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

Beauty & Grandeur in Baha Mar

I just got back on Sunday from a destination wedding at Baha Mar located on the island of Nassau, Bahamas.  Baha Mar is a one-of-a-kind experience from beginning to end. It is made up of three excellent hotels: Grand Hyatt, SLS and Rosewood. Each hotel offers their own unique style, experience & luxury.

We stayed at SLS and it was by far one of the most stylish resorts I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. At SLS and throughout Baha Mar, there is no detail left out. Everywhere we went, we had a new conversation about something interesting that we noticed.SLS Baha Mar - Bahamas

Our room was bright and airy with clean whites and splashes of other neutral colors. The focal point of the room was the main wall that featured a vinyl depiction of windows leading out to a pier. Upon arrival I had thought this was wallpaper, but after going up and physically touching it, it was a vinyl tapestry.

SLS Baha Mar - BahamasA white bar cart sat below our television. The cart was full of all kinds of goodies separated into two boxes labeled ‘Sinners’ (candies, alcohol, etc.) and ‘Saints’ (sunscreen, natural trail mix, etc.). An espresso machine also sat atop the cart, a fun change from your typical coffee maker. I enjoyed an espresso or two during our stay! The television had imagery and a warm greeting of “Welcome, Mr. Stazen!”, which was an unexpected detail.

SLS Baha Mar - BahamasThe lobby was extraordinary and oh so stylish. It was a huge open area that opened to a balcony above The Bungalow pool. Within the lobby was Monkey Bar, Cleo, a Mediterranean restaurant and direct access to the casino. The ceiling is wainscot with white beams and warm lighting. Soft seating throughout the lobby is unique to each other with a variety of lighting fixtures from pendants to chandeliers. The lobby was not just a place to check-in, it was a gathering spot for great cocktails and conversation. In the evening there was a DJ and it was transformed into a lounge atmosphere.

SLS Baha Mar - BahamasWe spent most of our time at the pool by day. Bugalow Pool Bar & Grill is so picturesque. Walking down the stairs from the main lobby you see a long rectangular pool anchored on the opposite end by a white and black pool bar. The lounge chairs are in an array of pastel colors and are perfectly aligned. With the resorts being interconnected, we had access to the other pools as well. Offering options from day club to family friendly. One pool has a cave that we swam into, inside there were glass windows into their conservancy area which allowed us to watch turtles, sharks and fish swim right before our eyes. There was also an area with flamingos!SLS Baha Mar - Bahamas

Baha Mar is a cashless resort, meaning, you only purchase items as a hotel charge to your room and you can do this at any of the three hotels, any of the restaurants or lounges and any of the shops. This was a nice feature as we did not have to carry our important personal cards or identification in our beach bags.

Our trip was a quick one, but while we were there we dined at Cleo, a Mediterranean Restaurant, at SLS. IT WAS DELICIOUS. They have a variety of shareable plates along with small plates and entrees. We shared house made hummus topped with crunchy artichoke hearts, my husband devoured lamb with saffron rice (served in a beautiful Moroccan dish!) and I had the shrimp skewers. Everything was perfect.SLS Baha Mar - Bahamas

We also visited Blue Note Jazz Lounge where we sipped martinis and listened to talented musicians singing everything from Stevie Wonder to Etta James. For the cigar smokers of the world, there is an excellent open air, outdoor cigar lounge called T2 (Tiger Woods & Justin Timberlake’s concept!). On the rooftop, is Skybar, a lounge with dynamic views of the crystal blue ocean.SLS Baha Mar - Bahamas

Saturday morning we visited Café Madeline, a French Café & Bakery, within the Grand Hyatt. We shared a fruit filled, flaky, soft croissant and a Greek yogurt parfait with local honey and house made granola. My other love besides my husband and my dog is a good croissant. This croissant was one of the best I have ever had….sigh…..do you think they can ship me a few?

Even if we had stayed a week, we still would not have been able to experience all the restaurants and activities Baha Mar had to offer. Sean mentioned (more times that once), “We have to come back here!” and I hope we do just that.

The service, cleanliness, attention to detail, food… everything was top notch and very impressive.

 

Until Next Time,

Lauren

 

SLS Baha Mar - Bahamas

SLS Baha Mar - Bahamas

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

Southern Elegance in ATL

To mark the milestone of my very first business trip, I’m sharing my recent experience down in the very toasty, vibrant city of Atlanta, where I had the privilege of spending two nights at The Whitley, formerly known as the Ritz Carlton Buckhead.

The Whitley - Atlanta, GA

The Whitley, located in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood north of downtown, is the setting for a series of conferences my company is hosting throughout the summer. As I work in communications, I had the privilege of attending our Marketing & Communication Meeting, which was held there earlier this month.

