Archive for the Category »hotels «

  Hotel of the Week: A Charmer Re-opens After Seven Years

El Encanto Hotel in the hills of Santa Barbara, California, reopened recently after a major $134 million renovation.

If you are familiar with the old boutique hotel, you know it is full of rich history…It opened originally in 1918 and was a playground to the stars. It boasted lovely gardens,  and an original ambiance. It was a little dated, but I still appreciated the personality of the place – personality is one thing I see lacking in many hotels I visit. They all want to be spanking new and luxurious – sometimes turning sterile in the process.

I haven’t visited the new El Encanto yet – It is now managed by Orient Express Hotels… and am worried that the things I loved so much won’t be there. But by the many photos I have been scouring, and reviews I have read, much of the exterior charm has been preserved, and most people, even hard to please and proud locals,  have been happy with the new old  kid on the block.

The grounds are gorgeous, and a throwback to a glamorous time… just like they were before the remodel. The hotel worked with the Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission.

There are only about 90 rooms on the property, which keeps this hotel more intimate – part of it’s allure.  Each one has it’s own patio or garden which is terrific. But – the new design, while pretty, looks a little sterile to me. I realize that hotels have to be careful in rooms because they are used so frequently, and things get worn out faster, but a little more zest to match the hotel’s outstanding location and grounds would have made me rave.

Perhaps they didn’t want to show up one of the main attractions of  the incredible view overlooking all of Santa Barbara’s coastline. The rooms and public spaces  have views… and even telescopes so you can gaze your worries away. Nice touch. Another nice is the feather pen on the desk along with stationery….

Another curious choice is the Damien Hirst piece of art at the reception desk…. Damien Hirst is the surprise… sort of nouveau, in a hotel that represents a golden era of the past.

I realize I am  resistant to change with this hotel, but it is truly a special place.

The restaurant is a stand out – open air with views… and California fresh cuisine – straight from the garden! I love farm-to-table food, and if you can get a reservation here, then you must also try the cheese. The hotel invested in it’s own Holstein cow to make the cheese – this may be the most pampered cow in the Ventura/Santa Barbara agricultural area! Speaking of which… the restaurant reportedly has a Santa Barbara dedicated wine list. Note: most locals say right now it is really crowded, and service issues need to be worked out although the staff is friendly.

Overall, El Encanto still exudes romance… and I would love to go.

  Travel Tip Tuesday: Not Happy With a Hotel Stay? Let Management Know

At some point in our travels, we all experience a lack of good service, noisy hallways, or dirty rooms at hotels. But how many of us report it to the hotel management?

In the email age, many hotels follow up with a questionnaire on how satisfactory one’s hotel stay was. It pays to fill it out  the survey if you have some constructive comments (aka complaints) because the really good businesses will address your concerns – and possibly give you something in return!

Vdara Hotel, Las Vegas

For instance, after a stay at the Vdara in Las Vegas, a hotel guest gave some not so positive feedback in the email the hotel sent after the guests stay. Here is the hotel’s response:

“We appreciate you bringing these items to our attention.  For the inconvenience you experienced during your stay I have waived the resort fees along with some food and beverage charges and credited back $100.00 which you should see on your Mastercard within 5-10 business days.”
You know what they say about the squeaky wheel….it is worth it to take the few minutes to answer any hotel customer satisfaction survey.
Remember, it is always nice to give positive feedback as well :)
Have a great day!
  Hotel of the Week: Sister Hotels in #Hawaii Get Makeovers


One small Hawaiian  island – two completely different resorts. That is Lanai. Although there are other smaller B and B type accommodations on the island, these are the main places to stay… The Lodge at Koele, and Four Seasons Manele Bay. (Both are Four Seasons properties by the way.)

Lodge at Koele, Lanai

The good news: Both have been renovated in time for summer! The Lodge feels like a hunting lodge with a slight Hawaiian twist, not a typical Hawaiian beach resort – it is not right on the beach, but you can access one.

Horseback riding at the Lodge, from

The Lodge at Koele is a unique property for Hawaii, offering activities like horseback riding, archery, and air rifle.

Renovated lobby, Four Seasons at Manele Bay, Lanai

Four Seasons at Manele Bay is now open and airy, right on a family friendly beach. I was there about three years ago, and it needed an update. It certainly didn’t feel like a typical Four Seasons to me. See old lobby below.

