Four Seasons Elite Card

A few weeks ago, I received an email at work which at first I thought was a spoof email.  The email appeared to be from Four Seasons and was offering an “elite card.”  The email didn’t have a professional feel to it, so I proceeded with caution (meaning: I brought in our IT director to look at the message with me).

I recalled hearing that FS was working on some sort of recognition program and it turns out the email was a legitimate invitation for their by-invitation-only program.


The card is a metal card, similar to the Chase Sapphire cards and came very nicely packaged.  The box also included two supplemental plastic cards to give to your assistant and/or family who books travel for you.  Despite the handsome packaging, my main card was missing some of the coloring on the right hand side.


I typically stay 20-30 nights a year at Four Seasons properties and book via FSPP agents, I find the treatment at their hotels is nearly always very good.  I have another pan-Asian trip coming up later this year and I will include several FS properties in my itinerary.

Frankly, this is a bit of a welcome development.  Four Seasons has a phone app which can be used to request early check-ins and coordinate other services.  However, reservations are only linked by your email address – and like many, I have several addresses.  The time I’ve spent trying to sort out which bookings were made with which addresses had completely dissuaded me from using the app.  Hopefully the common member number will be helpful in using the app as well.

Has anyone else received one of these cards?

Ritz Carlton Chicago – Did Not Impress

Overview: An in-city hotel that didn’t deliver as a luxury hotel
Strengths: Some water views, outdoor bar
Drawbacks: Disappointing breakfast, no in-room water or bar, service lapses at front desk
Notable: Rooftop yoga classes

A quick business trip brought me to Chicago earlier this month.  Having stayed at the Mandarin, Four Seasons, Park Hyatt, Waldorf, W Lakeshore, Intercontinental and other even lesser properties on previous trips, based on some positive reviews that I’ve read, I decided to give the Ritz Carlton a try this time.

While there were no glaring lapses, overall, the property was not impressive and I wouldn’t seek to return.

Arrival and Check In

A colleague and I arrived via taxi from the airport.  A doorman greeted us and held the door into the street level lobby.  We took the lifts from the street lobby up to the proper lobby up on the 12th floor.

We were fortunate in that there wasn’t a queue to check in when we arrived, though by the time we were finished checking in, there were over five parties waiting with just two desk clerks working.  A bellman came by and offered water bottles to the guests waiting.

Check-in itself was relatively quick, and the desk clerk walked through some of the benefits included with our Ritz Stars bookings.  She also thanked me for my loyalty as a Ritz Rewards Gold member (thanks to spending $10k on the Ritz Rewards credit card) and gave me a bottle of water (this would be helpful shortly).

Notably, the RC Stars breakfast benefit was only a continental breakfast, though there was also a $100 general food and beverage credit (which covered the overage beyond the continental breakfast for me).  She did not mention any possibility of an upgrade (which should be available due to both the RC Stars booking and the Ritz Gold membership) nor ask if I needed a late check out time.  Not “needing” either (how often do you “need” a room upgrade), and just wanting to get to my room, I didn’t ask or push for either.

Two other colleagues had arrived earlier in the day – having reserved via the same agent and into the same room category – and they let us know that they were both upgraded to suites without asking for upgrades.  I suspect the hotel didn’t proactively review their Stars bookings arrivals in the morning and simply left room assignments to the lottery at check in.  This is not the way things should be run.

Late check out is offered, subject to availability, for Stars bookings and is guaranteed at city hotels as a Ritz Gold member.  Many other Ritz properties proactively inquire at check-in if the guest will need late check out; here it wasn’t mentioned.

The agent checking me in noted that a FedEx package had arrived for me and said she would have it delivered to my room.

Unlike my recent stays at the Four Seasons New York and Four Seasons Washington DC, neither my colleague or I were escorted to the lifts or even told where they were.  (The lifts for the rooms was at the far end of the lobby, not visible from the reception desk.)

The lobby felt dated, with many aspects having a 1980s design feel.  The furnishings were in good repair, however.

Ritz Carlton Chicago - Reception and Concierge

Ritz Carlton Chicago – Reception and Concierge

Ritz Carlton Chicago Lobby

Ritz Carlton Chicago Lobby


On the way up to my room, I noticed the hotel had a 13th floor…but then skipped the 14th floor!

Here, they skipped the 14th floor!

Here, they skipped the 14th floor!

The Room

Rooms and corridors at this property were recently refreshed, and had a much more up to date feel compared to the lobby.

19th Floor

19th Floor

Though there were a few quirks, overall, the room was very nice and the furniture was in good condition.

The door had an old fashioned "Best" deadbolt lock (inoperable)

The door had an old fashioned “Best” deadbolt lock (inoperable)

The bed was comfortable and the desk area reasonably spacious.  The room was silent.

RC-Chi-09 RC-Chi-07 RC-Chi-15RC-Chi-18 RC-Chi-16 RC-Chi-17 RC-Chi-10

There was a bed-side power module with a number of traditional and USB power outlets.  The telephone equipment, however, was easily 20 years old.  One of the telephone handsets had an annoying rattle – something I’ve found with many of this model telephone over the years at hotels.

Nice power options next to an antique telephone

Nice power options next to an antique telephone

Rather than a sofa or a chair, the room had a contemporary settee.  It wasn’t uncomfortable, but the comfort of a chair or a sofa would have been much more welcome.

RC-Chi-13 RC-Chi-08RC-Chi-14

Despite being on a Ritz Stars booking, there was no welcome amenity.


The bathroom was oddly designed.  The layout of the two sinks around the corner from each other was such that if two people were using sinks simultaneously, they’d likely bump into each other.

There was just a tub and no step-in shower.  The European-style partial glass partition did little to keep water in the tub.  There was a gap between the glass and the tub rim so that water could flow out onto the floor.  By the end of my shower, the floor in the toilet/shower room was quite wet.

RC-Chi-03 RC-Chi-04

Despite the bathroom being recently renovated, the door frame around the door to the toilet/shower room had visible stains on it.

Stained molding

Stained molding

The entire minibar was empty and there was a note in the refrigerator saying to call room service if I wanted a “customized” minibar set up.  There weren’t even bottles of water in the room.

Where the drinks used to be

Where the drinks used to be

At turn down, one (roughly) 8 ounce bottle of water was left in the room.  There was an ice bucket (at the unused minibar), but no ice was provided.

Clearly, minibars haven’t proven profitable for many hotels.  That said, the ability to have a cold bottle of water – or something more – at your fingertips is a reasonable luxury to ask for at a purportedly high-end hotel.  Even upper midscale hotels (Marriotts!) that often don’t have minibars any longer typically have several complimentary bottles of water in the room for guests.  Here there were none (other than the small bottle at turn down).  As a business traveler at an in-city hotel, having to call to have a minibar set up – and waiting for room service to come and do it – simply doesn’t meet my needs.  There also was no coffee or tea option in the room.

I was happy I had accepted the water bottle during check in and drank it while I was getting organized.

About half an hour after I arrived in my room, the front desk clerk called to say she forgot about my FedEx package and to ask if I still wanted it sent up.  It came shortly thereafter.

My room did offer (partially obstructed) views of the lake.


The room had an old, keyed switch on the wall at eye level as you entered the room.  I hadn’t seen one of these since grammar school.


Food and Beverage

Arriving back at the hotel after a long dinner, one of my colleagues and I stopped for a drink at the bar.  The server was friendly and service was quick, but not overly attentive.

There was an appealing looking outdoor bar area, as well.  It was still quite hot outside, so we didn’t venture out – but on a pleasant afternoon or evening, this could be a welcome respite.

View of outdoor lounge (taken from my room)

View of outdoor lounge (taken from my room)

I ordered breakfast via room service in the morning and then headed down to the pool for a swim.  I asked for the waiter to deliver the meal to the room if I wasn’t there.  When I returned, my meal was waiting.

The Eggs Benedict was hot, but wasn’t particularly good.  The ham was unusually thick and the English muffin had an institutional quality to it.  I ate less than half, which is probably good for me, but is certainly unusual for me, too!  The potato strings were not hot and were under-seasoned (despite the Parmesan cheese, which clearly came from a can, sprinkled on top).  The fresh berries were nice and the grapefruit juice (not pictured) was freshly squeezed.

RC-Chi-29 RC-Chi-30

The salt in the salt shaker had solidified.  How many times would you guess this shaker been delivered to guests in this condition?

Solidified salt

Solidified salt

Gym and Pool

Instead of my usual lakeside run, I decided to go for a swim in the morning.  The gym and pool are located one level down from the lobby.  There is a dedicated lift from the lobby servicing just two floors.  I found stairs on the way back up.

Just two floors served

Just two floors served

The fitness facilities at the hotel are oddly designed, and the spa treatment rooms, gym and pool are all interwoven.  To get to the locker room, I had to walk past several spa treatment rooms.

The locker room was set up to accommodate the Carlton Club, which appeared to be a private gym club for locals.  Similar to the Four Seasons Palm Beach (which also has a private club for locals), if you lived in the residences of the Ritz’s tower, this could be a convenient gym option.  The feel of the locker room – and seeing some of the apparent club members – made me think this club was targeted to a mature membership.  This contrasts to the Ritz in Washington DC, which has a much larger Equinox sports club as its house gym – and a much younger membership.

RC-Chi-24 RC-Chi-25

The pool itself was fine and of a comfortable temperature.  It was cool enough for laps but not too cold.  Notably, there was a deep end that reached ten feet deep – unusual for a hotel pool.  There was no diving board.

There was also a hot tub in the corner.  It had an uninviting, institutional look to it.


The only apparent way to the pool was via the mens’ or womens’ locker room.  If you were a parent with say a seven or eight year old child of the opposite sex, this would present an awkward challenge.  The locker room was a bit of a maze.  Do you send your child unescorted into their sex’s locker room, hoping they find their way, or do you take a child a bit too old through the locker room of the sex opposite theirs?

Beyond a reasonably sized gym with lake views, the hotel also offers outdoor, rooftop yoga classes.

Check Out

When I went to check out, there was only one clerk at the front desk, and she was on the telephone.  Two concierges were standing at their desk, both also on the telephone.  As I was waiting, four staff members walked by at different times and each said, “Someone will be with you shortly.”  While acknowledgement is typically welcome, no one made any effort to find additional staff to help with the growing queue of guests.  I ended up waiting over ten minutes to be assisted, and I was first in line.  By the time I was assisted, perhaps half a dozen guests were lined up behind me.

