Tagged hotels

Hotels in Chicago: Places to Stay and Play

The view from Cerise at the Virgin Chicago.
The view from Cerise at the Virgin Chicago.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Chicago is one of those cities where you can find a perfect blend of old and new; modern and traditional; super luxe and tastefully simple. I’d like to think these dualities are also found in Chicago’s food, people, neighborhoods and hotels. I decided to take a solo trip to Chicago where I wasn’t going to meet up with a group of friends and colleagues, or travel with girlfriends or my main squeeze. This trip was perfectly timed so that I could clear my head after turning in some crazy projects at the office and also reflect on personal relationships and whatnot.

I visited Chicago right before the start of the warm season and found hotels that not only offered comfy places to rest my head after touring the city, but also offered enough amenities on-site where I’d actually want to just chill out and enjoy the property. All three of these hotels are situated among the hustle of the city, but also offer nooks and crannies where I could just get away and forget I was in a major metropolitan area. If you’re looking for hotels in Chicago that are perfect for the young at heart or the business person who wants to add some extra excitement to their accommodations, look no further.

For the hip, tech-savvy crowd

I was initially intrigued by the Acme Hotel Company when I started reading about how this property made news with all of its in-room gadgets and techy toys. Oh, and these guys are also touting the fact that they’re the first hotel ever to offer Google Glass to guests who book directly with them. Whether you’re an international traveler or just more cognizant about how much data your smartphone is using, you’ll absolutely love the fact that you can ask for a Hotspot To-Go so that no matter where you are, you’ll always be connected while a guest at the hotel. This perk is only offered to guests who book a room directly so make sure to keep this in mind if you plan on using a third-party vendor to book your stay.

And if that wasn’t enough gadgets to keep you connected, you can now borrow an Apple Watch from the front desk during your stay!

Located in the River North neighborhood and just a couple blocks away from the Mag Mile, the Acme is a great place for guests of all ages. My room was the perfect hideaway when I had to take a couple conference calls and it was also walking distance from some awesome Chicago eateries. My room had all kinds of smart TV hookups, both Apple and PC hookups, wireless audio systems, and super fast Wifi. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the adorable bathroom with the lipstick neon light. So freaking cool.

If you’re looking for hotels in Chicago with all of the conveniences, the Acme offers one of the coolest morning coffee services. I ordered my coffee service the night before with my specific delivery time and the cutest coffee thermos showed up at my doorstep in the morning. There’s no more putting on of real clothes to go to the hotel lobby to retrieve your caffeine, or having to fumble with an in-room coffee maker. You have your own thermos! (Just don’t forget to leave it behind everyday, or you will get charged extra.) Also, don’t forget to bring workout clothes and your bathing suit because the caged gym (yes, caged!) and hot tub are definitely worth checking out.

The Berkshire Chicago
Grab a seat at the Berkshire and booze it up with locals.

The hotel’s bar, The Berkshire Room, is definitely not one to miss. I grabbed a nightcap after checking in on the first night and I highly recommend going for the Dealer’s Choice (where you tell your bartender the spirit, flavor profile and glassware you want) and ordering up a couple light bites. The hotel’s cafe, West Town Bakery, offers coffee, pastries, sandwiches and snacks to get you through the day when you’re not stuffing your face with pizza, beef sandwiches and hot dogs from Portillo’s.

This art installation might catch you off guard if you're not expecting it.
This art installation might catch you off guard if you’re not expecting it.

Although the pièce de résistance might be the hidden art installation which is only seen if you have an interior room. Ten painted mannequins, which resemble colorful flying trapeze artists, are suspended from different heights and it’s absolutely beautiful. If you have a room facing the window, ask one of the front desk workers if you can get a peek of this thing. The juxtaposition of color and brick is definitely something you want to ask about.

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For the business professional who really knows how to play

I’m a very loyal customer of Virgin America so when I found out that their only hotel was in Chicago, there’s no way I would have missed spending a couple nights at the property. The Virgin Hotel, located right in the Loop, is one of those hotels in Chicago that is designed for the traveler who needs to get a little bit of work down during the day and who wants to party at sun down.

Get some work done at the Library with a coffee or a cocktail.
Get some work done at the Library with a coffee or a cocktail.
Commons Club at Virgin Hotel Chicago
Just one of the many seating areas at the Commons Club.
ommons Club at the Virgin Chicago
An adult-sized swing greets you as you enter the Commons Club at the Virgin Chicago.

