I recently stayed at two luxury hotels in Waikiki a mere month apart: The Royal Hawaiian and the Halepuna Waikiki. The two hotels, though located mere blocks apart, couldn’t be more different. The Royal Hawaiian, one of the oldest hotels on Waikiki Beach, evokes the elegant past, while the Halepuna, one of the newest hotels in Waikiki, has a contemporary Zen-like vibe. Both provide respite from the bustling sidewalks of Waikiki even though they sit just steps away from the crowds.
I cannot choose between the two as my favorite (the Moana Surfrider also competes) because much depends on my mood. I love the Polynesian decadence of the Royal Hawaiian, but I also love the contemporary décor and serenity of the Halepuna Waikiki. And, of course, neither is perfect.
If You Want to Stay Where Famous People Have: The Royal Hawaiian
On a trip this past summer to the New England coast, we found ourselves in some top romantic Maine inns with their friendly innkeepers, charming rooms, and comfortable spaces to kick back after a day’s exploring. These inns aren’t just for summer travel, however. Since crowds dissipate in the cooler months, readers might find them even more desirable during the off-season when these New England accommodations may require less advance notice when booking.
The following aren’t the only excellent romantic Maine inns, of course. Still, you cannot go wrong with any of them, especially for their cozy atmospheres, opportunity to chat (or not) with other guests, and comfortable rooms. And don’t forget to check out my blog on the best lobster rolls on the Maine coast when planning your vacation.
Best Breakfast: Captain Swift Inn
Most Ideally Located: Yellow House Inn
Inn That Best ReflectsColonial America: The Nathaniel Lord Mansion
Friendliest Innkeepers: Shelly and Jeff at the Captain Swift Inn
After a long year, my husband and I, both vaccinated, visited the Fairmont Orchid near the end of the pandemic. Of course, the spread of the coronavirus has necessarily changed how things work. Still, all is not lost if you choose to visit paradise.
Out of all the states, Hawaii strikes me as most like a foreign country – and it often acts like one. For most of the pandemic and to a lesser degree now, each island has its own set of entry requirements. Study them well because you will be tested. Literally.
On a recent trip to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, we stayed at the Idlwilde Innin Watkins Glen. The bed-and-breakfast inn, perched on a hill above the town, provided a quiet, Victorian-style retreat. Owners Marcus and Elin Dowd offered warm hospitality and delicious breakfasts.
For us, the Idlwilde Inn ended up being near-perfect for what we wanted.
The Four Seasons Hotel Sydney has all the luxuries one would expect from the brand. The premises are open and modern, with clean lines. And the well-trained staff, particularly the concierges, offer cheerful greetings and lots of assistance. If you want to stay in, you can always head to the coffee shop for a snack or to the Mode Kitchen and Bar for a gourmet meal. Although I didn’t try it myself, Grain Bar looked fun.
Décor: Luxury modern
Location: The Rocks
Room Size: Comfortably large, but not huge
Best amenity: the offer of showers in the spa upon arrival
Advantages: Excellent location, steps from the Circular Quay
Disadvantages: The ground floor event space can spill out into the lobby
Tip: Rates vary with season and length of stay. Be on the lookout for deals.
The delightfully quirky Hotel Estheréa in Amsterdam earns a spot as one of my favorite hotels of the year. The lobby’s eclectic décor entices hotel guests to look and linger. Each day, the staff puts out a tier of Dutch cookies and chocolates that guests can accompany with complimentary espresso, cappuccino, or tea. Plus, the location can’t be beat. Our trip to Amsterdam was made that much more special by this hotel.
Décor: Eclectic Dutch
Location: on the Singel Canal
Room Size: Small, but large enough for two to move around
Most surprising: the riot of disparate objects in the public spaces creates an elegant, relaxing ambience.
We never would have stayed in the Domux Home Ricasoli in Florence if my husband’s colleague hadn’t found it first. I argued that I wanted a full-service hotel, with a front desk and housekeeping, not an apartment. My husband wanted to stay in the Domux Home Ricasoli because of the reviews. Eventually I relented after reading what he had. Even so, the reviews didn’t prepare us for the luxury within. We had a real wow moment when we stepped inside. Despite my fears, our trip to Florence had begun in style.
Location: a block from the Galleria dell’Academia and down the street from the Duomo.
Most surprising: the luxurious dual bathroom with the tiled, jetted tub and rain shower head.
Room size: huge, with a living room, kitchenette with island, enormous bathroom, and king-size bed.
Disadvantage: Housekeeping every other day. Front desk is manned only during business hours.
Security: You are given a security code to be used on the front door keypad to gain entry.
The Kimpton Hotel Palomar Philadelphia has historically been one of my favorite hotels in downtown Center City. This time, however, we experienced a few glitches that took it down a notch in my estimation. Not that I wouldn’t return, because I would. It just won’t be my obvious first choice when I stay in the Rittenhouse Square area. Still, this luxury hotel in the heart of the city offers a comfortable haven from the bustle of the city.
Years ago, when it first opened, I stayed at the Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa in Alexandria, VA. I wasn’t a fan, so I approached a recent visit with some trepidation. Not to worry! As the hotel has come into its own, everything about it has improved to become one of the better lodging options in Old Town Alexandria.
Décor: Contemporary mixed with historic accents
Favorite in-hotel experience: Happy Hour at Brabo
Location Advantage: Quiet end of King St.
