Hotel Review: Gates Hotel South Beach

Hotel Review: Gates Hotel South Beach

Overview: Recent upgrades make The Gates Hotel South Beach a great value for modern style at a reasonable price. And the food is good, too.

The Gates South Beach
2360 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 860-9444
800-445-8667
miamh_rm@hilton.com

The Gates Hotel South Beach

I’d never been to Miami before checking out the newly relaunched Gates Hotel in South Beach this December, and the four-star Hilton hotel offered the perfect entrance into the eternal summer of South Beach.

Located right on the busy Collins Avenue, the Gates Hotel South Beach a short walk to the beach, the surrounding city, and several peaceful residential streets. Within the span of an hour, I strolled down the boardwalk at sunset, gazeed over the pond from a bridge, and got a drink in the upscale pool-flanking bar at The Setai. The hotel is also a short walk from The Bass, a museum full of quirky modern art.

poolside bar at Gates Hotel South Beach

When I got to my room, the first thing I noticed was the giant bed. “King size” would be an understatement — I could sleep diagonally on it. I’m a terrible sleeper, but the soft mattress and soft, luxurious pillows let me rest better than I had in a while.

bedroom at Gates Hotel South Beach

The top-floor room was spacious, with a desk, a board to put my stuff on, a separate segment for the toilet and shower, and a view of the pool outside the lobby. The WiFi was not super speedy but fast enough and easy to access with my name and room number, and there were outlets all over so I could plug in my computer from the desk or bed. There was no mini-bar, but there was a fridge and a coffee and tea maker. The only downside was that there was another room perpendicular to mine, so the people in it could see me if I left my blinds up.

Cabana by the pool at the Gates Hotel South Beach

One of the hotel’s biggest standouts was its food. When I checked in, the staffer at the front desk greeted me with a hot chocolate chip cookie. From room service, I got a surprisingly delicious cookies and cream milkshake, zucchini chips, and shrimp Caesar salad. Later on in the trip, I ate at the hotel’s restaurant Agaveros Cantina, which features unique Mexican dishes like Tamale Bites and Elote Fritters. The same restaurant also served breakfast for an extra charge, including a continental buffet and a menu with omelettes and other hot dishes.

“Welcome to Miami” played through my head as I walked through the halls. Between the Gates’ convenient location, luxurious accommodations, and friendly staff, I felt welcome, and I’d trust them to welcome me again.

Rooms:

King rooms and double queen rooms are available with or without pool view and with or without terraces.

King suites with separate living room also available.

Tech:

Free wifi throughout hotel

Family-friendly amenities:

This hotel is not explicitly family-friendly, but you can bring children. Cribs are available, but no extra beds.

Swimming pool on the terrace.

Food options:

The onsite Mexican-inspired Agaveros Cantina offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Pool bar and lobby bar offer lunch and dinner until 10pm.

Deals and Activities Nearby:
Parking:

Valet parking available.

Suzannah Weiss

Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer and editor currently serving as a contributing editor for Teen Vogue and a regular contributor to Glamour, Bustle, Vice, Refinery29, Elle, The Washington Post, and more. She authored a chapter of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and frequently discusses gender, sex, body image, and social justice on radio shows and podcasts. Whoopi Goldberg cited one of her articles on The View in a debate over whether expressing your desires in bed is a feminist act. (She thinks it is.)

Hotel Review: Hotel Casa Blanca Mexico City

Hotel Review: Hotel Casa Blanca Mexico City

Overview: While it may be fitting for those traveling on a budget, this is most definitely not a five-star hotel. Don’t let the advertising fool you: You get what you pay for.

Hotel Casa Blanca
Lafragua 7
Colonia Tabacalera
Delegación Cuauhtémoc
Mexico City, Mexico
+52 (55) 5096 4500
reservaciones@hotel-casablanca.com.mx

While Googling places to stay in Mexico City, I was surprised to find a five-star hotel (according to its website and Google, at least) for just $54/night. After reading decent reviews, I booked four nights at Hotel Casa Blanca.

