Tag Archives: hotels

The Milelion’s RTW Trip: Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa

The Milelion is embarking on a round the world trip over the next 4 weeks to more than 10 different countries. En route I will be doing reviews of different airlines and hotels. This will be one really, really long trip report. Thanks for keeping me company.


Introduction: Around the world in 28 days
EVA Air Business Class Singapore to Taipei
EVA Air Business Class Taipei to Los Angeles
Silvercar LAX
Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa
Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles
United First Class Los Angeles to Mexico City
Le Meridien Mexico City
United First Class  Mexico City to Houston
United Business Class Houston to Sao Paulo
Sheraton Sao Paulo WTC
South African Business Class Sao Paulo to Johannesburg
Hilton Sandton
Ten Bompas Johannesburg
Turkish Airlines Business Class Johannesburg to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Zagreb
Westin Zagreb
Croatia Airlines Business Class Zagreb to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Riyadh
Four Points Riyadh
Air India Business Class Riyadh to Mumbai
St Regis Mumbai
ANA Business Class Mumbai to Tokyo
Asiana Business Class Tokyo to Seoul
Westin Seoul
W Seoul
Asiana Business Class Seoul to Tokyo
ANA Business Class Tokyo to Singapore


tribute

In 2015, SPG added a new brand to its portfolio– Tribute Hotels. The idea was to create a collection of independent 3/4 Star hotels which complimented the (usually 5 Star) Luxury Collection hotel brand. I wonder why they couldn’t simply fold this hotels acquired under the Tribute brand into the Design Hotel brand, but I think the acquisition of Design Hotels happened too close to allow for reflagging.

In any case, SPG is actively trying to encourage guests to try out the Design Hotels and Tribute brands. They’re offering a 11,000 Starpoint bonus to anyone who stays in all 11 Starwood brands by 31 Dec 2016

11kbonus

This is easier said than done, though, given that Tribute hotels are few and far between. There are currently 9 Tribute Hotels in the world-

  1. Great Northern Hotel, London, UK
  2. Royal Palm South Beach, Miami, USA
  3. The Riveria Palm Springs, USA
  4. The Kiroro, Hokkaido, Japan
  5. Avenue of the Arts, Costa Mesa, USA
  6. SLS Las Vegas, USA
  7. The Hermitage, Jakarta, Indonesia
  8. Le Dokhan’s, Paris, France
  9. Le Metropolitan, Paris, France

The majority of them are in the USA, 2 are in France, 1 in Japan, 1 in the UK and 1 in Indonesia. So if your travels don’t take you there anytime soon, well you’re SOL.

Fortunately my RTW journey took me to Los Angeles, and Costa Mesa was only slightly more than an hour away. I’d willingly take the detour to check another brand off my 11 brand checklist.

map3

That brought me to the Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, where I now file this report

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Avenue of the Arts Hotel was opened in April 2016 after a refurbishment following its purchase by Starwood. There are 238 rooms in this property, and the art deco inspired architecture was done by interior design firm Dianna Wong.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Check-in was straightforward and I was informed of my upgrade to a junior suite. While they processed the formalities I took a quick look around the lobby

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The front desk proactively offered me 4pm late checkout and a choice of 500 points or a local gift. I took the 500 points so quickly I forgot to ask what the local gift was.

Keys in hand, I made my way to the 5th floor (the total building is 6 floors)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although I’d been upgraded (which is rare for US-based SPG properties), I didn’t have high hopes for the room. In American parlance a suite is simply a room with a separate sleeping and sitting area.

I will say that the room was slightly larger than I expected. The main door opened to a separate living room area with a TV and small work desk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Entrance area to room
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Reverse angle- entrance area

Two small bottles of water were on the table

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the bedroom was perfectly adequate. The bed was one of the most comfortable I ever slept on. My bedroom overlooked an inner park of some sort with a large fountain and duck pond, but noise was never a problem even for this light sleeper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bedroom
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Reverse angle- bedroom
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
view from the bedroom

