Monday, May 5, 2014

From Budapest to Marbella, Hotels that Hold a Special Place in My Heart

As Mother's Day approaches (my first without my mom), I find myself reflecting on some of the most special memories we shared. Funny enough, many of them center around places we went--and more specifically, the luxury hotels where we stayed. For this reason, a number of these hotels I visited with my mom will ALWAYS hold a very special place in my heart.

One of the first BIG trips I invited my mom on was in 1999. I was a senior editor at Travel Agent Magazine and attended a press event where I won a trip to Asia, courtesy of Ritz-Carlton. I remember thinking that since I wasn't dating anyone at the time, why not invite my mom on this incredible trip? She had never traveled to that part of the world, and was thrilled at the opportunity. The trip included round-trip business class tickets on Malaysia Airlines and a few nights at The Ritz-Carlton properties in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and our favorite, Bali. I have fond memories of how impressed my mom with at each of the properties, especially the indoor/outdoor villa-like compound we shared in Bali. Fresh watermelon juice was enjoyed before a full-on negotiation with the local vendors in Kuta Beach who would not leave us alone until we agreed to buy some of their crap.

In Singapore, we visited the night zoo and later that eve back at the hotel, my mom just kept talking about how crazy it was to go to the zoo at night. Funny the things you remember! But, we both loved that hotel for its gorgeous bathrooms with views (shown below) and impeccable service.

Years later, after my dad passed away in 2006, I was invited to visit a number of Virtuoso hotels in Prague and Budapest. Neither my mom nor I was really in an excellent state of mind having just lost my dad a few months prior, but we agreed it would be good for us to go on a big adventure. It was a bit too cold for my liking in March, but what stands out most was my mom's reaction when we checked into stunning properties such as the Mandarin Oriental and the Four Seasons in Prague, and then the insanely beautiful Four Seasons Grisham Palace (seen below) in Budapest. More than anything we saw or did on this trip, these hotels are what stand out as the highlights of this trip.

A few years later, I was invited to speak at a travel conference being held in Madrid.

My mom, whose health had been on and off at this point for a few years, was extremely excited when I invited her to join me not just to Madrid--but also for a few days in Barcelona and her absolute favorite (she talked about it nonstop!), Marbella. The Marbella Club was one of her all-time favorite hotels, she told me many times. I know she never forgot the amazing three-hour lunch we enjoyed with my friend Carlos at the Beach Club, as well as a night out on the town with friends of mine who were also visiting at the same time. Sitting on that beautiful beach gave her such pleasure, and just being in such a wonderful place for a few days with nothing to do but eat, swim, sun and enjoy was right up her alley.

Another favorite stop on this trip was Barcelona, with a few nights at the beautiful Mandarin Oriental Barcelona. We loved having breakfast in their stunning breakfast room and walking along the Passeig de Gracia for a bit of shopping. A few days in Madrid--highlighted by a stay at Ritz Madrid--will also remain top of mind for me, always. My mom was blown away by the Ritz (especially our lunch on the patio with another friend of mine) and we both loved that Mother's Day (the American version) fell while we were there and just about everyone stopped to wish her a special day when they realized she was my mom. I will always remember her expression when we walked into that property--I know she felt ultra-special staying in such a special place, and it gives me great happiness knowing I was able to share this with.

As her health waned over the past few years, the travel was limited to places closer to home. She flew out to spend my 40th birthday with me and a few close friends in Las Vegas (her favorite city in the USA) and I think she had more fun at the Palazzo than I did.
I know she loved winning $1000 at the slot machines and handing me some of her winnings to pay for my "welcome to your 40s" massage at the hotel's Canyon Ranch Spa. We had a blast seeing the Beatles' Love and enjoyed several fun meals with friends. Ultimately, she was just happy to be with me, in Las Vegas, at a hotel with slot machines at every turn. Looking back, I remember just how happy this made her.

I flew her out to spend Thanksgiving in LA in 2012 and she stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey for a week. The lovely team here knew it was a special trip for her and treated her like a queen, with an upgrade to a beautiful suite on the Club Level. That was the trip we had Thanksgiving dinner at the Four Seasons Westlake (another super fun memory) and one day during her stay, we went to the Apple store and got her an iPhone. Teaching her to text was one of my most brilliant ideas. I received texts all week long with photos and notes about how much she was loving her accommodations. Being able to receive text updates from my mom just telling me she loved me, wherever I was in the world, was something I realize now how much I cherished.

