Travel: Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, Nashville

As you may know, mid-December, I took a 3-day trip to Nashville. My full 3-day itinerary post is coming up tomorrow, but today, I’m sharing a review of where I stayed – Loews Vanderbilt Nashville. I have never stayed at a Loews, so I was eager to see what it was like since I know it’s a high-end hotel with locations in many desirable cities.

Location

Hotel location is important for me when I travel because, especially when I’m a solo traveler, I want to be somewhere where I feel safe and where I can feel comfortable walking around during the day and at night. Although the Loews is located a few kilometers away from the downtown core – and touristy hot-spots – I felt at ease. I actually really liked staying away from the busyness of the Honky Tonk strip and closer to a place where I feel at home – a gorgeous university campus! 🙂

If you’re looking to stay within a stone’s throw from the honky tonks (bars) or from the Country Music Hall of Fame, the hotel’s distance might bother you. If you’re like me, and aren’t keen on the neon light district of the honky tonks and are eager to try out different areas, then stay at the Loews. The hotel is located across the street from Vanderbilt University, which meant that I was able to easily stroll around to check out the campus (beautiful! and big!). It’s also a short walk from the Parthenon – an amazing replica of the original Greek Parthenon. It was so amusing to turn a corner into Centennial Park from busy West End Avenue and see this amazing piece of architecture.

The Loews offers a shuttle service, too, if you’re going within a 3 mile direction. I used this transportation option a couple of times, and it was very convenient. I could have also texted the hotel if I was out and about and needed a ride back.

Room

If you know me, then you know that I love luxury hotels. Yes, I can certainly manage in a motel, hotel, or Holiday Inn, but I love getting spoiled in luxury hotels. The robes, the beds, the towels, the toiletries…I look at the quality of all of them! At the Loews, here’s what I experienced.

My king-sized bed was incredibly comfortable. I know I did a lot of walking during my vacation, but at the end of the day, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The bed just embraced my tired body! I woke up one morning and noticed that the room service card was still displayed perfectly on one of the pillows, which meant that I barely moved during my sleep. This is a sign of an excellent sleep if you ask me!

The made-in-France towels were thick and plentiful. And the toiletries – from an NYC-based company – were made in Canada! Bonus! I didn’t love the conditioner, if I’m being honest, but everything else suited me well. I also appreciated the large(r) sized bottles since I always seem to run out of shampoo in the teeny tiny bottles I sometimes use in hotels.

In terms of the room’s design, the Loews team made an effort to draw in local goodness. The art featured concert tickets (music, music everywhere!) and letter blocks (to signal Hatch Show Print Company). I was spoiled with local treats, too, which made me feel welcome and well taken care of. I also appreciated the rock-star-studded detailing on the curtains.

The Loews team arranged for me to be in a room on a Club Level with a view of the downtown. This meant that I could go into the Club lounge for breakfast and cocktail hour each day and night of my stay. I took advantage of both and really enjoyed speaking to Loews staff who worked in the lounge. All staff, in fact, were very friendly and willing to help.

I’m not sure if it’s a Loews thing or a Nashville thing, but the food was delicious! I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautifully presented or interesting. But it was! I filled up on just about everything at breakfast (I love breakfast!). The evening appetizer selection included cheese and crackers and roasted vegetables. And wine, beer, and mixed drinks, too. Cheers!

Amenities

The Loews Vanderbilt lobby is modern and well-appointed. Frothy Monkey – a local coffee shop – has a location right inside the lobby, which is another nod to local culture. I really liked seeing how the hotel supported local flavour in multiple ways. I don’t think this is often the case with high-end, chain hotels. While I didn’t have a chance to try Mason’s – the hotel restaurant – it is apparently very good. When I came back to the hotel one afternoon after spending a day in the chilly city (weather ranged from about 3 to 10 degrees Celcius while I was there), a hot chocolate stand was all set-up. It was a perfect treat to warm me up while I took a rest before an evening out.

Note that the Loews Vanderbilt doesn’t have a pool. This didn’t bother me, but it may be something you need to consider before you book a stay.

Just look at the lobby decorated for Christmas? Isn’t it impressive? The lobby of the Loews Vanderbilt is beautifully decorated and there’s stylish and comfortable seating and workspace throughout. I lounged here a couple of times during my stay while I was waiting on an Uber or planning my day’s route.

I would definitely stay here again because I did enjoy the staff, treats, room comfort, and general amenities. I also appreciated the hospitality of every single staff member I encountered. Service goes a long way for me!

Thanks to Rachel P. and Loews Vanderbilt Nashville for arranging my stay. Thanks to Matthew M. and the Loews Vanderbilt Nashville staff for ensuring I had a pleasant stay. All opinions and photos are my own.

