Tag - hotel

All Inclusive Family Fun at West Edmonton Mall

    West Edmonton Mall - Santa Maria

West Edmonton Mall – Santa Maria

When putting together a family vacation, parents will be looking for a fun hotel to stay in, a great pool area, lots of fun activities for the kids and good places to eat. What’s unique about a family trip to the West Edmonton Mall is that all of the above can be found in one place, and it can take days to experience the whole thing. This article will focus on all of the fun things kids will enjoy at the mall, but adults will also enjoy visiting for the shopping and restaurants.

Better yet, the mall sits surrounded by Canada’s Festival City, which hosts over 70 different festivals per year and has plenty of other fun activities for a family. For more information on other places to visit in this fun city, check out the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. (800-463-4667)

West Edmonton Mall

West Edmonton Mall(780-440-5200, 1755, 8882 170 Street) is the largest mall in North America and the fifth largest mall in the world. The 800-plus stores and restaurants alone are amazing, before even getting to all of the attractions such as a water park, theme park, two miniature golf course, sea animal exhibit and more. It’s even got its own hotel on site.

Since there is so much to see and do, a good place to start at the mall is at the Guest Services office on Level 1, Phase II, to look into a “Multi-Play Pass” that will allow a family to pay one fee for access to the many different activities available. It’s also a great time to pick up a “Super Savings Coupon Book” full of great deals throughout the mall.

Fantasyland Hotel

The Fantasyland Hotel (780-444-3000, 17700-87 Avenue, fantasylandhotel.com) sits right in the mall, so it has the advantage that guests simply need to walk out of the elevator and past the front desk to be where everything is.

However, Fantasyland is also a great option because of the many different themed rooms that kids will love. They can sleep in a luxury igloo, or the bunk beds that are the “County Jail” in the Western-themed rooms, or enjoy the aura of being in the Polynesian or Roman themed rooms.

World Water Park

The world’s largest indoor wave pool is found in in World Water Park, along with 17 different water slides and 24 different activities spread out over a five-acres that are kept at a balmy 82 degrees regardless of the weather outside. The slide options range from the tame to the “Cyclone,” which drops the rider over 50-feet straight down before taking them on a 360-degree loop and back down again.


The world’s largest indoor amusement park sits in the mall at Galaxyland. There are over 24 rides and attractions, including the Mindbender coaster, which is 145 feet-tall.

Other Attractions

While Galaxyland and World Water Park can easily take up two days worth of activities, there’s still so much more in the mall. For those up for a little friendly competition, there is a bowling alley, two miniature golf courses – including one that is glow-in-the-dark and the “Deep Sea Derby” where everyone gets to captain their own bumper boat equipped with a squirting device that lets them try to soak the other drivers.

The adventurous will enjoy the Ropes Quest course which allows guests to walk across ropes high above the ground. The less adventurous will enjoy the fact that they are harnessed to bars all over the course so they won’t fall. The physical activity can continue at the Ice Palace, a glass-domed rink that is open for visitors to skate on but also hosts many events.

Children will be enchanted by the creatures at the Sea Life Caverns, an underground aquarium that is home to over 100 species of fish, turtles, penguins and more. After coming out of the Caverns, guests can go right next door to Sea Lions’ Rock to watch the amazing animals perform in a show.

There are many different things that come together to make for a great family trip. At West Edmonton Mall, those things are already together in one place.   

Review: Sheraton Baltimore Inner Harbor Hotel



We recently visited the Baltimore Inner Harbor so that our daughter could attend Otakon, one of the largest anime conventions on the east coast.  We chose to stay at the Sheraton Inner Harbor as the price for the hotel was slightly lower than other hotels in the area, despite the fact that we had a very bad experience with the Sheraton in Annapolis, which required us to contact the corporate office of the Starwood Hotels chain to resolve.

When we booked the reservation, we contacted Emilio Morales at the Starwood corporate office to inform him that we would give the Sheraton one more chance to show us the service they say we should have received in Annapolis.  His initial response was to offer us an additional 1,000 points in our Starwood Preferred Guest account, which was in addition to the 2,000 he had already rewarded us for our problems.  We informed him that although the points were nice, we preferred to see service.

A week before we arrived, we received an email offering to upgrade our room for the small fee of $15 per night.  We contacted the hotel and informed them we were interested in the upgrade.  A few days before our arrival, we once again were contacted with an offer for an upgrade.  We contacted the corporate office, reminding them that we were returning despite a horrendous experience in Annapolis, and were checking on the upgrade.  We also informed them that one of us had a medical condition that required refrigerated medication, and that we would require a refrigerator in the room.

We received a response that the $15 upgrades were “gone,” but that we could upgrade for $30.  We were also told that a refrigerator would be in the room “pending availability.”  We immediately responded that, considering the problems we had with Annapolis, we felt an upgrade should cost us nothing.  We also stated that the refrigerator was a requirement for us due to our medication issue.  Needless to say, we were not looking for a pleasant stay at this Sheraton either.


We arrived on Thursday evening, but found the unloading and loading in front of the hotel to be confusing and, in some ways, dangerous.  We went to the front desk and were greeted by Lisa, who was extremely friendly and helpful.  We requested four room keys, and she informed us that she could only give us two because they were “running low on keys.”  This seemed to be poor planning on the part of the Sheraton as the hotel was booked to capacity.  She did end up giving us four keys for the room, however.


To say we were disappointed in the room was an understatement.  It was a handicap accessible room, which we did not need.  The entrance was fairly large, but there is no way a normal sized wheelchair would fit between the bed and the dresser once you got in the room.  There was also not enough room between the two beds to maneuver a wheelchair.  The closet was simply an alcove cut into the wall with a closet bar at about 4-feet high.  For those who are not handicapped, the closet is extremely inconvenient as dresses and long coats literally lie on the floor because the closet bar is set so low.  The beds were comfortable, however.  We did not receive any type of upgrade.


Because this was a handicapped accessible room, the bathroom was large, but had no cabinet surrounding the sink, so it was impossible to plug in an electric toothbrush or other bathroom related electronics.  There was a wooden table that we moved to the sink to accommodate our bathroom supplies.  The shower had a bench built in, a mounted shower head and a removable shower head to accommodate those with disabilities.


We did not have a refrigerator in the room, so we contacted Guest Services.  We were informed that they would try to find one and call us back.  At 11:30 p.m. they finally called to say they had located one, it was being tested and they would get it to us as soon as possible.  We never received the refrigerator the entire time we stayed, and were forced to keep using ice from the ice machine in our cooler to keep our medication from spoiling.

Internet Service 

Wireless internet service at this hotel is not free.  The charge ranges from $4.95 for four hours to a $12.95 family plan per day.  The average room cost for this hotel is $239 per night, so charging for wireless internet seems excessive.


The hotel offers valet parking services for $32 per day.  There is a public parking garage across the street that offers parking for $15 per day.

Luggage Handling 

The hotel does not permit guests to use the luggage carts that are available at all hotels, but requires the bell captain’s to load the carts and take them to your room.  Although this is a nice service, on the day we were leaving, we waited over an hour for a bell captain to come get our luggage.

Late Checkout 

We were able to request a late checkout at 1 p.m. on the day we left at no additional charge.

Pool and Fitness Center

There is an outdoor pool with nice tables and lounge chairs for relaxing.  You access the pool through the fitness center, which was very well-equipped.  You must have a room key to access the pool, even though it is on the Concourse Level of the hotel.  This seems unnecessary, and for those who may only be wearing a suit and carrying a towel, difficult.

Lobby Restrooms

The lobby restrooms are locked and must be accessed using a room key.  There is a bar and restaurant in the lobby, and even the restrooms just outside in the lobby were locked.  Because we had a key, we did not ask the bartenders, but I assume that they must give non-guest patrons a key to use the restroom.  For those who are checking in who may have driven some distance, this is very inconvenient, as they must wait in line to check in before they can use the restroom.

Although every staff member we met was pleasant and professional, we will never book a reservation at any Starwood Resort in the future.  We made a point to inform them they were getting one additional chance to make up for the problems we had in Annapolis, and we did not get the service we felt we deserved.  We definitely would not recommend the Sheraton Inner Harbor in Baltimore.

Spa review – Grove Park Inn and Spa, Asheville, NC

With most (not all, but most) things in life quality costs more. This principle applies to everything from handbags to hotels, and Grove Park Inn and Spa is no exception.

Grove park Inn, Cr-orbitz

Grove park Inn, Credit-orbitz

It is not the kind of place where you can just pop over for a couple of hours. Grove Park strives to deliver an experience and your end of the bargain, as a customer, is to plan well and schedule in advance. It may be difficult to believe that a place tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina can be that popular, but it is. When the Obama’s visited North Carolina last year, they stayed at Grove Park, as did every American First Couple before them. It is that kind of place.

