Review: Le Meridien Munich

For the first time in four years, I opted to stay at a hotel for Oktoberfest not named Four Points Sheraton Munich Central.  And the result?

A mixed bag, really.

The Le Meridien Munich is located pretty darned conveniently – especially for Oktoberfest.  The property is literally across the street from the south entrance of the Haufbahnhof Central Station, and an easy, fifteen minute walk to the center of the city, Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel.  Though it’s not nearly as close at the Four Points Munich Central, the Le Meridien is only about a ten minute walk (4-5 blocks) to the front gates of Oktoberfest at the Theresenwiese.

We attempted to check-in relatively early, due to our morning arrival from the States, but not surprisingly, we were informed that our room would not be ready until 2pm.  Okay, not a big deal.  We then were informed that a roll-away would cost us 60 euros extra PER day.  This was not what the details of our reservation said when I booked the room, and luckily I’d printed out all the confirmation details and had them with me.  The front desk staff member was extremely nice and agreed that our rate did, indeed state that there was no fee for a roll-away…. score! Continue Reading →

Vegas Baby! For BAcon!

I’m writing this post from about 35,000 feet on a US Airways flight somewhere in between Washington’s Reagan National Airport and Phoenix en route to Las Vegas!  I’m heading out to the desert with my girlfriend in tow for this weekend’s Boarding Area blogger Conference… better known as BAcon!    The primary reason for the trip is the conference, but it’s also the girlfriend’s first trip out to Vegas, so I can’t wait to show her around.Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.00.27 AM

This will be my first time attending the annual gathering of all Prior2Boarding and BoardingArea bloggers — some of them you’ve undoubtedly read before if you follow news about traveling, points and miles.  The three day conference is being held at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort, and is hosted by M life and Hyatt.  Topics in the conference will range from writing improvement to Google Analytics to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and blogging best practices!  We will also get an overview of the Mlife / Caesars brand,  as they are our hosts at the Mandalay Bay.

There are already several special events planned for us over the next few days, and I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store!  I hope to learn a whole bunch of useful information that will allow me to improve my blog, and I look forward to meeting and networking with my fellow Prior2Boarding and BoardingArea bloggers!

Other than the conference, the immediate task at hand for tonight will be to find a proper viewing location to watch my beloved Auburn Tigers play Kansas State tonight for a highly anticipated non-conference, Thursday night college football matchup!  I may go to the local Auburn Alumni Club Bar, but if there’s a great sports bar that anyone can recommend, I’m all ears!

Anyway, I will keep some updates coming from BAcon, and I’ll definitely make some future posts on the highlights of this weekend’s conference!

Two Days in Melbourne and the Park Hyatt Melbourne

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

IMG_6219

Park Hyatt Melbourne

We arrived quite late into Melbourne after a short flight from Sydney and quickly found the taxi queue.  From there, we hailed a cab to our hotel — the Park Hyatt Melbourne.  I booked the Park Hyatt with points for two nights, and with cash for the third night.  We chose the Park Hyatt over the Grand Hyatt solely based on reputation.  Up to that point, some of my best stays ever had been at Park Hyatt properties in Tokyo, Dubai, and Zurich — so I was pretty sold on trying the Park Hyatt Melbourne even though the Grand Hyatt probably had a more ideal location in downtown Melbourne.

By the time we got to the hotel, it was a ghost town.  The Park Hyatt features a beautiful lobby, but we didn’t spend too much time in the hotel facilities.

Park Hyatt Melbourne

Park Hyatt Melbourne

After waiting a few minutes for a check-in agent (like I said, it was a ghost time at 1am), we finally were given our keys to a room on the 11th floor.  We had a standard, Park Twin room.  The finishings in the room were extremely nice and high quality.  There was a generous walk-in closet and a very large bathroom.  The beds were very comfortable, and the room featured most of the creature comforts that I’d grown accustomed to staying at Park Hyatts.  The major drawback for me was the very small size of the television in the room — and this ended up being a big deal for me — I’ll explain later.  Though it was a perfectly nice room and property in general, I just didn’t possess the “wow” factor that I’ve felt at other Park Hyatt properties.  I was overall pretty happy with the property, but if I had to do it again, I’d probably choose the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne due to its more convenient location to downtown Melbourne.

