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Aloft London Excel
Aloft’s first property in the United Kingdom has opened with time to spare before the 2012 Olympics. Located close to Olympic Park in East London, the 252-room Aloft comes with the brand’s namesake loft-like guest rooms, signature grab-and-go food pantry, free Wi-Fi, and, best of all, affordable nightly rates averaging around $200.
The Sonoran summer is hot, but the living is easy. A weekend visitor to Phoenix and Scottsdale (or “Snotsdale” as the locals call it), would never know that America is experiencing one of the worst economic downturns since The Great Depression. Enjoying a cocktail on the patio at the infamous Phoenician after a leisurely facial at the spa then a quick dip in the pool, I need only raise my head ever-so-slightly to see Camelback Mountain in all its majesty. At sunset, when I retire with friends to the private wine cellar-turned-VIP dining room for a 5-course meal with local wines to match, the last thing on my mind is dearth. (The private dining room is called “The Praying Monk,” a name derived from the rock formation on Camelback that appears in profile to be a praying monk). Following is an up-to-the-minute checklist of renovations and improvements at a handful of Phoenix and Scottsdale’s most sought-after hotels and resorts.
On October 14, the iconic Hotel Bel-Air in Beverly Hills will reopen its doors after massive renovations that lasted two years. Now owner, Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has upped the luxury ante with new villa suites, complete with private infinity pools and outdoor fireplaces; a La Prairie spa with spa loft guest rooms; and an over-the-top, 2,265-square foot presidential suite fit for a king . . . ahem, sultan. Its remaining 91 rooms and suites have been totally made-over with new limestone floors, roomier bathrooms with heated floors, and glamorous trimmings. Wolfgang Puck’s new onsite restaurant officially opens to the public November 1 but hotel guests will be privy to the first bites if they’ve been able to snag an overnight before then. Looks like the place is practically booked up through November. Rates for a deluxe guest room in December go for $595/night. Ouch. www.hotelbelair.com
For general trip-planning info, see our Los Angeles Travel Guide.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Caesars Palace. Already one of the largest hotels on the Strip, the property will add 668 more rooms with the opening of the new Octavius Tower. The sixth tower at the resort complex promises a level of exclusivity over the other accommodations at Caesars, with a private entrance and separate lobby as well as primo access to the Garden of the Gods pool area.
Sporting dark wood furniture and marble floors covered by patterned carpets, Octavius rooms start at 550 square feet and boast pillow-top mattresses with Anchini linens and 42-inch flat-screen TVs. Marble-tiled bathrooms come complete with whirlpool baths, glass-enclosed showers, and Gilchrist and Soames bath products.
The sprawling Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, has certainly seen its share of change. Given the resort’s age – the place has been around since 1778, when the American Revolutionary War was still raging – you’d expect the storied hotel to have some curious lore. Tidbits like the fact that it served as a military hospital during World War II, that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor often slumbered here – or that the 710-room retreat was once home base for a hush-hush government bunker until a Washington Post journalist uncovered its covert coordinates in 1992.
In 2009, the resort made history of another kind, when it filed for bankruptcy. It was a pivotal moment for the glorious Allegheny Mountain hideaway, which had hosted generations of families and American presidents (26 of them) alike. For local coal baron, Jim Justice, it was a new beginning – both for him and the hotel.
Since its opening on July 9, downtown Brooklyn’s trendy new Aloft, the 49th hotel to open in Starwood’s “style-at-a-steal” line of worldwide destinations, has had between 90 and 95 percent occupancy. Designed with the tech- and fashion-savvy demographic in mind, its 176 rooms and four suites have an openness that defies New York City’s notoriously cramped spaces. With retro, pastel-colored alarm clocks in each room, organic accents of Amazonian fauna, and pod-shaped swivel chairs in the re:mix lobby, guests can’t help but feel groovy, making the Aloft not only a place to spend the night, but a hip hangout that’s difficult to tear yourself away from. The 24-hour re:fuel café offers light meals, snacks, and complimentary coffee that guests can grab on their way out, while the signature w xyz bar’s back wall can be pulled out and flipped at sundown into a glass wall that reflects the galactic neon lights and creates a nightclub atmosphere. Located in a residential area of Brooklyn, this Aloft is an irresistible hideaway to return to after a day of business or leisure in tourist-packed Manhattan. Rates start at $150/night; www.alofthotels.com/brooklyn
For general trip-planning information, see our Brooklyn Travel Guide.