Travel: Ritz Carlton Sarasota Spa Experience

How many massages have you had in your life? I’ve had two! Two!? One was earlier this year at the Scandinave Spa. The other was at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota last month.

When my friend and I took a vacation-in-a-vacation to the Ritz Sarasota (read about our stay here), we were lucky to be treated to massages at the beautiful Ritz Spa.

I know the Ritz staff see thousands of people come through the hotel each month/year/day, but when I’m there, I feel like I’m getting all of the attention! How do they do that? My spa visit was a perfect example of this kind of attentive service.

We arrived at the spa first thing in the morning after an easy drive from Madeira Beach, Florida. After reviewing the spa menu and consulting with the Ritz staff in advance of my visit, I was booked in for an 80-minute lemongrass bamboo massage. Here’s the description straight from the spa menu:

“Therapeutic hands, warmed bamboo and an infusion of lemongrass soothe tension through this deeply holistic and balancing massage. Be transformed as your mind rests and muscular stress melts away.”

I can confirm that the description and the reality matched perfectly! I lay on a heated bed under the softest covers. My masseuse started by scrubbing my feet and wrapping them in a warm towel. She then used lemongrass-infused oil on my skin before she started  massaging me, alternating between her hands and warmed bamboo sticks. Oh my goodness – the warmed bamboo sticks were incredible! I don’t think I was very stressed to begin with (because I was on vacation after all!), but the systematic, thoughtful rolling of the bamboo sticks across my body really made sure that any and all tensions left my body. It was fantastic!

Honestly, I didn’t know if I would be bored for an 80-minute massage, but there was no way! I was unbelievably relaxed, and if my appointment was later in the day, I surely would have fallen asleep.

Of course there were some points in the massage where the masseuse applied more pressure – and I wasn’t sure if it would lead to some soreness later on in the day – but it didn’t. I felt great! She checked in with me several times about the pressure, and switched the bamboo sticks depending on tension and body part.

My skin was so soft – and my body felt relaxed – for days after my massage.

This spa visit was a very special experience, and I’m grateful to the Ritz Carlton for welcoming us in so warmly.

If you’d like to learn more about the Ritz Sarasota, read about my visit last year, my visit last month., or check out my posts on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz, or #WhiteCabanaGoesToFlorida.

Side note: Love for the Ritz runs in my family. At the same time that I was booking a return visit to the Ritz Sarasota, my sister was booking a return visit to the Ritz Lake Oconee Georgia for her and her family. As you may remember, she and her husband have four kids, and the whole family absolutely loves the Ritz! She has told me that the Ritz staff have treated the kids so well, and there are plenty of fun activities for them! It’s a very kid-friendly resort!

Thanks to S.A. and the Ritz Carlton Sarasota team for sponsoring this post. All opinions and photos are my own.

 

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Travel: Ritz Carlton Sarasota Review

You know what’s great? Having a vacation-in-a-vacation. I discovered this last year, when I booked a stay at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota during my Floridian vacation. My friend and I absolutely loved our experience last year then that we opted to take another vacation-in-a-vacation this year. And the Ritz Carlton Sarasota did not disappoint.

Ritz Carlton Sarasota – The Entrance

Day 1

We learned from our trip last year and planned for an even better time this year. We left Madeira Beach around 7:30am so that we’d make it to the Ritz Sarasota on time for our 9am massages (stay tuned for an review post about our spa experiences).

a lovely welcome – we do love chocolate

By 11am or so, we were done our spa treatments, we were checked into our room (the Ritz was able to accommodate my early check-in request, and I was very thankful), and we were on the shuttle bus to the Beach Club. The Ritz Sarasota has two properties. The first is the hotel in downtown Sarasota. It’s on the water, but it’s not on a beach. The second property is the Beach Club at Lido Beach, which is about a 10 minute drive from the hotel. The Ritz shuttle bus leaves on the hour from the hotel to go to the beach club.

just pretending (side note: I wore this Ralph Lauren t-shirt dress a lot while in Florida)

The beach club is amazing. The pool is large, the lounge chairs are comfortable, the towel service is perfect, and the poolside food options are excellent. Since the beach club is on the beach, seating and service is also available on the beach. We opted to park ourselves poolside so that we could enjoy the music and stay sand-free, but we did go for a walk on the beach, too. Lido Beach is lovely, but it’s not as beautiful as nearby Siesta Key or Madeira Beach (yes, I may be biased).

