Paul B.

Caribbean golfing at its best at Casa de Campo

Caribbean golfing at its best at Casa de Campo

Turns out Orlando isn’t the only place where hotels are handing out resort credits. The Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic has a new offer out, its “Go Green in March” deal, that’s designed to lure visitors to the resort’s awesome golf courses before April 4. With promised savings of a whopping $525 per stay, this package is ripe for a Bundle Breakdown.

Is it really that great of a deal? We do the math, after the jump. Read More »

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The San Francisco Marriott Union Square is one of hundreds of hotels that will soon be giving away Wi-Fi.

The San Francisco Marriott Union Square is one of hundreds of hotels that will soon offer Wi-Fi free to loyal customers.

For years, Marriott Hotels and its sister brands JW Marriott and Renaissance have been charging for Wi-Fi in rooms, the sort of nickel-and-diming that we just can’t stand. (And we’re not the only ones sick of it.) But an email sent to the brands’ loyalty program members this morning announces some great news, at least for those with gold and platinum status:

Announcing a new Marriott Rewards benefit – starting May 7, free Internet access for all Gold and Platinum Elite members at nearly 450 hotels across the U.S. and Canada. Log on to the Internet free in guest rooms and public spaces; just check in and connect.

Looks like Marriott is taking its first, long-overdue step toward making wireless internet as free and as central to a hotel stay as hot water and cable TV.

A word of caution, though, for those hoping that Marriott may soon knock down the pay wall altogether: In April 2009, rival chain Hyatt started giving away wireless connections to its rewards-program guests — and the brand is still charging non-elite travelers for in-room Wi-Fi at hotels from Maui to Washington, D.C. Progress on the free internet front, it seems, is slow.

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The new Westin-Amazon shop

The new Westin-Amazon shop

Maybe it’s because Oyster reporters already spend dozens of nights a year in hotels, but we’re not completely sold on the new Amazon store from Westin hotels, where the chain is selling everything from green tea-grapefruit body lotion ($14) to a California king bed ($1,695). Tipped off to the shop by The New York Times, we plowed through to see how Westin’s offerings stack up to another hotel brand’s: Kimpton also sells its animal print robes, linens, and, yep, beds ($1,495).

Both chains offer pretty much everything you’d find in your room for sale online, though some of the offerings seem more likely to be snapped up than others. (Honestly, who’s buying Westin’s $15 shower hooks?) But if you’re looking to recreate that great experience at, say, The Westin St. Francis, a bottle of the signature shampoo ($12) is certainly cheaper than booking a night in San Francisco.

If you do decide to spring for a hotel stay while perusing the online shop, Westin does offer one thing that Kimpton doesn’t. Guests that stay two nights at any of the chain’s properties through May 13 get a $100 Amazon gift card. Now that’s a brand extension we heartily endorse.

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The JW Marriott Orlando, where the free resort credit really is free

The JW Marriott Orlando, where the free resort credit really is free

Oyster just posted more than two dozen reviews of Orlando hotels and resorts, and the bundled “resort credit” is currently very popular among them. Basically, it’s a gift certificate to spend on resort services during — and only during — your stay. Sounds nice, but the catch is that booking one of these “specials” for a certain room category is sometimes more expensive than reserving just a room of the same type.

You’ll occasionally net a free drink or free valet parking — things that can indeed add up over a multi-day stay — but these so-called deals deserve particular scrutiny. Here’s a closer look at four hotels that are offering room-and-resort credit packages — and a breakdown of whether paying extra for is actually worth it. As it turns out, sometimes it is…

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Washington, D.C.'s impressive Union Station

Washington, D.C.'s impressive Union Station

Offering creative snow-themed specials, hotels in DC are trying their best to keep beds full this month, in the wake of not one but two blizzards. And New York and Boston have seen their share of harsh winter weather, too. But a new special from Amtrak gives a compelling reason to tour the snowbound East Coast: with a two-week advance purchase, you can save up to 25 percent off fares in the Northeast, meaning trips between New York and either D.C. or Boston are as cheap as 49 bucks one-way.

But where to stay once you arrive? We’ve hand-picked a few good hotels near Union Station, Penn Station, and South Station, ideal for your whistle-stop tour of the wintery East Coast.

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Mmm, mmm… That *is* a tasty burger!

Mmm, mmm… That *is* a tasty burger!

The ubiquitous hotel hamburger: business traveler stand-by, kid-friendly sure-thing, life-saver of the hungover, and current obsession among New York food fanatics. From the $32 sirloin, short rib, foie gras, and black truffle indulgence at db Bistro Moderne (at the swank City Club Hotel) to the bare-bones, beef-on-bun for $9 (at the budget Wellington Hotel), prices and quality can admittedly vary widely.

But that didn’t stop us from surveying 34 properties to determine the average price of a burger in the neighborhood around Times Square: $16.62. With tax and tip, you’re looking at a shade over 20 bucks. Not cheap for ground beef on bread, but certainly a better buy than a double-decker bus tour.

[Photo via Flickr/SimonDoggett]

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Still the same: the impeccable grounds

Still the same: the impeccable grounds

The swanky Miami resort Fisher Island, a 20-minute trip from South Beach, has just completed the first phase of a $60 million renovation, and we spoke with Fisher Island Club CEO Larry Brown to get a full rundown of what’s changed since Oyster reporter Hailey E. checked in last year. The short answer: almost everything.

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The funky, floral Ocean View rooms of the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel

The funky, floral Ocean View rooms of the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel

We just got word about a new “Discover Oahu Package” from the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, a property that made it onto our list of the best hotels in Oahu thanks to a spectacular beachfront location and great views of the ocean from the color-splashed rooms. But does the three-night bundle, which includes accommodations, tours of some of the island’s most important attractions, and a pre-packed picnic lunch, really “take the stress out of planning an adventure-filled vacation for two, while also saving valuable time and money?” Let’s take a closer look at the details.

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New hotness or water-saving gimmick?

New hotness or water-saving gimmick?

This Oyster reporter recently got back from a trip to San Francisco, a place we already thought of as green because of LEED-certified properties like the Orchard and Orchard Garden hotels. But while many eco-initiatives happen behind the scenes, water conservation was front and center in the bathrooms of the San Francisco Marriott Union Square, which completed a full top-to-bottom renovation in April 2009.

The Dual Max toilet we found in our standard King Room lets guests decide whether to use a scant 0.9 gallons or still-conservative 1.6 gallons per flush. It’s a system we’ve seen before in Europe but only rarely in the U.S. In the coming years, though, dual flush toilets might become more commonplace, as the fancy commodes are just $100 or so more expensive than standard toilets, making them a relatively cheap way to “green up” rooms.

But as planet friendly as the Dual Max toilet may be, it still can’t compete on earth awareness with a water-saving gizmo at San Francisco’s Good Hotel: An automatic toilet-top sink that recycles grey water on every flush.

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Hilton's newest (tacky) key card

Hilton's newest key card

By the time the new George Clooney movie hits theaters nationwide — on Christmas Day — will there be anyone left who hasn’t heard about it? Not judging by this key card we were handed last night at the Hilton San Francisco Financial District!

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