Pearls of Wisdom

We all know that stomach-sinking sensation of showing up to a hotel and finding that it is nothing like we expected. Critters for roommates, chemical plants on the premises (with just “a safe amount of pollution,” the hotel promises), bulletproof glass in reception… When you only get one or two vacations a year, you don’t want to feel like you’re sleeping in a prison. We here at Oyster have encountered some hotels that, are, well, just plain disasters as we’ve traveled the world, taking photos of every nook and cranny. But these 10, they’re the worst of the worst.

La Semana Hotel, New York City

La Semana

It’s a special kind of hotel that earns a reputation for being both disgusting AND dangerous: Within five minutes of entering La Semana, it’s evident that it is both. Not only have there been reports of mentally unstable clientele and gunshots, but the check-in clerk stands behind bulletproof glass, and many rooms’ windows are covered in bars and barbwire, which creates the feeling of entering a prison. The rest is downhill from there: Holes in the (barely six-foot-high) ceilings, no doors on the dirty bathrooms, exposed wires, disgustingly dirty TV remotes, furniture that looks too cheap for a tailgate party, and beds without blankets make this one of the seediest hotel experiences in New York.

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 Jacob Tomsky is a hotel expert, but don’t ask him for advice on where to stay the night. Sure, he’s spent 10 years in hotels — but most of that time was racked up behind the front desk. He saw plenty from that vantage point, though, and in 2013, he published his laugh-out-loud memoir, Heads in Beds, which many have compared to Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Through the memoir, readers get a glimpse into the inner workings of a luxury hotel…and some of the late-night antics Tomsky witnessed – plus tips and tricks for scoring free minibar snacks and upgrades, and just how much to tip the bellman. Today, he’s busy working on the follow-up to his New York Times bestselling book. We caught up with the author in the lobby of the Trump SoHo New York to get his take on hotel reviews, robot bellmen (why not?), and more.

Get all his insider deets after the jump >>

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FourSeasonsSelfieSMiles24Jul2014Picture this: You’re on a dream vacation in Maui with your significant other. The sun is setting over the Pacific Ocean and the light is just right for a photo that will inspire hundreds of likes on your Instagram feed. (By the way, check out ours!!) Sure, you could take 10 awkward selfies and hope that in at least one of them you both look naturally relaxed and happy — with the sunset actually in the frame. Or, if you’re staying at the Four Seasons Resort Maui, you can simply rely on photo ambassador Scott Miles (or SMiles as his name tag reads). His job is to take free photos of guests using their cameras or smartphones — #nofilter. So we picked Scott’s brain about beach photo tips, celebrity encounters, and the golden rule.

See what we discovered after the jump >>

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Business Center

These days, most are aware that you have to be super vigilant when entering your personal info on the web, especially when doing so on a public computer. But a nice little wakeup call never hurts, and this time it comes in the form of a warning from none other than the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security. Got your attention? Late last week, the duo sent out a non-public advisory to numerous departments within, and members of, the hospitality industry in response to a recent slew of arrests after hackers were able to steal information from business center computers at several major hotels in Dallas. Hackers were able to access hotel guests’ personal and financial information, such as bank, retirement, and personal webmail accounts, with keystroke-logging malware. Notified hotels are now addressing the issue, but it’s good to keep in mind that you should really only use public computers — while at hotels and elsewhere — for surfing the web. Just a helpful travel tip to keep you, and your personal information, safe! [KrebsonSecurity.com]

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Bryce on a plane headed to the Philippines #selfie

Bryce Maddock is the Founder and CEO of TaskUs, a leading provider of outsourced customer support and Big Data services, and as such he spends a lot of time on the road and in the air.

Over the past three years, Maddock has grown TaskUs from a team of two founders working out of their garage to an international service provider with over 450 full time employees working at offices in Santa Monica and Manila, Philippines.

We caught up with the traveling business owner (and he’s hard to pin down!) to pick his brain on all things travel. Check out the q&a — and some photos Bryce has taken during his travels — after the jump!

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Easily one of the most beautiful hotels in the United States — if not the entire world — the Post Ranch Inn offers a romantic, intimate stay amid the gorgeous natural surrounding of Big Sur. An eco-sensitivity is palpable throughout the property, particularly in the rooms and at the award-winning spa. The treatment menu is exhaustive (in a good way, of course), aiming to help guests relax and get in touch with both the surrounding nature and, more importantly, themselves.

Shaman Jon Rasmussen at the Post Ranch Inn. Photo Credit: Gabriel Skvor.

