Sunday, October 22, 2017

Stay Report: Best Western Plus - Downtown Suites (Ottawa, Canada - October 2017)

Stay Report: Best Western Plus Ottawa Downtown Suites
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)


I was going to be in Ottawa for work, and the company put us up at the Best Western Plus Ottawa.  It is the first time I have ever stayed at a Best Western Plus so I was not sure what to expect.

The hotel is located on the edge of downtown near the Canadian Museum of Nature, and is a 15-20 minute walking distance to many areas.  When you enter the hotel lobby, in front is the large check-in desk while to left is a small sitting area.  Free water is provided in the lobby (which is a nice gesture).  Further into the hotel, after the check-in desks, is the sitting area and where the free breakfast is provided.  Continuing ahead are barstool desks which provide nice work spaces as they have electrical ports on the desks (a nice touch).  In this hallway are also where the elevators are located, access to the meeting rooms, as well as rooms on the first floor.  Check-in was relatively quick, I received my key as well as access code to the wifi, and took the elevators to my room.

I had never stayed at a Best Western nor Best Western Plus, so was not sure what to expect the room to look like.  When I entered, it looked like a standard hotel room.  You enter the room into a hallway.  On the left is the wall to the adjacent room, while on the right is the bathroom.  The bathroom had a tub, a toilet, and a sink with some counter space behind the toilet.  The bathroom was a decent size and it was stocked with lots of towels (another plus point).  

Continuing along the hallway, also on the right hand side was a kitchenette.  This contained a counter with a small sink and a coffee maker on the counter.  There were cabinets above the sink as well as a microwave, and below there were additional cabinets and a refrigerator.  Both amenities were nice to have, but it would also have been nice to have some forks, knives, and/or plates to go along.  

Further into the room, on the left was a chest with drawers on the bottom and a TV on top.  Continuing along the wall was a desk.  The desk was large enough to provide a good working space, and the desk contained the lan internet connection as well as outlets on the lap (which only worked when the lamp was on).  Next to the desk was the window which looked out onto the city. 

Against the other side of the wall were the two beds.  This room had two double beds with a nightstand in the middle.  The beds were high and provided a decent nights sleep; the only negative were that there lots of pillows on the bed (I counted 6 on one bed).  One bed was closer to the window while the second bed was closer to the bathroom.  The bed next to the bathroom had an outlet on the other side (which was convenient, but only one plug worked) and there was also access to the closet.  The closet was located in a nook behind the kitchenette.  It was an odd location because it faced the bed so really only one person would have access to the closet.  The closet contained a safe, an iron and ironing board.  Overall, the room was decent - not spacious and not cramped.  The decor was a bit outdated but looked nice enough.

Amenities in the hotel included a fitness center with a sauna (which I was told was very nice), meeting rooms, work spaces (which were a nice addition and which had power outlets), free wifi (which was decent but a bit inconsistent), and complimentary breakfast.  Breakfast was served in the lobby and there were a variety of mostly cold items.  There were some hot and fresh items available, but it was the standard complimentary breakfast (similar to what other major chains - HI Express, Hampton, etc - have provided).  

As I stated, it was my first experience at a Best Western.  Going into it, I was not sure what to expect and having stayed here I am not sure what the difference was.  The hotel was a standard hotel room with some additional amenities.  The additional amenities are welcomed by the guest and that makes for a decent stay.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Stay Report: Courtyard San Jose Escazu (Costa Rica - October 2017)

Stay Report: Courtyard San Jose Escazu (Costa Rica)
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

When looking for a place internationally, I am usually looking for a hotel that is centrally located either to the sights I want to see; located near public transportation; and/or located near other services such as food outlets and supermarkets.  When I was looking for places in San Jose, Escazu neighborhood stood out as a nice place and I found a good redemption for points deal with the Courtyard hotel so I booked that hotel.

The hotel is located on the side of a highway, right next to a mini plaza and walking distance to a major shopping area.  To get to the major shopping area, there is no sidewalk so you have to walk on the street with the cars – the hotel also provides a complimentary shuttle there but it costs $2 for the return.  I walked the walk a couple of times, and while not the safest thing to do, it was alight.

