Category Archives: Hotel

Hotels and the Environment, II

A year ago, after a stay in a luxurious but stunningly wasteful hotel, I wrote about two-faced hotel energy-saving practices. I noted that many hotels offer guests the option of reusing towels and sheets, which I always opt for. However, I have never been confident that my request was honored. And the waste of electricity in the hotel industry is enormous. My dismay resulted from my stay at Utah’s Hotel Park City astonishing waste of electricity. During evening housekeeping, turndown service was turn-on service, as housekeepers switched on most of the lights in my room — and they weren’t the new energy-efficient bulbs either. Since then, I’ve paid special attention to what hotels that claim environmental consciousness are doing.

I am currently at the hip Adara Hotel in Whistler, BC. The decor is mod, gorgeous but not as weird as some I’ve seen. The mattress, comforter, pillows and bed linens are first-rate (upper right). The folks who work here are attentive as can be. The Adara also has some fabulous amenities. A Sharper Image Sound Soother on a bedside table can produce 20 white-noise options from heartbeat to rainforest to dockside to help overcome sleep problems or cancel out a partner’s snoring. There’s a French press on the counter for making in-room coffee (right) — along with directions on how to do it. On the shelf above it is a cool retro martini shaker. In the bathroom, in addition to the SugarBath line by Fresh, is a personal oxyen cannister by Oxia. Breaking the seal to take whiffs of O2 to help combat jet lag or altitude problems or help cure a hangover costs $14.95, a small price to save a vacation day.

However, once again, I strongly suspect that the towels that I hang on the rack to indicate that I am willing to reuse them are sent to the laundry anyway. And if my suspicion is wrong, I can’t tell which towels had been used and which are clean, because the housekeeper meticulously refolds used and unused in exactly the same way and hangs them on the same bar.

Also, partially used SugarBath toiletries are replaced with unopened ones. Are the half or two-thirds full plastic bottles discarded? I hope not. On the plus side, the housekeepers only turn on a couple of lights in the evening. On the minus side, they also turn on a bedside audio thing that I can’t figure out how to turn off (I unplug it) and they also turn on the faux fireplace, whose holographic flame is more energy-efficient than gas and certainly nonpolluting but neverthless uses some electricity. So while I have been out at dinner, several lights, music and an electricially dancing flame have entertained and illumininated the emptiness. The Adara is at 4122 Village Green, Whistler, BC; 604-905-4009.

I recently stayed at (and posted an item on this blog) that really gets it, environmentally, is the Óscar in Madrid, one of two design hotels I stayed at in Europe. The dark-walled hallways are equipped with sensors, so that the lights come on only when someone comes out of a guest room or steps off the elevator, and they turn themselves off after a reasonable interval. And Europeans are famously parsimonious with shampoos, soaps and lotions.

Minimalist Hotels in Europe

A few days ago, I posted an item about the ultra-modern Jeronimos 8 Hotel where I recently stayed in Lisbon. Everything in this hotel is pared-down, clean-lined and hyper-modern, even the bathrooms (right). It is part of a trend in European cities, where such hotels and restaurants are 21st-century islands of design and technology surrounded by the weight of centuries and the opulence of traditional architecture.

The Jeronimos 8 belongs to a consortium of 150 hip hotels called Design Hotels that are a reaction to the formal hotels that we associate with Europe. Spare, clean lines, sculptural furnishings, interesting and/or vibrant colors and such technological features as high-speed Internet access in each room, flat-screen televisions and bathroom faucets that sometimes require an engineering degree to operate are the hallmarks of this trendy breed of hotels. All of the Design Hotels are hi-tech wonders, but there are other such hotels that don’t belong to the group.

The first such hotel I encountered was the Le Meridien in Vienna, where I stayed in 2005. Little did I know then that I would be staying in properties with similar design philosophies in two distant countries two years later. Le Meridien is an edgy but stylish haute-21st-century hotel is contained within the shells of adjacent 19th-century buildings. It displays specially commissioned art and sophisticated minimalist furnishings. All 261 rooms and 33 suites have 42-inch plasma TV, free-standing tower shower and several computer ports. The theme is Art + Tech. Opernring 13, 1010 Vienna. Phone: 1-800-543-4300 (reservations, U.S.), +43 (0) 1-588-90-0 (local).

In Madrid, I stayed at the recently opened Hotel Óscar, which belongs to the Room Mate group. There are currently eight Room Mate hotels in Spain (four in Madrid, three in Granada, two in Málaga and one in Valencia). Each bears a different first name, the implication being that he or she is your roommate when you stay there.

All Room Mate Hotels are also different in design. Óscar is a tall, slim 75-room hotel with a spectacular location on a small plaza two short blocks from the Gran Via and a short walk from the metro and to all sorts of other places you might want to be. To reach my room, I walked down a dimly lit, darkly painted and carpeted corridor where lights snapped on when a room door or elevator door opened. My room was green and white, quite a contrast to the dark purple corridor. Some of the furniture was built in. One decorative wow was a floor lamp that looked like a Brobdingnagian table lamp (right), so tall that it almost reached the ceiling. Room Mate Óscar Plaza Vázquez de Mella 12, 28004; +34 (0) 91 701 11 73.

I can’t say that any of these hotels give me the warm fuzzies, but I admire the creativity that went into the design. I do love having free WiFi. And I also love the tubs and showers once I figure out how to use them.

From the 19th to the 21st Centuries

Jet travel is a wondrous thing. Just one short flight whisked me from the 1853 manor house at Brantridge Park outside of London to Lisbon’s hyper-modern Jeronimos 8 Hotel, one of a new generation of so-called “design hotels.” Enter a spare foyer and to the right is a dark, free-standing cube behind which the front desk clerk is stationed. The minimalist lobby area is to the left, a few steps away — arrow-straight lines of square chairs (square seat, square back) upholstered in brown or buff-yellow leather along unadorned walls.

The rooms are also minimalist: white walls, beige wall-to-wall carpeting, thick beige drapes with slightly golden sheers over them, light brown rough-woven bedspreads, dark brown leather headboard stretching the width of the room, indirect lighting and abundant chrome. The dark wood desk has a Pleixglas insert that looks like a lightbox. I have to stand up to type. There’s a flat-screen TV with something like 40 channels (including English-language Aljazeera, which is quite enlightening the morning after the horrific car bombing in Karachi) and WiFi access (hooray!). The room is an example of form over function — so minimalist that I had to move a piece of furniture to find an outlet into which to plug my laptop. The desk is a good six inches higher than normal, but the chair is regular height.

The bathroom is equally minimalist. An opaque, frosted-glass door separates it from the hallway. You step into the tub/shower on the faucet end, with the “head end” — should you decide to take a bath — in kind of a cave. The toilet, bidet and two vanity-top basins are round. No overflow drain is discernable. The tub/shower enclosure, the floor and the vanity are made of marble. A small notice attached to one wall suggests, “Towels on the floor means please change them! Towels on the towel rail means I will use them again!” Problem is, there is no towel rail — except for one at the far end of the tub. That means if you want to hang your bath towel on the rack, you have to get back into the wet tub after you’ve dried your feet. And in the unlikely event that you want to hang your face towel on the rack, you have to step into the bathtub to do so. And the housekeeper probably also has to step into the tub to put fresh towels on the rack that’s mounted at a height of about six feet.

One quaint throwback, in an American context, to the past is a white band around the toilet seat and lid reads “Disinfected for you.” In three languages.

Ski Like a Lord of the Manor — in the Rockies

It might be high summer, but for selected ski-country properties, you’d better book now. One such is Moving Mountains, which combines the British ski custom of renting a chalet with personalized and luxury service rather than a hotel room or apartment. Moving Mountains, started with one couple, one dog and one chalet. Now, there is one couple, one dog, two children and nine chalets. The couple is Robin (he’s English) and Heather (she’s American) Craigen.

Before beaching themselves in the Rockies, they operated a sailboat charter out of the British Virgin Islands, sailing around with groups of clients, accommodating their sports, shopping and sightseeing wants, and fueling them with cooked-aboard meals. When they dropped anchor at Steamboat and launched Moving Mountains, they sought to combine the personalization of sailing charters with luxurious private accommodations, with or without a private chef for some of all meals. They now manage luxurious chalets on the mountain at Steamboat. (The map, above right, shows the location of the chalets but does not reflect the replacement of the old Christie chairlifts with a new high-speed version and other base area changes.)

These beautifully furnished chalets range from three bedrooms and a loft to 12 bedrooms — perfect for a family, group of friends or even executive ski retreat for a nightly (or usually longer) getaway, with a variety of meal plans and with lots of elbow room for all.