The last set of hotels that really stand out in my mind as super special are those we stayed in closer to her home in Florida. She stayed with me at nearly every luxury hotel in Palm Beach, as well as at the SLS in Miami (where we celebrated her 66th birthday and "successful" chemo treatments in July 2012. We also had incredible times together at The Breakers, the Four Seasons and the former Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach (now the Eau Palm Beach).
The latter is where we stayed on my visit to Florida in September 2013, prior to her being hospitalized and passing away this past winter. We had a lovely weekend but I could see the signs of her slowing down. She was set to begin another round of chemo days after this Palm Beach "get away" which was a really special 48 hours in a peaceful oceanfront setting.

Over the years we celebrated a few birthdays and Mother's Days at The Breakers and she loved nothing more than relaxing at their Beach Club or playing in the ocean with my nephews. The Four Seasons Palm Beach also holds a very special place since it is where we stayed last June, with my sister, my nephews and my mom's closest friend Diane, as well as their two dogs Romeo and Jack. The weather was beautiful and we had a terrific time. Dinner in the form of huge lobsters at the nearby Station House for the boys' birthdays was one of the last times I truly got to see my mom laughing out loud and just enjoying the moment. Her health was "stable" at that moment, she was able to enjoy a few glasses of wine and a wonderful dinner.

It is these joyous memories that get me through the tougher days when I find myself sad that I can no longer invite her to join me on trips around the world. I am so incredibly grateful that the luxury travel world is my life, as I have so many phenomenal friends who not only welcomed me on my visits to their properties but did the same for my mom. These memories meant so much to her, and for that reason, the hotels I have mentioned above will forever have a extra-special meaning to me.

If you are able to share luxury hotel experiences with the special people in your life, DO IT. There is nothing that can replace the warmth I feel when I think about these permanent memories and how much these world travels brightened up my mom's life--even as her health declined. I'll forever think of her anytime I hear mention of the hotels we stayed in together

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Selling Moments as Memories: A Personal Story

I recently wrote this column which appears today on the TravelPulse ( I wanted to also share it here on my personal blog, as it is a personal story that provides insight into what is most important to me as both a business owner and in my own daily life. On a recent visit to a top luxury hotel in Honolulu, it was a sweet note left on my pillow at turndown the first evening that reminded me what is most important in my life, as well as in my business as a luxury travel advisor.

That note said, “You will remember the moments, not the days.” I thought to myself, that’s exactly what we want our clients to take home from every trip we plan for them—reminders of the very special and unique moments they enjoyed while they are traveling. I realized that what I remembered from that particular day was sitting on the hotel’s beautiful terrace at sunset with a loved one, enjoying live Hawaiian music and a delicious cocktail. I also remembered the five-mile hike we took along the ocean that morning, and the gluten-free French toast I had for breakfast in a gorgeous oceanfront setting.

The Zen shiatsu massage I treated myself to that afternoon was so fantastic that I rebooked another with the same therapist a few days later. It wasn’t just the massage I remembered, it was the kindness and compassion of the masseuse when I told her my reason for taking this mini-getaway. I was actually on this trip as a much-needed escape from everything I’d experienced the previous few weeks. My mom had recently passed away after a long battle with breast cancer, and I truly needed a few days in a beautiful setting with no agenda other than taking some time to relax.

I kept thinking about that note on my pillow, and it actually came up in conversation over dinner with the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. He explained that creating moments was tantamount to the success of his hotel. It also was a practice the entire staff was encouraged and empowered to do.

I shared with him the story of how touched I was when I returned for my second massage in three days and went to say good-bye to the therapist I adored. She had read me so well that she asked if it was okay to give me a hug. It was as if we were old friends, and she knew exactly what I needed. I can’t remember any other hotel spa experience where the masseuse hugged me to say good-bye, but it was completely appropriate (and memorable) in this situation.

As specialists in “luxury” travel, we need to constantly stay focused on reading our clients and deciphering what kind of moments we can create for them that will remain top of mind as memories. Whether it is suggesting an off-the-beaten-path local restaurant that you’ve personally experienced (I find that clients love when I do this) or knowing just which guide to hire for a particular client, you need to figure out just what will make the trip a special experience. You can steer your clients to a cool local boutique or maybe simply remember to share their dietary preferences with the hotel so they are wowed by the details. Regardless, it all falls to us to make sure we are constantly creating special moments.