I can’t say enough nice things about this place. The check-in was super easy, the service was impeccable, but the best part of the hotel is its communal areas. If you’re trying to get some work done while traveling, make sure to find a spot on the second floor at The Commons Club. One side of the floor is where you can belly up to the bar for a cocktail (did I mention there’s a daily hosted social hour where the hotel picks up the bill?!). But the other side offers a library with plush seating, outlets, desks and all kinds of nooks where you can take phone calls, hold meetings and have a quiet space to get work done.

I was lucky enough to stay at the property on one of the warmest nights of the month so it’s no wonder why the rooftop bar, Cerise, was going off. Apparently there was a line to get up to Cerise in the lobby, but the DJ was starting up, craft cocktails were pouring, and the crowds were thoroughly enjoying the weather and the company.

Virgin Hotel shower
Shower buddies and awesome bath products found inside the shower at the Virgin Hotel.

The guestrooms at the Virgin Hotel were so incredibly comfortable. The linens, the huge bathroom, the dressing room, the adorable messages, coffee station and everything were perfect. Drinks and snacks in the mini bar were actually priced the same as any other convenience store so it was a godsend not getting charged up the wazoo for items. And don’t forget to download the Virgin Hotel app to order room service from anywhere on the property, set your room’s temperature, communicate with concierge, and more.

For the person who really just wants luxury

Thompson Chicago
The view from the room at the Thompson Chicago.

I’ve stayed at luxury hotels all over the place and it’s definitely a treat and vacation all on its own. There’s nothing like opulence in your guestroom and five star service and the Thompson Chicago sets the bar pretty high. Located in the Gold Coast neighborhood aka Viagra Triangle (Google it!), The Thompson is perfectly perched in the middle of amazing restaurants, shopping and people watching. I was only able to spend one night at the hotel at the end of my trip, but I definitely found myself not wanting to leave. Rather, I spent most of my time in pajamas enjoying the amazing King-sized bed and stellar city views from my Superior Cityview room.

Salone Nico Chicago
I could have spent the entire day and night at Salone Nico.

Upon check-in, I received a couple drink vouchers to use at the hotel bar, Salone Nico. Just steps away from the check-in desk lies the most beautiful hotel bar I’ve ever seen. Salone Nico has an impressive cocktail list, but what’s even more impressive is the actual design of the bar. An entire living wall makes up for the main centerpiece of the space, along with a second level that overlooks the bar and its patrons. Velvet seating, dim lighting, light bar bites, I mean, how could you go wrong? I found myself hanging out at Salone Nico in the morning and evening and you’ll probably find yourself doing the same.

The service at the Thompson was bar none. I wanted to explore the hotel and lobby late at night and enjoyed conversation with the concierge for awhile. We chatted for close to 30 minutes about places I should walk to for coffee and lunch the next day and it honestly felt like I was just chatting with a friend.

While food, tours, shopping and drinking are plentiful, staying at amazing hotels in Chicago might have been my favorite part of my stay. Not only did I find time for leisure and relaxation at each of these properties, but all three of these places offered their own special perks and amenities crafted by their own distinct design and style.

Thank you to all of these hotels who really rolled out the red carpet!

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What to do and where to stay in Hawaii

Written by and photos by Michael A.

Are you figuring out what to do and where to stay in Hawaii? Here’s the perfect guide to your Hawaiian adventure for both the thrillseeker and the maxin’ and relaxin’ type of vacationer.

Exploring the Hilo Side of Big Island

Where to stay while Visiting Volcanoes National Park: Volcano Mist Cottage

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Beautiful and comfortable private outdoor seating area with easy to start fireplace while you listen to the beautiful calls of the rainforest
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Outdoor seating
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Outdoor Shower
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Your view as you wake up to the peaceful sounds of the rainforest
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Indoor electric fireplace in your living room
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Full kitchen for those of you who like to cook
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Bathrobes for that true vacation feel

Look at these pictures!!!! Talk about three perfect days in Volcano Village! Volcano Mist Cottage makes you feel like you’re in a private massage and spa treatment sanctuary for your entire stay. Volcano Mist Cottage is one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed. Situated a mere seven minute drive from Volcanoes National Park and only five minutes from local restaurants, this is the perfect place to stay when visiting this side of the island. Although many of you are familiar with both Kona and Hilo on the Big Island, the main reason people go to the “Hilo side” is to check out Volcanoes National Park because there really isn’t all that much to do in Hilo itself. If you were to stay in Hilo, the national park is about an hour away. You won’t want to spend the time driving each day so try to stay closer to the park. With that being said, there really aren’t too many hotels near the park (I mean very slim pickings). So, you’ll end up at a B&B or something on the smaller side. Read more

