August 27, 2013

Exclusive Hotel Amenities from the Dorchester Collection

We all want the most for our money when traveling, especially when paying premium prices for a five star hotel.  Now my clients have yet another way to get more value when booking a hotel.

The Dorchester Collection recently announced a new preferred agency program, called The Diamond Club, and Brownell Travel is one of the charter members.

This is one of the best amenity programs I’ve seen, and there are no blackout dates! It’s good at all nine hotels in their portfolio:
(And more hotels to come)

Here’s what guests receive when they book a Dorchester Collection hotel through me:
  • A one category upgrade guaranteed at time of booking (if available, up to a junior suite)
  • Daily breakfast for 2 people per room
  • A hotel credit equivalent to 100 units of local currency, applied to the final bill
  • Unlimited internet access for an unlimited number of devices
Hotel Principe di Savoia Classic Room
For guests who book a suite, or any room at 45 Park Lane, they receive the same amenities, with a few enhancements:
  • Daily breakfast for 2 people per bedroom
  • A daily hotel credit of 100 units of local currency
45 Park Lane Deluxe King Room

Suite at Le Meurice

Also, each hotel will have a Diamond Club ambassador on-site around the clock, to ensure my clients are getting their amenities and to assist with any special requests.  This is especially helpful when I need to reach a hotel in case of emergency at any time of day, especially when clients are traveling abroad.

Hotel Plaza Athenee Paris

This is just one of several preferred agency programs with which Brownell is affiliated, including Ritz Carlton STARS, Four Seasons Preferred Partner, Rosewood Elite, and Starwood Luxury Privileges.

The next time you plan to book a hotel, whether it’s for one night or two weeks, contact me first at suzette@family-treks.com to check if you are eligible for any exclusive amenities or upgrades.   

The Beverly Hills Hotel

August 21, 2013

In the Know About Juneau (Our Alaska Adventure Part 2)

After Glacier Bay, we headed to Juneau for a 2 night stay.  Our destination was the Westmark Baranof, a full service hotel at the edge of the historic downtown.  It was close enough to walk easily to everything, but with fewer crowds around.  They had a room perfect for our family with a teen boy and girl: it had a queen bed, a single bed, and single sofa sleeper.   Historic hotels have their shortfalls (like no A/C, which is really not an issue in Juneau), but also unique features which I actually found useful: a walk-in closet (it held a couple suitcases which kept our floor clear), built-in shelves in the small but modern bath (room for 4 toiletry kits!), and a full length shelf along one wall which was useful for stashing small items like books, backpacks, wine, etc.  Parking and wifi were free, and breakfast in the cafĂ© was very good.  There is also a fine dining restaurant, bar, and meeting facilities.

Westmark Baranof hotel, Juneau, Alaska
"Standard Double" room

I like staying overnight in Juneau because you get to see how the vibe in the Inside Passage towns change when the cruise ships leave.  On our first evening, we had dinner at the Red Dog Saloon.  Most passengers had to be back onboard the ships by 7 pm, so the place was packed when we walked in at 6, but completely empty by 6:30.  The second night ships were in port until 10 pm, so restaurants were full later in the evening.

Juneau, Alaska
Juneau with and without cruise ships

Alaska cruise ships
Ship getting ready to leave

Juneau is the most touristy town along the Inside Passage, with lots of stores selling jewelry, t-shirts, ulu knives, you name it.   If you head out of town, you won't necessarily escape the crowds, but you will find fun things to do besides shopping.
Almost everyone visits Mendenhall Glacier, and it really is worth a stop even though it can be crowded.  Because we were there when the salmon was running, we had a once in a lifetime treat: watching bears catch salmon in the stream right by the parking lot!

Yes, these are wild bears, and one even had 2 cubs with her.  Normally it would be unsafe to be this close.  But these bears are habituated to humans, so as long as observers are quite and keep food put away, they can continue to watch from a boardwalk right above the stream.    

Black bear catching salmon

A short walk leads to the visitor center, where you can get your first glimpse of this famous glacier.  Then a 1 mile trail leads out to the edge of the lake for a closer view.   To get right up close to the glacier, you can hike about 7 miles round trip on West Glacier trail located across the lake, or book a kayak tour for an easy paddle on the calm lake.

Mendenhall Glacier
Best view from visitor center trails

Mendenhall Glacier ice
Getting to touch some glacial ice

One of our favorite places to visit is the Macauley salmon hatchery which is especially interesting July through September, with tens of thousands of salmon swimming in from the ocean.  The hatchery has an artificial ladder, so we spent a good 20-30 minutes watching salmon fight their way up with acrobatic moves.  There is a short presentation outdoors by the staff at regular intervals, and then you can pay extra for a behind the scenes tour.  Inside are salt water aquariums, a live video feed of the workers in back, a nursery for the babies, and a gift shop offering samples of salmon jerky.  

