Posts Tagged domestic

Trip Report: Palm Springs, CA – Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa: Part 2, Staying There


Primer:

I visited Palm Springs, CA in late February 2012 on a business trip to attend the Association of Test Publishers Innovations in Testing conference. My week-long trip included four flights on American Airlines, visits to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), and Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) along with their Admiral’s Club lounges, and a stay at the Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa.

Part 1, Getting There
Upcoming: Part 3, Getting Back

When I arrived at the Westin, I went to the Starwood Gold Preferred check-in desk (which, incidentally, was the only manned desk so it was performing double-duty with non-Elite check-ins). Upon arrival, I was told that my room was not quite ready yet. I got there a bit earlier than anticipated, so this was not unexpected. They informed me that I could check my bags with the bellman at the valet and enjoy the facility while I waited. This seemed a bit extreme since I only had 20 minutes or so to wait until the room was ready, so I asked about it. It turns out that at this property, they shuttle you to your room in a little golf car. It’s primarily a golf resort, and there are several buildings (all about 2 stories) so I thought this was a cool little touch. I walked the 100 yards or so to the bellman, checked my bag and got a phone call that my room was ready and I could come back and check in. I wish I would’ve waited the 2 minutes it apparently took to finish my room. That would’ve saved me a bit of walking… On the bright side, they “upgraded” me to a golf course view room. More on that in a second :).

Westin Entrance

My Room

My room was spacious, well appointed, and nicely decorated in a Southern California style. The view from the window was great. The bathroom had two sinks, a separate water closet, and a Heavenly shower head, so what’s not to love.

View Looking Left

View Looking Right

Bathroom

Shower Head

Now, about that upgrade… As I said, I was upgraded to this golf course view room–which had a great view. The issue? There was a car show going on the weekend that I checked in. There were some pretty amazing cars parked around the property and I was looking forward to taking a closer look on Sunday when the show began in earnest. The show started a little early on Sunday… I know this because a decent bit of it was being conducted on the golf course. Right outside my room. I awoke to the sound of music blaring, engines roaring and an auctioneer. This would have been a concern to several people, and I admit that I had about 15 minutes of annoyance out of it. But, once I got up and around, I appreciated the coolness of being able to watch the cars getting shown off and sold from my patio. So again, I thought it was cool. YMMV :).

Cool Car

Car Show

The Westin Mission Hills Spa and Resort is a very nice property and was a pleasure to call my home for the week. Here are some more great pictures that I snapped while there.

Waterfall

My Building

Walking Path

Fountain

Ducks

Another Path

I will follow this post with 1 more when I get it written. Stay Tuned.

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Trip Report: Palm Springs, CA – Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa: Part 1, Getting There


I visited Palm Springs, CA in late February 2012 on a business trip to attend the Association of Test Publishers Innovations in Testing conference. My week-long trip included four flights on American Airlines, visits to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), and Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) along with their Admiral’s Club lounges, and a stay at the Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa.

I started my day with my travel-day routine of checking to see if there were any changes to my flight itinerary. Fortunately, I do this before I leave the house because I found that my flight had been delayed 45 minutes–that bit of extra early-morning sleep time was precious! After a 30-minute drive to RDU, and a light wait at the security line, I headed to the RDU Admiral’s Club for a quick snack to use as my breakfast substitute. I reviewed the RDU Admiral’s Club in an earlier post, so I’m only going to mention that it was the same experience as usual this time around.

I boarded AA 1041 which left at 8:36am en route to DFW where it arrived just less than 3 hours later. The flight was uneventful and was spent reading the first several chapters of The Hidden Europe by Francis Tapon. (Incidentally, this book is a great read and I plan on featuring a review in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for that.) Once in DFW, I headed to the Admiral’s Club for a bite of lunch (where I have to say, I had a great mushroom/Swiss burger). This lounge was large and well furnished with plenty of semi-private spaces and comfortable seating–in addition to shower facilities, free WiFi–even with no lounge membership (I use my American Express Platinum for lounge access), and a pleasant staff.

DFW Admiral's Club Chairs

DFW Exercise Facilities

After my stay in DFW, I boarded AA 1767 bound for PSP. This was another uneventful flight (the best you can ask for in coach) that also clocked in at just under 3 hours. PSP is quite possibly the most pleasant airport I’ve ever frequented. Being in a desert environment, they are able to have much of the airport design be open-air. There were plants and grassy spaces everywhere, benches to sit upon and even a little playground for the kids. It was absolutely beautiful.