In addition to real spaciousness and true privacy (including a private hot tub), guests have the option of preparing their own meals in a gourmet kitchen, fry high-speed Internet, concierge service for dining or spa reservations, complimentary shuttle service Moving Mountains Suburbans to and from the airport, any Steamboat lift base or downtown. The price might seem high, but when you divide the rate by the number of people, factor in that you won’t need a rental car and that MM has access to discounted air fares and lift tickets, the per-person rate should not be all that scary. I’m not including rates here, because the structure is complicated and depends on the specific chalet, how many people are using it, specific week and so on.

Bed and Board, Here and Abroad

Two packages including accommodations and a fine meal at properties other than hotels offering half-board (breakfast and dinner) or full board (breakfast, lunch, dinner) just came to my attention. The hotels have the commonality of luxury, and the packages have the commonality of food orientation. Otherwise, they are very different.

The Denver Magnolia Hotel is offering a night’s lodging for two in a king guest room (right) or suite and steak-and-seafood dinner at Morton’s The Steakhouse. Morton’s dinner includes two single-cut filets; a choice two from Colossal Shrimp Alexander, Jumbo Lump Crab Cake or Broiled Sea Scallops; choice of two from Caesar Salad or Morton’s Salad; choice of one Potato and one fresh vegetable to share; choice of two from Hot Chocolate Cake or Key Lime Pie. The package also includes transportation between the hotel and the restaurant, two cocktails at Harry’s bar in the hotel and the Magnolia’s trademark late-night cookies and milk.

Morton’s normally charges roughly $11-$12 for these appetizers, $7 for a salad, $19-$24 per entrée, $5 to $7.50 for each vegetable or potato and $7-$9 for dessert. The package begins at $219 per couple, per night, and includes tax. Gratuity and additional menu items, such as beverages, are extra. If a steakhouse isn’t your thing, the Magnolia also offers packages with Palomino, Maggiano’s Little Italy and The Keg. The Magnolia Hotel Denver is downtown at 818 17th Street; 303-607-9000 and 888-915-1110 (reservations).

Meanwhile, across the ocean, Starwood Hotels & Resorts of Italy, Malta and Croatia has launched interactive web campaign, “Taste the Mediterranean,” including accommodations, a three-course lunch or dinner for two in one of Starwood’s restaurants, “regional gastronomic delights” (whatever they may be) in the hotel room and daily buffet breakfast for two. Participating hotels, not all of which are in household-name locations to North Americans, are the Westin Excelsior & Grand Hotel in Florence; Le Méridien Gallia, the Westin Palace and Sheraton Diana Majestic in Milan; Le Méridien Rimini; St. Regis Grand Hotel, the Westin Excelsior Rome, Sheraton Roma Hotel & Conference Center in Rome; Le Méridien Lingotto in Turin; Hotel Danieli, the Westin Europa, Regina and Hotel Gritti Palace in Venice; Hotel Villa Cipriani in Asolo; the Westin Dragonara Resort, Le Méridien St. Julians and Le Méridien Phoenicia on Malta and Le Méridien Lav in Split.

The package must be booked by August 31 and is available through December 31. The “Taste the Mediterranean” package requires a minimum two-night stay and priced from 126 euros per room, per night. Double Starpoints will be awarded for this package. For reservations, go to the Starwood website and click the “Book Now” button beside the hotel of your choice.

Two Longtime Vail Lodgings Bite the Dust

If you go to Vail to ski next winter and hope to sleep on a budget, don’t expect to stay at the long-running Vail Village Inn or at the super-economical (for Vail) Roost Lodge. The VVI, just about as old as the resort itself, has been demolished to make way for the upscale Vail Plaza Club & Hotel, which offers both pricy fractional ownership units and hotel rooms. The Roost, a 72-room motel treasured by budget-watchers, is closed, to be replaced by a 102-unit Marriott Residence Inn plus 31 condos. Neither property met current standards of what guests expect, especially in a ritzy resort such as Vail, but at both properties, the prices were right.

Cheers for the Melting Pot

I’m in New York right now, having arrived this afternoon for a Tourism Canada event. There are Francophone Canadians and Anglophone Canadians, and the entertainment during the opening reception was Tanya Tagaq, a throat singer from Nunavut whose primal voice and haunting songs evoke the tundra. Nunavut is a largely Inuit jurisdiction was created in 1999 from Canada’s Northwest Territories — dividing one vast sparsely populated region into two still vast, sparsely populated regions. Together with the Yukon Territory, their total populations well under 100,000. But, as Dave Barry often writes, I digress.

