London Hotel Review: Hazlitt’s in Soho

Hazlitt’s is my new favorite London hotel.

 

And no, they’re not paying me or giving me any special perks for promoting them. I just really, really love it at Hazlitt’s. With its quirky charm and cozy decor, this quaint boutique hotel is the ultimate balance between budget and luxury. In London, England, I’ve stayed everywhere from the budget-friendly Royal National to the upscale Anthenaeum, but now that I’ve stayed at Hazlitt’s, I won’t stay anyplace else.

Location

Situated across from Soho Square, Hazlitt’s is in the heart of the London action. By day, the area is completely quiet, but by night, it comes alive. Corner cafes, lively pubs, and beautiful bistros line every inch of Frith street, which Hazlitt’s calls home. Just a block or two to the right, and you’ll find yourself walking down the incredible Oxford Street. Walk a few more blocks, and you’ll been standing among hundreds of tourists at Trafalgar Square. Take a left when you exit Hazlitt’s, and after a short five-minute walk, you’ll find yourself in Leicester Square, the heart of London’s entertainment district. Another five minutes from there, and you’ll enter the Covent Garden area.

Reception

Within seconds of walking through the front door, I was greeted with the warmest reception. The man behind the desk had been anticipating my arrival and was excited to tell me that I had been upgraded to the finest single room in the hotel. Once I was settled into my suite, I decided to go for a walk and get something to eat before heading to see Cinderella in Soho. There were now several people at reception, and they regaled me with tales of how wonderful the show was when they had gone to see it as part of a work event. They were friendly and kind. I felt like I was among old friends and knew I was safe in their hands. From the night staff to the early morning and mid-day crews, every member of the incredible Hazlitt’s team was incredibly warm and welcoming.

 

Room

I don’t know that I have ever felt more at home in a hotel room than I did at Hazlitt’s. Since I was the last solo traveler with reservations for the weekend, I had my choice between the cozy (in other words small) room I had originally booked on the fifth floor, or I could take the much larger and more luxurious sweet “downstairs.” Now here’s the catch…downstairs was the basement. Being such an old building, many people are a bit put off by this. So the bellman took me down to see the unit before I made my choice. He had also planned to take me upstairs to see the other room, but there was no need. The Gregory King suite, as it was called, was the most amazing hotel room I had ever seen. In fact, if I were to design my dream bedroom, this would be it.

After walking through the standard wooden hotel room door, there is a second entrance with a glass door. There is a little light you can leave on in the tiny foyer between the two doors, which is handy if you plan to be out late. No one likes to return to a dark room. Opening the second door, you encounter a double bed topped with a soft, fluffy duvet that keeps you just the right temperature all night long. The wall beside the bed has a large opening where a fireplace once stood. It now acts as a bedside table of sorts, complete with vintage editions of hard-cover books. At the far end of the room is a small desk with two large windows that look up toward Frith Street. There is even a decent-sized closet and a fridge with mini bar. The decor is cozy and warm and a tad quirky—just like me. It was obvious every lamp, painting, and other adornment had been picked with true care and attention to detail. As a writer, it felt like the perfect place to write a masterpiece. But the focal point of the room is the stunning claw-foot tub. Two heavy drapes frame the entrance to the pristine bathroom. It was to die for.

 

 Ambience

Before you’ve even entered the building, you know you’re staying someplace special. Built in the 1700s, the Georgian-style building is reminiscent of a bygone era. Named for the writer and painter who died in the house in 1830, William Hazlitt, you half expect to see him and his friends waxing poetic over a snifter of brandy in the sitting room.

There are two sitting rooms where guests can sit by the fire and relax. In one room, there is an honor bar where you can help yourself to whatever you like. You just write down what you’ve taken in the provided journal and pay when you check out. In most hotels I’ve stayed in, public spaces like there are usually barren. But at Hazlitt’s, they are very popular, especially on cold winter nights.

 

Security

Despite the hustle on bustle of the surrounding streets at night, you’re completely safe at Hazlitt’s. Day or night, you have to ring reception to gain entry to the building. Once inside, you are promptly greeted by the staff to ensure you do, in fact, belong there. You are never given a key to the building itself, only your suite. And you leave that behind with reception every time you leave the building. You can rest assured that no one is getting into Hazlitt’s who isn’t supposed to. Thanks to very heavy drapery in the suites, you’re shielded from the chatter traffic on the busy streets outside your windows at night.

From its ideal location to its adorable ambiance, Hazlitt’s is the perfect place to set up your home away from home when you’re in London, England. Have a favorite London hotel you’d like to share, tell us all about it on the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook page.

 

Cambodia Hotel Review: Golden Temple Residence in Siem Reap

Golden Temple Residence in Siem Reap is a golden experience.

 

Our awesome experience with the Golden Temple Residence in Siem Reap, Cambodia, began well before we ever arrived at the property. I booked this property on a wing and a prayer…it hadn’t yet opened, but I got an amazing rate with some outstanding add-ons. So, based on artist renderings of what the completed hotel would look like and reviews of other establishments in the chain, I took my chances and booked.

Pro tip: When possible, check out photos of the hotel by other travelers. They tell it like it really is, as opposed to professional photos that have been tweaked to look amazing.

Immediately upon receiving my booking, I was contacted by the hotel’s guest services to offer me a personalized concierge experience. I began working with my designated contact to develop a complete itinerary. All of the arrangements were made for me, including a cooking class, sunset quad tour, and a driver for Angkor Wat.

Pro tip: Ask guest services to help arrange local activities. I simply sent them a list of things we wanted to do in Siem Reap, and they took care of our entire schedule at no extra charge.

Upon arrival at the Siem Reap airport, we were met by a Golden Temple Residence guest services representative, the lovely and sweet Kanaka. She provided some personal insight into Cambodia during our complementary shuttle ride to the hotel and ensured we were well cared for during our entire stay.

And I can’t say enough about how amazing our stay was. From the moment you arrive, you are surrounded by stunning decor and the smiling faces of half a dozen staff who are more than eager to ensure you have an extraordinary time in their country. They gave us cold towels so we could cool off from the extreme heat, as well as a sweet tea drink and some tasty local treats, while we waited for Kanaka to check us in.

There are only about two dozen suites in the entire hotel, and there are easily as many staff. As a result, every guest has a truly personalized experience. Each oversize suite is adorned with classic decor that is complimented with traditional Khmer art. It’s simple, tasteful, clean, and luxurious. I was celebrating a milestone birthday, and our spacious room was filled with helium balloons and a rose-petal birthday greeting on the bed. Later, the guest services team brought me a cake—it was a wonderful surprise and a delightful treat!

The wait staff in the restaurant were fast and friendly, and the food was delicious. The pool area is serene and inviting—the perfect place to cool off after a morning exploring the temples or markets. The wait staff gets to know your order pretty quickly and will take special care to make sure you are always well hydrated. And the spa is divine. We had a massage included in the price of our package, but the rates were so good, we treated ourselves to a second one the next day.

If you’re hoping to take in a cultural song and dance show, you need not look any further than your own backyard. Every evening, the Golden Temple Residence puts on an Aspara show that is a real treat—we were even invited onstage after the show to meet the dancers and take pictures. We also participated in an afternoon cooking class hosted by Bora, the hotel’s sous chef. Early in the morning he toured us through Siem Reap’s old market, showing us the ingredients we would be using to cook our gourmet meal. Later, he led us through a fun and informative class. I would recommend this experience to anyone staying at the hotel.

In addition to the extraordinary staff and five-star decor, the location of Golden Temple Residence is second-to-none. Two minutes to the left, and you are in the night market. Two minutes straight ahead, and you are on Pub Street. And two minutes past that takes you to the old market. What more can you ask for? I have traveled all over North America and Europe, as well as parts of Africa, and this may just rank as the best hotel experience I have ever had.

Do you have a hotel in Cambodia you would recommend? Share your suggestion with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

 

 

Pro Tips for Booking Hotels that Make You Happy

Booking hotels for a big trip is often super stressful. You want to make sure you’re not disappointed when you arrive.

 

In my early days of travel, I didn’t know what I wanted from a hotel. I knew there were different star ratings that meant the hotel was either low-end or super fancy, but that was about it. I figured all hotels were clean and had standard features, like a pool and room service. Boy, was I wrong. Now, I have a different view on booking hotels.

I figured out soon enough that there is a lot more to booking hotels that are right for my tastes. These days, before I start looking at options for accommodations, I make a list of must-have amenities. And that list is different for every trip. Sometimes I know I’ll have more time to hang out at the hotel. I may want a lot of recreational activities. In that case, I’m willing to shell out bigger bucks to have them on site. Other times, I plan to be at the hotel only a few hours a night for a shower and to sleep. I need a clean bed and nothing more.

Here are a smattering of things to consider when booking hotels. They’ll help keep you from spending your hard-earned cash on a place that leaves you in tears.

Booking Hotels

1.       No matter how well you think you know an area or a hotel chain, never book a place to stay until you check what people have to say about it on TripAdvisor. I don’t care how much it costs or how good it looks on the website, it’s vital to read reviews. See how many stars real people give the hotel. Take a look at their pictures, not the professional, Photoshopped pictures from the hotel itself. Another good thing to look at is how the hotel ranks for the city where it’s located. If it’s number 244 of 245 hotels, you may question why.

A few years ago, I got a smoking hot deal on a little hotel just a few blocks from a Disneyland. I was sure it was this cute little place I had been dying to stay at. I didn’t bother doing my research. Upon arrival, I realized the error of my ways. I mixed up the names of two hotels, and it was a dive. The furniture was falling apart, there were stains on the 1970s shag carpet, and I’m pretty sure I saw a roach. I cringe just thinking about it. Now, no matter what I think I know, I always do my research when I’m booking hotels.

Booking Hotels

2.       Most hotels post how close they are to the nearest attractions right on their websites. But even the most reputable establishments often fib just a little. Some fib a lot. In my experience, hotels sometimes say they are within “walking distance” of a certain sight. In reality, they are quite a bit farther away. 

Always go to Google Maps to view the walking directions to the nearest landmarks. Simply type in the hotel address and the name of the sight you want to see. Then click the person icon at the top. You’ll see the different routes you can take to get from point A to point B . You’ll also get the approximate time it will take you to make the trek. You can often catch a glimpse of the area using street view. If the walk is short but has a lot of major roads to cross or is in a seedy neighborhood, you may not want to walk it after all.

Booking Hotels

3.       If you have limited travel funds, try a lower budget hotel for trips where you plan to be out all day and night. Sometimes I’m disappointed to learn I’ve spent a lot of money on something I don’t have time to really use. If you’re not going to be around to enjoy a fancy hotel, don’t waste your money. Save the big bucks for when it matters. For example, I go to Disneyland for a few days each year, and I know I’ll be leaving at dawn and out until after midnight.

I usually stay at the Holiday Inn Express or similar. The walk to the park is five minutes longer, but the cost is considerably cheaper than one of the closer, more upscale hotels. Why blow your budget booking hotels that are beautiful but you don’t have time to enjoy? Know when it’s right to stick to the basics: clean, safe, close to the sights. 

Booking Hotels

4.       Don’t assume every hotel has a pool or gym. My husband hadn’t traveled much when we first got together. He thought every hotel had these amenities. He was so disappointed the first time we stayed at a hotel that didn’t have a pool, even though he almost never goes swimming. He still likes to have the option. If you like to stick to a workout routine or enjoy relaxing by the pool, make sure your hotel has the appropriate facilities.

Booking Hotels

5.       Do you like breakfast in bed? Perhaps you’re prone to the late-night munchies. Make sure your hotel offers room service or has some place to buy food nearby. It’s not a given a hotel will have places to eat on premises or even on the same street.

If you don’t have a vehicle, finding food can be a chore. One time, I stayed at a hotel just outside of Frankfurt, Germany, that was a 40-minute walk to the nearest anything. And when I did finally find food, it consisted of prepackaged pastries from a gas station. I won’t make that mistake again.

Booking Hotels

6.       While most hotels are hopping on the free WiFi train, some still charge for the service, especially in extra touristy areas. I’m always surprised when I find out there is anything from a $5 to $20-a-day charge for in-room Internet services. I simply refuse to pull funds from my travel budget to pay for what I consider such a basic service. Check that your hotel offers free or reasonably priced WiFi if you plan to do a lot of web surfing. In the event you find yourself without it, look for the nearest coffee shop where you can take your laptop or phone and catch up with the world. 

These are just a few things you can do when booking hotels to make sure they live up to your expectations. These tips will help ensure you’re not disappointed when you arrive. Have other tips to share with travelers? Head over to the Facebook page and start a conversation.

Cheap Places to Stay: 5 Tips for Luxe Accommodations at Affordable Rates

I like a nice hotel. But I especially like when I find cheap places to stay that make me feel like a princess despite their low price.

 

When I’m traveling, I prefer to stay someplace authentic with a little local flavor rather than at a big-name chain. Regardless of where I am, I like to be in the lap of luxury…or at least someplace cute or quaint. If you can relate, follow these handy-dandy tips and tricks to help you find cheap places to stay that still have a high-class vibe.

cheap places to stay1. Compare different websites

I usually start my quest for cheap places to stay on a hotel metasearch like Trivago. Before Trivago, I would spend countless hours searching half a dozen different travel websites at a time. Now, Trivago does that work for me. It searches bunches of other travel sites, including some of my faves like Expedia, Travelocity, Booking.com, and Hotels.com. Then it displays the prices listed on each of those other sites for every available hotel in the date range and location you’ve indicated. From there, you can select the one with the lowest rate.

Regardless of which site you use to search for accommodations, your bound to get a whole bunch of results…like hundreds. Rather than sift through all of the options, I always narrow my search further by star rating and district. If I know I want to stay in three-star hotel in Anaheim, there’s no point looking at four-star hotels in Newport, for example. Then I sort by lowest price first. Sometimes you can find high-end hotels mixed in with lower-priced places. There are often special rates or promotions you may miss by jumping past modestly priced listings.

Once you’ve vetted the list to a few top options, it’s time to take your search to the next level. Go to the hotel’s website to see if there are any special offers for booking direct. Even give them a call. Sometimes you can sweet talk your way to a bit of an extra deal. And don’t forget to search the web for promo or discount codes. A quick Google search can often yield fruitful results.

hotel-7873832. Consider a Bed and Breakfast

Bed and breakfasts (BnBs) offer a different kind of accommodation. I’ve stayed in some that are, quite literally, a bed in a person’s home. Nothing flashy, just a bed in a private room. Other times, I’ve stayed in apartment-style buildings with multiple rooms over numerous floors that greatly resemble a boutique hotel. Each type of BnB has its own panache.

A great thing about BnBs is they come in a range of prices and are often more affordable than hotels. They can be simple and modest or over-the-top. Many are nearby main attractions, while others are off the beaten path. Regardless of your preference, there is something for everyone.

Since I like a little local flavor, if I’m having trouble finding a hotel that suits my tastes, I always turn my search strategy to BnBs. And if I can’t find an affordable hotel, I am certain I will always find a modest BnB to put me up for a few nights. And as you can tell from their name, the cost always includes breakfast. Did I mention BnBs are my go to for smaller towns, such as Lewes or Salisbury, England. You can find really cute, quaint BnBs in these places that give you a sense of how the locals live.