We’ve been excited about the Nolitan since we first heard about its summer opening – summer 2010, that is. Now the hotel will finally open its doors on August 1. Officially, the year-long wait is explained as part of “unforeseen delays or changes in the timetable for completion” that can happen at any new construction. I recently had the chance to tour the new property, and the Nolitan is still worthy of excitement.
Located in New York City’s Nolita (North of Little Italy) district – south of the East Village and just east of trendy Soho – the hotel is noteworthy for its connections to the neighborhood from which it takes its name. Rotating artwork from a local gallery appears in the lobby. A shopping program with some of the employees’ favorite neighborhood boutiques scores discounts and personalized services for guests. Bathrooms sport products from local vendor Red Flower. Free bicycles and skateboards are on hand for exploring the surroundings. On the other hand, the area immediately surrounding the Nolitan isn’t the greatest, and the modern glass structure stands out from the older neighborhood buildings.
If you’re motivated by the Biggest Loser series but would prefer to shed your extra lbs off camera, you can actually check in to a Biggest Loser Resort. There are two existing locations, in Invin, Utah, and Malibu, and a third on the map for the Eastern Seaboard in 2012. These resorts are directly inspired – guess you could call them spin offs – of the NBC show and are no-joke fitness camps where guests can work their butts off to achieve serious weight-loss results. Expect the kind of drill sergeant-led training programs you’d see Jillian Michaels belting out on the show. Go ahead and check out what a day entails at the Malibu property here. The resorts themselves don’t look particularly luxe. They’re really all about education, nutrition, and maintaining the “loser lifestyle.” (One can only hope the future franchise does some rebranding and loses the loser name. Does anyone really want to be called a big loser? How has that stuck?) We wouldn’t call a stay here a vacation, not even a fitness vacation. Pretty sure the only pleasurable part of your trip will be checking out a good 10 pounds lighter. But, the promise of weight loss is a powerful thing. Or so it seems. The Invin resort is booked solid through October. Rates start from $1,995/week for double occupancy or a shared room in Invin; $2,295 in Malibu. Prices include all meals and classes. www.biggestloserresort.com
Though tourism to the country has only recently become possible – and still carries considerable risks for visitors – Marriott International has big plans for expansion in Iraq with the announcement this week of two new hotels slated to open in 2014. Situated in Erbil in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, an area known for relative stability compared to elsewhere in the country, the 200-room Erbil Marriott and 75-room Marriott Executive Apartments Erbil will be included in a mixed-use development called “Empire World.”
These will be the first Marriott properties in Iraq, and look to cater largely to business travelers. Erbil Marriott will be more of a standard hotel, while the Executive Apartments will have larger condo units with kitchens, in-room laundry facilities, and on-site storage. The two hotels will share three restaurants, an outdoor pool, and spa.
Lufthansa, Etihad, Turkish, Royal Jordanian, and Fly Dubai all provide service to Erbil from Europe and Middle East gateways.
Readers: Would you consider a trip to Iraq?
Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates and travel deals on hotels.
Donald Trump may not be entering the Presidential candidacy ring, but he’s officially entered into the international hospitality space with his first hotel outside of the U.S. – the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower Panama. The hotel, located in the heart of Punta Pacifica (minutes from the heart of Panama City and the financial district) launched with a bang on July 6, with a fireworks show that rivaled any Independence Day celebrations back in America. Read more
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