Powered by Blogger.
Showing posts with label hotel. Show all posts

Luxury at a Historic Hotel in the LoDo District: A Review of Hotel Teatro, Denver, Colorado

History Meets Luxury in LoDo: A Review of Hotel Teatro, Denver, Colorado | CosmosMariners.com

In order to facilitate this review, I was provided one night's complimentary stay. I purchased a second night at a media rate. 

For the final leg of our Western U.S. road trip, we cruised into Denver. After hiking in three states, spending nights in yurts, and being covered in red rock dust, I was looking forward to the big city life before we headed back home.

A Cozy Mountain Cottage AirBnB in Saluda, North Carolina: A Home Tour

A Cozy Mountain Cottage AirBnB in Saluda, North Carolina: A Home Tour | CosmosMariners.com

Since I made the jump into AirBnB rentals on our trip to Ireland (where my husband and I stayed in some incredible spaces--including an Irish castle!), the home rental site is now my go-to when starting to plan a trip.

In fact, I've talked so much about the AirBnB properties that I've stayed in that my mom asked if I could help her find one for the trip to Saluda, North Carolina, that we had planned in early fall. With all of the fun, funky, and beautiful spots in the greater Asheville area, I knew that the perfect mountain getaway had to be waiting for us.

Staying at a Hostel with Kids: What to Do to Make Your Visit Easy and Fun {Guest Post by Tripelio}

Staying at a Hostel with Kids: What to Do to Make Your Visit Easy and Fun {Guest Post by Tripelio} | CosmosMariners.com

While I'm off having fun on my sister's bachelorette party weekend (don't worry--we don't get too wild and crazy), I'm handing the blog over to Jess, the travel blogger at Tripelio.

Like many people, she makes use of hostels when she travels. Her article today takes the topic of hostels--which have a reputation for being centered around 20-something backpackers--and shows how they can be an excellent resource for traveling families.

Hotel Sonne: A History-themed Inn in the Heart of Füssen, Germany | A Review

Hotel Sonne: A Review of a History-themed Inn in the Heart of Füssen, Germany | CosmosMariners.com

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through one of the links, I will receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. 

After several fun days in Munich and Ettal, our road trip through Germany next took us to the picturesque Bavarian town of Füssen. The day of our arrival was grey and rainy, but we were excited to explore the city and the famous Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles nearby.

Before we could  do any of that, we wanted to get settled into our room at our hotel, the Hotel Sonne. After reading dozens of reviews online for the Hotel Sonne and other accommodations in and around Füssen, my family and I had settled on this place because of its excellent reviews and unique historical theming.

Castles and Cottages: 5 Best Ireland AirBnBs

Castles and Cottages: 5 Best Ireland AirBnBs | CosmosMariners.com
Our home away from home for a few days while in Ireland! Just call me Queen Natalie.

My husband, Landon, and I love to find new ways to explore the world. Whether we're trying somewhere for the first time or we're going back to a favorite haunt, we'll look at ways to personalize our visit. Neither of us had been to the Emerald Isle before this time, and in an effort to do something different than what we'd done on our other British Isles visits, we decided to plunge in the waters of AirBnB and VRBO while in Ireland.

The result was an overview of the best Ireland AirBnBs, and we came away with a new appreciation of the culture and people of the Emerald Isle. We can't wait to go back to explore even more!

Holiday Inn Charleston Historic Downtown {Charleston, South Carolina}

Holiday Inn Charleston Historic Downtown {Charleston, South Carolina} | CosmosMariners.com

I am a part of the Holiday Inn Influencer program and was provided a two-night stay to help me write this post. As always, all opinions are my own. 

I don't know about you, but I am the world's worst about exploring my hometown. In my case, I live in one of the most visited cities in the South--Charleston, South Carolina--yet, I rarely make it out to see all of the historic homes in the area or take one of the many tours offered. 
I have all of these big ideas on adventuring in my hometown, but I find myself scooting off to other places when I have a free moment. I've consciously worked to change this over the past year, and it's been lots of fun re-discovering the places in my own backyard. 