We were pretty exhausted when we got to the hotel room, so we promptly went to bed.  The first full day in Melbourne featured absolutely perfect weather — it would have been a wonderful day to explore the city.  However, my attention was diverted elsewhere.

2014 BCS National Championship Game – Auburn vs Florida State

That day, I had zero interest in touring Melbourne because my alma-mater Auburn Tigers were set to play in the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State that afternoon around noon local time (around 6pm local time at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California).  Since I’m a huge college football fan (I’d already been to four Auburn games that season in person), and this was essentially College Football’s Super Bowl, it was the only thing I really cared about that day.  As such, my nerves were out of control.  Thankfully, my dad is extremely familiar with my Auburn football “problem,” so he was a good sport about it and never once complained that we’d be spending the majority of the day in Melbourne watching a football game on TV in our hotel room.  He was obviously aware of the game, and much preferred watching it with me in Australia over me bailing on him to go to the game (Yes, I briefly considered flying directly back to LAX after our dive drip to attend the game in person at the Rose Bowl).

We grabbed breakfast and took a stroll around downtown Melbourne before heading into a grocery store to load up on some tailgating supplies — snacks and drinks for the room.   As kickoff neared, we headed back to the Park Hyatt, and I setup shop on the corner of the bed ready to watch our very small television as my Auburn Tigers played for the National Championship.  Like I said, I was a nervous wreck during the game.  I didn’t move from my spot on the bed for four hours.  I didn’t eat or drink a thing because my stomach was in knots.

It's Gameday!  War Damn Eagle!  Notice the small TV

It’s Gameday! War Damn Eagle! Notice the small TV

Yes, I take my Auburn football very seriously.  Irrational?  Maybe.  Am I sorry about it?  Absolutely not.

Despite starting out in complete control of the game, Auburn eventually succumbed to a last-minute Florida State touchdown, and lost the game 34-31.  I was pretty silent for about thirty minutes after the game, as I was pretty heartbroken.

Chinatown and Dinner at Hutong Dumpling Bar

Eventually, my dad suggested we go get food, so I agreed.  We decided to take a recommendation from Trip Advisor and tried a Dim Sum place in Chinatown called Hutong Dumpling Bar. The meal was excellent – I mean, it was very, very good.  I certainly recommend this place.  After dinner, we walked around the Chinatown area and then headed back to the hotel for the evening.  By this point in the trip, we were pretty exhausted, so we had no problem with being in somewhat early.

I’M FREE Walking Tour

We really, really enjoyed our free walking tour in Sydney, and thought that it would similarly be a fantastic way to get an overview of Melbourne in the limited time that we had.  The same company, I’m Free Walking Tours offers walking tours in Melbourne, so naturally we decided on that.  We met the group at 10:30am in front of the State Library of Victoria.  Once again, there was a large group ready to take the tour on another perfect weather day in Melbourne (about 76 degrees and sunny).  Like Sydney, the tour was excellent.  We walked from the State Library of Victoria to the Old Melbourne Gaol to the Royal Exhibition Center.  We then proceeded back  through Chinatown and through the many laneways of Melbourne, replete with urban art (basically classy graffiti).  We then walked through Burke Street Mall, and through the galleries to Flinders Street Station and Federation Square.  We crossed the Yarra River and ended the tour in the shadows of Eurkea Tower after about three hours of some awesome sites and wonderfully informative commentary.  The tour ended by the Yarra River with a great, panoramic view of the Melbourne skyline, so we took that in for a bit before deciding that we needed some food.

We backtracked to some of the really cool galleries that we’d walked through.   These narrow passages are located all over the downtown Melbourne area, and are lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops.  We settled on a burger joint called Huxtaburger in the CBD, and it ended up being the best burger we had on the trip (yes — we had a lot of burgers).

Burger

Huxtaburger deliciousness

After this late lunch, we were pretty beat from walking around, so we hoofed it back to the hotel for some rest and to pack for our trip home.

