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