To aid this rediscovery, the hotel offers a variety of shamanistic services — including illumination, soul retrieval, divination, and fire and drum ceremonies — from Jon Rasmussen. A full-time shaman, adviser, and author, Rasmussen has had very active dreams and out-of-body experiences, as well as several near-death experiences at an early age, which catalyzed his interests in spiritual teachings. He spoke with us recently about his life’s work and how the Post Ranch Inn plays into his practice. Check out our full interview with him after the jump »  Read More »

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April Yvonne; Photo Courtesy of Laurie Bracewell

The luxury Capella hotel brand, with properties in Los Cabos and Singapore, has landed in the nation’s capital. Capella DC‘s doors officially open in April, and the hotel is sure to exude the same elegance and glamour that the brand is known for. But this Capella will have something that the others do not — it’s own resident stylist. Yep, you read that correctly. Like some of our other favorite hotels with over-the-top (but truly awesome) services, the Capella hotel caters to it’s guests every need — even their fashion needs. Stylist April Yvonne, creator of MyDCStyle.com, will serve as the hotel’s resident stylist, assisting guests with shopping and styling during their visits. In the past, we’ve sat down with a nightlife concierge, a genealogy butler — even a pet psychic. So we couldn’t wait to have our very first chat with a resident stylist — not to mention the only one that we know of — and get all the scoop on what’s hot and what’s not. From packing tips to what puts D.C. on the fashion map, April answers all of our questions. Check out the interview after the jump!

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Some hotels go above and beyond to satisfy their guests’ every need. At a few of our favorite hotels, we’ve encountered everything from a Genealogy Butler in Ireland to a Nightlife Concierge in Miami. While some may label these services over-the-top, we can’t help but be a little excited about this new trend in all-out pampering.  After all, the sommeliers, concierges, butlers, and psychics (yes, psychics!) of the hospitality world have some interesting insights for us once we tracked them down and got the skinny on just what goes on behind closed doors.

Dr. Pepper Schwartz

We recently sat down with Dr. Pepper Schwartz, the Romance Concierge at the Salish Lodge and Spa in Snoqualmie Valley. Located about 45 minutes outside of Seattle overlooking a gorgeous waterfall, the Salish is among the most romantic spots in the Pacific Northwest. It is only fitting, then, that the hotel goes the extra mile in catering to couples — especially with Valentine’s Day less than a month away! (Incidentally, the Salish is ready and waiting for the rush of couples — check out their “Month of Love” specials here.)

Dr. Pepper, a native of Snoqualmie Valley, has a PhD in Sociology from Yale University and is currently a professor at Washington University. Her work has been featured on The Today Show, Oprah, Good Morning America, and NPR. Dr. Pepper is also the Love and Relationship Expert for AARP and the Chief Relationship Expert for Perfectmatch.com, as well as the author of 17 books on romance and relationships. Thoroughly impressed? We are!

Perfect Places for Passion and Romance at Any Age, Dr. Pepper’s upcoming book (which features the Salish), will serve as a guide to the most romantic travel destinations across the globe. For her insights into romancing your special someone on vacation, read our full interview after the jump »

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As the Four Seasons' resident nightlife concierge, Ankur Lakhani knows all the hottest spots on any given night*

Many hotels grant guests unique stays, but a select few go a step further by offering over-the-top services. While some are bit excessive — even for our tastes — others provide distinct experiences for their individual guests’ needs that can make a vacation that much more memorable.

For those visiting Miami, it’s all about the party scene. Miami boasts one of the liveliest nightlife scenes in the country, and many top hotels in the area provide exclusive services for connecting guests to all the hottest places to see and be seen. But the Four Seasons Miami goes above and beyond, with an on-site nightlife expert who works around the clock to get his guests access to nearly any hotspot in the area, be it an event, party, or venue.

His work doesn’t stop there, however. Ankur Lakhani can keep the party going well into the night, thanks to his long list of contacts and his commitment to giving guests the VIP treatment. While most hotels can help guests find tickets or tables around town, Lakhani gets you behind the velvet rope and into the after party. Lakhani knows why people come to Miami and stops at nothing to try to deliver a true “Magic City” experience. Check out our Q&A with Lakhani after the jump!

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Unique amenities and personalized services are becoming increasingly in-demand at luxury hotels. Some might label these services over-the-top — and some of them are — but many of the butlers, sommeliers, and experts of the hotel world are performing real and important services for guests. And we here at Oyster want to hear their stories — especially if they include exciting and heartwarming tales from Ireland’s rich past! Descendants of the Emerald Isle are scattered far and wide around the globe, yet many often find themselves returning home to discover their roots. And giving them a helping hand is Helen Kelly, the Genealogy Butler at The Shelbourne Dublin, A Renaissance Hotel. A professional genealogist, Kelly has been aiding the Irish in their quest for their ancestral history since the 1980s, and has worked with The Shelbourne since 1995 as, quite literally, the only Genealogy Butler in the world.

The Shelbourne's Genealogy Butler, Helen Kelly, "empowers" guests to track down their ancestors.*

The Shelbourne Dublin itself is a historic icon located on St. Stephen’s Green. Built in 1824, the property has witnessed major historical events firsthand (the Irish Constitution was signed here in 1922) and has hosted plenty of famous guests (including Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Princess Grace Kelly, Bill Clinton, and Bono).

Hotel guests, who perhaps get inspired by their storied surroundings, can make an appointment with Kelly to review whatever information they have on their ancestors. She will then be able to offer guidance on how to best track down more information in a city where the mass of historical documents and institutions is daunting. Over a one-hour consultation — which costs 100 Euro — guests will receive a full assessment from Kelly on their ancestral history, as well as an overview of the history, culture, and landscape of Ireland.

To read more about Kelly’s work as Genealogy Butler, check out our interview after the jump.

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