(All photos by Scott Laird)
It’s easy to tell when a major travel media outlet has published one of their “Best Of” lists for the year because of the flurry of promotion that accompanies it by each named property on social media, and the distinctions awarded by each list is something for the properties and their staff to be proud of.
As the end of the year is time for reflection, it’s also when I like to reflect on my stays over the past year, and I inevitably find myself fondly remembering the finest moments at the hotels I’ve stayed at and written about during the year. In fact, one of the hardest travel decisions to make for the upcoming year is how to strike the best balance between discovering new hotels and returning home to old favorites. In the meantime, I hope everybody enjoys the list of highlights I encountered around the world in 2016. So here’s my 2016 FabuList: no ranking here, no top ten, no “best,” just a quick list of hotels and features that I found particularly noteworthy.
The Palace Hotel San Francisco, a Luxury Collection Hotel celebrated 140 years in the city by the way with a multimillion-dollar refresh in 2015. Over the years, the hotel has seen the genesis of Green Goddess dressing, introduced what is now the Garden Court, which also saw some of the first meetings of the nascent United Nations in 1945. Public spaces have been tinkered with in a way that preserves their historic glory, and guest rooms are outfitted with contemporary-yet-fitting refinements that exude modern comfort and hospitality.
San Antonio is a city that loves a good cocktail, and for the next entry we go to another painstakingly restored historic hotel that is part of The Luxury Collection. The St. Anthony, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Antonio is rife with local lore, from Peacock Alley where generations of glitterati attended weddings and other events to the St. Anthony Club, where the idea for Southwest Airlines was formed on a cocktail napkin. While many historic spaces have been preserved, others have been updated with ultra contemporary SATX Cool style, such as the bar Haunt, which pays homage to the hotel’s resident ghosts. The Lavender Lady is a take on a French 75 whose namesake ghost’s lavender perfume still washes over guests in the hotel’s library. Cocktails in the must-visit Rebelle share table space with shareable plates and are named after the Seven Deadly Sins. Envy, made with vodka, St. Germain, Pear Puree, and rosewater, is appropriately green.
Austin, Texas is a place where talent of all stripes and pool culture from the quirky to the luxurious are all close at hand. Kimpton’s Hotel Van Zandt combines all of that into their restaurant Geraldine’s where music writers are free to hang out in the lounge and write music, while the pool itself has a separate stereo system installed. Barrel-aged cocktails and high-energy pop are on tap on the pool deck, but dive into the pool and transcend to another world, gliding through crystal clear waters to the strains of a Bach cello concerto.
The Hotel Imperial, a Luxury Collection Hotel Vienna, was the perfect base for a short stay in the Austrian capital, but oftentimes what you take home from a hotel is just as important as what you experience while you’re there (and no, I didn’t pinch the towels or the silverware). What I did find was Kathi, a little cow whose €12 purchase price benefitted a local children’s hospital. The famous Imperial Torte, a favorite of Austria’s last emperor, is available at the hotel itself, in shops throughout Vienna, and by mail order, which came in handy for Christmas gifts.
St. Regis Butler service offers the same five service points at each of the brand’s properties around the world. But at The St. Regis Bangkok, butlers go above and beyond. Each afternoon brought a new selection of Thai and Western sweet treats that are not part of the advertised service. A placard on the first afternoon advertised it was an added benefit for SPG elite members, but that’s not an advertised benefit either. Surprise and delight achievement unlocked—while I have plans to return to Bangkok in the future, staying in any other hotel would almost be difficult.
The Pan Pacific Seattle has much to recommend it to visitors to the Emerald City, from a great location to gorgeous interior design, but the most thoughtful touch comes in the form of an amenity that is the bane of light sleepers with rooms near it: the ice machine. Ice chests are coolers instead of ice machines that dump automated loads of cubes at intervals throughout the night. Ice is already individually bagged so all one need do is grab one on their way to their room from the silent machine immediately across from the elevator.
Resort Fee Removal
Perhaps one of the biggest wins is when a property that previously charged the hated resort fee gets rid of it. That’s pretty much “Hotel of the Year” in my book. Such a property is The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort in Waikiki, which got rid of their resort fee in January, 2016, and I’m resolved to shout praise from the rooftops about it until other properties follow suit. Not paying a daily mandatory fee for things I may or may not value made it much easier for me to shell out $45 for a full day’s worth of prime, shaded Waikiki oceanfront real estate.
There were plenty of exciting hotels to visit in 2016, and I wish there was enough space to review all of them. Stay tuned for more properties in 2017—there are a lot of hotels in development pipeline that I’m working to bring to these pages. http://www.travelpulse.com/