Calypso Cay Resort, Kissimmee, Florida

Calypso Cay Resort, Kissimmee, Florida: A Review | CosmosMariners.com

Before our Florida Superior Small Lodging road trip officially began at the beginning of the summer, Landon and I took an extra day off of work so that we could squeeze in a trip to one of the Disney water parks for our toddler.

Since it was such a short sidetrip, we decided not to stay on property (as we usually do) in favor of an inexpensive place that I'd found on Groupon: Calypso Cay Resort. The resort contains The Inn at Calpyso--a former Country Inn and Suites--as well as two large buildings of 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom villas.

When we rolled up at 11 PM the night of our check-in, the lines for the front desk was three guests deep: not a welcome site when I was tired and ready to go to bed. In most places, the late evening hours are like a ghost town at the front desk, so I was worried that this mass grouping in the lobby was an indicator that the hotel was packed full of guests--which usually means lots of noise.

So, how did our stay turn out? Was our initial greeting a terrible sign of things to come?

For an Orlando hotel, you can't beat where the Calypso Cay Resort is located. Only 3.9 miles from the Disney parks and 11 miles from Universal Studios, guests can quickly hop onto FL 535 or I-4 and make it to front gates in very little time.

There's also a gigantic Wal-mart just behind it that sold all sorts of Disney-themed stuff from ponchos to sweatshirts to photo books. For the cost conscious Disney visitor, a stop here for souvenirs is a good idea. Just down the road are several gas stations and plenty of quick service restaurants.

One thing that drove us crazy about the surrounding location was the fact that the Osceola Parkway runs right behind the resort. The Parkway is a toll road--but it's not well-marked at all. We got onto it once not realizing that 1) it was a toll road, and 2) the unmanned booth only took quarters (of which we had none). This ultimately led us to illegally backing down the shoulder of the toll entrance ramp so we could get back onto FL 535.

We were placed in a one bedroom suites in the building that straddles the two pools (Building 5000). Building 5000 and 5002 contain the villa suites, while the traditional hotel rooms reside in the Inn at Calypso in front of the pools. The suites are all timeshares/ vacation rentals that are sublet by the Inn at Calypso management team; if you get one of these, they will vary a little in terms of decoration.

Calypso Cay Resort, Kissimmee, Florida: A Review | CosmosMariners.com

The kitchette was well equipped with glasses, plates, cups, and cleaning cloths. We liked having a full-sized refrigerator to put milk, soft drinks, and juice each morning.

Calypso Cay Resort, Kissimmee, Florida: A Review | CosmosMariners.com

The bathroom came with a jacuzzi bath/ shower combo. Britton loved the bubbles in the jacuzzi! While the bathroom was clean, the wallpaper was peeling off in several small spots, which gave it a bit of a shabby air.

The one bedroom had a queen sized bed: while it was roomy, it didn't house the most comfortable of mattresses, as one side sagged down. There was also a fold-out couch in the living room, but we didn't use it.

Calypso Cay Resort, Kissimmee, Florida: A Review | CosmosMariners.com
The huge screened in porch that was attached to our suite.
We didn't have a lot of interaction with the staff since we had such a short stay, but the few times I did deal with the staff, they were organized, approachable, and friendly.

When we checked in to a full lobby, the desk clerks managed to move guests through quickly. They spoke both Spanish and English fluently which helped with the large number of guests from abroad who were also checking in at the same time as I was.

Although the resort isn't the largest, there are several amenities that will appeal to families on a budget. Little kids will love the playground and on-site mini golf course, while older kids will enjoy the slides at the main pool.

Landon used the workout room on our second morning there and was pleased with the variety of equipment they had.

Our room came with a complimentary breakfast buffet both mornings we were there. While I always appreciate a free breakfast, this one left a lot to be desired: the eggs were straight out of a mix (yuck), the cereal selection consisted only of two options (Cheerios and something really sugary), and the breakfast potatoes were kind of cold both mornings. Usually, I can find something to eat since I'm not picky at all, but both mornings, I ended up eating a cold, tiny cinnamon roll that was straight out of a Little Debbie box. I've had far better complimentary breakfasts at places like Hampton Inn, so I know that it can be done.

I thought that the need for a breakfast attendant (who checked our names against the hotel roster) and food wristbands was redundant and clogged up the line. While I'm complaining about the breakfast, I might as well mention the fact that the breakfast room had extremely limited seating, which meant that people were always lingering around looking at us while we ate.

The resort has free parking for its guests, but (like the breakfast seating) it was limited near the building. If you arrived late, you had to park in the nearby Springhill Suites parking lot or the resort's front lot (both of which are quite a distance when you're hauling luggage).

Final Thoughts
While it was far from luxurious, the Calypso Cay Resort was clean and well-maintained. The resort is a fairly new one, as it seems it was just purchased from a large hotel chain and converted into its existing appearance, and it's trying to be a one-stop-shop for guests looking to relax away from the theme parks.

With a few changes (especially to the breakfast selection and routine), this inexpensive property has the potential to become a fun (and cheaper) option to some themed hotels like Disney's Art of Animation. Until those changes are enacted, the hotel provides the basics, but doesn't leave a lasting impression.

This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing a hotel room through these will help me add to my travel fund at no additional cost to you!

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!
Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup

How to Choose Great Locally Owned Accommodations When You Travel

Over the years, I've stayed in many hotels. Some were awesome, some were so-so, and some had me worried that I wouldn't see the next sunrise.

One thing that I have learned along the way is that some of my favorite stays have been at locally owned and independently operated places: each is different, and your stay is more likely to leave an impression.

After all, how often do you think back and say, "Wow, those two nights in the Orlando area Hampton Inn were super stellar and unique"? Probably never since every Hampton Inn I've ever seen looked exactly the same.

If you're looking to break out of the mold of chain hotels, you're in luck, as there are some fantastic local places to call home while you're on the road. From 4-room bed and breakfasts to independent luxury resorts to someone's extra apartment on AirBnB, there's a huge range in what can be called "locally owned accommodations."

But how do you separate the delightful ones from the duds?

Thankfully, in this technological day and age, there are plenty of ways to research some independent lodging options. Here are great ways to choose a safe, clean, and memorable locally owned hotel:

Road Trip Stop #2: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

The morning we were scheduled to move from the Coconut Inn in Pass-a-Grille to our second stop of the Florida Superior Small Lodging road trip, we battled through pouring rain to pack the car. Thoroughly soaked, Landon and I were glad of the 30 minute drive up to Indian Rocks Beach, where Cay Pointe Villas awaited us. 

Just as the rain was starting to let up, we arrived in Indian Rocks Beach to find our next place to try out. Would Cay Pointe Villas be the ray of sunshine we needed on such a dreary day?

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

To make a long story short, it was everything we could have wanted and more! Read on to find out more about this great beachfront property and the people who made our stay so special.

Back in the late '60s and early '70s, developers began to purchase some of the area's old beach homes, knock them down, and use the space for large condo buildings. When a developer approached Lynn Timberlake's parents, they refused to sell their family's beach house.

The developer told the Timberlakes that he'd already bought the property to the left of the home, and that he was also going to buy the property to the right of the house, essential sandwiching their home in between two large condo buildings.

The developer ended up messing with the wrong family, as the Timberlakes outbid the developer on the property to the right of their home. With this extra space, the family decided to try and preserve a bit of this beautiful stretch of beach; in 1972, they opened Cay Pointe Villas.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com
Cay Pointe Villas is to the left, and the Timberlakes' original home is the grey one to the right.

The original owners' daughter, Lynn, now runs the place, along with her two resident managers, Carol and Bill. The three of them make a stay here feel more like you're visiting a favorite family member instead of staying at a vacation property.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

Indian Rocks Beach is a much quieter part of the St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater area--Gulf Boulevard narrows to two lanes, and the buildings don't reach the skyscraper proportions that they do further north.

Tucked among the personal homes, smaller condo properties, and locally-owned restaurants is this gem of a getaway: Cay Pointe Villas.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

Even though Indian Rocks Beach is quieter than Clearwater or St. Pete Beach, you're still minutes away from Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, Fort De Soto, and grocery stores.