PSP Entrance

PSP Playground

PSP Gate Access

Sonny Bono Concourse

A 30-minute cab ride later, I checked in at the Westin.

Westin Entrance

I will follow this post with 2 more as I get them written. Stay Tuned.

Part 2, Staying There
Upcoming: Part 3, Getting Back

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Trip Report: Las Vegas, NV


Viva Las Vegas!

Well, it has happened. I turned 40 yesterday (15 December). To celebrate, I went with 7 other guys to Las Vegas–one of whom also turned 40 last month, so it was a kind of dual birthday bash. I know what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas (or, as I saw on a T-shirt, “What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook and YouTube forever!”), but here is a trip report anyways :).

I met a friend at RDU airport for an 8:15am departure on AA1645 out of Gate C17. While in RDU, we hung for a quick bite at the American Airlines Admiral’s Club.

RDU Terminal 2
RDU Terminal 2
Gate C17 = Ale House?
Gate C17 = Ale House?
RDU Admiral's Club Entrance
RDU Admiral’s Club Entrance
RDU Admiral's Club Entrance
RDU Admiral’s Club Interior

The flight departed roughly on time (8:26am) and we had an uneventful flight from RDU to ORD aboard a McDonnell Douglas MD-83. We had a bit of a layover in Chicago (about 2 hours), so we hung in the (very large) Admiral’s Club there which was all decked out for Christmas. Incidentally, as a Protip: in the very back of that lounge are 3 Eames chairs of the stationary variety. Very nice to kick back in!

ORD Admiral's Club
ORD Admiral’s Club
Eames Chairs
Eames Chairs

We left ORD en route for LAS on AA1775 on board the same type of aircraft, and in the same seats (consistency is a Good Thing(tm)). This flight left about 15 minutes late which I still consider to be on time. Just over 3 hours later, we landed at LAS and hopped into a car headed to The Palazzo where we had 3 Bella Suites for the group. The Palazzo is a very nice hotel which has the added benefit of being a Priority Club property where I have Platinum status (this, btw, afforded me absolutely zero benefits at the hotel–only the 50% points bonus).

Sleeping Space
Sleeping Space
Living Space
Living Space
Bathroom
Bathroom
Window View 1
Window View 1
Window View 2
Window View 2
Night View
Night View

The service at the hotel was very attentive (as you would expect at a fairly high-end property in Las Vegas that houses a nice casino. The first night there, we ate at Picasso located at Bellagio. This restaurant is known for the Pablo Picasso artwork adorning the walls. There are about $30MM worth in the facility. That certainly makes an interesting backdrop to a fantastic dinner. I didn’t snap any food photos, but I do have the menu which I can add to the post with an update. After dinner, we hit the casinos–basically for the next 3 days. Most of our play time was at Palazzo and Treasure Island–the latter because it was right across the street and had some lower-stakes tables still open as the nights wore on. We did hit Caesar’s Palace for one afternoon as well. In addition to the casinos, we also hit up the sportsbook at Caesar’s and spent Sunday morning at Lagasse Stadium where the jambalaya and chicken wings were unbeatable.

The last night there, we checked out Blue Man Group at the Venetian. This show was a lot better than I thought it would be–and I thought it would be good. A fantastic way to spend 90 minutes being entertained.

We crashed out pretty hard on Sunday night and got up Monday morning to head to the aiport. When we arrived at our gate at LAS, I asked about an Admiral’s Club (or any other 3rd-party lounge that would take Priority Pass) and was informed, much to my surprise, that the only lounge in the aiport was a United lounge. This was a bummer, but not too terrible since I only had an hour or so to kill once I got through the terrible experience that is security at LAS. Protip: security takes about 45 minutes at LAS–plan accordingly.

We hopped aboard another MD-83 for flight AA348 to ORD and started our return trip (incidentally, we had the same seats again–3rd time :)). This flight left about 10 minutes late, but arrived about 15 minutes early as we had a nice tailwind. Unfortunately, all this did for me was make my 3-hour layover in ORD 15 minutes longer. Oh well, thank goodness for those Eames chairs! After the layover, we climbed aboard a smaller Embraer ERJ-145 for flight AA4241 which again took off on-time (that’s 4-for-4 if you’re keeping tabs) and arrived about 15 minutes early for my ride home.

If you’re interested, here is a link to a PhotoBucket album with some more pictures from the trip.

Enjoy!

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Upcoming Trip Report: Vegas Baby!


