Guest Blog: The Enchanting Beauty of Arizona’s High Desert Will Make You Pause and Relax

A recent summit of hospitality associations provided an opportunity for a quick visit to one of my favorite and most beautiful parts of the country, the towering red rocks and spectacular canyons of Arizona’s Upper Sonoran Desert.

Just under two hours from the buzz and energy of Phoenix, Sedona is one of the truly unique and memorable American destinations. The natural beauty is complemented by an historic and enjoyable town with many chances to experience the arts, cuisine, shopping and entertainment.

Staying at the Enchantment Resort allows you to be surrounded by the painted desert of Boynton Canyon.  Here, I was first greeted by a real pro in the businesses, Joey, who made sure I knew what I needed to know to maximize a short stay, including the schedule for guided star-gazing that takes advantage of Sedona’s “Dark Sky” status.

With a room that opened directly onto a patio complete with gas grill that faced the imposing yet somehow calming canyon walls in shades of red that exploded into different colors as the sun started to set, Joey also pointed out one of the best attributes for a late arrival like myself: the room service option to order “Tastefully in the Raw” and cook your own steak and vegetables on your own terrace. No other dining option could have been more relaxing or enjoyable while I became acclimated to the enormity and sheer beauty of the canyon.

Enchantment mixes luxury service and appointments with the tasteful and comfortable casualness of the Southwest.  Adobe haciendas include timbered ceilings, southwestern fabrics, working fireplaces and plenty of amenities including a kitchen and ample seating indoors and out.  Coupled with top-notch restaurants and a View 180 outdoor lounge built to provide views of the sunsets, skies and red rock vistas, Enchantment can keep you amazed and delighted without ever leaving its 70 acres.

But Sedona is too special a place to pass up on a short stay, so if you are like me, you will want to get out into the desert.  Although Enchantment has plenty of trailheads and room to explore, a little pre-reading led me to the Jordan Road Trail in Coconino National Forest on the other side of town for a short hike.  The drive to the trailhead isn’t for the faint of heart or those who rented a vehicle that was a little low to the ground, but the payoff is worth it.

Driving into and around Sedona is easy, fast, stress-free and cinematic. Every local merchant and hospitality professional I met was genuinely friendly, helpful and welcoming. Although a destination that attracts 3 million people annually, Sedona and its environs don’t have that over-run, touristy feeling. Far from it. The best part about Sedona is its uncanny ability to make you relax, enjoy and appreciate your surroundings, even on the quickest of visits.

-OHLA Executive Director, Joe Savarise

From the Land Where Palm Trees Sway…

Aloha! I just got back from a lovely getaway in the gorgeous Hawaiian Islands. I have always been a person who has said, “Why would I travel all the way to Hawaii when I can be in the Caribbean within two hours?”. Well, my friends, I am here to say it, it is just different. It is beautifully imperfect with its abundant palm trees; stunning views of land & sea and the people bring hospitality to life. After all, the pineapple is the international symbol of hospitality.Maui, Hawaii

This is going to be a fun one, let’s take a minute to hear about our trip from Columbus, an overnight in L.A., and of course Maui. My husband, our two dear friends and myself have been eagerly awaiting this trip since we booked it late this summer. It was perfect timing as the winter moves in quickly and a new year approaches.

Maui, HawaiiWe left out of Columbus’ John Glenn International Airport and spent the night in Los Angeles. On the way to Maui we stayed at the Renaissance Los Angeles Airport Hotel and on the way back we stayed at Los Angeles Airport Marriott. Both hotels were just so beautiful, decorated festively, convenient and so hip. The Renaissance, in true Renaissance fashion, made you feel like a local celebrity. Large posh silver lion statues sat alongside the stairs leading to the elevator banks and the silver holiday decorations glimmered in the dim lighting.

The Marriott on our return was a saving grace as we were exhausted and starving. We made ourselves comfortable at Hangar 18 Bar + Kitchen to grab a (very) late night dinner and we were so thankful that it was still open! I wish I had a little more time to spend in the Marriott, but we were up and out by 5am the next day. When we were in the elevator, I noticed their floor instructions, for the meeting & event spaces, each space was named after cities across the United States (i.e. Boston, Miami, Dallas, etc.) Then, the smaller breakout spaces were named after regions in California (i.e. Irvine, La Jolla, Long Beach, etc.)

Marriott LAXOk, off to Hawaii! Our trip took us to Maui County. (I learned a lot during our visit including that Maui is Maui County and is made up of 5 islands: Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Molokini.) We were on the west side of the island of Maui on Kaanapali Beach. From the minute we touched down at the airport and walked through the open-air baggage claim, it was easy to see why Hawaii is such a favorite among many travelers. THE VIEWS. EVERYWHERE.Maui , Hawaii

Our drive from the airport along Hawaii Route 30 to our resort was breathtaking. No matter where we were our entire trip, we could look in one direction and see the West Maui Mountains and look to the other for the deep blue Pacific Ocean. The photo to the right is from a scenic lookout on our drive!

After two flights accumulating 10 hours, an overnight stay in L.A. and a 45-minute car ride, we finally arrived at our home for the next week, Honua Kai Resort & Spa. We walked in the front doors to an open-air lobby (all the hotels had open air throughout their lobby, isn’t that awesome?) and a direct view to red umbrellas, pools and the ocean. Our accommodations were perfect for four traveling together as we had a two bedroom suite with separate rooms & bathrooms along with a spacious living room, kitchen and lanai. We got to our room and we couldn’t move fast enough to get unpacked and into our swimming suits.Honua Kai - Maui

First stop: Duke’s Beach House. Duke’s sat on our resort grounds and we spent A LOT of time here. Amazing breakfast, lunch and dinner options, all open air and on the ocean, live music in the afternoons featuring your favorite holiday tunes played by the light sounds of a ukulele. At 3 o’clock each day (my husband had an alarm set on his watch… not joking.) they featured Aloha Hour (happy hour), with specials highlighting their Mai Tai and quick bites.