From the outside, the hotel looks modest and decent – not great and not brand new, but not too old.  You walk into the lobby with the check-in desk on the left hand side and the restaurant and bar on the right hand side.  Check-in was smooth, we received our key, and proceeded to the elevators.  The elevators are located behind the check-in desk in a corridor which also contains the entrance to the outdoor pool, the meeting rooms, a lounge area for the dining area, and the gym.  Both the gym and outdoor pool are relatively small, but decent enough for the smaller hotel.  We took the elevator to the 4th floor to our room.

The room itself was a standard Courtyard room, with a bit more room.  As you entered into the room, on the left was the bathroom.  It was a standard Marriott bathroom with a shower, a toilet, a sink, and a hair dryer.  Across from the bathroom was the closet which also contained the safe, an iron, and ironing board.  Right next to the closet was a small nook.  On top of the nook was the coffee maker and glasses, while below was the fridge.  As you moved further into the room, you entered the area for the beds.

On the left side were two double beds with a nightstand in the middle.  The beds were fairly comfortable, a nice size, and provided a decent night’s sleep.  Across from the bed was the chest of drawers with a TV on top and next to that was the desk.  On the side of the desk were additional plugs, and this was a nice touch as guests are always looking for additional plugs.  Across from the desk was a sitting chair that looked out onto the balcony.  The room came with a balcony which overlooked the outdoor pool.  The balcony also had patio chairs and a table.  Overall, it was a nice spacious room with the standard amenities.

The additional services at the hotel included a restaurant, a bar, an outdoor pool, a gym, a shuttle, as well as free wifi.  I utilized both the shuttle and the free wifi.  We took the shuttle to the main plaza, it was complimentary on the outbound but needed to be paid for the return.  The wifi was pretty good and strong enough to stream movies and check mail.


Overall, it was a standard stay at the Courtyard San Jose Escazu.  The only negative was the location – it was walking distance to the main plaza and to other restaurants and bars, but there were other hotels on the other side of the road (a 5-10 minute drive) which were more centrally located to the surrounding areas.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trip Report: Copa Airlines - New Orleans to San Jose via Panama (October 2017)

Trip Report: Copa Airlines 
New Orleans to San Jose via Panama
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I have flown Copa Airlines before, once in 2010 and then again in 2014; however, the airline recently started direct international service from New Orleans to Panama.  As a way to support the service from my hometown, as well as try Copa's product again, I booked Copa from New Orleans (MSY) to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) via Panama (PTY).  The service started in 2015 and runs 4 times a week.  The flight departs Panama at 6:30p and arrive into New Orleans at 10:30p with the return flight departing the next morning at 6:00a and arriving into Panama at 9:30a.  The flight is timed to maximize connections in Panama for onward travel.

Copa Airlines is based in Panama and has a fleet of Embraer as well as Boeing 737- 700
and 800's.  The flight time from New Orleans to Panama is 3hrs while the return is 3hrs and 30min.  When the flight for commenced, Copa was using their Boeing 737-700 for the flight but the flight has been downgraded to the Embraer 190.  My previous experience with Copa was mixed - nice amenities but inconsistent.  I also flew Copa when they were going from a transition, and have now identified who they are and what product they want to serve. 

Copa is full-service airline that provides complimentary meals on all flights, free 2-pieces of checked luggage, free seat assignment, and is a member of Star Alliance.  The only thing Copa does not offer is in flight entertainment - this is changing as their Boeing 737-800s now have seatback PTVs, but these are only being operated on long-haul flights.  You can book flights on Copa's website and you can also call the call center to book a flight.  It is not easy to manage your booking on the website, but you can select a seat and request special meals by calling.  Copa does have an app which I only found useful to store my information and access mobile boarding passes.  24-hours prior to departure, I was able to check-in and obtain my boarding pass.  You can change your seat assignment when you check-in, but you can only do this if you are using a laptop/desktop - you cannot modify your seats at check-in through the app.  

