Traveling Mamas

Inspiring you to explore our world

  • Traveling to MD Anderson Cancer Center for medical treatment or second opinion can be a daunting experience. When my doctor made the announcement that he felt that I should go to MD Anderson, I was both scared and hopeful. I didn’t know what to expect or how to even go about making plans to visit this world renowned medical facility. Patients from all over the globe come to MD Anderson looking for answers and cures. One thing that is essential, is finding lodging that is not just affordable, but is close enough to the facility for the patient and friends, and also offers the little extras needed for the patients.

    When you request an apointment at MD Anderson, the department where you’ll be treated will call you back with your appointment day and time. Depending on the nature of your medical needs, they very well may ask you to come to Houston within a day or two. That’s what happened in my case. MD Anderson does have a travel department, and they do offer an extensive list of lodging options that the social services department updates frequently. I opted for the Hilton Houston Plaza Medical Center for various reasons, but mostly because I knew there would be a certain level of service at any Hilton property and it was close to MD Anderson and other area medical centers.

    I did my research and my husband took me around the area so that we could find the best hotels near MD Anderson in Houston, just in case anyone else is searching for this information. This list may change and I will update it each time I go back for a visit as I discover other places to stay. I’ll also be compiling information on RV parks, apartments, and other long-term lodging options for patients. The hotels listed are good choices for your first visit and if you have to stay for less than two weeks. Any longer and you should look at other options. Also, while these hotels can be booked online, medical rates can only be made by phone or email, depending upon the property.

    Hilton Houston Plaza Medical Center (c) Hilton Hotels and ResortsHilton Houston Plaza Medical Center – This 80% suite hotel is close to MD Anderson and connected to the Houston Medical Center. The free shuttle can be arranged with prior request and there is room service, a fitness center, pool with running track, and other onsite amenities. The suites are spacious with wet bar, living room, extra 1/2 bath, and lots of room for visitors. It is near many restaurants in the area and offers overnight parking for $12 with in/out access. I’ve checked out the Hilton Houston Plaza Medical Center personally and found the staff to be helpful and pleasant.
    6633 Travis St.
    Houston, TX 77030
    Phone: (713) 313-4000 1-800-445-8667
    Website: Hilton Houston Plaza

    Hotel ZaZa Lobby in HoustonHotel ZaZa Houston – This is the most stylist hotel near MD Anderson. Hotel Zaza, in the Museum District, is a boutique hotel offering extended stay suites for those having to stay a while at one of the nearby medical facilities. Each of the suites has its own personality, reflecting the feel of various destinations around the globe. Extended stay rooms have amenities such as daily continental breakfast and evening treats, refrigerator and microwave, complimentary wi-fi, a special lounge just for extended stay guests, and lots of other extras. The onsite spa, ZaSpa Houston, keeps patients and their families in mind with their relaxation treatments. The prices at ZaSpa Houston are reasonable compated to other spas I’ve visited and make a fantastic “Thinking of You” gift for patients you may know staying in the area. Pets are welcome at Hotel Zaza and there is also a luxury shuttle provided for guests. Overnight valet parking is $24. If you don’t need extended stay, there are a variety of other guestrooms and suites, including The Magnificent Seven.
    5701 Main Street
    Houston, TX 77005
    Phone: (888)880-3244
    Website: HotelZaza.com

    Jesse H. Jones Rotary House International – This hotel is owned by MD Anderson and managed by Marriott. It is the closest hotel to the hospital and has an enclosed walkway to the medical facility. A king room with no kitchenette will run at least $115/night. For $10 more per night, you can get a room with a kitchenette. This is a convenient option for families needing to be within walking distance of the hospital. There is complimentary wi-fi and parking is $5/day in the nearby parking garage.
    1600 Holcombe Blvd.
    Houston, TX 77030
    Website: Rotary House International

    Courtyard Marriott Medical Center Extended King RoomCourtyard Houston Medical Center – This is a newer hotel with fluctuating rates. You may have to call to request a medical rate. Room rate includes free internet, free onsite parking, and free shuttle to medical facilities in the area. There is a 24 hour Starbucks and hotel is next door to a grocery store and pharmacy. There is an onsite restaurant that offers breakfast for a fee.
    7702 Main Street , Houston, Texas 77030 USA
    Phone:  (713) 668-4500
    Website: Marriott.com

    Best Western Plaza Hotel and Suites at Medical Center HoustonBest Western Plaza Hotel and Suites at Medical Center – This property does advertise a free shuttle but is within one block of the METRO, making this a good choice for family members visiting patients or those who would rather take their own transportation to MD Anderson. Rate includes free hot breakfast, free internet, microwave and refrigerator in room, indoor pool, business center, self-service laundry and other amenities. This property is a good value with medical rates available online.
    6700 S Main Street US Houston, Texas, 77030, United States
    Phone: (713) 522-2811
    Website: BestWestern.com

    Other hotels in the area to check out:

    Houston Marriott Medical Center

    Residence Inn Medical Center

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  • Hilton Hotels & Resorts has introduced a fun new Facebook promotion that could net you a new trip, or at least help out a great charity.