My bill was accurate.  The Ritz Stars credits were properly applied and everything but the room and taxes had been removed from the bill.  I appreciate not having to negotiate the check out.

When asked how my stay was, I mentioned the lack of water or drinks in the room.  The clerk’s response left me feeling that the suggestion will go no further than her ears.  Why even ask?

The desk clerk did not offer a bellman’s assistance with my luggage.

* * * * *

I left this property reasonably disappointed.  My two interactions with the front desk each had issues and the lack of any refreshments in the room and the lack of attention to Stars/Gold guests left me feeling the hotel was more in cost cutting mode than luxury mode.  Each member of the staff that I interacted with was reasonably nice, but the overall experience didn’t have a luxury feel to it.

Without any glaring faults, there were enough disappointments with my stay to put this property in the Not Recommended category.  I hope this property is not indicative of the direction Ritz Carlton properties are heading.

Ritz Carlton Chicago
160 East Pearson Street, Chicago, IL 60611
+1 (312) 266-1000

Four Seasons New York – A Very Good Choice

Overview: A midtown luxury hotel that delivers on its proposition
Strengths: Service, location, quality of F&B, views (from higher floors)
Drawbacks: Rooms getting a hair dated (though renovations underway), no high-end dining option, no pool

Recently, I had two separate one-night stays at the Four Seasons New York.  The property, designed by I.M. Pei, is located on East 57th Street near Park Avenue (and is not the new Four Seasons-flagged property currently being finished downtown).  Across my two stays, with one slight exception (which itself was handled perfectly), every aspect of my stay was perfect.

My bookings were made via a Four Seasons Preferred Partner agent.  I was finally able to link up my bookings to the Four Seasons app, and for one stay, requested an early check in (10am) via the app.  The request was confirmed within about 30 minutes.

Having “checked-in” via the app for both stays, there were no formalities at the front desk beyond presenting my ID.  In each case, they already had keys ready for me and the manager on duty escorted me to my room.

Lobby, and Ty Bar

Lobby, and Ty Bar

Lobby - Concierge Desk

Lobby – Concierge Desk

On the way up to the room, I was briefed on the FSPP benefits.  Thoughtfully, I was advised that if I wanted to eat breakfast in the restaurant, I should book the night before, as it often fills up.  (I eat here periodically and indeed you typically need to book a few days early if not staying at the property.)  Room service was also an option under the program – which I took advantage of on both stays.

15th floor lift lobby

15th floor lift lobby

Small touches of art throughout the room corridors

Small touches of art throughout the room corridors

The only slight exception to two perfect stays was that one of the rooms I was assigned was under renovation.  As the manager and I approached the door, the “engineering is here” tag was hanging from the door knob.  Perhaps a light bulb needed changing?  No such luck, as we were greeted by two men busy spackling in the bath room.  The manager quickly escorted me back to the corridor where she called down to the front desk and secured an alternate room on the same floor for me.  She walked me to that room and we entered using her master key.  After showing me the room, she told me she would return shortly with keys for me.  Indeed, she returned less than ten minutes later.  While I shouldn’t have been assigned a room under repair – perhaps the app check in coupled with early check in somehow allowed this to slip through – the way the hotel handled the mix up couldn’t have been better.

Being just one night stays, with fairly little time in the room, I selected the lowest room category.  I don’t think I had an upgrade either time – and indeed, checking in via the app takes away some of the ability to ask.  Though the rooms were on low floors (in the teens of a ~50 story building), they were both very spacious – doubly so by New York standards.

The rooms were both similar to (though larger than) the premier rooms I’ve stayed in at the Four Seasons London Park Lane, with the entryway to the bathroom being off of a dressing alcove, not directly off of the entry corridor or room itself.  This is a small layout twist, but I find it adds a very nice feel overall to the room.

Room entry corridor

Room entry corridor

Dressing Alcove

Dressing Alcove

Though in very good condition, the rooms do have a bit of a 90’s feel to them in terms of decor.  The rooms were silent and with the blackout shades drawn, completely pitch black.

Photos of the room on my first stay

FSNY16-1-05 FSNY16-1-03 FSNY16-1-04 FSNY16-1-02 FSNY16-1-01FSNY16-1-09

Room on the second stay

This room had two chairs (versus the sofa in the first), and also had a side window, facing east (though looking directly into a neighboring office).

FSNY16-2-01 FSNY16-2-02 FSNY16-2-04

Office view to the east

Office view to the east

For both stays, welcome amenities (one more generous than the other) were delivered to my room.

First amenity

First amenity

Second amenity - did I do something wrong the first time? ;)

Second amenity – did I do something wrong the first time? 😉

The bathrooms had single vanities (though there was easily room for a second), a tub and a separate step-in shower.  The toilets were partially obscured, but were not in their own private WCs.  There was a candle by the tub.

FSNY16-1-13 FSNY16-1-14 FSNY16-1-15

The bath products are Bulgari Green Tea.  I think I first used these products at the Four Seasons George V in Paris in the late 1990s – the scent is memorable and one that I remain very fond of.  While I don’t normally take hotel soaps and shampoos, I make an exception whenever I come across these.  (My wife was pleased to find them at home the next day.)


The views from both of my rooms was of 432 Park, the new building being completed by my friends at CIM Group.  The new building permanently re-shapes the New York skyline – and also takes away much of the view from the south facing rooms on the upper levels of the hotel.  North and east facing rooms, on upper floors, still enjoy largely unobstructed park views.  Certain rooms include outdoor balconies as well.

FSNY16-1-07 FSNY16-1-06

My neighbor had a balcony

My neighbor had a balcony

A balcony down below

A balcony down below

Food and Beverage

I ordered breakfast from room service for both stays.  The meals were delivered exactly on time and the food was of very good quality.  The waiters were very professional.  I suspect breakfast for one, with tax, tip, delivery fees, surcharges, etc, would have been about $70.  The meals were included with my room rates.

FSNY16-1-20 FSNY16-1-21

During one of my stays, I hosted about 15 people in the Ty Bar in the lobby for late night drinks.  My assistant called ahead to reserve a table.  Several tables were put together and blocked off for us and we had one waiter exclusively looking after us.  The drinks and nibbles were very good, as was the service.  The bill for several hours of drinks did make the room charges seem modest – but the group included some of our most important clients and was money well spent.

Though the regular restaurant, The Garden, is far from ordinary, there is no “fancy” restaurant at this hotel any more.  They had a number of different options come through over the years, but none thrived and the space where the “fancy” restaurant was, along with the former bar area, are now converted to meeting space (something the hotel was lacking before).  Whereas normally I would expect a high-end option at a hotel, if there were ever a city where you could make an exception, New York would be high on the list.  There are numerous Michelin-starred restaurants within a few blocks of the hotel – anyone looking for deluxe options won’t be disappointed (as long as they book in advance!).

I’ve eaten at The Garden dozens of times and have found the food and service to both be very good and very consistent.  Even for breakfast, however, recall it is essential to book ahead.

Gym and Spa

I’ve never visited either here.  Despite being a bespoke-built hotel, there is no pool.


Located in the upper-50s on the east side – the “Plaza District” in local real estate parlance – the property is ideally located for business in midtown.  It is also very convenient to the upper east side.  If I were to build a hotel in Manhattan, perhaps I’d like to be one block closer to the park, but it is hard to knock this location.

* * * * *

Both of my stays were in the “perfect stay” category.  There was the mix-up with the room under repair, but even that was handled perfectly.  I’d have no hesitation to return here again.


Four Seasons New York
57 East 57th Street, New York, NY 10022
+1 (212) 758-5700


Four Seasons Washington DC – A Solid Option in DC

Overview: A strong, in-city luxury property
: Service, location, quality of F&B, quality of room furnishings, FSPP recognition
Drawbacks: Restaurant couldn’t accommodate me for dinner, unusual suite layout, front driveway often congested and queued onto the street
Notable: Hotel offers a program with a massage for two and a private rental of their pool after hours

Having stayed at the Ritz DC, Mandarin, Park Hyatt and the hotel formerly known as Capella, I was interested to give this property a try on a recent one night business trip to Washington.

Arrival and Check In

I arrived at around 7:30pm via a private car and found a queue of cars waiting to use the hotel’s entry driveway backed up onto the road. The queue cleared within a few minutes and the valets were hustling, but the arrival wasn’t what is typically expected at a Four Seasons. No one greeted me as I got out of the car, but a doorman did hold the door open for me (having held it open for the previous guests).


The front desk is on the street level, perhaps 30 yards straight in from the driveway. There was a slight wait to be helped with check in, but things moved quickly and the agent who helped me check in was very friendly. They explained the Four Seasons Preferred Partner (FSPP) benefits concisely (unlike the Rosewood London where I had to pry out info about the Virtuoso benefits) and had the duty manager come to say hello.

FSDC16-45 FSDC16-44

Of course, the duty manager was standing right next to the agent helping me.  The agent helping me whispered in the duty manager’s ear that I was an FSPP guest – and he came around and shook my hand and welcomed me. Then he returned to standing next to the agent behind the desk. While thoughtful, it all played out a little oddly.

The agent let me know that they were able to upgrade me to a suite. I had booked a premier room, so I think this was a one category upgrade. The hotel is configured with several different wings (each with their own set of lifts) and the desk agent escorted me to the lifts for my room and wished me a pleasant stay.

Lobby Level Glass Corridor

Lobby Level Glass Corridor

Lift Lobby

Lift Lobby


Guest room corridor

Guest room corridor

The Room

The suite itself was very comfortable and the furnishings were of very high quality.

Immediately to the left of the entry foyer was a closet and luggage storage area, which then connected to the bathroom.

Entry Foyer

Entry Foyer

The luggage/closet area was well designed and spacious, though there wasn’t a way to close it off from the balance of the suite. So, if you had guests come in, they’d have to see your luggage.

The bathroom was very nicely appointed, with a separate tub and step-in shower, as well as a separate WC. The shower itself was a bit smaller than most hotel showers, but not too small. The shower head was very clean and the water control worked very well.  The small stool in the corner of the shower would be an ideal step for someone shaving their legs.

The counter surrounding the sink was particularly attractive, though there was only one sink (despite there being sufficient counter space for two).

The WC, like many, was a bit too small and required an unnatural stance to open and close the door while in the room.

FSDC16-18FSDC16-19 FSDC16-20 FSDC16-21

The Ferragamo Tuscan Soul shampoo and soap is one of my favorites, and certainly conjures memories of my eventually-to-be-reviewed trip to Castiglion del Bosco last summer.FSDC16-22

The end of the entry foyer brought you to the bedroom. While the room was nicely appointed, the bedroom didn’t have any windows, which I found to be odd.