We stayed at the Beach Club for the full day – in the sun and in the shade. It. Was. Perfect. My poolside lunch consisted of a cheese quesadilla (good) and an ice cream sandwich (amazing). The ladies at the seats next to me all stared (in envy, I’m sure!) when I pulled out the ice cream treat from the container. Since calories don’t count on vacation, I thoroughly enjoyed this classic summertime treat. I strongly encourage you to order one if you go, and I won’t judge if you eat it all by yourself (like I did – yum!).

we spent hours at the Beach Club

happy Jordana

Our room was the same set-up as our room last year. The bathroom, the bed, the balcony, and the view are my favourite parts of the room. Way to narrow things down, right? The bathroom is so spacious and well-appointed. Towels are fluffy and the Asprey products are lovely. The beds are so comfortable; I had an exceptional sleep! I must say that it’s wise for waterfront hotels to have balconies so that guests can enjoy the outdoors while in their own rooms. Our view was over the restaurant’s patio, pool, and water. The decor reflects the sea, sun, and sand with its blue-beige colour palette, the curves on the headboards and chairs, and the artwork and pillow details.

The Ritz bed is extremely comfortable!

All the Asprey and marble! 

a sweet seating area

One of the other (of the many) things that I really like about about the Ritz Sarasota is the shuttle bus service. As I mentioned, the shuttle bus takes guests to the Beach Club. It also takes guests to St. Armand’s Circle – a hot destination for restaurants and shopping. We made a reservation at Shore after doing some research poolside earlier in the day. My friend and I were both pleased with our meals, and we’d definitely return. Because of the Ritz shuttle service, we didn’t have to worry about driving, directions, parking, etc. So darn easy! 

I had to! (at St. Armand’s Circle)

dinner at Shore at St. Armand’s Circle

And we ended the evening with an evening swim. So lovely!

the Ritz Carlton Sarasota – at night

Day 2

On day 2, we opted to stay in Sarasota rather than shuttling over to the beach club. This gave us the opportunity to wonder around town, stumble upon the weekly market, eat a French breakfast at C’est La Vie on Main St., and pop in and out of shops.

white architecture of the library

Main St. Sarasota

a stop in at Sur La Table

mmm…a French breakfast in Florida…oui, oui!

After our morning stroll, we spent the day at the hotel pool. It was fantastic. Absolutely perfect. It was quieter than the beach club, and it offered a slightly different poolside menu. Since we wanted to stay at the Ritz for as long as they’d let us, we asked about using the pool beyond check-out. Here’s another great thing about the Ritz Sarasota – even after check-out, guests are still able to use the hotel’s amenities, including the pool. This made us thrilled!

the hotel pool

the well-manicured grounds of the Ritz Sarasota

For lunch, I snacked on the pita, veggie, and hummus dip. It was a light mid-day meal. When it’s so hot out, I really don’t feel like eating, and I was glad to see a variety of options on the hotel’s poolside menu. I mostly just feel like going from my lounge chair to the hammock to the pool.

that was fun!

We stayed until late afternoon and left right before the rain came. When our lounge chair neighbours predicted that a storm was about 7 miles away, we took it as a cue to pack up and leave.

Once again, I had a great time at the Ritz Sarasota and if all goes as planned, I’ll make another appearance there next year!

Enjoy the rest of your labour day long weekend, everyone!

Many thanks to S.A. and the Ritz Carlton Sarasota team for ensuring our stay was just perfect.

All photos are my own. See a few more photos at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz.

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Travel: Review of Hotel Henry, Buffalo

When I first learned about Buffalo’s newly opened Hotel Henry, I was intrigued. And I was curious. And I was dubious, too. A must-see hotel? Sure. In Buffalo? Not so sure. You see, the Buffalo I have known up until this summer is all outlet mall and Target. Honestly. I have not seen much more than that on any of my trips to Buffalo. Well, let me tell you, Buffalo surprised me. Really! So much so that I’d definitely make a return trip! Isn’t that what you’d like the result of every vacation to be? I was pleasantly surprised!

You’ve seen a couple of photos of my trip on Instagram (#WhiteCabanaGoestoBuffalo), but here’s a proper tour of the hotel.

Hotel Henry, a national historic site, was built in the 1872 as a psychiatric hospital (aka known as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane). I didn’t know much of this history before I arrived which I think is a good thing. I was too googly-eyed over the design and architecture to get too engrossed in all the historical – and spooky!? – stories. As we pulled up to the property, I was floored. Amazed at the large scale and the absolutely beautiful architecture. I was definitely excited as I stepped inside.

The hotel has been part of a 3-year, $102 million renovation project. The hotel is located on a 42-acre site and occupies three of the eleven buildings of the former asylum. The project was led by Deborah Berke Partners and Flynn Battaglia Architects. Just to give you an idea of the scale and work involved, the restoration of 600 windows cost $7 million.

 

Check in was smooth and quick. My room was spacious with ridiculously high ceilings that definitely caught my attention! Beds were comfortable, and the bath products were lovely. Towels were fluffy, and the coffee/tea station was a nice addition. There was plenty of space to spread out, rest, and work (the desk in front of the window was well-planned).

I think it would be lovely if Hotel Henry added robes to the room and a mini fridge, too. These items aren’t essential, but they’re nice pluses for a luxurious stay.

