It’s been more than a little while since my last blog post but Chris really wants us to get back into writing these reviews, so here we are! As we start this back up, rather than reviewing points properties that are already heavily reviewed by major travel bloggers, we want to focus on non-points properties that might not have much coverage in other reviews.
We are starting with a review of the brand new Stanly Ranch in Napa, California. Stanly Ranch was a much-anticipated 2022 opening as part of the Auberge Resorts Collection and opened on April 29, 2022. We visited the weekend of May 14, 2022, so the resort had only been open for two weeks by the time we visited. While a physically stunning property, it was clear that service has quite a ways to go and I’ll share more on that below. Of course, because the property is brand new, we came into this stay expecting that service would be a bit of a miss, so our expectations were tempered, but it was still unfortunate given the overall cost of our stay.
Stanly Ranch is located just south of downtown Napa and while it’s relatively close to downtown, it still feels secluded and very quiet. The resort's location will either be a hit or a miss for you depending on what you're in Napa Valley to do and see. It's quite far from most Napa Valley vineyards and tasting rooms (Yountville, the approximate start of what visitors will normally consider "Napa Valley", is 25 minutes farther North, but if you're planning to visit Napa and also head west to Sonoma, you'll be well-positioned).
After walking around the resort, I realized that Stanly Ranch reminds me of an updated version of Carneros Resort, which also offers single story bungalow rooms throughout the property, but Stanly Ranch has a bit more of a modern and polished aesthetic.
We pulled up to Stanly Ranch and skipped the valet to park in the lot beyond. With a single lot at the front of the property, the hotel doesn’t charge for parking, which is appreciated. As we walked up to the lobby, we were greeted by one of their “ranch hands” who asked for the name our reservation was under and then escorted us to the lobby, AKA "Ranch House". We skipped the actual front desk, were seated at one of the couches, and offered welcome drinks (a choice of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or lavender lemonade) while our check in was processed.
Review: Andaz Scottsdale
My family lives in Arizona, so when I heard there was an Andaz coming to Scottsdale around this time last year, I was very excited. The Hyatt offerings in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area leave something to be desired and since I usually end up visiting a few times a year, I was really looking forward to having a great Hyatt option in Scottsdale. The Andaz was initially scheduled to open in fall 2016, but continued to be delayed and finally opened in January 2017. We actually had booked a stay over Thanksgiving last year, but ended up needing to be re-accommodated since the Andaz was not ready to open. It worked out and we were moved to the Royal Palms Resort & Spa, which was actually very nice, but we were definitely disappointed. When I ended up needing to visit Scottsdale in late February, we jumped on the chance for two nights at the Andaz since it had finally opened.
The Andaz is centrally located in Scottsdale right off Scottsdale Rd and is super close to Old Town Scottsdale. That being said, it is somewhat hidden off the main road and you'll need to keep an eye out for the signage while driving in. The hotel was actually still under some construction in February and there's a large apartment complex right in front of the hotel which was also under construction, so there's quite a bit of activity going on in the area.
When I pulled up to the hotel entrance, the valet offered to take my keys so I could go inside to check in. One of the great things about this hotel is that parking is free (or really, I guess it's included in the "resort fee", but whatever) and there's plenty of it. This is not the case for Hyatt's other properties in Scottsdale, so I was really happy about that.
The property itself is gorgeous and all brand new. As a huge fan of mid-century and minimalist design, Andaz properties are consistently some of my favorites and this one did not disappoint. I love the neutral design with lots of natural finishes and fun pops of color. My parents visited one of the days we were staying and my dad and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Hyatt tore down to build the Andaz. It was spacious and sprawling and the grounds have a magnificent view of Camelback Mountain, so something big would have needed to be removed to accommodate it.
After leaving my car with the valet, I headed inside to see if I could check in early. It was before noon, but the incredibly friendly front desk associate still offered me a welcome drink of wine or champagne. I told her I'd have to pass, but maybe I'd raincheck for later. She told me I could come back anytime for more than one glass if I wanted and that it was always available and I thought that was really great. Hyatt switched from Gold Passport to World of Hyatt in March, so during my visit, we were still under Gold Passport and the associate offered the welcome amenity if I wanted it. Irrelevant now, but I was able to select a small bottle of wine or one beer from my in-room minibar and also selected a small menu item for delivery the next evening. My room was awesomely available and I had been upgraded to a larger room due to my Diamond status. She explained a bit about the property and then I was on my way. What I really loved was that later that evening, I went back to the lobby to take them up on the raincheck and the associate remembered my name and seemed genuinely happy to see me. Overall, the service from the front desk definitely blew me away.
Recap: Two Days in Beijing
I've been to China quite a few times now, but I had always stuck to Shanghai or the Shenzhen area and I'd never had a chance to make it to Beijing. Beijing is what most people think of when they think of China and it's chock full of history and amazing things to see, so I was anxious to visit. I was finally able to make it happen back at the end of June and spent two days exploring the city and fitting in as many of the sights as possible.
First off, I'd recommend not visiting Beijing in the dead of summer. It was incredibly hot and humid and it was so insanely crowded at every sight we saw. That being said, summer was my chance to go, so I went.
I was traveling by myself and didn't want to deal with the hassle of trying to get to farther sights like the Great Wall at Mutianyu and the Summer Palace on my own, so I decided to book a two day small group tour. This was truly the best option for me and I'm so glad I did it, because I ended up with a really great group and we were able to take photos of each other and keep each other company on some of the longer car rides. The other best part was the guide we had for the tour. Her name was Sunny and she was excellent. She spoke perfect English and she had clearly been doing this for a long time, so she had all the tips and tricks and so many stories and facts to tell us, so she was really invaluable. You can contact her here (and I swear I wasn't paid to say this, but she really was awesome and truly recommend her as a guide).
