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!

Fairytale Destination: Sea Island, Georgia

As you drive onto Sea Island, weaving through marsh land, admiring the overgrown oak trees and low hanging moss, water views, you truly feel the southern charm of Georgia.The Cloister - Sea Island, GA

The Cloister at Sea Island is something out of your favorite childhood storybook. Remember being captivated in a love story with the prince and princess in a fairytale setting? The Cloister at Sea Island is just that, a fairytale (and our friends had a fairytale wedding too). The architecture and design of the entire resort and island is the classic southern romantic charm of your dreams.

The Cloister - Sea Island, GA

As we pulled up under the porte-cochere, we were greeted by the friendly and abundant staff. Walking in there were fresh floral arrangements, stone like walls, charming brass chandeliers, elaborate tapestries, high ceilings with a wall of windows, and a staircase (the same staircase my dear friend would see her father for the first time prior to the wedding). I was in awe! Looking directly ahead at a wall of windows I was able to look out over a marble patio to the water. Similar to the main  lobby, our suite was equally stunning with similar features.

My husband and I had the opportunity to spend some time at their spa, visit The Beach Club, and golf their championship course. The spa forever has a little piece of my heart. Upon arrival, we were each greeted with a Peach Bellini (FRESH Georgia peaches, yum!). In the middle of the spa is an atrium filled with sky lights, man-made river-like features, and naturally growing trees. We found a little nook and sat curled up in our Ugg blankets (SO comfy).The Cloister - Sea Island, GA

That evening we went to a Welcome Party at The Retreat at Sea Island. Another gorgeous indoor/outdoor venue surrounded by the rich Georgia foliage and warm breezy air.The Cloister - Sea Island, GA

The ceremony took place in the garden under picturesque trees where chandeliers hung like earrings from their branches. The reception followed within the Mizner Ballroom at The Cloister. It within itself was an extravagant, black tie, event full of love and hope for the future. The service staff was incomparable and added so much to the overall event. An evening I will not soon forget. (For my events & catering folks out there, I have included a few photos below of the ceremony and reception. Enjoy!)

At the end of the day, hospitality is what we live for and work to deliver everyday. When a hospitality professional experiences true hospitality & kindness, they know it. Now, I am going to sit here and reminisce of the breezy air, the loveliest Peach Bellini and the joy of Southern Hospitality.

P.S. Just for fun. Here is my favorite pic from the wedding…The Cloister - Sea Island, GA

 

Cheers!

Lauren

 

The Cloister - Sea Island, GAThe Cloister - Sea Island, GA

 

 

Serenity in Victorian Village

Victorian Village Guest House - Columbus, OHAs I walked away from my car and towards the timeless brick home, I immediately felt at ease. I opened the black iron gate to allow myself up the steps and to the brick sidewalk that wrapped around the home (the Guest House sits in the rear lawn of the beautiful 1800’s brick home where the owners reside). Speaking of the owners, I was warmly greeted by Lisa, and was so excited to have the opportunity to relax in this urban oasis.Victorian Village Guest House - Columbus, OH

 

Lisa walked me to the Guest House which stood at the opposite side of the lawn and is so charming. As I turned the corner, I was completely taken away by the perfectly manicured flower beds and ever so green grass. If you could live inside of the Spring season, this is where you’d want to be.

Victorian Village Guest House - Columbus, OH

I opened the door and headed up the steps which opened into a large, open, lofted space with vaulted ceilings. Everything had a rich ruby red color incorporated into it. The bathroom; all red! Such a beautiful color to accent the neutral walls and furniture.

Sitting on the counter top was a sweet treat (from one of my favorite bakeries, Pistachio Vera) and a welcome card from the hosts (so kind!).Victorian Village Guest House - Columbus, OH

I dropped my bag and grabbed a book immediately as it just felt right. I appreciated the serenity and peacefulness of this location. It was so quiet! I casually came and went from my lofted space to the outdoor seating.Victorian Village Guest House - Columbus, OH

As the sun began to set, it was time to settle in and head to bed (the oh-so comfy bed!). I pulled down the woven window shades, prepared a cup of hot tea in the kitchen, grabbed my sweet welcome treat, and settled in for a peaceful night’s rest.Victorian Village Guest House - Columbus, OH

What a great stay! Now I am thinking ahead… this would be an ideal location to stay for an Ohio State home game!