 

Beyond the room, the hotel is absolutely stunning. The foyer and lounges are well-appointed with beautifully designed furniture and accessories. Interesting and unique art is everywhere in the public spaces and guest rooms. The lighting is dramatic and eye-catching.

During my stay, I had the chance to enjoy the bar one evening and breakfast by 100 Acres – the hotel restaurant that is becoming one of Buffalo’s hot spots! I enjoyed both, and loved parking myself in different areas around the hotel to enjoy my drink and meal. Each area offers lovely seating options and great views of the architecture and art.

The next time I go to Hotel Henry, I’m definitely going to sign up for a tour of the abandoned/non-renovated part of the Richardson Olmsted property. If I had known about these public tours before I arrived, I would have signed up, but it completely escaped my research and planning path. In addition to the tour, I’d like to explore other architectural, artistic, and neighbourhood gems.

Prices per night vary depending on day and month, but they average about $150 USD per night. Check the availability calendar for the most accurate price.

Thanks to Hotel Henry for sponsoring this post. All photos and opinions are my own.

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Travel: Fairmont Le Château Montebello, Quebec

When I booked my May trip to Kingston, Ottawa, and Montebello a few months ago, I was not expecting to encounter floods and snowy weather. This, though, is exactly what happened.

I could have postponed the trip, but quite a bit of planning went into this trip, and trying to reschedule would have ended in an almost 6-month postponement. I was also mostly oblivious to the rainy weather. It was rain. I packed my rainboots. And my rain coat. And my umbrella.  Done. After a stay in Kingston, and a quick lunch with Giulia in Ottawa, I drove to Montebello, Quebec for an overnight vacation at the Fairmont Le Château Montebello – the world’s largest log cabin! How amazing! I was so intrigued!

Here’s a quick overview of my itinerary:

Day 1

Despite the rain, I was in full relaxation mode. I arrived to the Fairmont around 3pm, and after I had checked in to my log cabin room, I threw on my rain gear and headed out for a walk. The grounds were beautiful, and the forest trail was so peaceful. There were only a few people around (on account of the rain, most likely), so it was a really peaceful walk. I then had a swim in the pool, a long hot shower, and dinner at the Seigneurie Bar. I watched a bit of French news, and fell asleep under a cozy white duvet.

Day 2

The next day, I had an early morning swim, then enjoyed a generous buffet breakfast at the Aux Chantignoles. I departed earlier than I had originally anticipated because I was nervous about the flooding in Gatineau/Ottawa, and I also wanted to catch up with another friend in Ottawa on my way back to Waterloo.

Now, about the hotel. Several Fairmont properties are full of history and charm. The Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is no exception. It’s the largest log cabin I’ve ever seen, let alone slept in (well, it’s the world’s largest afterall). It definitely has a classic chalet vibe with its winter scene art, wood beams, enormous fireplace, and logs. Lots and lots of logs! So beautiful! It’s definitely a sight to see for anyone who is interested in architecture. (Note: some non-white photos below.)

A few sort-of-blurry iPhone photos of the fireplace, but you get the idea! It’s a grand chalet!

My room was cozy. My bed was ridiculously comfortable. The bathroom was smaller and more dated (but in keeping with the chalet theme) than I had anticipated, but the products smelled lovely, and I had everything I needed for a very comfortable stay. Yes, even with the miserable weather. I was warm and happy! I was even spoiled with maple syrup-infused treats. Merci beaucoup!

This was such a comfortable bed! I had a wonderful sleep!

For dinner on the night arrived, I opted for a classic meal of mint julep and poutine. Interesting combination, right? I was attracted to both items on the menu, so that’s what I went for even if it seems a little strange. Both were delicious, and I’d happily order the same duo on a return visit. Oh – and the cheese is from Montebello, so how could I resist? Delicieux!

I filled up at the breakfast buffet on my second day. The croissants and maple-syrup crepes called my name. I did have some scrambled eggs, too, to balance out all the sweetness. Service was attentive, pleasant, and bilingual.

One of the absolute best things about my stay was swimming lengths in the pool. Montebello’s pool is the largest indoor hotel pool in Canada, and I definitely enjoyed it. I swam later in the evening and early in the morning, so I avoided the crowds of families. If I did go at a busier time, I could have easily swam in the reserved lane. Great planning, Montebello!

While I don’t have a family, I would recommend the Montebello for a family vacation. There are a lot of activities to do year-round including horseback riding, trail walking, curling, indoor and outdoor swimming, and more. The property is beautiful, and the staff are friendly.

Another thing that I took advantage of during my stay was communicating en français! Living in Ontario, I rarely get an opportunity to speak French. I appreciated that the staff communicated in French with me rather than automatically switching to English.