Old lobby at Manele Bay


Resort at Manele Bay pool

These aren’t your water slide hotels you’ll find on other Hawaiian islands if that’s your thing, but there is still plenty for families to do -stand up paddling lessons, body surfing, golf,  etc.

Certain public areas like the sports bar at Manele Bay has been upgraded as well… and Nobu restaurant has been added… and offers poolside sushi :)

The Lodge has around 100 rooms, and Manele Bay – around 200 rooms. Hopefully each room and suite will be updated soon – I heard a rumor and am trying to confirm.

It will also be easier to get there -  Hawaiian Airline’s new turboprop subsidiary, Ohana by Hawaiian Airlines, will begin daily service to Lanai starting July 2013. Island Air also announced plans to double its inter-island turboprop fleet by the end of 2013.

After a lot of traveling, I am in the mood to kick it on a peaceful beach this summer – you? If so – there are some summer specials – book two nights get a third free!

Wishing you a weekend full of aloha spirit…


  Hotel of the Week: Upscale Family Friendly Farm with Oodles of Authentic Charm #Blackberry Farm

Hi, my name is Tracy, and I am a Voiceaholic. (Like much of America!) So happy the NBC show “The Voice” is back! Great music! My kids and I have a standing date to watch every week… and if you’ve seen the season premiere and following week, judges Cee Lo and Christina Aguilera who are on temporary break might be worried about keeping their jobs. Usher and Shakira are very likeable replacements.

One of the cutest moments yet was when Usher called Nashville a state. That lead to a barrage of grief from his fellow musical judges for his geography lapse, which was quite funny.

Why am I going on about this? Because it reminded me of a hotel I’ve ALWAYS wanted to visit in Tennessee (the state LOL).

Blackberry Farm, Tenn

It is called Blackberry Farm, and it is in Chattanooga (the city,) right in the Great Smoky Mountain foothills (national park.)


One of the words that comes to mind when I try to describe it is “soothing.” Imagine that feeling of going to your grandmother’s house in the country…

It is a very homey place, located on 4200 acres of gorgeous American countryside. It is family run, with a good ol red barn on the property and a working farm that feeds everyone, which gives it a cozy feel….


But this is not your grandma’s barn. Not for a sheep shearing second.


You won’t find frumpy quilts or painted red farm furniture here – the accommodations here are tres chic, without being too fancy.


Blackberry Farm offers plenty to do – and is great for families. You can engage in hand to mouth dining – kids can work in the farm and gather eggs from the chicken coop  -  then cook what they’ve harvested. Or play in the nearby creek chasing salamanders and crawdads.

There are fun family activities like horseback riding, paddling,  and fishing… as well as trekking in the Great Smoky Mountains… I’d say this is a top notch way to see one of our country’s premier national parks.



All of these wildly wonderful outdoor activities, plus gourmet food – much of it produced on the premises. Blackberry Farm has it’s own butcher, cheese maker, and sommelier.

Spring is a gorgeous time to visit… Blackberry Farm is only a 25 minute drive from the airport in Knoxville (another city.) I realize that it is not the most affordable choice for families, but it is worth writing about because it is such a special place.

Have a wonderful weekend….



  Forbes List of Five Star Hotels

Montage, Laguna Beach

Every year Forbes lists hotels that they believe earn five stars for a variety of criteria…. from wake up calls within two minutes of the desired time, to impeccably greeting guests upon arrival. 2013 awards were recently announced.

Might want to bookmark this page, as it is the list of five-star choices. (Scroll down and there are four star options as well.) Spoiler alert: These accommodations aren’t budget, but the list is still fun to read nonetheless….

Are any your favorites? I love Chateau du Sureau in California- the restaurant at Erna’s Elderberry House is superb!

  Hotel of the Week: This One Got a Perfect Score….#qualia

Can’t ya just feel it? Spring is in the air….

Does that give you the itch to travel… to unwind… experience something new… and share it with someone?

Qualia Resort, Australia from

If so, here is a place to fantasize about: Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island, Australia…right near the Great Barrier Reef.  Why? Well – it always catches my attention when a hotel in the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List gets a perfect 100 points from the magazine’s readers. Qualia did in the most recent poll. That is the highest score a hotel can get, and the only one this year to do so.