That evening, we took a suggestion from our walking tour guide and tried another noodle / dim sum place called Camy Shanghai Dumpling House.  Though it was much, much cheaper than our dinner the previous night, it was pretty disappointing — especially compared to our excellent meal we had the night before.  We strolled around downtown one last time before retiring to the Park Hyatt for our last night’s sleep in Australia.

 

Fifteen Days in Australia – Introduction

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

Introduction

NYE Sydney Harbor

NYE Sydney Harbor

It started in March of 2013 when I friend and I were speculatively looking for availability to Australia in first class on United’s website.  Then, lo and behold, we found copious amounts of Global First Class award space on Christmas Day to Sydney.  Though there were no seats on the return flights, those were just unnecessary details…. I just wanted to get to Australia.  And I wanted to be in Sydney over New Years.

Mission accomplished.

After a series of changes, substitutions, and intense planning, this trip of a lifetime was finally fully booked by the end of October.  My trip for one had morphed into a trip for two, but I couldn’t have been any more happy to spend my miles on this travel companion — I mean, when would I have another chance to take my dad to Australia?

That’s right — I was taking my dad to Australia for a trip of a lifetime — a trip that I never thought he’d agree to take.  It’s funny how first class tickets change one’s opinion of taking a fifteen hour flight.

During the next few weeks, this series of posts will detail the fifteen memorable days that we spent together down under, including:

  • United Global First Class from Los Angeles to Sydney
  • Five days in Sydney
  • New Years’ Eve on Sydney Harbor
  • Virgin Australia Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns
  • A day in Cairns
  • Four days diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea on the Spirit of Freedom live-aboard dive boat
  • Qantas Business Class Cairns to Sydney to Melbourne
  • Three days in Melbourne
  • The Park Hyatt, Melbourne
  • United Global First Class from Sydney to San Francisco

Enjoy this sneak peak…

Review: JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

In honor of the ongoing 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, I’ve decided to publish some previously un-published blog entries that I already had written about my trip there last September.  I’m not going to change anything since these were my thoughts immediately upon returning from Rio.  


 

Introduction
Ten Things I Did in Rio
Getting There, Getting Around, and General Impressions
JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro 


We arrived in the late morning after our overnight flight from Houston via a private transfer from the airport to the hotel. Though we arrived well before check-in time, they still had our room ready.  This was probably because my roommate this trip was Platinum Status with Marriott.  By comparison, I was only Gold status, which I received as a benefit of having United Premier 1K status.

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

The JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro is located smack, dab in the middle of Copacabana Beach, making it one of the best situated hotels on Copacabana.  The lobby was undergoing renovations while we were there, so that was a bit obnoxious, but we got over it.  Despite the ongoing renovations, the two-story lobby was quite large and an overall attractive space.

We had a standard deluxe ocean-view room on the 11th floor with a beautiful view of Copacabana beach.  It was a good-sized room with a functional bathroom and very comfortable beds.  The highlight of the room was the view.

Since we were both Marriott elite, we had access to the concierge lounge.  The concierge lounge features a two-story glass wall overlooking Copacabana.  There is ample seating space with a couple of TVs and computers.  Breakfast is served in the lounge, and it was delicious.  They also serve a variety of tasty appetizers every evening, along with unlimited beer and wine.  I ended up spending more time in this lounge than I planned, but oh well!

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro Concierge Lounge

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro Concierge Lounge

One of my favorite features of the JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro is the stellar rooftop patio and pool.  The rooftop has an amazing view of Copacabana.  I spent one evening here around sunset, and it was beautiful.  There is a nice bar where one can order a beer or a fantastic caipirinha.  The rooftop pool looks inviting, though I didn’t take a dip.  From the south side of the roof deck, one can see the sunset behind the Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer statue.  It’s just a fantastic outdoor space, and one of my favorite things about the hotel.

All in all, this is probably one of the best hotels in all of Rio de Janeiro due primarily to its location.  Marriott is mighty proud of this hotel too, as it’s quite pricey.