Salmon ladder
Thousands of salmon are entering the ladder

Salmon jumping up a ladder
He (she?) made it!
And no trip to Juneau is complete without a stop at the Alaskan Brewery Company.  They have a storefront downtown, where you can catch a shuttle out to the brewery for a tour.  But if you have a car it's much better to go on your own and avoid the crowds.
Another popular attraction is the Mount Roberts Tramway located right at the cruise port.  The ticket cost includes unlimited all day rides, a film, and entrance to a bald eagle display and nature center.  There are also bear viewing platforms, hiking trails for all abilities (including a trek to the top of Mt. Roberts) and a bar and grill.  Hardy travelers can also hike up from downtown and ride the gondola back for a much lower fee.

Mt. Roberts tram

Two nights was just the right amount of time, and we headed back to the airport for the next leg of our trip: Anchorage.
If you'd like to plan your own adventure in Alaska, be it by cruise ship or on your own like we did, contact me at suzette@family-treks.com.

August 14, 2013

Going Wild in Gustavus (Our Alaska Adventure Part 1)

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that I just returned from a 2 week trip to Alaska.  Glacier Bay was the starting point for our adventure, my kids’ first trip to the 49th state.  Most people visit Glacier Bay by cruise ship, but I wanted to spend several days there, to have more time to enjoy the unique beauty of southeast Alaska.  Few visitors actually stay overnight, so this would give my kids an authentic experience in a small Alaskan town.

The “Gateway to Glacier National Park” is the tiny town of Gustavus, home to no more than 500 year-round residents.  The airport in Gustavus is an interesting sight, as the tiny terminal stays empty all day until the sole Alaska Airline flight arrives (the TSA agents are flown in to meet the jets by a small local air service.)  But that doesn’t mean it’s not busy, small private planes and charters constantly fly in and out.  We were told that just a few weeks earlier, the airport was shut down because a bear ambled onto the runway, and it had to be shoo’ed away by a fire truck!

Gustavus airport
Arriving in Gustavus

Alaska Airlines terminal
The quiet Alaska Airlines terminal
Gustavus is the kind of town where the lone gas station has old fashioned pumps that you only see in museums these days, and everyone knows to watch out for moose #1 who’s really ornery.  There are no rental cars, so lodges transport their guests wherever they need to go.  We became quite familiar with one main intersection in the middle of town:  one road led to the ferry, one to the airport, one to Bartlett Cove, and the last to our lodge.  Nothing is more than 10 miles away.

Our wonderful home for 3 nights was the beautiful, and thoroughly Alaskan, Bear Track Inn.  Meals and transportation are included. and we ate like kings.  A chef and his assistant worked diligently in the kitchen adjacent to the dining room each evening, serving up 4 gourmet choices each evening. 
Bear Track Inn, Gustavus
Surf & turf night!
Breakfast was cooked to order every day, including amazing muffins made with wild blueberries, and the best pancakes my kids ever tasted.  On the rare chance you were at the lodge for lunch, you got gourmet sandwiches, and if lucky, some leftover chowder from the previous evening.  The owner, Janie, who opened the lodge in 1997, told me about some of the amazing experiences she can arrange for my clients, to create the trip of a lifetime.
Glacier Bay's Bear Track Inn
The cozy lodge

Glacier Bay's Bear Track Inn
Relaxing in the evening (yes, evening)
What to do in Glacier Bay?  Enjoy the scenery – by kayak, boat, foot, or air.  A must do, of course, is a full day glacier tour out of Bartlett Cove.  On the small boats, you travel close to the shoreline so you can see the scenery up close, and also get a good view of the glacial silt and ice bergs.  If there’s something interesting to see, such as a calving glacier, a bird rookery or wildlife, they have the luxury of stopping for a short while so everyone can get a good view.

Glacier Bay cruise
Entering Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay
A brown bear on shore!

Glacier Bay
The scenery never ends

Then if you want more time on the water, I’d suggest a kayak tour.  If you are experienced you can rent kayaks yourself, but you can’t get very far in a few hours.  I’d suggest going with a tour operator who will take you by boat to more scenic location for kayaking, where you might even see whales.  For the more adventurous, there are overnight trips kayaking & camping next to glaciers. You can also go whale watching, or go on a fishing charter.   And then there’s hiking, either in the gorgeous rainforest along the waterfront, or up into the hills for panoramic views.

Kayaking in Glacier Bay
Paddling through a kelp field in Bartlett Cove
Whale watch boats in Gustavus
Boats ready for fishing & whale watching
Glacier Bay
Rainforest walk

We left via a slightly different mode of transportation.  I originally planned to take the ferry to Juneau, but found it did not run on our departure day (oops).  Instead we booked a flight with a local air service, which was actually cheaper than Alaska Airlines.  Our family was the only passenger in the 6-seater plane, so hubby got to fly shotgun, while the rest of us took pictures. 
Glacier Bay
Our plane has arrived
Glacier Bay flight
A happy husband!
It was a clear day with no turbulence, so our pilot took us right over the mountains, which was thrilling.  Now THAT is the way to travel in Alaska!

Alaska flightseeing
On the way to Juneau
Alaska flightseeing
Glacial lake
Alaska is one of my favorite destinations.  I’ve traveled all over the state, including above the Arctic Circle, and I've even driven all the way from California, returning via the Inside Passage ferry!  So if you'd like to plan your own adventure in Alaska, just contact me at suzette@family-treks.com
Glacier Bay cruise