In fact, the opportunity to mingle with locals and others from around the world is one of the things I like best about BnBs. Typically, the owner puts out a lovely breakfast spread of fresh fruits and breads, jams, pastries, and more. Some may even cook eggs according to your personal preference. You can chat about living local and get a real feel for the place you’re visiting. Often other guests may be eating at the same time. BnB dining rooms are usually fairly cozy, giving you a chance to learn about their cultures as you eat. Maybe you’ll even learn about a new place to visit.

cheap places to stay3. AirBnB Availability

A recent favorite for me when it comes to cheap places to stay is AirBnB. When a friend of mine told me two years ago he was renting his place to strangers using this new online arrangement, I thought he was nuts. Then I checked it out and realized the fabulousness of it all.

Six months ago I got a reminder about a cruise I had booked a year earlier and had forgotten all about. I always like to arrive a few days early to check out the departing port, which in this case was Barcelona. Unfortunately for me, there was a massive mobile conference that week, and even hostels were selling for hundreds of dollars each night. That’s when I remembered AirBnB. And boy am I glad I did. I got the most amazing private apartment for a fraction of the cost—$500 total for four nights. It was Spanish to the extreme, close to everything, and the host was divine.

On AirBnB, you can find everything from private apartments to single rooms. There’s quirky comfort or lavish luxury. Many owners are incredibly welcoming, offering tailored arrival information, maps, suggested activities, discounts to local amenities, and more. One apartment owner even let me have a package shipped to the residence in advance! AirBnB is quickly becoming my favorite way to find cheap places to stay that offer luxury and a taste of local living.

cheap places to stay4. Stay off the beaten path

I know it’s great to be right in the heart of the action, but sometimes your budget just won’t stretch that far. This happened to me on a recent stay in New Orleans. I wanted to stay on either Royal or Bourbon Street, but the cost was a little out of my league. One block in the opposite direction—literally a two-minute walk to the infamous Famous Door live music venue—I found Dauphine Orleans. This top-rated hotel was well priced and had all the luxury amenities I love.

You don’t have to go far from the main attractions, unless you want to. But sometimes looking even just a block or two from the hottest spots can bring you surprising deals, not to mention a bit of peace and quiet at night since you’ll be away from all the late-night carousing.

Since the rail system in Europe is so simple, sometimes I look as far as nearby towns for cheap places to stay. They’re less popular than their big-city neighbors, so you can usually get way more bang for your buck. And little towns can be a lovely way to experience a less touristy look at daily life.

cruise-ship-6377335. Choose to Cruise

It’s no secret I take a lot of cruises. I’d love to spend more time in each place I visit, but I have limited time and money. Cruises allow me to see a lot of places for a more-or-less all-inclusive rate. All your food and accommodations are included in the price you pay up front. Aside from alcohol, gratuities, and anything you buy onboard, you never need to take out your wallet.

I often book an interior stateroom when I cruise. The way I see it, if I’m spending all my time sitting in my room, I’m cruising wrong. Interior cabins are often ridiculously well priced. Remember that Barcelona cruise I mentioned earlier? All in, it cost less than $950 for 11 days on NCL Epic, one of the most impressive ships at sea. You simply can’t beat a deal like that.

If you’re worried about being cooped up in a room with no windows, fear not. There are plenty of open decks up top where you can sit and watch the world float by. Besides, balcony cabins only offer you a view of one side of the world, and from up top, you get a 360-degree view. But if you’re a bit claustrophobic, you can often upgrade to a room with a window for a few bucks more per person per night. It’s still a steal.

Pro tip: be sure to check the cost of your cruise from time to time. Ships often reach capacity with many empty rooms still available. More than once I’ve found the same cabin for less money a few weeks prior to departure. Most cruise lines will honor the lower rate. Occasionally, I’ve even been upgraded for free or got a deal and a half on an upgrade after boarding the ship.

Follow these handy tricks for hunting down cheap places to stay, and you can make every vacation both luxurious and affordable.