We were located just north of Whalers Village which had outdoor shopping along the ocean with a few restaurants (we tried them all). Leilani’s was known for their fish tacos (we now see why), MonkeyPod featured the best Mai Tai on the island (from many references) that is topped with a house made lilikoi (passion fruit) foam and Hula Grill is where we had dinner our first night in Maui. Mahi Mahi was the highlight of just about every menu as it is caught fresh daily and boy was it delicious!Maui, Hawaii

The city center of Lahaina is a quaint town along the shore with many boutique type shops, restaurants, hole-in-the-wall bars & quick bites. One of our favorites was called, Down the Hatch, the food was so, so good and was within an open-air atrium surrounded by a multi floor area of shops.

I could go on all day about the friendly people, the views, the food, etc. So, I really need to narrow it down and round out this blog with my two favorite memories: The Mill House and whale watching.

*Cue Jurassic Park theme song.* The Mill House sits nestled on a tropical plantation along the West Maui mountains. (Do you remember what Jurassic Park looked like prior to destruction? This is it. Ok, well maybe not literally, BUT, the 1993 classic was shot on Kauai with one scene on Maui.) Here we enjoyed true farm to table hospitality. The menu changes daily. I had THE FLUFFIEST gnocchi with root vegetables while my husband enjoyed shrimp dumplings in a shellfish broth. I will never forget this meal or the view for that matter.Mill House Maui

I am not a big excursion gal. I am just as happy sitting on a beach or floating around a pool. However, I’d go whale watching time and time again. It was by far one of the coolest things I have ever experienced. Though it was still a few days before whale season, we were so lucky, and saw a ton of activity. We even saw two whales breach (jump & flip out of water)! This is the most uncommon occurrence for whales to do and we saw two. If you look closely in the photo below, there is a whale tail!Maui, Hawaii

It is amazing to think creatures like these are swimming around our oceans. Whale season peaks during this time of year because the whales travel from Alaska to Maui to mate in the warmer waters. Baby whales do not have a blubber layer built up when born and cannot be birthed into the cold waters of Alaska (like I said I learned a lot on this trip).Maui, Hawaii

We also had the great opportunity to attend a traditional Polynesian Luau characterized by celebration with family (ohana). We thoroughly enjoyed the lively dances, traditional Polynesian food and the excitement that comes with a luau.

Maui has left a stamp on my heart and I hope to return. In the spirit of the holiday season, let’s keep our hospitable nature alive. Thank you for reading and hanging with us through 2018. Happy Holidays, Mele Kalikimaka and cheers to 2019!

“The state of Aloha can be created in an instant. It is a decision to behave with kindness, with generosity, wanting to give joy to another.”  – Irmgard Farden Aluli (Hawaiian Composer)

A Hui Hou (until we meet again),

Lauren

Maui, Hawaii

Residence InnLove

Residence Inn Columbus DowntownNow this property, Residence Inn by Marriott Columbus Downtown, has a little piece of my heart. Not because of its’ stunning architecture, interesting history, or timeless bourbon bar, but I worked here for a large portion of my career. It was such a pleasure to work in a historical building and interact with the guests that had visited throughout the years.  I wanted to go visit and share a day with you at this hotel.

Residence Inn by Marriott Columbus DowntownWalking into this property my eyes are always immediately drawn to the original columns that lead to a ceiling that is a work of art. What makes this property an architectural gem? It is located within the 1927 Buckeye Savings and Loans Building in the bustling Gay Street District. Remnants of the bank that once existed here showcase the property’s history and add charm to this modern aged hotel.

 

Residence Inn by Marriott Columbus DowntownOne of my favorite pieces in the hotel is the original blueprint of the bank which you’d find at the rear of the lobby. From the US Postal Mailbox and chute, to the clusters of security deposit boxes, to the one feature I find most unique…the breakfast buffet that is served from within the original bank vault (it is not everyday you get to see an actual vault door!).

Residence Inn by Marriott Columbus Downtown

Residence Inn by Marriott Columbus DowntownI worked my way through the lobby and into the elevator banks. Above each elevator the engraved marble maintains the original Buckeye Savings & Loans emblem and an arched hand-painted ceiling. I enjoyed my suite, as it was spacious and had a full kitchen. Not to say, the big windows allowed a lot of natural light into the room, which I am always a sucker for. Even as I walked through the hallways, there were architectural elements around every corner, the floor I stayed on had beautiful exposed beams.

Residence Inn by Marriott Columbus Downtown

As I walked downstairs that evening to partake in food and drink at Buckeye Bourbon House (the bar & lounge located within the lobby), one thing was evident; what a transformation from morning to night! Fun fact: Buckeye Bourbon House now stands where the original teller stations and the bank’s President’s Office once stood. The lobby was alive! Music, dim lights, and view of city lights through the sky-high windows.Residence Inn Columbus Downtown

I nestled myself into a luxe leather chair and enjoyed a savory charcuterie board and a crafted cocktail – my personal favorite was the “Savings & Loan” (cute, right?). I looked on as guests were playing shuffleboard, mingling, and relaxing. One thing I learned here was that I know far too little about Bourbon.

Residence Inn Columbus DowntownResidence Inn by Marriott Columbus Downtown

Until next time, cheers!

Lauren

V-Day Getaway Part I

Ahhh, the month of love! Did you forget that sandwiched right in between this weekend and next is Valentine’s Day? Don’t fret, my friend, I’ve got you covered!  With two weekends for a chance to have a mini getaway with someone you love, here are some quick ideas (and places to stay from throughout 2017’s posts!) to sweep your loved one off his or her feet this year! Whether it’s with your Sig O, a best friend or just you, here are some ways to Share the Love… <3

Share the love of: DONUTS!

Enjoy Butler County’s Donut Trail! With 12 delicious places to pick up a donut along this fun trail in SW Ohio, you’ll definitely need a place to stay to break up the trip.  Check out the newly renovated Cincinnati Marriott North! Looking for something else to make it a weekend trip and work off some of those donut calories?  Take a swing at Ohio’s first TopGolf, just across the street! But whatever you do, don’t forget your passport!