The first thing that struck me about the lobby was how dark and, frankly, ugly it was. The marble floors, brown paisley benches, and giant abstract sculptures looked like they’d been put up in the 50s — and not renovated since. One consolation was that they gave out water flavored with pineapple and watermelon. The jugs were the nicest-looking things in the lobby.

I hoped my room would be more attractive, but it kept up the theme of old-looking wooden furniture and pasty, porous white walls. One window-covered wall let lots of light in, but I had to keep the sheer curtain up over it because it faced the courtyard, so people from the other rooms could look in. The mattress was firm, leading me to wake up with back pain, though the pillows were squishy. Instead of a comforter, there were two thin blankets, one woven and one softer. The atmosphere felt kind of depressing, so I turned on some TV in Spanish to lighten the mood.

hotel casa blanca mexico city

The bathroom was adequate, with bar soap, shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner, but the shower was small and a bit dark, since there was no light in there. There weren’t any electrical outlets by the bed, so I had to work from the desk if I needed to plug anything in. The WiFi was decent but a bit slow when I uploaded images and watched videos.

The lobby wasn’t well-suited for work either: The benches got crowded as guests trickled in, and the tables were low and far away from the seats. I snuck over a couple times to work from the Meridian next door, which had nice furniture, a conveniently located outlet, quicker WiFi, and a Starbucks downstairs.

My first night, I ate from the buffet at Hotel Casa Blanca’s restaurant thinking I’d get to try authentic Mexican food, but most of it was actually not Mexican: The main dishes were a confused mix of penne alla vodka, fish fillet, fried rice, mashed potatoes, and refried beans. There were a few good Mexican desserts, though, including flan, plantains with cream, and rainbow jello. Still, I’d recommend that anyone seeking good Mexican food go across the street to the restaurant in Sanborns.

Many of the hotel’s online reviews talked about its location, but other than its proximity to the Plaza de la Republica and a bunch of restaurants and food stands, I didn’t find the area to be anything special. Most of the surrounding buildings were other hotels or touristy restaurants. (At one, I got enchiladas with barely melted cheese slices on top and liquidy guacamole.) With heavy traffic and many streets missing crosswalks, just crossing the street was stressful.

While it may be fitting for those traveling on a budget, this is most definitely not a five-star hotel. Don’t let the advertising fool you: You get what you pay for. If I could go back in time, I would’ve paid twice as much for a bed I could sleep well in and an interior I liked to look at.

Rooms:

Family rooms with two double beds and two pull-out sofas available.

Uncomfortable beds.

Tech:

No outlets by the beds.
Wifi adequate but slow for video.

Family-friendly amenities:

Swimming pool on the terrace.
Bike rental available.

Food options:

Two restaurants and two bars on site.
Many restaurants and food carts nearby.

Deals and Activities Nearby:
Parking:

Free covered parking available.

Suzannah Weiss

Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer and editor currently serving as a contributing editor for Teen Vogue and a regular contributor to Glamour, Bustle, Vice, Refinery29, Elle, The Washington Post, and more. She authored a chapter of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and frequently discusses gender, sex, body image, and social justice on radio shows and podcasts. Whoopi Goldberg cited one of her articles on The View in a debate over whether expressing your desires in bed is a feminist act. (She thinks it is.)

Hotel Review: Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat

Hotel Review: Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat

Overview: If you’re a fan of the outdoors, you’ll likely find Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat a paradise. But if you’re used to hotels with mini bars and memory foam mattresses, you might find it challenging.

Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat
Yelapa
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
+52-322 209-5246
losnaranjos5@gmail.com

When I learned that a retreat I was interested in took place at the edge of the jungle in Yelapa, Mexico, I was hesitant to go. Cabins without walls? Mosquitos? Possibly snakes? No thank you. But looking at photos of Los Naranjos Jungle Retreat gave me some peace of mind. The rooms were wall-less, but they were surrounded by beautiful flora. After gaining reassurance that the chances of seeing snakes were low, I decided to go.

