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ST. ERMIN’S HOTEL, MARRIOTT AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION

MARRIOTT AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION HOTELS

I used to consider all Marriott Hotels bland and unvaried: seemed like every guest room at every property was decorated in the same flyover state decor of green carpet, rose and green floral bedspreads and matching wallpaper, with brass accents adding to the despair. However in the past half-decade or so, as the company has added some sophisticated brands (Edition, Bulgari) and invested in making its JW line more exciting, my impression of the chain has moved from staid to sexy. I especially love the Marriott Autograph Collection Hotels.

From the Marriott website:

The Autograph Collection is a remarkable group of upper upscale and luxury independent hotels. These iconic properties are located in dynamic gateway cities and preferred destinations worldwide. Each one is unique, one of a kind with its own distinct perspective.

For the true individualist who shuns the predictability of chains, Autograph Collection takes the guesswork out of finding independent, high-personality destination hotels that reflect the adventurous spirit and uncompromising originality of the guests who seek them out.

The Autograph Collection Guest Profile: The Individualist

  • Prefers to find their own way and forge their own paths
  • Shuns convention, rejects the familiar, seeks the road less traveled and the choice less obvious
  • Searches for original experiences that add to their lifelong narrative and sense of adventure
  • Views the hotel as the focal point of the journey; what they see along the way is an added bonus

This is me! As a hotel afficionado and marketing professional I’m very impressed with how Marriott has positioned their Autograph Collection.

FAVORITE AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION HOTELS

I lost my Marriott Autograph Collection virginity to the Santo Mauro in Madrid in 1998 (it probably wasn’t an Autograph Collection property back then). I had endured four weeks in Salamanca and Barcelona at a language school, and although I acquired zero Spanish skills (I learned only four words: cerveza, baño, bolso and zapatos)  I managed to contract a toenail fungus from the shower of the crappy (unheated) student apartment in which I stayed.

After weeks of listening to me complain, my boyfriend instructed me to dump my remaining classes, retreat to Madrid, and hunker down at the Santo Mauro, his treat. I was in heaven.

Presently, when in Minneapolis I stay at the dramatic The Hotel Minneapolis, a Marriott Autograph collection property. The stunning lobby belies the fact that walk-in rates can sometimes dip as low as $109.

Hotel Minneapolis Elevator Bank

And when I visit Detroit (monthly) I stay only at The Henry, a charming Autograph Collection hotel in Dearborn. The rack rate is typically $239, sometimes I pay only $189 with my AAA membership, and corporate rates drop go a mere $129.

The Henry Autograph Collection Lobby

ST. ERMIN’S HOTEL, LONDON

I stayed at the St. Ermin’s Hotel, the Marriott’s Autograph Collection property in London, my last trip to the city. On a scale of one to five stars , I rate the St. Ermin’s Hotel in London at 4.5 stars: I was quite happy spending four days there.

PROS

  • Dramatic, recessed entrance

St Ermins Hotel Entrance

  • I was able to book four consecutive nights with Marriott Points less than one month prior to my stay (145K Points)
  • The location is fabulous (next to St. James Park, an easy walk to Westminster Abbey, London Eye, Houses of Parliament)
  • The hotel is convenient: many restaurants and shops are located nearby and the Underground station is a block away
  • Gorgeous, stunning lobby. I’m a sucker for the white on white wedding cake look and dramatic staircase. As with the other Marriott Autograph Collection hotels I’ve visited, the the designers of St. Ermin’s lobby took risks

St. Ermin's Hotel Lobby from Above

St. Ermin's Hotel Lobby

  • Complimentary baked sweets awaited me in my room
  • All the promised Platinum amenities (free wi-fi, complimentary breakfast, bottle of wine, etc.) were fulfilled
  • Controllable room temperature and good shower pressure
  • The inclusive cold breakfast buffet is only ok, but I ordered hot items off the menu and was not charged
  • Speedy wi-fi connection
  • Newspaper delivery

CONS

  • Small rooms (I received an upgrade and still had to tuck my suitcase underneath the desk). I became less sensitive to the fact the longer I stayed
  • Thin walls. This was an issue only one of the four nights
  • Mediocre cold breakfast buffet

The St. Ermin’s, Marriott Autograph Collection exceeds four stars. However, despite the amazing public space decor, the property just barely misses that certain je ne sais pas quality of five star hotels.