 

Share the love of: MUSIC

Discovering Ohio - Miamisburg

When was the last time you had a full Jazz experience?  Last February, we celebrated Valentine’s Day with a trip to Miamisburg (where?? Yes!).  The Blue Note Bistro & Lounge is about as authentic as you can find, specially in Ohio.  The music, the food, and the atmosphere all equal love at first site.  Obviously, after a late night out, you’ll need a comfortable place to stay. Check out the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Dayton Mall I-675, just down the road, or make a weekend out of it! Just a little farther away in quaint Yellow Springs, you’ll find the Mills Park Hotel.

Share the love of: WINE!

Did you know the country’s Best Wine Country Hotel is in OHIO?  Yep! That’s right, according to USA Today’s 10Best Reader’s Choice Awards.  So if you love wine, share the weekend with your loved one at the Villas at Gervasi Vineyard.

Thinking you want to mix wine and water…as in the lake?  Consider grabbing a cottage in Ohio’s actual wine country in the far NE corner of the state, near Geneva-on-the-Lake.  Vineyard Woods is a new cabin property, nestled among Ohio’s vineyards.

Share the love of: MUSEUMS

Excellent lodging in Cincinnati

Why not just stay in one?  Did you know Ohio has a Museum Hotel? That’s right! You can enjoy it all in one. The 21C Museum Hotel in downtown Cincinnati is the best place to experience contemporary art and a beautiful overnight stay. Don’t miss dinner at one of the fantastic restaurants near by, like Jeff Ruby’s or Boca. (My personal favorites – you WILL need reservations!)

Share the love of: PAMPERING

Unique Ohio Lodging @ Sebring Mansion & Spa

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could escape to somewhere secluded where you could just unwind, relax and just *be*.  There is.  Enter the Sebring Mansion & Spa, in Sebring, OH. The Sebring Mansion is one of the most romantic places I have ever visited in our great state.  The guest rooms are immaculate and custom, each with their own whirlpool tub.  There is a full service spa, including indoor/outdoor therapy pools.  Sebring Manion is an adults-only facility.

 

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

New Year, New Experiences: Part I – Phoenix

What better way to start a new year than on vacation – am I right?!  If you’re in the industry, you’ve probably heard of the term “babymoon” – essentially an excuse to get in one more amazing trip before the arrival of a baby.  You can bet I was all set to take advantage of any “excuse” to travel.  Trouble was, we needed somewhere warm in January. Not hard, you say?  You forgot about Zika. Sadly, this mama-to-be wasn’t heading anywhere south of Florida and Hawaii seemed like the most financially irresponsible decision one could make before swamped with all of the costs of a newborn. So where did we decide, might you be wondering?  Sunny, dry and BEAUTIFUL Arizona. TJ’s first time to AZ and certainly not my last, we set out to make this a trip filled with grand accommodations, delicious food and luxury services.  And Arizona, my friends, did not disappoint.

What a view!  We stepped out of the car at the Royal Palms Resort & Spa and knew it was going to be a good day.  This boutique style property recently joined the Hyatt family, introducing us to our very first Unbound Collection property.  The Royal Palms is an historic hotel (my fave!) and has hosted many of the rich and famous throughout its years.  The property itself is smaller than when it was first established as a residence in 1929.

Royal Palms Resort - Phoenix, AZWe walked through the breezeway where we were greeted by a warm, sunny courtyard begging for us to kick back and order lunch. For the first time ever in my life, I was glad our room wasn’t ready.  Oprah says there is no such thing as a coincidence and on this day, she was right.  We settled into the courtyard to wait for our room and devour a delicious lunch, when suddenly a friendly, familiar face approached our table.  Little did I know, one of my friends from college, a fellow U of Cinci Hospitality graduate, was now the Director of Engineering at this beautiful resort.  You have to understand, despite Facebook, I had no idea this friend was working at The Royal Palms or even lived in Arizona!  Needless to say, Jeremy made sure this was going to be one trip we wouldn’t forget.

We checked into our (now upgraded) room and I was blown away. From the sitting area, complete with sparkling apple cider and chocolate covered strawberries, to the enormous soaking tub – the room was immaculate.  Jeremy informed us that the rooms recently underwent renovation and from my perspective, they did a fabulous job.

Even with all of the traveling I do, it’s rare I get to indulge in the luxuries a resort has to offer. But this is our babymoon, after all!  The Royal Palms has a gorgeous pool (and hot tub, but I’m not allowed in those!), a poolside restaurant, a full service spa & salon, a famous, fine dining restaurant, T. Cook’s.  Good news, I experienced it all!  We spent every day poolside, soaking up the Arizona sun, eating fresh foods and sipping fresh squeezed juices.  (One thing I love about Arizona – these people seem to appreciate high quality, natural food and healthy cooking. Everything was crisp and fresh. Even the french fries!)

When we weren’t by the pool, we’d alternate walks through the Jardin d’Amore (Garden of Love!), the Orange Grove and the Alegria Lawn.  One of my favorite parts of this resort were the pathways that led to hidden seating areas, orange groves, and flowers teaming with hummingbirds. If you stepped out in the morning before other guests were awake, a stroll to this part of the resort was one of the most romantic places you could find.

Although we didn’t get a chance to enjoy them, the Royal Palms offers daily group fitness classes, a guided History & Art Tour, mixology classes, regular live music, and games. I totally did have my eye on those group fitness classes, but I was easily swayed into a walk to breakfast each morning!

And certainly, all that walking and sunning definitely leaves you hungry.  Offsite, we found two fantastic breakfast spots within walking distance (2 miles is walking distance, right?)  La Grande Orange – a super funky, local grocery and cafe serving up amazing pizza and delicious egg dishes, and one of our

new favorite breakfast spots, O.H.S.O. – a cyclist and dog friendly brewery conveniently located on a bike trail (!) and serving up some of the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time.  We loved that nearly every diner on the outdoor patio brought a pooch. Each doggy guest received his/her own water bowl with their name.  Too bad Mr. Zeus was back in Ohio!  On property, you’ll find T. Cook’s, a famed Phoenix area restaurant.  We enjoyed a fabulous dinner there on our very first night and our server, Sasha, was extraordinary. T. Cook’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner if you visit and at dinner I’d recommend reservations.