Rad hotels in Portland — Take a peek at my favorites

Written by Nadia Ibanez

Portland is one of those cities that I’ve been so eager to learn more about, especially since it’s only two hours away by plane. From what I’ve seen on that silly Portlandia show, to all of the amazing shots coming from the #eatPDX Instagram feed, Portland has been on my mind for months. I finally got the chance to explore the city and made it my job to eat everything in sight and stay at the coolest spots. If you’re planning a trip to PDX, I highly suggest you check out my guide to some of coolest hotels in Portland.

Before you even start planning all of your meals or make reservations at all of the restaurants you’ve been salivating over, lock down your hotel reservations. There are pockets of trendy restaurants, food carts, arts districts and shopping scattered all across the city of Portland so find a hotel in the middle of everything you want to see.

For a hip, party vibe with a dash of live music

Jupiter Hotel
This place is SO Instagram worthy. Photo courtesy of the Jupiter Hotel.

The Jupiter Hotel is located on the Eastside of PDX, walking distance from amazing restaurants, shopping, strip clubs, coffee shops and so much more. The Jupiter offers everything that I could want from a boutique hotels in Portland: Locals working the front desk who can give you the inside scoop on restaurant and entertainment recommendations; quirky decor in all of the rooms, a super rad music venue next door, and a perfect location.

And not to mention their extremely affordable rates. If you’re partying in the area and need a place to stay, available rooms are only $99 if you try and book after midnight.

Centrally located on East Burnside Ave., the Jupiter is a party in itself. You can stay at the Jupiter and within the blocks around the property and have the best time ever. From breweries, highly acclaimed restaurants, strip clubs and everything in between, I guarantee you’ll find a way to occupy yourself.

Jupiter Hotel condoms
Props to the Jupiter Hotel for thinking of everything…

During our stay, an art show featuring local artists was held in the lobby while live music played nearly every night at the neighboring Doug Fir Lounge. Rooms are spacious, uniquely decorated and you can even personalize your space with the chalkboard-painted door. Cheeky additions to the nightstand include ear plugs and condoms (because rumor has it that the Jupiter is where, let’s stay, the sex positive come and play).

If you’re looking for a super quiet place to rest your head while traveling through PDX, this might not be your best choice. Although, ask the front desk for a “chill” room when you book as these books are slightly away from the hotel lobby and bar hi jinx. But when you’re in Portland for the weekend, who has time to sleep anyway?

For a beautiful place to treat yourself and your honey

I absolutely love all of the Kimpton Hotel properties I’ve ever stayed at or visited. They’re always beautifully designed yet somehow have their own distinct styles. There are three Kimpton properties in Portland and we had the absolute pleasure of spending an evening at Hotel Vintage in downtown Portland.

If you’re looking for a hotel in Portland with spacious and luxurious guestrooms, a full bar, game room, a nightly hosted wine hour, live music, bike rentals, and restaurant, the Hotel Vintage is your one-stop shop. We checked in on a Saturday afternoon and missed the hosted wine hour by a hair. The front desk graciously gave us drink tickets to use at the bar, so keep this in mind if you’re planning on a late check in.

Hotel Vintage PDX
Stick around the lobby at the Hotel Vintage in downtown Portland for a hosted wine hour and live music on the weekends.

If we didn’t have dinner reservations, I’m fairly certain we would have spent our entire night at the hotel. Live music was playing from the lobby bar from 6-8 p.m., guests were tapping into their inner child at  the game room, and the entire hotel was bustling with energy. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, this spot is such a fun place to check out.

Our room was AMAZING. Make sure you sign up for the Kimpton rewards program, Karma, for some extra perks. Our King Suite was enormous and was so warm and cozy that we had some serious problems leaving our room. We could have seriously hosted our own party with the amount of square footage in our suite.

Hotel Vintage Portland lobby
You might just find that you’ll check into Hotel Vintage Portland and then never actually leave the property. There’s so much fun to be discovered here. Photo courtesy of Hotel Vintage.

If you do find yourself leaving the bed, spend some time at the hotel bar, Bacchus Bar. Our bartender poured us some stiff drinks and he proudly took our drink vouchers from earlier. If you get hungry, the hotel’s Pazzo Ristorante will satisfy your pasta and pizza needs.