I had checked-in online, received my mobile boarding pass, and went to the airport to drop off my luggage.  The check-in line was very long, but the Copa representatives were very good and quick in assisting all passengers.  A Copa representative came through and asked those passengers who had checked-in online to bypass the line and be served first - this made check-in got a lot faster.  I received my luggage tag, went through security, and waited to board.  Copa likes to start boarding their planes about 1 hour in advance - for each of my flights the boarding started one hour prior to the flight.  We boarded by group numbers, and even though all passengers were on board, the plane door did not close until the posted boarding time (so I am not sure why the plane is boarded so early).  Boarding was done by group numbers and was quick and efficient.

The operating aircraft was an Embraer 190 with a 2-2 seat configuration.  The seat pitch was very good with lots of legroom, even in standard economy.  The seats were generally comfortable as well.  There were no PTVs either behind the seat nor any drop down screens; and Copa does not offer neither complimentary wifi nor any entertainment.  Boarding happened quickly, and though we were all seated, the boarding doors did not close until the stated departure time.  Manual safety demonstrations were done, and then it was a quick taxi to takeoff.  The flight was about 90% full, and even on the return the flight was about 90% full.  About 20 minutes after we reached cruising altitude, the attendants came down the alley with the service carts.  

Complimentary drinks, juice, tea, and coffee were served along with a complimentary meal.  Although not a huge size, the meal was decent enough to fill you up and contained a salad, bread, dressing, dessert, and the main meal.  Breakfast is served on the outbound while dinner is served on the return.  You could order as many drinks as you wanted, but the serving size was small.  The only negative of the service was that for the 3hr+ flight, this was the only time drinks were served.  It would've been better had copy come around with drinks again or even just with water.  Once the meal and drinks had been served, and meal trays cleared, the flight was uneventful.  It is left up to the passenger to pass the time as they see fit.

We landed in Panama early, all of our flights seemed to land early, but it took a while to taxi to the gate and wait for an open gate (this seemed to happen a lot in Panama - Copa's growth seems to have outpaced the capacity of Tocumen).  I originally had about 1.5 hour layover, but given the delay in taxing and the given how early Copa likes to board, I went directly to my gate (even though Tocumen is not that big and you can access food really easily).  My next flight was to San Jose, Costa Rica and this was operated by a new Boeing 737-700 with mood lighting and PTV's on each seat.  The PTVs had a decent selection of movies and TV shows, not great but decent enough to keep you occupied for at least 3-4 hours.  The flight time to San Jose was only 1hour, so due to the short duration the meal and drinks service commenced as soon as we reached cruising altitude.  On the return flight, the service was the same but the operating aircraft was different - this time it was an Embraer 190.

Overall, Copa is a decent airline.  They provide discount tickets which includes a complimentary meal, two free checked bags, free seat selection, a nice seat, and a comfortable experience.  They are not into a lot of frills and extra amenities, but have consistently provided a good service at low prices.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Stay Report: Hilton Sandestin Beach, Golf Resort & Spa (Destin, Florida - September 2017)

Stay Report: Hilton Sandestin Beach Resort & Spa
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)


Destin, Florida is known to have some of the best beaches in the United States.  I was looking for a nice beach spot to spend a long weekend, and I had previously been to and enjoyed the Hilton Sandestin Beach Resort and Spa.  I had initially come here in 2013 and enjoyed it so much that I decided to come back in 2017.  My experience was the same for both occasions - overall really nice and spacious rooms with good amenities and decent service. 

In 2013, I had booked a junior suite as that was the only room that was available.  This time, I was booking two rooms so I booked two regular rooms.  The two rooms were booked together, on one reservation, so I had requested that they be connecting rooms.  We arrived late to the hotel, and by the time we had arrived all the connecting rooms were full - so instead we were given complimentary upgrades to junior suites.  The suites were on two different floors, but the the room was a bigger size than what we had booked.  We had arrived late to the hotel in 2017 because in 2013 when we arrive in the afternoon, there was a lot of rush so to avoid that we arrived later in the evening.   