 

Until Next Time,
Lauren

 

 

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

Columbus’ Own – The Joseph

InnLovers – I have to admit, I have been dying to tell you about one of my favorite Columbus hotels, Le Meridien Columbus, The Joseph.  Located in the Short North Arts District, the Joseph has become a visual staple in the SN since it opened its doors in 2015.  If you aren’t super familiar with the SN, most of the buildings max at 2-3 stories. The Joseph was one of the first tall buildings to grace High Street and it started quite a trend. Come with me as we step inside this SN trendsetter…

The Joseph is owned by the Pizzuti family, also known in Columbus for their art collection.  Even if you aren’t staying at The Joseph, you can easily enjoy the space.  When you walk into the lobby, art is

Le Meridien, The Joseph - Columbus, OH

incorporated at nearly every turn.  Over the main sitting area hangs a giant wall sculpture (probably not the right term, but I didn’t do so well in Art History class).  As I sat in a meeting just last week underneath this piece, I kept thinking it looked like a bunch of small, inverted soccer balls all stuck together, and somehow it was perfect.

After you’ve entered the lobby, if you haven’t already gravitated to SOUL, the small bar tucked around the corner, then head upstairs to check out the public art collection.  BUT WAIT! Don’t move too quickly up the stairs, or you might miss one of my favorite things at The Joseph.  There is a motion-censored art/light fixture in the stairwell. It spins! Super cool.

Upstairs you will find a wide variety of art, from paintings to photographs.  Along the back wall near the meeting space, you’ll find some super cool photos of a child, Lydie, in various Halloween costumes throughout her life as well as other pieces that were curates specifically for the hotel by 15 different artists. If you fall madly in love with any of these pieces, you can actually purchase them at the Joseph Collection.

There are so many ways to enjoy The Joseph.  Hopefully, you have the opportunity to stay overnight.  The rooms and the views of the Short North and Downtown Columbus are stunning. I was given the opportunity to sneak into a suite and the best part was definitely the bathroom. Look at that tub!  (I’ve actually stayed at The Joseph, a little more than a year ago on our wedding night.  The level of service and accommodation for special occasions is unmatched.)

Another cool feature is the introduction of the Spa Suites. No, no.  This isn’t an overnight room, this is a unique type of spa experience, where guests can relax in the Spa Suite and schedule typical spa services.  The spa suites available include a stone tiled rain shower, a heated mosaic tile bed among body sprayers and a large relaxation lounge. Services include massages, facials, body scrubs and specific services for men!

Still looking for ways to enjoy The Joseph? Of course, there is food.  Adjacent to The Joseph is The Guild House.  Like other fabulous hotel restaurants around Columbus, such as the Gallerie at the Hilton Columbus Downtown just up the street, The Guild House is not your average dining experience.  Operated by Columbus Restaurateur, Cameron Mitchell, hotel guests and locals alike can enjoy a fabulous brunch on a Saturday morning or a fine dining, special occasion dinner at night. In addition to SOUL inside the lobby of the hotel, The Guild House also has a great bar that everyone should sip some bourbon in.

If you want the whole experience, I highly recommend checking in early, spending some time in a Spa Suite before a fabulous dinner and the Short North’s Gallery Hop before tucking into a wonderful night’s rest, followed by Eggs Benedict and fresh squeezed OJ. If you do, you might just see me there.

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

 

New Year, New Experiences: Part II – Marana, AZ

After a beautiful stay in Phoenix, we knew it would be hard to top that experience. We packed up in the Mustang (yes, I left TJ alone for 2 minutes in the rental car office and we went from compact to sports car), put the top down and headed south.  One of the most surprising things to me is the difference in landscape between Phoenix and Tucson. We left patches of green golf courses and palm trees for an arid, desert terrain, just two hours to the south.  We experienced for the first time what felt like a mirage. After a few hours of driving past cacti and lots of brown, out of nowhere sprung the signs for The Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain. Nestled tightly within Tortolina Mountains, sat the sprawling luxury 5 star resort that we would call home for another 3 nights.

The Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain - Marana, AZ

This resort was vastly different than the one we just came from. Dripping in luxury, sat sparkling pools and large open lounge spaces, all surrounded by mountains. The sun was blazing and it was lunchtime, so we made a beeline for the poolside restaurant, Turquesa. After a latin inspired lunch, we settled in to soak up the last few hours of warm, Arizona sun.

The Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain - Marana, AZWe checked into our room, only to be greeted by a beautiful view and a spread of desserts. (Someone knew there was a pregnant lady in this room!).  And the bathtub! OH! Readers, you must understand, when you have been unable to soak in a hot tub for months, a bathtub becomes your new best friend.  And one this big meant full submersion. Other room amenities included a dual headed shower, a Nespresso machine and the most perfect morning view of a sunrise, complete with a balcony.

The Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain - Marana, AZ

I made sure to spend every single morning sipping my morning tea with biscotti watching the sunrise, because that is something one doesn’t always have the luxury of doing.  Sunrise for me usually happens driving to work or on the weekends, I’ve already been up and at it for hours and it is long forgotten. Neither situation is ideal, so I made sure to enjoy it while I could.

On our first morning, we ventured out to explore the trails. The hotel is situated among 20+ miles of hiking and biking trails and you better believe I wasn’t going to miss out on that just because I was carrying a bowling ball! The concierge was a bit weary about sending us out on a trail, but eventually we were told there was an out-and-back just past the entrance that was a short, steady climb with a great view.  Little did he know, as soon as I saw that that trail connected to a more significant trail, we’d be gone for hours. We ended up hiking 2 miles that morning, snaking back and forth, up and down the mountain, taking in spectacular views of the area.

By the time we finished, I had definitely earned my lunch at the golf club.

We grabbed the hotel shuttle and headed over to The Golf Club at Dove Mountain, where our favorite on-site restaurant, Cayton’s Burger Bistro was located.  The restaurant sits on the edge of the course with breathtaking views, delicious burgers and a regular guest, a friendly little road runner. After lunch, we finally caught sight of the resort turtle, Rocky.  He was huge! And adorable.

The Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain - Marana, AZ

We spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the sun and enjoying the mountain views. In the evenings at Dove Mountain, there is an old tradition of playing fluted music from the mountain top, which is naturally broadcast throughout the canyon. On this particular night, we made sure to grab a seat by the fire and listen to the sounds of the flutist against the setting sun, before heading out to meet my cousin in downtown Tuscon at a great restaurant, Wild Garlic Grille.

The Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain - Marana, AZ

On our last full day at Dove Mountain.  TJ was itching to hit the golf course and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience my first full spa day. I have to admit that some of the best views at Dove Mountain, came from these one of a kind experiences. If you weren’t there to golf or hit the spa, there are plenty of other activities to take advantage of including guided hikes, mixology classes (we did this, it was delicious…even my virgin cocktail!) and great activities for kids.

The Golf Club @ Dove Mountain

The Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain - Marana, AZMy day at the spa was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.  The adults only, heated pool was PERFECT.  The pool at the spa was wedged into a side of the mountain, making guests feel surrounded by nature. My masseuse, Justin, was amazing and treated me to one of the best experiences of my pregnancy – a complicated contraption that allowed me to lay on my belly for my massage.  I spent the rest of the day lounging poolside, enjoying lunch from the spa menu. After a day like that, I finally understood why people *invest* in a spa day at luxury resorts.

After 3 exceptional days enjoying all of the amenities and luxuries the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain had to offer, it was time to head home.  Thank you to the staff here for wonderful food, impeccable service and the perfect way to end our babymoon. Until next time, Arizona…

The Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain - Marana, AZ

“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

The Snow Bird Life

Every December, I get a chance to flee the Ohio snow for something adventurous at our annual International Society of Hospitality Association Executives (ISHAE) Winter Summit.  Last year, TJ and I got to explore San Francisco and the Napa Valley, but since I’m not drinking as much wine these days (baby on board!) I was excited to have the opportunity to spend a few sunny days in Florida. One of the coolest parts of this annual excursion is that ISHAE does a fabulous job of showing off the country’s best hotels.  Travel with me to the Pink Palace… the Don CeSar on St. Pete Beach!

The Don, as we started to call it, is truly a masterpiece. Inspired by love and built by tears, you can’t help but feel the history seeping through the walls while you’re there.  Arriving at the Don is an experience in itself.  The entrance is a massive uphill driveway, delivering you to its impressive entrance, decked out at this time of year with a beautiful wreath.  (You know, on that note, I do always have some internal conflict about being in a warm place with Christmas decorations. It’s so confusing for me!)

Past the front doors, you’re greeted by warm smiles, more Christmas decorations and beautiful, classic decor.  I absolutely loved the chandeliers and lighting throughout the public space.  The glass orbs were hung just so to give the illusion of jellyfish! I followed the “jellyfish” to the doors across from the entrance leading out to the beach. How, oh how, was I supposed to sit in a conference room all day when this awaited on just the other side?

Pure torture.

And maybe that was the point?  The history of the Don leads you to believe it was built on something like that.  The Don’s designer, Thomas Rowe, was once madly in love. After careful plans to run away together finally came to a head, the love of his life, Lucinda, was swept off in the night by her family, claiming that this poor American boy was not good enough for her. Rowe was devastated. After years of writing to her and her family, he finally received a letter in return, containing her obituary.