The bed was very comfortable, as you’d expect at a Four Seasons. There were highly focused, overhead reading lights for each side of the bed. The room was silent.

FSDC16-02 FSDC16-07 FSDC16-06 FSDC16-05FSDC16-24 FSDC16-04 FSDC16-03

Regular readers will recall my stay at the Waldorf Chicago (f/k/a Elysian), where there were no outlets anywhere near the bed. By contrast, there were two bedside outlets next to each side of the bed – and the outlets were designed to be able to take two oversized chargers in each simultaneously. This was very welcome.  The outlets, however, were well integrated into the bedside tables to the point where I didn’t notice them at first; they were only really noticeable when I got into bed.

Bedside outlets!

Bedside outlets!

Beyond the bedroom was the living room. There were no doors separating the foyer from the bedroom from the living room, so while the suite had a divided feel to it, the rooms weren’t fully separated.

FSDC16-10 FSDC16-11 FSDC16-12 FSDC16-09

The living room was also very comfortable and well appointed, with a stylish sectional sofa and a desk. I bumped my head into the large arched lamp once.  Perhaps it took up a little to much of the entry way to the living room?


There were a number of small touches throughout the suite, including a little doodle painted on the ceiling in a few corners.


A small welcome amenity was waiting for me, along with an oddly non-personalized hand written note.

FSDC16-16 FSDC16-15 FSDC16-14

The windows opened a few inches, which was nice as it was a beautiful spring day.

Food and Beverage Services

When I checked in, the agent showed me Bourbon Steak, their Michael Mina branded restaurant. I asked if I would have a problem getting in, and was told there wouldn’t be a problem. It looked crowded, so I found this a bit suspect, but didn’t push the issue.

After getting settled in my room and arranging for shirt pressing, I went down to the restaurant, identifying myself as a house guest and asked for a table. I was told there would be a wait of roughly 30 minutes to sit in the dining room or the outside area. I was offered a table in the lounge, where a special (read: reduced) menu would be available. Thankfully, I got one of the last lounge tables.

The good news is the restaurant is very good and attracts a lot of locals. The bad news is for hotel guests, you might easily not be able to get a table at all.

Bar Area

Bar Area

Michael Mina Restaurant

Michael Mina Restaurant

I had their Wagyu burger, which was reasonably good. They also offered duck fat fries “three ways,” which was exceptionally good. Mindful I had a $100 F&B credit, I had a glass of the Switchback Cabernet. This isn’t a wine you see by the glass too often. It was also very good….so much so that I had a second glass. 🙂

FSDC16-28 FSDC16-29

They also offered a very tasty popcorn table snack.


Service at the bar area tables was a little slower than I’d like.  I suspect this being due to the full house.  At the same time, I suspect they often have a full house and should staff accordingly.

Part of the value proposition of staying at an in-city Four Seasons is that you should be able to get a proper table at a restaurant and enjoy a meal without having to book days in advance.  Don’t expect this here.

In the morning, I ordered room service. I forward ordered before my run, asking for the food at a specific time, which they delivered exactly at.  The food was very good.  Perhaps I ordered too much.  Breakfast was complimentary with my FSPP booking.

FSDC16-36 FSDC16-35 FSDC16-37 FSDC16-39

Other Facilities and Services

I took advantage of the one-hour pressing service offered in the in-room materials to have my suit and shirt pressed.  The person answering the phone at housekeeping when I called for the service was insistent that the pressing service was two-hour service.  Since I had plenty of time, I didn’t debate the issue.  My suit and shirt were returned in about 30 minutes.

I also had my shoes shined overnight.


Due to the short trip, I did not visit the gym or pool.

Check Out

As I was heading out, the two front desk clerks were assisting other guests.  I stopped at the concierge desk (but 20 feet away from the front desk) and gave the concierge on duty my whimsical key card and room number and asked for him to email the bill.  I found the bill in my email account within 15 minutes.

Key Card - Not a common image of Eisenhower

Key Card – Not a common image of Eisenhower

My first meeting was walking distance from the hotel, so I headed out on foot.  As I was leaving, there was another queue of cars waiting to enter the hotel driveway.

* * * * *

Overall, this is a very strong hotel.  The only substantive drawback was the popularity of their restaurant.  While it is great to have a good restaurant in a hotel, the cost of it being challenging for house guests to get a table isn’t trivial either.  In light of the strong dining options in the immediate Georgetown neighborhood and DC more broadly – and room service as a back up – this isn’t a show stopper.  I would encourage the hotel to set aside a few tables for house guests.

I will make this property part of my DC rotation going forward.


Four Seasons Washington DC
2800 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20007
+1 202 340 0444


Sanctuary Camelback – Scottsdale/Phoenix – Good, not Great

Overview: A near-city resort property that is good, but not great
Strengths: Rooms; Food & Beverage; Location
Drawbacks: Staff generally thoughtful but consistently unrefined; bugs

A quick business trip brought a colleague and me back to the Sanctuary Camelback for an overnight stay.  For this trip, I booked a one-bedroom suite via a Virtuoso agent for me, and a similar room for my colleague.

Our check-in was relatively straight forward, though not perfectly smooth.  I was told my room was not available (we had arrived before the check-in time), but a second person at the desk quickly jumped in and found a room in my category.  Odd that the first person told me nothing was available.

Neither desk staffer mentioned Virtuoso, and once they had handed us the keys to our rooms, I asked about the program.  Both staffers seemed legitimately surprised that we asked the program, and both spent a few minutes looking up information in their computers.  They eventually found the details and walked us through them.  There was no mention of a room upgrade (though a subsequent review of their website revealed that plenty were available), though they graciously offered to apply the breakfast credit towards lunch (as we were leaving before they opened for breakfast).  A credit for a half-hour spa treatment, or half-off a one-hour treatment, was also included as the “extra” amenity.

A valet in an extended golf buggy took us to our rooms, helpful in the scorching heat.

Sanctuary-28 Sanctuary-27


Having last been to the property in 2005, they had clearly made some significant renovations and the rooms themselves were quite nice.  The furniture was of good quality and the bed very comfortable.

Sanctuary-20 Sanctuary-19 Sanctuary-18 Sanctuary-21Sanctuary-02Sanctuary-01Sanctuary-06Sanctuary-05

The bathroom was also reasonably well designed, and had an internal window offering views from the tub of the mountains in the distance.

Sanctuary-09 Sanctuary-08 Sanctuary-10 Sanctuary-11 Sanctuary-07 Sanctuary-17 Sanctuary-16 Sanctuary-15 Sanctuary-14 Sanctuary-13

Colorful sandals

Colorful sandals

I was a bit alarmed by the can of bug spray in the bathroom.  And, indeed, later in the evening, a small wasp was in my bedroom.


The balcony provided expansive views of Camelback and other mountains.  Even at 10pm, after sunset, the floor of the balcony was quite hot (but not too hot) from having baked all day.  I enjoyed a little while outside on my balcony late in the evening.  Though still warm, it was quite pleasant and substantially (but not completely) private.

Sanctuary-23 Sanctuary-24

Some fresh fruit and Fiji water was delivered as a welcome amenity.


The coffee maker in my room, unfortunately, did not work.  I let them know this at check-out.

Unlike the Waldorf Chicago, there were plenty of outlets (110v and USB) next to the bed.  These little modules were on both sides of the bed.  The iPhone adapter was based on the iPhone 5/6 format, not the antiquated iPhone 4 format (still common at many hotels.)

Sanctuary-03 Sanctuary-04

I walked back and forth from the main lobby over to my room several times.  It took perhaps 5 minutes, and was a bit steep, but not problematically.  You could easily call the front desk for a golf cart ride if you preferred.  (My wife stayed in a private residence here earlier this year without me and her house included a private golf cart.)


We ate lunch at the restaurant and dinner at the hotel bar.  The food was consistently quite good, though the service, while thoughtful, was not particularly efficient.

Some of our plates included a chicken BLT, spicy calamari, local heirloom tomatoes and swordfish.  Each was very good.

As one example of the inefficient service, once we were seated in the bar area at a lounge table for dinner, someone came by to drop off menus.  Then someone else came and took our drinks order.  Then that person came back to ask if we wanted water, which we did.  They came back, bringing water.  Then the same person came back again to say our drinks were coming soon.  Then, finally, they came back and actually brought our drinks.  Too many visits…and too much time from order to delivery when the bar was less than half filled.  Further, some of the language used by the restaurant and bar staff was a bit too casual.


I was able to book a just-in-time spa booking for later in the evening to take advantage of the Virtuoso credit.  The massage itself was fine, and the facilities were reasonably nice.

Similar to the food and beverage staff, the locker room attendant also spoke in a manner I wasn’t accustomed to.  As he was walking me through the facilities, he used phrases like, “We got coffee and tea over here.”  This sort of language set a bit of a tone for the property.

The steam room was almost unpleasantly hot – even stinging after a while (something that I’d never had happen to me in a steam room previously).  There was no dry sauna, but being 109 degrees outside, if you wanted a dry sauna, you just needed to go outdoors.

Sanctuary-31 Sanctuary-32Sanctuary-34 Sanctuary-35

The whirlpool was small, but pleasant.Sanctuary-33

Across from the spa was a well sized gym.

Sanctuary-36 Sanctuary-37

Near the spa was the main pool, which is open 24 hours.


Check Out

My assistant arranged for a car (not via the hotel) to pick us up at 4:45am to take us back to the airport.  Our driver arrived 15 minutes early, and once the driver provided my name to the valet staff, a valet took the initiative and drove a golf cart over to my room, where he waited (without knocking on the door) for me to come out.  He gave me a ride back to the lobby, which was nice.

Check out was fairly smooth, but did require negotiating to have the spa treatment removed from the bill.  Upon my request, the clerk took half off, but I reminded her it was 100% off a half hour service or 50% of a one hour service.  After a quick review, she removed the balance of the charge.

I also pointed out that I had a, er, rather, two beers from the minibar.  The front desk clerk told me that “only F&B staff can process that” and they’d need to send me an updated bill later in the day.  Odd.  I don’t ever recall a hotel that couldn’t process minibar charges at check-out.  Thankfully, later in the day, an email came with an updated bill reflecting the minibar charges.

* * * * *

Overall, the rooms were quite nice and the food was quite good.  The service was consistently unpolished, but the staff members were overall reasonably friendly.  During my wife’s stay earlier this year, the concierge dropped the ball on a few items – but I didn’t encounter that during this stay.

Sanctuary Camelback
5700 East McDonald Drive, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
+1 480 948-2100



Peninsula Tokyo – Another perfect stay

Overview: A truly world class in-city luxury hotel
Strengths: Rooms, location, service, F&B
Drawbacks: Shower was a little small? (Not a big issue)
Notable: Lively scene at roof-top venue, Peter

After very nice stays at the Four Seasons Marunouchi and the Aman Tokyo over the past year, I thought it would be nice to go back to the Peninsula during a recent short business trip to Tokyo.  I last stayed at the Pen back in 2012, and reviewed it here.

Booking last minute, the only room categories available had twin beds.  Their twin is modestly bigger than a twin in the US at least!  I booked via a Virtuoso agent, which provided for complimentary breakfast and a ¥10,000 F&B credit (excluding mini bar).


Upon arrival, my colleague and I were greeted by a cadre of door staff who assisted us with our luggage and showed us to the reception area.

TokPen-36 TokPen-37 TokPen-38TokPen-39TokPen-41

Check in was very smooth, and they explained the breakfast benefit and the F&B credit.  They did not make mention of upgrade possibilities when I arrived, and I didn’t ask.  They did inquire if we needed late check out, which we didn’t.

The desk agent was very friendly and also efficient, which I appreciate.


Lobby-level lift waiting area

Lobby-level lift waiting area


Room-level corridor

Room-level corridor


My room (and my colleague’s room) was on the eighth floor, one of the lowest room floors.  We booked Deluxe rooms, which is their second category of room.

The room itself was very nice, and had all of the little touches that Peninsula properties do so well.

A small welcome gift was waiting for me.

TokPen-12 TokPen-11

While I would have preferred a king bed, the twin beds were very comfortable.

The room had a sofa as well as a small dining table.  I find these to be very welcome features in a room.  It somehow feels nicer to be eating off of a proper table, not a room service trolley or a desk.

TokPen-01 TokPen-02 TokPen-03 TokPen-04 TokPen-05 TokPen-06 TokPen-07 TokPen-10

The TV had lots of connectivity options, and the minibar included a full espresso maker.  I do wonder how frequently these more complex espresso makers actually get used.

TokPen-13 TokPen-15 TokPen-16

The room has many electronic controls and displays.  One feature I like is the ability to control the humidity level in the room.

TokPen-18 TokPen-17

The solid sliding wooden door, closing the room off from the entry corridor, is also a very nice touch.


Everything in the room was in perfect condition, with nary a scratch to be found.  The room was silent and no interior or exterior noise could be heard.

The room had a close-to-the-street view.



The bathroom is reasonably large and has two vanities, a step in shower and a separate tub.

TokPen-21 TokPen-22 TokPen-23 TokPen-24 TokPen-25

Of course, the toilet had an electronic control panel with lots of different features.  I find myself getting more adventurous with the various features of these little devices.

TokPen-53 TokPen-54

When you enter the bathroom, most of the time, the upper toilet lid opened automatically.  This was despite the toilet being in a fully frosted and was a bit bothersome (as it made a noise) if I went into the bathroom for a different reason.

The shower had very nice water pressure, but was perhaps a little small.

I didn’t use the tub, but they have a “spa setting” on the lighting controls for the room which lowers the lights and plays music.   I’ll try this one of these times.

There were plenty of electronic controls for those in the tub, too!


The Closet (How often does the closet warrant its own section in a review?)

The closet is quite comfortable, and is more of a small room than a closet.

TokPen-19 TokPen-20

Nail dryer

Nail dryer

A very thoughtful feature of many Peninsula properties is the valet box. This allows the valet to pick things up and drop them off in a secure space but without having to disturb the guest.


I sent my suit and shirt in for four hour pressing upon arrival, using the box for the drop off.   They completed the pressing in about 30 minutes (not bad for four hour service!), but the suit was actually too long to fit in the valet box, so they called to ask if it was OK to knock on the door with the suit.

Food and Beverage

My colleague and I, along with several other business associates, had breakfast in the lobby restaurant. It was very good and the service was very attentive.  Breakfasts were all complimentary as we were all on Virtuoso bookings.

One person at the table ordered cranberry juice.  They served freshly squeezed cranberry juice, which was something I (nor he) had ever seen before.  He said it was very good.

Many Peninsula hotels have a dining venue in the middle of a traffic area.  The Chicago property has something similar, as does Shanghai.  I’m not a fan of this as I don’t enjoy eating at a table just a few feet away from where arriving and departing guests are coming through with luggage and parcels.  A bit more of a segregated area would be welcome.

Novel in lobby dining area are two balcony-level tables.  Perched probably 15 feet above the main floor, these two separate tables could make a nice venue for a romantic – yet visible – dinner.

They have a wooden piece of art as a focus item in the lobby.  I’ve never found it to be inviting; perhaps even unwelcoming?


I ordered room service the second morning, which was delivered on time and was pleasantly hot.  The quality of the food at both meals was very good.

TokPen-48 TokPen-49 TokPen-50 TokPen-51

Room service origami

Room service origami

I had drinks with an associate at Peter’s, which is their rooftop (indoor) bar and restaurant.  It was packed, mainly with locals.  We just had a few beers.  Service was very good despite being so full.  One of these times, I’ll eat up here.  (It wasn’t suitable to take photos.)

There is also a “Chinese Restaurant” located on a low floor of the hotel.  I’ve not been here yet.

Other Services

On the flight over to Tokyo, I emailed to the concierge about having a hair care item bought at a local drug store and delivered to my room.  At first they responded with id need to send a credit card authorization form and run through several other traps.  Considering the cost of the item was about ¥300 ($3), I though this was ridiculous.  When I raised an objection, they said they would accommodate my request without a signed form.  (When I checked in, they had the authorization form filled out and they asked me to sign it.)  For a $3 errand, the processing requirements seemed a little overboard.

They took care of shining my shoes overnight as well, also via the valet box, though the shine wasn’t the best.


Pool and Fitness

One morning, I went for a run in the neighborhood and around the palace.  This was a great run.  I went for about five miles.  The second day it was raining very heavily, so I went to the gym for a run.

The equipment in the gym was in very good condition, though the gym itself is small.  (There were too many people to take photos in the gym.)  After my run, I changed into swim shorts and went for a quick swim.  The pool is a very comfortable temperature for both laps and relaxing.  (I did some of each!)

TokPen-47 TokPen-46

View from pool

View from pool

Men's locker room

Men’s locker room


Check Out

My bill was accurate and all of the Virtuoso credits were applied properly without and negotiation on my part.  This compares to the Rosewood London or Boston XV, where they took a lot of effort on my part.  Sadly, minibar drinks aren’t covered by the F&B credit.

* * * * *

While in Tokyo, one of our local associates hosted a post-meeting dinner at a restaurant specializing in various shark fin dishes.  We had an eight course meal which was absolutely delicious.

I know some object to the harvesting of sharks for their fins, though I also understand why others would enjoy eating them!  Though the meal was very good, I wouldn’t go out of my way to have this again.

TokPen-31 TokPen-33

On the way to the restaurant

On the way to the restaurant

* * * * *

Other than the concierge and the written form for a $3 errand (which was ultimately resolved), every service interaction at this property was perfect.  The location directly across from the Emperor’s Palace is ideal.  The rooms are great.  They have three different dining choices.

Frankly, I was just as pleased with the cost as I was with the property. The rooms were only about $400 per night each.  Considering the quality of the property and its location in one of the world’s most expensive cities, this struck me as bargain.  By contrast, entry level rooms at the Aman were over $1,000 per night and the Four Seasons was about $600 per night.

Tokyo is a pretty good city for hotels.  Between my semi-usual rotation of the Peninsula, Aman and Four Seasons, it really is hard to go wrong.  I would say the Four Seasons is the weakest of the three at this point.  (Not something often printed on this website!)

I’m still keen to try the Palace Hotel, which I will make a point to do.  I haven’t been to the Mandarin in probably eight years, so it warrants a visit again, soon, too.  And, once the Okura re-opens, my fascination with that property will warrant a visit at some point as well.

Peninsula Tokyo
1-8-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-0006, Japan
+81 3 6270 2888
e:  ptk@peninsula.com




Eden Roc at Cap Cana (Dominican Republic) – Value Play?

Overview: A reasonably priced, near-luxury beach-adjacent Caribbean property
Strengths: Beach, climate, quality of F&B (mostly), on-property activities, service (mostly)
Drawbacks: Limited F&B venues, speed of service at one F&B venue, closeness of villas, haphazard property development
Of Note: Close to the airport (a positive; no noise issues)


In mid-2015, we took advantage of the JAL first class availability glitch and booked four low miles first class awards to Tokyo for February break this year.  Two thirds of the way home from Cape Town after our Christmas Safari Trip (flying Emirates First), my wife and daughter announced that they would not be going to Japan in February.  Simply too much flying and time away from home made the prospects of a 14+ hour journey to Japan a non-starter for them.  (It was sad to cancel those seats – but it was the right decision.)

The late change in plans also put some short notice pressure on me to find an alternate destination for February break.  This involved finding reasonably short non-stop flights from New York (or Newark), a property with good service and a good beach, comfortable accommodations for a family of four and wouldn’t break the bank – with a little more than a month’s notice during a peak travel period.  Lay up, right?

I’d previously been apprehensive on the Dominican Republic, as until recently, I hadn’t heard much (if anything) in the way of positive feedback on service there.  Last summer, while staying at Castiglion del Bosco (review to come eventually!), we met another couple that enjoyed their time in the DR so much they ultimately purchased a residence there.  They said there had been some real progress in the hospitality industry over the past five years and strongly suggested giving it a try.

I considered a number of options in the DR and ended up making preliminary bookings at Eden Roc at Cap Cana and the new Amanera property.

A few friendly folks over on the FlyerTalk Luxury Hotel Forum also gave positive recommendations for Eden Roc.  Others there reported than Amanera was still new and working out the kinks.  That feedback, coupled with a meaningful difference in price, pointed me towards Eden Roc at Cap Cana.

I’m pleased to say that, noting a few imperfections, I was pleased with our stay.

Arrival into the Dominican Republic

The Punta Cana airport (IATA: PUJ) is unambiguously a key component of the Full and Unnecessary Employment Act of 1997.  Arriving planes pull up in front of an open-air airport.  It is perhaps a 30 yard walk from the plane to the terminal.  However, the airport maintains a fleet of buses that carry you on a long and circular route from the plane to the airport.  Thankfully, there were several airport staffers who stand at the bottom of the steps from the plane to usher you ten yards to the waiting buses (one third of the way to the terminal itself!).