I recall our meetings departments being surprised when we were told late last year that the hotel they booked would soon no longer be the Ritz Carlton as it had been for three decades. Instead, it would be rebranded as The Whitley, A Luxury Collection Hotel by Marriott/Starwood. Just short of a year later and there I was, getting to see the result.

Before reaching the hotel, I took a very efficient trip on the MARTA train from the airport, followed by a very sweaty walk from the station to The Whitley. I once read that Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is a tribute to southern pride and a reference to the devil coming from the The Union (hence why he came “down”), but I’m pretty sure it’s just because Georgia is so, so hot.

But I digress.

The Whitley - Atlanta, GAAfter reading a few blurbs here and there from different Atlanta media outlets, I learned that the changes to the property came from the industry moving away from the very formal style that used to be so popular in hotels and into a more contemporary, casual future. From what I’ve heard, it has long been the place for celebrity parties and very sophisticated activities like an Afternoon Tea. The landmark Ritz Carlton property went through some big renovations to align with the Luxury Collection brand, and is now billed as “luxury with chic Southern style.”

The hotel sits on Peachtree Road, which if you can believe, is one of 55 “Peachtree” streets in the state of Georgia, and faces the famed Lenox Square, a very posh mall that is referred to fairly frequently in rap songs (sidenote: I did NOT see T.I.  or Andre 3000 while visiting).

I walked into The Whitley lobby and felt a little bit like I was on the Titanic. I know, that sounds overly dramatic. But I was there for business, so I was picturing brightly lit, sleek furniture, I-need-to-hop-on-this-call aesthetics. This lobby, with its elaborate, purple-accented chandelier, dark wood finishes, ornately-framed artwork and beautiful sit-like-a-lady armchairs, made me think of a more formal, elegant time. In my ripe old age of 26, I prefer it this way. You don’t see that so much anymore, so to me, it’s cool.The Whitley - Atlanta, GA

I never saw the property as a Ritz, but in my exploration through its halls I felt like they did an excellent job mixing that elegant “formal” charm with contemporary, more casual touches that leisure and business travelers alike have come to expect. Its website claims that it now boasts cosmopolitan style as well as timeless elegance, so I think I’m on the right track.

The lobby, with its various candy jars and its own coffee shop, all of which I had to resist breaking my sugar diet for, melts into a lounge area that wonderfully mixes more eclectic artwork with cozy couches (blankets included!) and a bright, colorful bar.

Around each corner were tall, luxurious-looking armchairs that I always expected to find someone hiding behind. Shout out to my coworker, Maggie, for taking a picture of me on one of those sophisticated lavender sofas.The Whitley - Atlanta, GA

I also had the privilege of somehow getting a room on the very top, 22nd floor, where I got a cool view of Buckhead with downtown in the background.

I will admit I was a tiny bit intimidated being down there at first. It was my first business trip, and despite having been to a handful of foreign countries, it was only the second time I’ve ever flown without my family (mild flight anxiety over here!). However, between the views, a clean room, a cozy bathrobe, the elegant décor and the friendly vibes, I felt as at-home as one could feel when plucked out of Ohio and placed in the middle of the deep South. So for that, I extend a warm, northern “Thank you!” to The Whitley for having me!

Southern Charm at South Eden Plantation

South Eden Plantation - Thomasville, GA

 

To be honest, I knew very little about the trip that we were embarking on. My mother-in-law took care of all the details and I was just along for the ride (and to be a bridesmaid), which was great! To my pleasant surprise South Eden Plantation is registered as one of the Historic Hotels of America.

 

As we drove from the airport admiring the lush green scenery, the resort popped up and we made a left turn onto a pebble road, where we entered between pink and brick security stands under a white trellis.

South Eden Plantation - Thomasville, GA

 

The winding pebble road was lined by overgrown willow trees and hanging Spanish moss, just like every picture you can imagine of Georgian charm (at night all of the trees were perfectly lit with white lights). As we approached the Main House, which is where our whole family stayed, I was giddy! It was all pink, brick, and white with hanging outdoor chandeliers.

 

We gathered our luggage and made our way to the front door, up a few stairs and through a large wooden white door. Taking just a few steps in we looked ahead at a grand room with a three-tier original light fixture hanging from the vaulted ceiling.South Eden Plantation - Thomasville, GA

To the left was a magnificent lounge with copper ceiling tiles, large red tufted booths, and sparkling chandeliers. (Fun Fact: The lounge is called Scarlett’s after Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind. The theater that sits on the grounds was the first theater to show Gone with the Wind when it came out in 1939!)