    To enter, you send a “Wish I Were There” digital postcard from a Hilton destination to friends either near or far. Kind of like a virtual vacation!

    Two grand prizes that include roundtrip airfare, a 4-night stay and a $500 Hilton hotel credit will be awarded.

    And there’s a charity aspect to his sweepstakes. You tell the app where you are and where your friend is. For each 100 “virtual miles” your postcard travels, Hilton will donate $1 to The Nature Conservancy, up to $25,000.

    The Nature Conservancy is an organization I really respect. They work at preserving threatened lands, species and waterways around the globe, and they are one of those charities that is extremely responsible and transparent with your donations.

    To enter the Wish I Were There contest from Hilton Hotels & Resorts and help out the Nature Conservancy, go to the Hilton Hotels Facebook page.

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  • When you think about a weekend getaway or escape, what city immediately comes to mind? For many people I know, that city is Las Vegas. That’s why I was so excited to make my first trip to Vegas last month for a girlfriend getaway with CajunMama and MommyMusings.

    And I was absolutely thrilled when I found out we would be staying at Aria, one of Vegas’s newest hotels.

    Aria is in Las Vegas’s City Center adjacent to Crystals, a brand-new upscale shopping destination where the storefronts boast names like Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and even Harry Winston.

    The Public Spaces

    While hotel-casinos with names like New York New York, Paris and Luxor are known for their over-the-top theming, Aria’s design doesn’t “scream” anything. It is modern and elegant, and quite understated by Vegas standards.

    The building consists of two curved 61-story towers built of glass and steel, set next to each other for a wave effect. Inside, the design is clean, with lots of stone and wood elements. It’s modern beauty everywhere you look.

    One thing that I immediately noticed about Aria was that there is a separation between the casino and the rest of the public spaces that doesn’t exist in many Las Vegas hotels. Just a few steps outside of the casino in the hotel lobby, you almost forget the casino is there.

    Don’t get me wrong – I know casinos are one of the main draws. But their environments, with all the lights and noise, can be overstimulating. I found it refreshing to be able to step away and refresh in the lobby bar or other public spaces in a more relaxing setting.

    The Casino

    Aria’s Casino is beautiful as well, with lots of rich wood and plenty of space to move around – 150,000 square feet of it, as a matter of fact. There are 145 gaming tables and nearly 2,000 slot machines.

    The whole place feels ultra-modern. And clean. One of the biggest complaints you hear about in Las Vegas are the smoky casinos, because smoking is allowed indoors here. But Aria must be employing some state-of-the-art air filtering systems here, because I never, ever smelled or saw smoke in the Aria Casino.

    The Guest Rooms

    The guest rooms continued the modern rich wood and stone surfaces seen in Aria’s public spaces. They are roomy, and we found the space great for housing multiple adults on a trip like ours – a girlfriend getaway.

    There were two large closet armoires and several deep drawers just inside the entry, with plenty of room for four adults to unpack a long weekend’s worth of clothes.

    The bathroom was very spacious – with a long counter and double sink that allowed two or three of us to be doing our hair and makeup simultaneously. The toilet was behind a separate door, and the room featured both a garden tub and a walk-in shower.

    All three of us found Aria’s beds comfortable, although I have to admit that in Las Vegas, we didn’t spend nearly enough time sleeping in them.

    One more note about Aria’s guest rooms: Even though this was a girlfriend getaway, I did have to do some work during our long weekend. I found the Internet at Aria to be excellent compared to most hotels. It was quite possibly the fastest in-room Internet I’ve experienced in the dozens of hotels I’ve stayed in the past few years. I carry a Verizon Mi-Fi to guard against situations where the Internet wireless signal is poor or speed is slow, which is the case more often than not. I never even removed the Mi-Fi from my suitcase at Aria.

    The Guest Room touchpads

    On the cab ride from the airport, my taxi driver told me that Aria guest rooms have a touchpad that controls everything. I thought, “Well, that’s cool, there’s a touchpad to control the lights or something.” But that cab driver wasn’t exaggerating – Aria guest rooms are equipped with a touchpad that does everything but pull the covers up to your chin.