But I’d happily stay here again in a minute.

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40 REASONS to LOVE the WALDORF ASTORIA CHICAGO

LINCOLN PARK

WEDNESDAY

Finally! 10 straight days at home in Chicago for the first time since June. No work travel, no leisure travel, no personal obligatory travel. No suitcases, no miniature toiletries, no Project Runway marathons. My own food, my own bed, my own car, my own house. Heaven!

SATURDAY

Cats! Ez attacking my feet beneath the covers, malevolent Mia chasing Ez across the bed (and over my back), Mia now batting the cord to the venetian blinds above my head to get my attention.

5:08 a.m. and there goes the ‘L’ train, shaking my bed. And here comes the sun (damn Eastern exposure) — over the ‘L’ tracks and straight through the catawampy blinds destroyed in protest during one of my frequent absences.

The sound of the wind whipping across Lake Michigan reaches right up into my bed and judging by the non-stop whir of my furnace it’s a cold one out there today. Too cold to walk to the gym. And too cold to go to the store for groceries. Yet, I have no food in my house…

I’m checking-in to a hotel.

DOWNTOWN

THE WALDORF ASTORIA CHICAGO

Chicago’s obviously a big, cosmopolitan city with more luxury hotels than you can shake a stick at, but ask any in-the-know local and you’ll probably learn that the Waldorf Astoria Chicago is generally regarded as the best of the bunch. It’s the only AAA five-diamond hotel in The Second City with 5 out of 5 bubbles on Tripadvisor and Travel + Leisure ranked it 44th on their World’s Best Hotels 2013 list. And for today — a chilly late-autumn weekend — I can think of no better place to stay in my fair city. Some hotels just fit certain seasons, and the Waldorf Astoria Chicago especially shines in The Fall.

To be specific, here are 40 reasons to love the Waldorf Astoria Chicago during a blustery November weekend:

LOCATION

  • The Waldorf Astoria Chicago is situated in the heart of the city, dangerously close to the best shopping ($$$$) and restaurants ($$$$). I could throw a Manolo Blahnik from my balcony and hit Barney’s

COMMON AREAS

  • The roasted mushroom appetizer in Balsan is umami heaven
  • Bernard’s is Chicago’s coziest boîte and my new hangout
  • Subtle nods to Coco Chanel and Dior throughout the property (check-out the corset-styled drapes in the lobby)
  • Original, unique, Louvre-worthy artwork by Dawn ClementsJavier Marin and others
  • That insane, 8-foot-wide starburst chandelier in the lobby (modeled after one of Coco Chanel’s brooches)

Waldorf Astoria Chicago chandelier

CONVENIENCE

  • The Waldorf Astoria Chicago accepts and awards Hilton HHonors points
  • Tipping is discouraged
  • A small fleet of Lexus vehicles are available (complimentary) on a first-come, first-served basis to transport guests within a two-mile radius of the hotel
  • Free wi-fi
  • Gratis newspaper delivery
  • Shoeshine service on the house
  • Pets welcome (I left Ez and Mia at home)

DESIGN

  • The Waldorf Astoria Chicago lobby features marble floors, classical busts, and a nickel ribbon wall
  • Private cobblestone entry

Waldorf Astoria Chicago Lobby

GUEST ROOMS

  • Scored a courtesy upgrade!
  • The suites, the suites, the suites. Did I mention the suites? Spacious, spacious suites
  • Large, private entryways. It doesn’t sound like much, but they make you feel like you’re living in a Manhattan Upper East Side penthouse rather than staying in a standard hotel room
  • Champagne and platinum color scheme (classy)
  • Artwork (the bright colors contrast nicely with the champagne/platinum and lend a feminine touch)
  • High ceilings, airiness and plenty of natural light
  • One-touch lighting, doorbell and privacy button

Living Room

  • A working fireplace! Perfect for today. Or any day in Chicago in November, really
  • Massive balcony
  • Chicago skyline and glimpses of Lake Michigan
  • 180 degrees of windows
  • Copies of Chicago Social magazine

