Tagged independent

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!

ICYMI: The Edwardian Ball was an absolute playground for adults

EdwardianPeople11

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

The stereotype is true: San Franciscans love ANY excuse to put on a costume and booze/dance the night or day away. From SantaCon to the Folsom Street Fair, I’ve done my fair share of putting on crazy outfits and makeup to party like everyone else. This past weekend’s Edwardian Ball may have been one of the best productions in entertainment and libations with the perfect amount of weird…if you even want to call it that.

I spent the last two nights at the Regency Ballroom in a Cinderella-inspired, peacock-feathered outfit. I made friends with Edwardian Ball OGs and newbies who just wanted to put on a top hat and ballroom dance the night away. I saw some amazing theatrical performances where live music, acrobatics and impressive sets came into play. I saw people playing with steam-powered machines and getting their tarot cards read. And I saw people of all ages finding nooks within the Ballroom to play, chat and let the magic of the night wash over them.

There’s no real way to explain the beauty and mysticism of the Edwardian Ball. But I’ll let these photos give you just a small glimpse into the enchantment of the evening.

Until next year!

 

Downtown Las Vegas: Where to stay and play

Downtown Vegas
Get off the Strip and check out all that Downtown Vegas has to offer.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Las Vegas and I have a solid understanding: We’re good with seeing each other only once every few years. From the squashed streets, gambling that I never knew how much I loved and “inventive” ways to spend my time and money, I thought I reached max Vegas capacity in my late 20s. However, after a recent visit to Downtown Las Vegas, my interest in Sin City has since blossomed into a full blown love affair.

The pool at Oasis in Downtown Las Vegas.
The pool at Oasis in Downtown Las Vegas. Photo credit: Emily Wilson

My last trip to Vegas was more than three or four years ago and I was craving the desert heat since moving to San Francisco. I knew that I wanted a weekend in Vegas with excitement, bright lights, music and a young crowd so Downtown won me over. The Oasis at Gold Spike , Downtown’s newest boutique hotel, graciously invited me to check out their digs. Read more

IgNight Fire Flow Conference brings Light, Fire and Dance to Joshua Tree

by Andrea Verdin

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The wilderness of the desert brings life to many, especially if they’re looking to improve themselves. There’s just something about the quiet and beauty of the great outdoors. That’s why IgNight Fire Flow Conference is such an amazing experience. Each person attending will develop their abilities in aerial acrobatics classes, archery, astronomy, and yoga.

Of course, you can’t have a conference called IgNight without having elements of flow tools, like lit wicks, flow tools like hoops, poi, fans, staves, torches, wands and swords. The conference features lectures with spiritual teachers from all over the world. The event began today at noon, and will end at 5p.m. Sunday, more than 160 classes will go on during the daytime. A nightly spin jam session allows students to practice and develop their muscle memory.

night-fieldAccording to Michael Engel, lead organizer for IgNight and fire performer with almost 10 years in the flow arts community, the great event truly gets started on Saturday night. Once all of the conferences and classes have finished, the attendees join together into a dance circle and put all that they have learned from the two days into practice. Together, they play music, and dance until sunrise.

In addition to having a great time, the conference goers  take care of the nature they enjoy. IgNight’s leadership works closely alongside The San Bernardino Fire Department to make this, the safest event possible. All participants must attend a mandatory fire safety workshop, which grants them access to the fire spinning area.

In a letter to the IgNight team, San Bernardino County Fire Marshal Curtis Markloff  wrote, “You guys always amaze me on how safe you all are at your event. Thank you for organizing and putting on this event.  I hope that you keep coming back year after year.”

Since IgNight’s inception in 2012, the event has sold out and it is still the only event of its kind and size in southern California. Each time, the rapidly growing contingent of local flow artists transforms it into an epicenter of growth, play and magic.
fire-blow “It’s for everyone to come and learn,” said Engel. “Ultimately, it’s an exercise in community building and community building is always a positive thing.”

IgNight’s location is the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, the oldest and largest center of its kind in the country. The buildings were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, meaning that they are beautiful elements to the backdrop.

