$30 Amazon Gift Card from Country Inn & Suites

$30 Amazon Gift Card for 2 Stays at Country Inn & Suites
Club Carlson Summer 2017 Promo

Club Carlson is out with its summer promo and it’s a twist from the usual offer.

Instead of earning bonus points for stays, Club Carlson is offering an Amazon gift card.

The offer is fairly straight forward.  Stay two nights at a Country Inn & Suites hotel in the U.S. or Canada by September 4, 2017, and receive a $30 Amazon gift card.

Remember to stack this promo with points or cash back by booking your stay through a shopping portal or via the Club Carlson app.

Travels with Mitzy

Me and Mitzy at the Four54 Grill in Lancaster, PA
Mitzy and I at the Four54 Grill in Lancaster, PA  Photo by Joel Shprentz

Have I mentioned Mitzy, our ten year old cockapoo?

We don’t often travel with our dog, but last weekend’s road trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania was the exception.

When looking for a dog friendly place to eat, we turned to BringFido.com.

The Four54 Grill in central Lancaster was rated 5 bones, so we thought we would give it a try.  The restaurant is located right next door to the Lancaster Science Factory.

There was ample outdoor seating and the patio was well shaded.

Upon arrival, the owner immediately greeted us with a giant water bowl and biscuits for Mitzy.  We ordered inside, and they brought the food out to us.

The Four54 Grill  claims to have the best burgers in Lancaster County and they may well be right!

 Pet Friendly Hotel in Lancaster, PA

Courtyard Marriott Lancaster, PA
Huge front lawn at the Courtyard Marriott Lancaster, PA
Photo by Joel Shprentz

We chose the Courtyard Marriott in Lancaster because of its pet friendly policies.  The Courtyard welcomes dogs under 75 pounds, and the fee is a reasonable $15 per night.

Upon checkin, we received a goody bag Mitzy.  The hotel is surrounded by lots of grassy areas for exercising your dog.

Where to Eat in Bel Air, Maryland

BringFido.com led us to a surprising find in the historic downtown of Bel Air, Maryland.  The Sunny Day Cafe is a breakfast and lunch place with lots of outdoor tables.

Sunny Day Cafe in Bel Air, Maryland
Sunny Day Cafe in Bel Air, Maryland

The cafe was hopping on  a Sunday afternoon.

The menu features brunch items like omelets, crepes, and a few Greek specialities.

But the big surprise was the daily special:  a gigantic crab cake with a cup of Maryland crab soup for $11.

We are always in search of the best crab cake in Maryland.  Well, we found a serious contender at the Sunny Day Cafe in Bel Air, Maryland!  Moist, spicy, not a lot of filler — and quite the deal!

Sad News in Bel Air

Heroin Overdoses and Deaths
Heroin overdoses and deaths year to date

Bel Air, Maryland is the county seat of Harford County.  The county is due north of Baltimore County, with a rural and suburban population of just 250,000.

The county is battling a public health crisis of epic proportions.

Ten Things You Don’t Have to Pack for Japan Travel

Travel light to Japan
Travel light to Japan

I ignored the guidebook advice, but you don’t have to!

We are just back from a three-week trip to Japan, where we stayed in a variety of hotels ranging from 2.5 star to 5 star properties.

Each of the hotels generously provided a number of travel essentials free of charge.

I can confirm that more likely than not, you don’t need to pack these ten items for a trip to Japan.

How to Lighten Your Load on a Trip to Japan

We stayed in nine different hotels over the course of our three-week trip to Japan.  They all provided a standard set of amenities.

Do yourself a favor and leave these items at home:

Pajamas and Bathrobe:  Hotels routinely provide fresh pajamas and/or yukatas (cotton kimono-like robes).  In hotels with spas, it is de rigueur to walk to the public bath in the yukata and slippers.

Slippers:  The Japanese custom is to remove your shoes upon entering a home.  The same is true when entering a hotel room.  Every hotel on our itinerary provided disposable slippers.

Toothbrush and toothpaste:  American hotels don’t generally supply toothbrushes and toothpaste, but we found these items were available in Japanese hotels.

Disposable razor:  Not having to pack a razor will shave a few ounces off your load.

Hairbrush and comb:  You don’t need to bring a hairbrush or comb, as these are routinely supplied in Japan.

Standard toiletries:  As you would expect, hotels provide soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and often body wash.

