Traveling Mamas

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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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  • I posted beforehand about the launch of a new spa concept – eforea: spa at Hilton. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the launch party by Hilton Hotels and Resorts. I’ve been on many press trips in the past decade, but I rarely attend launch parties (I live in Louisiana), which made this a refreshing experience.

    Those of you interested in the launch party may want to watch the video I put together of the night:

    Shannon Hurst Lane and Bethenny Frankel at eforea: spa at Hilton launchThe night began with cocktails and  press briefing, followed by a tour of the first eforea: spa at Hilton. While the concept of a spa at a hotel isn’t new, for Hilton, this is a big step. The brand eforea: spa at Hilton will now enable individual properties to offer a standard spa with a certain level of service that can be found worldwide at particular Hilton properties. One of the innovative aspects of eforea: spa at Hilton is their journeys. There are three to choose from: The Essentials Journey, The Escape Journey, and The Men’s Journey. These journeys include specific treatments and products that will be standard at each eforea: spa at Hilton. While these standards will be available at each eforea: spa at Hilton, each property will add it’s own personality to the spa which reflects the destination. Treatments include organic experiences, high-tech experiences, or traditional.

    I’m looking forward to experiencing the Escape Journey, which uses a product line out of Australia – Li’ Tya. The products use botanical plant extracts and offers a ritualized experience. The Essentials Journey marries botanical elements with a high-tech experience. This journey utilizes a branded line of Kirstin Florian products to enhance the treatment process with high-tech elements while still offering the spa experience. The Men’s Journey is a specific line that caters to the 30% of spa seekers who frequent Hilton properties – the men. VitaMan is a product developed specifically for the male skin.

    It isn’t all about products at eforea: spa at Hilton. The brand will maintain specialized training for each therapist in keeping with the level of service expected from the brand worldwide. There will also be a menu of spa cuisine in addition to the product and treatment line. Hilton understands that travelers are stressed and want to provide harmony, health, and happiness to their customers while they are on the road.

    Owners of individual Hilton properties now have an easy option to offer spa services to their visitors and feel confident that they will be offering a quality amenity service. The travelers utilizing these services will have the level of service they expect from the Hilton brand.

    Seal live performance at eforea: spa at Hilton launch partyThe spa tour was followed by Blue Carpet arrivals of celebrities, a book signing by Bethenny Frankel, fahion show by boho magazine and Nordstrom’s, and an amazing concert performance by Seal. After the event, the media attendees were given gift bags filled with items to signify the event. Big kudos to Allison Sargent Events who put the evening together for everyone.

    eforea: spa at Hilton gift setTravelingMamas.com is giving readers a chance to win the gift bag given to the media at eforea: spa at Hilton launch party. Giveaway items include spa robe, spa sandals (in small), spa sounds CD, and a logo tote. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment stating which journey you would choose if you had a chance to check out eforea: spa at Hilton (Escape, Essentials, or Men’s Journey). Bonus entry options are below. For bonus entries to count, they must be submitted as individual comments after initial comment entry. Entries can be submitted once per email address daily.

    Bonus Entries:

    1. Subscribe to the TravelingMamas.com newsletter (signup located in sidebar). If you’re already a subscriber, just leave a comment stating you’re subscribed.
    2. Like TravelingMamas on Facebook and leave a comment.
    3. Check out the Hilton Hotels and Resorts page and like their page (if you like it). Please leave a comment for this step.
    4. Tweet “I can’t wait to check out eforea: spa at Hilton! http://bit.ly/eforea” – Please leave a comment stating you completed this step for this bonus entry.

    This will give you 5 chances to win daily. Comments close at 11:59 PM EST on 10/27/2010. Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, and the District of Columbia who are 18 and older. The total value of each prize is approximately $200. Prize provided by Hilton Hotels and Resorts. Current and former contributors of TravelingMamas.com not eligible to enter.

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  • New Orleans is the most popular travel destination in Louisiana, and while it is a beautiful city, her reputation overshadows the rest of the state. There are so many places off the beaten path in Louisiana. I do love taking short road trips with my family, but I sometimes go away by myself to drive the river roads or along the path less traveled. One of my favorite places to visit near home is Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, Louisiana.

    I’ve visited a few times with the kids for a family trip in Louisiana, and we always have a good time playing games as a family in the arcade, swimming year ’round in the heated, indoor lagoon-style pool, or just watching the alligators in the main hotel lobby. Well, this time, I hopped into RedBugg all by my lonesome and set off along the back roads of Louisiana to meet some gal pals and other Louisiana travel writers for a spa visit and gaming lessons. The timing was perfect – I needed some gaming lessons before my upcoming visit to BlogWorldExpo in Las Vegas.

    Blackjack Lessons at Paragon Casino (c) Shannon Hurst Lane

    The Property: Paragon Casino Resort is located in Marksville, Louisiana in the central part of the state. It’s owned and operated by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and provides income for the reservation. This resort has a casino, hotel, RV park, golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, onsite movie theater, restaurants, bars, workout center, supervised arcade, KidQuest, and a very fabulous spa.

    The Rooms: There are many choices for lodging, including the newest rooms in the Atrium Tower, older rooms (yet undergoing renovation) in the South Tower, an RV resort and cabins at the RV area. I stayed in the Atrium in a King Room. It was spacious and clean with an indoor windoow overlooking the lobby/atrium area. The bathrooms are nice with standard tub/shower combo. Bath amenities are basic, but the alligator soap is a fun, local touch. I appreciated the FREE snack amenities available in every room.

    The Food: I shouldn’t admit this, but I enjoy the diner style food inside the casino so much that I’ve even made stops here while passing through, just to get one of those delicious shakes and an order of sliders at Roxy’s. Legends is a popular, fine dining restaurant that I’ve yet to try out. I did get to sample almost all of the appetizer items on the menu at Big Daddy E’s Oyster Bar and Grill. I have to admit, the fried alligator is probably the best I’ve ever tasted, as it was tender and had a good flavor. There is also an onsite buffet and room service is offered in the hotel. Roxy’s has a great kid’s menu, but since it is in the casino area, there is a bit of smoke in the air.

    Amenities: The golf course is part of the Audubon Golf Trail and had healthy, rolling greens. The pool and workout facility is available for lodging guests through room key access.  Of course, I’ve already mentioned the pools, kid areas, and possibly the best spa resort in Louisiana. There are a few shops in the atrium area, but I really enjoyed the Tribal museum area showcasing baskets and history. There is also a large conference area.

    Pros: This is a one stop getaway conveniently located in the middle of Louisiana, making this a good choice for a family reunion, girlfriend getaway, or conference. It’s also great for a romantic weekend.

    Cons: Well, it is a casino, which means there’s smoking, drinking, and gambling going on. No surprises here.

    My Mama Moment: I was really surprised at Spa la Vie, the onsite spa at Paragon Casino Resort. It was much larger than expected and can handle groups of friends or busy weekends. Fortunately, my visit was during the week and not too busy. I enjoyed my treatment, but I really enjoyed chatting with other writers in the relaxation room.

    Website: ParagonCasinoResort.com

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  • Hilton Manhattan East Exterior (c) Hilton Hotels and ResortsThe Hilton Manhattan East, located on the corner of 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue in Midtown Manhattan is a luxury hotel that is quentissentially New York. It opened in April 2010 after an extensive renovation, in the historic building formerly known as Tudor Hotel New York. This 300 room neighborhood property has a distinct personality with its historic gothic architecture of 1931.

    In 2007, the National Trust for Historic Preservation deemed the hotel a Historic Hotel of America. After seeing this property first-hand, I must agree with Dave Horton, Global Head, Hilton Hotels and Resorts who captures the essence of this property when he stated, “As an intimate retreat in the heart of Midtown, this boutique hotel is a great option for both leisure and business travelers to New York.”