We checked in, received the keys to our bigger room, and received our wristbands.  Each guests receives white wristbands which indicate they are hotel guests.  In addition to the room rate, the hotel charges a daily resort charge which includes "guest internet access; self parking; fitness center access; tram transport throughout resort; kids 10 and under eat free breakfast Sandcastles; exclusive shopping pass for Silver Sands/Grand Blvd; local/toll free calls"  The daily charge is $30, and that to me seems excessive for what they are charging as there are many items which we did not use.  In the amenities included in the resort fee, we only used the internet and self parking.  The good thing about Hilton is that the notice of the resort fee is plastered everywhere - when you are making reservation, when the reservation is confirmed, and when you check-in.  

We received our keys and went to the rooms.  Both junior suites had a similar layout.  As you walked into the room, on the left were two bunk beds each of which had a personal tv with them.  Past the bunk beds was the bathroom area which had a sink and mirror outside, a large closet - which had a safe in it as well as an iron and ironing board - and then a door to the bathroom with another sink, the toilet and the bathtub.  The bathroom itself looked like a standard Hilton bathroom, but the additional sink and mirror outside was nice.  

As you entered further into the room, along the right hand wall was the TV and chest with drawers.  Further along the right hand wall was the desk with chairs and outlets - the room had been updated to allow many outlets throughout the room (something that is lacking in other hotels).  The only negative was that the desk was positioned too close to the TV stand so the chair could not fit properly.   Along the left hand side was the two double beds with a large nightstand in the middle.  The beds were standard Hilton beds and were comfortable enough to provide a good nights sleep.  


Along the wall between the bed and the bathroom was a little nook.  On the top shelf of the nook was the coffee maker and microwave.  There were shelves below that as well as a fridge.  These additional amenities were very nice and very useful in the family suite, but the placement was odd as it was closer to the bed rather than the sitting area.  

Next to the second bed was a sitting area which had a really big sitting chair and couch that opened up to a sofa bed.  There was coffee table in front of the couch.  Sitting on the couch you could face out onto the balcony which overlooked either the ocean or the parking lot (depending on which tower and your view).  The balcony was also pretty big and could accommodate at least three individuals.  It was also nice and enjoy the ocean view while sitting on the balcony.

Most people come to the Hilton Sandestin for the beach, and the hotel does have direct beach access as well as a pool.  The beach is nice and clean, and there are lots of chairs but Hilton started charging $50 a day to rent the beach chairs (we did not pay any money in 2013).  If we are already paying for the room rental plus the resort fee, why are we paying additional money for the beach chairs - shouldn't those be included?  There are chairs available on the deck and the near the pool which are free.  The pool itself is somewhat small given the size of the resort - and there is both an indoor and outdoor pool (the indoor pool was mostly filled with little kids).    

The hotel had other amenities, some of which I tried in 2013 and some of which I have never tried.  In 2013 I tried both the gym and spa.  The gym was spacious and could accommodate many people, and the spa was decent and the hotel had hired many extra people to accommodate the rush.  Self parking was included in the resort fee and there were plenty of spaces.  

The service at the hotel was also decent.  The staff were polite and courteous.  There was a lot of guests and I am sure a lot of requests, but the staff never looked flustered nor agitated.  There were only a couple of complaints - 1) the charge for the beach chairs.  2) there is a lot of rush during checkout and thus it took almost 30 minutes for the elevators to arrive.  Some guests had said they saw the bell staff hold elevators as those who requested bell service got first priority.  3) some of the rooms were connecting and so there is a door between the two rooms.  The door is located across from the bathroom, and a lot of noise is transmitted between this door.  The hotel needs to do a better job of soundproofing.

Overall, I enjoyed both of my times at the Hilton Sandestin.  The room quality stayed the same as well as the access to the beach and pool.  What changed was the increase in charging for the extras and a small decrease in the customer service.  This is one of the best resorts in the area and seems to be holding up well.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Stay Report: Holiday Inn - Attica Av., Airport West (Athens, Greece - July 2017)

Stay Report: Holiday Inn - Attica Av., Airport West
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

We had an overnight in Athens from one flight to another so we decided to find a hotel near Athens Airport.  There are a couple of options, but we had some IHG points so decided to use them for a free night at the Holiday Inn Athens West.  The hotel is located about 15-20 minutes away from the airport, and there is a free shuttle that operates between the hotel and the airport.  The shuttle was one of the negatives of the hotel as it is not very convenient.  The shuttle only operates on the hour from the airport to the hotel, and on the half an hour from the hotel to the airport (so if you miss it, there is A LONG waiting time for the next shuttle).  Also the shuttle is a small van that seats approximately 15-18 people, but since there is a long waiting time usually there are more individuals waiting for the bus so it was always packed.