Sundries:  Q-tips, cotton pads, nail files were offered everywhere.

Sewing kit:  I came home with at least half a dozen sewing kits.  I love these kits because the needles are pre-threaded.

Umbrella:  Several hotels offered umbrellas to borrow.  Don’t bother packing an umbrella because if it rains, you can buy one at a subway station for about $5.00 and they may be even cheaper at a convenience store.  With amazing Japanese efficiency, the coin operated umbrella dispensers in the subway stations are replenished frequently on rainy days.

Flashlight:  All hotels provide a flashlight in case of emergencies such as an earthquake.

Other hotel room amenities that we enjoyed included water bottles, a refrigerator, coffee maker, and hot water heater for making tea.

Do you tend to overpack?  Even if you forget a few critical items like sunscreen — or run short — most everything you might need is is readily available in Japan.

7 Things I Loved About the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan in Paris, and 2 Things I Didn’t

View of the Eiffel Tower from our room at the Radisson Blu Metropolitan
View of the Eiffel Tower from our room at the Radisson Blu Metropolitan

If you are sitting on a free night worldwide, courtesy of the Club Carlson credit card devaluation, I can recommend the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan hotel in Paris.  

The hotel is not fancy, nor is it in a neighborhood popular with tourists.  But for me, it had a certain charm to make our stay in Paris comfortable and enjoyable.

We spent five nights of our summer vacation at the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Hotel, Paris Eiffel.  Four nights were courtesy of Club Carlson points and the fifth night was partially paid by a Radisson gift card I won in a contest.

I loved the hotel.  Would I have loved it as much if if it were a paid stay, as opposed to practically free?  Probably not.  As a certified cheapskate, I get some bizarre pleasure about getting something for nothing.  I would not have paid 340 Euro a night to stay there.

But after agonizing about the various Radisson Blu hotels in Paris, I am very glad we selected Le Metropolitan.

Here are a few reasons why:

The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Has a Direct View of the Eiffel Tower

Bastille Day Fireworks viewed from Place de Mexico
Bastille Day Fireworks viewed from Place de Mexico

There is nothing more romantic than a room with a view.  Our trip to Paris was timed to coincide with Bastille Day.  It was a real thrill to witness the fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower from the Place de Mexico, directly in front of our hotel.

The police had barricaded the adjoining streets, so we were in a safe, traffic-free zone.  We were away from the crowds, but still had a direct, spot on view of the Eiffel Tower.

We could even catch a view of the Eiffel Tower from our room on the third floor.

The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Doesn’t Feel Like a Chain Hotel

viewed from Place de Mexico
Our small but functional room at the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan

I prefer to stay somewhere that feels local.  The Radisson Blu Metropolitan has its own modern Parisian sense of style.  It is not a cookie cutter chain hotel.  Rather, it is a small property with 38 rooms and 10 suites, designed by French interior designer François Champsaur.  The look is elegant, clean and minimalist, with features such as all white bedding, caramel-stained wood and black stone rainfall showers.

The Small Touches at the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan in Paris

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference.  There was a Nespresso machine in the room, and the restaurant sent up a pitcher of freshly steamed milk.  There was a tiny refrigerator to keep some yogurt or a few drinks cold.  Also there was a free bottle of Evian water, and two free macarons were delivered to our room each afternoon.  If you are lucky, you will get a couple of bonbons with the turn down service — sweet, marzipan like confections.  Oh, and there is free wifi in all the rooms, and a safe in the closet.

The Entire Hotel is Nonsmoking

There is another Club Carlson hotel about two blocks away, the Radisson Blu Le Dokhan’s Hotel Paris Trocadero.  It receives high marks on TripAdvisor, and looks charming.  We considered that hotel, but the only rooms that were available on points for our dates were smoking rooms.  That was unacceptable.  At the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan hotel, all the rooms are nonsmoking.

There’s a Swimming Pool and a Hamman!

There are more than 2,000 hotels in Paris and probably fewer than a few dozen have swimming pools.  Le Metropolitan has a small swimming pool in the basement, along with a steam room.  The swimming pool is petite, for sure, but there is nothing more refreshing than a dip in the pool after spending the day walking all over Paris.  The pool and spa area is quite relaxing, with vintage jazz music piped in.  The steam room, or hamman, is lined with bright green glass tiles.  I didn’t try it; maybe next time.