It's not fair to call what we stayed in a room--it was a complete apartment! In fact, the three bedroom, one bath apartment was close in size to our first townhouse. We loved the full kitchen and used it to cook throughout our stay.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

The three bedrooms were all nicely sized: there was a queen in the master bedroom, and a twin (with trundle) in each of the other two rooms.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

The bathroom was quite large, and I could've easily shared it with Landon, Britton, and another family member or two during a longer stay.

There were plenty of comfy chairs in the living room and a flat screen TV, which we didn't watch much since the beach was right there!

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

And the best part of all? The wide porch that overlooks the ocean. There's a table in the kitchen, but we couldn't resist eating inside when there was outside dining space available. We ate every meal out there, relaxed after coming in from the beach, and looked at the stars--all from the comfort of our private porch.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

When I went into the resident managers' office to check in, Carol and Bill not only greeted me to Cay Pointe, but also ushered me in for a quick tour of their apartment. Carol brought cold bottled water for my daughter while we were out on the beach, and let us borrow her sunscreen and snorkeling goggles. When Bill was in the apartment next to us, he come out onto the porch and chatted with us while we were sitting on our own porch.

When we left, Carol sent us off with hugs and well wishes. I'd come back to the property just for the hospitality that she, Bill, and the owner, Lynn, showed us.

From the moment we arrived to the minute we drove off, the team at Cay Pointe made us feel as if we were family or long lost friends who'd stopped by for a visit. They run it as a home, not as a hotel, and that makes a huge difference to the feel of the place. I don't know when I've stayed in a property where I felt so welcomed!

When the ocean is just outside your door, you don't need many other amenities! While the beach access and view is definitely the major draw here at Cay Pointe Villas, Lynn and her team have done everything they can to make your stay as nice as possible.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

There are beach toys available for the little ones, several of which Britton gladly tested out while we were there. Carol, one of the resident managers, sweeps the beach in front of the property every morning, so you don't have to worry about seaweed or trash when you're laying out your blanket. The office also has sun hats, children's books, and paperbacks that guests are welcome to borrow.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

On the back porch, there are plenty of chairs on which to relax, read, or work (if you have to do such a blasphemous thing here!). Because the property is on a quiet, protected part of the beach, you might see some of the resident curly-tailed lizards or a beautiful heron, both of which frequent the patio area.
Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

Final Thoughts
Without a doubt, I would return here. While we were enjoying our time at Cay Pointe, Landon and I kept saying things like, "Wouldn't it be nice to bring our parents here?" or "Can you imagine having a family vacation here?" This was Landon's favorite property of the three we stayed in, and he's still talking about going back again, nearly two weeks later.

It really is the perfect spot for several families to all rent--and that's a popular way to rent the properties, Lynn told me.

If you don't have a beachfront home, Cay Pointe Villas is as close as you can get without buying a property yourself. Join the family on your next vacation, and tell Carol, Bill, and Lynn that I sent you!

What would you like about this property? Do you prefer to vacation with immediate family, extended family or friends?

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!

Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

While we were in Charlotte, North Carolina, we made ourselves at home at the Dunhill Hotel. I hadn't been to Charlotte since I was a little kid--we used to live in upstate South Carolina when I was younger--and would visit the area occasionally back then. After a chance meeting with the hotel's (wonderful!) PR person at the Historic Hotels of America luncheon last year, I decided to head back up to the Queen City to see how it had changed in the nearly 20 years since my last visit.

It turned out that the Dunhill was a great spot from which to launch our visit, and, if you're looking for a great place to stay in Uptown Charlotte, I'd highly recommend it.

You thought you'd get by without a quick history lesson, didn't you?! I love staying in historic hotels because they come with such a rich storyline: it's an added layer of interest that you just don't get in a more recently built hotel. 

The Dunhill Hotel originally was called the Mayfair Manor and opened a month after the stock market crashed. The economic upheaval of the nation didn't seem to affect Mayfair Manor's success, which quickly found a following. During the Manor's early days, guests could stay in one of the 100 rooms: some were set aside as hotel rooms, while others were long-term rentals. 