We had arrived at night around 9:20p so we had to wait about 40 minutes for the 10p shuttle to arrive.  When it arrived, it was a very chaotic to get onto the bus and then it was a 15-20 minute drive to the hotel.  The hotel is very big and has a lot of services to offer including a business center, an indoor pool, a fitness center, as well as two restaurants.  There were two check-in attendants for a big group, so if you were in the back of the line it was going to take a while to check-in; luckily we were in the front of the line so check-in happened rather quickly.  We received our key and took the elevator up to our room.  The elevator was located in the middle of the hotel, with corridors on each side leading to the rooms.  
The hallway look updated and the rooms also had updated keys.  As you entered into the
room, on the left was the bathroom while on the right was the open closet and storage area.  Overall, the size of the room was decent and not too small but not too big either.  The bathroom was the same way, there was enough room to move about but it was not a spacious bathroom.  The bathroom had a sink, a full tub on the right, and a toilet and bidet on the left.  The only negative of the bathroom were the amenities, which were not standard IHG amenities but local ‘Greek’ amenities which were not as good. 

Back inside the room, the open closet and storage connect to a counter which also housed the coffee maker. Below the coffee maker was the minifridge/bar and above the coffee maker where more shelves which held the coffee supplies.  Further along this wall was the TV, and then next to the window was a desk with power outlets along the wall.  Behind the desk was a small table, which was not very convenient as there was little room between the desk and the table.  On the other side of the table was a chair, a nice addition but again it was tight room. 

The beds were located against the wall, next to the chair and opposite to the TV.   If you faced the bed, on the left-hand side of each bed was a night stand, again with power outlets.  This was a nice amenity to have convenient power outlets so you don’t have to go search for them.  The beds themselves were comfortable and provided a nice and restful sleep.  The beds were definitely European in their size, as they felt more like full-size beds instead of the regular size beds in American rooms.

As we were only there for one night, we did not get to experience other amenities of the hotel besides the free wifi.  The wifi was strong and decent enough to check emails and stream videos.  Overall, it was a pleasant overnight stay at the Holiday Inn.  The hotel was comfortable and provided a nice rest.  The only negatives were the chaotic shuttle and the bathroom amenities.  The positives were the decent room size and the comfortable beds. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Trip Report: Aegean Airlines (operated by Olympic Airlines) - Athens to Chios (July 2017)

Trip Report: Aegean Airlines - operated by Olympic Air Athens to Chios
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

We were flying domestically in Greece from Athens to Chios.  For our timings, the best option for us was Aegean Airlines as compared to the other domestic airlines.  Booking is also the airline with a more international presences, and is part of Star Alliance, so it has a bit more credibility and reliability versus the other airlines.  Booking on Aegean was easy and the airline provides three options for their flights – light, go, and flex.  The light option is the cheaper option as it only provides the seat; the next option includes checked baggage and the last option is the business option.  Since I was going to check bags in, I had originally looked the “go” fare which includes checked baggage.  By the time I went to book the flight, the go option had increased in price so I choose the “light” option.  The light option included the seat only and I had to purchase the bags.  The bags were 18euro each way, but the total of the light fare plus the extra baggage was lower than the go fare.  I booked the ticket and received confirmation of my booking.  On the website, I could not add my Star Alliance ff number nor could I preselect my seat, so I had to call the reservation line for both of these options.

The flight was scheduled to leave Athens at 11:25am and was operated by Olympic Airlines.  I had downloaded the Aegean app and 48hours prior to departure I received an email notification indicating I could check-in to my flight.  Through the app I was able to easily check-in and receive mobile boarding passes.  Check-in at the airport was also handled at the Aegean counters that were marked with Olympic signs. 