The retreat center’s elegant spaces house luxurious amenities: air-conditioned classrooms, a swimming pool and Jacuzzi and shaded meditation nooks to relax and reflect. However, most participants will sleep under the stars in the property’s ample camping space.

The vast, clear desert skies are ideal for stargazing and the Black Rock Observatory will be giving nightly lectures and telescope demonstrations.

With all of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences occurring in one weekend, it’s easy to have a life-changing transformation. These types of arts allow for a better understanding of who you are, and what you are capable of doing.

The IgNight Fire Flow Conference brings an educational celebration of fire, yoga and flow arts to Joshua Tree, CA on May 8-10. Admission is $150.00 and covers all three days of camping, workshops, shenanigans, and music from Friday at noon to Sunday at 5pm. For more information about IgNight, go to http://ignightconference.com, call (310) 497-4775, or check out their Facebook Page.

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Zambia jeep safari with Wild Planet Adventures

Experience Extraordinary Zambia Safari Tours with Wild Planet Adventures

by Andrea Verdin

It’s time to plan your summer getaway, so the Wander team has begun to look at ways to get the most out of your vacation. We’ve been looking both at international and domestic travel, small weekend getaways and elaborate international excursions.

If you’re the type who loves diverse travel, looking for a chance to see exotic wildlife and stay in the middle of nature, then see Zambia – Africa’s Hidden Safari Gem – with Wild Planet Adventures.

zebras

The safari season in Zambia is year-round, but the best wildlife viewing is from July through October, so you want to make sure that you plan with this in mind. Because African safari travel is such a popular getaway, it may be hard to choose a travel company to plan a safari with. However, Zambia safari tours are a head and shoulders above all others for several reasons.

Wild Planet Adventures founder Josh Cohen explained that Zambia is one of Africa’s least visited countries, and since his company specializes in intimate encounters with exotic wildlife, this was a perfect option for his guests.

“Guests have the ability to see unusual animals and their behaviors that might not always be seen,” explained Cohen.

The reason Zambia safari tours are markedly different from other African safaris is the lack of tourism and jeep congestion.  With less than 860,000 annual visitors compared to South Africa’s 9.5 million, Zambia ranks among the least visited African countries.

canoe safari

“Unlike East African countries where it’s common to find up to 50 vehicles chasing a lion, Zambia boasts remote sectors where guests are unlikely to see other vehicles,” said Cohen, who explained that his Zambian tours do not require his guests to be in caged busses. “Safari-goers still enjoy 360 degree views from open jeeps instead of being crowded into nine-passenger mini-vans.”

Without numerous vehicles surrounding the same animals, there is no risk that animals will lose their ‘wild’ instincts.

“Wild Planet Adventures goes to great lengths to preserve the authentic safari experience by combining truly isolated and remote locations with master guides who exemplify tracking as an art form, so travelers see authentic ‘wild’ animal behavior while minimizing adaptation,” Cohen said.

lion at shumba camp

In addition, guests can choose to combine tours, so they can experience walking, jeep, and canoe safaris. This allows for a broader experience of animal exposure.

“It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Cohen. “Once we saw a herd of elephants surround their matriarch while she gave birth. On our canoes, we enter watering holes where herds of elephants and hippos just walk across, right in front of us. When these factors come together, you get a superior experience.”

shumba camp

Of course, just because you are in the middle of the safari doesn’t mean that you have to stay in an uncomfortable tent on a lumpy cot.

“Zambia has the same high end camps that other African tour camps have,” said Cohen. “Overall, Africa has high standards for its guests.”
There are a lot of safari travel options for guests to choose from when planning Zambia Safari Tours, with options for every budget.
For detailed tour itineraries on all of Wild Planet Adventures wildlife eco-tours and safaris, call toll-free 1.800.990.4376, visit http://www.wildplanetadventures.com/ or contact trips@wildplanetadventures.com.

 

WPA Zambia from Wild Planet Adventures on Vimeo.