On our first day, Sunny and our driver picked everyone up from our hotels and dropped us off at our first stop - Tiananmen Square. The square is truly massive and interestingly is the most important location for Chinese tourists to visit. There's a flag raising ceremony every morning at sunrise and people will camp out for hours to get a good spot to watch the ceremony every day. It's truly amazing. From the square, you can see the entrance to the Forbidden City/Imperial Palace and it's quite the sight to behold. The square is surrounded by government buildings and also the National Museum of China, which I didn't have a chance to visit, but I heard it's amazing.
From the square, we walked through the first gate into the Imperial Palace. The Palace is often called the Forbidden City because ordinary citizens were forbidden from entering the palace unless they had been invited by the Emperor. The city was full of incredible detail and continued on and on and on. It was also so full of people and nearly impossible to navigate at times, but was definitely a place you can't miss in Beijing.
Review: HKG Cathay Pacific “The Wing” First Class Lounge
Review: HKG Cathay Pacific “The Bridge” Lounge
Review: HKG Cathay Pacific "The Pier" Business Class Lounge
Review: HKG Cathay Pacific "The Pier" First Class Lounge
Review: HKG Cathay Pacific "The Cabin" Lounge
I've visited all of the Cathay Pacific lounges during my layovers in HKG on my way to China for work, but I haven't finished reviewing them all. During my last work trip to China at the beginning of July, I was able to visit the newly opened Business class lounge - The Pier. The Pier's First class lounge (review to come) was re-opened to much fanfare last year after a stunning renovation and the Business class lounge just opened in June of this year. Cathay Pacific lounges tend to be some of my favorite airport lounges and nowhere is that more true than in Hong Kong. With four amazing lounge options spread throughout the airport, you'll never be too far away from a stunning space to relax and recharge between flights.
Both the Business and First class lounges have been redone in a similar style and they are both absolutely stunning. Both lounges are broken up into many different areas, which offers a lot of privacy and also many different spaces to sit depending on what you're looking for. As you'll see below, the Business class lounge has a combination of dining, drinking, socializing, quiet and business oriented spaces, which is great for travelers with different needs.
The Pier's First class lounge is open to First class customers, Marco Polo Diamond members and oneworld Emerald members while the Business class lounge is open to Business Class customers, Marco Polo Silver and Gold members and oneworld Sapphire members.
The Pier's Business class lounge is Cathay's largest lounge at HKG, located in terminal 1 near gate 65 - right near the First class lounge. Both the Business and First class lounges are located a level below the main terminal floor, which helps to make them both very quiet and also somewhat inconspicuous while walking by.
Upon taking the escalator down, you'll be greeted by a member of the front desk staff who will check your ticket and show you into the lounge. Pretty much the entire lounge extends to your left with the exception of the Bureau, which is located straight ahead and to your right and serves as one of the lounge's quieter areas with computers and printers available to use.
As I mentioned, the lounge is very thoughtfully split up into many different smaller areas which helps to make the massive lounge feel cozier and to designate spaces for different activities. Both of The Pier lounges have stunning woodwork and comfortable and stylish furniture which really makes the space feel rich and inviting.
There are several different eating spaces throughout the lounge, each offering different types of food. The Food Hall is found directly behind you once you've checked in at the front desk and offers a selection of hot and cold items which will be served to you by attendants behind the counter. The Food Hall offered panini, breads, pizza, hot dishes, fruit and desserts, with a few other small items and beverages in the small refrigerators along the left and right side of the hall. There was also a coffee cart in the room to serve specialty coffee drinks.
Guest Reviewer: Chris
An avid traveler and obsessive points and miles hound, Chris is my travel buddy extraordinaire. I love him for his enthusiasm, his sense of adventure, and his many lounge access credit cards. Hope you enjoy his perspective!
Jen and I recently took a weekend trip to Los Angeles and spent a night at the W West Beverly Hills. Normally we're pretty loyal to Hyatt, but there aren't many good Hyatt options in LA: the Andaz West Hollywood is too "cool" for us, the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza recently closed, the LAX options are depressing, and the rest are just too far away. We decided to look at Starwood options instead, and found the W West Beverly Hills for $288/night using Jen's corporate rate, which seemed like a reasonable enough price.
We arrived at the hotel around 9 AM, and didn't have any expectation of getting a room yet (we just wanted to drop off our bags before heading Universal Studios). Surprisingly, our room was already available, so they were able to issue our room keys and they also asked what time we'd like to check out. I asked if a late checkout would be possible, and they were happy to give us a 4 PM checkout since I was a Starwood Gold member. Starwood Gold normally isn't worth much, so I was glad it at least counted for something in this case.
The hotel itself was very clearly an apartment complex in its former life and you can tell by looking at the structure from the outside and then again by seeing how the rooms are all laid out inside. Despite this fact, I think they did a pretty good job of converting the space and making it fit with the W brand. You'll notice there's a waterfall behind the stairs as you're walking up the front steps and the lobby is full of unique designs and colors, which sort of conflicts with the fact that there's a residential neigborhood outside the front door.
When we entered the elevator, we found it had a camera which would continually take photos and show them in a series on a screen, which gave us some amusement, although Jen was too short to be seen in the photos, which was kind of hilarious. W likes to make its hotels feel fun and hip, which was a nice change from some of the more business-like hotels we've stayed at recently.
Our room, a "Wonderful Studio", was large and featured a king-sized bed and a couch as well as a desk. There was a well-stocked minibar and a complementary bottle of Dasani water. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo and came with Bliss toiletries, which are standard for the W brand. Since we were eager to get to Universal Studios, we didn't spend much time in the room before heading out.
Just a girl with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.