I will start off by saying I have been to Hamilton Island, and it is a very casual, family friendly place. Qualia steps it up a bit – it is a high end luxury resort in the Whitsundays near the world’s largest reef system – great for diving, snorkeling, and all sorts of water activities. There is an airport on Hamilton, so it is about a 2-3 hour flight from Eastern Australia.

Qualia Resort, Australia from

The hotelier who opened it is a winemaker and sailing enthusiast, who wanted to showcase his country’s natural beauty…so the architecture is in harmony with the surroundings – love that.

The design, always catching my attention, is rich and happy at the same time, with hues of beautiful blue to pull from the incredibly blue waters on which this vacation paradise sits.

The resort has 60 private villas – and yes they are pricey – no kids under 16 allowed. Each private room looks out to the Coral Sea and surrounding islands.

There is plenty to do here – or not. Relax in your private plunge pool..

or take a Great Barrier Reef day excursion… or go golfing… or sailing. A unique outing offered is a night dive in the Great Barrier Reef… apparently the reef’s true colors come to life, but it sounds scary to me!

Guests also have access to golf carts to go around Hamilton Island.

According to one guest who gave his opinion in the Conde Nast poll… ” Once you stay at Qualia, it is difficult to stay anywhere else…”

Sounds like a good problem to have.

  Hotel of the Week: Zen Meets Sin City – One to Watch in 2013! #Nobu Vegas

It should be no surprise that an unabashedly glamorous hotel opens in Las Vegas. However, what is special about Nobu Hotel Las Vegas is that while it maintains it’s panache, it also retains its Japanese calm, understated aesthetic…and based on it’s location, it is a welcome bit of zen in a frenetic Vegas world.

Famous restaurateur, Nobu Matsuhisa, just opened the splashy hotel within Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas…. so all the gambling, bars, and fantastic restaurants are swirling around this oasis of calm. And yes, … one of his restaurants dwells in the hotel so late night sushi after a show is ON..

There are about 180 rooms at Nobu, so it is significantly smaller than the other towers within Caesars which combined has more than 4,000. Although the hotel is open for business, the official grand opening takes place in April because some of the top suites are not complete yet.

There will be 2 and 3 bedroom suites which is a nice option for any families who want to stay in an upscale environment. (I know – Vegas is not marketed as a kids destination, but you’d be surprised at how many families go as a stopping point on the way to somewhere else.)

The rooms are Asian in design, as well as many of the special touches…. I would love to shower in this luxurious shower… Plus – sake in the mini bar, and tea service delivered to one’s room after check in. I have only had that service in Hong Kong.

The rooms, since they are new, reportedly have PLENTY of electrical outlets since we travel with so many chargeable gadgets these days – a thoughtful touch. BUT  - the hotel still charges $15 a day for WiFI – my pet peeve. C’mon peeps! WiFI i s free in so many places! When are the high end hotels gonna get on board?

The Nobu restaurant that is part of the hotel is the largest of the 20 some Nobu restaurants – and serves breakfast, which is sorta essential in a city that never sleeps – I know I know, that’s New York, but the same can be said about Lost Wages.

Anyone in the mood for a little fun? Nobu Vegas is worth a gamble…Great shows too – Rod Stewart this summer, and Absinthe for the ones who dare to be bold. Weekend room rates start at $299.


  Hotel of the Week: Still Need a Room in N’awlins?

Super Bowl fans who are still searching for a place to stay in New Orleans, or anyone who wants to attend a good party despite not having tickets to the big game can still find a hotel thanks to technology.

A popular app that is still growing in users is called Hotel Tonight. It does pretty much what it says – finds you a hotel room today, one that you should have booked weeks ago!

Above is a screen shot of a hotel from Hotel Tonight (from itunes.) Simply click on the city in which you are interested, and the app will spit out the possibilities. It is ideally supposed to help the last minute traveler.

I clicked on New Orleans as my destination, and was disappointed to find a clock ticker, saying it would take an hour and a half to find me something. No explanation, like maybe the app was doing maintenance or or something – but based on other messages I got when I clicked on other cities, it seems as if the app updates the hotel availabilities each morning. Looks like you have to try after 10 am PST. I will check back and let you know.

