A Delightful Surprise from @MarriottBonvoy

Over the last few years I’ve been staying predominantly at Starwood and Marriott properties, so my feelings with their merger was in line with that of many business travelers: a great deal of concern. Though many of my concerns were addressed with various PR releases both before and after the merger, I was a bit perplexed when the rewards program changed from “Marriott Rewards” to “Marriott Bonvoy”. At any rate – this post isn’t about the rewards program (which really hasn’t changed other than in name), but a fun package that I received over the weekend!

Thanks, Marriott! That was a really nice surprise to receive, and the pens are really nice!

A Tale of Two Sheratons

Thanks to work, I have had the opportunity to bounce between cities fairly regularly, and I was able to stay at two quite nice Sheraton properties: one in the Toronto area, and another in the Los Angeles area.

Sheraton Parkway Toronto North

Location

Located directly off of Highway 7, the Sheraton Parkway offers excellent dining options in a short ( < 1km ) walk. This includes local treats, like Cacao 70, as well as more well known chains such as The Keg and Jack Astor’s. To accommodate the convention center attached to the hotel, there is ample complimentary parking.

Room

As I had the opportunity to visit this hotel a few times, I was able to experience a few different rooms. Overall these rooms are exactly what you would expect from a Sheraton. The suites on the 10th floor are extremely spacious, much as what you would expect from a hotel of this calibre.

Amenities

As a full Sheraton property, this location offers a Club Lounge. In addition to a fitness center, there is also a spa in the lower level of the hotel. On the ground floor is a Starbucks and the restaurant and bar.

The fitness center is fairly compact, compared to other locations, but offers free weights and cardio options. I haven’t visited the spa, however, as most hotel spas are horribly overpriced for what they offer. No thanks!

Club Lounge

The Club Lounge is on the 9th floor and offers breakfast to qualifying guests, as well as hors d’oeuvres in the evening. It remains open around the clock for guests that might want to grab a soda or coffee on their own schedule.

Sheraton San Gabriel

The “waterfall” at the entrance

Location

Though it shows up in a search for Los Angeles area hotels, the Sheraton San Gabriel is about a 35 minute drive from the rental car lots. As with the Sheraton Parkway in Toronto, there is a spa at this location as well. The parking available is underground and not complimentary, so be prepared to pay a little bit extra.

Room

A very nice touch with this hotel is that the lights are motion sensitive. As you enter the bathroom, for example, the lights will turn on for you. Though it might be disorienting the first time, you quickly get accustomed to this and begin to expect it wherever you go.

All the outlets near both the bed and desk offer both standard plugs as well as USB outlets! I haven’t tried charging a tablet on these USB plugs, but they handled my S8 without issue.

The TVs here are also smart TVs, offering options to directly access your Hulu, Netflix, and other streaming service accounts without having to travel with your own streaming device. It is also tied into room service and allows you to check your bill, order food, and even check out of your room.

Amenities

On the ground floor, you can find the hotel’s two restaurants: Opal and EST. Opal offers traditional Cantonese cuisine, while EST is a very high quality steakhouse.

There is also a very good chance that you will see one of the luggage robots – something I haven’t seen at any other hotel. Upon check-in, you have the option of requesting use of one of these. The front desk will put your bags in the robot and program it to your room. It, in turn, will follow a per-programmed path (utilizing the elevators, no less) to your room. Once it arrives, you receive a phone call with a code which you can use to unlock the secure compartment with your luggage, and then the robot returns to the front desk. Handy!

Lobby

Opal

Club Lounge

Located on the top floor of the hotel is open for breakfast and hoeur d’oeuvres, as with the Parkway location. Unlike the Canadian counterpart, the breakfast offerings remained constant across the days: congee, various pastries, breakfast potatoes, pork sausage, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Though adequate (and a filling breakfast), some variety would be nice.

Fitness Center

The fitness center on the second floor was truly impressive. In addition to a variety of cardio equipment (plenty of treadmills, bikes, and elliptical machines), there are two benches, multiple yoga mats and balance balls, and a cable cross machine.

These cardio machines are newer and offer dynamic programs allowing you to do things like run through the Irish countryside. Much more entertaining than staring at numbers change!

