Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland

Air Canada’s inflight magazine, enRoute, has announced the winners of the 2015 Air Canada enRoute Hotel Design Awards.

The awards, now in their third year, celebrate the work of Canadian architects and interior designers at home and abroad.

Lobby at Generator Barcelona hotelSubmissions were invited for new or extensively renovated hotels and resorts completed between January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2014, to be judged by: designer Kelly Wearstler, designer Sir Terence Conran, architect David Rockwell, architect Gilles Saucier and Toronto’s Design Exchange president, Shauna Levy.

“The work of architects and interior designers happens largely behind the scenes, so it’s exciting to bring forward the best in Canadian design and put it in the spotlight,” said Jean-François Légaré, editor-in-chief, Air Canada enRoute. “From the rugged coast of Newfoundland, where architect Todd Saunders built the minimalist Fogo Island Inn, to Barcelona, where Anwar Mekhayech decked out the lobby of the Generator Barcelona with 300 lanterns, this year’s winners know how to make our hotel stays memorable.”

This year’s winners were:

Best Overall Architecture
Fogo Island Inn, Joe Batt’s Arm, Newfoundland and Labrador
Todd Saunders (Saunders Architecture)

Best Overall Interior Design
Park Hyatt New York
Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu (Yabu Pushelberg)

Best Lobby, <150 Rooms
Generator Barcelona
Anwar Mekhayech (DesignAgency)

Best Lobby, 150+ Rooms
The Miami Beach EDITION
Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu (Yabu Pushelberg)

Best Suite
Drake Devonshire Inn, Wellington, Ontario
John Tong (+Tongtong)

Suite at Drake Devonshire Inn, Wellington, Ontario

Best Standard Room, <150 Rooms
Casa Solaris, Hix Island House, Vieques, Puerto Rico
John Hix (John Hix Architect)

Casa Solaris, Hix Island House, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Best Standard Room, 150+ Rooms
The Miami Beach EDITION
Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu (Yabu Pushelberg)

Best Spa or Pool, <150 Rooms
The Emblem Hotel, Prague
Alison McNeil (Dialog)

Best Spa or Pool, 150+ Rooms
The Miami Beach EDITION
Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu (Yabu Pushelberg)

Best Restaurant or Bar, <150 Rooms
Drake Devonshire Inn, Wellington, Ontario
John Tong (+Tongtong)

Best Restaurant or Bar, 150+ Rooms
The Miami Beach EDITION
Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu (Yabu Pushelberg)

There are some travel-inspiring designs here, but the repeating winners’ names suggests a limited pool of entrants for these awards. It would be good, next time, to see the awards opened up to not just Canadian, but perhaps North American architects and designers, in order to see wider selection of styles among the winning entries.

Posted in General, Travel (Destinations), Travel Industry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Norwegian Escape

A good job too! Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) latest ship, Norwegian Escape, is definitely designed for sunshine, as I’ve been finding out!

All new ships have their own unique bits of magic, and Norwegian Escape‘s are on decks 8 & 18… I’ll reveal what they are in a moment.

Norwegian Escape – christened yesterday by rapper superstar, Pitbull, at a ceremony in her home port of Miami – is the latest and, at 164,600 gross tons/4,200 guests, the largest, addition to NCL’s 14-strong fleet.

She was built at the amazing Meyer Werft covered shipyard in Germany (in just 17 months!) and, after sea trials, handed over to NCL on 22 October. She was presented to the press & media, including me, at a series of inaugral events/cruises in Hamburg and Southampton before setting off for Miami and her date with Pitbull.

Now, she starts work, carrying guests out on 7-day cruises from Miami into the Eastern Caribbean visiting ports such as St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands; Tortola in the British Virgin Islands; and Nassau in the Bahamas.

So what is she like?

Norwegian Escape fish carpetWell, she’s certainly big. She’s the first of NCL’s new ‘Breakaway Plus’ class ships and there will be people who, even by the end of a week on board, still get lost trying to find their cabin… even after they’ve realised the helpful fish on the endless corridor carpet, always swim forward!

Most significantly, she’s an NCL ship, designed for NCL’s “Freestyle” cruising, so the first thing that strikes first-timers to NCL is the range and quantity of bars, restaurants and eateries on board – 28 of them to choose from. That’s the idea behind “Freestyle” – no set time meals in large formal/informal restaurants. Instead you can decide where & when you want to eat, just as you do on land.

What’s different with Norwegian Escape over previous NCL ships is the number of new partnerships with well-known (to North Americans) brand leaders in the fields of dining and beverage.

For example, James Beard Award-winning Iron Chef, Jose Garces, has launched two speciality restaurants:

  • Bayamo highlights Latin dishes with a heavy Cuban-influence.
  • Pincho Tapas Bar offers traditional Spanish tapas à la carte in a lively, casual setting. Plates are prepared on an authentic la plancha grill right at the bar in front of guests.

Then, the Food Republic is a modern, food emporium from The Pubbelly Restaurant Group featuring global cuisine for sampling and sharing. It’s great fun. You can select from an extraordinary range of à la carte Asian, European & Mediterranean dishes presented on iPad tablets, and watch them being created by the chefs behind the bar.

Menus on iPads at Food Republic

The District Brew House is an urban craft beer hall run in partnership with Miami’s Wynwood Brewing Company. It has a keg room, 24 draft beers on tap, more than 50 different bottled beers, and a menu of gastropub-style plates for snacking.

And, The Cellars is NCL’s first wine bar in partnership with the Michael Mondavi Family featuring an array of immersive wine experiences (including of course, wines from the Mondavi estate in Napa Valley), focusing on tasting, education, and the enjoyment of wine, all accompanied by small plates and tapas, available à la carte.

Other popular outlets include the Sugarcane Mojito Bar (over 10 different mojitos and rum-based cocktails); Tobacco Road is Miami’s oldest and most legendary bar, reproduced on board; Savor & Taste are two upscale traditional dining venues; O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill is a 24-hour a day neighborhood sports bar and restaurant with classic American favorites and comfort food; Cagney’s Steakhouse is a traditional American steakhouse serving certified Angus Beef; Moderno Churrascaria is a Brazilian-style steakhouse; La Cucina is an Italian restaurant; Le Bistro is an intimate Parisian cafe; and Teppanyaki a Japanese hibachi restaurant with dishes are sliced, chopped & grilled at the table.

There are plenty of other bars & eateries in key locations such as the pool & upper deck bars or in the casino, but there’s no need to worry that your budget won’t sustain a week of fine dining & drinking, three restaurants are complimentary – Margaritaville® at Sea, casual laid back eating up on the pool deck; The self-serve Garden Cafe; and the two-story high Manhattan Room with its live music, dance floor and floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows looking out aft.

Margaritaville at Sea

The “Freestyle” bars and eateries is where that first piece of ‘magic’ comes into play, on Deck 8 – The Waterfront.

On Deck 8, many of those indoor outlets, eg. Bayamo, La Cucina, Moderno Churrascaria, the Cellars wine bar or the ice cream emporium, Dolce Gelato, have an outdoor terrace on The Waterfront. You can stroll past them and take your pick. It’s a simple idea that, in the words of NCL’s President & COO, Andy Stewart, “reconnects our guests with the sea”.

The Waterfront, Deck 8, Norwegian Escape

The other NCL trademark facility is The Haven.

In addition to the 2,000+ ‘normal’ guest staterooms (of which 1130 are outside balcony cabins), NCL has two special ‘products’…

  • The Studios, a very popular collection of interior cabins at singles price with no supplement with its own lounge/bar area, designed for solo travellers.
  • The Haven comprises 95 luxury suites in a two deck block with butler service, its own private restaurant, a cocktail bar, concierge desk, a private sundeck, private spa treatment rooms, and a courtyard pool area with two whirlpools and a retractable roof. The Haven on other NCL ships, such as Norwegian Epic, is described as a “ship within a ship”; a sort of hidden enclave. On board Escape, The Haven seems to be a little less ‘enclavey’. You could spend your whole cruise inside the haven and never step outside. On Escape, part of The Haven occupies the starboard side upper decks, while port side is open to the great un-washed.

Luxury suite in The Haven

Other stuff…

As on most large cruise ships there’s a ton of facilities and entertainments and Norwegian Escape has her share. I’m not interested in or attracted by casinos, so I’ll just say, there is one.

Families are well-catered for…

  • Guppies Nursery offers childcare services for children ages six months to three years, with areas for play time and napping, and an open play area for parents and babies to play together, featuring sensory-based games, interactive media and themed activities hosted by an early years coordinator.
  • Splash Academy is for ages 4-12 where they’ll learn to juggle at Circus School, play sports, and enjoy creative play in an age-appropriate atmosphere.
  • Entourage is a place for teenagers (13-17, designed like a chic adult lounge… without the adults!

Splash Academy, Norwegian Escape

There is a Mandara Spa spanning two decks, hydro-therapy pool, whirlpools, steam room, dry sauna, sanarium and salt room. And Escape has something a bit special here. Once guests have heated up, they can step into the invigorating Snow Room, which ranges from a frosty 21 degrees to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and sends out a flurry of powdery snow throughout the day.

There’s also a busy live entertainment programme…

  • Wine Lovers the Musical where guests get to sample six different wines over lunch while watching the comedy.
  • The Headliners Comedy Club. Nightly performances by top comedians.
  • The Brat Pack ‘live’ at The Supper Club. A 360° post-modern cabaret featuring classic soundtracks from movies.
  • And in the main theatre, Million Dollar Quartet. A musical recreating the night in 1956 when rock ‘n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins got together for a recording session at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Amazing musicians, let down a little by the sound quality, but bound to be a huge success stateside!

Million Dollar Quartet cast

So, where’s the other bit of ‘magic’?

Kids' Aqua Park, Norwegian Escape

Well, I think it’s upstairs and outside on the top decks. Along with all the sports facilities, hot tubs and pool areas (including the Kid’s Aqua Park with really cool splashy things for kids!), Norwegian Escape has a couple of neat new experiences…

The Ropes Course is a three-storey jungle of 99 aerial walkways, swings, tightropes, and other obstacles to be negotiated. Thankfully, participants are wearing safety harnesses, so the walk along the six inch wide beam out 8ft over the towering side of the ship, or the zipline that flies out over the water… is not quite as dangerous as it certainly feels!

Ropes course, Norwegian Escape

It’ll still make your heart stop, just as the suddenly transparent tube bottom on the Aqua Park flumes do when you are flying outside the ship over the sea, hundreds of feet below! And if you are really going for speed… in a competitive way, try Free Fall! The side-by-side Racer tubes enable competitors to race to the finish, from a standing start… in chambers where the floor drops away from underneath!

Aqua park, Norwegian Escape

That’s why Norwegian Escape is destined for the Caribbean. This is a ship whose best bits, like The Waterfront, Ropes Course & Aqua Park, are outside and need lots of warm sunshine.

NB. I was a guest of NCL, but as usual, my views prevail.

Posted in General, Travel (Destinations) | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hotel 41, London

The reason the annual trivago Top Hotel Awards are important is that they are based on 190 million real customer review ratings.

An algorithm is used to create an impartial score, whether a hotel has 400 or 4000 reviews. This results in a real mix of accommodation in the top 50, with luxury hotels standing alongside family-run B&Bs.

So, it’s safe to assume that Malcolm Hendry, General Manager of overall winner, Hotel 41, is pretty chuffed! (I’d post his quoted comments but it’s the usual bland PR blah blah.) He certainly should be, it’s quite an achievement.

And so should the others…

Rank Hotel Type City Rating* Average Room Rate**
1 Hotel 41 Hotel London 96.79 £532
2 The Chester Residence Serviced apartments Edinburgh 96.41 £244
3 The Arthington B&B Blackpool 96.38 £57
4 The Clontarf Hotel Hotel Llandudno 96.21 £73
5 The Soho Hotel Hotel London 96.05 £500
6 Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons Hotel Oxford 96.00 £749
7 Rudding Park Hotel Harrogate 95.89 £211
8 Corinthia London Hotel London 95.85 £548
9 The Somerville Hotel Torquay 95.78 £95
10 St Michael’s B&B Scarborough 95.78 £60
11 Craigatin House and Courtyard B&B Pitlochry 95.72 £105
12 The Redstone B&B Blackpool 95.69 £99
13 The Bath House B&B Bath 95.67 £120
14 The White Lodge B&B Great Yarmouth 95.66 £63
15 The Claymore Guest House B&B Pitlochry 95.66 £98
16 The Sun Inn B&B Kirkby Lonsdale 95.62 £123
17 Briarfields B&B Torquay 95.54 £85
18 Edgar House B&B Chester 95.51 £172
19 Cheval Three Quays Serviced apartments London 95.47 £293
20 Brindleys B&B Bath 95.47 £134
21 Chestnuts House B&B Bath 95.45 £120
22 Leeway B&B Scarborough 95.4 £60
23 Fosters B&B Weymouth 95.36 £61
24 Craigmhor Lodge & Courtyard B&B Pitlochry 95.34 £116
25 Wheatlands Lodge B&B Windermere 95.32 £121
26 Grays B&B Bath 95.29 £135
27 The Craimar B&B Blackpool 95.28 £54
28 Ash Farm Country House B&B Altrincham 95.25 £86
29 The Old Coach House B&B Ripon 95.25 £91
30 Stone Villa B&B Chester 95.22 £88
31 The Townhouse B&B Perth 95.21 £107
32 The Old Tram-House B&B Stirling 95.19 £78
33 Lakeside House B&B Keswick 95.17 £149
34 Guest and the City B&B Brighton 95.13 £107
35 Pinetrees B&B Ballymoney 95.09 £62
36 The Castle House B&B Richmond 95.08 £101
37 Haymarket Hotel London 95.07 £563
38 Egerton House Hotel London 95.07 £404
39 Drinkstone Park B&B Bury St Edmunds 95.04 £84
40 Apsley House B&B Bath 95.03 £163
41 Tan Dinas Country House B&B Betws-y-Coed 94.99 £88
42 Cedar Manor Hotel Windermere 94.98 £167
43 A Room With A View B&B Brighton 94.95 £153
44 Summer Lodge Hotel Evershot 94.93 £306
45 The Sands Serviced apartments Scarborough 94.93 £282
46 Paddocks House Hotel Newmarket 94.89 £185
47 Covent Garden Hotel London 94.83 £761
48 The Old Vicarage B&B Truro 94.83 £106
49 Fraoch House B&B Edinburgh 94.82 £79
50 The Cranleigh Boutique Hotel Bowness-on-Windemere 94.82 £165

*Reputation taken from the trivago Rating Index (tRI), based on over 190 million online ratings from over 30 websites worldwide.
**Average Room Rate of all available hotel rooms (including suites), based on prices from 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2015.

You can see the full details, with regional maps, here.

This sort of thing always leaves me wondering, who was 51st?

Posted in General, Travel (Destinations) | Leave a comment

Man in suit giving a car key to the viewer

A change to the UK Drivers License in June could make hiring a car a little tricky.

The UK driving license currently consists of two parts: the driver ID card and the paper log of points & endorsements. After 8th June the paper part will be dropped. The up-to-date record of points & endorsements will be kept only on the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) database.

This is going to cause some potential headaches when it comes to renting a vehicle because rental companies currently check the paper log on collection to confirm that the driver is eligible.

To handle this, the DVLA are launching a system called “Share my Driving Licence”. It’s an online service that enables the driver to download an access code, which he/she can then give to ‘interested parties’ eg. a new employer, or a rental company, so they can check the DVLA database online.

BUT…

BIG BUT…

The access code only works for 72 hours.

So drivers will have to remember to get the code, just before they will need it for the pick-up.

That means, last-minute, on-the-spur-of-the-moment decisions to rent a car will only work if you can get online at the time to get your code, and if you get your code before setting off for somewhere far distant, say New Zealand, you’ll want to pick up your rental quickly, before the code runs out!

YouTube Preview Image

It’s not impossible. It just means being organised, but you can be sure there will be long queues at car rental receptions in June when the people who don’t know about the change turn up!

Image: Bigstock/nito

Posted in General, Travel Industry | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

China Airlines B747 in Skyteam livery

… but do we pay them enough attention?

At an APRO (Airline Public Relations Organisation) event last night I was listening to Fatima da Gloria de Sousa, Director Brand & Communications, for SkyTeam talking about what they do, and wondering exactly that.

For example, what does code-sharing mean to most of us?

If you are flying direct to your destination, nothing. The only thing it means is that when you get to the airport and look at the departure boards for your baggage drop or gate, you can’t see your flight because it is currently displaying a different flight ID! You have to wait while it cycles round to the airline & number you recognise.

But here’s the standout statistic that Fatima mentioned: 50% of Available Seat-Kilometres (ASK) are flown in the primary “metal” – the plane with the name of the airline you booked with, painted on the side. The other half are flown on code-shares on partner airlines, and that’s where alliances become significant.

SkyTeam is celebrating its 15th birthday this year. When it launched in July 2000 there were just 4 partner airlines – Air France, Delta, AeroMexico and Korean Air. Now there are twenty, making it the second largest alliance by passengers & members, behind Star Alliance and ahead of Oneworld.

The benefits to passengers have fuelled that growth. Seamless ticketing & transfers don’t just happen by magic. They happen because alliances like SkyTeam and their member airlines work hard to collaborate between each other and third parties; organising themselves into the same terminal at airports so their passengers can get easily from one gate to the next (and if they can’t, as Skyteam recently did, persuading the airport to build a corridor to shave 40mins off transfers!); integrating their timetables to achieve maximum efficiency; investing with airports in facilities such as automated baggage drop-off; building common lounges for transfer passengers (with a range of food styles from member cultures); and merging their frequent flyer programmes and rewards.

As Fatima, herself said a couple of times, it’s not sexy.

But I think it is worth a closer look.

Image: China Airlines B-747 in Skyteam livery. CC Flickr/Christian Junker

Posted in General, Travel Industry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment