It’s no secret that I am an unapologetic Marriott fanboy. When you are on the road three or four weeks, having a consistently great experience at your home-away-from home goes a long way.
While visiting Massachusetts in December, I had the opportunity to stay at the Element which recently opened there. This is actually also the first opportunity I’ve had to stay at an Element hotel, so I was excited for the new experience.
As an extended-stay property, the rooms come equipped with a kitchenette (including a cook-top as well as dishwasher!), dedicated living area, and smart-TVs in both the bedroom and living area. Icing on the cake: both rooms have double-layered blackout curtains! The bed was reminiscent of those at Westin properties which was a very nice surprise (I love those beds so much I actually purchased a mattress from the Westin store).
The smart-TVs are personalized for your stay and allow you to access your streaming services while on the road (with a handy “clear all credentials” option when you’re ready to check out).
As you enter the hotel, there is a spacious public area as well as market-place and bar. Breakfast is served here daily (hours varying depending on weekday vs. weekend), and when you opt for the make-a-green-choice program you are able to use the $5 credit towards marketplace purchases.
Now for the part that really blew me away… the gym. A handful of cardio equipment, as is standard with hotel fitness centers, but this time it is augmented by a full set of free-weights as well as leg-press and pull-down machines! Better still… two benches.
Overall I had an excellent stay. Though there were a couple of hiccups, the staff was extremely responsive and worked to get everything resolved quickly. I’m certainly looking forward to future opportunities to stay at Element properties!
Just in time for (American) Thanksgiving, the Bonvoy Ambassador Team sent an incredibly thoughtful and practical gift! An extremely well-constructed cheese-board, with a little nook to hold the various utensils.
Thanks, folks! Fear not, this will see a great deal of use!
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!
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
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!
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 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.
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 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).
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.
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).
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.
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, therecentnews 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!