The Neighborhood — the Sixteenth Arrondissement

It's an easy walk from Le Trocadero Metro station
It’s an easy walk from the Trocadero Metro station

Paris is a city of small neighborhoods, and I am sure most people will say they liked their hotel because the location was great.  The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan is in a quiet neighborhood of upscale apartments, professional offices, and embassies.

The nearest Metro station, Trocadero, is exactly one block away.

There are a handful of cafes and casual restaurants, but no nightlife to speak of.  The nice thing about being in a residential neighborhood is that there are convenient services nearby.

Laundromat right next door
Laundromat right next door

For instance, there is a laundromat next door.  Nothing makes me happier when traveling than a suitcase full of clean clothes.

A few doors down from the laundromat, you can find Androuet (17, rue des Belles Feuilles), which is reputed to be among the finest cheese shops in Paris.  If you are overwhelmed by the choices the shopkeeper can guide you.

Le Androuet, one of the best cheese stores in Paris
Le Androuet, one of the best cheese stores in Paris

In Paris, there are contests each year for various baked goods, such as the best lemon tart, or the best baguette.  In 2013, Boulangerie des Belles Feuilles (22 rue des Belles Feuilles) was among the top ten bakeries for butter croissants.  Yup, we were staying down the street from the best croissants in Paris.  The Paris Brest, a ring of choux pastry filled with hazelnut praline was to die for!

There is also a chain bakery, Paul (12 Rue De Belle Feuilles), where you can grab a quick breakfast. Chain bakery or not, they bake all their breads right there.  It is located in a modern shopping mall just steps from Le Metropolitan.  The mall houses a large Casino supermarket.

The Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, and Trocadero Gardens are all within easy walking distance.

What I Didn’t Like About Le Metropolitan

I am sorry if this is sounding like a puff piece.  Perhaps the romance of Paris has contributed to my enthusiasm.

There are some things I didn’t like about the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan.   First of all the rooms were small.  You expect that in Paris.  On both our stays, we were kindly upgraded from “Classic” to “Deluxe” rooms.  Nevertheless, the rooms were still very small, with hardly enough room to sit and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat.  In the second room where we stayed, the toilet was in a separate room from the sink and the shower — an inconvenient layout.  Secondly, the service was adequate but not exceptional.  Small requests, such as for a second chair, had to be repeated several times.

This hotel is not for everybody.  If you want to be in the center of town, or in an area with more nightlife, this hotel is not for you.

There is a full service bar and restaurant at the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan which we did not try.  The restaurant was on the pricy side, but discounts are available.

Finally, the cost of a room here in Club Carlson points has effectively doubled (for holders of the Club Carlson credit card), from 70,000 points for two nights, to 70,000 points for one night.

By the way, this hotel has its own app, with tourist information.  You can find it on iTunes.

P.S.  Per the request in the comments, here is a picture from the cheese shop.

A few of the cheeses for sale at Androuet
A few of the cheeses for sale at Androuet

Charlottesville, Virginia on Miles and Points

Charlottesville, VirginiaWe are making a last minute excursion to Charlottesville, Virginia.

I’ve never been, and am really looking forward to it.  Charlottesville should be very pretty this time of year.

There’s no football game on the calendar, but the town seems to be completely sold out.

I am finding availability however, in a relatively new hotel on the outskirts, a Hyatt Place.  The rooms look pretty nice, just like the Hyatt Place Universal Studios we stayed at in Orlando.

A room at the Charlottesville Hyatt Place is going for $259 per night plus tax. That is way more than I want to pay.

The Trouble With Orbitz Rewards

It occurs to me that I just earned over $100 in Orbitz Rewards via a recent series of contests.  In my mind, that should be worth one free night.

Orbitz is showing room availability at the Charlottesville Hyatt Place at the same rate as the Hyatt website, $259.  I’m thinking, after crediting my $100 in Orbitz Rewards, that $159 a night might be the best I can do.

However, it turns out that Orbitz calculates tax on the full room rate, and only then subtracts the Orbitz credits.

With tax, the room rate is $289.  One night at the Hyatt Place in Charlottesville would be $184, after factoring in $105 in Orbitz Rewards.  That’s still quite pricey for my budget.

A Night at Hyatt Place Charlottesville is 8,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points

I don’t have any points in the Hyatt Gold Passport program, but it is worth checking how much this hotel goes for on points.

