Hotel Crush: Cedar Crest Inn Asheville

Y’all, I AM GOING TO ASHEVILLE ON THURSDAY! This morning, I was informed by the dude that we are going back to one of my faves for two nights as a surprise getaway. I might have started scrambling my words a little and being a little TOO happy because WHY WOULDN’T I? Since my jitters have worn down I’m finally able to bring you a -now- special Hotel Crush. Granted we’re not staying here (we’re going back to old faithful aka the Red Roof Inn Asheville West) but one day I reallyreallyreally hope we get to. No, it isn’t the Inn on Biltmore (*drool*), or the Grand Bohemian (which has the amazing Red Stag Grill and the coolest driveway ever), or even the Grove Park Inn. It’s Cedar Crest Inn Asheville, a beautifully appointed 1891 Queen Anne Victorian mansion that is less than ten minutes to both the Biltmore Estate and Downtown Asheville.

asheville nc cedar crest inn hotel crush

via Cedar Crest Inn

I stumbled across Cedar Crest Inn when I was trying to plan Andrew’s 29th birthday surprise. I was automatically sucked in by their Queen Anne Bedroom, which is arguably one of the most beautiful guest rooms I’ve ever seen. However the sumptuous pretty doesn’t stop there. The other guest rooms (and even separate cottages and stables suites) are just as gorgeous. I’m also partial to the Page Bedroom, whose wallpaper I want to steal, and Serenity Suite, which has the amazing benefit of its own private veranda and entrance.

asheville nc cedar crest inn hotel crush

via Cedar Crest Inn

But we’re not going to a B&B mansion just for the rooms right? Well, ok maybe we are. But when there is a fireplace that I wouldn’t mind taking up residence in (when it’s not lit) I think I’ll leave the room for a while. Since it’s a B&B they also offer delicious breakfast that isn’t at a specific seating (YAY) and nightly desserts. Which is pretty much just enough information to get me drooling anyways, considering the delicious photos on their Tour page.

asheville nc cedar crest inn hotel crush

via Cedar Crest Inn

While there isn’t too much information on a nightly milk and cookies hour or other nightly/daily activities, I have to applaud them. Many times I come across websites that are run by individuals that have little more than an address and phone number. However the team at Cedar Crest Inn knows exactly what buzz words to use in the descriptions of their inn to get someone excited. Or at least excited if they’re a lover of old architecture and gorgeous wood. They’ve done an excellent job of detailing their beautiful slice of the past…and I just love that their copy is so honest and happy about the inn. It’s probably as a result of their cheery pink exterior (so similar to another one of my hotel crushes)!

This place has to be one of my biggest crushes yet, probably because it’s one of the most attainable. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a little piece of history that has all the modern amenities? Anyone? Bueller?

Wishing you that thing that’s above the Queen Anne bed because it’s so pretty,

Shantelle

Hotel Crush: Madonna Inn

I’ve never been to California but that doesn’t stop me from planning my daydreamin’ trips out west. The hotel featured for today’s crush is one that has made me weak in the knees since I first saw that oh-so-pink dining room and the ridiculously awesome/simultaneously kitschy rooms. The Madonna Inn, located in San Luis Obispo, CA is a gem of unknown quality. I saw unknown because I can’t even decide which of the 110 differently themed rooms I’d want to stay in first.

One of my absolute favorite things about the Madonna Inn is how much (and well) they’ve run with their “Think Pink” branding (bonus points for y’all if you remember/adore/have vaguely heard of this movie!). Their signature cake is even named Pink Champagne because, well, pink! I’m a little fluttery thinking about all the PINK. Their dining room, the Gold Rush Steakhouse, has nothing to do with gold and EVERYTHING to do with pink too. You’ll think you died and went to a 50s/60s glamorously kitschy aesthetic heaven.

Photo via Madonna Inn Facebook

Photos via Madonna Inn Facebook

For simpler bites than Gold Rush, they also have Copper Cafe, the Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge (again, nothing to do with Silver), and if you’re just craving one of their perfect confectioneries to take back to the room or home they have a Bakery with their sweet treats!

madonna inn san luis obispo silver bar cocktail lounge

Photo via Madonna Inn Facebook – Reason enough to visit

Before getting really cozy in some of these rooms, lets talk about how the exterior is clearly fused with an awesomeness concoction of adorable whimsy and super bright colors. The Terrace Pool & Fitness Center/Bar is located right outside the Madonna Inn Spa – a totally perfect placement. With the pool and fitness center being located on a hilltop I might actually be encouraged to work out! Hahahahahahahahaahahah ok but for real, I would definitely be persuaded to spend a little time in the Spa or swimming. I mean, a vacation shouldn’t include your health, right?