I’m heading to Las Vegas and will offer a couple of smaller blog entries while I am there followed by a more proper trip report upon my return. It’s my first time there, so I’m open to some suggestions about what not to miss (or even what I *should* miss!).

LMK!

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I’m Planning a Vegas Trip for December… Tips?


I’m going to Las Vegas in a couple of months and have never been. If you have tips to offer up, I’d love to hear them. My current plans are to use my $100 fare discount code from AA that I picked up yesterday, and stay about a block off the strip in Starwood property (like the Westin Casuarina), or on the strip in an Intercontinental property (like The Palazzo or The Venetian). The draw of the latter is that AA  is running a promotion for those two properties for 5,000 bonus miles. The catch with that is you have to stay 4 nights and I’m thinking 3 is the right length. Is it worth paying for that 4th night just for the bonus? Probably… Also, this may be an obvious question, but what are some things that I “should not miss” while I’m out there?

Thanks!

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Rockville, MD Trip Report


American Airlines operates in RDU out of Terminal 2. Terminal 2 is a “not bad” terminal as far as airports go, it’s long, has lots of open spaces, and generally high architecture. The décor is typical airport, as are the vendor selections. Once past security, I headed to the Admiral’s Club lounge. At RDU, both the Admiral’s Club lounge and the Delta Sky Club are a one-floor elevator ride up from the main floor.

RDU Terminal 2

RDU Terminal 2

RDU Admiral's Club Entrance

RDU Admiral's Club Entrance

RDU Admiral's Club Entrance

RDU Admiral's Club Interior

My American Express Platinum nets me free access to Admiral’s Club when flying AA, so I was looking forward to getting some work done while awaiting my flight. As it turns out, that free access doesn’t come with free Wi-Fi yet (though the receptionist told me it was coming). I didn’t feel like paying for the Wi-Fi pass, so that nixed getting much work done. Instead, I started this trip report. (Incidentally, I later saw a FlyerTalk post about a crazy eShopping mistake listing and convinced the receptionist to let me have the free Wi-Fi so that I could take advantage. I hope that one works out!)

The lounge is fairly nice as lounges go. It features several large-screen LCD TVs tuned to CNN and prominent arrivals/departures boards so you can keep up to date on your flight information. There is a lot of seating—far more than they probably ever need—in the form of leather chairs of average comfort. The seating area is divided into 3 sections separated by 4.5-foot privacy glass. The bar is well apportioned and the bartender kept asking me if I wanted a shot of rum to go in the Cokes I ordered. There are showers for the long-haul travelers and plenty of snacks and reading materials. All-in-all, not a bad way to spend time waiting on a flight.

I flew AA 4400 from RDU to DCA operated by American Eagle on an Embraer RJ140 as MQ 4400. This is a single-cabin commuter aircraft seating 44, and I sat in seat 2A which a single seat on the port side of the cabin (across the aisle from the coat check). The flight left on schedule and had a great flight attendant. Takeoff and landing were very bumpy, but the weather was not cooperative, and the RJ140 is a small plane.

After arriving at DCA, I made for the Hertz rental counter where I had a 2011 Buick Enclave waiting (we were a party of 5—one arriving from Venezuela and sure to have checked baggage). I rented this vehicle on an “AA/Hertz 2X miles, save 20%” promotion that I saw on FlyerTalk and also received 500 bonus Hertz #1 Club points (enough for a free weekend-day rental) from this promotion.

Buick Enclave Exterior

Buick Enclave Exterior

Buick Enclave Interior

Buick Enclave Interior

We made the 25-mile drive to the Chase Suites Hotel in Rockville, MD where, after much confusion at the front desk related to our Hotels.com reservation, I checked into room 308. The walk to room 308 included a stroll along an outside hallway that was not very upkept. When I reached my room, it was a nice-enough room. Not what I would call a “suite” given that it was one room with a kitchenette, but it was okay. The biggest drawback was that the Internet connection was non-functional (it would take me to the login page, but the login failed). After struggling with it for about an hour (and the front desk not really helping), I took a stab at guessing another password (based on the name of the hotel) and had success. Nice. One bar is better than nothing.