The Mix Up Bar ultimately ended up being TJ’s favorite hangout spot and where we spent our NYE.  On this particular holiday occasion the place was glitzed up with NYE hats, beads, and decor; there was a great duo serenading us and lots of inspiring appetizers. We settled in at one of the last empty tables and enjoyed people watching and “noshing”.  To ring in the new year on our last night at The Royal Palms, we eventually retired to the courtyard where it all began and watched the guests attending the blowout party hosted by the hotel on the opposite lawn… TJ with his cigar and bourbon and me with a mocktail.

If this is how 2018 starts, I can’t wait to see how it ends.

A sincere thank you to the staff of the Royal Palms Resort & Spa for treating us to one of our most memorable and top of the chart hotel experiences.

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

That’s a Wrap! 2017 Edition

What a year! This was a year of some serious travel for me and also some big life changes.  If you missed the memo – TJ and I are expecting a baby boy in March, so we did as much traveling as we could, and hopefully you did too! If you didn’t make it to any of my favorite stops in 2017, now is your chance to make your 2018 bucket list.  Where will you be off to?  Let’s talk about some favorites from the year so you can plan to make 2018 your best travel year yet!

January

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

How can you have a bad travel year when you kick it off on a French Caribbean island?  I was fortunate enough to start the year in Martinique with my family.  It was our first visit and I’m still reminiscing about the amazing French food, beautiful beaches and perfect weather.  On this trip I also discovered Norwegian Airlines for the first time, which was definitely a highlight of 2017.  If you haven’t looked for an international trip on Norwegian yet, I can’t help but ask, what in the world are you waiting for?! They’ll spoil you rotten in the air, deliver you to some dreamy international destination and you won’t even have to pay much for it.

February

February introduced me to some great independent properties, both new and old across the state. From Unique Ohio Lodging @ Sebring Mansion & Spathe massive overhaul happening in Salem, OH of the Stables Inn & Suites to the relatively new Mills Park Hotel in YellowSprings, seeing the success and growth of independent properties has a special place in my heart. One of my favorite visits was to the Sebring Mansion.  This romantic, luxurious inn and spa is tucked away in Sebring, OH.  Haven’t heard of it?  Don’t worry, neither had I.  And I think that’s part of the charm. Sebring was actually once known as the Pottery Capital of the World!  Quite a bit of pottery is still made in Sebring and you will find some at the mansion.  The guestrooms here are absolutely phenomenal, each with a hand selected bed and whirlpool.  You can’t help but feel the romance when you walk into these individually appointed rooms. This adults-only retreat should not go unnoticed. If you haven’t spend a girls weekend or a romantic night away here yet, do so in 2018.

March

March was an amazing month for me. I was able to travel to Europe for the first time. TJ and I embarked on a 2 week adventure to Italy and France.  We ate and walked (so much walking!) first through Venice, then the Cinque Terre, over to Nice and Eze along the French Riviera and finished in Paris.

There were so many wonderful memories of this trip, I have to encourage you to go back and read each post for yourself.  Some of the highlights were definitely our trip to  in NYC en route, visiting the often missed Venitian island of Burano, hiking the Cinque Terre and some of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen, the richness of the French Riviera – the teas, the perfumes, the cheese, and wine, the people!! And the romance of Paris.  Even writing this recap I find myself yearning to return.  I swear I will retire one day to the French Riviera…until then…

April

After weeks on the road in March, is was refreshing to be home.  My home, but also my hometown.  If you haven’t learned yet, I don’t slow down for long and I was on the road for work within a week of our return from Europe.  Luckily, I was able to stay at the chic St. Paul Hotel in downtown Wooster.  The St. Paul has been around a while, but when you live next door, you don’t often know what’s in your backyard.  Two things that impressed me most about the St. Paul – the attention to detail in decor and attention to detail in service.  The lobby and rooms are filled with locally sourced and many custom pieces of furniture and decor, including the massive room dividers, headboards and case goods and the beautiful hearth in the lobby.  And the service? Flawless. I still remember how exhausted I was when I arrived at check in and the desk agent personally walked me to my room, perhaps fearing I might fall asleep en route.  I’m so proud this hotel is in my very own Wayne County, don’t miss it!

May

By May, I was already thinking summer.  I spent a good part of the month traveling around to properties

perfect for a weekend getaway, whether it’s to Ohio’s wine country or the shores of Lake Erie, this month reminded me how many great places Ohio has to offer.  I discovered for the first time Geneva/Geneva-on-the-Lake.  We have a number of great members there, yet it isn’t an area I visit often.  On this particular trip I was able to get a sneak peek at a brand new cottage style property, Vineyard Woods and have a fantastic farm-to-table style dinner at Crosswinds Grille, the on-site restaurant of the Lakehouse Inn & Winery. Set among Ohio’s vineyards, Vineyard Woods offers guests a charming, bungalow experience deep in the woods, while Lakehouse Inn & Winery sits right on the water with spectacular views.  Next time you’re up visiting for a glass or two of vino, consider staying a night or two, there are plenty of awesome places that await.

June

New lodging option in small town Ohio, close to Akron, Wooster

June was all about what’s new. New builds. New brands and new discoveries.  I am still super excited about the new Cobblestone brand that made its grand entrance into Ohio in my very own hometown of Orrville. This new brand only builds in small towns – what a concept!  Capping around 40 rooms with a bar, pool and some meeting space, this type of small chain is perfect for a small town that might not be able to support a large chain brand.  Cobblestone made it’s debut in May and I’m still hearing about it!

Next up on my list of faves is the makeover happening at the Avalon Inn & Resort.  I was completely unaware of this sophisticated golf and spa oasis on Ohio’s eastern edge.  Surrounded by golf courses and dripping in class, this spot needs to be on your bucket list. I was there midweek and this place was packed.  With multiple on-site restaurants, a beautiful indoor pool (outdoor coming soon!), tennis courts, a rec room, an expansive gym, spa and outdoor (and indoor!?) golfing, you could spend days here. I was only sad my time was so limited!