Hyatt Points and Points Plus Cash Chart
Hyatt Points and Points Plus Cash Chart

The Hyatt Place Charlottesville is a Category 2 hotel, which costs 8,000 points per night; or at the points plus cash rate, 4,000 points plus $55.  You have to call in to request the points plus cash rate.

The hotel was sold out of points plus cash rooms.  But there was still availability showing for 8,000 points per room.

Ultimate Rewards Points Transfer to Hyatt Immediately

Fortunately, I have a small stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  These points can be cashed in as statement credits at the rate of one cent per point.  8,000 points are worth $80 in cash.

I chose to transfer 8,000 Ultimate Rewards points to my Hyatt Gold Passport account.  The good thing about the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is that the transfers go through immediately.

I was able to reserve reserve a room — before the hotel sold out completely — for 8,000 points.   That’s a pretty good deal in my book.

The hotel business is all about supply and demand.

Rooms in Charlottesville were very expensive on our chosen date, but the price in points of the Hyatt hotel remained static.  8,000 points might not be such a good deal on a low demand night, but in this instance we made out okay.

Holiday Inn Paris: The Curious Incident of the Buzz in the Night Time

Sleuthing in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Paris - Notre Dame
Sleuthing in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

You don’t go to Paris to stay at a cookie-cutter chain hotel.

Crazy that I am, I booked five nights at the Holiday Inn Paris Notre Dame, for half of our summer vacation in Paris.

The reason, of course, was hotel points.

I had enough IHG points from a credit card bonus to get two free nights at a Holiday Inn hotel, and I was not going to let those points go to waste!

A Surprise Tropical Oasis at the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

The reason I chose the Holiday Inn- Paris Notre Dame was location.  The hotel is literally steps from the St. Michel Metro station and the RER train station.  It sits right on the border between the Latin Quarter and St. Germain de Pres.  It is within walking distance of just about everything.

View of the rooftops from our balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris -- Notre Dame
Romantic view of Paris rooftops from our balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris — Notre Dame

What really intrigued me about the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame, however, was the rooftop bar that provides generous views of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

The rooftop bar did not disappoint.  It was spellbinding to watch the sun set over the rooftops of Paris.

Another bonus was the charming garden off the hotel lobby, complete with a koi pond and tropical vegetation.

Koi Pond at the Holiday Inn Paris - Notre Dame
Koi Pond in the garden at at the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

However, the decor of the hotel was quite garish, like a fuschia throwback to the 1970’s.  You can see pictures of the rooms on TripAdvisor.

It turns out our neighbors had stayed there a couple of years ago.  “It’s not very Parisian,” they said.

We were assigned to a tiny room on the first floor, with a bizarre large window between the bedroom and the bathroom.

Holiday Inn Paris Notre Dame:  Things That Go Buzz in the Night

Upon returning to the Holiday Inn after a full day walking around Paris, I fell fast asleep.

Around 10 p.m., I was awakened by a security guy searching our room.

There was a strange buzzing going on, that my husband reported to the front desk.

We couldn’t locate the source of the buzzing.  It sounded like it may be coming from the bathtub.  No.  Was it coming from the desk, or maybe from the closet?

The security man brought in a ladder and removed a ceiling tile.  Nothing up there.  Then he turned off the electricity to see if the buzzing would stop.  No luck there.  He left to search the adjoining rooms to see if he could identify the source of the persistent buzzing.

Lovely tropical garden at the Holiday Inn Paris- Notre Dame
Lovely tropical garden at the Holiday Inn Paris- Notre Dame

After an hour of this, it was getting ridiculous.  It would be impossible to get back to sleep under these conditions.

The security guy radioed the front desk and said we would have to be relocated to another room.  The desk clerk agreed.

Unfortunately, the hotel was fully booked for the night, and we would have to move to another hotel.

We packed our bags and headed down to the lobby.

I guessed that they would move us to another Holiday Inn.  “Do you mind waiting?” the desk clerk asked.  “There’s nothing available.   Paris is completely booked tonight.”

Hotel Danube Paris, a More Traditional Accommodation

Half an hour later, she had secured a room and breakfast for us at what she promised was a very nice hotel not too far away.

Lobby of the Hotel Danube Paris
Lobby of the Hotel Danube Paris

She called us a cab, and we were whisked off to the Hotel Danube Paris on Rue Jacob in the 6th arrondissement.

I was up for the adventure — this would give us the opportunity to see another hotel and another neighborhood!

