REVIEW: A little slice of heaven – Andaz Papagayo

Staying at this hotel was one of the best experiences I have had in a while.  I know, it may sound like hyperbole, but the Andaz really knows how to do things right when it comes to their resort in Costa Rica.  I was lucky enough to stay here during low season which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the resort was exceptionally placid and relaxing with only a few people around.

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This is the view that you’ll be seeing every morning as you have an amazing breakfast

 

One of the first things you’ll notice when you enter the Papagayo Peninsula and then the Andaz is just how secluded it all is.  Costa Rica, in general is already a getaway, but at the Andaz the buildings just meld into their environment making guests feel at one with the nature around them.  When I was choosing whether to stay at this hotel, or the Four-Seasons down the street I decided upon the Andaz due to its newer build and more zen-like atmosphere.  I did get a chance to visit the Four Seasons one night and my decision, in retrospect, was correct.

There’s a lot of things to love about this property, its direct beach access and water-based activities, including jet-skiing, snorkeling, paddle-boarding, and snorkeling, to its beautiful set of infinity edge pools that span across the entire width of the resort.  What I love most about the hotel, however, was the fact that the management has spent a lot of time training the staff to make you feel as if you were an old friend, and valued guest.  This is especially important when you’re at a secluded resort and spend a significant amount of time on the property.

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Modern, relaxing, and awesomely integrated into the mountainside – Big ups to the Andaz hotel chain for this one!

The staff went out of their way at each moment to know the names of the guests, to know my personal preferences in drinks and food, and to impart some personal tidbits about Costa Rica – once they knew it was my first time there.  The concierge was extremely helpful in planning activities, and one of my favorite things about the resort was the mixology bar and the mixologists on staff.  The complexity and innovation that went into some of the beverages that the staff made for me was almost incomprehensible (yes, it’s that good).

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They take mixology to a whole ‘nother level here.  I really can’t begin to describe how amazing the drinks are at the Andad Papagayo

The spirit of “Pura Vida” (Google it, because that’s a whole ‘nother article in itself), is especially prevalent here, and I cannot hesitate to recommend this as a must-see and must-stay at property if you’re ever in Costa Rica.

PROS:

  • Beautiful modern property with amazing rooms/bathrooms, it’s a lot newer than the more expensive Four Seasons next door, and a lovely property
  • The service is bar-none.  I would put it at the same level as a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, which is saying a lot
  • All the awesome activities were put together with lots of planning and thought, the mixology classes, coffee classes, forest hikes – you won’t feel at a loss when finding things to do here
  • The food is incredible, lots of amazing cuisine for vegetarians to meat lovers alike

CONS:

  • Some of the restaurants were closed on certain days due to it being low season, but that ended up not being an issue as there were shuttles to the Four Seasons next door when added variety was needed

SECRETS:

  • Check out the adults-only pool next to the spa, it’s got a nice secluded atmosphere to it
  • The ceviche at Ostra is incredible and a must have

THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA:

  • I highly recommend the ATV tours through the company that Andaz’s concierge uses, it’s a fun adventure through rivers and rainforest that shows some of the beauty of Costa Rica (hidden waterfalls, local towns, etc)



REVIEW: Rancho Valencia Resort

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This is by far one of my favorite resorts in California.  It’s a large property, the type that requires you to get around by golf cart (don’t worry – they supply them).  It’s got beautiful rooms – each one is considered a mini casa or “Casita” as they call them.

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The not-so-mini Casita complete with sunken living room and a jacuzzi and fireplace inside AND out

The hotel has impeccable service, they know you by name and deliver some really cool fine touches, such as some really expensive bath products, a jacuzzi and fireplace in each individual outdoor patio, not just any espresso machine but world-class espresso machines, and my favorite part – the fresh orange juice service that is left at your room every morning (from the on-site orange grove).  The property is exquisite and has some really great things going for it including an impeccably decorated restaurant and bar.

This is a resort you go to when you want to get away and relax for a few days – it’s not very close to much other than the Del Mar Racetrack, but the property itself has enough to keep one relatively busy – and by busy I mean relaxed.

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Stunning spa-like bathrooms with views of the gardens will make you take extra long baths and showers.  The toilet is even electronic and opens and closes its lid with a wave of your hand!

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If you come here you’ll be a spending a lot of time at this bar and restaurant in the lobby area

PROS:

  • Rooms don’t get much better than this.  Fireplaces, private jacuzzis, beautifully appointed top of the line materials in the bathrooms.  All with a modern-meets-rustic theme
  • The food on this property is great, you won’t want to leave
  • The feeling of privacy makes this the perfect retreat

CONS:

  • It books up quite far ahead of time, so make sure to put in your reservations early

SECRETS:

  • You can actually go and pick oranges in the grove

OTHER STUFF IN THE AREA:

  • Check out the Del Mar racetrack schedule to see if you can go to the races at the same time you’re staying here.  There’s also a local fair that happens a few times a year next door.