Upscale lodging, resort in Eastern Ohio

July

Great, new lodging in Eastern, OH

In July I realized that Best Westerns aren’t Best Westerns anymore, well, not what I remembered anyway.  The brand has embraced a lot of individuality over the past few years and it shows in the new projects coming online.  I visited a new member in Steubenville, OH to make this discovery.  A former BW was torn down to be replaced by a fresh one and wow! is all I can say.  The Best Western Plus The Inn at Franciscan Square is brand spankin’ new and beautiful. Throughout the lobby and rooms are subtle nods to Franciscan University which sits on top of the hill, just across the street from the inn. If you didn’t know to look for it, these small details would probably go unnoticed by your average traveler, but you my friend, are not the average traveler. Next time you’re headed to Pittsburgh, stop by and check it out, or stay a while!

August

Speaking of brands coming to life, I am just so impressed with the new concepts rolling out in lodging.  Greater Cincinnati Area Lodging, MarriottFive to ten years ago, you wouldn’t have to work too hard to convince me that a Marriott is a Marriott, a Hilton a Hilton, etc. Now?  Try blindfolding someone and dropping them in a lobby of your favorite chain, I bet they wouldn’t know where they were.  I visited two vastly different chains in August, proof that the brand concept has taken a turn in a direction I quite like. First, the new Marriott concepts – I visited the Cincinnati Marriott North only to be swept off my feet by the changes. I had just been here a year or so before, right before renovations went underway and WOW.  You need to check these out.  My favorite part is the massive, jaw dropping chandelier that greets you upon arrival.  What’s even cooler though? Marriott lobby after Marriott lobby and the chandelier won’t be the same. 🙂

Historic lodging in downtown ClevelandLater in August, I got to visit a DoubleTree, but not just any DoubleTree, Cleveland’s own Tudor Arms.  You may recall that back before Curio became a thing, DoubleTree was Hilton’s go to brand for conversions and historic properties, so this brand was already taking individuality in stride and the Tudor Arms was no exception. With a massive, spectacular ballroom and a unique Romeo & Juliette style loft overlooking the ballroom, it’s no wonder this venue is jam packed with weddings weekend after weekend.

September 

September was once again one of our craziest months of travel.  Fortunately, all of those weekends included fantastic overnight accommodations and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the historic and lovely Renaissance Cleveland.  This hotel has sat on Public Square for a long, long time and it remains a focal point of beauty.  We were there for a wedding, which gave me a new perspective on the hotel, a property I have visited many times before for business meetings. Of course, the couple did an amazing job highlighting the charm of venue, but also to note was wonderful food and great service. It was also my first time dining at Sans Souci, the onsite restaurant.  My parents told me this used to be the place to go for dinner, way back when. We were there for breakfast and the buffet was seriously one of the best I’ve ever had.  The wait staff has been there since “way back when” and even if the restaurant doesn’t boast the same reputation it once did, the service staff would never let you know it.  Great food, great hotel, great people. We will be back!

October

Looking back, I’m not 100% sure what I was talking about. Every month was a busy travel month for us, and October was no exception. I’m having a very difficult time deciding which visit to highlight from October, because I got to see some of Ohio’s best properties, quite literally. Perhaps I should do that, focus on the best?  But I’m not the only one to judge, The Welsh Hills Inn in Granville, OH has others convinced too.  This property has been on the TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice list for the past 5 years, even in its top spots including #1 B&B and Inn in the U.S. in 2015. HERE! Right in Ohio!  Guys, if you haven’t been, you are crazy. I was crazy, until October.  From the beautiful grounds, to the adorable house dogs to the innkeepers themselves, this B&B tucked away just East of Columbus is truly one of my most memorable visits of 2017. I hope to stay sometime soon and experience it the way so many others have.

November

By November, I’m sure you feel like you need a break from all of this travel. I sure did! I started off the month with one final trip to Cincinnati and then I took a much needed break to help prep for the reason I do what I do – a celebration of the lodging industry in Ohio at OHLA’s Annual Conference. My highlight for November really is all of you. The people who make this industry what it is, together we are stronger, and I am so proud to be a part of Ohio’s amazing travel industry.

December

It doesn’t take much to remind myself how fortunate I am.  To be a part of such a fun and growing industry is amazing. Each December, when I get to wrap my year by traveling to an inspiring & gorgeous domestic location to share with others all of the great things we are doing in Ohio, it gears me up for the year to come. I return from this trip thinking, how can I and we grow?  Who should I visit? Where should I travel?

This year, that inspirational trip took me to St. Pete Beach to an historic hotel masterpiece. If you didn’t know, visiting every Historic Hotel in America is on my bucket list… which get’s harder as more hotels are added to the registrar, but I try to notch a few off the list every year. The Don Cesar was one of the coolest hotel experiences I’ve had in a while. The history behind the oceanfront Pink Palace is one of the best love stories I’ve ever heard and you can feel it in the walls. If you missed this posting, don’t let the year end without a dive (pun intended!) into the romance and lure of the Don Cesar.

Looking back at the year, I really set myself up for high travel expectations in 2018. But, I have one small little bundle of joy that might slow us down. I’m counting on you, my readers, my coworkers and friends to make 2018 your year of exceptional travel. Where will it take you? Want to share it with the travel community?

So grab your passport, strap on your backpack – whether it’s around the corner or across the ocean, let’s experience something new…

Here’s to 2018, a year of travel experiences for all.

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Jazzy Weekend in Dayton

Discovering Ohio - Lodging in Greater Dayton

I’m an Ohio girl, born and raised.  From the Cleveland area, went to school in Cincinnati and now live in Columbus.  I tell people I get around the state quite a bit, but I definitely have had my go-to entertainment districts and up until this weekend, Dayton was not one of them.  I’ll be honest, nearly every time I’ve gone to Dayton it’s been raining and there’s construction. But a few weeks ago I had a taste of something I wanted to sink my teeth into and I had to schedule a time to go back.  Our trip centered around one key adventure – the Blue Note Bistro & Lounge.  You probably haven’t heard of it, and I’m a bit nervous to divulge my secrets, but if you’re looking for something new to try – follow me…

Miamisburg, OH is about an hour and twenty minutes from Columbus. We decided it would be best to make an overnight out of our trip to the Blue Note. Word on the street? They’ve got great music and a wine cellar – ’nuff said.  This particular Saturday afternoon was unseasonably perfect and we didn’t want a minute of it to go to waste.  We thought the best bet would be to stop somewhere on the way that we could check out – walk around, see some shops, (for TJ) drink some beer – so we set our sights on Yellow Springs, OH. I had the chance to visit Yellow Springs a few months ago and wrote about its cool new hotel the Mills Park Hotel.  That time, I didn’t get a chance to explore the town which has a huge art scene, but I wanted to. It was too cute! There are little shops everywhere and musicians on the street.  Who would have thought?