The Manor's heyday lasted well into the 20th century; by the 1960s, it was sold and rebranded into a motor lodge. Eventually, the motor lodge shut its doors in the early 1980s, and the 10-story building was inhabited only by the homeless. After several years of neglect, the hotel was purchased and underwent a $6 million renovation in 1988. This company tried to restore the hotel to its former glory, but after only two years, the hotel was sold once again.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com
Exploring the hotel and its history!
In the early 1990s, Summit Hospitality Group, the current owners, purchased the property and began to mold it into the distinctive location that it is today. The group was also the driving force behind the application and acceptance of the Dunhill into the Historic Hotels of America property group, a distinction that it proudly displays. 

If you're in Uptown Charlotte for a play, concert, sporting event, banking seminar, or vacation, the Dunhill couldn't be more centrally located. I went on the trip with my dad and my toddler, and we only got in the car once--and that was when we headed out of Uptown to see an attraction in a completely different part of Charlotte.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

From the museums to the restaurants to green spaces, we were able to easily walk (even with a toddler!) to all of the attractions in Uptown Charlotte. The hotel is located at the corner of North Tryon and 6th Streets, which put us steps away from Discovery Place and the Carolina Theatre, and just a few blocks from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Imaginon, the Levine Museum of the New South, the Bank of America building, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

We had a corner room on the third floor, and I thought it was a great location. We were high enough that the street traffic didn't bother us, but we were still able to people watch through the three large windows throughout the room. Definitely ask for a corner room since it comes with more windows!

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

The room had two queen beds (called the "Vintage Queen Queen" room on their site) and a large bathroom with a shower/tub combo. The bed was incredibly comfortable, and I looked forward to sinking into the fluffy duvet and crisp sheets each night. Sightseeing is hard work!

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

Even with the two beds, I still had plenty of room to set up Britton's pack and play in the corner; the room was large enough that the pack and play didn't interfere with our movement between the room and bathroom.

Our room also had a mini-refrigerator and Keurig. 

When I went to check in, our room wasn't available, but the desk clerks were apologetic (they didn't even need to be, as I was trying to check in at 10:15 in the morning!). They took my cell phone number and promised to call me as soon as a room became available; I ended up getting a call less than an hour later. 

Housekeeping was fantastic, and made sure to keep us stocked with bottled water (which is complimentary with any stay); that sure came in handy as we explored all over town! Housekeeping came once in the morning to tidy up, and then again at night for turndown service. After a long day of sightseeing, it was a treat to see the chocolates on our pillows. 

While check out was easy--I paid with a credit card that was already on file--the desk clerk that morning wasn't very personable. Since I knew I was going to write a piece about the hotel and its history, I asked if there was another copy of the laminated history that had been in our room. I didn't want to steal the room copy, so I figured that the front desk could supply me with one--or, at least, make a photocopy of an existing one. When I inquired about the history sheet, the desk clerk just looked at me and uttered a quick, "No, I don't think we have those." She didn't offer to call housekeeping, make a copy, or print out another one. It wasn't that big of a deal since I'd made a few notes, but I would've expected a bit more effort on her part to ensure that there wasn't an extra sheet to give out to someone interested in it. 

Other than that one small (and really, in the whole scheme of things, insignificant) exchange, the staff was more than helpful throughout our stay. 

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

While the hotel doesn't have a pool or gym, it does have plenty of touches to make you feel welcome during your stay. Nibble on a few of the complimentary cookies every afternoon, or mix with the other guests during the wine social every Wednesday evening. I liked that there was a complimentary shuttle available to guests; we didn't use it since I wanted to get out and walk around Uptown, but this is a great option for guests who are in a hurry!

The Asbury, the onsite restaurant, is absolutely worth a visit during your time at the Dunhill--so much so that my experience there will get its own post later. If you'd rather eat in your room, the room service comes out of the same kitchen, so you don't have to eat another of those dry burgers that usually comes off the room service menu.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

We didn't get to use them, but the hotel also has several meeting rooms available for corporate functions. I think the hotel would be such a pretty place to have a reception or meeting!

Final Thoughts:
I'd definitely stay here again! Not only was the location perfect, the room was incredibly nice. I also liked all of the little extras that came with my stay including the complimentary water, the turndown service, and the fluffy white robes in the bathroom.

Book a stay at the Dunhill Hotel here.

