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Redwoods Road Trip – An Introduction

For the past couple of years we’ve been taking some time each summer to explore the national park system. This year, we had to be in Portland, Oregon for a wedding the weekend following the Independence Day Holiday, so we decided to couple this joyous occasion with a trip to the Redwood National and State Park in Northern California.

Redwood National and State Park

Regular readers know that I loathe a good road trip. Most people say a road trip gives them an unparalleled sense of freedom, for me it is the opposite. I feel trapped. I feel completely out of control. I’m just not a car nor a road trip guy. That being said, you can’t really fly into Redwood National Park, and it would be cost prohibitive to fly from Chicago into the smaller airports near the park, then fly to Portland then back to Chicago. So a road trip it is.

We started by flying into San Francisco, staying a couple of days, then driving up to Mendocino Country, where we have an uncle with a home where we could stay for a couple days. The trip continued up the coast to the Redwood National and State Parks, then ultimately up to Portland for the wedding, ending with our often taken United Flight 464 from PDX to ORD (that afternoon flight feels like home to me, since I’ve probably taken in at least two hundred times over the past two decades.

Some of the trip isn’t worth writing about, like the flights to and from Chicago, and some things that are worth writing about, don’t warrant an entire post, so I’ll end up grouping things together, hopefully these posts can help you plan a trip through this beautiful part of the country. Over the next few weeks I’ll write about:

Our trip wasn’t a luxury vacation, but a chance to see friends, family and explore a beautiful and based on our visit, extremely underutilized part of the National Park System.

Have you explored this park?  What are your favorite things to do in San Francisco or Portland?

AC Hotel Portland Downtown

For frequent readers, you’ll know I’m a Starwood guy. I’ve been a Starwood Platinum Elite (staying 50+ nights a year) for the past 6 years (Gold for even longer), so I try to remain loyal for the benefits and the requalification. I needed to spend a week in Portland, Oregon and the Starwood selections are pretty slim. The Westin recently changed hands and the only other Starwood Property downtown is The Nines, a Luxury Collection Hotel, which I’ve stayed in at least half a dozen times and love it. Unfortunately, The Nines was going for $600+/night, which is well outside of my company’s expense policy and honestly, just outrageous.

Since Marriott acquired Starwood and is slowly integrating the business, I decided to extend my hotel options to the Marriott brand. Stays and points will be combined between Marriott and SPG later this year, so I won’t be losing any elite qualifying credits by jumping ship. Based on the pricing of the properties and the location, I decided to stay at the AC Hotel Portland Downtown. This hotel is just a couple blocks from our office and is relatively new. Plus, the AC sub-brand has a bit more character than traditional Marriott Properties, in my opinion.

I enjoy clever decor…

…and perfectly curated bookcases.

We arrived at around 16h00 after taking an early morning flight and working a good portion of the day. Moments before we arrived, the hotel called me to confirm I was actually going to show up, which I thought was strange. They didn’t do this for my colleague who was staying as well. I thought it was because I put in a special request and they were going to ensure that it was acted upon before my arrival. Spoiler Alert: It wasn’t.

We chose to park across the street at a Smart Park location, in lieu of valeting with the hotel. The self-park option was only $10/day while the valet was $45. Yes, the company was paying for it, but this doesn’t make sense for me to spend an extra $35/night on parking.

Strolling into the lobby, we were greeted by three reps at the check-in desk. Two were helping a confused and angry woman who was arguing about something – I never could figure out what her problem was and I think the Marriott folks were having the same issue. She’d complain about something, they’d offer a solution and she’d poke holes in that solution with a completely separate and distinct problem. She was an angry and toxic guest and the Marriott folks were doing everything they could to satisfy her – no one could make her happy.

Check-in was relatively smooth, if not a bit robotic. After I checked in, I wasn’t given my keys until they could confirm that my room had been de-feathered. I loathe feather pillows in hotels. I have a very mild allergy that makes me quite congested while I sleep. Swapping out he pillows is an easy fix that gives me a pretty good night’s rest. My allergy isn’t catastrophic, but the hotel staff always treats it as such and won’t let me enter the room if there is a feather pillow in the area. So I waited about 15 minutes while they confirmed the room was feather-free. I appreciate the effort, but I just wanted to sit down and relax after such a long day. Kudos for heading THIS request.

I was given a room on the 12th floor, away from the elevators, which is also my preference (high floor, away from the lifts). The room was pretty modern with a king bed and a pull-out sofa.

The room wasn’t huge, but had ample space.

The desk was big enough for me to work and spread out all of my papers. The desk chair was like a dining chair, it wasn’t on wheels, which I think is the first time I’ve come across this in a hotel. It was perfectly fine, just different from what I was expecting.