The opening event, whose theme was the Northern Lights, was a lovely melding of three Canadian cultures under the glittering chandeliers of the Waldorf-Astoria’s Starlight Roof, a wonderful hotel in the most crowded city in the Western Hemisphere. What a contrast between Nunavut and New York. But I’m still digressing. Tomorrow, I will plunge into the abundant travel opportunities provided by our neighbor to the north, but today, in just a brief period, I again was energized by New York’s role as the greatest melting pot on the planet.

I deplaned at crowded LaGuardia Airport , hearing snippets of English, Spanish and other languages — though LGA is the most domestic, least international of New York’s three major airports. Two friends who were on my flight and I got into the cab line. The dispatcher was an African-American. The cab diver was from South Asia. The bellman who unloaded our luggage from the trunk sounded Jamaican. The front desk person who checked me had a Hungarian accent.

One of my friends and I decided to run out for a bite to eat. We both had work to do and wanted only something quick to bring back to the hotel. We only had to cross the street to find cheap, fast steet food. At the corner of St. Bartholomew’s Church, an Byzantine-style Anglican church known for its ecumenical outreach, was a halal food cart run by two Arabs — if the name is accurate, according to Moslem dietary law. The menu board (right) listed gyros, falafel, kofta, hot dogs with sauerkraut or chili, Italian sausages and potato knishes. That first hour off the plane is what makes New York such a multi-cultural melting pot. It’s one of the things I love most about the city.

New EcoRooms at Lake Powell Resort

I have a love/hate relationship with Lake Powell. I love the recreational opportunities provided on this enormous reservoir, but I hate big dams on big rivers. There is a cause-and-effect thing going here. The Glen Canyon Dam, which chokes off the Colorado River just upstream from the Grand Canyon. The huge dam, built nearly half-a-century ago when sensibilities were different, caused water to back up behind it, creating Lake Powell. This man-made lake offers all manner of recreational opportunities, notably some of the best houseboating in the land. It is second in size to Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, that backed up behind the Hoover Dam. Both are engineering wonders but, by today’s standards, environmental errors.

I try not to think about the splendor that lies beneath the deep blue water. Glen Canyon is said to have been every bit as magnificent as the Grand Canyon. The late David Brower, long-time executive director of the Sierra Club and founder of Friends of the Earth and the League of Conservation Voters, regretted until his dying day that he had not battled the government about the building of the dam. He didn’t fight it. The dam was built. And what some call “Fake Powell” was created. Still, Lake Powell is a spectacular place, with the water lapping against tawny cliffs, dramatic spires and wonderful coves to explore.

The lake provides ample room for houseboating, kayaking, fishing, jet-boating and more. For those who prefer not to houseboat or camp but who want to be at water’s edge, there’s Lake Powell Resort, beautifully situated and offering killer views of the Lake and, alas, the smoke-spewing Navajo Nation Electric Plant. When I stayed at the resort in May 2006, the rooms were uninspiring with standard motel decor. Such a spectacular setting, whether one approves of it or not, deserves classier accommodations.

Now, ARAMARK, which manages the resort, has upgraded some rooms. Called Green Leaf EcoRooms, and designed for guests with special health and allergy concerns, they also appeal to someone like me who just wants hotels to do their part in protecting the environment. These EcoRooms at Lake Powell Resort feature more than a dozen energy-efficient, water-efficient, waste-reducing, non-toxic or biodegradable products — worthy of Green Leaf certification from TerraChoice Audubon Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program.

These EcoRooms feature bathroom flooring made from recycled glass and select ceramic materials, bathroom counter made from recycled glass terrazzo, carpet made from 25 percent post-consumer and 25 percent post-industrial materials to and carpet pads made from 100 percent recycled material, energy-saving lightbulbs, dispensers for soap and shampoo to cut down on waste, energy-saving sliding glass doors and water-efficient fixtures (including toilets). It’s my kind of room — and while nobody asked me, I think they should all be that way.

I applaud any individual or corporate efforts at preserving our planet, and against the background of Lake Powell and all that is wrong with it — dramatic beauty and recreational pleasure notwithstanding — these EcoRooms merit even more kudos.

Cool New Denver Hotel

The Curtis blazes onto the lodging scene — well in time for the ’08 Democratic convention
I very rarely spend the night in a downtown Denver hotel, but if I did, the newly (and partially) opened 336-room Hotel Curtis would be high on my list — along with such pricier lodgings as the Brown Palace, the Monaco, the Oxford, the Teatro and the Westin at Tabor Center.
The Curtis has had what the hotel industry calls a “soft opening,” meaning that rooms are available but has its restaurants or all of its public spaces are not open yet. The hotel is all about pop culture. A toy robot welcomes guests into the lobby (right), which is done up in retro colors and fabrics but with a decidedly 21st century high-definition video screen of considerable side. Instead of ponderous business publications, the reading nook offers well-loved comics and books on pop-culture themes. The convenience store, called the 5&Dime, sells such classic candies and vintage-style soda pop.

The rooms are attractive yet straightforward and not too wild, but each of the 16 floors features a different pop-culture theme, from the elevator recording announcing the next stop to photographs and pop art carrying out each specific theme. These include Big Hair, Sports Champions, TV Mania, Chick Flick, One Hit Wonder, Sci-Fi, and more. Guest amenities are along the lines of a PEZ dispenser and sweet candy wafers to fill them with or a yoyo. Guests get their wake-up calls from Austin Powers, Mr. T or other storied characters. Still to come this year are the restaurants (The Corner Office and Martini Bar, Oceanaire, and a Starbucks), fitness facility, a large indoor swimming pool, business center, and meeting space. The hotel is pet-friendly and even features a doggie door so that Fido feels especially welcome.

Not only is a new hotel welcome in and of itself, especially in view of Denver’s hosting of the 2008 Democratic Convention, but it was built within the shel of the Executive Tower Hotel, a dated property that was singularly uninspiring and unattractive but was a traditional venue for political events — rumor has it because it was a strong union hotel.
Nightly room rates at the new Curtis currently start at $129. Go to the website or call 800-525-0661 or 303-571-0300 for further rate information or reservations.

No Snow, but a Perfect Hotel

There is still no snow to speak of in the Alps, though it might be snowing at higher elevations even as I write this. In the valleys, however, all is wet and gray, including here in rainy St. Moritz, Switzerland. The community has pre-emptively canceled World Cup ski races scheduled for December 9-10, because even if it starts snowing very soon, it is impossible to assure enough cover and prepare the course for World Cup specifications.

I am consoling myself by hunkering down in the warm and welcoming — and very historic — Badrutt’s Palace. The Badrutt family entered in hotel business in 1856 when Johannes Badrutt established the Engadiner Kulm Hotel (still operating as the Kulm Hotel). His son Casper founded the Palace in 1864, and that winter, Johannes lured the first group of winter tourists to St. Moritz, launching winter tourism to the mountains. The present Palace was opened in 1896, and it has been expanded and refined ever since.

I view the Palace as a perfect hotel for myriad reasons: location, views, architecture, furnishings and above all, impeccable service that is correct and formal but not stuffy. Perfection comes at a price, but in this low season, the price is not off the charts. Still, one thing that I especially admire is that Badrutt’s Palace does not nickel-and-dime those guests who are already paying top dollar, as those who will arrive soon for the Christmas-New Year peak season will be.

I am writing this from my laptop plugged into the hotel’s free high-speed Internet connection in each room. I don’t even need and adapter, because in addition to the regulation Swiss outlets, one accepts North American plugs. I am sipping mineral water from the complimentary mini-bar. Beside me, the plasma TV is tuned to CNN, but I could be watching a pay film without having to pay. The hotel’s fleet shuttles guests to the railroad station, the local heliport and even the lifts (or golf course in summer). Many multi-starred hotels do offer such services but with added charges for each one.

Down pillows and comforters, high-thread-count sheets and large, fluffy towels enhance the poshness in each guest room. And the amenities — the soaps, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and lotion — are custom blended for the Palace and packaged in generous jars, not the smaller ones that hotels normally favor.

Of course, there are the usual facilities that ultra-luxe hotels also offer — spa, pool, multiple restaurants, lounges, lavish buffet breakfast, room service, high-end shops, twice-daily housekeeping — but it is the total package of complimentary and pay services, plus an excellent staff, that sets Badrutt’s Palace above luxury most hotels.

The next time I am in a US hotel or motor inn that makes a big deal of offering free HBO, WiFi or a lousy breakfast served on styrofoam with plastic utensils, I will think back to my stay at Badrutt’s and remember how it is here, in this perfect hotel.