For international arrivals, once inside the terminal, you first stop at a counter and pay a small ($10 per person?) arrival fee and get a receipt.  Then 20 feet later, you stop at another counter and give a copy of your receipt to someone else who simply collects receipts.  Then, another 20 feet later, you stop and present your passports.  These sort of procedures went on for some time, such that we interacted with at least ten different people during our arrival process.

At baggage claim, Sky Caps were very aggressive.  Though not necessary for us, we enlisted the assistance of one of the Sky Caps.  Then, a different Sky Cap took one of our bags off of the baggage belt before it made its way around to us.  I had to go over to get the bag from him, which took a bit of effort as he was clearly also looking to help us.  Happy to hire one fellow – but two wasn’t going to happen.

We finally cleared all of the various procedures and check-points and our Sky Cap took us to where the arranged transportation comes.  Our room rate included round trip private transportation to the hotel from the airport.  Alas, while there were plenty of drivers waiting, none appeared to be from our hotel.  A gentleman standing near us (who appeared to be affiliated with a different hotel) kindly offered to call our hotel to track down the driver.

Our driver turned up within ten minutes of that call.  Having paid a $20 tip to the Sky Cap and a $5 tip to the guy who called the driver, we were on our way.  (Another $20 tip was paid to the driver one we arrived at the hotel.)

The hotel van was a white van which was manufactured in Asia.  Nothing fancy, but it was in perfectly fine condition.  The hotel’s logo was embroidered onto the seats, suggesting the van was owned or leased by our hotel, and not a hired service.

Arrival at the Hotel

We were greeted at the front porte-cochere by Hugo, a member of the management staff, who escorted us in.  Our bags were moved from the hotel and placed on one of their stretch (four rows of seating) golf carts while Hugo assisted us with the check-in formalities.  Though we booked a Virtuoso package, he explained how our American Express FHR program worked.  Breakfast is included with all rooms, so the only substantive FHR benefits for us were a free dinner at the higher end restaurant one night and the one-hour late check-out that we needed.

CapCana-56 CapCana-57 CapCana-33 CapCana-34

Hugo drove us to our suite in a separate golf cart, while our bags followed closely behind in a second cart.


Hotel Layout

The Eden Roc hotel itself is, at present, a small enclave of stand-alone villas within a much larger gated community called Cap Cana.  Cap Cana is principally a residential community and was reminiscent of the Peninsula Papagayo development that the Four Seasons Costa Rica (and Hyatt Andaz) is within.  Cap Cana was not as high end as Papagayo, but the concept was similar.  Cap Cana had some houses built, some under construction, some partially built and abandoned and some completely built and abandoned.  (You needed to look a bit to find the abandoned built homes, but there were clusters of them.)

While the Cap Cana development is on the beach, the part of the Eden Roc hotel which is open presently is not on the beach and offers no beach views.  It was about a 5 minute ride in our own golf cart to get to the beach and beach club area.

Each villa within Eden Roc (and seemingly each house) has one or more private golf carts that you can use to get around within the Cap Cana development.  While our room was not on the beach, getting to and from the beach was very easy with the golf cart and was roughly a 5 minute ride.

Woven throughout Cap Cana was a Nicklaus-designed golf course.  Though I didn’t play, the course itself looked to be in excellent condition.  Though the holes I saw were generally wide (not tight) helping to make the course appeal to higher index players, there appeared to be a number of risk-reward shot opportunities to even challenge low index players.


In more remote corners of Cap Cana, there was a large activity center called the Scape Park.  This was open to visitors from outside of Cap Cana and it appeared the vast majority of visitors were from outside of Cap Cana.  The Scape Park offered some activities which were really quite enjoyable, which will be covered below.

There was also an on-property equestrian center.  We were told by the Eden Roc staff that we could go and visit.  The equestrian center itself had its own guard and entryway (within Cap Cana) and didn’t seem inviting for non-members.  We never tried to visit.

FullGrounds BeachArea

Our Suite

We reserved a one-bedroom lagoon-view suite but were assigned to a one-bedroom garden-view suite.  When I pointed this out, Hugo immediately said, “you’ll like this much better; it is much more private.”  The price of both room categories was the same.


The currently open part of the hotel is a series of very close, but stand-alone, small villas (or little houses?) built around a road which is shapes as a “9.”  Indeed, those rooms on the outside right part of the 9 are much more private than those on the inside of the 9 or the top left portion of the 9.  While at first I was doubtful of Hugo’s position (garden view being better), throughout our stay, I agreed more and more with his perspective and would book garden view if returning.


View of a less private Lagoon View room

View of a less private Lagoon View room

Our one-bedroom suite would have been ideal for traveling as a couple and was sufficient for us traveling with two children.  The bedroom was fully separated from the living room and both rooms were large.

CapCana-23 CapCana-22 CapCana-17 CapCana-16 CapCana-15 CapCana-08CapCana-24 CapCana-07 CapCana-06 CapCana-02 CapCana-63 CapCana-26 CapCana-25 CapCana-18

The bathroom was also reasonably large, with a separate toilet room and a full, enclosed walk-in closet.  The shower area did not have a door, but was still reasonably private from the broader bathroom.  There was an unusually large and deep soaking tub and a separate, private, outdoor shower.

The tub was so large that it literally took an hour to fill.  There was even a placard next to the tub advising how long it would take.  While a large tub can be a nice treat, needing to plan your bath an hour in advance isn’t ideal.  The water jets in the tub didn’t work.

CapCana-19 CapCana-10 CapCana-11 CapCana-12 CapCana-20 CapCana-21

The bed in the bedroom was very comfortable.  Not Capella-comfortable, but very nice.

The sofa in the room unfolded to a sofa bed.  I found the bed uncomfortable, and some of the support bars from underneath the mattress could really be felt.  The frame was so old and slanted that the bed would be best compared to an angled lie-flat seat on an airplane.  My son, 12, was immune to the issues and said he liked sleeping on an angle.  Lucky break for us.

After some negotiation (both during the booking process and upon arrival), they brought in a rollaway bed for my daughter.  This bed was very comfortable.  (More on the roll-away below.)

Other than the sofa-bed, the quality of the fixtures and furniture in the room were generally of a good quality, though showed signs of wear.  Nothing was over the top, but none of the furniture was of low quality or in need of repair.

Heavily scuffed door latch

Heavily scuffed door latch

Our suite had a private pool in the back yard.  The pool had a nice shallow end (about one foot deep), where you could lay in the water or have young kids play.  The deeper end was about 5 feet deep.  The water was cool, but not cold and was generally refreshing – though you needed to keep moving to avoid getting cold.  Even though they spent lots of time at the beach and shared pools, the kids were in the private pool at least once daily, too.

In addition to some sun loungers, there was also a shaded sitting area near the pool.

CapCana-05 CapCana-04 CapCana-02 CapCana-63 CapCana-62

Some smaller challenges in the room included that two of three phones in room weren’t programmed (and therefore not usable).  The bed-side lamps were gigantic, rendering the bed-side tables nearly useless.


We had one substantive mechanical issue with our room.  A pipe burst above the toilet room on our second night (around 3am, I think).  (We had a pipe break in our room back during our stay in Tasmania, too!  Hopefully two is not a trend.)  It wasn’t gushing, just flowing slowly, so, owing to the hour, I put towels down and created a dam so the water wouldn’t leave the bathroom.

The next morning, I advised the front desk about the break and they sent someone out immediately.  The team of two had the pipe replaced, ceiling patched, taped, somewhat sanded and painted within three hours.  Impressive from a timing perspective – though painting wet sheetrock tape is not advisable.  The tape was already separating before our stay was over.  I hope they re-repaired this before the next guests took the room.


Painting wet sheetrock usually doesn’t work!


Remnants of flood and repair work (which was cleaned later in the day)

Each villa had its own golf cart and a little car port.  Some of the larger villas had two carts.  From our villa, we could walk to the hotel’s central building easily, though the cart was handy for riding down to the beach and to the Scape Park.  Occupants of some of the farthest villas might consider taking the cart even to get to the hotel’s central building.

Hotel staff seemed to have no problem with our children (or others’ children) driving the carts.  There were some long, wide cart paths around the Cap Cana property that we used for daily driving practice for the children.  Needless to say, the children loved the driving opportunity.  I’m pleased to report no damage was done, though hedges were hit twice (once by each child).

Beach and Pools

The hotel has a “beach club” which is about a 5 minute golf cart ride from the villas.

When you arrive at the beach club, it is as if you are arriving at a hotel.  And, indeed, while there are no hotel rooms open there at present, beach-front rooms are under construction and the beach club reception area will also serve as the reception area for those rooms.  It appears that anyone staying within the Cap Cana development (including houses) could make use of the beach club.  There also appeared to be a $50 “day pass” option for those not staying on the property, though I overheard one of the staffers say passes were only available on quiet days.

CapCana-54CapCana-53 CapCana-52 CapCana-51

The beach itself is in a somewhat protected cove, though still had pleasantly strong (but not too strong) waves.  During our visit (in February), the water was ideal.  Cool at first, but quickly very comfortable.  We ended up spending hours each day in the ocean.  The hotel had a handful of body boards that the kids (and even some adults) used to ride in on the waves.  We liked the beach here better than at the Four Seasons Costa Rica.

The water wasn’t crystal clear, but was fine for swimming.  The sand was very soft.

CapCana-50 CapCana-49 CapCana-48 CapCana-47 CapCana-64 CapCana-44 CapCana-42 CapCana-41


Towel service at the beach was very good.  There were several fellows on hand who would set up chairs and towels for you.  Unlike the beach-side waiters, the chair/towel staff were really on their game and hustled.  Of note, one of the attendants, Boris, was particularly attentive.  This attentiveness was night-and-day different from the attentiveness of the drinks waiters.  (More on that below.)

There were more chairs than guests, which compares favorably to my Halekulani experience, where we sat on the grass most days.  Here, you could turn up any time and get a group of chairs.

One day (out of seven), there were two ladies sunbathing topless on the beach.  There was a sign behind the towel stand prohibiting topless sunbathing, though it clearly wasn’t enforced as the topless guests were looked after (keenly, I might add) by the beach attendants.  No other guests appeared to complain.

Near the beach were two larger pools.  These were a little warmer than our villa’s pool, and the kids spent time in each, too.  Having pool options nearby made for a nice way to mix things up versus the ocean.