Another place to look is This website provides you with rooms in houses or apartments, and sometimes complete homes or apartments to yourself.

An airbnb listing from

Above is an example listing from, of a penthouse in New York.

I typed in New Orleans as my destination – arriving today and leaving Monday. Up popped 278 listings of townhouses, rooms, condos, etc – some that claim to be within walking distance of the Superdome. Prices range from $100-$1700 a night (that’s for a full home.) Shoot – extend your stay for upcoming Mardi Gras!

This might not be for everyone since some of the listings are for one room in a house…and you never know if certain safety features are in place that would normally be in a hotel – fire alarms, etc.  but if you find a place that works for you, it can be an affordable alternative in a situation where all the New Orleans hotels are jacking up prices.

Enjoy the game wherever you are…and forgive me… I do have a sentimental favorite since I spent some of the best days of my life in San Francisco – GO NINERS!

  Travel Tip Tuesday: Extinguish Those Smoke-Friendly Hotel Rooms

Have I developed smoker’s voice? In the past month I have been given two cigarette-friendly hotel rooms. I sincerely forgot they still even exist. Didn’t hotels kick the habit?

Girls Weekend in Vegas

Apparently not…. and definitely not in Vegas…. where there ARE a lot of smoking rooms.  I recently booked a hotel room in Vegas online.

The other time I got a smoke friendly room was in a very clean, outdoorsy city so I was surprised.

Beware: Many hotel chains that claim to be “smoke free” still offer smoking rooms to travelers abroad, where smoking is more commonly accepted.

If you are booking online and the website doesn’t ask if you want a smoking or non-smoking room, make sure to follow up with a phone call. Especially in a place like Vegas!

Secondly, if you do receive a smoking room and the hotel offers to change your room, or to bring in a machine that cleanses the air, choose the room change. Even if you think it is a hassle to re-pack, we tried the machine and it is only about 40% effective, so if you are highly sensitive to cigarette smoke residue, grab that new room while it is available.

If you can. ask for a non-smoking floor – sometimes the smoke seeps through the rooms. You especially don’t want your children exposed to the carcinogenic second hand smoke.

Happy Travels!

  Hotel of the Week: Inspiration for Dads and Grads

In my next life I want to be a motivational speaker. That’s if being a rockstar/singer/musician doesn’t work out :)

It’s no coincidence I realize this during the season of commencement speeches… I get sentimental as I watch my kids or my kids’ friends graduate and move on.

What does this have to do with travel? I can make that segue! One of my favorite muse-like songs has frequent metaphors referring to places to visit… Many of those places are perfect for all you great dads, and hopeful grads. As “mushy” as it is, “I Hope You Dance” inspires…it would make a good commencement speech.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.


An anomaly as far as Hawaiian resorts go, this is almost like a hunting lodge on a tropical island.

Masculine and strong design..with a fantastic golf course, this appeals to dads… and the relaxing beautiful setting appeals to grads.

When you stand by the ocean here, it is at the sister Four Seasons on the island at Manele Bay – inviting white sand beaches with great snorkeling and paddleboarding.

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance…


This is one place over which I still lust . On my bucket list. A six hour drive from Manhattan, it is opulance in relaxed mountain wilderness, with outstanding food and wine.

.. Creature comforts of the highest caliber mixed with the simplicity and beauty of nature…which keeps it unpretentious. It is a Relais and Chateaux getaway, & kids aren’t allowed.

There are only 11 rooms… and each one has a lake view, with an over-sized chiseled fireplace for cozy nights in the fresh mountain air.

Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances but they’re worth taking
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth making

Don’t let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance…

CLOSE TO HEAVENS ABOVE: Jungfraujoch, Switzerland.

This spectacular spot in the Swiss Alps is known as the “Top of the World” since it is more than 11,000 feet above sea level.

The Jungfrau Railway, which leads through the heart of the mountains and up to the highest train station in Europe, offers unbelievable views of the mountain giants Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and of the longest river of ice in the Alps.

Inside the train station (the peak is called “Sphinx”), a lift takes visitors to the observation platform, from which one has a magnificent view of the mountains. The Jungfrau-Aletsch region is the first Unesco World Natural Heritage Site in the entire Alpine region.

Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along….
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder
Where those years have gone

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance – DANCE.

Do you dance?