    I will admit that I arrived at Aria several hours before the other Traveling Mamas, and I probably spent the bulk of that time playing with the touchpad controls in the guest room. It was easy to figure out how to operate these controls. Right from your bed, you can adjust the thermostat, turn any light in the room on or off, control the TV and/or music playing in the room, and – my favorite – open or close the sheers and/or drapes on the room’s floor-t0-ceiling windows.

    With one touch of the “goodnight” button, you can shut off all the lights and electronics in the room. And you can set a wake-up sequence that will open the curtains and turn on lights and the TV at your chosen time. It was like something out of the Jetsons – a fun addition to your escape.

    The digital controls in each guestroom also have a number of themes programmed for different situations. For example, when I entered the room for the first time, the controls were set to a theme just for that occasion that opened the curtains on the dramatic windows in front of me and turned on lights around the room. In the evenings, the rooms are set for a theme that lowers the lights and plays soothing music.

    Aria’s service

    I had nothing but pleasant experiences with Aria employees. My check-in experience went extremely smoothly. Ever-present casino security guards were not at all obtrusive, and everyone I encountered on bell service and at the taxi stand was friendly and helpful.

    The housekeeping service at Aria is excellent. Our room was made up twice daily and because Las Vegas is a 24-hour town, it was made up when we needed it to be. Once when we accidentally left the Privacy light on in the room until mid-afternoon, our room was still made up for the day – show me that happening in another city. (And yes, I *may* have turned that light on when playing with the touchpad, again.)

    The restaurants

    Aria is a premiere dining and entertainment destination in Las Vegas as well as being a great hotel. Big-time chefs with names like Masayoshi Takayama and Julian Serrano rule the kitchens here.

    There are 17 different eateries to choose from at Aria alone, with dozens more at the adjacent hotels and shopping areas in City Center.

    One of our most memorable meals in Las Vegas was at Sage, Chef Shawn McClain’s restaurant at Aria.

    Final thoughts

    Overall, our Aria experience was excellent from start to finish. I honestly can’t find anything negative to say about it.

    I highly recommend a stay at Aria when you visit Las Vegas. As I said earlier, because of the room (and especially bathroom) layout, I found the guest rooms especially excellent for accommodating multiple adults (like on a girlfriend or guy’s getaway) or for families.

    Thanks to Aria for hosting our hotel stay.

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  • Rainbow Tower at Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort and Spa (c) Hilton Hotels and ResortsHawaii always seems to be in the top choice of destinations on almost any travel list. It definitely was one of those places I could only dream about from my house in Louisiana. A few years ago, Hilton Hotels in Hawai’i invited me to experience one of their most iconic properties in the world. I was excited at the opportunity and felt like I was dreaming when I stepped off the plane in Honolulu and entered the world of Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa – a perfect place for a family vacation in Hawaii, a gathering of gal pals, or a Hawaiian honeymoon.

    I spent every second of my visit exploring this 22 acre property and getting LOST on the island of Oahu, which recently had a cameo appearance in the new Hawaii 5-0. Here are some of the top things I loved about the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa:

    The Beach – Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa boasts the largest hotel beach area in Waikiki and I have to admit that there’s plenty of room to catch some sun. Onsite is also the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, a 5-acre saltwater lagoon with activities and tons of chairs to relax and catch some sun. Each day at 11am is Surfing 101, a fun, 30 minute complimentary session by surfing experts to entertain and inform about the history of surfing.

    Blue Hawaii invented by retired Hilton Hawaiian Village bartender (c) Hilton Hotels and ResortsThe History – If knowing that Elvis stayed here and threw albums off the balcony isn’t enough to pique your interest, how about those Blue Hawaiians and Mai Tais? The Hilton Hawaiian Beach Resort and Spa sits on the site of the 1928 Niumalu Hotel. A retired Hilton Hawaiian Village bartender invented the famous cocktail, Blue Hawaii.

    The Penguins – Who knew that penguins liked Hawaii? On the hotel property, catch a glimpse of these waddling cutie pies. The penguins and turtles are fed each morning at 8am. Be sure to meet at the Penguin Pool next to the Ali’i Tower to watch.

    Ocean Crystal Wedding Chapel at Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa (c) Hilton Hotels and ResortsThe Wedding Chapel – If I were getting married again, I would have to put the Ocean Crystal Wedding Chapel on my shortlist. The chapel is set in a lush tropical garden and seats up to 70 guests offering panoramic floor to ceiling views.

    The Activities – There are daily cultural activities for all ages scheduled throughout the day and week. Learn about the history of the Hula, how to make a Lei or Haku Lei wristlet (extra charges apply), and even take Ukelele lessons (minimum age 12 years old). Camp Penguin is a chance for kids ages 5-12 to learn about Hawai’i and her culture through supervised fun and educational activities. There is a charge for Camp Penguin and sometimes there are off-site excursions planned giving parents a chance to enjoy some downtime while the kids are entertained.

    Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa Paradise Pool (c) Hilton Hotels and ResortsThe Pools – The Paradise Pool is the newly re-opened aquatic fun area at Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa. The pool is for registered guests wearing a wristband and offers four waterslides (one a whopping 72-foot lava tube), lava rock formations, three waterfalls, and two heated spas. This is only one of the many pools available at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa.

    The Fireworks – Each Friday at 7:45 pm fireworks light up the beach and sky at the finale of the Rockin’ Hawaiian Rainbow Revue. Poolside seating can be reserved for $20 per ticket (includes one Mait Tai punch or non-alcoholic drink). My suggestion is to grab a blanket and sit on the beach to watch a spectacular ending to a beautiful day in a gorgeous destination.

    The Cuisine – There are so many dining venues to choose from, that visitors to Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa many not even want to leave the property. I was fortunate enough to dine each evening of my stay at a different venue and explore the other dining options onsite. There’s even a Starbucks for those of you who can’t live without this brand, but I opted to enjoy a fresh steaming cup of Kona Coffee with my breakfast each morning.

    The Rooms – I stayed in The Rainbow Tower in a corner king room with a view of the lagoon area and ocean. The room was spacious, clean, and offered amazing views. I was greeted in my room with a gorgeous ginger lei and the ingredients for a Mai Tai. There are five towers to choose from for accommodations with the Ali’i Tower being the most exclusive and private. Each tower has it’s own personality and decor, with keeping in the standard Hilton line of luxury furnishings and bedding.

    The SpaMandara Spa is a destination in itself, as one of the largest spas in Waikiki. I enjoyed a Balinese Body Polish with Massage and was totally relaxed during my stay. The mosaic tiled private outdoor pool is a perfect spot for a personal retreat away from the every day world.

    A Mama Moment – Sure, there are so many activities and things to do at Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa, but nothing beats just being in Hawaii, sitting on the beach, listening to the waves lap the shore as children giggle and play nearby. A Blue Hawaii in hand completed my mama moment as I dreamed about pineapples, volcanos, and exotic flora.

    Special thanks to Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa for providing this experience.

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  • TripAlertz, a new site that has been described as “Groupon for travel,” launches today.

    As I told Traveling Mamas readers a couple of weeks ago, I love the TripAlertz concept of harnessing the power of social media to sell vacation packages. As more people buy a particular package, it gets cheaper for everyone. And the TripAlertz folks are offering some clever extras, too. If you refer other people to the site, you earn “TripCash” to be spent on your own vacation. And, TripAlertz members can design their own dream vacation packages for a chance to win the package for free.

    But no matter how fun it is to use the TripAlertz Web site, what really matters is whether or not they are selling a quality product, right? Earlier this month, TripAlertz sent me to the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles, Florida, to check out one of the vacation packages that goes on sale today.

    The package sells for $526. If 65 packages sell, that price drops to $442. The package includes:

    • 2-night stay in a Bay View Deluxe Room
    • Welcome cocktail for 2
    • Daily breakfast buffet for 2 at Neomi’s Grill
    • Two 50-minute massages per stay

    The hotel rooms

    The Trump International Beach Resort is a Mobil 4-star hotel in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, a small beach community in North Miami.

    The Bay View Deluxe rooms have two queen beds. They are extremely spacious, with a large wet bar area that includes a refrigerator (partially stocked as a mini bar) and a microwave. There’s a table and chairs, a spacious desk and a flat-screen TV. The bathroom has a garden tub and a separate walk-in shower.

    The decor is minimal, and, frankly, feels a bit sterile. It’s a room that feels easy to clean. But the resort is on the beach, so we can forgive the sand-colored carpet and spare detail. The room was immaculately clean, after all.

    A sliding door leads to a patio with views of the Intracoastal Waterway and Sunny Isles Beach. The patio is roomy and there are chairs to sit and watch the world go by. We were facing West, and we had a great view of the October sunsets from our patio both evenings.

    The beds were extremely comfortable, with crisp, white linens that felt luxurious and mattresses that offered a good balance between pillowy soft and supportive. The room was quiet, with no detectable noise from neighboring rooms or the hallway. In-room amenities included toiletries by Ecru, as well as a coffee maker stocked with regular and decaf coffee.

    Public spaces

    The Trump International’s public spaces are beautifully designed. I loved the mix of contemporary with a Miami twist – a neutral, glass-tiled wall in the lobby adorned with eye-poppingly bright Brito art, for example.

    The pool and beach areas outside may be the most gorgeous beach resort area I’ve seen in Florida. The resort-style pool with waterfalls offers larger water-play areas, as well as more secluded sections for lounging. There are several hot tubs spread around the pool area, and the options for poolside seating extend beyond chaise lounges to love seats and chairs with ottomans.

    Downstairs at the beach, there are loungers and umbrellas for resort guests, as well as plenty of room to spread out and play in the sand or walk along the water’s edge.

    Welcome cocktails

    After a smooth check-in, we were sent to the pool bar for our welcome cocktails. The bar is fully stocked, and it offers a variety of tropical, frozen concoctions, as all great pool bars should.

    Most of the cocktails are $10, but keep an eye out for the board listing the drinks of the day, which are on sale for $7.

    At check-in, I tried a traditional mojito, which was traditionally made with fresh mint. I am always a sucker for something frozen and frothy poolside, so the next day, I tried a “Drink of the Day” concoction: the pomegranate pina colada. I absolutely loved this twist on the traditional.

    Daily breakfast buffet

    I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the free breakfast offered with the TripAlertz package. I didn’t know whether it was going to be a selection of pastries and fruit, or maybe have a few hot selections thrown in for good measure. Either way, I was going to be pleased with it, because getting breakfast in the hotel included is a great value for this resort.

    But what we got, was well beyond what I had imagined. Neomi’s Grill offers a full breakfast buffet. It included cold cereals, pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, hot breakfast meats, and a chef’s station offering made-to-order eggs, omelets, waffles and pancakes.

    Everything was fresh and beautiful. We went down to breakfast fairly late both mornings, and found ourselves skipping lunch after such a great morning meal – another money-saver on the discounted trip that I was not expecting.

    Massages

    It was easy to book the massages that came with our TripAlertz package the morning after our arrival at the Trump International Beach Resort.

    We were given a choice of Swedish or aromatherapy massages. I chose aromatherapy, and my husband chose Swedish.

    The Aquanox Spa was well-equipped. The men’s and women’s areas offer steam rooms and saunas, as well as shower facilities and tranquil areas for relaxation.

    Our service providers were extremely professional. My husband pronounced his massage excellent and said that he did not have any pain at all during his service – a rarity for him.

    I also enjoyed my aromatherapy massage. My massage therapist was very good at maintaining my modesty during my service, which is something that can make or break my relaxation level during a massage.

    Final thoughts

    I honestly cannot believe the value of this TripAlertz package. When I was first approached about sharing TripAlertz with Traveling Mamas readers, I was skeptical until I saw the price on this package. That’s what sold me.

    And once I arrived at the resort, I knew that the package was for real. At a beach resort on par with the Trump International, you would expect to pay nearly the price of the TripAlertz package for the two massages alone.

    I wondered whether or not we would be treated differently because we were there on a discount, but it was never mentioned, and we certainly were not relegated to a tiny room in a corner (an experience I have had with other hotel discount Web sites).

    The level of service in all areas around this resort was excellent. There are tiny touches that made me feel like this is a staff that is well managed and understands customer service. For example, when I inquired at the bell stand about a lobby bathroom, I was not simply pointed down the hall, I was walked there to ensure I found it. Service at our breakfast both mornings was seamless.

    As far as other meals, the pool bar serves sandwiches, salads and snacks, and there is a sushi restaurant at the resort. Directly across the street is a shopping center with several restaurant choices, everything from fast food to upscale. (A couple of the nearby restaurants – including La Terraza, which we tried and would recommend – offer deeply discounted gift certificates on Restaurant.com that you could pick up before your trip to save even more.) There is also a Publix supermarket across the street.

    If you’re flying in, it’s easy to walk and explore the area without a car. Cabs run about $50 from Miami International Airport, $40 from the airport in Fort Lauderdale. Trump International also offers free shuttle service to two nearby, popular shopping areas, and to South Beach.

    If you are driving, parking is valet only, $22 per day. The fee isn’t out of line with other Miami resorts, but it is something to be aware of when you’re planning your vacation budget.

    This Trump International Beach Resort package will be on sale at TripAlertz for the next two weeks, with travel dates available in November and December. You can book more than one package to extend your stay (another TripAlertz feature I love).

    Two more hotel deals are also for sale today, at the Hotel Marina El Cid in Cancun and the Parc 55 Wyndham in San Francisco.

    You can also get a look at upcoming hotel deals, which include some great prices on Walt Disney World stays, as well as a Costa Rican getaway.

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