For both the outbound and return, the flight was operated by a Dash-8 as the flight time was 1hr.  Both Dash-8's had a 2-2 seat configuration, and the seats looked worn and torn.  On both sectors, boarding started on time and all passengers were seated prior to scheduled push back time.  Once boarding had been completed, the flight attendants came by to hand out candies and wipes.  This was a nice gesture given the short duration of the flight.  After manual safety demonstrations, we pushed back and climbed towards our cruising altitude.

Even though it was only 1hr flight time, drinks were served.  On the outbound, the attendants started to serve drinks but then turbulence forced them to discontinue the service.  On the return, there was only minimal turbulence so drink service continued.  Along with drinks, cookies and crackers are also served.  This is a lot of service given the short flight time.


Overall, it was a nice and quick domestic flight with Olympic Airlines.  The website and app of Aegean were easy to manage and the service on board was a lot given the short flight time.       

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Stay Report: Holiday Inn Express, Dublin Airport (July 2017)

Stay Report: Holiday Inn Express, Dublin Airport
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I was going to be in Dublin for a short period between flights, so I was looking for a place near the airport.  IHG was having a sale and the Holiday Inn Express was a good price - and I have never tried the brand internationally - so decided to book this hotel.  Closer to my arrival date, I emailed the hotel and inquired about the hotel shuttle between the airport and the hotel.  I was told that the hotel does provide a shuttle and that it is shared with the Crowne Plaza that is right next door.  

Upon arriving into Dublin, I went to the bus stand to wait for the hotel shuttle.  The hotel shuttle is more like a public bus that goes to the area where the hotels are situated - if you are staying at the hotel then the shuttle is complimentary, but if you want to visit the park or restaurants nearby then you have to pay. Also, there is a long wait for the shuttle.  The shuttle dropped everyone off at the Crowne Plaza hotel, and those who were staying at the Holiday Inn Express walked along with sidewalk to the hotel.

The hotel is somewhat narrow so the lobby of the hotel was not big.  The lobby contains the check-in desks, the bar & restaurant, the 'business center' and the place for the free breakfast in the morning.  Check-in was quick and I received my key and went to my room.  When I opened the door, the room looked more like an Ibis hotel room rather than a Holiday Inn Express - it was a very compact room. 

As you opened the door, straight ahead was the open closes with some hangers and shelves to store your stuff.  Continuing along a narrow hallway, on the right was the bathroom and further ahead on the left was the desk.  The bathroom was extremely small, as when you opened the door to the bathroom you covered the toilet.  The bathroom had a sink, a toilet and a very small shower.  There were no standard amenities, rather two bottles attached to the wall - a hand wash next to the sink and a shampoo, conditioner, and body wash all in one in the shower. 


The desk was rather big but it also doubled as the TV stand.  There were a lot of electrical outlets along the wall - which was very nice - and there were of different power ports (so Irish, UK, and US ports were available).  This was a nice gesture and one that other international hotels near airports should adopt.  Across from the desk was a sofa which looked like it could double as a sofa bed (although I am not sure there would be enough room to fit it).   Further into the room was the double bed with a nightstand on either side.  The bed itself was comfortable enough but did not have a lot of padding - and again felt more like an Ibis bed.

Free breakfast is included in all Holiday Inn Express hotels so in the morning I tried the breakfast before I got on the shuttle back to the airport.  The breakfast was similar to the ones served in the U.S., with some minor differences.  The hot food included scrambled eggs and sausage and cold food included a variety of cereals along with milk and yogurt.  Fruit was also available along with coffee and juices.  Pastries were available – including a very good chocolate croissant – but overall the selection was a bit limited as compared to the U.S.  If this is something that the hotel is highlighting as a perk, it needs to be improved.

Overall, it was an interesting stay at the Holiday Inn Express hotel.  It felt more like I was staying at an Ibis hotel - I was paying more for the HIExpress or IHG name but getting the same quality as the Ibis hotel. The nice perks included the fast and free wifi along with the electrical ports, but those did not outweigh the high price for the low quality.  It’s a nice overnight hotel, if you can get it on sale.