There are some great bars and restaurants that are walking distance from the Vintage, not to mention Mary’s and Voodoo Doughnut. Once you get your fair share of vices and sin, Hotel Vintage will be a wonderful refuge.

For a history lesson in Portland rock and roll

Portland is no stranger to great musicians and music venues and the Crystal Hotel perfectly glorifies rock and roll from generations before us and today. The McMenamin brothers, Mike and Brian, started their business in the brewing industry before trying their hands at transforming historic buildings into amazing hotels. The Crystal Hotel, located across the street from the legendary Crystal Ballroom, is in a rad flatiron building with 51 guestrooms inspired by previous bands who’ve played at the Ballroom.

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If these walls could talk…at McMenamins Crystal Hotel in Downtown Portland.

We stayed in the Flogging Molly room, which was beautifully decorated in their music lyrics, but if you’re lucky, you’ll score a night in the Grateful Dead or Marvin Gaye rooms. There’s a bit of a hip hostel vibe here and most rooms share communal bathrooms on each floor so keep this in mind while you’re looking for hotels in Portland.

Crystal Hotel pool
Grab a robe from your closet and bring a local brew down to the underground soaking pool at the Crystal Hotel.

The Crystal Hotel is definitely something you need to see in person. They’ve got all kinds of amenities like their own restaurant, Zeus Cafe; their own line of coffee, which is brewed every morning; a rad below ground bar and music venue called Al’s Den; and an underground, saltwater soaking pool. (Say what?! Don’t forget your bathing suits!)

If you’re looking for a totally off-the-grid place to rest your head while you’re visiting, you have to check this place out. And if you find out that you absolutely love this place, ask about the McMenamins Passport where you’ll be awarded handsomely for visiting all of the McMenamins properties and pubs.

There’s seriously something for everything when it comes to looking for hotels in Portland. Whether you’re looking for a luxe place to lavish with your babe, a trendy place in the middle of everything, or a property with a cool story, Portland has got it all.

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: A Gem Not To Miss

Scuba Playa del Carmen
Scuba divers will absolutely love this story. Keep reading…

Written by and photos by Michael A.

We often don’t lump Mexico in as being an exciting international getaway destination. You need to stop this mindset immediately. Born and raised in Los Angeles, but a mere three-hour drive away from the Mexican border, I too was a culprit of this belief. I love my food and I love me some good international travel. I’ve traveled to roughly 40 countries, and other than a brief stint where I got stranded in Tijuana with a donkey painted zebra, I never had any intention of really making a vacation out of Mexico. However, I was absolutely blown away by the food, scuba diving, clear waters, and most importantly, how incredibly affordable Playa Del Carmen is.

Where to stay

The pool at Hacienda Real del Caribe in Playa del Carmen.
The pool at Hacienda Real del Caribe in Playa del Carmen.

For just $33 a night (yes you read that correctly), I’d recommend staying at Hacienda Real del Caribe. It has a beautiful salt-water pool and very spacious rooms. I’m a big fan of flat screen TV’s, which it was lacking, but the location of this hotel is just so perfect that you’ll forget all about that detail. This hotel is literally one block away from all of the night life, a plethora of great restaurants, and only a 5-minute walk to the beach. Ummmm, I think I also mentioned that it was $33 a night…so, yeah…if you’re on a budget, this is an amazing place to go.

A scuba diver’s paradise

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Cozumel constantly gets all of the hype for being one of the most amazing diving spots in the world (and rightfully so), but you have to make sure you don’t miss the Cenotes. I’ve been on some cool dives in the past, but the Cenotes….well….just look at these pictures for yourself. You won’t see much sea life down there, but the colors and the fact that you’re 35 feet under the surface of Earth is a pretty cool and special feeling in its own right. You are literally below the bottom of tree roots.

Ditch Cozumel and stay in Playa Del Carmen

The best chile relleno I've ever had.
The best chile relleno I’ve ever had.

Don’t make the mistake that my buddy and I made and get a hotel on this island. There really isn’t all that much going on there other than the best chile relleno you could possibly imagine! Cozumel is known world-wide as being one of the top dive locations in the world because of its ridiculously clear waters and visibility. However, I strongly suggest just staying in Playa Del Carmen and paying the extra $5-10 to the dive shop to take you to some diving out there. If you really want to spend some time on the island, it’s literally a $20 35-minute boat ride that leaves every hour from two different ports in Playa Del Carmen. Don’t bother renting a car either, since you won’t see very much other than the port and undeveloped areas.