How I booked it…

We booked this hotel with Marriott points.  My friend had a ton of points since he regularly stays with Marriott, so he used those.  The JW Marriott is a category 8 hotel, which requires 40,000 Marriott points per night.  This is still a decent deal considering the standard rates at this hotel are often well north of USD $400.

Marriott Rewards Free Night Award Chart

Marriott Rewards Free Night Award Chart

 

Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


May 17

We awoke after a great night sleep at the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa in Galway, and headed down to breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. Breakfast was included in the room rate, and the spread was downright impressive.  They really had a little of anything you could think of, and it proved to be a wonderful start to the day.  After we checked out, the only plan for the day was to make it down to see the Cliffs of Moher — about a 90 minute drive from Galway.  The drive followed along a scenic, windy road as we followed the west coast of Country Clare throughout he Burren National Park.  When we hit the fork in the road in the town of Ballyvaughan, we decided to take the scenic route to the Cliffs of Moher — via the Ocean Road.  This proved to be a wonderful idea, as the scenery was simply stunning on this wonderfully clear day.   We thoroughly enjoyed driving and then just pulling over to take in the sights of a scenic coastline vista and the occasional castle.

After a couple of hours, we found ourselves in the small, port town of Doolin around noon.  Located about 6km from the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin is host to a ferry fleet where one can take a ferry for a scenic cruise of the Cliffs, or to one of the Aran Islands.  We went down to the pier to inquire with the O’Brien Line about their ferry tour to the Cliffs of Moher, and we were met by a friendly, older Irish man named Bill O’Brien, who happened to be the owner of the tour company.  He informed us that the next ferry was to leave at 3:15pm, and then gave us the “lay of the land” and ensured us that we’d have time to visit the Cliffs of Moher from above before coming back to Doolin for our ferry ride.  The ferry cost €25 for the estimated hour-long trip to the Cliffs and back – a fee that we gladly paid.

We heeded Bill’s advice and made the short, 15-minute drive from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher.  There is a €6 entrance fee per car at the Cliffs, and it is well worth the price of admission.  The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most famous geographical features of Ireland, as they feature a set of jagged cliffs that drop straight off, about 1,000 feet to the Atlantic Ocean below.   The views are simply stunning.  We were lucky to have perfect weather that day, so we were not impeded by fog, rain, or mist!

After about an hour of taking in the vistas and snapping dozens of pictures, we headed back to our ridiculous mini car and drove back to Doolin for lunch.  We settled on lunch at Gus O’Connors Pub.  Gus O’Connors was quite crowded, as a tour bus group had just been dropped off, but even still, we were able to receive our food and pints pretty quickly.  I enjoyed a beef and Guinness Stew, which was great.  However, my girlfriend struck out with her chicken and cheese sandwich order, as it wasn’t the most appetizing thing she’d ever seen… or tasted.  After lunch, we returned to the pier for our ferry ride.  As we were waiting for our ferry to return, the weather started to turn as a storm started to pick up.  As the wind increased and the sea appeared to get a little more rough, we decided to go ahead and take our last two Dramamine tablets, just in case.

Good decision.

By the time we got on-board the vessel, the supposed ten minute ride took closer to 30 minutes, as we took ten foot seas over the bow on our short trek to the base of the Cliffs of Moher.  The Cliffs themselves were overwhelming from the bottom.  We looked up to where we stood a few hours before, and the sheer height of the Cliffs sank in as we could barely see the outline of people looking over the towering cliffs, 1,000 feet above.  The ride back to the dock was equally as choppy, and we were two of the only non-seasick passengers on the ferry.  Folks were getting sick left and right, but we had a blast!

By the time we got back to the dock, we were running about an hour behind schedule, so we hit the road en route for Bunratty.  Bunratty is a small village about five kilometers from the Shannon Airport.  We had reservations at the Bunratty Meadows Bed and Breakfast, where we planned to stay the night before our flight home to the States.  We arrived at Bunratty Meadows at around 6:30pm, and were greeted by the hostess, Dariena.  We were shown our room in her beautiful house located on a large meadow overlooking the River Shannon.  The room was extremely comfortable, and had all the creature comforts that we could want. Dariena recommended that we go into Bunratty to check out the famous Bunratty Castle, and then eat at a nearby restaurant for dinner.  The Castle is one of the larger ones you’ll find in Ireland, and it is open to the public along with a folk park that showcases Medieval Irish life.  We got to the castle too late to take a tour, so we just zapped some pictures, took a stroll throughout the famous Durty Nelly’s Pub, and walked across the street to the Creamery Bar for dinner.