Overall, I had a very relaxing weekend getaway, and I’d easily do it again. Since I’m not much of a snow-bunny, I’d likely make a return trip in the summer to enjoy the outdoor pool and sunny views of the Ottawa River.  If snow is your thing, then definitely plan a winter escape as the log cabin must be beautiful after a dusting of snow.

I don’t want to end this post without touching on the lesser-luxurious side of my vacation.

On each day of my visit, I threw on my rain gear and walked out of the resort area to explore the little town of Montebello. Here is where I was really hit with the reality of the recent floods.

The two photos above are from the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello’s property. Look how buried that bench is. Awful.

I know Montebello may not have been hit as hard as other parts of the region, but I saw sandbags surrounding homes and high water levels around the Fairmont Montebello and the town. In fact, the Gatineau/Ottawa highway that I needed to take was closed due to flooding, and even on the re-routed journey, I saw high water levels on either side of roads. Not good.

I am grateful that my journey went smoothly and that I stayed safe and warm while I was in Quebec. I know others in the region experienced plenty of stress. As such, when I came home, I made a donation to the Red Cross – specifically to the Spring Floods Relief – Quebec Designation. This is a great way to support a community in need. Clean-up is ongoing, and I encourage you to contribute, too.

All in all, I had quite the adventure from Waterloo, ON to Montebello, QC. The drive from/to Waterloo was pleasant and relatively traffic-free. The Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello was a perfect chalet immersion complete with delicacies from the region. I’m fortunate that I was able to explore a new part of Canada last weekend, and I would certainly recommend all travel-enthusiasts readers to do the same!

Many thanks to the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello and J.W. for sponsoring my stay. All opinions and photos are my own.

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Travel: Review of the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, Florida

At the end of July, my friend and I headed on down to Florida for our annual girls’ trip. We’ve been at it for 5 years or so already, and each year, we’ve managed to schedule a vacation-in-a-vacation while we’re away. One year, we went to Chicago; another year, we went to Miami. You get the idea.

This year, we didn’t want to go very far from where we stayed in Madeira Beach, but we were interested in exploring another part of the state. We had heard good things about Sarasota from several people (I’m looking at you Nick and Lana), and since it was only an hour or so away, we thought it might be a good option. And were we ever right!

Here’s the timeline of our vacation-in-a-vacation (scroll down for photos and more info):

Day 1:

8 am: Depart Madeira Beach
10 am: Arrive at the Ellenton Outlet Mall (vacations in Florida always involve shopping)
4 pm: Arrive Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
5 pm: Arrive at the Spa, meet Andrea and Tammy, have a wonderful time sipping champagne while getting manicures
6 pm (or so): Enjoy the spa’s healing waters (jacuzzi, sauna, steam room)
8 pm: Walk over to Selva Grill for a delicious fish meal
11 pm: Snooze on luxurious pillows and beds in our Ritz Sarasota suite

Day 2:

8 am: Order room service and eat breakfast on our balcony
10 am: Hop on the Ritz’s shuttle bus to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota Beach Club at Lido Beach (about a 5-10 minute ride)
10 am – 1 pm: Lounge by the pool, walk on the beach, reapply sunscreen a bajillion times
1 pm: Enjoy a poolside lunch
5 pm: Depart the Beach Club
6 pm: Say goodbye to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
6:30 pm: Drive to Siesta Key for a short walk on the beach
8 pm: Depart Sarasota
9 pm: Arrive Madeira Beach

The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota welcomed us warmly upon arrival, and we had absolutely nothing to worry about during our stay. From valet parking to check-in to restaurant reservations to info about the area – the staff knew how to look after us and answer all of our questions. It was so nice to not have to think about anything! (See some photos on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz)

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a substantial building in the city of SarasotaWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-10

the lobby areaWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-4

the pool and marina view

Our suite was beautiful. Our room overlooked the pool, outdoor dining area, and the marina. The evening sunset was stunning (as most Florida beach sunsets are!). Our room had two comfortable queen beds, robes and slippers (loved ’em), a dining table, a balcony with another dining table, Asprey toiletries, and a pretty marble-clad bathroom.

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comfortable beds with soft linensWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-3

a small in-room dining areaWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-7

Asprey toiletries in the bathWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-6

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a muted colour palette in the large bathroom

From the concierge, I learned that every detail of the decor was well thought-out. The artwork, rug, and accessories were chosen and designed with Sarasota’s history and surroundings in mind. The beach flavour played a large role, naturally, but so did the Ringling Brothers. The hotel, in fact, was bought and developed by a Ringling – of the Ringling Brother Circus.

In our short time in Sarasota, we only managed to have one meal at the hotel – breakfast ordered from room service. Our meal was delicious and very filling!