The desk area – without my special request

The bathroom was big and bright with a very large walk in shower and single vanity. The room was very well lit and had great water pressure and ample hot water.

Lovely large walk in shower.

 

Sleek and modern vanity and super modern toilet.

The minibar was stocked with a single small bottle of complimentary water. I do love an ice cold water, but I’d rather have two bottles a day. The chill was nice though.

Less stocked minibar, but with chilled water.

The view was unobstructed, not all that inspiring. Some views in Portland are absolutely stunning – the mountains or the river and bridges, but the big windows brought in a ton of natural light.

My view wasn’t too shabby.

The room did seem a little bare though, with only one piece of wall art. I’m not expecting a miniature museum, but it did strike me as odd that there was so much blank space.

The single piece of art on the wall.

Each time I interacted with a staff member on the main floor, I was addressed by name – which never happens at a Marriott for me. I get this at a St. Regis or a Parker or the Ritz…never at a Marriott. I asked for a couple recommendations from staff members too on this trip and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t get awful recommendations for common chain restaurants. Every time I asked for something, I was offered a local option, within quick walking distance AND most importantly a personal anecdote about a recent experience at these restaurants. SCORE.

I’ve stayed at the AC chain by Marriott a couple times before and have enjoyed it. This stay in Portland was really quite lovely and I’ve already booked a return stay in a few weeks because of my experience. I slept really well (the bed was surprisingly comfortable too) and had very positive interactions with the staff the entire stay.

The hotel is located in downtown Portland, just a couple blocks from the Willamette River, the MAX (light rail system) and hundreds of amazing restaurants and shops. You really can’t go wrong with the location and if the service stays at this level, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Marriott in the area.

Where do you stay when visiting downtown Portland?

Hotel Special Requests

I recently spent a few days in Montréal, celebrating a friends 40th birthday. There were 18 of us, staying at various hotels downtown and the Village. I chose to stay at the Le Meridien Versaille. The other Starwood loyalists stayed here and at the W.

One of the guys at the W realized that he may have had a bit too much to drink when he originally booked his room. In the “Special Requests” section of his booking, he asked for “A framed picture of Kenya Moore, Miss USA 1993 on the night stand”. He didn’t remember this until he received an email confirmation that they had delivered.

Be careful when booking rooms while drunk.

When staying at the W, their motto is “Whatever/Whenever” and boy did they deliver. I can’t imagine what the hotel staffers were thinking when they saw this request. I’m not sure if they thought it was a joke and they had a good laugh about it, or if they thought it was an extremely creepy request…maybe a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

Miss Kenya Moore

Since this guy was so lucky with this oddball request, I decided to try something similar during my next hotel stay. I was not staying at the W – there aren’t any in Portland, but I was staying at the AC Marriott. I went back into my reservation and asked for something simple: A Framed Photo of Barrack Obama on the desk. The day of check in, I received a phone call at around 16h00 asking if I was going to actually check in and stay at the property that night – I totally thought they wanted to make sure the photo was in the proper room. I was stoked.

I get to my room, throw open the door and what do I find?

The desk area – without my special request

Nothing. They did not fulfill my request. There wasn’t a note or a comment about this request either.

Sure, I’m disappointed. Was it a crazy, silly request that really meant nothing – absolutely. Will I continue to try for something like this in the future – without a damn doubt!

Do you ever put in special requests like this? What’s your hit rate? Any suggestions for a future stay? I’m going to make this part of my normal hotel reservation process.

Hotel Bristol Vienna – A Luxury Collection Hotel

My flight on Austrian Airlines landed a little late, but since I couldn’t be guaranteed check-in at the hotel until 15h00, I didn’t mind.  I hopped on the City Airport Train (CAT) and made my way from the Airport through Wien Mitte to Oper/Karlsplatz U-Bahn Station.  Last time I visited, I left the underground from the wrong exit and wandered aimlessly trying to find the hotel. This time I followed the signs to the Opera House and emerged exactly where I needed to be.

I’ve stayed at the Hotel Bristol before and really enjoyed it. I knew I wanted to stay again and I found that the price was a bit more than I wanted to pay, so I used Starwood Preferred Guest Cash+Points for the two nights – which cost 110USD+6,000 points each night.  The value was there for me on this stay.  I also used two Platinum Suite Night Upgrades to move us from a standard room to an Opera Suite – the same room type I had last time.

I walk into the hotel lobby at around 10h15 and was greeted with a cheery “Good Morning.”  After my relative success on the Austrian Airlines flight, I attempted to continue my German language practice.  I was tired and it fell apart pretty quickly.  The folks working at reception did try to play along, but my mind just wasn’t in it.  We finished the check-in process in English.