madonna inn san luis obispo spa pool fitness center

Photo via Madonna Inn Facebook

I went through all 110 rooms just to give you a sampling of how dreamy they are. The rooms range in themes from the quintessentially elegant Austrian Suite, to the just-as-bright-as-its-namesake Madonna Suite (which includes a rock formation bathroom!!), to the slightly understated but over the top fun that is the Old Mill room! If their pillows are as comfortable as their rooms are exciting, I expect I’ll end up staying in every room (who needs a retirement fund anyways, right?).

madonna inn san luis obispo guest room suites

Photo via Madonna Inn Facebook

The Madonna Inn might be classified as over the top, dated, and campy but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Most of my personal crush is based completely on those three words pouring out of every part of the inn. Every part (that I can see through photos, mind you!) screams development by people who weren’t afraid to go against the grain of standard white sheets, white walls, and all around bland decor. They went outside the “box” with the inn and I couldn’t be blushier about it. So, dear reader, have you found any hotels that speak to your soul lately?

Wishing you so much pink you need pepto (did I say pink enough in this post?),

Shantelle

PS – while researching the inn’s location I found out it’s smack dab in the middle of Disneyland and the Walt Disney Family Museum. Can anyone say road trip??

How to Book the Perfect Hotel

morrison-clark inn washington DC

Me being smug in the perfect hotel.

I absolutely love hotels and I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in some pretty amazing ones. I often hear from family and friends that I always pick the “right” hotel. They say that whenever they’ve picked one it never ends up measuring up to what they expected, or missed a key detail they needed, or was just plain gross. Of course, this is not luck – it takes quite a few steps to ensure that I’m not booking myself into the next Bates Motel. Well, I’m here to help (I hope!) with some tips on how to book the perfect hotel for your next and future trips!

My Process

1. Location is king. I start with what might be considered the simplest step: figuring out where I need to be at. This might seem pretty straight-forward but I don’t mean just typing in the city you want to be in. You need to first narrow down the places that you HAVE to go to. If you need to spend time at a conference center in Toronto, you don’t want to try and book a room near Montreal because you’ll be going there one day out of a 7 day trip. Choose the “base camp” of where you’ll be at for the biggest chunk of the trip and search in that area.

2. Work within your budget. I have seen too many people (myself included) look at the beautiful hotels that are 3x your available budget, get frustrated, and just book whatever cheap hotel they came across next. This is a recipe for disaster. So before you start looking at the Ritz and Plaza’s of the world, choose only the pricing options within your budget. I generally use Expedia to find my hotels, however almost any site will have pricing options with the rest of their filter choices. Use these and find that you shed less tears for having not seen that amazing indoor pool with a freaking palace ceiling above it (I’ve blocked the hotel I saw this at because frankly, my dear, I give too much of a damn).

3. Narrow down the options. Now that you’ve chosen the hotels that will work for your location and within your budget, look at the ones remaining. Do you need to have (or feel that hotels should include because it’s 2014 and we aren’t heathens) free wifi? Do you need cheap/free/any parking close to the hotel? Does it need to be near a dry cleaner for the dress you spilled mustard on from that amazing hot dog you just HAD to have from the sidewalk vendor? Eliminate those that don’t have what you need no matter how pretty they are. All done? Good job! You’ve now narrowed down hotels to those that will meet your basic needs.

4. NOW look at the pretty. Check the hotel’s photos and reviews with not only the website you’re surfing to book through, but also TripAdvisor. If you do nothing else I recommend, USE TRIPADVISOR! I have rarely been let down by the reviews and photos posted on this site. And hey, if the extra pretty hotel is in your budget go for it. If it’s not, and you won’t be spending much time at the hotel anyways, don’t go for it. Pay attention to key points in reviews – is it perfect for a one night stay or a week? Are the beds comfortable or hard? Loud or quiet halls? These all feed into the hotel being Mr. Right or Mr. Not Even For One Night.

5. Check the mobile app of the site you use. So, you’ve chosen the location, the price, the amenities, the pretty, and now all you need to do is book the perfect hotel through the web, right? Nope! There are absolutely great deals to be had online at any given moment, however a little known fact of deals is checking your chosen website’s mobile app. As I said, I use Expedia and I’ve found offers for mobile booking. You may get extra points which can get you to higher rewards or you might get a crazy awesome discount. I’ve booked a $400/night hotel for around $189/night. That’s exactly how I planned a weekend at the Omni Shoreham in DC back in April. Nothing more than double checking the rate I found.