REVIEW: Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale

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This hotel feels like it should be set in the 60’s.  Everything from the architecture to the hip decor makes this hotel a choice that’s not normal.  When you walk in you notice the flamboyant colors, the biomorphic shapes and shag carpet and wax vinyl surfaces.

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Lets jus say that laminate floors are not the standard at the Ritz, but hey, this place is cooool

You choose the Valley Ho because you want something different, but at the end of the day you still want a bit of luxury and coddling.

The lobby is the focal point of this place, part of it is indoors and part of it is outdoors.  The location is fantastic, just a few minutes by foot to the local art galleries and restaurants in the Scottsdale area.  This is always my go to whenever I come to Scottsdale.  The restaurant has great all american cuisine and I recommend it for the Sunday brunch.

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You can’t look around at this place and not crack a smile – because it feels like you just woke up and Nixon is about to pop on TV

There are certainly other nicer hotels in the area, the W Scottsdale or further options if you’re there for the golfing, but there really is nothing else like the Hotel Valley Ho.  And heck, at the least it’s fun to say.

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Bet you haven’t been to a mid-century pool since…well, mid-century

PROS:

  • Fun lobby and vibe – its super hip
  • The showers are wide and open and the bathrooms and floorpans feel modern and different from anything else you’d see in the luxury category
  • There’s really not much else quite like it in the area, especially walking distance to Scottsdale downtown shops and restaurants

CONS:

  • It’s not a traditional luxury hotel
  • The service is not quite that of a 4-5 star hotel, but somehow it just works with the laidback vibe
  • The cuisine is all americana but if you want something different there’s not a lot of options

SECRETS:

  • Check out the cool second story gym with its private yoga room which opens up to the pool
  • The breakfast burrito on the menu is definitely what you want, I promise

OTHER THINGS TO DO:

  • If you love good pizza (and who doesnt?), definitely visit Sauce Pizza & Wine.  It’s one of my favorite pizza restaurants in the nation (and that includes comparison to places like Lou Malnati’s in Chicago or top NY pizza joints).  Yes it’s that good, and they have a great selection of beers and wines!



REVIEW: The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

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This one’s a keeper – as they say.  The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is a mixture of old-world elegance and contemporary flair.  The hotel is large but the intimate spaces hidden within it make it feel homey and comforting rather than barren and excessive.

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The Spanish villa look of the Ritz in Laguna gives it some old-world charm

The minute you walk in you’re wowed by the depth of the hallway.  It has a very similar feel to the Monarch Beach Resort in this respect, but with slightly lower ceilings which makes this hotel the perfect accessory for a romantic getaway.

The service here is impeccable, at the top of its class for Ritz-Carlton’s, and the lobby bar here is a cool place to hang out.  I had a chance to check out two of the restaurants here, EnoSteak and Raya and highly recommend both of them.  Raya’s floor to ceiling glass portals overlook the Pacific Coast and it’s a dazzling place to have breakfast at a leisurely pace.  Enosteak is the quintessential martini and ribeye spot which serves its purpose in this type of resort.

The rooms themselves are on the smaller side, and are not as new as the The Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point but they are definitely still clean and luxurious.  This is yet another hotel built with weddings in mind and as such there are breathtaking vistas throughout.

I recommend checking out The Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point and doing a spot compare between the two when booking to see which one is priced better during your stay as they both are comparable hotels, with the Ritz possibly edging on service, but slightly older in room quality.

PROS:

  • Feels intimate yet maintains that large resort feel
  • The pool area is well thought out to include private secludes so that not everyone is staring at each other when you’re laying out
  • The service is impeccable and the dining establishments at this hotel are above average

CONS:

  • It could use some room refreshes

SECRETS:

  • Check out the view at 180 Blu while enjoying a drink.  It’s easy to miss this part of the hotel

OTHER THINGS TO DO:

  • Officially the second smallest church in the world, St Francis By the Sea is a pretty cool place to visit.  Plus it’s on the Guinness Book of World Records!
  • This one’s been written about but if you want to get around and you don’t want to hire an uber. Check out the Laguna Beach Trolley.  It’s fun to use it as a method of hopping around town and checking out the sights.



REVIEW: The Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point

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The Monarch Beach Resort was formerly a SPG St Regis property, one of the top ones in the portfolio, but as of mid 2016 was purchased by KSL group after a lengthy renovation.  I went to stay at the hotel shortly after the renovation so this review reflects what the hotel currently is like (as of Q3 2016).

The common areas of this hotel are pretty amazing.  The lobby is grand, and the pool area has lots of space and two different pools to lounge at.  I didn’t get a chance to visit the spa, but did use the gym facilities and the equipment is new and the whole area feels spacious and well kempt.