Discovering Ohio - Yellow Springs

Feeling Funky – Yellow Springs

As we’re driving, TJ proclaims that he is pretty sure there is a brewery in Yellow Springs (he would know!).  After a quick Google search I confirm this and now he is interested.  Yellow Springs is situated on a bike path (or maybe the bike path is situated around Yellow Springs, but you get the picture!) and today, bicyclists were out in full force.  Despite the crowds, we found easy parking on the street (it’s free! for all you city slickers), just across from the Mills Park Hotel. We headed to find a latte for me – very important when the sun is setting and you’re window shopping.  We found the cutest store – Oats.  They sold all kinds of neat antique pieces for the home. You

Discovering Ohio - Yellow Springs

Feeling Funky – Yellow Springs

probably could guess that we left with an old metal BEER sign for our at-home bar. After that we wound our way to the Yellow Springs Brewery and Taproom, located a few blocks from downtown.  This place was happenin’. A food truck was parked outside and nearly every seat indoor and outdoor (in February!) was full. Something a bit different about this taproom is that there wasn’t a TV in sight.  The place was filled with artwork and there was a big cart of games for people to play. A startling idea – a bar not having TV’s, but instead you walked in to the sound of conversation, laughter and glasses clinking.  We decided to have a light appetizer because our dinner reservation was late.  The food truck parked outside, Smokin’ Bee-Bee-Q, was

dishing out Mac n’ Cheese Waffles with Pulled Pork & Slaw – so we split one!  Delicious!

With full bellies, we decided we should make our way to Miamisburg with a quick pit stop at our hotel.  We were so fortunate to have been graciously hosted by the team at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Dayton Mall/I-675.  The staff was super friendly and ready to make our night a memorable

Discovering Ohio - Lodging in Greater Dayton

Holiday Inn Express & Suites – Miamisburg

one.  Our room was beautiful!  I’ve said it before, but if you haven’t been in a new package Holiday Inn recently, make sure to check one out. Our suite was spacious and beautiful.  I loved the homey accents – rounded ottomans and small lamps.  This hotel had a pool (which we didn’t have time to use) and great fitness center and complimentary breakfast. Highly recommend it!

Even better, the hotel is a straight shot to downtown Miamisburg, where the Blue Note was located. We were running a bit ahead of schedule so we swung into A Taste of

Discovering Ohio - Miamisburg

I’ve Got That Feeling, Inside My Sole @ A Taste of Wine

Wine for a glass of vino.  We were pleasantly surprised to see a packed house and a live band. The staff selected fantastic wine for us and we spent an hour listening to the sounds of Mind Reels.  We were walking distance to our final stop, so parking and navigating was easy.  We arrived at Blue Note just before the next show started and were quickly seated at our stage side table.  There are so many amazing things about this venue, I can’t capture it all in one post.  To begin, this space is a converted bank building, so it’s unique and in a great location.  The high ceilings and beautiful archways are a fantastic backdrop for a live music venue.  The whole place is lit by blue lighting and portraits of famous jazz musicians.  The menus? They light up!  The food was delicious.  I started with the Blue Note Salad and had the Chicken La Poire. TJ also started with the Blue Note Salad and had the Tournedos Dumas.  We split a great bottle of wine with our company, sat back and relaxed.  On stage that night was The Satchmo Show featuring Dean Simms – a Louis Armstrong impersonator. They were amazing and kept the crowd engaged all evening. After an outstanding show, good food and great company, we tucked in for the evening, but not before grabbing donuts at Bear Creek Donuts for breakfast the following morning.

One of my favorite things is discovering new ways to enjoy the great state of Ohio.  No matter how much  I travel, or how many people I meet, there are surprises around every corner.  If you haven’t yet visited Yellow Springs or Miamisburg, you are missing out on some amazing experiences. So what are you waiting for?

Discovering Ohio - Miamisburg

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

Video

Season of Love – Step it Up!

Ohio Date Ideas

All Smiles @ Cedar Point – Sandusky

I love holidays, particularly ones that give me an excuse to really wow someone – birthdays…Valentine’s Day. It’s the month of love, so I thought I’d step in to give you some ideas to really amp up your dating game or, your life experiences game. Whether you’re committed or single – these are some fun ways to get that extra mile out of love and life. Follow me as we try this, not that!

THAT – Buying chocolates

There are people in life who say, “don’t buy me flowers, they just die.” That’s depressing, but also true. Food isn’t just the way to a man’s heart – it’s the way to mine. But this time of year, stores roll out display after display of overpriced chocolates in heart shaped boxes. You could to that. Or, you could do…

THIS – (SAFE!) Raw Cookie Dough

Ohio Date Ideas

NomNomNom @ Cookie Dough Creamery

Good thing I surround myself with some pretty cool 11 year olds. I give full credit for this discovery to one of my favorite babysitees.  Next time you’re in the market for buying you’re loved one something sweet, stop by the Cookie Dough Creamery in Worthington, OH.  You can choose from containers of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (my favorite), Sugar Cookie Dough, Oreo Cookie Dough and Peanut Butter Cookie Dough; Chocolate covered Oreos filled with cookie dough and all kinds of other delectable “raw” treats. In the event you’re worried about the safety of eating this raw dough (I certainly am not), this dough doesn’t contain eggs and they use heat treated flour.  GENIUS.

