they had a dedicated section for Korean (breakfast?) foods, suggesting that they form a significant proportion of guests at the property.

Alternative eats

We did eat at the property a few times, and though decent enough and not priced as extortionately as you might expect, failed to impress. This is where having the car came in really handy – being able to easily access cheaper tastier food around the island was a luxury in itself.

Sabienglae

This was probably my favourite of the places we’d tried. The downside was that it was located pretty much across the island, about half an hour away by car.

Still, the combination of tasty food and scenic view can’t be beat. I suppose it could be cheaper, but it was already very affordable by Singaporean standards.

Green Talay

About a 10min drive from the hotel, also recommended on the FlyerTalk thread for the property, this place was pretty good and affordable. No complaints!

Hemingway’s on the Beach

This place was really near the hotel (about 10min by car) and was ranked in the top 10 of TripAdvisor’s listings for Ko Samui, so we decided to give it a go.

My main impression of the place was that it offered a pretty good view of the sunset.

The food was decent enough, if rather home-style (in a good way). However, the dishes really took rather long to prepare (further accentuating the home-style feel, in a bad way). It was also more expensive than the other restaurants we tried.

After settling our bill the owner asked us to rate them on TripAdvisor, which is probably how they ended up there to begin with. It’s not bad, but probably not my first recommendation!

Activities

The property offered some complimentary recreation activities – the schedule was accessible via TV menu. We tried out yoga, which was attended by a grand total of 4 hotel guests, that day.

Waking up early to contort my body into various unnatural positions was an interesting experience, but I decided it was not something I was really keen on doing more of in the future.

They also offered ‘luxury boat excursions’ to a nearby island, which we tried out on our last day at the property.

Boat Excursion

The boat excursion is essentially a ride to nearby (smaller) island Koh Mat Sum. There are generally mixed reviews on this – the island is not a particularly exciting place, so I can see why some might not like it. For us, we found it the experience a nice enough change from just relaxing at the property.

For the excursion, a buggy picks you up from your villa and brings you to the arrivals area, where you are loaded onto a minivan and brought to a jetty. Then it’s onto the boat and off you go!

Towels and water are provided, so there’s no real need to bring anything. They also sell picnic sets, but if that’s what you’re looking for it’s probably far cheaper to prepare your own.

At some point along the way, they stopped the boat and announced that we would be stopping for about half an hour for some snorkelling. No one in the boat seemed interested, though, so we proceeded towards Koh Mat Sum.

If I was better prepared for the snorkelling option I probably would have liked to do it, although it could be pretty daunting to indicate an interest in doing so and having an entire boatful of uninterested hotel guests wait for you to finish having your fun in the water.

I think the snorkelling point was near Tean Island – I took the screenshot only a little later, so the location’s not completely accurate.

A little while later, we arrived at Koh Mat Sum.

We didn’t really explore the place very much, but what we had access to was a strip of beach and some shops selling exorbitantly-priced food and drinks.

Also, the chance to get up close and personal with some rather odd-looking chickens.

You’re able to borrow the snorkelling gear and do it off the beach, but there was really nothing much to see near the island, which made us regret not insisting on snorkelling at the earlier stop.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty nice beach to just relax and chill on. Bring a book or some picnic items and it can make for an enjoyable short excursion.

The Souvenir

Many Conrad properties throughout the world offer some sort of stuffed animal and I’ve started becoming a bit of a collector. Conrad Koh Samui’s is a turtle, which they present to you when you check out.

All in all I consider this to have been almost a bucket list experience – so much so that I’m already thinking of returning!


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.

An out-of-town Sheraton Dubrovnik

Always check the location regardless!

Location Location Location
Stayed October 2016
Written May 2017

No Photoshop or enhancing needed!

A short flight from Copenhagen via Athens on Aegean Airlines brought me to Dubrovnik. A ancient walled city now made more famous as King’s Landing in the series Game Of Thrones.

For this part of my trip, I stayed the first night at Sheraton Dubrovnik and then Hilton Imperial for the rest.

Despite its name, the Sheraton is not in Dubrovnik but at Mlini, which still a short car ride from the city. And yes, I did know that before booking.

Continue reading An out-of-town Sheraton Dubrovnik