I flew to the Puerto Vallarta airport, caught a cab to Los Muertos beach, then rode a water taxi to Yelapa. I was reassured to see tourists on the boat with shirts reading “Yelapa.” So this wasn’t the middle of nowhere. On the shore, there were restaurants and people sitting on the beach, where Los Naranjos’s owner and his dog met me to bring me to the “eco hotel.” As we left the beach, a dog bared its teeth, people passed by on horses, and we waded through a pond. We also passed a little store where I bought conditioner for my hair. We were still within civilization.

los naranjos jungle retreat treehouse

When we got there, I entered an (also wall-less) common room with a kitchen, a hammock, and cushioned benches. The dining tables were just outside. Then, the owner showed me to my room, which was up a ladder and had a thatched roof. Inside was a table and three beds covered by mosquito nets. Not exactly luxurious, but I wouldn’t be roughing it either. I got the only full-sized bed in the room (the others were twin-sized), and while the mattress was firm, I could sink into it a bit. The blanket was thin but warm, and the pillows were comfy. There were two lights hanging from the ceiling, a fan, and an electrical outlet by my bed.

The closest bathroom was up another ladder, with two toilet stalls, two showers, and two sinks. There weren’t any problems with the bathroom, though one quirk was that you had to throw the toilet paper in the trash. The staff explained that anything that gets flushed down the toilet has to be dug up from underground, since Los Naranjos tries to minimize its impact on the environment.

los naranjos jungle retreat treetops

There was a WiFi connection, but it wasn’t quick enough to get anything done. It took several minutes just to load my emails. There were a few cafes nearby with slightly faster WiFi, but none were adequate for fast-paced work. If I had to send an email, my best bet was to use my phone. The data connection was decent decent enough to do this but not to use my personal hotspot. Lesson learned: Don’t try to get work done in Yelapa.

My first night in Los Naranjos was rough. Even with my earplugs in, I heard roosters (which, it turns out, make noise all night), howling dogs, and music from a nearby house. Every time one of my roommates walked, the ground slightly shook. I woke up many times throughout the night and got up in the morning with a sore back. But my second night was better: My ears were getting used to the jungle already. The only remaining annoyance was having to navigate through the dark (and I do mean dark — I needed a flashlight) to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The mosquito net protected my bed, but I got my share of bites during the day. Thankfully, I didn’t see any snakes.

The surrounding village was adorable, with little Mexican shops and restaurants owned by local families, the beach a 15 minute walk away, and a hiking trail leading to a waterfall. I had all my meals at Los Naranjos, though. They were a delicious mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs from chickens on the resort grounds, and fish caught from a nearby river.

If you’re a fan of the outdoors, you’ll likely find Los Naranjos a paradise. But if you’re used to hotels with mini bars and memory foam mattresses, you might find it challenging. Personally, I enjoyed jogging past wild dogs in the morning and seeing the stars at night, but I was counting down the days until I got a quiet room and private bathroom again.

 

Rooms:
Tech:
Family-friendly amenities:
Food options:
Deals and Activities Nearby:
Parking:

Suzannah Weiss

Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer and editor currently serving as a contributing editor for Teen Vogue and a regular contributor to Glamour, Bustle, Vice, Refinery29, Elle, The Washington Post, and more. She authored a chapter of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and frequently discusses gender, sex, body image, and social justice on radio shows and podcasts. Whoopi Goldberg cited one of her articles on The View in a debate over whether expressing your desires in bed is a feminist act. (She thinks it is.)

Stylish Small Hotels in Paris

Stylish Small Hotels in Paris

Stylish Small Hotels in Paris

This post is brought to you by XL Airways.

Do your summer plans include a trip to Paris? I wish mine did. If you’re going to the most stylish city in the world (according to an unscientific survey of just me), don’t just stay in a boring old hotel room. Stay in a hotel as stylish as the city itself. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:

High style hotel near the Picasso Museum

Hotel du Petit Moulin

This super-stylish hotel at the site of the oldest bakery in Paris – where Victor Hugo bought his baguettes! – in the Marais was designed by Christian Lacroix and features his trademark mixture of patterns and shapes. Guests rave about the superb service, the playful décor, the great location near the Picasso Museum.

Rooms €185 – 355 per night.