South Eden Plantation - Thomasville, GA

Our parents were whisked away to their suites and then we were led to ours. We entered through a separate wooden white door and climbed up hardwood steps to where we would be staying. The original hardwood floors had a perfect sheen to them throughout the entire Main House. Our room’s décor was classic with gray walls, white trim, a white four post bed frame, and of course, a chandelier!South Eden Plantation - Thomasville, GA

Since our family was occupying all the rooms, we were able see each room. One of my favorites was where my parents stayed, it was called The Bird’s Nest Suite, and the name fit the room. Dark walls with white accents, a bird carved into the headboard, and actual bird cages fit snuggly over crystal light fixtures. The other suites boasted bright colors such as hot pink and Tiffany’s blue. Each room had its’ own style.

South Eden Plantation - Thomasville, GA

The parlor area where we were able to meet for coffee in the mornings was just as lovely as the sleeping rooms. Long white curtains, classic furniture, and original woodworking around the fireplace boasted the Southern charm that I have always related to the South. Our trip was far too short as I wish we had more time to explore the historic theater, the greenhouse-like indoor pool, and take in the historic significance of this location.If you ever find yourself in Georga, don’t forget to take a moment to visit South Eden Plantation, you won’t regret it!

P.S. She was a beautiful bride! (Photo taken at neighboring Pebble Hill Plantation by Andrea Z Photography.)South Eden Plantation - Thomasville, Georgia

 

South Eden Plantation - Thomasville, GA

 

South Eden Plantation - Thomasville, GA

 

Until Next Time,

Lauren

Sightseeing in Sri Lanka

Scrolling through beachy spring break albums on my social media feeds this week has me reminiscing (and missing) my February travels. Last month I shared my stay in Bangkok, but I actually visited four countries while I was away (because why not spend your whole trip on a plane?) Just kidding, I am glad I got to see SO much during a short period of time. This week I’m taking you Inn Lovers to Sri Lanka! Aside from the stunning coastal towns and welcoming culture, I LOVED the unique properties everywhere we turned. Come with me as I explore The Fort Bazaar in the historic town of Galle.

The Fort Bazaar, Sri LankaYou may be thinking that Sri Lanka seems like an odd choice for a vacation, and in recent past, you would have been right! After 26 years of conflict, the Sri Lankan Civil War ended in 2009. The country has been recovering since and building its tourism numbers along the way. Since 2009, tourism has increased by 300%, and it was easy to see why after visiting cities like Galle. The narrow streets are lined with art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. Dogs and roosters wander freely and school kids all hold hands leaving class as they walk along Galle Fort, built by the Portuguese in 1588!

The Fort Bazaar, Sri LankaWe ventured along the streets and wandered through most of the properties we passed, including the Fort Bazaar, a boutique property on Church Street. You enter through a breezy front porch with artsy tables and then enter a secluded lobby where a bar and private room are off to either side. All of these properties almost felt like you were walking into someones home, where you can wind down a hallway and discover a hidden bar or art room.

We continued through the lobby to an open-air seating area that had a “distinctly middle eastern” design. I was taking a picture at every step, not just for this blog, but for my own design inspiration. Everything felt so fresh and modern, but you could still see the cultural influences. It was so beautiful.The Fort Bazaar, Sri Lanka

The far end of the seating area led to an amazing courtyard, connecting all the rooms, but also providing a private outdoor space below. There were couches, tables, stools, and even candles hidden in cutouts in the walls lining the courtyard. And the greenery was incredible, we all sat down for a few minutes and just stared around us! My friends had to drag me away to our dinner reservation, but I think you’d all agree with me after seeing the photos!

The Fort Bazaar, Sri LankaAnd the rooms were no different, clean lines, unique art, and of course, more outdoor space. And the food, it was some of my favorite from the trip. The authentic dishes were a lot of lentils, fresh veggies, and hands down the best bananas I’ve ever tasted…but the flavors in these simple dishes were so memorable. I’ll have to start practicing some Sri Lankan dishes myself, but I know it will never be the same!

I’m not sure if I’ll be lucky enough to make it back to this beautiful country, but if any of you have the opportunity, take it! It’s a trip I will never forget.

The Fort Bazaar, Sri Lanka

The Fort Bazaar, Sri Lanka

Happy travels!

Mackenzie

Setting Sail

This is my first time venturing into the blogging world.  I want to set some expectations on what you’ll find here:

What I can promise:

  • We’re going to have fun.
  • We’re going to learn about an area we’ve never been.
  • We’ll learn about a place we didn’t know existed in our own backyard.
  • We’re going to find experiences.
  • We’ll learn some tools of the trade.

I’m not a writer, I’m a reader.  But – I like to try something new and want others to try it with me.  I take risks and I like discovery.  I would jump out of a plane, dive off a cliff, or try to pet a tiger before I’d volunteer to speak in front of a crowd.  I hope that I learn something about myself in this process and you learn something too.

Together, I hope we can Discover Ohio and the US  – one room at a time.

Saddle Up, Hop On, Jump In – this is going to be a hell of a ride.

This is a Room with a Viewpoint.

This is Inn Love.