That said, I am a big fan of indulgent and vision-expanding experiences. So, I make a point to save up every year and go to Grove Park for a day or two at least twice a year. It is worth it.

While staying at the grand old place is a fabulous experience, visiting the spa is something more altogether.  After hiding the spa in the depths under the club floor for a few years, Grove Park administration made an executive (and very wise) decision to make it a separate space with its own style and identity, still easily accessible from the hotel but with the distinct feeling of being transported to another world.

I won’t err too much against truth when I say that Grove Park Spa is magic. …Specks of quartz and amethyst crystals embedded in rock walls and sparkling faintly as you walk by.  … Soothing, mind-calming and body-relaxing music. …The quiet lounge where you can sit and read or nap as long as you wish (well, or at least until closing at 9:30 p.m.) …
The underground pools and waterfalls. …The exceptional highly-qualified staff of manicurists, pedicurists, facialists and massage therapists who treat you like a cherished guest that you are. You can’t help but feel loved and cared for in that place.

The best time to go there is on a weekday – you are very likely to have the place almost exclusively to yourself. Even if you don’t schedule a treatment, for $80 you get a day pass with complete access to all facilities – the saunas (dry and wet), the pools (lap and mineral), the hot tubs (two inside, one outside), the outdoor grills, the snacks, and the beverages. During my last visit, I asked one of the spa attendants how she liked working there. “I love it,” she said, “How many places you know of, where people leave significantly happier than they arrived?” Point taken.


For book and game reviews by Maria K. visit her YouTube channel Ms. Review Central.

Photography courtesy of Maria K.

Spa review – Ritz Carlton in Charlotte, North Carolina

Spa, Cr-Quickbook

Spa, Cr-Quickbook

Ritz Carlton takes its business very seriously. If you think that by “business” I mean providing luxury accommodations, you are mistaken. I am referring to the business for providing the kind of experience that people want to re-live over and over. One of Ritz advertisements in the Robb Report magazine states, “Treat every moment carefully. It could be the most important one of someone’s life.” A worthy motto and a worthy mission.

Consistent with that statement, the Ritz experience begins at the entrance, where you are carefully handed out of your car and treated like a celebrity, regardless of whether you emerge from a Lexus or a Corolla, wearing Jimmy Choos or a  pair of brandless clogs you picked up at a local consignment store. It doesn’t matter. You are at the Ritz now, and therefore, everything there is for you.

The Ritz spa is an extension of that philosophy. As you check in, you may pick a large smooth pebble from a bowl on the counter inscribed with a word that best describes your expectations for the day’s experience. Or, if you don’t find the one that matches your mood, you can make your own and take it home with you. Every chair and table, every lamp, couch and cushion are placed to please the eye and make you comfortable. Soothing colors are deftly and artistically interrupted by splashes of juicy orange, blue or green. The spaces are clean and uncluttered, but not sterile. The idea is not for you to feel as if you are in a hospital or a museum, but rather like being in a very nice home, where you are free to sit, walk around, sleep or read without being afraid to move something out of place.

Someone is always around to help you out if you get lost or not sure how to adjust the sauna temperature or turn on the jets at the hot tub. You can go find lunch in one of several restaurants (nobody cares if you show up in your spa robe and slippers), or, better yet, you can have it delivered to you while you lounge by the pool. Same goes for any special addition, should you pick the Ritz for a birthday or anniversary celebration – a bouquet of flowers or one of their exquisite birthday cakes.

Yes, this level of luxury and comfort comes with a price tag. However, I would definitely recommend a stay at the Ritz even to individuals of average income. It is bound to be like nothing you have ever seen in your life and perfect in every way – from the chocolate on your pillow to the selection of wines with your dinner.

For book and game reviews by Maria K. visit her YouTube channel Ms. Review Central. Photography courtesy of Maria K.

The Historic Park Inn Hotel: An Architect Lover’s Dream Visit in Mason City, Iowa

Hotel, Cr-hospitalitydesign.com

Park Inn Hotel, Cr-hospitalitydesign.com

The Historic Park Inn Hotel located in Mason City, Iowa, is sure to delight anyone that visits. This historic hotel is the only remaining hotel in the whole world that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Just recently, The Historic Park Inn Hotel underwent a $18.5 million renovation to restore this historic landmark to the original appearance in 1910. Frank Lloyd Wright’s recognizable traits, such as the flat roof, with the large overhangs, accompanied by the geometric designs, are showcased in this historic hotel.

There are more than 27 modern hotel rooms, high definition televisions, high speed internet, a restored ladies’ parlor and balcony, as well as many other great amenities that are expected in the 21st Century. A historic property, with a twist of today, as well as yesterday, around each corner.

Mason City, Iowa, located right off of I-35; is convenient for folks from the Twin Cities, as well as the Des Moines area. A gem of historic architecture located in Middle America, which is sure to please all lovers of great architecture.

Mason City is also home to several other properties designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Stockman House & Interpretive Center is home to the first and only Prairie School house designed in Iowa by Frank Lloyd Wright. Mason City, Iowa is a Frank Lloyd Wright architectural lover’s dream come true!

A visit to this community located in North Central Iowa will be one you will remember. The architecture is simply astounding, as well as the historical history within the city. What are you waiting for? A week-end away from home is awaiting you! An adventure into America’s Heartland is one you will be glad you made.

Hotel review – Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera, Paris, France

Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera, Paris- Gare de Lyon, Paris

Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera, Paris- Gare de Lyon, Paris

If you are the kind of traveler that thinks staying at a Motel 6 or Super 8 is roughing it, Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera in the Bastille district of Paris is not for you. From my standpoint, there is nothing wrong with it: it is a small, fairly clean, inexpensive place with really friendly and helpful staff (not at all uncommon among small Parisian hotels).

My husband and I stayed there for a week and very much enjoyed the place. Being in a very non-tourist area made us feel more a part of the local scene. Then again, we have also enjoyed pitching a tent on solid frozen ground at 2 a.m. at the Grand Tetons. We have also traveled to Paris with one 22-inch rollerboard and a small backpack each. If you consider yourself any higher maintenance than that, do not stay at Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera. You’ll just be uncomfortable and end up writing a lousy review for it and ruining it for the more adventurous types.

Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera is located in the middle of a living, breathing middle-class Parisian neighborhood. There are no large restaurants, no designer stores, definitely no silly tourist places selling little Eiffel towers and “I heart Paris” t-shirts. Avenue Ledru Rollin, where the hotel is located, is lined with apartment buildings of every architectural style, small grocery stores where you can pop in for a bottle of Orangina at 2 o’clock in the morning, home decorating and remodeling stores, clothing shops of every size and price range, and – in the great Parisian tradition of making sure you don’t starve – bistros, brasseries, patisseries and boulangeries every fifty paces or so.

With the address smack dab in the middle of a bustling neighborhood, the hotel owners did a really good job sound-proofing the place. So, if you feel like you’ve had enough of the “bustling” part, just shut the window. If it gets too warm in the room (the heating is via an old-fashioned radiator), and you have to re-open the window to the busy street …well …just deal with it. The rooms and the bathrooms are tidy, but small with limited storage space, so conservative packing is a must.

If you are planning to visit Paris not just to visit the regular attractions, but to explore the city and immerse yourself into the local culture – this place is for you! There are three or four metro stations within walking distance (and if you are like me, you understand that the walking distance in France is not the same as in America). Learn to navigate the metro – and it will take you anywhere you want within Paris city limits. Or, if you wish to go further, you can take a stroll to Gare de Lyon – a kind of Grand Central Station of Paris, a glorious old building, whose opulent facade hides a convergence of train lines running to all corners of France.

The food in the area is fantastic, and there is every kind imaginable to be had. In addition to a dozen or so boulangeries and patisseries within a one-mile radius, the Bastille district boasts enough ethnic restaurants to represent if not every country, then at least every major political region on Earth. A Japanese sushi place peacefully co-exists with an Indian restaurant on one side and a small Thai food window on the other, with an Irish pub (complete with Guinness beer) and an American Subway across the street. To find the best places to eat, make a point of watching the locals. That was how we discovered a fantastic boulangerie within a five-minute walk from the hotel – there was a line out the door near it every morning, so we joined in and ended up having breakfast there for the rest of our vacation.

While the Bastille district is not as favored by tourists as, say, Montparnasse or Champs Elysee, wondering around and window shopping is just as much fun – the window displays are still beautiful and stylish regardless of the size of the establishment or the price of its wares. Do not be mislead by the narrow store windows – where they cannot get breadth, Parisian shop owners go for depth, so a store that appears small on the outside, it may go the depth of an entire building.

In short: if you like to travel light, definitely consider Grand Hotel Nouvel Opera as your Parisian home-away-from-home. You’ll sleep comfortably, eat well and have plenty to see.