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Everything about this hotel feels grand, the scale of it all is pretty impressive

As you might know from a little bit of research, there are two other major competitors in the area – the Ritz-Carlton Dana Point and the Montage Laguna Beach both of which I have stayed at and of which you can find separate reviews of.via the hyperlinks.  If you had to ask me to choose, i’d say each one has a different feel and it depends what you’re looking for.  If you want a grand resort experience this is on par with what you would find at the Montage.  If you want something that is a bit more intimate the Ritz-Carlton at Dana Point will fit the bill.  If you want the newest hotel in the area, then this is definitely it.

There wasn’t much to say about the hotel, except that I felt that the updates were nice but they could’ve done a little more to update the rooms themselves.  With the caveat that i’ve never stayed at the St Regis version of the Monarch Beach before the renovation, it appeared to me that the bathrooms underwent very little during the transformation.  It also appeared that the hotel was heavily geared towards wedding parties, and this is something that is pretty apparent by the large open spaces which appeared odd when unused and without furniture.

Otherwise, this is a solid hotel and definitely gets my recommendation, but I suggest cross shopping with its closest competitor – the Montage to see which one is a better value at the time.  They’re both very similar in feel.

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This place was built for wedding photographs, but it can often feel a bit too large at times

PROS:

  • The stunning scale of the architecture is pretty cool to look at and definitely gives the Resort a unique feel
  • Newly updated (as of Q3 2016) with most of the common areas looking polished and luxurious
  • This is definitely a place built for weddings & other functions.  For couples looking for a quick getaway I would recommend also checking the Montage next door

CONS:

  • Some spaces feel barren as they were built for functional meeting space but when unused have an odd appearance
  • The rooms are nothing spectacular, even though they are still very nice

SECRET(S):

  • This is actually a great place to have brunch – especially if you live in the Orange County area
  • For a slight upcharge you can get your own firepit on your patio, but ask for one of the rooms that is facing away from the pool so you can get more privacy

OTHER THINGS IN THE AREA:




REVIEW: A peek into the SOHO Beach House in Miami

 

There’s nothing quite as relaxing as tropical climates where a constant breeze keeps the sweat from building up and you can find some shade and a view.  The SOHO Beach House in Miami is one of those spots.

From the minute you enter the building (located right next to the legendary Fontainebleau) there is a feeling of secrecy.  After all, this is home of the SOHO club, known internationally as hidden lounges reserved for celebrities and well-heeled folk.  You walk into the hidden check-in area where reception whisks you into an even more hidden (and velvet lined) elevator.

The best part of this hotel is the decor.  It’s eclectic and feels like something that someone might put together for their own house.  It’s a mishmash of items with a beachside bungalow feel.  I wouldn’t have thought that leather chairs with reclaimed wood and outdoor cushions would feel at home inside a hotel room but for the SOHO Beach House it all works well.

The best part of this hotel though is the property itself, namely the upstairs spaces, and all the little nooks and crannies of the SOHO Beach House members-only property.  As a matter of fact, if you’re not a member of SOHO House this is the only way you’re going to get into this place short of being invited by a friend.

There’s a movie screening room, an upstairs hot-tub, a smallish pool, and dedicated beach access with chaises for hotel guests.  The anchor restaurant in the hotel is of course Cecconis, similar to the SOHO House in Los Angeles and definitely worth a visit.  Everything about the decor of this property is charming, upscale, and incredibly detailed.  It’s got a whimsical touch to it and I definitely think it’s a great alternative to your standard faire in South Beach (as there’s so many options there).

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Check out the wood tub, the exposed brass piping, and the wicker baskets for towels and bath accessories

PROS:

  • Impeccably decorated with a great beach vibe.  This place really stands out and has character and charm
  • Incredible rooftop deck which is great for a romantic retreat or just relaxing with your favorite beverage.
  • Each room is different from the others which gives it a bed and breakfast type of experience (if that’s your type of thing)

CONS:

  • The service was not very good.  It took multiple calls to get some extra soap and towels, and unlike many small boutique luxury properties, the staff doesn’t go out of their way to know your name or particular preferences.
  • The pool area is relatively small and covered by the trees and high walls of the building on either side, making it hard to catch some rays or to find an available lounge chaise.

SECRETS:

  • Ask the front desk to send a bartender to your room for happy hour. There’s a full bar set including fresh fruits, bitters, and assorted mixers on the bar cart in the room and bartenders on staff will come to your room to make drinks for you as you get ready for your night out on the town!

OTHER STUFF IN TOWN:

  • With the caveat that i’ve been to Miami well over 30+ times one thing that always stands out to me (And still my favorite hotel in Miami) is the Setai.  It’s the pinnacle of luxury in South beach and has been since it’s inception.  I really enjoy a speciality martini they make there called the “Chili Passion Martini”.  Enjoy it in the lobby of the Setai which is decorated with manta ray skin-lined walls and teak wood imported from Indonesia.  I always make a stop here when i’m in Miami.
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