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french toast with caramelized bananas + a stack of pancakesWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-9

breakfast with a view – and the hotel robe makes an appearance

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“white cabanas” at the hotel pool

The shuttle service to the beach club was easy and convenient. There’s a shuttle stop in St. Armands Circle for those passengers who would like to explore some unique stores. And a few kilometres down the road is the Beach Club at Lido Beach. I could have spent days and days lounging at the club. The white towels were freshly laid out on our chaises by hotel staff, and throughout the day, they restocked our ice bucket and water supply (we drank so much water!), took our lunch order, and raised our umbrella when we needed more shade. I felt so spoiled!

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plush towels at the Beach Club

I mentioned in the itinerary portion of this post that we took advantage of some of the spa services during our time at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. Specifically, my friend and I enjoyed manicures with two friendly technicians. After being pampered with scrubs, creams, and bright polish, we grabbed our complimentary champagne and headed into the spa’s healing waters. We soaked in the hot tub, and sweated in the sauna and steam room. Oh, it was heavenly!

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pre-spa treatment (and another robe appearance)White-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-16

#iwokeuplikethis those nails! and the endless supply of branded water bottles! (oh, and a third appearance of the Ritz-Carlton robe!)White-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-17

manicure, palm trees, and sunshine = bliss

There you have it, dear readers, a peek into our vacation-in-a-vacation at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. Would you believe me if I said that I’m eager to return? Yeah, I thought so!

Note: Just before I went to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, I heard from my sister who had just returned from a family trip to the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds in Georgia. She let me know that their stay at the Ritz was top-of-the-top, and that the hotel staff treated them and their four kids (under the age of 7) so extremely well. They had a wonderful family vacation! Around the same time, I learned of the Bucket List Family’s YouTube channel, and they have said so many great things about the Ritz-Carlton hotels in which they’ve stayed (I’m looking at you, Ritz-Carlton Kyoto and Ritz-Carlton Tokyo). The Ritz-Carlton seems to treat every guest – including the youngens – with such kindness and respect. Even though I don’t have kids, I do  appreciate that this high end hotel chain offers kid-friendly food, amenities, and activities.

Many thanks to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota for sponsoring this post. Thanks, Stacey, for making our arrangements. All opinions are my own.

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Travel: The Omni King Edward Hotel in Toronto

Now that you’ve seen how my friend and I spent 28 hours in Toronto, I’d like to share some more detailed news about our reunion trip, and I’ll start with our hotel.

I booked us in for a night at The Omni King Edward Hotel (aka the King Eddy) at the south end of the city. Although I had never been to the King Eddy, I knew of its reputation of one of the top hotels in Toronto, so I was easily convinced that we should try it out. I’m happy to say that the hotel and its services did not disappoint (That’s the short version of the review. If you’d like to know more, read on!).

We checked into the King Eddy a little later than anticipated because we were having so much fun on our casual shopping at Bloor/Yorkville. Both my friend and I were excited to check in and plop on our beds for a bit of a rest before dinner.

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The King Eddy impresses right from the entrance. Valet parking is available as is a park-your-own-car public parking lot about a block away. Once inside, the grand lobby awaits your attention. The architectural details in the lobby – moldings, railings, ceilings – are full of history. The hotel recently completed a $40 million renovation (forty!), and the lobby is a reflection of that. The furniture is modern and elegant, and the design theme of the hotel (chess, crowns, grandeur) is set right at the front door.

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I’m honestly always a tad cautious when I check into fancy hotels. I’m usually curious to know if the place is pretentious or welcoming. Luckily, the check-in staff at the King Eddy was very friendly (Hi D!) and was able to engage in an informal conversation while maintaining his professionalism and sense of hospitality. I am a very particular customer, so I pay attention to just about every detail of an experience (so tough, I am!).

We took the elevator up to our room, and when we opened the door, we were in awe. The room was large. The suite – yes, it was a suite – had a bedroom with two queen beds, dresser, TV, and closet (with robes and slippers, I must add); a living area with a couch, coffee table, arm chair, desk area, and dining/chess table, console and TV (why have one when you can have two?); and a bathroom with gorgeous marble and plush towels. The three large closets in the suite were more than we needed, but we used them (just because we could!). We also put our luggage racks to use, and I set up the chess board just in case we wanted to play.

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Shortly after we arrived, D (from check-in) called to make sure we were happy with our suite. Happy? Of course! When I jokingly asked what the heck we were supposed to do with all the space, D said that the living area is a great place for thinking! Oh, amusing! It was then that I had regretted not booking us in for a 2-night stay! (In the end, we used the living area for magazine reading…and some thinking, too!)

Shortly after we threw on our King Eddy slippers, a server knocked on our door and ushered in plates of treats. What a delightful surprise! Shannon and I had the perfect afternoon snack (scones, tea, and Niagara’s Greaves jam) by the window. Details, people, I love these thoughtful details!

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The beds in our suite were as comfy as you’d expect from a 5-star hotel, and there were plenty of pillows for added comfort. The black-our curtains darkened the room and added to our restful sleep.

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The bathroom, oh, yes, the bathroom. The shower was my favourite part because it was large, had amazing pressure, and a couple of shower heads…you know, because one might not be enough. There wasn’t a tub in our room, but maybe some rooms have one.

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I also wandered around this historic hotel to see what it had to offer outside of our gorgeous suite. I can definitely see why the King Eddy is a hot-spot for parties, weddings, and every sort of event. The venue has beautiful spaces that can be reconfigured to suit various events. The art and architecture serve as beautiful backdrops for photos, and the recurring design themes of chess, elegance, and royalty are consistent throughout the property.

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Check out the rooms and rates at The Omni King Edward Hotel if you’re planning a visit to Toronto and would like to be surrounded by luxury!

Thanks to The Omni King Edward Hotel for sponsoring our stay. All opinions and photographs are mine.

Travel: Marriott’s Tampa Renaissance

I have to share a recent positive experience I had with the Marriott. I was not in any way compensated for this review, but since I received such incredible service, I feel like sharing. There are good people out there who really seem to love their job, and when I meet people like this (who also treat me so well), I do what I can to recognize them and spread the word. So, here we go.

First, a bit of a lead up…

On my way back from Florida a couple of weeks ago, after sitting around the Tampa airport for 6 hours, my flight (via WestJet) was cancelled (due to weather). The passengers were definitely ticked off (I felt bad for those traveling with kids and those who were needing to make connecting flights). I, too, was disappointed. The fact that the flight was cancelled was definitely annoying, but the way WestJet handled the communication and service really irked me.

So when we learned that our flight was cancelled, we were also informed that we needed to go to baggage claim immediately to retrieve our luggage and that all hotel and incidental expenses were the passengers’ responsibility. (Not to get into the whole WestJet debacle…but we were all going to be booked onto another flight the next day.)

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By the time I got around to calling the “hotel accommodations when flights are cancelled” number provided by WestJet, all the “discounted” hotels that were reserved for cancelled flights were full. My annoyance level grew instantly (service like this drives me absolutely nuts).

Trying to make the best out of a crummy situation, I got online and looked up hotels close to the airport. The first call I made was to the Marriott Tampa Renaissance reservation department. The Renaissance is definitely a luxury hotel, but I crossed my fingers that there would be a room available on such short notice (with a decent rate, of course! pushing my luck, right?).

Well, Ms. Emily over in the reservation department was on the other end of the phone, and she was incredibly friendly and understanding of my situation. When I asked for the “my flight is cancelled and I really would love to stay in a fabulous hotel with a great bed for an evening in Tampa,” she laughed and assured me that she would find the best possible rate for me. She called me by name (I always like this), persisted, and was extremely polite. She booked me into a room at the Renaissance within minutes and gave me a competitive rate. I was pumped! She honestly brightened by afternoon!

And now, here’s what I thought about the Marriott’s Tampa Renaissance.

The lobby is grand with welcoming and modern seating arrangements.

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There is a bit of Italian signage on the room floors, which makes me happy. Tampa-Marriott-Renaissance-3

The artwork around the hotel is lovely, but it is this simple drawing that was hung in my room that I really liked. Tampa-Marriott-Renaissance-2

My Tuscan-inspired room was very well-appointed. My king size bed was ridiculously comfortable (how do hotels do it!?), and the terry robe is one that I think I just have to purchase. It was perfect. Aveda products fill the large bathroom. My room faced the pretty courtyard, and the pool and gym are added conveniences (too bad it rained).Tampa-Marriott-Renaissance-1Finally, the hotel is attached to one of Tampa’s great malls – the International Plaza – awesome!

My day ended up being much (much!) better than how it started, and I definitely owe Ms. Emily a thank you for helping to turn things around for me!

Travel: Review of the Four Points by Sheraton – Kingston, Ontario

A couple of weekends ago, I drove myself over to one of my most favourite places in Ontario – Kingston. I love this little town. The downtown is quaint, it’s easy to navigate, and the lakefront location is pretty darn perfect. I hadn’t been to Kingston for over a year, so I was very eager to plan a little getaway.

I booked myself into the Four Points by Sheraton Kingston because it’s centrally located – just a block away (barely even a full block) from the market square and city hall. It’s a block up from the lake and tourism office in another direction, and it’s a couple of blocks away from the park in yet another direction. The location is ideal for a city visit!

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The rooms are very well-appointed; plenty of towels, a bathrobe, a fridge, and a microwave certainly come in handy, even for just an overnight stay. My king-size bed was ridiculously comfortable (I am now looking into the possibility of ordering a Sheraton mattress! Thanks for the advice, Rox-Anne!) and I very much loved the view of the lake (even though it was icy and snowy).