The Hotel Danube Paris is a typical Parisian hotel.  It is a family-owned, solid three star hotel.  There was a small courtyard where you can take breakfast.  The lobby is decorated with ornate green wallpaper.

Courtyard at Hotel Danube Paris
Charming Courtyard at Hotel Danube Paris

We arrived very late at night, and were lucky to get a large, comfortable room with an enormous bathroom.  It was the Hotel Danube’s most expensive room, a “Prestige” room.

This is the kind of place I can imagine returning on a future visit to Paris.

The next morning, we reported back to the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame.  The reception staff was most apologetic.  I don’t think they ever located the source of the buzzing.

In exchange for our trouble, we were upgraded to an “Executive” room on the sixth floor for the remainder of our stay.

View from our balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris - Notre Dame
View from our private balcony at the Holiday Inn Paris – Notre Dame

This “Executive” room was easily twice the size of our first room.  It had a windows stretching the length of the room.

There was a balcony large enough for two chairs and a table.  The balcony was shaded by vines and quite private. It had a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower.

The reception staff said that we would find a welcome amenity in our room.  Yes, there was a Twix bar and a water bottle on the desk.  Was this the amenity?

When we returned from dinner, we spotted another gift:  a bottle of wine; and a beautiful book of water color paintings of Paris:  Une Aquarelliste à Paris.  

This was a touching gesture and will make a nice keepsake of our time in Paris.

Book of Watercolor Prints of Paris
Book of Watercolor Prints of Paris

Book the Room, Not the Hotel

The moral of the story is that in Paris, and many other places, there is a big difference between the standard room and a superior room at the same hotel.

Our perception of these two disparate hotels was greatly influenced by the room quality.

On a points stay, you are eligible for a standard room.

If you have status with the hotel, by virtue of holding a branded credit card, you may be upgraded to a larger room.  Or maybe not.

If you are a cheapskate like me you may be reluctant to choose anything but the standard room.  Based on this experience, I would advocate searching for a nicer room at a less expensive hotel before making a decision.  In Paris, the difference between a four star hotel and a three star hotel may be whether there is a restaurant and a bar in the hotel, or an elevator, or other features that you might not care deeply about.

This post contains affiliate links.  Thanks if you choose to use them!

Third Night Free at Fairmont Hotels

Third Night Free at Select Fairmont Hotels
Third Night Free at Select Fairmont Hotels

Fairmont Hotels is running a third night free offer in conjunction with Amex, through the end of 2015.

Here’s the deal:

“Book and pay with any American Express Card using promo code PMXX and receive a complimentary consecutive 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th night depending on the property, plus a $25 hotel credit at participating Fairmont Hotels & Resorts worldwide.”

Click here to see the full list of participating properties, and to read the Terms and Conditions. 

The offer valid at participating Fairmont Hotels & Resorts for bookings from July 16 to December 31, 2015 and stays through December 31, 2015. The offer is subject to availability and requires a minimum 3, 4, 5 or 6 consecutive night stay depending upon property.

The best deal here is for a three night stay.

Why Does Luxury Travel Sell?

I don’t usually write about luxury hotels.  My feeling is that most middle class  families stay in mid-priced hotels.  To me, luxury is having free wifi, a laundromat and a swimming pool on the premises!  I am writing about this deal because it may have utility for some readers planning a getaway for a very special occasion.

The North American cities with Fairmont Hotels participating in the third night free offer include:

  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Newport Beach
  • Pittsburgh
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Washington, DC
  • Calgary
  • Edmonton
  • Quebec City
  • Montreal
  • Ottawa
  • Toronto
  • Vancouver
  • Victoria
  • Winnipeg

In Asia:

  • Beijing
  • Jaipur
  • Kunshan
  • Makati City
  • Nanjing
  • Shanghai
  • Singapore

In Europe:

  • Baku
  • Hamburg
  • Kyiv
  • Monte Carlo

In the Middle East

  • Abu Dhabi
  • Cairo
  • Dubai

Dozens of other Fairmonts in more sought out locations are offering the 4th or 5th night free.

Burn Your Club Carlson Points at Melbourne Beach Radisson

Mermaid fountain at entrance to Radisson Suites Oceanfront in Melbourne Beach, Florida
Mermaid fountain at entrance to Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront in Melbourne Beach, Florida

If you have Club Carlson points to burn and you need to burn them fast — consider  the Radisson Suite Hotel  Oceanfront in Melbourne Beach, Florida.