I had a delicious dinner of fish and chips with a couple pints of Guinness — a perfect last supper for a wonderful four days in Ireland.  By the end of dinner, we were pretty exhausted from the long day of touring, so we made our way back to the Bed and Breakfast for our last night’s sleep on the trip.

May 18

We’d arranged for breakfast to be had at 8:30am, which would leave us plenty of time to get to the Shannon Airport for our 11:40am flight back across the pond.  We woke up, cleaned up, packed, and headed downstairs to the cute breakfast room where Dariena had four tables set for the four sets of guests that she was hosting the previous night.  There was a selection of cereals and coffee to choose from as Dariena brought out freshly baked scones with an assortment of jams.  I ordered the pancakes, and my girlfriend had the traditional Irish Breakfast.  Both were absolutely delicious, and we completely loved everything about the breakfast that was prepared for us.  Sadly, we had to say our goodbyes and head to the airport.

We really, really enjoyed Bunratty Meadows.  Though it was the only bed and breakfast on our trip, it was one of my favorite accommodations.  Based off this experience, I’d certainly be open to staying at bed and breakfasts more often since they really provide a fantastic value and have much more personality than do most hotels.  I also highly recommend Bunratty Meadows to anyone in the area — it’s especially great if you need to fly out to Shannon the next morning, as it’s only about five kilometers away from the airport.

 

 

Two Days in Dublin

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


May 14

We arrived into Terminal 1 at Dublin International Airport’s and proceeded through immigration easily in about five minutes. While my girlfriend sipped on a coffee, I purchased a €25 SIM card for my phone since we would be in Ireland for four days. For €25, I received unlimited data, and  €50 worth of international calls and txts. For the data alone, I feel this is a steal.  Since we would be renting a car, I really wanted unlimited data since I’d be living in Google Maps to direct me as to where to go. If I were to have purchased the International Plan through Verizon, it would have cost me $29 for only 100MB of data. Given my normal consumption, Id be through that after a day or two. We then took a cab into Central Dublin where our hotel awaited.

We stayed at The Morrison Hotel. A newly refurbished Double-tree Property, The Morrison is decorated with a rather modern look, and it’s certainly a very sharp property. My favorite thing about the property is it’s fantastic location on the River Liffey across the pedestrian bridge from the heart of Temple Bar.   Upon check-in, I was granted an upgrade to a Junior Suite that I requested several weeks before for €25. The upgrade to the Junior Suite gave us a ton of extra room. The bed was super comfortable, and the whole room was decorated in a contemporary look with clean edges and pink neon back-lighting.

After settling in and getting refreshed, we headed to check out the The Guinness Storehouse at St. James’ Gate Brewery. I visited the Guinness Storehouse two years ago, but we really sped through the tour since we were extra thirsty that day. This time, the two of us really took our time to enjoy the entire self-guided tour through the Guinness Storehouse, and we really enjoyed ourselves. Highlights of the tour included taste testing and the Guinness Academy, where we learned how to properly pour a pint of Guinness. We were also impressed by the rich history and the pride that the Irish people have in the beer. At the end of the tour, we brought the pint we poured at the academy up to the panoramic “GRAVITY Bar” atop the storehouse and enjoyed it with a panoramic view of Dublin.  This is one of the better brewery tours out there – certainly in line with the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam – and we felt it was well worth the €16 entrance fee.

After a pint at the Guinness Storehouse, we wanted to make our way back to the Temple Bar area for dinner, but on the way we stopped into the The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub. Dating back to 1198, the The Brazen Head is a must see when you’re in Dublin, and I enjoyed another delicious pint of Guinness there.