There was some limited construction noise at the beach coming from the development of the new rooms.  While it was noticeable from time to time, it was mostly muted by the waves and sea breezes and was not an issue.  The pace of work on the new buildings was glacially slow.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen workers moving at a slower pace than the crew here.

CapCana-43 CapCana-44 CapCana-45

Finally, there was also a large, crescent-shaped pool back at the main lobby in the villa area.  We visited this pool several times, and in all of our stay (a week – with pretty much full occupancy), we never saw anyone else actually use this pool (or even sit by it).  As the rooms by the beach are completed, perhaps the pools down there will get busier, and make this villa-area pool more of a useful respite.  Until then, however, I suspect the crescent pool near the villas will continue to see very little use.

CapCana-29 CapCana-31 CapCana-30 CapCana-36 CapCana-37

This crescent pool had lots of corners to hide behind, which made it fun for the kids.  There was also a basketball hoop that you could shoot to from the water – we got a lot of use out of this.

Food and Beverage

Our experiences with the F&B team started off with a few low notes, but overall, was “fine,” and maybe even good, for a Caribbean property.

Room Service
When we arrived, the kids were hungry, so we ordered some sandwiches from room service while we unpacked and got settled.  When ordering, we were told it would be about 30 minutes.  An hour later, they still hadn’t delivered the food.  I called back to room service and was assured it would be very soon.  The delivery ultimately came in about 20 minutes, some 80 minutes after we ordered.  This was not the right way to start.

Later that evening, after some time at the beach, we went to the hotel lounge (part of the villa lobby building) and ordered some drinks, some appetizers and some milk shakes (special treat!) for the kids.  The drinks took well over 20 minutes (despite only two other tables being taken), the milk shakes longer and the appetizers pushed 45 minutes.  Between this experience and our room service earlier in the day, this was the Caribbean I was fearing.

Thankfully, things generally got better from there.  Each subsequent order from room service was delivered in less than 30 minutes.  In some cases, as little as 20 minutes.  While there were consistently language barriers ordering via room service, they generally figured things out, though a few times the person working the phones at room service had to call in the restaurant maitre d’ to help with translation.

One of the trickier items to order was milk.  Sometimes, we would get a glass of milk with ice, I think once the milk came steamed, and a few times they just sent a full carton of milk, along with a few glasses.  It got to be something we could make a friendly bet on – what sort of milk would we get.  (Thankfully, regardless of what the milk was, it arrived quickly!)

While the food was generally good, the dining options felt limited through the course of a one-week stay.  One of three restaurants listed in the in-villa literature was permanently closed, leaving just two dining venues – the “fancy” option, Mediterraneo (in the main building by the villas) and the Beach Club restaurant, La Palapa, which overlooked the beach.

Closed restaurant

Closed restaurant

By contrast, the Four Seasons in Costa Rica had three different dining venues for hotel guests, plus a fourth with some access for hotel guests.

Restaurants – Mediterraneo (and a bar: Riva)
Mediterraneo, the higher-end dinner option, was also where breakfast was served.  We ate dinner here once (taking advantage of our Virtuoso FHR amenity) and breakfast daily.  Service for both breakfast and dinner was consistently slow – with dinner taking over three hours.  It was even 45 minutes before the amuse was brought out for our dinner.  While a leisurely meal is nice, there is a line which leisurely turns into slow – and Mediterraneo was miles past that line.

Breakfast at Mediterraneo was a combination of cold buffet and a menu of hot items.  Consistent with the pace of dinner, coffee orders typically took over 15 minutes.

The food for both breakfast and dinner was of reasonably good quality, though the quality was overshadowed by the pace of service (particularly at dinner).



Next to Mediterraneo was a bar and lounge called Riva.  The drinks were well made here, but the service was fairly slow.  The pace was not as comedic as the main restaurant, but still a 15 minute wait in an otherwise empty lounge to get drinks was typical.



Restaurants – La Palapa
Open to the air and overlooking the beach, La Palapa is the property’s other dining venue.  La Palapa was my personal favorite of the two choices, as much for the views as well as the promptness of service.  Across perhaps seven or so meals here (a combination of lunches and dinners), the service was consistently at a reasonable pace and the staff was quite friendly.

La Palapa

La Palapa


The menu was unusually expansive, with easily 30 different main course options to choose from spanning a wide variety of cuisine types.  I moved around the menu, not ordering the same thing twice and found each item to be really quite good.

Proving that service can actually be quick in the Caribbean, we turned up on Valentines Day night without a booking around 7pm.  Though no tables were seated at the time, we were told the restaurant was fully booked for the evening.  After the hostess turned us away, I asked to speak with the manager.  I asked him if all of the bookings were for before 8pm.  He said no.  I told him if he could serve the food quickly, we’d be gone before 8pm.  We had a deal, though he reiterated that we’d need to leave by 8pm so he could honor his bookings.  What do you know – the food was delivered within 10 minutes of ordering!  Almost too fast – this is something I would have said to be impossible in the Caribbean.

One quite frustrating aspect of our week-long stay was that there were two private events at La Palapa during our stay.  This eliminated the on-property casual dining option, leaving only the fancy (and painfully slow) Mediterraneo or room service as the only on-property options.  Management should not close their single casual dining option for private parties.  Period.

There was an additional restaurant near the beach in the beach club complex.  It was shuttered and seemingly undergoing a very slow renovation.

Beachside Food and Drink Service
The beach features a stand-alone bar which was typically well staffed, with four to six people working.  The bar offered a limited food menu, in addition to drinks.

Despite the more than adequate staffing, service here was close to non-existent.  The staff did little more than stand around and chat amongst themselves and the small number of patrons actually sitting at the bar.  No more frequently than once an hour, a staff member would do the rounds of those sitting on the beach, offering drinks.  So many people ordered that the actual delivery time was quite slow, as all of the orders seemed to be taken in batch mode.  Further, drinks were made and sometimes sat for too many minutes in the hot sun while one of the waiters was delivering a prior order.  We ordered frozen drinks once and by the time they made it to us, they were no longer frozen.

The only functional way to get drinks was to walk up to the bar and order them yourself.  (Tip to hotel management: encourage your staff to continuously circulate through the beach chairs.  You’ll find you might actually sell more drinks!)

Walk to the bar to get drinks

Walk to the bar to get drinks

Main Pool Swim-Up Bar
The main pool back near the lobby (not near the beach) also had a swim-up bar built into the pool, as well as a land-based sitting area.  We were told this was only open on weekends.  We were there on a weekend and did not see it open.  Considering there were no others at the main pool, I guess this isn’t unreasonable.  It is a bit of a downer to see a swim-up bar unused.


Kids’ Camp

The hotel has a kids’ camp located in a stilted building in the middle of the shallow lagoon.  The club was staffed by two very nice young ladies.  On a few days, we dropped the kids off for two or so hours to have some relaxing time for adults.  The camp staff members were very nice and were actively engaged with the children.  Language was a bit of a barrier, but they tried very hard.

One drawback was the camp hours were haphazard.  They typically opened 20-30 minutes after the scheduled opening time, and if no children were at the camp, sometimes they would close mid-day.  We turned up once in the middle of the day to find the camp doors locked.  We returned an hour or so later and the young lady working said no one had come earlier and she went to do some other tasks.  This was frustrating.

One of the camp staff members also did babysitting for us on several nights.

Gym and Spa

We didn’t visit either (though I did enjoy some early morning runs through the Cap Cana compound).  A friend was also at the property at the same time we were and was disappointed with both – which kept us away.

Gym and Spa

Gym and Spa

They also offered bicycles.


The Scape Park

Located perhaps two miles from the hotel but still within the Cap Cana compound was something called The Scape Park.  While it looked like there were interesting activities, the set up of the facility wasn’t really clear till we got there.

The Scape Park offers six or seven distinct two-hour activities.  We signed up for cave swimming and dune buggy riding.  Each were fairly expensive (two to three hundred dollars per activity for our family of four), but each were highly enjoyable.

Other activities available included zip lining, horseback riding and a waterfall expedition.

You could easily spend a few hours here on each of several days during a visit and enjoy some memorable activities.

Booking your activities a few days in advance seemed essential.

The facility was principally set up to cater to off-property guests, and there were multiple shuttle buses taking guests to and from various lower-end hotels in the surrounding area.  The Eden Roc front office had arranged for us to be picked up and taken to the Scape Park for our first activity, but their transportation never turned up.

We ended up driving our golf cart here each time.   The return trips pushed the outer limit of the cart’s range, but we made it each time.

The Surprise on the Bill

After I made the booking at the hotel, I called to pre-confirm a roll-away bed for the room.  (The kids won’t easily co-exist on a small sofabed.)  At first they said they wouldn’t bring in a roll-away, because it wouldn’t fit.  When I attempted to cancel the booking, the reservations department relented, and decided it would fit.  Upon arrival, I was again told the roll-away wouldn’t fit.  Having seen photos of the suites, I was certain there would be a way to make it fit comfortably and pointed out that a roll-away was in fact confirmed with our booking.  As luck would have it, the roll-away fit just fine.

Upon check-out, we were surprised to see a $300 per night (plus tax and service charge) addition for the roll-away!  This totaled about $2,300 for our seven night stay!  I have seen a varierty of roll-away bed fees over the years, but nothing like this.  Heck, I could have purchased a bed and had it delivered for less than $1,000.  There was no mention of the charge on my original confirmation nor did they advise me of the charge at check-in.  After two discussions with the front desk, they agreed to remove the charge completely.  It is fine to charge for the roll-away, but (a) their price was higher than I’d ever seen by several multiples and (b) I was not advised of any charge for the bed.  This (removing the charge completely) was obviously the best outcome, but such a large, unannounced charge really left a negative taste.

Notable Staff Members

While I typically don’t flag specific staff members, there were five members of the property’s staff which really stood out.  Hugo and Gabriela in the front office, Marina and Sergio at La Palapa and Boris, a beach attendant, consistently went out of their way to make our stay a pleasant one.

VIP Airport Arrivals Service

Of note, the hotel was also able to arrange VIP service at the airport for arrivals.  We didn’t take them up on this.  The cost was over $100 per person, if I recall correctly, with no scale benefit for a family of four.  The only real benefit of the service is an agent greets you at the bottom of the steps from the plane and escorts you to the terminal, avoiding the bus ride and taking you through the crew queue at immigration.  Though several planes had arrived just before us, thankfully, they had roughly ten agents screening passengers and the regular screening queue moved quite rapidly.

About half of the first class cabin on our plane had signed up for the service.  That said, all things are equalized once you have to wait for bags, and we were out of the airport sooner than any of the guests buying the VIP service.

Had the immigration screening queues taken hours (or even tens of minutes), then perhaps the service would have been worth it.  I was happy to have not purchased it.

It wasn’t clear if there was a similar service for departures.

* * * * *

Despite some nontrivial hiccups, overall, I left reasonably pleased with our stay.  The facilities were reasonably nice enough and the service was reasonably attentive – notable for me, a pretty firm doubter of Caribbean properties.  My wife, on the other hand, found some of the hiccups to be too much – and dining options too limited (particularly with the frequent closures of La Palapa) – to put the property on her “do not return” list.

The week long stay, food and beverage and on-property activities ended up costing about $14,000.  Considering this was a peak February break week, I found the costs to be pretty reasonable for a family of four – certainly when compared to the cost at Amanera or leading properties on nearby islands.  When factoring in the price (which I factor in a bit more than she may), I’d be willing to return in the future, as the property could easily be considered a value play in the lower luxury category.

Because it is on the boss’s “no” list, however, I doubt we’ll be returning.  Readers wouldn’t be crazy to give it a try.


Eden Roc at Cap Cana
+1 809 469 7469

Scape Park





Rosewood London – A Quality Choice

Overview: A strong, in-city luxury property
Strengths: Staff/service, quality of furnishings, f&b (both quality, and range of venues)
Drawbacks: Application of Virtuoso benefits took some effort on my part, junior suite lacked much natural light
Notable: The hotel has a friendly house dog which is resident in the lobby and motor court


Having stayed at the Four Seasons Park Lane on my two prior visits to London, based on strong feedback from members of FT’s Luxury Hotel forum, I decided to give the Rosewood London a try for a recent business trip.

Overall, I was very pleased with my stay at the Rosewood.  The hotel offers pretty much everything you would want from an in-city luxury hotel (other than a swimming pool) and is reasonably centrally located in London (convenient to most of the City, but not Canary Wharf).  I wouldn’t call this a “wow” hotel (as I would the Aman Tokyo), but it is a very good property.

I flew over from New York on Virgin Atlantic in business class.  I bought a ticket via Delta (to get the revenue-based earnings) which precluded my access to Virgin’s chauffeur services.  (More on the math of this situation in a subsequent post.)  Instead, my assistant arranged for the  hotel to send a car to pick me up.

Just outside of immigration and customs, the hotel driver was waiting for me.  He was dressed quite stylishly, as were all of the bellmen and front office staff at the hotel.  He escorted me to one of their house cars.  This one was a Jaguar (XJ Autograph) and was nearby in the car park.


The ride in to the city was very comfortable, and he had juice, water and some small sweets available in the car.  In-car wifi was quite fast, too.

The hotel has an off-street motor court, which I find to be quite a welcome luxury.  I appreciate being able to enter and exit a vehicle in a setting away from an open sidewalk.  A necessity?  Surely not; but definitely a nice touch.  This was similar, though even more private, than the motor court at the woeful Waldorf in Chicago.

Several bellmen greeted us and offered assistance with my luggage.  Notably, despite arriving in a house car, none of the staff greeted me by name.  This compares to the FS Park Lane where the doormen knew the names of the guests arriving in hotel transportation.  Just having small hand luggage, I declined assistance.

Entry corridor

Entry corridor

Similarly, at the front desk, they did not know my name (many hotels pass this info from the driver to the desk), though they greeted me very kindly.  The hotel had a “stay three, pay two” option, which fit great for my two night stay – allowing me to pre-book the room for the night before so as to guarantee its availability when I arrived in the morning.  (My assistant called to make sure they held the room….just in case.)


The gentleman who checked me in then personally escorted me to my room.  I find this to be a very nice touch.  Many hotels’ front office staff escort you to the lift, but then send you on your way.

I reserved a junior suite and was assigned to a junior suite.  There was no mention of an upgrade, nor was there any mention of any of the Virtuoso benefits during my check in.   On the way to the room, I asked the chap who escorted me to my room about the program.  Upon my prompting, he mentioned a $100 “credit,” but was unsure as to what it applied to.  (Shortly after leaving my room, he called back to explain it was F&B, only.)  He also said I could take breakfast in either of their dining rooms or order through room service.

Had I not asked, I suspect they would not have even mentioned Virtuoso during the check in process.  This should be improved.

Junior Suite

As was described on their website, a “junior suite” is a “larger room.”  My room, 309, was situated in a corner facing the interior motorcourt.  While the room was quite large for a hotel room by London standards, owing to its interior corner location, it only had one window, and that was overlooking just the motorcourt.  Some sunlight came in, but this was a darker room for sure.


RosewoodLDN-12 RosewoodLDN-08 RosewoodLDN-09 RosewoodLDN-10 RosewoodLDN-06 RosewoodLDN-04

Etchings in the dresser

Etchings in the dresser

There was a delicious welcoming treat in the room.


The quality of the furnishings in the room were excellent and stylish.  Perhaps the only complaint regarding the room was that the international outlets were located in a corner behind a large round table.  I’m quite tall and it took a reach to get to the outlets.  I suspect many would struggle.


Other than the limited window situation, I was very pleased with my large room.  “Suite,” even “junior,” is a bit of cheeky designation.  I booked the room category hoping for an upgrade to the next category, but this was never mentioned as an option.

Minibar and coffee station

Minibar and coffee station

The flowers added a nice touch.


The bathroom was also quite nicely appointed, though perhaps excessively mirrored.  The sink may have even been a silver sink.  Quite handsome, but knowing from a few neighbors who have them, what a pain to look after. One drawback of the sink was the reflection from the overhead lighting was almost blinding.

RosewoodLDN-15 RosewoodLDN-13RosewoodLDN-16 RosewoodLDN-14

The shower was strong and hot.


Lift Lobby

RosewoodLDN-26 RosewoodLDN-32 RosewoodLDN-31


My first afternoon, I had a bit of free time and registered for a massage at the spa.  Located in the basement, the spa was nicely sized and was quite relaxing.

Getting to the spa was a bit confusing.  I knew it was on the lower level (per the signage in the lift), but once I exited the lift, it was unclear where to go.  I found no signage whatsoever and ended up having to ask a staff member in their conference area (near the lifts) where I needed to go.  A sign in the lift lobby showing the way to the spa would be a welcome addition.

The locker room had both a wet and dry sauna, as well as an immersion shower.  There were two regular showers, too.  The saunas were very nice, but the immersion shower (offering a cold shower or a regular temperature shower) wasn’t functioning properly.

The massage itself was fine, but not extraordinary.  I had signed up for a deep tissue massage, but felt like I ended up with a medium pressure Swedish.  I had asked about firm pressure, but moderate might have a been all this masseuse.  Nevertheless, it was quite relaxing and a welcome respite after the short overnight flight in.

I spent some time in the wet sauna (steam room) afterwards, which was a welcome conclusion.

RosewoodLDN-21 RosewoodLDN-23 RosewoodLDN-22

I did not get to visit the gym during my stay, but I did enjoy a run along the Thames one morning.

Food and Beverage

I ordered a club sandwich as a late dinner one night from room service one night (too many drinks meetings with associates, no dinner tho!), which was quite good and delivered very quickly.

RosewoodLDN-29 RosewoodLDN-30

Each morning, I ate breakfast in the different restaurants.  Both were quite good.

The first morning, I ate at The Mirror Room, which offered a more low key option principally serving from a light buffet.  There was also a menu, which could be used to supplement the buffet.  I did not partake in the add-ons.  Most, if not all of the tables, were lower cocktail or lounge-style tables.  While fine, it wasn’t my favorite set up for eating a meal (leaning over a low table).

RosewoodLDN-35 RosewoodLDN-33 RosewoodLDN-34

The second morning, I ate at The Holborn Dining Room, which is a larger, all-hours venue.  Holborn is located across the motor court and I had to go outside to get there.  (I suspect there may have been an indoor route, but that would have involved going up and down stairs to get there….only a needed option on cold or wet days).  Here I had the English breakfast, which was very good but more than I could eat.  Most of the patrons at Holborn appeared to be locals and not hotel residents – often a good sign.

RosewoodLDN-39 RosewoodLDN-37 RosewoodLDN-38

The service at both venues was very good.

One night, a business associate came by for a drink.  We initially met at Scarfes Bar, which I’d consider the main bar.  There was live music (a single player playing one instrument…I forget which!) and it was clearly a venue for dates and lovers.  Lots of guests were in each other’s arms and a fair bit of kissing was going on.  We retreated across the motor court to Holborn and enjoyed a drink (or two) in a less romantic setting.

There was also an outdoor dining option in the motor court.


I appreciate having a number of dining venues.  Perhaps a high-end option would have been nice, but their offerings were more than fine.

* * * * *

One notable item for dog lovers is that the hotel has an older golden retriever as a house dog.  Pearl has her own bed in the back center of the lobby and in general has free reign of the lobby and motor court. Clearly an older dog which has been well trained, only once did I see her actually walking around.  All other times she was laying in rest.  She gladly accepted some petting from me and other guests.


Pearl wasn’t visible in the evening, and I suspect they have some space away from the public areas for her to sleep overnight.

Each time I saw her, it put a definite smile on my face.


My checkout took a bit more effort than I’d like.  While my first breakfast was removed, the second, as well as my room service dinner, hadn’t been.  The gentlemen helping me with the checkout was very nice, but was seemed completely unfamiliar with the Virtuoso program.  He needed to call for help to sort everything out.  Checking out took over ten minutes, though everything did get sorted.  The hotel should strive for better and should train their front desk staff about programs like Virtuoso.

The same driver who retrieved me from the airport was standing by to take me back to Heathrow.  This time, he took me in their house Range Rover.  I hadn’t been in a Rover in a while and found it to be quite a comfortable ride.  Juice and water were available, and wifi was quite fast.  Beyond live TV being available for the rear seats, live TV was also available on the monitor in the center of the dash board.  This seems like it could be a meaningful distraction for the driver (though my driver paid no attention to it).


I had spoken with the concierge the day prior for them to arrange access to the Virgin Upper Class channel at Heathrow.  (Notably, this check-in is also open to Delta One passengers.  I will give a brief review of the Virgin experience separately.)  Virgin asks for your arriving vehicle’s license plate number, which is a bit of a hassle, as anyone with a hired car and driver nearly surely won’t know the tag number.  The concierge sorted all of this out for me, which I appreciated.

* * * * *

As I look back, this was a very nice stay and any issues I highlighted were truly minor. I would have no concerns whatsoever to stay here again.  That said, nothing about the stay made it a “wow” stay, either.  For £900+ per night for an “interior courtyard facing large room,” perhaps I’d like something closer to a “wow” experience.

Rosewood London
252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN
+44 20 7781 8888


A Family South African Safari – Conclusion, Safari Tips and Future Plans

1 – Introduction
2 – A Pit Stop in Paris
3 – Tanda Tula
4 – Londolozi Founder’s Camp
5 – Safari Photos – Part A and Part B
6 – Cape Grace Hotel
7 – Cape Town Activities
8 – Emirates First Class – Thoughts and Observations
9 – Conclusion, A Few Safari Tips and Future Plans

Looking Back and Future Plans

Reflecting upon this trip now with the passage of some time, it is difficult to articulate just how impactful the trip was for our family.  Three months later, at least weekly, we still find ourselves talking about some aspect of the trip (typically related to animals).  Typically, it is the children who raise the topic.

Our children have both long had an above-average fascination with animals.  Without question, our children now have a much more profound appreciation of the way truly wild animals live.  I hope, and am reasonably confident, that this appreciation – and the memories from this trip – will last for their entire lives.


Without question, another safari trip is in the cards for us.  I suspect it will be a few years out (as there are other places we’d like to take the kids), but we have definitely caught the bug.  I’ve started to do some preliminary research on other countries in Africa.

While they are all a long journey from the United States, but hopefully the airfare market will remain competitive – so we can sample another first class product on our return journey!



A Few Tips

There were a number of things that we had on our trip that might not have been intuitive upfront, but were very helpful to have with us.  In addition, there was one thing I wish I had brought with me.

  1. Cameras for Kids – This was very helpful.  We bought each of the kids small, point-and-shoot cameras.  Each cost about $100.  Importantly, it enabled each child to be able to take photos of whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.  We would have definitely had multiple “can I take the picture now” requests – and perhaps battles – had we not had cameras for everyone.
  2. Amusements for Downtime During Drives – While we knew we would have downtime between the drives, it turned out also to be helpful to have small distractions for the children during the drives.  Each drive, invariably, there was at least one 15-25 minute stretch where we were driving to where animals where (without seeing any on the way) or simply waiting in place for where animals were expected.  While our kids could normally handle 15-25 minutes without issue, due to spending 7-8 hours a day on the drives, typically towards the end of the day, these periods had a greater risk of becoming problematic.  We let our children take personal music players and small coloring books/sketch pads with them on the drives.  The music players were put away whenever animals came out, and the coloring books/sketch pads were ideal when the Rover was stationary for some time (but not in sight of animals).  These items didn’t take much space and provided something to capture the kids’ attention when needed.  These made the drives much more pleasant for everyone.
  3. A Second Camera Body – I brought three lenses with me on the trip (a 150-600mm super telephoto lens, an 18-200mm utility lens and my 10-20mm ultra wide angle lens) but only one camera body.  90% of the photos were taken with the super telephoto, but there were times where a quick switch to the utility lens would have been ideal.  While I can do a lens switch in perhaps 10 to 15 seconds, sometimes those seconds can be critical.  Further, after a while, it just becomes a pain to do the swaps, particularly when working with the super telephoto.  For our next safari, whenever it will be, I’ll bring two camera bodies, and have them on the 150-600 and 18-200 lenses, and simply swap the 18-200 for the 10-20 if/as needed.  (Shots with the 10-20mm lens are rarely action-oriented.)

* * * * *

If you have even a moderate interest in wildlife and nature (frankly, mine is only moderate), I cannot recommend a safari highly enough.  Though the cost of the trip was not trivial (I never added up the grand total – probably for the best), the memories for both children and adults will last a lifetime.

Should you have any questions about this trip or a trip you are considering, I’d be happy to share my thoughts.  Please email me at nyb at sitinfirst dot com.



A Family South African Safari – Thoughts on Emirates First Class

1 – Introduction
2 – A Pit Stop in Paris
3 – Tanda Tula
4 – Londolozi Founder’s Camp
5 – Safari Photos – Part A and Part B
6 – Cape Grace Hotel
7 – Cape Town Activities
8 – Emirates First Class – Thoughts and Observations
9 – Conclusion, A Few Safari Tips and Future Plans


For our return flights, we were able to take advantage of the highly competitive premium long-haul market from South Africa and the strength of the US Dollar to fly on revenue tickets in Emirates First Class.  The cost of our one-way routing, CPT-DXB-JFK in first class, was about $2,500 each, and was a refundable fare!  (This compares favorably to roughly $8,500 for DXB-JFK one way in first class.)  While $2,500 is not a small amount of money, compared to prevailing prices for premium international travel in many markets, this represents a true bargain.

Bargain pricing!

Bargain pricing!

I booked our tickets via American Express Platinum just in case I needed to deal with someone regarding the tickets in the future.  This cost $160 in ticketing fees, but gave me some piece of mind.  (Amex’s 2-for-1 program only works for flights originating in the US, so not available for our flights.)

On the Ground

The hotel concierge booked our Emirates car to the airport.  The car service was unable to confirm a van, so they sent two C-Class Mercedes.  We fit, but it was tight.  The drivers were very courteous and were notably conservative drivers.

There are no special ground services for Emirates first class passengers at Cape Town.  Check-in was handled smoothly and we were told what lounge we could visit.

Before getting to the lounge, we had to clear departure immigration.  We had been warned about needing original birth certificates for the kids, identifying us as the parents.  We had those papers, and I even brought our marriage certificate, just in case.

Of course, when going through the passport control, the officer never asked for anything beyond our passports.  The officer muddled something about us all having the same surnames, so nothing further was needed.  He stamped our passports and called for the next in the queue.

Turns out the document checking from Air France on the way into South Africa was far greater than the actual checking on the way out!

Emirates uses the shared CIP lounge in Cape Town.  This is also a Priority Pass and Lounge Club lounge.  The lounge itself was small and relatively hot.  They had some food, but nothing notable.  There was plenty of cold beer at least.  As departure time for our flight and a few others drew closer, the lounge filled to be pretty much standing room only.

Overall, the ground experience was nothing out of the ordinary, perhaps even a bit disappointing.

On Board

For our first flight, we had the entire second row of first class.  (The middle two seats in the first row were already taken when we booked.)  This worked reasonably well for our family, though the having both middle pairs would have been more ideal.

The kids had an absolute blast exploring the suites and the flight attendants seemed to enjoy doting on them.

yourimage (1)

yourimage (2)

I haven’t flown on Emirates in perhaps five years, so the flights served as an interesting update/refresher for me.

The hard and soft products had all of the “bling” that Emirates is known for.  At all times, the service was very attentive and every request was looked after.  Not everything was flawless, but the staff certainly was trying at all times.

With the exception of the caviar, we were pleased with the quality of the food served.  Some of the meals I had included Biryani and Anda Bhurji (spiced eggs and chick peas).  My son enjoyed the cheese plate and clam chowder.  Everyone was pleased.

Cheese plate

Cheese plate

We all asked for the caviar service.  We treat ourselves to caviar at home periodically, and the kids are even into it.  We were disappointed with the quality of the caviar served, finding it to be not crisp enough (it was almost mushy).  While the flavor was fine, the texture was discernibly off.  (First world problems if there ever were!)


The caviar disappointed

You may recall a year or two ago, Emirates announced a half a billion dollar “investment” into their wine selections.  While many Emirates trip reports focus on the champagne, where the carrier really differentiates itself is the wine.  Wines offered on our flights include:

  • 2010 Aile d’Argent (Mouton’s white)
  • 2003 Chateau Certan de May
  • 2009 Solaia
  • 2005 Sarget de Gruaud Larose
  • 2011 The Pairing Red (this is from the same producer as Screaming Eagle)
  • 2006 Doisy Daene

To be picky, perhaps they could have offered the main Gruaud (not their second wine), but overall, this is a very strong wine list.  Over the years, I’ve flown in international first class on Qantas, ANA, Cathay, Lufthansa, Korean and British, as well as a few US-based carriers.  The Emirates wine offering is meaningfully better than what any of these other carriers offer.  Frankly, the only similarity in the air that comes to mind is to what was served on Air France’s Concorde when I flew it in 2003, though Emirates offered a wider selection.

I’ve had each of these wines before, except for The Paring Red.  I made a point to try a little of each wine and enjoyed each.

While I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly Emirates simply because of their wine list, I would certainly look forward to exploring the list when I flew!

We all ended up sleeping a good bit of the way to Dubai.

"Stars" on the ceiling

“Stars” on the ceiling

Dubai Transfer

Transferring in Dubai was also fine, but in no way exceptional.  Unlike some carriers (such as Thai or Air France), no one escorts you between flights and you are simply part of the broader crowd.

Our onward flight left from the older terminal, so we didn’t get to visit the new full-floor first class lounge.  The first class lounge in the older terminal is reasonably nice, but not over the top.  We all enjoyed a small breakfast, and my son and I enjoyed the brief, complimentary massages.

Back on Board

Our onward flight to New York was on an A380.  The flight crew was similarly attentive.  Shean, the purser, was originally from Sydney and was very nice.

Prior to take off, Shean invited us to visit the cockpit.  That was a fun treat for the kids.


After take off, my son quickly asked about taking a shower.  He had a lot of fun with that.  (Our daughter declined.)

We made more round trips to the aft lounge during this flight than I care to recall, as one or the other kid (or both) wanted to go back seemingly every half hour.

We spent some time chatting with Shean in the act lounge when he was relieving the main bartender.  When we probed, he said over the years, there were a few “sex in the shower” situations and he’s had a few drunk passengers getting into tiffs, but he’s never had to restrain anyone.  He cited one ethnicity as particularly problematic related to excess drinking, but probably best if I don’t share that here.

My son got to play bartender for a little while.  He declined the red hat!


Landing was uneventful and our bags came out very quickly.  Having Global Entry (including for the kids), we were landside in no time.  Emirates arranged an SUV to take us back home from the airport.  The driver, clearly a native from New York (not unlike me), took the liberty of interjecting herself into our conversations a few times, including correcting our children several times.  This was odd.

Her driving was also pushing the limits on aggressiveness.  It wasn’t to the point of asking her to slow down, but it was close.

It took about 24 hours to get home.  While Emirates first was definitely a very comfortable way to fly, we were very glad to be home.  I would not hesitate to fly on Emirates again, though probably wouldn’t go out of my way, either