Melbourne Beach — where’s that?  

That’s the question I was asked repeatedly whenever I mentioned our Spring Break trip to Florida.

Melbourne Beach is on a barrier island about half an hour south of Cape Canaveral.  This area along the eastern seaboard in Florida is known as the “Space Coast.”  Melbourne Beach is a low key beach town.  There’s no boardwalk or amusements — just a broad sandy beach, the wind, the waves, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Melbourne Beach is a quiet residential area with four high rise hotels, some condos and and garden apartments, and single family homes.  The beach is very clean and not crowded at all.  Day visitors will find free beach parking at a municipal park next door to the Radisson.

The view from my balcony at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront
The view from our balcony at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront

Burn Your Club Carlson Points at the Radisson Suite  Oceanfront in Melbourne, Florida

The Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront is a gem of a property, and is especially well suited to families traveling with kids.  It was built in 1984 as condos, but was immediately purchased by Radisson for use as a hotel.

The view from my balcony at the Radisson Suites Hotel Oceanfront

We used 44,000 Club Carlson points to stay for two nights at this magnificent property where every room is a suite and has a balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  Through the end of May 2015, holders of the Club Carlson credit card can get a second night free when redeeming award nights.

As a Club Carlson Gold member (due to having the credit card), I landed a top floor suite. The welcome gift was a bowl full of fruit and pastries.

The “rooms” are actually more like one bedroom apartments.  Both the bedroom and large living room have floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean, and all the rooms have an oceanfront balcony.  The decor is modern.  Each room has a king sized sleep number bed in the bedroom, and a queen-sized sofa bed in the living room.  I especially loved that the floors were travertine tile, which is so much cleaner than carpet.

I didn’t take any pictures of our suite because the panoramic photos on the hotel website are so drop dead gorgeous.  But I can tell you this:  every single room in this hotel is has a full oceanfront view.  Every room is a large suite — modern, clean, and comfortable.

There is a pool, hot tub, sundeck, and poolside bar.  Two beach chairs and an umbrella rent for $20 a day, but beach toys are free to borrow.  My only concern:  no lifeguard on the beach.

If you make your reservations before the end of May 2015, you can have a two-night stay in a gorgeous oceanfront all-suites hotel for just 44,000 points.  Award room availability is wide open through December 2016.

The view from my balcony at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront
The view of the bay from the room entrance at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront

There is a shopping center with a Walmart and a supermarket across the street from the hotel.  The Walmart features a large selection of beach items at the front of the store.  There’s also a pizza place, a Thai restaurant, and a Friendly’s.

Did I mention that there are laundry machines at the Radisson?  That is a necessity for our family when traveling with kids.

I am grateful to The Deal Mommy for introducing me to this place.

Everything is super easy, relaxed and convenient.

Where to Eat in Melbourne Florida

If you love seafood you can’t do better than Shells of Melbourne, which features about a dozen different kinds of fresh fish and seafood daily.  Shells of Melbourne is a family style restaurant located inland, near the Melbourne Mall.

Another place we tried was Squid Lips, located just over the bridge on the mainland.  It’s a rambling bayside bar and restaurant, with a view of the fishing pier.  The virgin coladas are highly recommended!

 

Which Hotel Chain Has the Most Hotels in Paris?

"Paris is Always a Good Idea'  Audrey HepburnNow that our plane tickets to Paris are booked, I need to make some hotel reservations.

To the extent possible, I’d like to leverage my hotel points to book as many free nights as possible.

To that end, I started by exploring availability in the the two programs where I have the most points:  Club Carlson and IHG.

Not surprisingly, award availability for our travel dates was hit or miss.

Which Hotel Chain has the Most Hotels in Paris?

There are quite a few Holiday Inns and other IHG hotels in Paris, but only 4 Club Carlson Radisson Blu hotels.

Are these the best loyalty programs if you are looking for free nights for your Paris holiday?

If you read a number of other travel blogs, you’ve probably heard about the Park Hyatt Vendome, and how you can stay there for free by opening a Chase Hyatt credit card.

There are 2,400 hotels in Paris.  Why do all the bloggers stay at the same place?

On the one hand, I’d really love to stay in a boutique hotel on the Left Bank or the Marais.  On the other hand, I need to economize.