As I look back on my most recent trip, I also recall special moments like walking on the beach at sunset and throwing a lei into the ocean (a Hawaiian friend told me that this is a ritual to partake in when you lose a loved one). I also found myself sitting on my lanai and watching the whales frolic out in front of me. That also proved to be a memorable moment since it is not something you are lucky enough to see every day.

Fortunately for me, three of my clients were also in town over the same dates, and so I took them to lunch at one of my favorite local restaurants. They were impressed that I knew exactly where to take them and it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know them better. Taking the time to meet my clients in person gave them the opportunity to see how much I appreciate their business. It also was really cool to hear about the various moments I’d help create for them over the years—including multiple birthday celebrations!

Regardless where we are sending our clients, we can never lose sight of the importance of crafting moments that will translate not just into memories , but also into reasons for them to remain loyal to us. We want to ensure that they call us every time they are looking to plan a trip filled with memorable moments.

Note: A version of this column appeared in the March 2014 edition of Agent@Home Magazine.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Maui Musts: The Best of Everything Island-Wide

After five trips to Maui in 13 months, including spending nearly three weeks there this past holiday season, I've enjoyed scouring the island in search of the best eats, drinks, workouts, views, spa treatments, music, sunsets and sushi. I'm a tough critic and there are so many great options, but below are my personal favorites in each category from Kapalua to Paia:

Best Overall Restaurant Island-Wide: Mama's Fish House
Best Overall Restaurant in Wailea: Alan Wong's Amasia
Best Overall Restaurant in Lahaina: tie between Mala Ocean Tavern and Honu Seafood
Best New Restaurant: Morimoto's
Best Sushi (shown below): Kai Sushi at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua
Best Shave Ice: Ululani's in Lahaina (the original location)
Best spot for Fresh Fish (take out): The Fish Market Maui
Best French Fries: Mala Ocean Tavern
Best Italian Restaurant: Puleho
Best 24/7 Gourmet Snack Shop: Mokapu Market at Andaz Wailea
Best Prime Rib: Kimo's
Best Coffee Shop: Maui Coffee Roasters
Best Grocery Store: Napili Market
Best Ice Cream Shop: Royal Scoop at the Royal Lahaina
Best Gluten-Free (and other) Pancakes: Slappy Cakes
Best Dessert: Tie between Hula Pie at Kimo's and Chocolate Kuau Pie at Mama's Fish House
Best Private Chef: Chef Kristen with Private Maui Chef
Best Date Night Spot: Japengo
Best Cocktails: Pineapple Grill
Best Happy Hour/Oceanview Bar: The Sea House
Best Live Music: Fleetwood's
Best Waiter: J.J. at Merriman's
Best Health Food Store/Juice Bar: Farmer's Market Maui
Best Lunch Spot: Paia Fish Market
Best Yoga Studio: Island Spirit Yoga
Best Serenity Pool: Four Seasons Wailea
Best Hotel Gym: Montage Kapalua Spa & Fitness Center
Best Masseuse: Renate at the Montage Kapalua Spa
Best Surf Lessons: Maui WaveRiders
Best Sailing Excursions: Trilogy
Best Family Beach Hotel: Napili Kai Beach Resort
Best Golf Course: The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort
Best Animal Shelter (where visitors can volunteer): Maui Humane Society
Best Hike: Village Walking Trails on the original Village Golf Course
Best Coastal Running/Walking Route: Kapalua Coastal Trail
Best Beaches: Kanaapali Beach, Napili Bay, Big Beach, Sugar Beach
Best Bathing Suit Store: Cruise Maui
Best Beachfront Villas: Andaz Wailea
Best Kids Club: Keiki Lani at the Fairmont Kea Lani and Ritz Kids at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua
Best Family Beach Resort: Napili Kai Beach Resort
Best Oceanview Club Level Suites: Four Seasons Wailea
Best Boutique Hotel: Hotel Wailea
Best Hotel Transformation in the Works: Montage Kapalua

To book your next Maui vacation and enjoy the absolute best the island has to offer, contact me via email at

Thursday, December 26, 2013

An Epic Year of Elite Travel: Maui, Bhutan & Beyond

Epic. Mind-boggling. Amazing. Basically the only words that properly do justice to 2013 and all of the destinations I visited this year. Of course, traveling the world is a lot more fun when you have an incredible person to share the experiences with. Fortunately for me, this is the direction my life took one year ago this week here in Maui--my all-time favorite place in the world. Here now for the fifth time in 13 months (!), I can't help but stop to reflect on and document the year of 2013, my epic year of traveling with someone who enjoys seeing the world, meeting interesting people and experiencing luxury hotels as much as I do.

The 2013 luxury travel adventures kicked off in January with a trip to San Francisco to attend a Virtuoso meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco. Next stop for me was a long-planned bucket list trip to Bhutan (below), with visits as well to Phnom Penh and Bangkok (where The Siam hotel blew me away on every level). Home for a day and then jetlag recovery came in the form of a scenic drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to spend a long weekend at the always impressive Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara.

A few weeks later, I found myself atop a snow-covered mountain for the first time since 2000 (when I blew out my knee in Vail). Still too chicken to ever ski again, I did however conquer my phobia of snow/mountains with a ridiculously fun adventure (proof below!) on a self-driven snowmobile at The Canyons Resort in Utah. And of course, gorgeous accommodations at the Waldorf-Astoria Park City were the highlight of this special winter weekend!

A few weeks later I headed to Toronto, which brought back a ton of childhood memories. I hadn't been here in decades but it was always a favorite road trip from my hometown of Rochester, NY. This visit was especially memorable as I was an invited guest of the Four Seasons Preferred Partner team, and, in addition to a stay at the brand new, just-opened Four Seasons Toronto, dinner with Four Seasons founder Isadore Sharp at his private residence (and a tour of his private wine cellar, below) was on the agenda. A quick weekend at the Four Seasons New York en route back to LA included great seats to Bette Midler's one-woman Broadway show, post-show cocktails at The Chatwal, cheering on cancer fundraisers in Central Park , and an interview over brunch with a former boss/great friend/longtime supporter which led to a fab article about Elite Travel International's growth in a top travel publication a few months later.

South America was the next major adventure, with Buenos Aires hosting the annual Virtuoso Symposium; a few days in Southern Brazil was added on in the name of research and adventure. The Park Hyatt Buenos Aires did a stellar job of impressing me, as did Ponta Dos Ganchos. The latter (shown below), a stunning, exclusive 25-bungalow Relais & Chateau property near Florianopolis is designed with couples in mind (private decks/pools, indoor seaview hot tubs, a staff that specializes in romance) and it's on my short list of properties I hope to visit many times again. Highly recommend for honeymooners or anyone seeking a romantic, secluded, peaceful sun-filled vacation (don't miss taking the helicopter up the coast to/from the airport!).

On arrival home from Brazil, I made the very BIG decision to take my eight-year-old luxury travel company Elite Travel International to the next level by becoming our own stand-alone Virtuoso firm. This kicked off the second half of the year with much excitement, and set the pace for our continued growth. The new addition of a London affiliate at the end of 2013 has been the culmination of my favorite year business-wise, yet. While in the midst of the business transition, a celebratory visit to the always-lovely Four Seasons Palm Beach was followed by a relaxing beachfront stay in North Miami at another favorite, Acqualina Resort & Spa. The spa, spacious oceanview suites, incredible food (Il Mulino is a stand out) and beautiful beach make this one of my all-time favorite resorts in the Sunshine State.

My love for Maui meant I obviously couldn't resist the opportunity to attend the annual Kapalua Food & Wine Festival at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, held in early June. Along with Alyson Nash, Elite Travel's Director of Special Projects, we loved meeting the chefs and winemakers who came together to showcase their specialties in this gorgeous setting.

A staycation just minutes from my home in LA at the Beverly Hills Hotel to celebrate Elite Travel International's invitation to the Dorchester Collection's Diamond Club was a welcome change from all the flights, and it reminded me how much I also enjoy spending time in LA as much as I enjoy globetrotting. Lunch and dinners with local clients at The Polo Lounge were fun, and my maltipoo (below) clearly enjoyed his stay as much as we did.

My summertime travels also included a second trip to both Maui (for a friend's wedding)and Santa Barbara--this time to preview the just-opened El Encanto by Orient-Express. Another one of my beloved pups Maddie (below) made this road trip to the pet friendly property with me (sadly, it was her last trip with me as she succumbed to cancer a few months later). Needless to say, El Encanto will always hold special memories for me...the cottage-style, oceanview accommodations and the sweet staff have impressed a number of my clients as well.

A long weekend at the Golden Door Spa & Resort in San Diego and another in Vancouver (first of four trips to my favorite Canadian city before year's end!) as well as the annual weeklong Virtuoso Week at the Bellagio in Las Vegas rounded out my July + August travels. This year's Virtuoso Week was especially special for me as I was named Virtuoso's Most Innovative Travel Advisor.

September started in style with an incredible Italian holiday, including visits to the new Amanresort Venice, watching the annual Venetian regatta and enjoying canalside meals with the GMs at Hotel Cipriani, Ca'Sagredo & the newly renovated Gritti Palace . Next up was five nights along the Amalfi Coast with time spent with our friends who own/run the best hotels in the region--Le Sirenuse, Il San Pietro, Hotel Santa Caterina, Palazzo Avino & Hotel Caruso. Food, wine and sunshine were plentiful during this part of our Italian dream trip, and it's an itinerary I could (and hope to) easily repeat annually! Ending with one night at the unique and special Portrait Suites Roma, owned by the Ferragamo family, was the perfect end to one of my all-time favorite trips of the year.

Before our next European adventure in early November--to London + Istanbul--I logged many miles on planes for quick visits with friends, family and loved ones to Palm Beach, Chicago & Vancouver. Chicago was a fun-filled foodie adventure, with dinners ranging from simple and delicious steaks & martinis at Gibson's just down the street from The Peninsula (long a favorite of mine, best gym in the city and an amazing team shown with us below) to two of the best meals I've enjoyed on the road: Shanghai Terrace in the hotel and the incredibly creative and fun Alinea. Book a table at Alinea now if Chicago's ever on your agenda (note: you have to book online/prepay in advance!).

After a super-fast trip down to Riviera Maya, Mexico to speak on a panel about today's luxury traveler and then one to Manhattan to partake in the Afar Magazine travel advisory board meeting, London was next on the agenda. Here, after speaking to a high-end group of British travel advisors, I visited atleast 30 hotels from Mayfair to Shoreditch (lunch at Hoi Polloi is a must). Gluten free tea at Claridges (below), The Goring & Brown's were fattening & fun, as were incredible meals everywhere from the coffee shop at Fortnum & Mason's to DINNER by Heston Blumenthal and Kaspar's at The Savoy. A Friday eve get together at Bar Boulud with local friends and travel industry colleagues (below) was a standout, as were stays at the Corinthia, Mandarin Oriental London & the new Edition London hotels.

The year was seemingly starting to wind down after this whirlwind London trip, but not before a long weekend in buzzing Istanbul checking out the top luxury hotels from Shangri-La Istanbul (new room product shown below), a duo of Four Seasons (located both in the Old City & on the Bosphorus), the Park Hyatt, the House hotel, Tom Tom Suites & the Ciragan Palace. In the very short time we had there, the itinerary included a private shopping tour with a visit to the Bazaar's best silver & carpet shops, a local dinner with friends and a private boat ride to a gorgeous authentic residence on the Asian side of the sea.

A quick stop at home in LA and then back to Europe for one last international trip of the year. The annual International Luxury Travel Mart (ILTM) in Cannes in early December was the perfect excuse to travel to there via Paris for a few days of luxury hotel inspections, dinners and Champagne with Eiffel Tower views. The suites at the Shangri-La Paris (on the presidential suite terrace shown below) blew me away, as did the whimsical, fun and luxurious Ray Charles suite (pictured) at the Royal Monceau, one of my overall favorite Parisian hotels.

The year of epic travels culminated with four nights in Cannes at the Majestic Barriere hotel, in a beautifully redone seaview room--steps away from the Palais, where ILTM, the luxury travel world's version of Fashion Week takes place. Dozens of meetings with hoteliers from new properties in Israel to Malaysia to Fiji to Iceland and new friends made from Greece to Bali to pretty much every corner of the world are the key reasons Cannes is on my annual calendar for nine years running now. I flew home to LA via Vancouver for a last bit of holiday cheer before putting away the winter business travel clothes and trading them in for sundresses and flip flops. Maui (pictured) is now my home base until early January, and from here, am doing lots of yoga, soaking up the sun, and planning next year's adventures which already include China, Tibet, Whistler, Southampton, Tuscany, Brussels, Venice and many more hot spots!