By this point, we were famished, so we proceeded to Temple Bar where we had a wonderful dinner at Gallagher’s Boxty House in the heart of Temple Bar. We each ordered the boxty specialties for our entrees along with the bacon ribs as the appetizer, and it was all wonderful. I dined here two years ago and loved it, and it surely didn’t disappoint the second time around.

After dinner, we decided to take a little self-guided pub crawl. We started across the street from the Boxty House at the famous Temple Bar. As usual, the Temple Bar was pretty packed and jamming with live Irish music that we enjoyed for a bit. We then headed a bit away from the Temple Bar area and took a stroll up Grafton Street and stopped in a pub called The Hairy Lemon. We really enjoyed this place, and a friend of mine even recommended the Irish specialties here, but we were stuffed from dinner. After a few drinks at The Hairy Lemon, we wandered around taking in the night scene in Dublin before stopping at The Long Hall for one last drink before heading back to The Morrisson for bed.  All in all, we enjoyed the pubs much more that were several blocks south of Temple Bar, near Grafton Street.  We found them to be less touristy and filled more with locals.

May 15

We slept in the following morning a little more than expected and just did get to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, which was included in the room rate. The Morrison featured a great buffet spread that was heavy on pastries and hot dishes consistent with the traditional Irish breakfast.   One can also order from the menu in addition to the buffet, and we each did that. I had the eggs benedict, and my girlfriend ordered the French toast – each of which were cooked perfectly and deliciously. All in all, it was a very solid breakfast offering.

We walked into town a bit to visit the Post Office and the Dublin Spire.  At that point, it was well past noon, and I needed to pick up the rental car for our drive the following day, so we took a cab to the “City Centre” location of Budget Rental Car.  Sadly, this location is not exactly located in the city center, and instead is in Drumcondra, but I guess it was close enough. Picking up the rental car was painless. Once I started driving back to the hotel, driving on the left side (“wrong side”) of the rode definitely took some getting used to, but I managed just fine. After parking the car back in the garage, we set out for some more sight seeing in Dublin.

We headed directly for St. Patrick’s Cathedral where we enjoyed the park, and took some pictures, but opted not to go inside because we were ready for lunch. We were craving fish and chips. We went by Leo Burdock (probably the best fish and chips in Dublin), but felt more like a sit-down style place, so we went to a place where I’ve enjoyed before called O’Neil’s Bar and Restaurant, right near Trinity College. We both enjoyed some delicious fish and chips along with a pint. After lunch, we walked through Trinity College and then took a stroll through St. Stephen’s Green, the city center park in Dublin. We then hit up Grafton Street (Dublin’s main shopping district) for some shopping with a stops at Harry’s on the Green along the way.

At that point, the only type of touring we really felt like doing was pub touring, so that’s exactly what we did! We had a drink or two at several places in the Temple Bar district, including Oliver St. John Gogarty’s, The Auld Dubliner, The Ha’Penny Bridge Pub, and The Palace Bar.  All of a sudden, it was past 9pm (and still very bright out), so we headed back to the hotel for a dinner snack of sliders and fries at the hotel bar, which was delicious. We then retired for the evening, as we had an early wakeup the next morning for our drive clear across Ireland to Galway and Connemara, where we were to catch a plane for the Aran Islands!

Next stop:  The Aran Islands… 

Review: Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


IMG_7541

Boscolo Venezia Lobby

I normally don’t make it a habit to devote an entire post to a stay at one hotel unless it is truly an exceptional property and/or stay.  Our recent stay for two nights at the Boscolo Venezia fits both criteria.

Situated in the quiet Carranegio neighborhood of Venice, about a 15 minute walk from the hustle and bustle of the Rialto area, the Boscolo Venezia is a wonderful escape from the crowds of tourists.  The Boscolo is an Autograph Collection Hotel, and is part of the Marriott family of brands.

The front of this property is on one of the outermost canals, and the rear is located on the Laguna.  Though it was a bit of a walk to all the major tourist spots, I feel this neighborhood is a better representation of the “real” Venice. A number of restaurants and small grocery spots dot exist every block or so instead of the wall-to-wall boutiques and restaurants that one may find in other parts of Venice.