Paris Trip Report – Arrival and Eiffel Tower

Paris Trip Report – Arrival and Eiffel Tower

Paris Trip Report – Notre-Dame de Paris, Catacombs

Paris Trip Report – Louvre & Musée d’Orsay

Paris Trip Report – Versailles

Paris Trip Report – Departure

As I wrote about earlier, I managed to score a couple of inexpensive (relatively speaking, of course) tickets to Paris that I managed to confirm upgrades on from Economy to Delta One by using my Global Upgrade Certificates. Out of curiosity, I looked at what Economy vs. Delta One tickets would go for across another holiday — the 4th of July. Two tickets in Economy cost almost as much as one ticket in Delta One; not a bad savings, eh?

Business Class over 4th of July (1 pax)
Economy over Fourth of July (2 pax)

A few days before it was time to depart, my girlfriend and I received an email to pick our meals prior to departure. I opted for the bass while my girlfriend opted for the beef.

Meal Selection

JFK SkyClub and SkyDeck

Since we were flying on an international flight, my girlfriend and I were able to visit the JFK SkyClub in Terminal 4 on status alone (my Diamond and her Gold). This offered us a chance to get a quick bite to eat and see the planes come and go from the SkyDeck.

Whenever I route through JFK or ATL and weather permits, I make sure to take a detour to the SkyDeck. As an AvGeek, it is a wonderful experience!

JFK-CDG

Finally, it was time to make our way out of the club and to our gate. Thankfully it wasn’t a long walk (B38, with the club being at B32), and we grabbed another snack before boarding.

The Delta One cabin on the Airbus 330-300 is configured in a reverse herringbone configuration. I prefer this to the Boeing 767-300 configuration – not only are the seats more comfortable, you have much easier access to personal temperature control and a more user-friendly tray table.

Though the LSTN headphones are not active noise-cancelling, keep in mind that you need to use an adapter if you want to use your own headphones with these seats.

Once we were situated, the purser greeted us and distributed menus. Not all passengers pre-selected their meals so she collected orders and double-checked that nobody wanted to change their minds. Thanks to a helpful tailwind, we made the flight in just over 7 hours.

Icing on the cake: the flight was equipped with GoGo’s Ku (not 2Ku) WiFi.

The food was excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Delta, and the flight itself was smooth and we arrived without any issues at CDG. Though there are a variety of mass-transit options available from CDG to the hotel we were staying at, we opted to grab an Uber because of the number of bags we were traveling with. The route took us right by the Concorde, though!

Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile

Hyatt reached out to me a few months ago to inform me that the hotel that I was planning to stay at would be undergoing renovations and wouldn’t be ready for my stay. They were kind enough to rebook us at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile, however, and I was able to modify the booking to a club-level room.

The hotel is attached to the Le Palais des Congrès de Paris, a major exhibition center, and also had easy access to the mall there. It also offered ready access to both the Metro (line 1) and RER (line C). One of the first things we did was pick up a pair of Navigo cards for easy access to all public transport in Paris – since we were staying through Sunday morning, it worked out perfectly.

We knew we would be taking a chance since our flight was arriving at 7 AM and check-in time was 3 PM, but we were very pleasantly surprised that not only was a room available, but it had a view of the Eiffel Tower!

Not a bad view, right?

The Regency has two restaurants: Mayo and Windo, as well as a Regency Club. Thanks to the Club access upgrade I purchased, we were able to visit it for snacks in the evening as well as breakfast.

The Room

The room we got was on the 33rd floor of the building, with the Regency Club and Windo located on the 34th floor. Given the height of the building, the Hyatt Regency has an innovative elevator solution. The elevator alcove on each floor has a series of touchscreens where you enter your floor number before you get on an elevator. The screen will then tell you which elevator will take you there. This way, the work is more evenly distributed between the elevators and riders get to their destinations in a more timely manner. I hope more buildings take a page from their book and implement similar systems!

A word to the wise: these rooms are fairly tight fits for two for an extended period (particularly for storing clothes), and the bed might be a little firmer than what travelers are used to at American hotels. Overall quite a nice room, though!

The Regency Club

The Regency Club offers breakfast, snacks, and Aperitifs throughout the day, so once we were functional, we knew a visit was in order. Needless to say, we were thoroughly spoiled by the convenient access to excellent meat and cheese.