From that point on you should be pretty solid in the decision you’ve made and all you have left to do is send your new booking to your Kayak “My Trips” account and wait! I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t a foolproof method but it has rarely disappointed. Do you have any tips or tricks for how to book the perfect hotel?

Wishing you a myriad of mobile-only deals,

Shantelle

Taking Advantage of TripAdvisor

omni shoreham washington DC

I lovelovelovelovelovelove TripAdvisor. Like, that’s not enough loves mentioned to describe how much I adore it. I’ve used it for quite a number of years now and it has rarely let me down. Yes, it mostly just hosts other people’s reviews and photos but it also gives people “rewards” for posting, tells you if you’re a high ranking reviewer in your area (I may or may not be in the top 1% of reviewers in Raleigh *insert weirdly haughty feeling here*), and gives you the honest reviews of places so you avoid being duped by the same place someone else was. In an ode to my beloved TripAdvisor, I thought I would post my biggest tips to taking advantage of their amazing service: placing you in the perfect hotel (or in the TripAdvisorHotel, if you listen to their current ads).

Reviews

  • Pay attention to the actual review content. Does the reviewer give a one-star review? Why? If it’s because the hotel didn’t have additional toiletries I’d say it’s undeserving and to move on to the next review. Do be cautious if you find a review that’s a little too glow-y. I haven’t seen this issue on TripAdvisor personally, but there have been reports of fake reviews being posted by the hotels trying to take advantage of the situation.
  • If people say the hotel is perfect for a one night stay or it’s great for such-and-such reason, it’s probably true. Don’t stay at the “Perfect for Overnight Stay” hotel if you need it for a week. Alternatively, don’t spend the extra money on a hotel that is “A True Getaway!” if you need to be there in between 10 hour drives. You’ll likely be disappointed somehow.

Photos

  • Check the dates of the photos uploaded. You might have come across a hotel that looks absolutely gorgeous…in one photo. If you don’t check the dates you could be signing yourself up for the place that started beautifully and then had a troll come through and wreck every room. It also drove housekeeping out of town so it’s rarely cleaned and the sheets have stains. On the other hand, if you find quite a number of bad photos (bugs, dirty sheets, etc) and discount that hotel solely on that, you could be missing out. A hotel that had issues like this can go a few years without updated traveler photos because of those older ones but have since renovated/had new management and it’s the best deal out there.
  • Look for the bathroom. This might sound really weird, but the first photos I look for when checking out a potential hotel are the bathroom pics. You can have the nice beds, the beautifully appointed room, a flat screen TV, but if you have a rank bathroom it won’t happen. Kind of like dating. It’s that one thing that really needs to be on point but isn’t and it’s exactly why you don’t call after the first date (unless you’re doing online dating which choosing a hotel is much more similar to…just forgive the metaphor).

General

  • Post reviews and photos yourself! It doesn’t take more than a few moments to snap some shots when you come into the room and then upload them to the TripAdvisor mobile app. You can even publish your hopefully glowing review of the hotel as well from the app!
  • If people say the hotel is perfect for a one night stay, it’s in your price range, in the right location, but not the prettiest, don’t count it out. If you’re actually looking for a one night stay and won’t be spending a lot of time onsite then there isn’t much of a reason to spend extra money on getting that super fancy place. Save it for a trip when you’ll be able to savor the gorgeous surroundings, rather than not even get to peek at the pool.

Having said all of that, in the end, go with your gut. I’ve chosen hotels that were not towards the top end of the #__ out of #___ in Said City, USA and been overwhelmingly happy. Take the Morrison-Clark Historic Inn: it’s probably the BEST hotel I’ve stayed at but the TA reviews don’t necessarily indicate that. People have different preferences and needs, so what’s best for someone else isn’t necessarily best for you. In the end, at least take a peek at the TripAdvisor before booking that perfect “OMG Never Going to Leave!” hotel ;)

Wishing you beautiful bathrooms,

Shantelle

PS – You also get badges for reviews so I’m not saying you should post reviews but…you should totally post reviews.

tripadvisor badges

Choosing a Walt Disney World Hotel | Travel Tuesday

Pretty much anyone that knows me in real life knows that I love Disney. I don’t mean the movies (those are great too, though), I mean Walt Disney, his parks, and finding out basically anything I can about the history and future of the parks. Something that I’m always asked by people that know this about me is “Can you help me planning a trip to Walt Disney World?” They don’t realize how loaded a question this is until it’s 15 minutes later and they’re suddenly totally overwhelmed!

I LOVE discussing what goes into planning and also just straight up planning a trip for someone- especially for a Disney trip. I’ll be starting this ongoing series regarding different aspects of planning a trip to Disney as part of my favorite day: Travel Tuesday!

Disney can be E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E. In another post we’ll discuss different ways to keep your budget in check while at Disney World, but for now we’ll start with my favorite subject: hotels! Choosing a Walt Disney World hotel to stay at can be overwhelming since there are SO many options, but I’ll try to stay simple and go with my favorites and why I like them. A quick overview of the benefits of staying at an on-site hotel:

  • Use of Disney Transportation, which for the most part is one of the most efficient transportation systems I’ve ever used.
  • Utilizing Disney’s Magical Express, a hotel to airport transportation service that will get you from MCO to your Disney hotel for free!
  • You are able to use “Extra Magic Hours” which allows you to either enter the park early or stay after hours with only other resort guests. It’s a major benefit.
  • My personal favorite reason: you’re trapped ensconced in the bubble of Disney Happy Mode for your full trip.

Regardless of your budget, even if it’s small, staying at a massive theme park doesn’t mean that you’ll have to be in a dinky hotel room that’s ugly, kind of smelly, and hasn’t been updated since the 80’s. Disney has made sure to provide great accommodations at all budget levels. I should know – I’ve stayed at all levels of resorts there!  Let’s take a look at my favorites for each budget.

Pop Century at night

Value Resort (starting at $90-$110/night): POP Century
Unlike the other value resorts (excluding Art of Animation, which looks awesome but I haven’t stayed at yet), POP seems to have retained the kooky “funness” of the value resorts without feeling overcrowded with kids. Let’s be honest – I’m generally a solo traveller and while kids are great, after a long day in the parks I don’t want to hear them running around outside my room or yelling. If you’re as the same mindset as me, just remember to request a room that isn’t next to the pool. The food court here is SO great, the best out of the value ones I’ve visited, and they have TIE-DYE CHEESECAKE soooo yeah. Just try it.

Port Orleans French Quarter

Moderate Resort (starting around $170/night): Port Orleans French Quarter
This was the hardest choice. Disney has AMAZING moderate resorts so I don’t honestly think you’ll be disappointed with any of them. The theming at French Quarter was completely on point, it was a wonderful place to walk around at night (although it’s sister resort, Port Orleans Riverside, was awesome too for that purpose, but other than a leisurely stroll the walking was a bit extreme), food court was amazing, and the cast members were great! Now, Disney is known for it’s customer service but there were people at the French Quarter that always seemed to go above and beyond! I’ve found that beds at the moderate resorts are my favorite, they seem to be the most comfortable too. Plus, beignets at the food court? How can you beat that!

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Deluxe Resort/Deluxe Resort Villas (starting at $284/night): Animal Kingdom Lodge
I have to add a disclaimer to this: if I were choosing based on everything other than bus service, I’d choose Boardwalk Inn/Villas ALL THE WAY! However, every time we needed a bus there was an extreme wait. At one point we waited over hours for a bus from Downtown Disney and then it took almost an hour to get back to Boardwalk. If you’re renting a car for your trip, I would recommend Boardwalk. But for those of us that like to use Disney Transportation (or just don’t want to rent a car/are a taurus and have little patience for waiting), Animal Kingdom Lodge is amazing. Jambo or Kidani (which are the names of the different “houses” you can stay at) are great places and you won’t be disappointed with either in my opinion, but get a savannah view if you can!! It is absolutely worth the cost. The Mara (food court) is my favorite out of any food court on property and they make one mean chicken salad (with chickpeas…oh dear, I’m hungry). And since I can’t review something without mentioning the best dessert, get the zebra domes from the Mara. You’ll thank me and then go back for more.

Being human though, all these factors don’t stop me from staying at hotels other than my favorites and wanting to explore other spots. My real “home” is the Grand Floridian. I honestly think it’s the most beautiful hotel (especially the villas) and when we first bought in as DVC members there I was jumping with excitement! We’ve had issues when staying there but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to go again (and again and again) because even though logically I know there are better hotels, I love that place like home. Like, look at how close it is to the Magic Kingdom. This shot is from the Kingdom’s front steps!

Grand Floridian

I’m so excited to share the next part of the series with you, but it’ll have to wait for now – you’ve got enough to read in this post and links to click to hold you over I’m sure!

Enjoy planning,

Shantelle