I was pleased to note that this property also participates in the MAGC program, which fortunately in the USA is still 500 points (versus 250 in Asia and Latin America). For those of you who don’t mind 3 consecutive nights of rolling in your own filth (I sure don’t!), you can use MAGCs to really rack up the points on long stays. 1,500 bonus points per 3 night stint (on the 4th night you must get housekeeping) over a long enough period is going to be some extra reward night stays.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The toilet was small, but they somehow managed to fit a bathtub inside too. It was more decorative than anything as  it was way too small for anything other than a tight fit. Or maybe I’ve just put on weight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were Baronessa Cali branded toiletries in the toilet. I’m not going to pretend I ever heard of that brand, but a quick google search shows that they’re perfectly respectable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rounding out the room was a capsule coffee machine. It’s actually quite an atas branded machine, Keurig. The coffee machine with DRM. No, seriously.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And a closet with bathrobes, an iron, a hairdryer and the safe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One very annoying trend that’s popping up in a lot of hotels is restricting access to the minibar. I thought it was bad enough in Las Vegas hotels where each item has a sensor and if you remove any item for any reason, even if it’s to store some personal stuff, that item is automatically billed to your account. But some hotels go one step further and lock up the entire minibar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Breakfast was served at The Silver Trumpet restaurant. This is a sit-down restaurant with no buffet option. Although it’s not ideal for a grab-and-go breakfast, a sit-down restaurant generally comes up with better, freshly-prepared food.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_20160522_092323

On the first day I went they were serving both breakfast and brunch, so I got to choose from both menus

IMG_20160522_092059

IMG_20160522_091923

I wasn’t disappointed with my choice of the California Crab Benedict on the first day (bacon on the side)

IMG_20160522_093318

Or the Silver Trumpet Classic on the second day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Outside the Silver Trumpet there is a small gift store with your usual overpriced hotel amenities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Elsewhere on the property there was a business centre where you could print boarding passes for free.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There was also a gym and a pool, but I didn’t manage to take photos of them due to time constraints.

The overall location of the hotel isn’t great if you want to go to downtown LA, given how notoriously bad LA’s traffic is. I found the 45 minute ride often stretched to double that.

A final note: I had several Amazon packages sent to the hotel. Although 2 arrived just fine, another 2 were misplaced. The hotel manager was apologetic and agreed to cover the replacement cost + 1 day shipping, so I’d get my packages in time before I left for Mexico. So no harm done overall, but it was still an inconvenience.

I didn’t spend an awful lot of time in the hotel but at the end of the day the only reason I stayed was to check off the Tribute brand from my list. When Monday came it was time to relocate to a much more business-focused, less glamorous destination…

Is The Entertainer good value for money?

entertainer

For the uninitiated, The Entertainer is a booklet of coupons that gives you 1 for 1 deals on dining, activities, hotels, spas and retail.

The Entertainer costs S$85 but if you use the code 2016MONEYSMART (I’m sure they doesn’t mind me reposting it, they probably earn a commission for every person who signs up using their link anyway) you get S$10 off as shown below.

entertainer2016

All the coupons in The Entertainer are valid for the calendar year, ie 1st Jan to 31st Dec 2016. Given that we’re already in May, does it still make sense to buy it?

Only you can answer that question, because the value you get depends on your pre-existing lifestyle spending patterns. If you’re the type who doesn’t really like eating out or in general spends very little money on activities/ spas, you certainly shouldn’t let this change that.

But if you already set aside a certain amount of money to indulge in these things, you can still save a lot by buying The Entertainer now.

Below I’m going to highlight some of what I think are the better deals

Dining

The Fat Cow

I do not use the term “life-changing” lightly (I believe the 2 life-changing experiences I have had this year are The Conrad Koh Samui and the discovery of muskmelon), but The Fat Cow is without a doubt life-changing.

fatcow

This restaurant serves some of the finest Japanese beef to ever make it to our shores, and although it’s not cheap (for the best experience, skip the Australia/US offerings and go right for the Ohmi Grade A4 Ribeye @ $120), the 1 for 1 voucher will at least put it in the “splurge” category (as opposed to the insane category)

DSCF7755

DSCF7752

Oh, and you cannot miss the Fat Rice, which is every bit as good as it sounds

fatrice

Protip: If you are craving Fat Cow but don’t want to burn a hole in your pocket you can go for their lunch menu, where $45 buys you a Fat Cow donburri. The beef won’t be as good as the ala carte cuts, it’s still tremendous value all things considered.

IMG_20160506_140318

Ristorante Amarone & Gattopardo

Pasta Mancini, used at Gattopardo

Those who know me know I love my pasta. And am obsessive about it. And that I can spend an hour talking about the differences between bronze-drawn and teflon-drawn pasta, why you should never eat Barilla (much less San Remo which by the way isn’t even an Italian brand) and how you identify a good Italian restaurant (they don’t use Barilla). A great primer on the subject can be found here

San Remo pasta. Not actually from Italy.

 

Till then, know that Amarone and Gattopardo  are on the Milelion’s approved list of Italian eateries and they both have 1 for 1 with The Entertainer.

Amarone at Capital Tower

I realise each person’s dining preferences differ so you should definitely read through the list of restaurants yourself and see if there are 1 or 2 big ticket restaurants where the savings from 1 meal could pay for the cost of The Entertainer itself.

Hotels

Conrad Koh Samui Residences

I mentioned in my article on how to hack the Conrad Koh Samui that the (more expensive) Conrad Koh Samui residences are covered under the 1 for 1 stay voucher. If you’re able to find 3 other people to go with you could still stay for as little as S$280 a person a night. Which, considering the usual S$1,000+ rates isn’t that bad.

Other beach destinations

Shangri-la Maldives

There are also many great hotel deals in beach destinations like Phuket (Banyan Tree, JW Marriott etc), Bali (Fairmont Sanur, Pan Pacific Nirwana) and the Maldives (Banyan Tree, Shangri-la, the Taj). If you’re intending to honeymoon in one of these locations then you should see whether you can make these discounts work.

The only caveat I’d add here is that the 1 for 1 deals might not be a great idea in the Maldives, where the best resorts are located on private islands only reachable by seaplane (~US$500 per person). So unless you’ve got the financial firepower to stay at that particular place your whole trip it doesn’t make sense to stay only 2 nights. Contrast this to a place like Phuket or Koh Samui where you can (relatively) easily resort hop after your 2 nights are up. I suppose you could always get your partner to make a booking as well and enjoy 4 nights for the price of 2 though.

Banyan Tree Maldives

Note that the conditions of the voucher require you to book the first night as the “Best Available Rate”. This refers to a refundable rate, so while I’m pretty sure that 2 x Prepaid-rate room nights will still cost more than 1 x Best Available rate room night, it does make sense to check and see how much of a deal you’re getting

In this example from the Conrad Koh Samui Residences, you can see that the lowest rate available is a prepaid THB 34,425 a night, but the BAR is THB 45,900. Therefore, your savings aren’t technically 50%, but more like 33% (based on 45,900 vs 34,425*2)

kohsamuiprice

Activities and Spa

Not my area of specialty, but there are a large number of buy 1 get 1 free treatments. No guarantee that they’re the sort of places that won’t engage in hard-sell tactics, but there are some reputable names here like Adeva .

Similarly, there is an extensive list of couples activities that you can do on weekends.  Examples include Aqua Spin, BreakOut Games, Climb Asia, Combat Skirmish, Expat Kitchen, LilliPutt Indoor Mini Golf and Forest Adventure.

Conclusion

According to the app I’ve saved more than $500 already this year (although you could make a good argument about how that’s an illusory saving if it made me buy things I would not otherwise have) and I’m definitely going to renew it for 2017 when the time comes.

If you’re planning an upcoming big ticket hotel or restaurant spend, it’s worth it to check out whether you can use The Entertainer to save some money.

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu 1919 Reykjavik

Radisson Blu 1919

One of the best options in Reykjavik (for Winter)

Stayed Jan 2016
Published Apr 2016

Finally I reached my most important destination for this trip.

The great Viking settlement known as ICELAND!

Credit: Great Circle Mapper

Using the Great Circle Mapper, I had flown 8242 miles from Singapore’s Changi Airport to Iceland’s Keflavik Airport.

Why did I want to come to Iceland?

I hoped to catch the Aurora Borealis this year and also to experience the famous Blue Lagoon.

Continue reading Hotel Review: Radisson Blu 1919 Reykjavik