If you're interested in my experiences in another Historic Hotel of America, check out my stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel on Jekyll Island, Georgia. 

Have you stayed in a historic hotel? What was your experience like? Have you been Charlotte lately?

Disclaimer: The Dunhill provided one complimentary night's stay; I paid for a second night in the same room. All opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links. If you use them to book a stay, I'll receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

A Mountain Getaway, 1910s-style: Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Back in June 2012, I came back from a three-week trip to the United Kingdom with the family whom I was homeschooling at the time. I saw some incredible things, but spending 21 days straight (including sharing a bathroom with them!) with four kids ranging in age from 5 to 11 wore me out.

After returning to America, I proceeded to flop on our couch and stare blankly up to the ceiling for several days. Alarmed, my husband decided that I needed to get away from Charleston for a few days for some quiet and recuperation after my action-packed kid time. (Note: this was looong before my daughter made her arrival, so I was completely unused to the constant dull roar that accompanies small humans.)

I perked up when he mentioned that there was a sweet deal on Groupon Getaways for this little mountain hideaway in North Carolina. I couldn't think of anything better at that moment than relaxing among the cool, peaceful trees on a wide porch, so I told him to book it. 

And just two days later, we were on our way to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. You've got to love an impromptu road trip!

After we ooohed and aaaahhhed over the beautiful views on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we made our way to Balsam, where our hotel room awaited. When the GPS told us to turn since we were nearly at our destination, we looked around and wondered if the GPS even knew what it was talking about since all we saw was a railroad track and a general store that hadn't sold anything since at least the 1950s.

(Seriously, that's all that there is to Balsam. If you want quaint, this should be your first stop.)

And then we both looked back over the railroad tracks and up the hill to see this (only without Landon posing on it, of course):

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

When we arrived, we wandered in awe around the lobby and grounds since our room wasn't quite ready. I couldn't believe that I'd never heard of this place before then--it was beautiful and gigantic. Having lived in South Carolina my entire life (including nearly a decade in the upstate), I've heard of most of the quaint inns and hotels. But somehow, Balsam Mountain Inn hadn't hit my radar, which was a complete shame. 

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

I found out later that the Inn had undergone a complete restoration after it had slowly deteriorated for a decade in between owners. Originally opened in 1908, the inn was carefully placed near the railroad station (fun fact: Balsam's station was the highest in the eastern U.S.).
The inn and some of its summer residents, 1910

The owners built the hallways larger than usual to provide ample space for visitors' bulky trunks.

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

After struggling for some time, the inn finally closed its doors in the 1980s. But then, it found a second life when current owner Merrily Teasley had a chance encounter with the crumbling hotel in the early 1990s. She and a team of dedicated workers refinished the entire 42,000 square foot inn--sometimes by hand!

She also added the left wing which now houses the dining area. And let's talk about that dining area, shall we?

All you need to know is that you should go. Immediately. As a part of our Groupon, we had breakfast tickets for the two mornings we were staying there. I'm not a morning person, but after digging into the breakfast offerings here, I was glad I'd managed to rouse myself.

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

It's a set price breakfast with one rotating daily item (so on Mondays, they might serve french toast, while on Tuesdays, you can have pancakes), fresh fruit, toast, cereal, and other yummy stuff. We both stuffed ourselves so much that we basically skipped lunch and didn't eat again either day until mid-afternoon. Because of our funky eating schedule, we never did make it to Balsam's dinner, but I've also heard amazing things about that, too. I loved that they use locally sourced food whenever possible!

Although we had other fun things on our trip (including a tubing trip, an afternoon by the river, and some mountain shopping), we most enjoyed our time around the inn, just sitting on the wide porches and enjoying the views.

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Being the chatty folk that we are, Landon and I made some new friends one night when we were all sitting outside reading. There was a nice couple staying there, and they were killing some time before dinner. Balsam's just that kind of place, where you can sit in the rockers, chat with other visitors, and take in the mountain air. 
Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

One final thing that I loved about the inn was that there are no televisions or phones in the rooms. They've got a free lending library, board games, and plenty of places to chat with fellow guests, so you're pretty much guaranteed some serious one-on-one time with whomever you're traveling. 

