Review: Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort

10.24.12

It’s impossible to anyone to give a full review of the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort because I’m pretty sure you’d need a two week stay in order to get through all the amenities on the 1,350 acre resort. In a few short days I was able to eat at a few of the restaurants, take a Segway tour of the property, shop in the village (and enjoy a farmer’s market), play tennis, swim in the ocean, kayak in the marsh, tour downtown Fernandina and have a bonfire on the beach.

Previously I’d posted some highlight pictures but I hadn’t really posted images of the resort itself. You see the reason I was at The Amelia Island Plantation Resort in the first place was for a topping off ceremony. Ask me what Topping Off means… seriously.

There was a really nice group of writers there.. all women actually and one guy. The running joke was that it was like dates from The Bachelor. This is how most of our dinners looked. There’s a second man at the table but he didn’t last long, it was a one man show.

 

And of course there were activities like kayaking, touring the city by Segway or coach and (of course) cocktails.

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Yes, I realize I’m posting very unattractive photos of myself but I don’t even care that I looked like crap for long weekend because the water was so delightfully warm that I couldn’t stay out of the ocean. Each afternoon at about 4pm we’d have an hour or more of free time. You can see that the women I traveled with took advantage of this time to get themselves looking great for dinner. I think some of them may have worked on their stories too. I ran to my room, stripped down as fast as humanly possible, put on a swimsuit and ran into the water each and every afternoon.

I love my Los Angeles beaches but they aren’t warm. It’s a treat to be in a warm salty ocean and I just couldn’t stay out. Every afternoon I thought to myself, “I wish the kids were here I’d be playing with them right now.” If you aren’t a competent swimmer you need to know that there are no lifeguards at the beaches. This also means that if you’re bringing your kids to the beach you need to actually watch them. I know we’re supposed to do that anyhow but I can’t say that I don’t depend on a second set of eyes most of the summer.

The resort is luxe beachy. It’s not uptight and overly fussy but it’s also not beach bum time and you can expect to see guests well behaved and well turned out (except me… oh dear). Southern hospitality abounds and everyone smiles greets you kindly. There are a lot of yes ma’ams and I don’t think I heard no a single time. Vacations without no’s are the best vacations of all.

My guestroom had an ocean view and it was fun to watch the sun rise over the ocean and then to head over to the golf course and watch it set over the marshes. The room was comfortable and clean (no need to ask for a second room here) but it was dated and worn. The resort is actually closing in a few weeks and will reopen in March of 2013 with a new building that is absolutely stunning. A pool that left April and me stuttering because it is so amazing and a massive conference center (our new goal is to get BlogHer to use it for a conference).

Here’s a snapshot of one of the new guestrooms.

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This is a rendering of the pools. There’s a splash area for little kids the long middle pool is for everyone and the squared off pool closest to the hotel lobby is adult only. With hundreds of beach chairs and just one ocean they wisely decided to create the pool deck on many levels providing a sort of stadium seating so you can see the ocean from every spot.

amelia island pool rendering

There are also villas that are one two and three bedrooms with kitchens. This is a fabulous family option as eating breakfast out isn’t my favorite. I much prefer to eat in the room and not have to get dressed and ready just to have a couple of eggs. Also with little kids they’re hungry all the time and having a place where they can easily snack is key.

Even though the trip was short we did a lot and I’m going to have to give y’all a second post where I share all the great food and drink from the Amelia Island Plantation Resort.

See all the pictures here:

Loews Coronado Bay Review: San Diego Area Hotel

02.22.12

Us Gottliebs spent President’s Day weekend at the Loews Coronado Bay hotel. There are two things that are important to note. Presidents Day Weekend is a busy weekend with many area hotels sold out, and the hotel’s lobby was under construction. I had lowered my expectations. Apparently not quite enough.

lowes coronado bay resort aerial shot

I called the Loews just a few days before the holiday and explained to the reservations agent that I’m a high maintenance traveler. I like nice things and I make no apology for it. I also explained to him that I wanted either adjoining rooms or a one bedroom suite, the requirement is that there is a door between the two rooms. “It’s not a vacation if I’m sleeping in the same room as my children.” I said. It’s what I always say. He chortled, agreed and set us up with a Grand King Suite. He assured me I’d be delighted. I assured him that I wanted to be delighted.

Let me just say that a Grand King Suite at the Loews Coronado Bay is a wonderful thing. The ceilings are high, the views of the bay are stunning and the bathroom is everything you could hope for in a luxury spa hotel. Unfortunately there was nothing to separate the bedroom from the living room. It was exactly the hotel room I didn’t want for a family of four.

I called the front desk and explained the dilemma. They couldn’t have been nicer or more understanding. After a brief hold I was told that they had a one bedroom suite for us. It would be smaller and a few dollars less but it was vacant and he would send a bellman with keys.

