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

Southwest Flights & Champagne

champagne southwest airline

In honor of the ever-amazing Southwest Airlines’s new branding launch (which if you haven’t checked it out yet, you totally should) I thought I might share a special memory from my absolute favorite Southwest flights – our honeymoon! I’ve flown with Southwest for many years now and always enjoyed their AMAZING customer service, but I think they went above and beyond this time.

Author’s note: I may or may not ever finish a honeymoon write up. I both do/don’t apologize.

Getting to our flight the day of the wedding was terrifying. We went straight from our reception to the airport, save for a quick stop at The Remedy Diner for photos on their awesome butterfly wall which almost made us miss our flight!

the remedy diner downtown raleigh wedding photography

Said photo and my outfit for the plane ride! I’d say it was worth it. Photo by Mikkel Paige Photography

As we arrived to our gate we realized that not only had we forgotten our passports (which has to be overnighted to us at our hotel since we were going on a cruise) but we had also forgotten to do the 24 hour check-in that I am always so on top of. Of course, we were heading to MCO and Disney so this flight was packed! Andrew was able to finagle us seats together though – one issue solved.

You might say I was a little dressed up for the flight. I was still wearing my reception dress, full makeup and hair, and apparently one of our flight attendants loved it so much she commented to me about it as we were boarding. I don’t generally like a lot of public attention so I quietly told her we had gotten married just a few hours earlier and were on our way to our honeymoon. She was SO excited and took down our names and when we’d gotten married.

While it was wonderful to have people I’ve always been envious of (I <3 Flight Crews, seriously get me the t-shirt) be excited that we had gotten married that morning, I definitely didn’t expect what happened at the end of our flight. As we were landing they made the usual -hilarious- “Welcome to Orlando” speech and then added that we had just gotten married that morning and everyone around us started clapping! I’m someone that can hardly handle the “Happy Birthday” song at a restaurant so I started turning red. Like, as red as my lipstick. Thank goodness it was dark!

As we began to disembark, the original flight attendant who had remarked on my hair/dress asked us to wait until everyone else had left the plane. She was so sweet and fun to talk to so it really was no trouble to sit a spell and chat. Next thing we knew though, there was an MCO crew member that presented us with the same bottle of champagne you see in the opening image! I could hardly believe what was happening. Turns out that mid-flight they had called the ground crew and asked them to have a bottle of champagne ready for when we landed!  I’ve always loved flying, planes, and especially Southwest, so for this to happen on what was a somewhat hard day was absolutely out of this world.

The whole experience was something that I still pinch myself over and am so appreciative of.Southwest’s rebrand really seems to be driving home the fact that they care as much about their passengers as they do about their employees. Their coloring has been freshened and strengthened, two words that I really think applies to this rebranding. And as much as I will miss their old heart logo, I love the simplicity of their new “heart”. It’s instances like this that really show you when your company has heart, your employees feel it and pass it on. Certainly, it’s an amazing outlook to have and one that all companies should really -don’t groan, please!- take to heart.  Have you ever had an amazing experience with Southwest or another company?

Wishing you many bottles poppin’,

Shantelle

Hotel Crush: Four Seasons Orlando

I have stayed in a LOT of Orlando hotels. Like an embarrassing amount. Especially for someone who used to call the area home and live not too far outside it in Davenport, I think the number is a little too high for sanity. Saying all that (and finally coming clean about my mini-addiction to trying new hotels and finding favorites that I never stay at again because, like, hello, HOTELS) there are still hotels that pop up in the gorgeous city. Located right outside the Walt Disney World Resort in Golden Oak is the new and amazing Four Seasons Orlando.
four seasons orlando

via Four Seasons Orlando

Now, you want to talk about crushes? I’m a little blushy just talking about this hotel. The exterior is absolutely amazing. There’s a total of five, yes 5, water features: an adult pool, a family pool, splash zone, lazy river (!!!), and a water slide. Let me remind you, this is the hotel, not Typhoon Lagoon. I totally get if swimming/private-ish pools aren’t your thing though. Don’t worry, they’ve got you covered. Four Seasons Orlando has tennis courts, a golf course (because having to share golf courses at Disney is so passé), and the ultra amazing Explorer Island. Sorry kiddos, you’re on your own because Mommy & Daddy have to go discover how good this cocktail tastes next to the outdoor fireplace.
four seasons orlando

I want my own teepee! –via For Seasons Orlando Facebook/Instagram

However, not only is the Four Seasons Orlando a looker on the outside, she’s got a heart made of gold (or to be more precise, soft fabrics and relaxing colors). I can’t even look at the accommodations page with the regular rooms without drooling a little, let alone look at their suites (of which they have 7 ridiculously beautiful options and a top floor buyout…yeah let me just get my checkbook)! The hotel offers regular rooms within the view categories of Park, Lake, and Golden Oak Views, with a fourth category of Four Seasons Rooms which does not offer a view. I’d love to see shots of the views you can get from those rooms, but I guess I’ll just have to wait to see myself!
four seasons orlando

via Four Seasons Orlando Facebook

More than likely if you’re getting a room here you’re looking to spend some time at Disney. Obviously you’ll have an amazing time there, but the Disney magic doesn’t stop just because you leave the parks. The Four Seasons is one of the few hotels that offer the In-Room Celebrations from Disney Floral & Gifts and having received different celebrations from them I can tell you, they’re worth the cost. The hotel also offers transportation to the parks, merchandise delivery, and even an on-site character breakfast with an included photo!
As if it couldn’t get ANY cooler (and I couldn’t get any nerdier), their social media/PR people are amazing. I follow their Instagram (and twitter…and facebook) and it’s so fun to watch their posts and how they interact! It’s pretty rare for a brand to really “get” how to interact with people and still keep a good face and interesting content – Four Seasons Orlando gets it! Take a look at some of the jaw-dropping instagrams they’ve shared:
four seasons orlando instagram

via Four Seasons Orlando Instagram (fsorlando)

Overall, I’m in love. I’d apologize to Andrew but I think he’s just as in love with this hotel as I am after I showed him the research I’ve done for this post (easier to rationalize the trip, yay!). I am so ready to book my room – if only I didn’t have my DVC hotel booked for a trip in November! I guess I’ll just have to find another reason to get down there another time ;)

Wishing you Instagram-worthy hotels,

Shantelle