Small stylish hotel in Paris - Hotel du Petit Moulin

Hotel du Petit Moulin
29/31 rue de Poitou, 75003 Paris
+33 1 42 74 10 10

Good hotel for runners and swimmers in Paris

Hotel Molitor

If you’re a runner or a swimmer visiting Paris, you need to give Hotel Molitor a try. Built in 1929 and set around an iconic courtyard pool, the Molitor was recently rejuvenated by Accor hotels as part of their MGallery Collection of luxury properties. In addition to the heated outdoor pool, there is an indoor pool and spa. For runners, the nearby Bois de Boulougne provides miles of running routes through shaded woods. The hotel is not far from Roland Garros Stadium, for fans of tennis. Guests love the wonderful concierge, terrific service, tasty breakfast, and modern rooms. The location is somewhat far from central Paris, and the closest Metro stop is a bit of a walk, but the experience is unique in Paris.

Rooms from €260.

Stylish Hotel in Paris - Hotel MolitorHotel Molitor
13 rue Nungesser et Coli, 75016 Paris
+33 1 56 07 08 50

Design hostel with easy airport access

Generator Hostel

This chain of design hostels has outposts across Europe, with a focus on contemporary design. The clientele naturally skews younger – it is a hostel, after all – but there are some private rooms available, and many guests says it feels more like a hotel than a hostel, with bathrooms inside the rooms (even the shared rooms). There is a lively bar in the basement, so families might want to look for an upper level room. Don’t miss the Moroccan “chill-out” room and rooftop bar overlooking Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. The location near Gare du Nord makes it easily accessible from the airport, though it is not really close to most tourist destinations.

Quad room (bunk beds!) perfect for families from €109.

Twin Terrace Room at Generator Hostel Paris

Generator Hostel
9-11 Place du Colonel Fabien, 75010 Paris
+33 1 70 98 84 00

Central stylish hotel in Paris

Hotel Crayon

For style close to the center of Paris, you can do no better than Hotel Crayon. The rooms, though smallish, are exquisitely decorated with bright colors and artwork. Guests love the location close to the Louvre and Metro stations to connect to all parts of the city. Families can reserve adjacent rooms, and breakfast is free for kids under 16.

Rooms from €144

Small stylish hotel in central Paris, Hotel Crayon

Hotel Crayon
25, rue du Bouloi, 75001 Paris
+33 1 42 36 54 19

New flights from LAX to Paris

On June first, XL Airways is launching a new flight from LAX to Paris three times per week. Never heard of XL Airways? They’ve been providing long-haul flights from France for 20 years, and they are now serving to the US market. Their affordable fares include meals and baggage in the ticket price.

This post was brought to you by XL Airways.

Want to remember these for later? Pin this to your Pinterest board for vacation ideas!

Stylish Small Hotels in Paris

Three Keys to Great Short-Term Apartment Rentals in Colombia

Three Keys to Great Short-Term Apartment Rentals in Colombia

Today’s post on apartment rentals in Colombia comes from Courtenay Strickland from the Barranquilla or Bust blog. Read more about her family’s adventures in Colombia below the post.

If you’re traveling with one or more small children, you may have experienced a scenario like this:

9:30 PM – Attempt to put toddler to bed in your hotel room. Your room is not a suite and therefore the portable crib is a few steps from your bed.
10:00 PM – Feel desperation creeping in as toddler looks at you, bright-eyed and ready to play, from said crib.
10:30 PM – Sit with Significant Other on step just outside your hotel room door, or worse, in the room’s bathroom, in an attempt to get toddler to sleep.
11:00 PM – Climb in bed and try to relax. Toddler screeches periodically from his all-hands-on-deck position.
1:00 AM – Realize that this is not going to work. Toddler is ready to PART-TÉ (exclamation point).
2:00 AM – Pull toddler into bed with you and your S.O.
3:00 AM – Pry toddler foot from your ribs while trying not to fall off your tiny slice of bed.
6:00 AM – Struggle to wake up for packed day of amazing touring.

For people whose children usually sleep in a separate room, the one-room hotel thing can lead to serious sleep deprivation in the middle of what’s supposed to be a vacation. The more kids or adults involved, the more disruptive – or frighteningly expensive – the situation. But there’s good news! Even if you are traveling abroad, you may be able to stop the suffering for a lot less money than you think.