THAT – A Round of Golf

It’s OK, you can admit it.  You’re re-purposing some old Silent Auction item you won as a “super cool” gift.  Let me guess, it’s at a ritzy-titzy, exclusive course and perfect for 4!  If it’s so great, why haven’t you used it?  Because it isn’t so great. Wonder if you could recreate the golf experience in a private setting and when you’re ready to take a break from the links of Pinehurst, you can sit right down in your lounge seats, crack open a beer and enjoy a filet?  Next time, try…

THIS – Golf Simulator @ The Capital Club

What? Yes! You’ve totally been missing out. I had the chance to experience the Golf Simulator firsthand. Not just the golf simulator itself, but the opportunity to wow my Sig-O with an experience he didn’t even know existed.  We were escorted up to the Capital Club (by way of the DoubleTree Suites Columbus Downtown) to the Simulator room. We were able to select from over 20 courses.  We pre-ordered TJ’s favorite beer to the room (CBC Bodhi!) and you can even order food.  This is seriously one of the coolest dates I’ve been on. I’m pretty sure TJ has already lined up friends to join him next time. I’m thinking this would pretty cool for a Bachelor party too! Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Capital Club member to take advantage of this place!

****Special for Followers!*** Just in time to polish those skills before golf season hits! Now through March 30, 2017, mention this blog post and receive 1 Hour of Golf & a Free Appetizer for $15! Contact Kyle to book.

Love sports but not in Columbus? Have you checked out TopGolf in West Chester, OH?  That’s next on my list! Or what about Canton’s own Pro Football Hall of Fame? Hall of Fame Village coming soon!

THAT – Wine Tasting

Don’t get me wrong, wine tasting is fun. I love wine!  There are a million great places to do a wine tasting in Ohio…but, that’s old school, what about….

Ohio Date Ideas

Bourbon Cocktails @ Buckeye Bourbon House

THIS – Bourbon Tasting

This week, I got to check out a super cool new place, the Buckeye Bourbon House. I love Bourbon. Believe it or not, this girl has been on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail (highly recommend eating breakfast before visiting Jim Beam). The new Buckeye Bourbon House located on Gay Street in Columbus has over 50 curated Bourbons and Whiskeys (they are not the same, people!).  If you stop by, you can try a tasting and they ‘guarantee’ they’ve got something you haven’t tried.

Want more Bourbon? Try the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar in Covington, KY! I haven’t been in a while, but last time I checked, it’s still happenin’!

THAT – Date Night

It’s OK. Date night dinners are still cool, but there is something a tiny bit cooler…

THIS – Date Morning

What about fantastic brunch?  Fortunately, Ohio has finally figured things out.  People like to eat all times of day! Lucky for you, cities across the state are

Ohio Date Ideas

Brunch Farrotto @ The Whitney House

seriously stepping up their breakfast game.  So no matter where you are, there are places to brunch. Some new faves:

Hoof Hearted Brewing – Columbus, OH (Hate the name, love the food <3)

TownHall Ohio City – Cleveland, OH (Patio is perfect!)

Taste of Belgium – Cincinnati, OH (It’s been around a while, but those waffles. They still do Chicken & Waffles the best)

Blue Note Bistro & Lounge – Miamisburg, OH (On the menu next week, have you tried it??)

The Whitney House – Worthington, OH (I sold my sole for the Brunch Farratto)

Cherry Street Pub – Lancaster, OH (Christi’s pick!)

 

THAT – Shores of the Atlantic

Don’t get me wrong, I hit the Atlantic coast every year and I count down until that vacation. But, let’s get real, when was the last time you checked out Ohio’s shores? Have you even tried…

THIS  Shores of Lake Erie

When was the last time you visited Sandusky? I am not just talking about Cedar Point (but go there too). Downtown Sandusky has had a revitalization.  One can now have a fantastic dinner, settle in for a cocktail at a local speakeasy and book a night at a trendy hotel, all within walking distance.  Go. Now. Check it out.

There are so many more cool ways to experience life with someone you care about – share your favorites from around the state!

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

A Hidden Gem

Unique Ohio Lodging @ Sebring Mansion & Spa

Stately Beauty @ Sebring Mansion & Spa

I am such a lucky girl.  I finally found that perfect career that allows me to immerse myself in something I’m passionate about.  I love travel, I love culture, I love experiences.  Lodging big or small, I’m a firm believer that the lodging you choose can make or break an experience.  And, over the past few months, I’ve actually had people tell me they like when I let them in, just a little bit, to come along with me on these experiences, from the comforts of their desk, their home or wherever InnLove finds them each Friday morning. Today I’m going to let you in, just a little bit more, into something I discovered this week while traveling for work.  For many of you, it’s in your backyard and it’s truly one of Ohio’s hidden gems.

As most of you know, I’ve worked in a few hotels, but what some of you might not know is that my childhood dream has been to own an award winning inn. I’ve been collecting favorite breakfast recipes for years. So when I find one that gives me so many feels…I must share it with you. This week, while making a very windy tour of Northeastern Ohio, I visited one of my favorite people, Lynne Biery at her hospitality masterpiece – Sebring Mansion Inn & Spa.

Unique Ohio Lodging @ Sebring Mansion & Spa

I’ve never been to the Mansion, but I have heard stories.  All good, of course, but THIS. I did not expect. I hadn’t heard of Sebring, OH until I learned of Lynne’s place –

Unique Ohio Lodging @ Sebring Mansion & Spa

Rotunda @ Sebring Mansion

how could there be something this spectacular in a place I’ve never been? Even though the day was typical January in Ohio weather – you know the sort, gray, 33° and raining – the mansion was sparkling.  It is massive and stately, sitting

 

on the corner, beckoning me into its warmth.  I sprinted across the street, snapping a quick picture of the entrance, and ducked inside. As if he was waiting for me, I was greeted by Dick, a cheerful member of the Mansion’s team. He ushered me inside the most breathtaking foyer I’ve seen in quite some time. Once you catch your breath,

Unique Ohio Lodging @ Sebring Mansion & Spa

Dining Room @ Sebring Mansion

you immediately gaze upward into a rotunda with 3 floors of views to a stained glass dome.  While waiting for Lynne, I snapped a few pictures of the foyer before being escorted into the dining area.  I was told a bride would be arriving soon and this was to be the dinner room.  The room was dripping with winter decor that made you feel

 

like you were in a fairy tale. Lynne walked me through the many rooms of the first floor including the parlor and oval music room.  The piano in the music room is original to the home!