    I did not get the pleasure of spending the night at this hotel, but my colleague, Stafford Kendall of Covalent Logic offered the hospitality of her suite during our Wine in the City event (which occurred simultaneously with Blogher 2010). When I left for the night, I have to admit that I was quite jealous of Stafford’s swanky digs at the Hilton Manhattan East during her stay in NYC.

    The Property: Contemporary boutique is how I would describe my impression when first walking in the doors of the uber fabulous New York Hilton Manhattan East. The gothic architecture was so New York to this southern mama. The lobby area was chic and sexy with friendly smiles from the staff. The lobby bar and restaurant were popular places as there was maybe only one or two seats left when I passed by. The elevators were fast and the coziness of the place made me feel like I was welcomed with a hug by a new friend.

    Hilton Manhattan East Lobby (c) Hilton Hotels and Resorts

    Hilton Manhattan East Terrace Suite Bathroom (c) Shannon Hurst Lane
    The Rooms: Stafford had a Terrace Suite which included living area, wet bar, cozy bedroom, ginormous bathroom (yes, ginormous), and the most spectacular view of New York. The room took advantage of every nook and cranny available and was decorated in colors of soothing blue and earth tones. While the room is decorated in a manner with it’s historic architecture, it also offered all the amenities that I love about Hilton Hotels and Resorts. Plus, in the closet was one of those plush Hilton robes.

    Hilton Manhattan East King (c) Hilton Hotels and Resorts

    The Dining: Stafford ordered room service for our little army of swag organizers (Amy aka CheekyCherry was onhand to assist). It didn’t take as long as I had expected for our food to arrive and it was delicious! I couldn’t have had better service if I would have been sitting in the dining room itself. Everything we needed was delivered, even extras we forgot to mention.

    The Location: Besides being in the historic Tudor City historic district, this property is close enough to the action of Times Square, yet close enough to feel like you’re a resident and not a tourist in New York City. It’s near the United Nations headquarters and close to Grand Central Station.

    My Mama Moment: I grabbed a glass and a bottle of wine and stepped out onto the terrace to take in the atmosphere of Midtown Manhattan. The breeze tickled my neck and I could hear the horns and noise of the traffic below. I sat for a bit and admired the tops of the nearby buildings and their grand rooftops while being amazed that I was actually in New York.

    Terrace Suite View Hilton Manhattan East (c) Shannon Hurst Lane

    Pros: Fabulous lodging for a romantic getaway or an intimate gathering of friends. The Wine in the City reception featuring Kendall Jackson Wines was phenomenal and I was extremely proud to be part of the event. Room service was good as were the canapes being passed around during the reception. Plus, they have those wonderful Hilton beds that I so love.

    Cons: I didn’t get to stay overnight for one thing, and for this southern mama, the price is a bit more than my normal travel budget. However, as far as Manhattan prices go, it was spot on and is a good value for the type of accommodations (hello, luxury) and personal service offered at the Hilton Manhattan East.

    Great For: Couples, Business Travel, Leisure Travel, Corporate Events, Receptions. Families are welcome to all Hilton properties, but as a mama, I’d want to enjoy this place sans kids. Should you plan a visit, be sure to check out our list of free things to do in New York City.

    Website: www.HiltonManhattan.com

    Special thanks to Hilton Hotels and Resorts, the Hilton Manhattan East, and outstanding staff (Daniel, Daphne, and all) for hosting the wine reception during our Wine in the City event. It was an amazing experience. For those looking for an exclusive conference or event venue in Manhattan that is chic, sexy, and intimate, you can’t go wrong with this property. Not to sound cheesy travel cliche’, but this really is a hidden gem.

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  • Recently, TravelingMamas.com as a collective visited Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama to assess the current oil spill situation at this tourist destination. We not only found beautiful beaches begging for visitors, but we also discovered a new favorite luxury resort along the Gulf Coast – Turquoise Place.

    Traveling Mamas at Turquiose Place Orange Beach Alabama Gulf Coast

    Turquiose Place Orange Beach Alabama Gulf Coast

    Turquoise Place offered to host our entire group in one condominium unit. We were housed in an ultra luxury four bedroom condo. The property is owned and managed by Spectrum Resorts and runs the condo facility like a hotel. I arrived first, along with my mother. When I drove up to the towering structure, I felt like Dorothy entering the Emerald City (well, the Turquoise City). The property has covered parking and loads of amenities. Here’s my take on the property and the unit we stayed in – 2101.

    Unit 2101 Living Areas: This four bedroom, 4 1/2 bath condo is an end unit located on the 21st floor. It has two balconies, with one very large wraparound balcony with hot tub, grill, lounge and dining area. It overlooks both the Gulf and the Bay. The kitchen offers plenty of space and gadgets for the gourmet cook, including a restaurant grade refridgerator, two dishwashers, and a curved granit topped bar counter with seating for six. The coffee maker uses cone filters and there is an electric coffee grinder for fresh coffee. The dining area seats six and the living area is a contemporary casual decor with the latest electronics and a sleeper sofa. A wet bar offers wine cooler and ice maker. A wash room in the unit is large and offers the newest appliances in front loading washer/dryers.

    Living Area Turquiose Place Unit 2101

    Unit 2101 Sleeping Areas: The bedrooms are in a split layout with three bedrooms sharing a bay view balcony. Each one has its own full bath and large closet space. The master bedroom includes bed, sitting area, and desk. The master bathroom is larger than the bedroom, with oversized Jacuzzi tub for two (or maybe four) and large walk-in shower. There is a dressing area, double sinks, and the toilet area is Euro-friendly with bidet. The master closet is big enough to pitch a few tents in.

    Master Bathroom Turquiose Place Unit 2101 Orange Beach Alabama Gulf Coast

    Pool and Beach at Turquiose Place Resort Orange Beach Alabama Gulf CoastCommon Areas: This property has workout facilities, three pools (one salt water, one regular, one indoor), a lazy river, steam room, sauna, onsite spa, tiki bar, and of course the beach. There is an outdoor play area for the little ones near the lazy river and a slide at the indoor pool. There are also meeting spaces and there was even a wedding going on during our stay.

    Other Amenities: There was wifi in our condo. Parking is covered and there is 24 hour security at the entrance. The concierge service will have groceries waiting for you in your condo if you give them one week’s notice prior to your visit. There is a beach chair rental service.

    Location: Turquoise Place is located on the eastern side of Orange Beach and Perdido Pass can be seen from the resort. It is close enough to Gulf Shores and area attractions and restaurants, yet far enough away for peace and quiet while listening to the waves crash on the shore.

    Pros: This condo style facility has the conveniences and space of home while being set in a beautiful location. Do a bit of grocery shopping beforehand and you never have to leave unless you really want to.

    Cons: There is no property shuttle and taxi service can be very slow and expensive. While we did have wifi in our unit, only my netbook would connect (the other mamas had connection issues). No onsite restaurant, but I hear that’s in the works, as well as shuttle service.

    Great For: Family vacations, girlfriend getaways, couples trips, multi-family travel, grandcations.

    My Mama Moment: I had two moments. One was sitting on the balcony sipping my favorite coffee and listening to the waves crash. The other was floating in the indoor pool, listening to the music that can only be heard underwater.

    A Mama Moment at Turquiose Place Orange Beach Alabama Gulf Coast

    Special thanks to Spectrum Resorts for hosting our lodging and the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau for inviting us to experience their destination. I’ve personally stayed in many lodging properties along the Gulf Coast and can confidently state that this is one of the most luxurious condo facilities in the Orange Beach area.

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