The property itself was formally the French consulate, and it is simply a stunningly beautiful building.  The lobby features a couple huge Murano glass chandeliers, which is fitting since one can see Murano from the pier in the rear of the property.  Connected to the lobby is the restaurant, bar, and patio where breakfast is served daily — more on that later.

The highlight of the property is a massive garden that stretches a good 100 yards from the rear of the lobby to a smaller wing of the hotel overlooking the Laguna.  Off to the side of the garden are a pair of garden rooms that each feature their own private patios in the middle of a separated rose garden.  We were fortunate enough to be assigned both of these rooms when we checked in to the Boscolo after our flights from the States.  Though the rooms were not available until about 3pm, they were well worth the wait.

Garden rooms with patios

Garden rooms with patios

The rooms themselves weren’t overly huge, but they were very nice inside with marble flooring, wood ceilings, and a marble bath with double sinks.  Without question, the highlight of these two rooms were the massive patios.  Each patio is roughly the same size as the interior space of the room.  It is a stone tiled space with a table and four chairs.  Directly adjacent to the patios is a grassy area featuring plush lounge chairs that can be used during the day for relaxation and sunning.  About twenty yards away is the pier overlooking the Laguna where there was another table and set of chairs for a wonderful little happy hour spot.  These rooms simply made our stay, as they provided a wonderful little semi-private oasis where we could relax and adjust ourselves to European time.

Service all around the hotel was prompt and friendly. Ice was brought to the room upon request in a silver champagne bucket without a problem. As Marriott Gold and Platinum guests, we received complimentary breakfast every morning. Breakfast consisted of quite an elaborate spread filled with breads, meats, cheeses, jams, fruits, yogurt, and an incredible selection of pastries. There were at least five different types of fruit juices available along with champagne for those mandatory vacation mimosas. A full menu with eight or so made-to-order warm dishes was also available. I enjoyed the poached eggs one morning, and another egg dish the second morning. My only complaint would be that this restaurant seemed to get quite busy and crowded on the second morning, and the staff seemed to be a bit overwhelmed. It wasn’t really a problem, as we were not in a rush, but some of the service did fall between the cracks that morning.

Water Taxi

Water Taxi

A great service offered by the Boscolo is a water taxi to St. Mark’s Square. Running four times daily in each direction, you can take a scenic, fifteen minute boat ride directly to St. Mark’s Square in a wooden Venetian water taxi. Space is limited, so you must sign up with the concierge, but we didn’t have a problem getting the boat we wanted. The hotel also offers a free daily shuttle over to Murano, but we did not partake.

All in all, I really enjoyed staying at the Boscolo Venezia. The massive garden provides a wonderful space in Venice to relax away from the crowds. I really enjoyed the quiet Carranegio neighborhood in which it was located.   Though a bit on the pricey side, it is readily available with Marriott points, and because of that, I would certainly consider staying here again on a future visit to Venice.

How we booked it…

We originally planned on staying at the Boscolo for only one night, but about a week prior, we changed out flights necessitating an extra night. My uncle used Marriott Points to pay for our second night. The Boscolo is a category 8 hotel, and can be reserved for 40,000 Marriott points.   Since this is the only Marriott family hotel in Venice proper (on the actual island), I consider this a very good use of Marriott points if the price is as high as normal (> €300). It would be quite the hassle to stay in the Mestre area on the mainland and have to train or bus to Venice every day, in my opinion.

We booked the first night with cash, as there was a last-minute special available for the property at about 180 per night. This is a pretty good price for a property of that caliber in the very expensive hotel city of Venice.

 

Two Magical Days in Venice

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


IMG_6726We met my Aunt and Uncle just past customs at Venice’s Marco Polo International Airport about twenty minutes after we arrived.   Due to the location of our hotel in the Cannaregio neighborhood, the Orto Stop on the Alilaguna was by far the easiest location to access.  This happens to be the first stop on the Venice’s Alilaguna Orange Line, and cost €15 per person for the 30 minute boat ride.

From the Orto stop, it was a short, three-minute walk to the Boscolo Venezia Hotel.  Upon check-in, we were informed that our rooms would not be ready untl 2pm, so we stored our bags at the front desk and headed out to explore Venice.