Waldorf Astoria Chicago Guest Living Room

Waldorf Astoria Chicago Guest Balcony

Waldorf Astoria Chicago Skyline

Bedroom

  • iPhone charging deck + speakers (although it does not accommodate an iPhone 5)
  • Beds composed of clouds. I fell asleep with the tv on (NOT classy)
  • Silence! Like sleeping in a tomb. I overslept without any sounds  of the city to wake me

Bathroom

  • Elaborate master bath with mosaic tile floors, marble walls, an oversized soaking tub, shower the size of a racquetball court,  and toilet telephones (?)
  • TVs embedded in the mirrors
  • Ferragamo bath products

Waldorf Astoria Chicago Guest Bathroom

 AMENITIES & SPECIAL TOUCHES

  • High-end silver fixtures, top-notch linens (the draperies cost more than I earn in a year), crown molding and beveled mirrors
  • A hotel gift of Elysian Spa & Health Club products
  • Custom stationery
  • Microwave, in-room ice and wet bar

FITNESS

  • The Waldorf Astoria Chicago gym is ridiculously equipped
  • Complimentary fitness classes, including pilates (high-tech machines available) and gyrotonics (whatever that is)
  • Lap pool, private locker room, whirlpool, sauna and steam room

Waldorf Astoria Chicago gym

Well, that was a wonderful little respite from reality. Although I already miss Ez and Mia. Time to return home.

“Car, please?”

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40 REASONS WHY I LOVE THE TAMBO DEL INKA

Llama Taxi ($30 and 90 minutes from Cusco) drops me off at the Tambo del Inka, a Starwood Luxury Collection resort in the small town of Urubamba.

After 20 years of traveling for work and pleasure, I’ve stayed at at a lot of properties. I am a hotel slut, hopping from one to the next, racking up points. But this time it’s different. With the Tambo del Inka, it’s The Real Thing.

40 REASONS WHY I LOVE THE TAMBO DEL INKA

LOCATION

  • Urubamba, perfectly situated for exploring Peru’s Sacred Valley

Outside Unawatuna in Sacred Valley

VALUE

  • Three nights for only $150 plus 12,000 Starpoints
  • Inexpensive meals (dinner with wine: $30-$40; breakfast: $10)

HEALTH & WELFARE

  • Security guard and gate at the entrance
  • Coca tea (for mitigating altitude sickness) always available
  • High-tech exercise room (not that I plan on using it after a day climbing up and down Machu Picchu)

SERVICE

  • Seated check-in
  • Truffles, weather report and sudoku puzzles at turn-down
  • 24-hour, personable concierge service
  • Clothing folded
  • Personal butlers!

GUEST ROOMS

  • Walk-in closets with full-length, lit mirrors
  • Textured paints and fibrous, funky wallpaper
  • Recessed lighting
  • Fresh flowers
  • Heavenly beds

Tambo del Inka Guestroom Sacred Valley Peru

  • One-touch lighting
  • Gorgeous views from oversized windows
  • Two iPod docks (one connected to speakers)
  • A leather headboard that matches the leather stools at the vanity
  • Electronic Do Not Disturb

BATHROOMS

  • Separation between the toilet, vanity and shower
  • Stone surfaces
  • High-end bath products
  • Bedspread-sized towels

Tambo del Inka bathroom

SERVICES/CONVENIENCES

  • Travel agency onsite
  • Complimentary business center services
  • A plethora of body treatments, manual therapies and skin care services offered in the spa
  • Surreal indoor/outdoor swimming pool
  • This is HUGE: only the Tambo del Inka offers a private train stop to Machu Picchu. HUGE

Tambo del Inka Swimming Pool

DECOR

  • Tall, lofted ceilings designed by Berardo Fort-Brescia
  • Stunning fuschia, hot pink and orange decor incorporating works by Peruvian artisans. Lots of stone and wood

DINING

  • Chilled wine glasses
  • Bacon eggs benedict
  • Fresh, organic, local ingredients
  • Crisp Chilean sauvignon blanc
  • Overhead heaters on the deck

Tambo del Inka Dining Room

THE LOBBY

  • Mammoth stone fireplace
  • Spectacular, round rug custom-made for the Tambo del Inka

Tambo del Inka Lobby

THE TAMBO DEL INKA PIECE DE RESISTANCE

And the Number One reason I love the Tambo del Inka:

  • Kleenex and toilet paper imprinted with the Tambo del Inka logo! Using print-free tissue will never be the same ….
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