Unique Ohio Lodging @ Sebring Mansion & Spa

Oval Music Room @ Sebring Mansion

Sebring Mansion has 9 rooms with more being built.  Each room is individually decorated and is named after a famous potter. (Sebring, OH is the Pottery capital of the world!) Each room has a beautiful, hand selected bed and whirlpool.  In many of the rooms, you can be served dinner for two on the balcony or in the sitting area and each guest is greeted with a rose. No children are allowed at Sebring at this time, which allows for an indulgent adults-only retreat. Make sure to check out all of the room pictures in the 2017 Visual Adventure Gallery because there are a million!

Unique Ohio Lodging @ Sebring Mansion & Spa

Stained Glass @ Sebring Mansion

The third floor of the Mansion has another dining area where Lynne and her team had set up an immaculate dining experience for the weekend’s wedding party.  The room is surrounded by stained glass and little private alcoves. There is a built in bar to serve guests.  Lynne also tells me she hosts a number of special events such as Murder Mystery Dinners.  I think I should sign up for one of those really soon!

The lower level of the Mansion houses the spa, with a maze of rooms for massages, mani/pedis, hair, mud baths and more. All guests are able to soak in the 102° indoor or outdoor therapy pool.  Even on a dank day like the one I was visiting on, I could have easily slipped into the outdoor pool, surrounded by plants and stone walls.  Also on the lower level are his and hers locker rooms, a wine cellar and The Pub – a bar area for guests to order evening cocktails.

Sadly, I was not visiting Lynne for an overnight stay, just a quick tour and some history.  But, if anyone has ever convinced me to make a weekend out of Sebring, OH, it was Lynne, her team and this spectacular Mansion. I’ll be counting down the days until we can stay.  (Hunny, are you reading this??)

Unique Ohio Lodging @ Sebring Mansion & Spa

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Taking on the Queen

Excellent lodging in Cincinnati

Art in the City @ 21C Museum Hotel

Whew! I’m back in the saddle and on the road again (how many cheesy phrases can I use?). I kicked off 2017 in the Queen City – visiting one of my standbys and checking out something new. It’s one of our unspoken traditions that we spend New Year’s Eve in Cincinnati.  This year was

Excellent lodging in Cincinnati

Feeling at Home @ Kingsgate Marriott

exceptional because so many friends traveled in from afar to be there. We checked in at my Alma Mater’s hotel – Kingsgate Marriott located in the

Uptown/University Area of Cincinnati. Kingsgate is perfectly situated for access to the University of Cincinnati Main Campus and Medical Campus, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Xavier University and just a short ride to downtown Cincinnati.  I have stayed at Kingsgate many times and it’s the phenomenal staff that keeps me coming back. Usually around New Year’s Eve it’s a quiet place, but not this year. With a wedding in house and a much anticipated Cincinnati Bengals game, the place was packed!

We checked into our corner suite to get ready for the big night out.  As tradition, TJ always makes a trip down to the Bearcat Lounge for a drink

Excellent lodging in Cincinnati

Feeling at Home @ Kingsgate Marriott

while I get spruced up for NYE. The same bartender has been on duty for 4 years running.  In an industry with a lot of turnover, it’s amazing to see staff there year after year. You know this is because the hotel treats its employees well.  Not only is the bartender a familiar face, but many of the banquets staff and front office team are the same.

Finally! It’s time for a night on the town! We had big plans. I love holidays and planning one in the Queen City is my forte.  We met up with friends for dinner at one of my new favorite restaurants, Mita’s.  Chef Jose Salazar knows how to wine & dine his guests. I could have sat there for hours, sipping bubbly, passing tapas and people watching. Mita’s is situated on the corner of 5th & Race with floor to ceiling windows.  And on New Year’s Eve? EXCELLENT people watching. We shared a Cheese plate consisting of Manchego, Valdeon and Murcia al Vino. YUM. Then we passed around an Ensalad Mixta and an Ensalad Jicama Y Mango – both delicious. We opted for a round of Tapas in lieu of entrees and shared the Coles de Bruselas Asadas (brussels sprouts!); Pulpo Gallego (galician style octopus!); Arepa Con Queso Fresco Y Chorizo (Cheese & chorizo cornmeal cakes!) and the special of the evening – Blood Sausage.  We each had a favorite – obviously we either all have exceptional taste or Jose only makes awesome dishes (or both!). We wrapped up the evening with an Olive Oil Rosemary Cake for dessert.  If you haven’t been to Mita’s, you’re missing out. BIG TIME. And they’re open for lunch!

Excellent lodging in Cincinnati

Art in the City @ 21C Museum Hotel

After Mita’s we met up with friends at 21C Museum Hotel.  I’ve been to

21C before, but this time I had a chance to check out some of the aspects that make it unique including the “body art” in the shower and the beautiful art display on the guestroom floors. One of the signature’s of the 21C brand are the fun little penguin mascots.

Excellent lodging in Cincinnati

Art in the City @ 21C Museum Hotel

We left 21C and headed to our final destination – a new cocktail lounge in The Banks called The Stretch. The Stretch is swanky with double bars and a narrow space that allows for an intimate atmosphere. It was packed for NYE, but the outdoor space was a nice retreat from the sweat of the dance floor with fire places and cozy furniture on a chilly Ohio winter night. I’d love to come check it out on a regular weekend night – I guarantee it’s just as busy!

Believe it or not, after a night on the town, I’m still hitting the gym in the morning.  I told you before, this was not my first rodeo at Kingsgate, so when I walked into the all-to-familiar gym I was ECSTATIC at what I found.  I’m a gym snob, we know this.  Rarely do I come across one of my

Excellent lodging in Cincinnati

Fitness Center @ Kingsgate Marriott

favorite pieces of gym equipment. I love it so much that even if I wasn’t planning to run, I do. I’m totally going to geek out on you guys for a second.  LifeFitness makes these super cool treadmills with courses you can run all around the world! It is seriously the coolest invention.  If you haven’t been on one, try it. If you run a hotel, get one!

But honestly people, what would this trip be without a final food suggestion?  I’m not much for hotel breakfasts and normally I head somewhere else, but I knew that the breakfast buffet at Kingsgate would be just what I needed on New Year’s Day. Those omelettes…OH!

If you find yourself in Cincinnati, check out one of these two great hotels and most definitely eat at Mita’s – you’d be a fool not to.

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck