My dad is an accountant so I grew up constantly being told “money doesn’t grow on trees” and “turn the lights off – we aren’t the electric company around here.” Needless to say, I grew up with an appreciation for the value of a dollar and when we travel, I tend to book a mix of wallet-friendly hotels with some splurges here and there. If it’s a special occasion (wedding anniversary or birthday), we will splurge. I also look for good deals and package offers and I sometimes use a Virtuoso travel agent for bookings and advice as well. Over the years, I’ve hit a few stinkers where I kick myself saying “why didn’t I just spend the extra money on that nicer place?” or, even worse, I think “well that wasn’t worth the splurge” but other times I hit the mark just right. Here are a few of my favorites over the past few years.
Best Luxury Hotel
My favorite hotel of all time is Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Cabo San Lucas. This Rosewood property is heaven. Every room is a massive suite with huge terrace. There are multiple pools and it’s right on the beach with beautiful sunset views and crashing waves. Every restaurant here, from traditional Mexican food to the sushi bar, is divine. I’ve also had one of the best margaritas in my life here – a spicy mango margarita on the rocks with chile lime salt that I could drink all day.
The rooms here are the largest I have stayed in – around 1500 square feet with fireplaces, walk-in closets, his and her vanities, and a soaking tub big enough for 4 people (if you’re into that). The best part was the service, which is over the top. You get 2 butlers, one for day and one for night, and they are available 24/7. After you check in, they actually look at the clothes in your closet (and they will unpack for you) and then provide a sewing kit that is customized for your clothes, i.e., you bring a hot pink shirt, they provide hot pink thread that matches and is already to go on the needle…just in case.
The hotel actually has underground tunnels so you never see a housekeeping cart or gardening equipment sitting out. The pool staff moves your umbrella throughout the day to keep you out of the sun, brings you iced water and sorbets throughout the day and they have a guy to clean your sunglasses and make them like new. They even monitor when you leave the room so they know when to swoop in and clean it quickly while you’re at lunch, the spa or the beach. Oh, and don’t even get me started on their amazing spa.
This is a big splurge but was worth every penny. We came here for 3 nights to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary and we’re still talking about it. On average, it starts around $1100 per night and that is not all-inclusive so food/drinks are separate. They do offer packages throughout the year, though.
Best Value Hotel
“Budget hotel” is relative in my opinion but I like to think of where I feel I am getting the most bang for my buck. I always think of Stonefield Estate in St. Lucia. I loved this island for its natural beauty and I really wanted a room with a view of the majestic pitons and the ocean. However, I also didn’t want to pay Jade Mountain prices. I had just switched jobs and spending thousands per night on a room just wasn’t the best idea. I came across Stonefield on Tripadvisor and booked it. We loved this hotel and would stay here again in a heartbeat.
First, each room is an individual cottage with complete privacy. You have a small plantation style cottage with living room, kitchenette, bedroom and separate indoor/outdoor bathroom (shower is outside). Out front is your large terrace with tables, chairs, chaise loungers, a hammock and a massive, private pool. I honestly can’t call this a plunge pool – it was basically a full size private swimming pool. All of this overlooks both the pitons and the ocean and faces west so you get amazing sunset views. We even saw the “green flash” twice during our stay.
Breakfast was included everyday and was made to order fresh each morning. We also ate at their restaurant twice and really enjoyed dinner overlooking the ocean. Finally, this hotel was in a great location about 3 minutes from Soufriere and close to several other hotels if you wanted to venture out for lunch or dinner elsewhere. We actually walked down the hill to Sugar Beach for lunch one day and another day went over to Jade Mountain to check it out. All of this was only $375 a night w/ breakfast and 2 complimentary drinks. I thought it was a great deal and our room was clean, spacious and lovely and the service was good as well.
Favorite Beach Hotel
The Viceroy Hotel Riviera Maya takes the cake for my favorite beach hotel. First, it’s only a 2.5 hour flight from Dallas to Cancun so we can even make this a weekend trip if we want. The Viceroy is about an hour drive from the Cancun airport and it’s in a jungle-like setting right on a beautiful beach near Playa del Carmen. Again, each room is an individual palapa style cottage with thatched roof, large outdoor terrace with a hammock, dining area, chaise lounges, a day bed, plunge pool and complete privacy. I also loved the indoor/outdoor bathroom here as well – the shower is outside and open air but you can get ready inside where there is A/C.
The jungle setting is gorgeous and they have waterfalls and a stream running through the property. There are also a few spider monkeys around and they may join you for breakfast or dinner looking for a snack. The Viceroy also has a beautiful walk-in pool surrounded by palm trees and right next to the beach but they also offer plenty of beach chairs and suspended daybeds on the beach itself. We found the service here to be perfect – they were always keeping an eye out for when your water bottle or your margarita went empty and were ready to get you a fresh one.