So we waited. And we waited. Then we waited some more.

A very nice and incredibly apologetic bellman arrived with keys and showed us to the second room. It was still very nice, smaller and with a much smaller bathroom but it suited our needs as a family of four that wanted a little privacy throughout the weekend. The views of the bay were soothing and the location was actually better than the larger suite. When traveling with kids it’s nice to be near the teen room and the swimming pool.

We thanked the bellman and reminded him that we needed a rollaway bed as well as some extra blankets and pillows. This was at about 4pm.

At 6pm we called again and they sent the rollaway bed but no pillows or blankets. I asked about turndown service and for the sofa bed to be opened. They assured me that someone would be “right on it”.

At 8pm I called again.

At 8.45 the incredibly sweet operator once again assured me that the housekeeping supervisor would be right there. I ran out of nice and reminded her that I was in a hotel and asking for a bed at 9pm. Shortly thereafter a housekeeper arrived to unfold the sofa bed and gasped audibly to find it bare.

Sometime after 9 I left the room in utter disgust to take a walk with my son and left Mr. G and Jane to wait for housekeeping (who again failed to bring extra blankets and pillows). Mr. G asked if he should tip whomever arrived in the room. I didn’t have an answer, I’m still of two minds.

The hotel manager arrived. Mr. G reported that she was very young and very apologetic. I’m sure she was sweet, everyone was sweet there. Sadly they were mostly incompetent.

The television in the bedroom didn’t get reception on many of it’s channels but we weren’t concerned enough to complain about it. In addition to the shower being tiny, and folks when I say tiny I’m talking about a 3 foot by 3 foot space, the showerhead hardly dribbled. Shower caps were not provided. Again, I’d accepted defeat after the bed fiasco.

We spent a wonderful day by the pool. There are two ping pong tables and a giant connect four. There is plenty of seating, some sofas and a bar. Unfortunately the food is from room service (as opposed to a separate pool service area) so it’s VERY slow. Fortunately the coffee bar in the lobby (even under construction) has fabulous grab and go choices including fresh fruit, pasta salads, healthy sandwiches and little bits of handmade chocolate that you simply must experience.

Although the hotel is located on the bay, you should not confuse this with a beach. I wouldn’t have my kids swimming in the water as it’s mostly full of motorboats. It’s a beautiful view, but it’s better for boaters than for swimmers.

The pool area is really quite lovely and I cannot emphasize enough how much we enjoyed our day by the pool.

The Sunday brunch is similar to other hotel Sunday Brunches. There’s an omelet bar and a lunch area, there are lovely desserts, overcooked vats of scrambled eggs and piles of breakfast meats. Like other hotels it’s hideously overpriced, unlike other hotels it has a Mexican flare. I like Mexican flare, especially when I’m spitting distance from the border.

Our second night was better. We had no requests and it was impossible to disappoint us. We accepted the dribbling water from the teeny tiny shower and left town. In spite of it all we had a fabulous weekend together.

What would alarm me most about this hotel is that upon checking out I said to the woman at the desk, “I’d like to general manager to call me on Tuesday so that I can tell you about my experience here.” She nodded, wrote down my number on a slip of paper and shoved it into a pile. Naturally there was no phone call.

It’s an okay hotel in an okay location but the staff is not so okay.

I’d reserved a Grand King Suite at $450 a night (I know a steal) and then moved to the one bedroom suite at $350 a night. If you can lower your expectations and make your own bed you just might enjoy yourself.

Grand Del Mar Resort San Diego Review

07.8.11

As an early anniversary trip my husband took our family to the Grand Del Mar in San Diego. It was a really easy decision, the conversation went exactly like this:

ME: You know it’s our anniversary, right?

MR G: Yes, I do.

ME: They why did you let them schedule a conference in New York City during our anniversary week?

MR G: I don’t actually schedule the conferences. I just attend them.

ME: But don’t you know people there? Couldn’t you say, “listen guys, you’ve always had this thing later in the month. I don’t think my wife will like you changing the date.”? Why couldn’t you say that.

[he just sort of looked at me]

ME: You know this is going to cost you, right?

So then I realized that Jane had to be dropped off at camp on the Sunday before Mr. G was to leave for New York and I thought swanky hotel. A few phone calls later and we were booked for a Friday afternoon arrival. Unfortunately Mr G couldn’t make Friday a half day so we wiggled that around, arrived early on Saturday and he still owes me a half an anniversary gift. I’m sure the wives will see the logic in this.

The Grand Del Mar is tucked away in the foothills of San Diego. It’s a decidedly luxurious resort. When you drive up to the guard gate it’s like entering a gated estate. You’re surrounded by hills that are mostly vacant (it’s bordered by the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve). As we approached the resort Mr G and I rolled down our windows and ahhhhhed at the sight of the Tom Fazio designed golf course. I can’t pretend to know what he was thinking, but I was thinking crap, why did we have to bring these kids? I want to play golf all day and get boozy all night.