Chase Suites Rockville Exterior

Chase Suites Rockville Exterior

Chase Suites Rockville Interior

Chase Suites Rockville Interior

Chase Suites View From Room

Chase Suites View From Room

Chase Suites Rockville Room 301 Bed

Chase Suites Rockville Room 301 Bed

Chase Suites Rockville Room 301 Living Area

Chase Suites Rockville Room 301 Living Area

Chase Suites Rockville Room 301 Kitchen

Chase Suites Rockville Room 301 Kitchen

We had a late dinner at the Thai Farm restaraunt in Rockville which was excellent, though it is not a participant in the AAdvantage Dining Program (which I typically try to take advantage of when given the chance). After dinner, I headed back to my room to get a little work done, now that I finally had Internet connectivity.

I had breakfast at the hotel restaraunt–the Rock Grille. Breakfast was in keeping with the quality of the room. They were out of everything except for some soupy canteloupe and over-heated scrambled eggs. The from-concentrate apple juice was the best part of the “meal.”

After spending the next morning in business meetings in Gaithersburg, MD, we left for the DCA to return the car and begin the homeward trip. Upon arrival, I visited the Hertz counter to return the car and headed to the terminals. I waited for the flight in the Admiral’s Club, where there were no issues with the free Wi-Fi (DCA has free Wi-Fi for the entire airport). The lounge was a typical Admiral’s Club, if a little larger–but also much more crowded.

DCA Admiral's Club Interior 1

DCA Admiral's Club Interior 1

DCA Admiral's Club Interior 2

DCA Admiral's Club Interior 2

I flew AA 4527 back to RDU, again operated by American Eagle on an Embraer RJ140 as MQ 4527. I sat in seat 1A this time which offered a *touch* more legroom. It was another bumpy ride, but I did have my first experience viewing a rainbow from the window on an airplane. The best part of this view? The rainbow was upside-down! My camera was in my carry-on bags about 8 rows back (it’s a small plane), so I didn’t get any pictures, but here is a picture of one that is similar.

All told, it was a pleasant trip, but I definitely feel I could’ve done better on the hotel.

Thoughts?

PS. The next trip is a business trip to E-ATP/mini-vacation in Prague next month. There will be posts between now and then, of course :).

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Carolina Beach, NC / Atlantic Towers


My family and I took a two-night trip to Carolina Beach, NC over the weekend staying at Atlantic Towers. Carolina Beach is a very nice, family-friendly beach near Wilmington, NC and about a 2.5 hour drive from our home. We set out on Friday afternoon and drove directly to the hotel (stopping once for some needed supplies at a nearby Target. We arrived at Atlantic Towers late in the afternoon and unpacked (before I got any photos, so all of the photos here are post pack-up–the beds were made when we arrived).

Atlantic Towers

Atlantic Towers is a great, family-friendly accommodation that met our criteria of sleeping 6 in one space. All of the rooms are suites featuring a separate bedroom with a king-sized bed (or in some units, two bedrooms), twin bunk beds in a hallway nook and a queen sleeper sofa. Each unit also features a separate kitchen, and an ocean-front balcony.

 

 

(TIP: Go for a room ending in 01 for a South-side corner so that you get a great view in two directions.)

The hotel features two swimming pools (one indoor and one outdoor), a small club room, laundry facilities and an arcade. I didn’t get any photos of those since they were typically populated and I didn’t want to go around asking permission to post. So, here is a link to the hotel’s website featuring photos of those amenities.

We stayed Friday and Saturday nights and left late on Sunday morning to visit the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher. We take a trip out to the aquarium each time we go to Carolina Beach since it’s only about a 15-minute drive and is a pretty nice aquarium. They have the standard fare of fish, snakes and other reptiles as well as birds and a nice botanical garden. They do have an albino alligator, which is pretty neat to see.

Atlantic Towers

We had lunch at the aquarium and picked up a couple of Concretes for desert. For those unfamiliar with this desert, it is sort of like a Blizzard from Dairy Queen, but typically done with yogurt or a soft custard. Goodberry’s trademarked the name Carolina Concrete(TM), and has the best description, but many places sell them as Concretes. After the aquarium, we settled in for the drive home.

It was a good trip. No loyalty programs were furthered; but, I did learn of a neat Holiday Inn Property in Myrtle Beach, SC (which is not that different of a drive) featuring a nice indoor lazy river. I also saw an oceanfront Courtyard by Marriott. These properties were excluded as options during this trip as there were 6 of us (my mother came along). But, if there are only the 5 of us next time, then we’ll hit one of those two locations.

Have you had any experiences with any other good properties in the area?

Next up: A business overnight in August to Silver Spring, MD that will feature a Hertz #1 Club Gold rental and a stay at a yet-to-be determined hotel that will likely be either a Hilton or an Intercontinental brand.

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