Know before you go
  • When booking, make sure to request a shower or tub room. Because of the way that the modern plumbing had to be installed in the inn, rooms don't have both.  
  • There's no air condition. Don't panic, though! We were there at the end of June, and we didn't have a need for it. Because the inn is located so high up in Blue Ridge mountains, there's this gorgeous breeze all summer. All you've got to do is lower the glass divider at the top of your door for some bona fide throwback A/C, and let the breezes from the hallways cool your room. 
  • If you've got kids, choose the first floor. The second and third floors are made of creaky old hardwood, so if you stay on either of those with a kid that likes to run and jump, the entire hotel will know. 
  • You can't book through Expedia, Travelocity, or even the hotel's website. It's a phone call or nothing!

What's the best place that you've ever stayed? Have you been on a mountain retreat lately?

I was in no way compensated for my stay at Balsam Mountain Inn or Groupon or anything else I mentioned in this article. We just loved our visit!

Puerto Rican Paradise: Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican Paradise: Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan | CosmosMariners.com

When my parents, sister, and I headed to Puerto Rico a few years back, I was in a much different place than I am now.

I was getting ready to be engaged to my now-husband (only I didn't know that at the time). I didn't have my darling daughter. I was starting my last year of grad school. 

But one thing hasn't changed in that time: my unwavering love of anywhere that has palm trees, turquoise waters, and perfectly white sands. 

When my mom found a super deal on the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, we jumped on the chance to head down to Puerto Rico for a few days. Even though I had to leave early for my adjunct professor training (the job that kept me from eating ramen noodles every night of my grad school days), I knew I had to go with them. 

So, I packed up my beloved Vera Bradley Night Owl weekender bag (which is still with me, five years later), and headed off into what was I found was paradise. 

We took a taxi from the San Juan airport and headed straight to the hotel. When we got there, I was amazed to find that the entire lobby is open air. 

Puerto Rican Paradise: Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan | CosmosMariners.com
The lobby looking back towards the ocean and the pool.
As in there aren't any actual front doors. 

And there's a tropical bird in the lobby. 

And all day long, you can hear the sound of palm trees rattling in the warm breeze. Because there aren't any doors!

Needless to say, I was entranced before we'd even checked in. 

Our rooms weren't quite ready, so we took a quick look around the hotel. One of my favorite parts about the property was the San Geronimo Fort that's located just a few hundred feet from the lobby on the Condado Lagoon. Guests aren't allowed to tour it, but it's so cool to know that it's a part of the landscape.
Puerto Rican Paradise: Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan | CosmosMariners.com

When we headed up to our rooms, they were pretty standard for a Hilton or Hampton Inn: two double beds, lots of neutrals, a tv, a shower. I did like that we had a view of the fort and the Lagoon.

Over the four days we stayed here, we explored most of what the hotel had to offer including the gorgeous pool area, the onsite grill (standard burgers and fries), and the beach area. I call it the beach for lack of a better word for a a place that has lots of sand and palm trees--but, unlike most beaches, you can't get into the water here. Because of the currents, there's no entry into the water, so your sunning and playing options are limited to the hotel pool unless you want to head off property.

Puerto Rican Paradise: Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan | CosmosMariners.com

Clearly, I didn't mind the lack of a proper beach. Give me a good book, and I could stay here all day!

The hotel's been around for a long time--it opened in 1949--and it claims that the pina colada was created at its bar. Kudos to them for finding a way to fit the taste of the tropics into a blender!

One thing that I didn't love about the hotel was the fact that it was a few miles away from Old San Juan. That wouldn't be a problem if I'd gone to the hotel just to sunbathe and relax, but you know that I'm not much into relaxing if there are sites to see! We had to take a taxi back and forth every time we wanted to go into the historic section to eat or tour, which ended up racking up a pretty big bill for four people for four days. 

Because of where it was located (away from downtown), there weren't too many food options other than the grill and the bar in the hotel. There was this one Subway just across from the entrance, but I'm not too willing to go to a brand new place with awesome cuisine and eat cold cuts the entire time. 

So, minor complaints, but both worth considering when choosing your San Juan accommodations. 