The Fitness Center

The fitness center at the hotel was more comprehensive than any I have seen. Not only were there treadmills and bicycles, there were also rowing machines, weight machines, free weights (dumbells as well as kettlebells), and a cable cross machine!

Arc de Triomphe

Though not visible from our room, the Arc de Triomphe is a short one mile walk from the hotel. We passed it on our way to the Eiffel Tower, though we never ascended to the summit.

Eiffel Tower

Before arriving, I noticed that virtually every visitor to Paris recommended buying skip-the-line tickets to attractions. I cannot emphasize the importance of this. Though not as long at the Eiffel Tower, lines at other attractions (like the Louvre and Versailles) can easily eat up hours of your day. Don’t make that mistake – buy tickets in advance and walk right in!

From the summit, we were treated to expansive views of the Paris skyline. They also offered champagne! Warning: they only take cash.

Back at the room, we managed to see the Tower lit up – truly a marvelous sight.

A Bay Area Jaunt – Hyatt House San Jose/Silicon Valley

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the  San Jose area for work. Spotting a conveniently located Hyatt property, I jumped at the opportunity to diversify my points (having spent most of the last few years between Marriott and Starwood properties).

The Hotel

Located in a convenient cluster of restaurants and  stores, the Hyatt House provides a great deal of convenience to travelers. Though the parking is complimentary – there is a sizeable parking structure behind the hotel – there is shuttle service offered to and from the airport as well as other locations nearby. There are quite a few restaurants within a mile or so, as well, which makes for a nice walk when it comes to dinner!

The rooms are just what you would expect from an extended-stay property – a comfortable bed, sitting area, and kitchenette. Nothing that really stands out, but not a disappointment by any means. The fitness center, located behind the in-house restaurant, offers cardio equipment, free-weights, and a cable cross machine.

The in-house restaurant also offers a breakfast buffet as well as an omelette bar. Though you can build your own omelette each morning, they do have a daily special as well.

The Rok

Next door to the hotel was what grew to be one of our favorite dining spots: Rok Steakhouse and Grill. Local to San Jose, Rok is known for offering a grill-your-own experience at your dining table… on a rock. Though a little pricey, I can’t recommend it enough. My coworkers and I wound up going back twice. It certainly didn’t hurt that they had WhistlePig Old World.

A nice touch with their drinks menu is that they list the notes you can expect with their liquors, making it easier to get a feel for what you might like to sip on with your meal! They also offer whiskey flights (which I regret I wasn’t able to sample during this visit).

Sendo Sushi

A short (2/3rds of a mile) walk from the hotel is Sendo Sushi, which we discovered purely by chance. Very reasonably priced having excellent food, I’m very confused why the ratings are averaging to 4.2/5 on Google. Don’t let that number dissuade you! The portions are adequate and the presentation will blow you away.

The Club at SJC

After a very long week, I was finally flying home. Unfortunately the TSA Pre-Check line was closed when I got to the airport, so we had to use regular security at the time.

The San Jose airport has only one lounge, but it is easily accessible between Priority Pass and a variety of other partnerships. As with other “The Club” locations, everything is complimentary. This is a nice change from some lounges that insist on up-selling you for everything.

Though the number of outlets was severely lacking and the WiFi wasn’t the greatest, the lounge itself had a nice atmosphere and the attendants were very friendly. I can definitely see myself returning here on future trips to the area.

The Oncoming Storm: Marriott/SPG Merger Information

As much as I was upset by the news of the merging of Starwood with Marriott, and I’m still not thrilled by the prospect, the recent news really is the best case for what we could hope for from an SPG member perspective. There are definitely some frustrating points involved, particularly for partner members (Delta and United alike), those that receive status from credit cards (American Express Platinum, for example), and those that focus on stays over nights to attain status.

Adding a spend “qualification” to receive Ambassador service does make sense given the property footprints of Starwood versus Marriott, but putting the price in USD is questionable as Gary points out. For those that spend a lot of time in countries with drastic currency conversion rates, it might require a ridiculous number of days to attain this tier of status. Bundling Your24 with this tier is also a little frustrating, but again with the substantially increased footprint, I can understand wanting to make this more exclusive.

