Category Hotels

Stelllaaaaaaa – Or getting stuck in Sao Paulo and the Sao Paulo Airport Marriott

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This is part 19 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

It may seem like this trip report series is taking forever, but (a) it was a long trip and (b) other things have been going on which I will blog about shortly.  This should have been my last post from my trip, but the travel gods intervened.

DC had very little snow this winter – indeed one day of accumulation total prior to my March trip.  Of course, that meant a storm was then predicted for the day I returned home. Winter Storm Stella was predicted to bring 2 to 6 inches in DC – but in Dulles, far west of the city, they were predicting 6 to 12 inches.  So, even taking off from Johannesburg, I was prepared for the possibility of a travel disruption.

Still on the SAA plane, I p...

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Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Johannesburg-Rosebank – a lovely Pointbreaks stay

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This is part 16 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

A few weeks before my trip, IHG Rewards Club issued its list of “Pointbreaks” properties for spring 2017. For those who aren’t familiar, properties on the list have a limited number of rooms available for only 5,000 IHG points – which can basically be bought for about $35 – making this a pretty good value. Most of the properties on the lists are generally not very popular, though, with isolated locations, or of low quality...

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Hotel Review: The Disappointing Protea Johannesburg Balalaika Sandton

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This is part 15 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

I had initially planned to use my Protea Prokard one free night voucher to stay at the Protea Fire and Ice Melrose Arch and then use a Prokard Bogo voucher at the African Pride Melrose Arch, but when PointBreaks opened up rooms at the Holiday Inn in Rosebank, I changed things up. In retrospect, I should have kept the one night at the Fire and Ice, but instead changed to the Protea Balalaika Sandton.  I ended up staying in ten different hotels on this trip, and the Protea Balalaika Sandton was the only one I had a bad experience at.

Sandton, Johannesburg

Sandton is an upscale area of Johannesburg, with lots of office buildings and hotels, as well as some high-end shopping centers...

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Swakopmund and the Strand Hotel

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This is part 13 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

Swakopmund is one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been, as it is a complete anachronism.  Nestled on the Atlantic Ocean, due west of Windhoek, it is probably the second-most visited “city” in Namibia. (Walvis Bay, 40 miles to the south, is a larger city, but less touristed.)  Swakopmund was the main port for German South West Africa, and still retains a very strong German influence – both in terms of architecture and people.  Although English is the official language of Namibia, you’re far more likely to hear German, and the city remains a tourist/seaside destination for Germans.  I’ve never been to a North Sea beachtown in Germany, but I imagine it feels like Swakopmund...

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The Hilton Windhoek Review and a Super-Brief Exploration of Windhoek

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This is part 11 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

Windhoek has a pretty solid range of hotel options, including two Proteas.  The Hilton Windhoek, though, had very good reviews, and seemed pretty well-located.  I had originally booked it for 30,000 Hilton Honors points, because, well how many decent Hilton properties can you get for a non-outrageous amount of points.  I checked back a month or so later, and due to the ridiculous nontransparent pricing system for Hilton properties, it had dropped down to 20,000 points, so I rebooked it.

Hilton Windhoek

The hotel stands out quite a bit in the city, as a very tall modern structure...

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Protea Hotels of Cape Town:  Protea Cape Castle, Protea Victoria Junction, and African Pride 15 on Orange

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This is part 9 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

As explained in my intro post for this trip, my five nights in Cape Town were all spent at Protea-family properties – the South African chain that became a Marriott brand a few years ago.  Four of my nights were booked using Prokard Explorer BOGO certificates, and the fifth was my annual Marriott Rewards free night from my Marriott Rewards Premier Visa card.  In all, I was very happy with the choices I made, as the hotels ranged from good to outstanding, the locations worked, and the value was excellent – even taking into account that I didn’t even use all of the certificates in my Prokard Explorer account...

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Hotel Review: B Resort & Spa – Orlando / Disney Springs – Lake Buena Vista

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Greetings from Orlando, where I’m on a short family vacation before five nights back in DC and then on to Africa.  I don’t usually review my random domestic hotel stays, but I’m making an exception for this one as I think it might be interesting, and is illustrative of the meaninglessness of elite status these days.

Back in the summer, my sister had mentioned bringing her family down to Disney World for Presidents’ Day week.  So when I saw a deal for the B Resort and Spa in Orlando on that was good for that week — and was fully cancellable — I jumped on it and booked two consecutive one-night reservations. I knew I wouldn’t be able to take the whole week off, but since I had Monday off, I figured Sunday and Monday nights would be good.