Location Disadvantage: Somewhat shabby block.
Most distinctive public area: The courtyard you walk through to get to the entrance.
The Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa mixes contemporary décor with accents of Georgian architecture. For example, the property is set back in a traditional courtyard, with brick pavers underfoot and an old-fashioned clock in the center. The hotel nods toward historic Alexandria while still emphasizing contemporary clean lines and colors.
The public areas of the Kimpton Lorien are open and inviting. Because the hotel, like all Kimptons, offers a free wine hour starting at 5 pm, it has a large sitting room area adjacent to the lobby to accommodate guests. You can sit and read, or meet with friends, or chat with other guests. Brabo, the hotel’s restaurant, offers meals and an excellent Happy Hour.
Our king room was clean and modern, mostly white but with green/blue Rorschach blots on the wall above the bed. It had a large screen Samsung TV, a huge and wide mirror for checking dress from head to foot, and a long desk with mini bar fridge and storage.
For those like me who travel with tons of electronic devices, the room had plenty of open outlets. I especially appreciated that outlets, plus USB ports, on both sides of the bed.
The bathroom had a tiled shower with clear glass shower door. The Kimpton no longer uses individual bottles of shampoo, shower gel, and conditioner. Instead, you’ll find huge refillable dispensers of them, something I hate. Those dispensers make me feel as though I’m in a cheap hotel. Likewise, the small, rough, and thin bath towels didn’t match the hotel’s image.
The desk clerks must be on the lookout for returning guests because they seemed to open the doors remotely when we approached them. Every employee we interacted with met us with a smile and complete attention. Housekeeping was thorough, resulting in a clean, fresh room every day.
The Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa sits on the far end King Street, close to the Alexandria Metro station and about a mile from Waterfront Park. Because of its location, it tends to be less touristy and therefore more quiet than other Old Town hotels. That said, everything is still within walkable distance: the historic sites, the restaurants, and the stores.
I would stay again at the Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa without hesitation. Because I’m a walker, I didn’t mind the distance to the waterfront. Besides, most things in Old Town Alexandria were much closer.
I recently stayed at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel in downtown Minneapolis for an extended weekend. The hotel itself was comfortable with a modern décor. Theoretically, the location was also good, across the street from the Target Center, two blocks from Target Field, and a five-minute walk to Nicolette Mall. Unfortunately, what we experienced inside this hotel did not match what we experienced outside.
Favorite in-hotel experience: Cocktails at Relevé
Location Advantage: Walking distance to event centers and restaurants.
Location Disadvantage: Weekend night crazyiness
Fun part of stay: Sharing a hotel with the Milwaukee Brewers
The Property Itself
Although the Loews Minneapolis Hotel has a small lobby, the area offers some low, upholstered, bench-type seating for ten or so people. Off the lobby, the Apothecary Bar offers drinks and snacks until 5 pm, when the bar upstairs, Relevé, opens. A Starbuck’s is just outside the hotel’s side door and across the hall.
The architect for the Loews Minneapolis Hotel came up with a strange design, probably for security. To access your room, you must take the elevator to the fourth floor where you exit and proceed to a different bank of elevators. The second bank of elevators require you to use your card key to get to your room’s floor. Since the fourth floor is public space both for the Relevé Champagne Bar and the dining room, people can’t gain access to your floor without a key.
Although Relevé specializes in sparkling wines, it is a full service bar with a limited Happy Hour menu. Check the hotel signs for hours. You may choose to sit at the bar or at a chair next to a small table.
We did not eat in the dining room because we chose to patronize Minneapolis’s excellent restaurants. Also on the fourth floor, you’ll find a grab-and-go market.
We booked a room with a king-size bed at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel. Although not huge, we found that it had ample room for two. My husband always claims the desk for himself, so I was glad to have an upholstered chair with a side table for myself. The calming grays-and-white went well with the accent wall of blue and green.
The bathroom had a contemporary green glass sink and a walk-in, tiled shower. The bath towels were small and rough. I’ve had bigger, softer towels at a Spring Hill Suites, and so thought the bath linens did not match the quality of the rest of the hotel.
The room contained plenty of power outlets, particularly at the long desk. The large screen TV, Keurig coffee maker, and bedside lamps completed the amenities in an otherwise spare room. Except for the rough towels, the room fit the chain’s “luxury” self-branding.
We were greeted every time we entered by a friendly and efficient staff. They opened the door for us, both when we left and when we returned. When we had a question, they had an accurate answer. The largely unseen housekeeping workers kept the room clean and well-stocked. In terms of the staff, Loews Minneapolis Hotel couldn’t have done better.
During the day, we found nothing undesirable about the hotel’s surrounding area, but on Saturday night, all hell broke loose just a half-block away. The sidewalks filled with partying and often drunken (or high) people. A fatal stabbing occurred that night just two blocks away. While the stabbing may have been an anomaly, the rowdy pedestrians probably were not. We had previously stayed at the Grand Hotel Minneapolis several blocks away, and we had experienced none of this.
We loved the short walk to Target Field and local restaurants but not the Saturday night madness. After serious consideration, we decided that we would probably not return to the Loews Minneapolis Hotel in downtown Minneapolis solely because of the neighborhood at night. Even though the Grand Hotel has changed ownership from Kimpton to Hyatt, we may return there next time.