In 1924, Rowe purchased land in St. Petersburg, FL where he built the Don CeSar that stands today, naming the property after the French play Don Cesar de Bezan.  This play was the basis for the opera Maritana, where he first fell in love with the female lead on stage…Lucinda.

When its doors opened in 1928, it quickly became the place to be.  Only open during January and February, the Don hosted guests such as Clarence Darrow, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Al Capone. Rowe loved his hotel and his staff, many of which were nearby neighbors, and they loved him.  They made it through the Great Depression by hosting the New York Yankees for spring training. Rumor has it, he agreed to serve the team steaks and milk every morning for breakfast!

Rowe poured his life into the hotel and the memories of his first love. So sadly, years later, when Rowe died quite suddenly in the lobby of the hotel, the property was left to his then estranged wife who let it fall into despair.  The US Army purchased the hotel during WWII and it became a military hospital and later a US Air Force convalescent center.  But of course, it didn’t function well as a hospital and eventually the property was abandoned.

In 1969 after the property was ordered to be raised, long loyal residents stepped in to save the Don CeSar. They found a hotelier who purchased the property and it reopened as a hotel in 1973. The Don is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was a founding member of Historic Hotels of America.

With all of the history, how can you not get swept up in the romance of it all? The renovations of this massive oceanfront hotel that have taken place since its reopening are nothing short of amazing.  The multiple pools, beachfront restaurant and bar are fabulous.   And like my favorite jellyfish light fixtures, the rooms also master elegance with tasteful, appropriate beach decor.

When you visit a resort like the Don, you’re never sure if the culinary efforts will match the price tag.  I was pleased to find that the food at the property far exceeded my expectations.  At one of our events, I even had a chance to have a new culinary experience.  Watch this!

And although I didn’t have the chance to relax at Spa Oceana, I was fortunate to spend a few sunny hours poolside before heading back to blustery Ohio.  And that, my friends, was absolutely worth it.

If you find yourself visiting Florida’s gulf coast, consider a meal, a spa treatment or an overnight at the Don CeSar. Since 1928, they’ve been wowing guests, and I don’t think you’ll be any different.

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

Grand Again in Downtown Toledo

With the coming of a new year, we will be welcoming loads of new hotels into the market in 2018.  The most exciting part for me is that the expanse is diverse – we’re seeing new independent properties, new brands and also new conversions.  One of the most anticipated conversions rounding out the end of 2017 happened a few months ago in downtown Toledo.  The new Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel has been brought back to its glory days with a complete overhaul and a new flag – Marriott.  If you haven’t made it to downtown Toledo since its opening early this fall, come along for a sneak peek with this week’s guest blogger, OHLA Executive Director, Joe!

A recent meeting of OHLA’s Northwest Ohio Lodging Council allowed me to stay as a guest of the new Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel, a first-class and exciting addition to this great city’s downtown hotel package.  This spectacular and monumental project brings a great upscale Marriott lifestyle brand into the site of the former Toledo Grand Plaza Hotel.

A complete-to-the-concrete $30 million renovation has resulted in a stylish and comfortable 13-story, 240 key property with 18,000 square feet of meeting space. This was shown to members of the public and special guests with great flair at the hotel’s grand opening celebration on Sept. 27.

The property takes design cues from the historic and hard-working city it serves. A prominent theme was Toledo’s role as the “Glass City.”  Entering through a prism doorway, guests are immediately presented with beautiful works from the Toledo Museum of Art.

The glass theme didn’t stop there. It was carried into the special experience the Renaissance created for the Grand Opening with a fun and funky blown-glass couture show, featuring a cadre of models who circulated among the guests throughout the event.

 

Similar touches permeate the property, from the unique flip-a-switch message board signage, to the dog tag-framed door numbers that give a nod to Toledo’s own Jamie Farr/Corporal Klinger, to the fashionable with a hint of industrial design lounge spaces.

One of my favorite things about Toledo is that it is home of the uniquely American icon, Jeep. As an unapologetic motorhead, I was blown away by the artwork which featured actual components of Jeep vehicles, and more subtle touches such as the elevator door pattern which is actually an authentic tire tread from the WWII-era Willys military jeep.

But those touches were topped with the inclusion of an authentic, vintage and near-mint condition military jeep on display right in the main lobby!

The first-floor Brim House restaurant was one of the favorite parts of my stay.

In addition to a great breakfast, the team was so welcoming and the location provided a comfortable, non-rushed place for me to catch up on messages before embarking on my day. The private dinning space features massive built-in wine racks, and a table that blended contemporary flair with Tudor castle grandeur.