Given Marriott’s relationship with United, the announcement that the relationship with Delta will be ending soon isn’t really a surprise. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed earning points with both at the same time, so this will be missed. With old Platinum Premier Elites, when this tier was invitation-only, receiving Untied Gold, it’s unclear if there will be a new influx of United Gold members as well.

I appreciate that the new Lifetime Status qualifications are based on nights and years, not on points/spend. Plus: breakfast at more properties which can save a decent chunk of change. All things considered, it could be much worse!

Westin Los Cabos Trip Report – “Explore Los Cabos”

Westin Los Cabos Trip Report – Arrival

Westin Los Cabos Trip Report – Westin Los Cabos Resort

Westin Los Cabos Trip Report – “Explore Los Cabos”

Westin Los Cabos Trip Report – Departure

Since we listened to the timeshare pitch, our concierge gave us a coupon for just over 20% off any activity we wanted to participate in. After some investigation, we decided on the “Explore Los Cabos” package offered by Rancho Tours. Check it out for a full list of activities included.

There was a huge scheduling issue where our names were not present on the initial excursion, but with a great deal of effort on the behalf of our concierge, we were picked up by another group that was just about to start their event.

Sea of Cortez and The Arch

The tour itself began with a ride to the marina in Cabo San Lucas to take a ride on a glass-bottom boat. The fish were ridiculously friendly! I left my 18-55mm lens at the room, thinking the 27mm lens should work nicely for general shooting throughout the day.

Halfway through the boat ride, our captain let us know we were approaching The Arch. This is the southernmost point of the West coast, and where the Sea of Cortez joins with the Pacific Ocean. My girlfriend got a few really nice shots on her S8:

Blown Glass

The next stop in our excursion was a local glass blowing factory. We had the opportunity to watch a family make a fish-shaped vase in just over 15 minutes. The final step is to cool it down in a second oven, which takes roughly a day.

Tequila!

We had the opportunity to learn the basics of tequila distillation, as well as the history behind the alcohol. Be sure to only buy tequila made with 100% agave to minimize hangovers! Just as other alcohols are finished in barrels of various types, tequila is aged in charred (to remove older flavors) barrels to create reposado and añejo from blanco. Definitely picked some up to take home with me!

The Mission

After lunch at “El Herradero”, we about wandered downtown starting with the Mission itself. Though we saw various artistic venues after the Mission, there were signs asking we not take photographs. Gorgeous artwork, though!

Westin Los Cabos Trip Report – Westin Los Cabos Resort

Westin Los Cabos Trip Report – Arrival

Westin Los Cabos Trip Report – Westin Los Cabos Resort

Westin Los Cabos Trip Report – “Explore Los Cabos”

Westin Los Cabos Trip Report – Departure

First, an apology: the lighting in many of these shots are terrible – but as we had been awake for roughly 20 hours I was far too lazy to retake them. The room itself was amazing; we were upgraded from a studio to a two-bedroom suite (a nice surprise!) and had a hot-tub on the balcony. Talk about relaxing!

The Room

Thankfully, my girlfriend managed to snag some shots in the morning.

The Property

Exploring the property took a fair amount of time given how spread out things were, but we were given a map which helped. The views were spectacular. Though a timeshare was not in my immediate future, I could definitely see myself coming back. Multiple pools, a small convenience store, and some excellent restaurant options makes this an excellent choice.

One of the restaurants on the property has a pool-side bar and will bring food to your lounge chair! I opted for the Acapulco style ceviche (with huge chunks of octopus, shrimp, and fish), while my girlfriend had the fried calamari. Thoroughly delicious.

Fried calamari
Acapulco style ceviche

El Ciruelo

For our last night in Cabo, we opted to have dinner at El Ciruelo – a restaurant at the top of a neighboring hill. Though technically part of the “Baja Point” property, it is becoming a part of the Westin resort in the very near future. Since the start of the incline is rather steep and it was already dark, we caught a ride in a golf-cart on both the way up and down. I won’t bore you with the details, and leave you to drool over our dinner. Enjoy!

Closing Thoughts

Though I didn’t take advantage of the timeshare offer, I can definitely see myself returning in the future. Between the weather, location, and the options for activities and dining, it’s a spectacular option for staying in Cabo.

Some miscellaneous shots while wandering with my camera: