Saturday, October 5, 2013

World's top hotels deliver service, quality, attention, special touches

Oversized European soaking tubs, eco-friendly products, robes and slippers await at Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle.

Room with a view, attentive staff, location, amenities all figure in choosing your hotel  

A five-star hotel should offer uniqueness and elegance.

GOOD HOTELS are plentiful.
Grand hotels are not.
Truly "great hotels" have elegance and uniqueness, eccentricities and special touches that make us feel pampered. Perhaps a rooftop terrace with stunning panorama, beautiful tapestries, eye-catching doors, spacious bedrooms with good reading lights a separate sitting area, original works of art, and luxurious courtyards or lobbies.
Spectacular views and individual glass-floor bungalows over
the water make Le Meridien Bora Bora a  prestige hotel. 
They should reflect the culture of their region.  In Turkey, you'll want to be reminded of the Ottoman influence with brass beds and plush carpets. In French Polynesia, the island life and creatures of the deep should be emphasized.  In Rome, Florence, Paris, London, Madrid or Barcelona, you'll want to feel the blend of history and style.
The balance of old-fashioned luxury with a relaxed atmosphere
is not easily accomplished, but top hotels achieve it.
THE CACHET of a four or five-star hotel has to do with what it offers and how it delivers.
WHAT DETERMINES a top hotel and what are a few of our favorites?  How are they rated?
Barcelona's famous Sagrada Familia in its Gothic glory
is within walking distance of a range of quality hotels.
Hotels are generally ranked from one-star -- the simplest accommodation -- to five-star, which implies luxury, superlative service, and the highest standards of comfort. Five-star hotels offer originality in architecture and design, high-grade materials in construction and decor (marble bathrooms, antique furniture) and special touches such as fresh flowers and plants.  Style must not trump substance.
Fine hotels court the traveler, just as cruise ships attract
with their distinctive style, amenities and design features.
AS WITH the world's top cruise lines -- Crystal, Oceania, Seabourn for example -- prestige hotel properties maintain a high staff-to-guest ratio, gourmet dining, and 24-hour room service. Guest rooms offer ample space, fine furnishings and decor, premium bedding, and luxury bath products. Room amenities
Fine hotels in Europe's ancient
cities often tout proximity to famous
landmarks, such as Rome's
iconic Trevi Fountain.
generally include high-speed Internet access and CD and/or DVD players. Many five-star resorts offer additional recreation facilities such as tennis courts, golf-course access, spa services, a top-notch fitness center, and pools.
Rome's best hotels are located within easy walk to
its historical sights and ancient public fountains.
THE TERM "five star hotel" is associated with the ultimate luxury and, by implication, expense. We've stayed in plenty of three- and even some two-star hotels, which can be good finds with convenient locations and period architecture.  In Rome, for instance, the Accademia is delightful.  Owned by a small group, Travelroma, it is a pretty little boutique hotel near Trevi  Fountain.  For about 60-100 Euros more, you may choose the five-star Eden, a quick stroll to the famous Via Veneto. The Trastevere is two-star in the lively Trastevere district of Rome, with 20
San Francisco's Hotel Diva near Union Square, offers style,
pet and kid focus and  a sense of playfulness in decor.
small and pretty rooms.
THE OMNI in Los Angeles blends old-world elegance with modern amenities, as befitting Los Angeles. In San Francisco, Hotel Diva boasts  style and personality in spades -- and dog friendly rooms for Nick and Nora.  The three-star Scalinata di Spagna in Rome sits at the top of the Spanish Steps near Keats' house, has charming rooms and a picturesque rooftop garden.  So do your shopping.
The hotel business suffers from a lack of standardization which allows marketing-driven inflation.  A few hotels claim six stars and a distinctive Dubai Hotel, the Burj al- Arab, promoted  itself as "the world's first seven-star hotel" for a time.
The distinctive shape of Burj al-Arab
attracts Dubai's international clientele.

WELL ESTABLISHED prestige hotels are usually content to claim the traditional five. There's actually no international ratings
body, so hotels can claim as many stars as they like.
That's where homework comes in.  Check references, as you
would when hiring.  To achieve the five-star standard, a property must be consistently good over a long period.
Hotel reviewers and travel professionals who rank hotels look
for these winning qualities:  discreet and attentive service,
 Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo in Brazil offers roomy elegance.
complimentary house car and VIP transfer services, personalization -- "getting to know you" touches such as remembering your name, excellent bed with support a high-thread count sheets such as Frette. (Ritz-Carlton, Grand Hyatt, Sofitel and Four Seasons are excellent.)
ALSO IMPORTANT to critics are the property's food, drink and room service (a buffet breakfast included in the price is a draw). A good in-room coffee maker is desirable.
A room with a view is a big draw -- here of Sao Paulo lit up at night.
And my personal pet peeve is powdered creamer. Awful.  I love finding small half-and-half containers in the mini bar.
A comfy bathroom is important and I enjoy finding luxurious, eco-friendly amenities such as offered in Seattle's "green thinking" Pan Pacific Hotel -- along with slippers, robes, flowers, soaking tub and spectacular Space Needle views.
PEOPLE WHO travel with pets or children are being increasingly courted by the hotel industry.
The travelers' male Yorkie, Nick, enjoys his stay at the Omni Los Angeles. 
Omni Hotels offer pet floors and many boutique hotels pamper your pooch with gifts and treats. The Los Angeles Omni brought a bag of goodies and a pretty little stainless steel water bowl for our Yorkies, Nick and Nora.
Four Seasons is kid friendly. Children can feed the koi in Bali's Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay.
AN ATTENTIVE concierge is essential. During our annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Gigi, at the lovely boutique inn, Ashland Springs Hotel, helped us choreograph dinners and tickets to the popular Chocolate Festival. I plan most of our trip details myself, but when I need an efficient concierge, I want someone who can score a last-minute theater ticket, as our concierge at Hotel Diva did in a
Rome's many piazzas and baroque showpieces
are within walking distance of  its myriad hotels.
recent San Francisco stay.
 MANY GREAT cities, such as Barcelona, offer an enticing array of variously "starred" hotels -- we've enjoyed the Ritz Carlton Arts, Majestic, Hilton, Princess and others. Decide what you want then see which one delivers it to your personal desires.
I'm not much of a poolside basker, but pools are important in the tropics and in many of the world's great locales. Le Meridien Bora Bora has one of the prettiest, if you can pull yourself away from your glass floor view of the wonders of underwater life.
JUST AS Rome wasn't built in a day, top rankings don't  materialize overnight. The hotel industry knows that a property must earn its kudos. It also knows that negative word of mouth can have a devastating effect.  Most professionals agree that quality, service and consistency are primary considerations, but that all the extras count.

The attractive Alpenhof Lodge
in Teton Village is up next.
COMING WEDNESDAY:  Our look at top hotels continues with a visit to Teton Village and its Alpenhof Lodge, which combines old-world European service with fine food, quaint rooms, friendly staff, mountain setting and an appealing full breakfast in a nicely decorated room with a view. Remember to explore, learn and live and check us out Wednesdays and Saturdays at:

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