We pulled up to the front of the hotel and it’s just beautiful. I don’t really have words to describe it fully, but it’s grand and stately and Mediterranean without looking like those hideous cardboard cutouts that remind me of Marvina Reynolds singing Little Boxes. It’s a resort that looks like it was constructed to take up just as much space as it would like to ThankYouVeryMuch.

Check in was mostly uneventful, except they offer you warm towels to freshen up with. This is the first hint that you’ve arrived somewhere exceptional.

One look at the rooms and you’ll never want to leave. Ever. These are iPhone photos, but OMG just look. The two bedroom suite is bigger than my first house… and my second… and cleaner than my third.

Living Room at the Grand Del Mar in San Digeo California Suite King sized room Grand Del Mar San Diego two queen bed room Grand Del Mar San Diego California

When you are being taken to your room you’ll notice that the ceilings are high, the decor is aristocratic and the doors are spaced quite far apart. Our suite left me delighted. The rooms are over sized and beautifully furnished. Each of our rooms had sliding glass doors and a patio that overlooked the golf course (the golf course we couldn’t play on… argh to parenthood). We tossed our stuff, threw on swimsuits and shorts, grabbed rackets and headed off for tennis and swimming.

Lounging by the pool at the Grand Del Mar in San Diego

When I say "swimming" it looks a little more like "sipping" and "sitting"

The tennis pavilion is lovely. There are two courts and it overlooks the horse stables and the canyon. It’s a good spot for the kids and I, but lacking in space if you’re a big hitter (my husband felt squashed). Everything about it is immaculately maintained and I know I’m repeating myself but it’s luxurious. Clearly there are landscapers, maintenance men and janitorial staff, but they move around like ghosts and you feel like you’re living in Gatsby’s garden.

After a few minutes (yes minutes) of tennis with the kids I was pooped and decided that I really needed to lay by the pool, read a book and sip a mojito. After sipping enthusiastically a fruit plate sounded like a good idea, and by then the kids and Mr G had finished knocking balls around and a few sandwiches, some smoothies and a beer were ordered. The smoothies were all fruit and delighted the kids. I was stunned at how good the poolside food was. The fruit plate came with a little side of yogurt for dipping that tasted a little bit like marshmallow. We ended up getting two additional fruit plates for the kids, and they’re begging me to call the hotel and find out what the dip was made of.

I could have spent a solid week at the pool and ignored everything else. The level of service surpassed my expectations.

After a few hours poolside we went back to the room and changed for dinner. I’d really worked up an appetite from… not doing anything all day. First I had drinks in the lobby bar with a friend. Even if you’re just running through town this is an experience you really want to try. The hotel has wisely employed Jesse Rodriguez as their wine director. I was presented with interesting wines, some that I’d never heard of, to sample. The staff were all very educated about wine and wine pairings (but not pretentious about it so I still felt comfortable). If you know a wine lover all of the restaurants on the property would delight them.

We had dinner on site at Amaya. The Grand Del Mar has three spots for on-site dining (not including the yummy poolside stuff) Amaya, Addison and Club M. Since we had kids with us we skipped the five star/five diamond Addison and had a lovely dinner at Amaya. The kids started with lobster bisque but it was creamy with no lobster chunks, they did not love it (I did). I started with Seared Foie Gras and it was the perfect portion, just heavenly. Our dinners were grilled prawns, seared scallops, crispy skin duck breast and a duo of beef. I didn’t share my scallops with anyone, but tasted a little bit of everyone’s dinner and they were all delicious. You should know though, that meals at Amaya are leisurely. The staff is very attentive and you’ll have drinks, pashminas and bread just about the first minute you sit down, but meals are a drawn out affair. Settle in and slow down, because it’s a resort, not a diner.

Of course we had to order room service. We just did. It’s part of a nice night out. Hint: the chocolate cake is amazing if you like heavy frosting, if you are a mutant don’t like frosting pick something else. One piece of cake can easily be shared with three people. We didn’t do much sharing, but we practice gluttony.

Chocolate Cake from room service

 

If you like hiking or horseback riding there are 4,100 acres of land for you to explore. Just remember take only pictures, leave only footprints. I swear I could have spent a happy week here without leaving the property.

There are adult pools. Everyone there looked tanned, fit and sexy. I shuffled past with the kids. Happy Anniversary to me. We spent a second day poolside and left Sunday after lunch to bring Jane to camp. I’m pretty sure that since we were only there one night Mr G should bring me back for the other half of my anniversary.

 

 

*Our dinner at Amaya was on the house