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king size bed – I want one!

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super white bathrooms make me happy

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sitting area (or place to dump my clothes) with a view of the lake

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I brewed some tea.

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I watched some TV.

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I wore the robe.

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I did not make the bed. 🙂

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some handy guides

The only thing I didn’t enjoy about my stay was the cappuccino I had from the hotel restaurant (King Street Sizzle). It just did not suit my tastebuds. Then again, I am sort of particular about coffee.

If anyone is heading to Kingston, I would definitely recommend booking a room in the Four Points by Sheraton. If you would like my advice about some things to do in the city, come back tomorrow as I’ll be sharing my weekend recap.

Although I did in fact book a room at the Four Points by Sheraton Kingston, the hotel surprised me with a complimentary stay. Thanks to Erin and her team for making my experience at the Four Points extra special!

Design: Review of King & Grove Tides South Beach

As I mentioned last week, during my two weeks in Florida, I made a quick trip down to Miami. South Beach to be more precise. While the beaches, the nightlife and the architecture were all selling points for me, one of the things that I was most excited about was staying at The Tides. As in The Tides! Perhaps you’re already familiar with this hotel because I featured it on my first ever post on White Cabana. The iconic hotel is also known for the interior design work by Kelly Wearstler. Yeah, her.

If you’ve not yet heard about The Tides, let me introduce you to it.

The Tides, one of the King & Grove group of hotels, is perfectly situated on Ocean Drive.

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My friend Shannon and I were instantly impressed with the courteous service we received by all staff members. They treated us with a smile and did their best to make sure our stay was as perfect as it could possibly be. Check-in was a breeze and staff had answers to any question we asked. Over our two days at The Tides, we always felt extremely welcome.

Photos from around the hotel (L to R; T to B) – console and lighting by the elevators, numbered door, cream window shades, Miami news of the week, K & G paper and pencil set, artwork

Each hotel room is at least 550 sq feet. This basically translates to spacious, larger than normal suites. Our room had two double beds, two desk areas, a seating area, a walk-in closet, and a spacious bathroom. While the hotels on Ocean Drive are not directly on the beach (as opposed to where we stayed at Madeira Beach), all rooms have an ocean view. Complimentary wi-fi is also offered which made our stay that much more comfortable.

Photos from around the hotel – bathrobes, white linens, large furniture pieces, orchids, restaurant, outdoor dining area

In classic Kelly Wearstler style – big, bold, glitzy and glamorous elements are found throughout the hotel.The furnishings throughout the hotel are golden and pink with large hints of white. Linens are all white, of course. The number of mirrors in our room was impressive. There were two large full-length mirrors and another couple of large mirrors throughout the space (perfect for two ladies who like to admire their tans, hmm…). The bathroom was large, comfortable, and full of marble. Delightful!

Bathroom included white linens and toiletries

The outdoor pool area was beautiful although much smaller than I expected. The chaise lounges were a perfect place to relax after a hard day at the beach (hee hee). On Troy‘s recommendation, we ordered the guacamole and had it delivered to us poolside (yes, we indulged!). It was perfect (although the delivery charge did make us laugh).

Poolside at The Tides

Complimentary breakfast in the hotel lobby was a good way to begin the day. The basics – coffee, tea, pastries and apples – were served in a casual and inviting manner.

Breakfast at The Tides and a water station by the fitness centre

And, if you haven’t already noticed, a variety of patterns and textures were every where to be found!

Patterns at The Tides – poolside and in the lobby

While we definitely did enjoy our time at The Tides, this review would not be complete without a brief look at some of the less luxurious aspects of the hotel. One of the first things that my friend and I noticed in the bathroom was the toilet paper. Um. It was so un-luxurious. I’m talking the 1-ply variety. I would have expected at least 3 ply. Right? I know it may seem ridiculous to mention the toilet paper but it really struck us as being a bit odd. Second, while the shower stall in the bathroom looked gorgeous, it did not function very well. Each shower resulted in a pile of water on the floor outside the tub area. The shower head was good – it was the hinged shower door that was the culprit. Not a very big deal but a definite design flaw. Third, while the bathrobes were comfortable, they were not as plush as I have experienced elsewhere. They did look great hanging on the padded hangers though. Finally, there was a $2 per coffee charge for the in-room coffee station (Nespresso I believe). I was surprised by this as I’ve stayed in many hotels where the coffee and tea in-room is complimentary. The issues I mention here really aren’t make-or-break issues but if The Tides is trying to be the best of the best, well, I would encourage the hotel to consider these points.

And a word of caution – be sure to make use of the in-room safe while you’re staying at this and any other hotel. Unfortunately our credit cards were compromised during our stay which has inevitably left a sour taste in our mouths. An unfortunate ending to an otherwise very pleasant experience.

Photos by me.