Would I go back? Yes, if I was planning to hang around the hotel more than I did on this trip. The views were gorgeous and the property was nice. If I wanted to explore more of the old city, I'd probably head closer into town, though. 

Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? If so, tell me where you stayed and what you did! If not, is this a place on your bucket list?

Historic Hotels of American Luncheon + the Wentworth Mansion

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com

Eating and talking about travel: I really can't think of many better ways to spend a few hours!

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with about two dozen travel writers, bloggers, and hoteliers at the Historic Hotels of America regional luncheon. Not only did I get to pick the brains of several seasoned writers, I had the chance to network with some of the Historic Hotels in and around Charleston.

Networking Natalie

I don't know about you, but networking can be really fun. I love walking into a room knowing that there are people in there with whom I can make a connection. Plus, when you work as a blogger and freelance writer, any excuse to get out of the house and talk to people is welcomed! (Those four walls can bear down awfully close sometimes.)

And yes, I'm one of those crazies who actually enjoys public speaking and cocktail parties. What can I say? I guess I like to hear myself talk.

All of the attendees had the chance to mingle at the informal reception at the bar before heading into the main dining room to eat (more on that below. Spoiler: it was delicious!). The media people stayed seated while the hoteliers rotated through with each course. It was a great way to get to know all of the people there.

During the luncheon, I had the chance to talk with representatives from the King and Prince (St. Simons Island, GA), the Fulton Lane Inn (Charleston, SC), the Francis Marion (Charleston, SC) and the Dunhill Hotel (Charlotte, NC). I even got to see my contact at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel (Jekyll Island, GA) who helped me arrange my history-packed, amazing trip back in September.

Each property is unique, and each has a ton of history. (Duh, Natalie.) If you've been reading this blog even for just a post or two, you know that I'm obsessed with all things historical. To know that there's so much to explore right here in the Southeast makes me so excited for my 2015 travels! I certainly hope I'll be able to visit several of these properties in the coming year.

Exception Eating

So, the gorgeous Wentworth Mansion (one of the Historic Hotels!) hosted the event--and I got to fulfill something on my Charleston bucket list: eating at Circa 1886, the onsite restaurant.

{photo courtesy of Circa 1886}

I'd heard it was great, but just saying it was "great" is the understatement of the century. We started off with shrimp and grits soup--minus the shrimp for shellfish-intolerant me. Yum, yum, yum. It was basically like the creamiest grits I'd ever had: combine grits and a cream-based soup, and that's what you'd get in this dish. It was hands-down my favorite part of the meal.

The second course was a choice of salmon or chicken, and I went with the chicken. It had this delicious balsamic reduction on the top, and was so tender, I didn't really even need my knife.

The third course was a key lime tart. I have a weakness for all things key lime, and this dessert didn't disappoint. I think I could make myself sick off of key lime pie!

After the meal was finished, Chef Marc Collins came out to talk with us about his inspiration behind the food. He said that he likes reinventing traditional Southern foods without turning people away from the basics that made them love the foods to begin with.

Tour Time!

After we'd all eaten to our absolute max, we were invited on a tour of the Wentworth Mansion, which is just across the parking lot from Circa 1886.

{photo courtesy of the Historic Hotels of America}
About six of us were led around the stunning hotel, and we were shown one of the small rooms.

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com
Yes, this is one of the "small" rooms!
There are 21 rooms in the hotel in all--and rumor has it, even a few (friendly) ghosts!

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com
The stained glass over the front entryway. It's original to the house, and each of the sparrows represents one of the owner's children (he ultimately had 13!).

Staying here (and at pretty much all of the other Historic Hotels of America) is high on the bucket list, so maybe my husband will get the hint and plan a fun weekend for us at some point.

Historic Hotels of America Luncheon, Wentworth Mansion, Charleston | CosmosMariners.com
The business center: I could get some work done in this quiet, cozy room.
All in all, the luncheon was a wild success in my book. I got out of the house for a few hours (even sans toddler, who was with my mom!), and I was inspired by the other writers in attendance. Some of them have been in the travel industry longer than I've been alive, which reminds me how much I still have left to learn and explore.

Have you ever stayed in one of the Historic Hotels of America? Do you enjoy networking events?