I went to Award Mapper to get a rough count of which chains have hotels that you can book for points in Paris.  I was surprised by what I found.

Best Western Has 42 Hotels in Central Paris

Best Western Hotels in Paris
Best Western Hotels in Paris via Award Mapper

Here are the tallies I came up with for the major hotel chains:

Best Western:  42

Choice:  15

Club Carlson:  4

Hilton:  1

Hyatt:  4

Intercontinental (IHG):  14

Marriott:  9

Starwood (SPG):  4

Wyndham:  2

Best Western has the most properties — 42 hotels in many different neighborhoods in Paris.  Hilton has the fewest — just one hotel.  Hyatt, Starwood, and Club Carlson each have four hotels.

Are you surprised by these results?  Were you able to book award stays in Paris?  

Where to Stay Within Walking Distance to Universal Studios, Orlando

Hogwarts Castle
Hogwarts Castle
Photo by Rstoplabe14 at en.wikipedia

A visit to Harry Potter World was on the agenda for our recent spring break trip to Florida.

Onsite hotels at Universal Studios Orlando were very expensive in early April.

I wanted to stay as close as possible in an offsite hotel, so that we could easily walk to Universal Studios.  I knew that we would be doing a lot of walking once we got to the park.

Many offsite hotels offer shuttle services, but these can be quite limited in terms of the hours and frequency of service, and their capacity is capped

Chain Hotels Across the Street from Universal Orlando
Stay with points at chain hotels across the street from Universal Orlando

Which Offsite Hotels are Closest to Universal Orlando?

A lot of hotel properties  advertise that they are within walking distance of Universal Studios.

But the Doubletree (by Hilton at the entrance of Universal Studios) is the absolute closest offsite hotel to the main gate.

The map above indicates where the hotel sits in relation to the massive parking garage at the entrance to Universal.

How Many Points Do You Need for a Free Night at a Hotel Near Universal Studios Orlando?

Several hotels are within a long block of the Doubletree.  Most of these are chain hotels that participate in the major hotel rewards programs.

Here’s how many points you need for a free night at each of these hotels:

  • Fairfield Inn & Suites — 25K points
  • Best Western Plus Universal Inn — 16K points
  • Doubletree — 20K points
  • Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites — 25K points
  • Hyatt Place — 8K points

I imagine these hotels offer similar amenities such as outdoor pools and free breakfast.

But there a lot of variability in the number of points you need for an award stay.

What’s All the Fuss About Hyatt’s Gold Passport Rewards Program

Hyatt Place Universal Orlando -- 8,000 Points
Hyatt Place Universal Orlando — 8,000 Points

At 8,000 points, Hyatt Place Orlando Universal is the clear winner in terms of least number of points needed for a free night.

A lot of travel bloggers rave about Hyatt’s loyalty program — Hyatt Gold Passport.  I never really understood the appeal.

In my mind, Hyatt Hotels are bland business class hotels in office parks or other sub-optimum locations.

Clearly, that’s an overgeneralization.

Now, after completing a stay near Universal Orlando during spring break, I finally get what all the Hyatt fuss is about.

In a word:  value.

The obvious value here was the 8,000 point redemption cost for the Hyatt Place.  Because we there on a peak travel day, the rates at the hotel were very high — $200 a night.  While the rates fluctuate according to demand, the points cost is generally fixed.  (A major exception is Starwood resorts, which sometimes jack up the points cost during high season.)

Hyatt Place Orlando Universal — My Take

Typical room at Hyatt Place Universal Orlando
Typical room at Hyatt Place Universal Orlando –2 full size beds and a pullout couch

The Hyatt Place is about a 15-minute walk to the entrance of the Islands of Adventure or Universal Orlando Theme Park.  

This hotel had very high ratings on TripAdvisor, so I decided to book it for two nights.  I transferred the points to Hyatt from the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program.

We chose a room on an upper floor with a view of Universal Studios, so we could watch the fireworks at night.  The room was well designed and functional.  The room had two beds and a pullout couch so it was perfect for myself, my daughter, and her friend.

The free hot breakfast was generous and varied, with real Starbucks coffee and Tazo tea.

The small outdoor pool was not crowded, despite the hotel operating at full capacity.

There was a convenient Universal ticket desk in the hotel lobby.

TGIF is right next door for teen-friendly meal options.

I would be loathe to pay $200 per night for this hotel, but for 8,000 points, it’s a good deal.