My husband and I experienced the “party all night” scenario during our first trip to Santa Marta, a beautiful town on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. The truly lovely boutique hotel in which we stayed would have been perfect for a romantic couple’s getaway, which this wasn’t. We had picked a place that didn’t match our needs. Contrast that with our next trip to Santa Marta: we rented an apartment on the beach for less money than the cost of the hotel (in both cases, we stayed for two nights) and had the benefit of two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a living room, and a balcony with a water view. My dad and his wife had their own room in the same place, and at night we were able to put our son to sleep in an empty bedroom (with baby monitor) while the adults kicked back in the living room. Since I’m among those made crazy by sleep deprivation, I enjoyed the second trip exponentially more than the first. My husband agreed. Since that trip, unless it’s “just us,” we go for a private apartment rental rather than a hotel every time.

Fortunately, there are plenty of reputable websites that will allow you to rent private apartments online without renting your own home in return. These rentals, which can be for as little as one night, are almost as easy to arrange as a hotel room and often the same price or cheaper – which is saying a lot given that you’re almost assuredly going to get more space. My family has rented apartments four times in Colombia: twice in Cartagena, once in Santa Marta, and once in Medellín. Here’s what you should know, based on our experiences:

1 – Want the right apartment? Ask the right questions.

Since this isn’t a hotel, there can be a lot of variation, and some things that you might expect to be standard may not be. For example, some apartments on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, where it’s so hot that the cold water is not very cold, may not have hot water. One of the Cartagena apartments we rented didn’t, and I really missed it. Also, depending on the age of the kids traveling with you, you may want to pay particular attention to safety concerns – such as whether that chic floating staircase is going to look dangerously fun to your two year-old, or whether you’ll be able to enjoy that balcony given the spaces between the railings. Also, you may want to ask whether the rooms, or at least the bedrooms, have air conditioning (central air is very rare due to high energy costs). If not, do the windows have grates? Leaving the windows open on a high floor can be a big hazard for young children. Lastly, if you have back problems or otherwise want a cushy mattress, ask about that too. In Santa Marta, the thin, super firm foam mattresses that are fairly common in Colombian households were a problem for my dad who has back problems. The point is to find a space that works for you. Give yourself a few days to allow for email Q&A’s prior to reserving.

2 – Find out what “extras” you need to bring.

During our Santa Marta apartment stay, I realized that I hadn’t asked basic questions like: Are there towels? Soap? Toilet paper? The Santa Marta apartment was awesome, but not fully stocked. We ended up getting over-priced soap, toilet paper, and scratchy towels at a nearby quicky mart. I could have packed those things if I had realized we needed them. Oh, and if you’re a coffee drinker, find out if there’s a coffee maker – usually there is – and bring your own coffee and fixings. For our next trip to Medellín, I asked the right questions and we arrived fully prepared.

A beautiful beach and a fishing boat at Parque Tayrona

The natural beauty of Parque Tayrona

3 – Look for listings with a lot of reviews, and read them.

The reviews will help you avoid problems. In one Cartagena apartment, many of the light bulbs were either burnt out or missing. Eventually, someone came by to screw a few in, but it cost us a lot of time. On another Cartagena trip, the very beautiful apartment we rented had roaches in the kitchen. Ick. Also, both Cartagena apartments were in very large, high-rise condo buildings where “check in” took forever. Nothing we experienced was something that I haven’t also been through with a hotel, but the minor blips did teach us to look for places with ample good reviews. Speaking of which, do your fellow travelers a solid and write reviews of the places you rent, especially if your experience is exceptionally good or bad. The rest of us will thank you.

A train that's part of Medellín's impressive integrated transit system -- which includes rail, buses, cable cars, and free bicycles -- cuts through the city.

A train that’s part of Medellín’s impressive integrated transit system — which includes rail, buses, cable cars, and free bicycles — cuts through the city.