I was surprised that my room was ready for me immediately. So often, when landing early in the morning in Europe your room isn’t ready for hours – which just makes that first day a struggle. I want a shower, I want to take a quick nap – I don’t want to sit in the lobby and wait and I don’t want to go exploring while feeling all dingy.  I was escorted to my room by the bellman and the receptionist.  I didn’t need two staffers helping me – I had just a briefcase and a roller bag, but the service was a nice touch.

Our Opera Suite was on the fourth floor of the hotel, looking directly out onto the beautiful Opera building.  The huge suite is perfectly appointed to entertain before the opera.  As you walk in, you encounter various hallways, leading to the bedroom or the salon.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The main seating area was enormous and filled with classical music our entire stay.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – Main Seating Area in Suite

The salon is large with multiple seating areas, including a small dining area, perfect for a morning breakfast or an afternoon tea.  The fireplaces were all faux, but still gave the warmth (both because they hid a radiator and the style) of a bygone era.

When we entered the salon, a Mozart CD was playing.  A fitting accompaniment to the room, the view and the overall vibe of the hotel.

The salon has a small, but full bathroom attached (sans bathtub, but with a full shower).  This is excellent design when hosting a pre-Opera party, no need for your guests to traipse through your bedroom.  It is truly a luxury to have a hotel room with two bathrooms – I love it.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The second smaller bathroom

Moving back through the salon to the bedroom, you immediately see how grand the sleeping quarters are. The king sized bed does not dwarf the room itself.  An additional sitting area, writing desk and huge closet system also fill this room – but with ample space to maneuver – and to try on various outfits before the opera.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The Bedroom with King Bed and seating areas

Bristol Hotel Vienna – faux fireplace in the bedroom

Bristol Hotel Vienna – Bedroom Desk

The main bathroom, off the sleeping area, was quite large with double vanities, a walk-in shower, a large separate tub and the requisite toilet and bidet.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The Main Bathroom with double vanity

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The Main Bathroom with separate shower

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The Main Bathroom, with toilet and bidet plus a huge bathtub

There was also another hallway and closet area – you can never have enough closet space when you are hosting a pre-opera party, I guess.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The Hall Closet

The Hotel Bristol is truly a five-star luxury hotel and one of my favorite Starwood properties in the world.  I sure wouldn’t want my home decorated like these amazing Opera Suites, but I do love the opulence and splendor whilst on vacation.  The Hotel has quite the history too – as it was first constructed at the end of the 19th Century and hosted many of the world’s most famous people, including Teddy Roosevelt and George Gershwin – who was working on “An American in Paris” while staying here.  Most famously the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson stayed in 1936 during their affair.

It wasn’t always sunshine and luxury at the Bristol though.  In the early 20th century, Samuel Schallinger, a Jewish businessman, owned a stake in the hotel, but was forced to sell in 1938. He was then deported from Austria to Germany where he died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.  A horribly dark part of the rich history of this magnificent hotel.

Vienna is an incredibly easy city to get around – with so many things within walking distance, and a really great transit system – this hotel couldn’t be situated in a better spot.  Being just meters from the Vienna State Opera, the U-Bahn, Streetcars, the City Park and countless museums, you’d be hard pressed to find a better hotel.

Hotel Bristol – View from our Opera Suite

Hotel Bristol – View from the Opera Suite. The State Opera is a magnificent building.

When I return to Vienna – I don’t know when that will happen, but I know it will soon – I will definitely stay at the Hotel Bristol again.  The space is beautiful, the service team is truly stellar and it feels like my home in Vienna.

Where do you stay while visiting Vienna?  Which Starwood Property is your favorite in the world?

A Weekend in Vienna

Having no real travel in the first quarter of 2018 really started to wear on me.  I decided to take a long weekend (Thursday through Sunday) and visit Vienna.  I had been to Vienna once before, also for a long weekend and will undoubtedly have more opportunities to visit in the coming years – so I don’t feel obligated to hit it hard and see everything on one trip.  The purpose of this trip was to escape from the daily winter work life in Chicago, cash-in some miles and points and get away.

The Wiener Staatsoper / Vienna State Opera House.

If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Vero you’ve seen some of my time in Vienna (and if you don’t, you should).  This trip was like almost all of my trips, centered around good food, exploring a city, experiencing it’s art, culture and history — and finding a nice glass of wine along the way.

Over the next few days/weeks, I’ll be posting about key parts of my trip, including:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my trip and get suggestions from you all for my future trips to Vienna.  What am I missing?  What shocks you that I haven’t seen?  Do you have a favorite dessert place you always go?