The hotel’s rooms are immensely comfortable but also full of unique touches, including industrial-grade components repurposed for a more restful environment than they were originally employed.   The red iron hooks were a personal favorite and had me asking the FFE team where to place my order.

Drawing the most raves was the Renaissance’s new rooftop bar and dining experience, The Heights. This edge-to-edge venue provides true 360-degree views of the city and one of the most comfortable and usable rooftop environments I’ve seen. But it isn’t just about views.  The excellent service, top-notch food and drinks, and use of glassware from Toledo’s own Libbey Inc. made it a perfect end to a fabulous stay and off-the-chart opening event.

Congratulations to FHG President and CEO Robert Habeeb , General Manager Jeff Hassan and the entire Renaissance Toledo team for a successful opening and for all the success to come for many years.

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

Guest Blog: Beachfront Icon

I’m Megan, former OHLA intern! I know how busy the OHLA office can get and the team there has been on the road for two weeks straight. As any good former intern would, I thought I would lend a hand and tell you about a recent trip I made!

I’ve recently had the chance to explore the west coast. I am originally from Maine and I am no stranger to the coastline, but like many have told me and now I can confirm, the west coast is a different experience. I graduated from college in the spring and I am finally getting to travel more and now, I undeniably have the travel bug.

My trip began in San Francisco, where I was able to explore the bay area on foot. Which, by the way, I thought was impossible but 12 miles later, we did it. From there we traveled south down the Highway 1 to Big Sur and Monterey, then Venice Beach and finally San Diego. While we stayed in great places along the way, the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego was by far the most historic, luxurious and beautiful.

The Hotel Del Coronado opened in 1888 and resides on Coronado Island, right over the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, minutes from downtown. The

iconic red roof is the first thing you see when approaching the island. The grand entrance leads to a lobby of elegant original wood architecture met with a historic brass elevator and amazing service.

The Hotel Del Coronado had everything you could ever want when on vacation. Beach front, multiple pools and hot tubs, water activities, spa, five beachfront restaurants and bars and the famous Sunday brunch in the historic Crown Room (with a build your own donut bar!). We stayed in the King Resort room with a gorgeous view of the lush courtyard. Despite the cloudy day and breezy weather, we were able to enjoy the beach, pool, and hot tub before getting a front row beach view of the sunset.

My biggest thing I stress when I travel is making reservations. I spend a lot of time researching the best places to eat and drink, so I want to make sure I get to try them. Even when getting a bite in at home in Columbus, it’s always best practice to think ahead (I worked in the service industry for a long time..I know a few things!). So for our two Thursday night endeavors, I made reservations ahead of time in the Gaslamp Quarter at Searsucker and Noble Experiment.

Searsucker is upscale contemporary American fare restaurant, that featured lots of small plates (my favorite) and exquisite entrees. We devoured a savory beef tartar, a fresh salad with duck fat fries and shrimp and grits. The open kitchen, lively bar and rustic lighting was the perfect atmosphere for a relaxed dinner and a couple craft cocktails (pro tip: get the Moulin Rouge).

We made a quick pit-stop to try out a few more drinks at a bar our server recommended, Rustic Root. They had an extravagant roof top bar with a great view over Fifth Avenue and even better atmosphere. The gas fire pits, animal shaped bushes and street lamps on the roof showed character and gave a feel for the neighborhood.

The next stop is a hidden gem in the Gaslamp Quarter – literally hidden. In the back of the bar neighborhood, you’ll find a wall of beer kegs that turn out to be a large door. The Noble Experiment Speakeasy is a fine craft cocktail bar that focuses on providing personalized experiences and delicious drinks. Some friends recommended we check it out and we were not disappointed.

Their embossed 17th-century font menus featured classics and their takes on those classics. For the second round we went off menu and the bartender, Nathaniel, crafted us drinks based on what we like. We were not disappointed and even got a 10% OHIO discount!

Overall the biggest thing that stood out to me, besides the obviously beautiful view that Hotel Del Coronado offered, was the customer service. From the moment we pulled up to the Hotel Del Coronado, the staff was more than accommodating. The quick and easy bag service, fast, pain-free check-in, the friendly and helpful staff is what made our stay.

I highly recommend the Hotel Del Coronado if you’re heading to San Diego, I feel like it’s the only way to truly experience vacation. It also doesn’t hurt that San Diego was my favorite city on this trip, even though I spent the least time there. It has a lot to offer and I am eager to head back at some point to explore further!

Cheers!