The Boscolo Venezia is located in the quiet Cannaregio neighborhood – about a 20 minute walk from the crowds of the Realto and San Marco Square areas.  We walked around the streets and canals of Venice before stopping for lunch near San Marco Square.  We settled on a restaurant with a nice courtyard where we enjoyed pizza and beer – both of which were excellent.

After lunch, the rain started to come down, so we walked back to our hotel.  Upon returning to the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we were upgraded to a set of two garden villa rooms.  The rooms were standard sized, but they each featured massive courtyards situated in a secluded rose garden away from the main building of the hotel.  Jet-lagged from the night before, we took a three hour nap before having a nice happy hour out on our patio of the Boscolo Venezia.  We had a tasty dinner of pasta and seafood at a local place in Cannaregio– Ristorante Diana and then retired for the evening for some much needed sleep.

IMG_6703After a good ten hours of sleep, we woke up to a fantastic breakfast spread at the Boscolo, which was free due to my Marriott Gold status.   The Boscolo runs water taxis four times per day to and from San Marco Square, so we took the 10am taxi through the canals of Venice right to the front steps of St Marks.  After taking in the sights and sounds of the San Marco, we proceeded to one of Venice’s most exclusive hotels, The Gritti Palace for a drink on its back patio overlooking the Grand Canal.  What a spectacular way to spend the afternoon!

We followed this up with another (expensive / overpriced) drink at a Bar Gelateria Al Todoro, which was on the water near St. Marco Square.  At that point, we were ready for a late lunch, so we lost ourselves in the winding alleyways of Venice and found ourselves at Ristorante Alla Conchiglia, a cute little restaurant overlooking a canal for a quintessential Venetian lunch of calamari, pizza, wine and beer.  Later in the day, I stopped for about 45 minutes to watch the world go by in a nice plaza near the Rialto Bridge while my girlfriend shopped in some of the great boutiques.  We took a nice, afternoon stroll back to the hotel to have a continued happy hour on our wonderful patio at the Boscolo.  Later on that evening, we took a short walk to a local seafood restaurant for an excellent dinner at Ostaria da Rioba.

After another glorious night of sleep, we awoke to a rainy Venice morning – and it was cruise day!  We packed all our things after a short breakfast and met a water taxi at the Boscolo pier on the Lagoa just a few feet away from our room.  In less than twenty minutes, we were at the Cruise Ship Terminal ready to board our cruise on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam.

Thoughts on Venice…

I absolutely loved Venice.  It’s such a magical city.  It’s the only city that I can think that is purely a pedestrian city (with the exception of the boats and gondolas in the canals).  We thoroughly enjoyed just losing ourselves in the winding streets and alley-ways of the city, sampling the incredible Italian cuisine, and taking in some of the sights in one of the most picturesque cities you’ll find anywhere.

 

SPG offering up to 3X Starpoints on Oktoberfest stays in Munich!

Starwood has just announced a promotion in which you can earn up to 3X Starpoints for stays at one of their Munich properties during Oktoberfest.  This includes probably the closest hotel to the Theresienwiese (where Oktoberfest is held), the Four Points by Sheraton Munich Central, where I have stayed the last four years for my jaunts to Oktoberfest.  It’s crazy convenient!

Sadly, it looks like my booked stay at the Le Meridien will not be valid for this promotion since I booked it so far out.

Your three best SPG options in Munich for Oktoberfest are:

Details are as follows:

  • Book at least three months in advance for triple Starpoints and two months in advance for double Starpoints
  • Minimum 3 night stay at one of the participating Munich properties (including the three mentioned above)
  • Offer valid for any rate that is eligible to earn Starpoints
  • Offer valid for stays booked between May 07, 2014 and August 19,2014 and completed between September 20, 2014 and October 05, 2014.

For full terms and conditions, go here:  http://www.starwoodhotels.com/preferredguest/offers/termsandconditions.html?offerCode=32168807RK

If you haven’t been to Oktoberfest, go!  It’s a blast, and is my favorite trip of the year!  This will be my fifth year in a row to attend, and it’s quite the experience.  It’s a beer lovers dream!

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