Lionfish
Don’t touch the Lionfish…

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Do make sure that you go on some dives out there though as the swim-throughs are spectacular and plentiful. If you go within the next couple of years, be ready to see a lot of Lionfish and don’t be an idiot like me and get too close. Yes, they’re beautiful, but they are also extremely poisonous. Enjoy them from afar but don’t try to take that coveted selfie with one. Your underwater selfie can wait until you’ve entered one of the very few shipwrecks in the area. Look for the slightly dirty restroom and make sure you keep your eyes open for some of the biggest eels you’ve ever seen hanging underneath the cracks of the floorboards.

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Overall, Playa Del Carmen is definitely a place you don’t want to miss. The food is great, the stay is cheap, and there is beauty all around you — and under you in the case of the Cenotes.

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Jordan Verdin Photo

Playa Del Carmen vs. Cancun: An Amazing, Authentic Alternative for a Riviera Maya Vacation

by Andrea Verdin

When planning a vacation, who doesn’t immediately begin to daydream of an all inclusive resort, with beautiful white sandy beaches? Who doesn’t yearn for miles of beautiful tropical jungle, with a small village nestled in between the leaves and fronds? Who doesn’t want to climb and explore the ancient ruins, only to be washed by a rainstorm once at the top?

Jordan Verdin Photo
Jordan Verdin Photo

Well, for my family and me, this was the experience we had at Playa Del Carmen. Playa del Carmen is located on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, about an hour south of Cancun. It’s in the state of Quintana Roo, in the Yucatán peninsula. While it’s only an hour away from the popular Cancun, it’s worlds apart in terms of experience. Firstly, Playa Del Carmen is still considered a beach town; that means everything is still smaller scale. Even the hotels and resorts, which are monolithic, are on the outskirts of town, leaving an adorable, sleepy town with locals at its center.

Playa Del Carmen has regulated hotels and large business so that they cannot go past three stories in height. This means that you do not have to worry about your view of the jungle or beach being marred by an obnoxious skyscraper. This is not the case in Cancun, which has a much more industrialized feeling attached.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t find great food, or that you won’t be able to get some great shopping done while at Playa Del Carmen. Guests are encouraged to experience La Quinta, more commonly known by tourists as 5th Avenue.

La Quinta has an interesting mixture of shops. You can find both Mayan-made products with their makers sitting quietly in their booths, or you can access a sprawling, air conditioned mall with designer shops and familiar chain restaurants. One of the best ways to unwind after a day full of adventure, snorkeling and eating is to walk as far as you can down La Quinta. Pop into each shop, take a look at their wares, and negotiate with the shop owner to get the best bargain on the trinket, piece of clothing or memento you want to keep from your trip.

Jordan Verdin photo
Jordan Verdin photo

If you walk off the main strip, there are more localized shops and stands with food that the locals eat, such as el Fogon. This two story taco shop was packed with families, couples on dates, and tourists who knew how to shop around before settling on dinner. Everything was chopped as it was ordered, and you can’t help but try to fill yourself with as many tacos and tortas as possible.

While there are lovely restaurants along La Quinta, there are plenty of taco stands along the blocks near La Quinta that will give you the best – and cheapest – fare. What you need to do is look for a stand that has plenty of locals waiting in line for something to eat. This lets you know that the stand will have fresh food, great flavors, and a decent price attached. One of my husband’s favorite parts of the taco stand crawl was the churro guy at the end: once he received an order for churros, he would place the fresh batter into boiling oil before throwing it into the cinnamon mix. Customers are left with delicious, piping hot churros to top off their already full bellies.
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Another bonus of being in Playa Del Carmen is the quick access available to Cozumel, an island sitting just a few miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. For under 20 dollars, guests can take a round trip ride to an even more remote part of the Riviera Maya. Cozumel is only partially developed, and doesn’t have a lot going on after the sun falls, so it’s great for a day trip.

The view from our fish house in Cozumel
The view from our fish house in Cozumel

Once you arrive, don’t feel like you have to stay in the port village of Cozumel. There’s an entire island to see! We rented a buggy, then hit the open road. There’s a single road that circles the entire island, and we were able to stop at the southernmost point of the island and have lunch at a small shack on the beach.

The fish was freshly caught, the breeze was beautifully cool, and the sights were spectacular. Along the way around the island, there are several stands selling coconuts just off of the trees, and you can even stop and get a massage on the sand while your family or significant other snorkels along the reef.