For more information on planning your own luxury travels for 2014 and beyond, please email me at You can follow my elite travel adventures on twitter at @elitetravelgal and

Sunday, November 17, 2013

London #ETISTYLE: Luxury Hotels, Gluten-Free Tea, Brushes with Royalty, Celebrity Chefs, Martinis & More (Part One)

On my recent weeklong visit to London, I chose to stay in three very different hotels while visiting with friends and General Managers at dozens of others. I pride myself on being a luxury hotel matchmaker, thus, what better way to hone my skills than experience a variety of luxury hotel styles & locations.

From the ultra-posh Corinthia Hotel in the Whitehall neighborhood with a private terrace overlooking the venue where the 2013 Remembrance Day tributes took place to the happening Edition Hotel (Ian Schrager’s latest project) to the always-classy Mandarin Oriental London (seen below) just steps from Hyde Park and Harvey Nichols, my London accommodations did not disappoint.

I’d last visited the Corinthia a few years ago--just weeks before it opened, and the final product blew me away. The bi-level 7th floor penthouse suites (like the one I stayed in, shown below) are amongst the coolest in the city, with themes ranging from music (Katy Perry’s fave) to literature, politics and art. I was quite impressed by the attentive butlers who meticulously unpacked/packed our bags, delivered a forgotten prescription and printed out a late-night presentation. The four-floor spa borders on ridiculously gorgeous, and the in-house Daniel Galvin salon where I could get an 845 am blow-out before a busy day was a bonus surprise. Cocktails at the chic Bassoon Bar are a must to start or end the day, and a meal (oysters and Dover sole top my recommendations) at Massimo’s is always a good idea. GM Matthew Dixon has done an incredible job of staffing up the entire hotel with a seasoned team who truly go above and beyond. The hotel, in one word? Flawless.

Equally impressive was the new Royal Suite (complete with butler service fit for royalty) at the Mandarin Oriental London. A longtime favorite of mine, this hotel has noticeably stepped up the level of luxury from the outstanding on-site restaurants (Bar Boulud and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal) to the stunning new indoor pool and fitness center opening early 2014. My favorite accommodation here--the Royal Suite--is massive, with a beautiful terrace fronting Hyde Park and a butler at your beck and call. Heated floors, a steam shower, a full kitchen, dining room, huge living room (pictured below) ideal for entertaining or relaxing en suite, and a beautiful master bedroom with additional Park views are key reasons to book my favorite Mandarin London suite. Leaving the hotel for meals is hardly necessary with dining options inclusive of both Boulud and one of Britain’s own Blumenthal (his take on ancient British cuisine with a modern twist is amazing, and the well-trained staff make it an experience you’ll want to repeat). Lest you do want to leave, just cross the street and Harvey Nick’s food hall awaits (everything from fresh juices to gourmet cheese to sushi can be found here). And by all means, be sure to try the K’bridge martini at the Mandarin Bar!

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Edition London, Schrager’s collaboration with Ritz-Carlton which opened a few months ago in the former Berner’s Hotel in Fitzrovia (steps from Oxford Street). Suffice it to say, this fun, chic boutique hotel exceeded my expectations on every level. It is obvious that the staff has been well-trained by Ritz-Carlton as everyone from the bellmen to the front desk agents to the restaurant teams to the management go out of their way to deliver. Dinner and cocktails (try the Dill or No Dill) at Berner’s Tavern is an absolute must (hotel guests are given priority for tables at the hot spot I’m told by an Edition insider). The rooms (like mine, shown below) are stylish with warm touches, and surprisingly spacious for a boutique hotel. I’ll look forward to seeing the gym and spa on a future visit as I’m told both are being given a refresh to better suit guests’ needs. GM David Taylor—formerly of the Huxton in Shoreditch--is a terrific host here at the city’s hottest new boutique hotel.

What impressed me most about each of the three hotels where I stayed was the level of customization and attention to my preferences. Healthy delicious and gluten free snacks, dark chocolate, Rose Champagne, still water, a yoga mat (thank you Mandarin!) and even treats and toys for my beloved pups were delivered as in-room amenities. Talk about knowing your guest!

For more details or to inquire about rates/VIP amenities at each of these three London hotels, contact me at And stay tuned for future posts on my other favorite luxury hotels in London serving up the city’s best gluten-free teas, cocktails, meals, martinis and more!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pink Power: Elite Travel & Golden Door Combining Forces to Raise Funds For BCRF

When your mom has been battling breast cancer on and off for 18 years, and your 40-something-year-old best friend has a mastectomy & undergoes chemo, it's obvious that raising funds for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) isn't a choice but an obligation. For years, I have worked closely with many of my travel industry partners to help raise funds for BCRF ( and now, in conjunction with our amazing friends at Golden Door Spa & Fitness Resort, my company Elite Travel International is taking our fundraising efforts to the next level.

Simply book a 4- or 7-day stay at gorgeous Golden Door in Escondido, CA through Elite Travel International during Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October 2013) and ETI & Golden Door will team up to donate $500 per stay to BCRF. The stay can be booked for anytime between now and October 31, 2014.

I had the opportunity to visit Golden Door this past summer and was wow'ed by the peacefulness of the Japanese Zen-inspired grounds and the quality of the healthy, delicious meals. I loved working out daily with my daily personal trainer as well as the challenging and inspiring classes from yoga to cycling and Tai Chi. I loved that I had plenty of choices in my daily fitness regime, and that my meals were customized to my preferences (gluten free, dairy free). The original destination spa resort in Southern California, Golden Door is undergoing a major transformation under new COO Kathy Van Ness, a longtime fashion/lifestyle exec who ran Diane Von Furstenberg and Warnaco's swim group. Under the new owners of Golden Door, Van Ness has "a unique opportunity to express a commitment to health, happiness and a more balanced approach of how to best define modern American life."

To book your upcoming stay at Golden Door and help Elite Travel International and Golden Door raise funds for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, contact Stacy Small at or call 310 826 2939.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mad about Mayakoba: The ideal weekend beach retreat

It's been over 10 years since my last visit to Riviera Maya. The last time I was here, there was no Mayakoba, the eco-tourism development now comprised of beaches, lagoons, a championship golf course, and the Fairmont, Rosewood, Banyan Tree, and soon, Andaz luxury hotels. What a stunning spot to relax in a beachfront suite steps from the sand. The sister property to Las Ventanas al Paraiso (another one of my Mexican favorites), Rosewood Mayakoba has blown me away on every level from the attention to detail in the suites, to the incredible friendliness of the staff from the bellmen to the butler to the housekeepers all the way up to the top. General Manager Graeme Davis sets a fantastic example for his team, and it's obvious they all truly enjoy their surroundings and their jobs. It makes for a very peaceful vibe that extends throughout the property from the Sense Spa to Punta Bonita poolside restaurant.

It always impresses me when a luxury hotel takes the time to customize the suite with welcome amenities they know their guests will appreciate. In my case, I was welcomed with a tray of freshly cut veggies and fruit along with freshly squeezed "green" juice. There was also a selection of CDs that matched my musical preferences, a yoga mat and, at turn down each evening, dark chocolate (my favorite) was in my suite for me to enjoy. It's clear this luxury hotel did some homework on me, and it makes me super-confident that they will do the same for my high-end clients who notice these small details as much as I do (the monogrammed beach bag and pillow cases were also an amazing touch!).

My favorite accommodations at Rosewood Mayakoba are the Beachfront Suites with private deck, plunge pool and direct access to the beach (it's an easy walk down the beach to the pool and restaurant). The d├ęcor of dark woods, light stone, leather and woven textured fabrics complemented by subtle Mexican artwork is comfortable and modern. I also loved the spacious bi-level oceanview suite with rooftop hot tub. Getting around the property by bicycle is one option, or you can cruise around the lagoon by boat or hop aboard the golf carts that regularly criss-cross the property which straddles the lagoon on one side and fronts the beach on the other.

For those partial to crystal clear ocean water and powder soft white sand, a weekend (or longer!) in a beachfront suite should be on your "must do" list. It's easy enough to get to Mayakoba with nonstop flights to nearby Cancun from LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, New York to name a few key gateways. And, if you're looking to bring your family and/or travel with a few couples and enjoy total privacy, the resort's brand new (opening this November) Casa Loma (below) is the perfect option. A full kitchen, multiple outdoor decks, private pool, dedicated chef and nanny, and four full bedrooms plus spacious living areas as well as your own boat and golf cart take it to the next level of luxury at Rosewood Mayakoba.

All of our Virtuoso clients will of course enjoy the daily delicious breakfast buffet (complete with authentic Mexican specialties), a $100 Spa credit, and priority upgrades and early check in/late check out on request. For more details or to book your upcoming stay, contact