B Resort and Spa, Orlando

The deal was hardly bargain mistake rate territory, with rates of about $75 a night.  When you add in taxes and the Orlando-area ubiquitous resort fee (plus parking since I rented a car to get from the airport and for one day), it came to over $130 a night, but it was still a good deal.  This is mostly because of the specific property.  There are so many hotels in Orlando that booking far in advance $150 a night would be nothing special.  But the B Resort is one of the Disney Springs hotels (nee Downtown Disney hotels nee WDW Village hotels), seven hotels on Disney grounds but not Disney-operated.  The benefits of these hotels, include proximity, including walking distance to the Disney Springs complex, a very regular shuttle to the parks, and some other perks about restaurants and tee times that didn’t matter to me.  In planning, I knew my sister’s family would be staying on property, so I thought that this would be convenient and not require a rental car.  (Incidentally, I had stayed at one of the Downtown Disney hotels (then a Courtyard by Marriott, now a Holiday Inn) on my last trip to Disney World — Spring Break in high school in 2001, for much of the same reason.)

The B also had good reviews and seemed like a nicer hotel than many of the chains on International Drive, with a large gym and a nice pool area, good for a solo uncle. The other Disney Springs hotels are affiliated with big brands (3 Hilton properties, a Holiday Inn, a Best Western, and a Wyndham).  B itself is a small chain with a few other Florida properties (Fort Lauderdale and the Keys), plus one in Savannah and one in New Orleans. It definitely aims for an upscale, hip boutique feel (perhaps the B is for boutique??).

The trip turned into a whole family adventure with my paren...

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South Africa & Namibia Preview #2: Planning My Stay, Hotels, the Protea Prokard Explorer, and IHG PointBreaks

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This is post #2 in a series about my February-March 2017 Trip to South Africa and Namibia.

With flights booked into Cape Town and out of Johannesburg, I had to figure out how I would spend my 12ish days in Africa.  From talking to folks, it seemed I really could spend the whole time in Cape Town and its surrounds, and that Johannesburg didn’t require a long stay.  But I also figured I should do a safari or something outdoors; you don’t go to Africa just to see cities.

Several people had recommended Namibia, so I looked at safari options there, after deciding Krueger National Park wasn’t a great option for me as a solo traveler given its location and the options I saw.  (I had also thought about Victoria Falls and Botswana, but the travel time from Cape Town was a negative.) I was pretty limited because I didn’t want to do a very long safari, and there was actually only one tour leaving on days that worked for me, the Etosha Express tour, which will start in Windhoek on a Tuesday morning, spend two nights in Etosha National Park, swing down the Skeleton Coast, and end in Swakopmund, a coastal resort-ish city with a strong German heritage.

Etosha Watering Hole

One reason this tour worked is I was able to get easy nonstop flights that allowed for a half-day in both Windhoek and Swakopmund, for a nice 4 night exploration of Namibia.  I’ll be flying on Air Namibia from Cape Town to Windhoek, and then on South African Express from Walvis Bay (just south of Swakopmund) to Johannesburg.

Two new airlines a-comin’: Ai...

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Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Auckland

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This is part 12 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Auckland has no shortage of hotels, with several large international chains well-represented.  I originally was going to spend one night at the Hilton Auckland, which is perched at the end of a pier in the harbor and is well reviewed.  I had reserved a night for 70,000 points, but in the end just decided I’d book two nights at the Crowne Plaza for 30,000 points a night.  The Crowne Plaza was more centrally-located, had decent reviews, and wasn’t as exorbitantly priced.  Plus, I’m trying to minimize Hilton stays given my series of disappointments.  (As I write this, I’m at a Holiday Inn in Brooklyn I booked after canceling a Hampton Inn.)

Crowne Plazas are not really well-known members of the IHG family.  There aren’t a ton of them—only 400, but they tend to be full-service hotels, a step between Holiday Inns and Intercontinentals, created as the upscale/business subsidiary of Holiday Inn back in the 1980s. I haven’t stayed in many – just Montpelier, France, and Columbus, Ohio, I think.   I’ve seen some variation in size, though, and this was probably the largest I’ve ever stayed in- comparable to a Marriott or a Sheraton, I’d say.

Crowne Plaza Auckland

The property...

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2016 Index and Year in Review

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I won’t belabor the point, but 2016 was pretty terrible.  My travels were pretty good,though.  I still owe you all a few posts from my November New Zealand adventure, but as we say goodbye to the dumpster-fire of 2016, here’s a look back at my year in travel.  For previous years’ retrospectives, check out 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

2016, yeah!

I’ve kept the blog as a travelogue, continuing to blog less and less about things other than my personal travel given how crowded the space is for “hacking” and “free” points.  Going into 2017, I’ve requalified for American elite status (Platinum), and let my hotel status’ drop down to be those I have via credit card (Hyatt Platinum/Discoverist, Marriott/SPG Gold, Hilton Gold, IHG Platinum) and Intercontinental Ambassador.

So, what were my tra...

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