The food here was also fantastic and we loved their beach BBQ they did on the weekends with fresh octopus, fish, shrimp, steak kabobs and all kinds of tacos and sides. We stayed here for a long weekend in 2016 and loved it so much that we are coming back for a full week stay in November 2017. We book the jungle room which doesn’t have a view of the ocean but is more secluded and private. Keep in mind that ocean view rooms still have plunge pools but they are open so you can see the ocean, which means everyone can also see you on your terrace and plunge pool. We liked the privacy in the evening more than having an ocean view. The jungle rooms are around $450 a night so this hotel is quite reasonable as well but the food and drinks do add up quickly! If you have breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks here (for 2 people), you will easily add an extra $300 a day to your stay.
Favorite City Hotel
This was a tough call for me. I really love the St. Regis in New York City but I have to say that the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans won this category by a nose. First, spend the extra money and stay on the “club level” at the Ritz. I have stayed club level at a few other hotels and was disappointed but it was worth every cent for the Nola location. The hotel is perfectly situated, especially if you come for Mardi Gras. It’s on Canal Street right off of Bourbon so you can walk to the heart of the French Quarter in 2 minutes or pick up the streetcar for the Garden District around the corner too. During Mardi Gras, the hotel is right on the parade route as they always come down part of Canal Street. If you stay club level, you can fill up a plastic cup with beer and just walk outside the hotel and catch a parade and some beads.
The hotel itself is also gorgeous and classic with marble and chandeliers everywhere – I believe it used to be an old upscale department store years ago. The rooms are spacious with hardwood floors and canopy beds so you feel like you’re staying in the room of a creole mansion. The best part is the club level – they have the most amazing food and drink selection of any club level I have seen. Plates and plates of unique appetizers and bites all day, a full breakfast in the morning, a mimosa bar and bloody mary bar, wines on tap, several draught beers and bottled beers that you can help yourself to whenever and the club level is massive with a beautiful wood-paneled library-like seating area with fireplace and a separate dining area. Oh, and they do a huge dessert and chocolate display every evening — so evil. Of course, all of this has views of the Mississippi River and New Orleans. We ate so much here we almost skipped our dinner reservations.
Finally, the hotel has a great spa. It’s not the biggest spa ever but it’s comfy, has an excellent steam room and amenities and I have had some of the best massages ever here. Their masseuses are so good. I always book a massage when we come to New Orleans, even if we don’t stay here. Cost for the club level room is usually around $600 a night for two but during jazz fest and MardiGras, that can be as high as $1,000 per night.
Most Unique Hotel
The Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe is one of my all-time favorites. The building is one of the oldest in Santa Fe and was built in the 1600’s. It was purchased by an artist couple, Sylvia and Ira Seret, who specialize in textiles and have a wonderful shop in Santa Fe. Each room is individually decorated and incredibly unique. Ms. Seret also personally designs and mosaics each bathroom by hand. Every room is like a work of art. The rich rugs, fabrics and curtains make you feel like you are stepping into a Tibetan mansion. The hotel is located in downtown Santa Fe about a 5 minute walk from the historic plaza and all the shopping and restaurants. We have stayed in 3 different rooms but our favorite is one of the premium suites called Birdsong, which also has a private terrace off the master bedroom.
The service at Five Graces is impeccable. Made to order breakfast is included everyday and can be had in their restaurant or they will bring it to your room for no extra charge. Everything in your minibar is free and they have such nice touches, like a jar in your room that they fill with fresh made cookies everyday from their kitchen. Each room also has a wood burning fireplace (or kiva as they call it) and their fire butler will come start your fire each evening if you like.
As each room has a separate living room and bedroom, you feel like you’re staying in your own private adobe house. I could spend an hour just browsing their website looking at room photos because every room is so individual and special. We stayed here once and were hooked. It’s pricey in my book, around $500 to $800 a night, but the location, extra attentive service and included amenities make it worth it.
Honorable Mention for Best Common Areas (Pool and Lobby)
I really enjoyed this hotel for its architecture and beauty but it doesn’t make my best list because the service was somewhat lacking in several areas. The Hotel Selman in Marrakech was stunning, though. The lobby area was very plush and sexy with rich colors and chandeliers and the pool was gorgeous and was lined with blue tiles from Guatemala. Staying here was like living in an Arabian prince’s palace – complete with stables full of Arabian horses as well. Too bad the service and the food didn’t quite live up to the beauty of the place!
I’m looking forward to a few other interesting hotels this year including The Mondrian in Miami, the Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley, the St. Regis Bora Bora and The Stephanie Inn on Cannon Beach in Oregon. We may also try and sneak in a quick weekend trip to Cabo, New Orleans or maybe Las Vegas in early summer as well…