Of course, sometimes the best thing about renting an apartment is meeting nice people, and the bonus is getting a more local experience. During our most recent Medellín trip, we got a taste of what it might be like to live there by staying in a residential area – something that would have been harder to do if booking a hotel. And believe it or not, we ran into the apartment owner not once but twice among the thousands (millions?) of people who descended upon our city of residence, Barranquilla, for Carnival. It was a reminder that apartment renting can lend a personal touch to your stay that most hotels just can’t. If you’re planning a trip to Colombia or elsewhere, put it on your list of options. You’ll be glad you did – especially if you have kids and like to sleep!

~~~~~~~~~~

About the Author

Courtenay Strickland is awesome!Little did Courtenay Strickland realize that becoming a parent would mean more travel adventures, not less! Almost two years ago, Courtenay relocated with her husband and toddler son to Barranquilla, Colombia – a move that was featured on the HGTV House Hunters International episode, “Reconnecting family ties in Barranquilla, Colombia”. In between consulting for a variety of nonprofits that promote social justice and better communities for all, Courtenay runs (and sweats) in the coastal heat and writes about her family’s cultural adventures on Barranquilla or Bust! International Relocation and Other Leaps of Faith. More than anything, she enjoys showing her son as much as she can of the world around him and creating community among others who seek to make the most of life’s journey.

~~~~~~~~~~

Courtenay Strickland explains how to find the best short-term rental properties in Colombia... and beyond.

Why use home exchange for family travel?

Why use home exchange for family travel?

Our prize for this year’s Passports with Purpose fundraiser is a one-year membership in Knok.com, one of the fastest-growing home exchange networks on the internet. We asked Sonia, a current Knok member, about her experience with home exchange for family travel.

Why did you decide to use a home exchange for your trip?

When we travel we don’t like hotels too much. Very often they are aseptic and impersonal places, and in all cases smaller than homes. We walk a lot, and arriving home and having to stay in a room is not our ideal situation. So we tend to look for apartments when travelling. In this case, I was travelling to a conference for professional reasons. After a tiring day, getting to a place more similar to a “home” is a very nice feeling. Rental apartments are nice in that sense, but exchanged homes are even better, since they are real homes to someone.

How did you decide to use Knok.com?

After some research on several websites I thought they looked more professional than other sites, which often look a bit amateur. Plus, they offer insurance for our home when exchanging, which helps us to be more relaxed when we exchange. We are very happy with the decision, Knok works very well, and everything went smoothly.

What do you see as the benefits to home exchange, as opposed to staying in a hotel or hostel or other accommodation?

Having a larger space when you get home in the evening/night is a huge plus. Also, the price is much more affordable! It is not our case yet, but if we had had kids the savings would have been very important. And finally, being in a “home” gives the trip a special touch, you feel a bit less like a tourist and a bit more like a local. That is what many of us look for when travelling, and something which is so complicated to reach…
PS- And we got very nice insider tips about restaurants in town!

How long did it take for you to find a match for your home exchange?

It was fairly quick. We sent a few emails to different home exchangers, and one of them answered within two days. He works with his computer from anywhere, so he was very flexible with dates, etc. We agreed quickly after some email exchanges, and the day after we had everything organized. And then we got another positive answer from another exchanger, but unfortunately we could not exchange with 2 places at the same time!

How did your family feel about home exchange?

We loved it! At first, since I travelled to Amsterdam for professional reasons, my fiancé was not going to come with me. However, finding a home to swap was the perfect opportunity for us to share this trip: I could work in the mornings and enjoy the city with him from lunch time on. In addition, having a full home for us made it easier for him to have a place to chill out; to have a base to come back and have lunch or a nap if tired after walking and visiting around on his own, etc. So he was definitely happy about the experience!

Would you recommend Knok to other families?

Totally. You can travel and experience life in your destination from a local’s point of view, in a much nicer way than at a hotel. And if you have kids I am sure swapping homes is a much cheaper and nicer way to travel. Kids need their space, and hotels (rooms, restaurants, etc.) are not their ideal environment.

Do you have any advice for people who are thinking about a home exchange holiday?

Take good pictures of your home to upload on the website (the other families want to really see where they are going to live), and send emails without hesitation, since not everyone will be able to exchange with your city and in your dates. It is useful to have a bit of flexibility with that (dates and exact location) so that agreeing with someone else and matching agendas, etc. is easier. And finally, enjoy the experience, it is such a nice feeling to get home after a tiring day!

Donate now for a chance to win a one-year membership in Knok from Passports with Purpose!