November 2009

New York City’s Christmas attractions are as iconic as the city itself: The dazzling tree at Rockefeller Center, fanciful department store window displays, ice skating in Central Park and carriage rides in the snow are celebrated in dozens of movies, books, and songs. But while the wide range of travelers who come to experience the magical wonderland the city becomes in December want to see a lot of the same things, they don’t necessarily want to stay at the same places. We selected our favorite hotels for taking advantage of New York’s Christmas attractions, whether you’re on a romantic getaway or family trip.

Luxury Option

Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton New York Central Park
Price: $748/night
Location: Midtown East, New York City

The Ritz-Carlton Central Park

Horse carriages at the entrance of the Ritz-Carlton Central Park

A classy lobby lounge complete with a resplendent Christmas tree helps make a December stay at the Ritz-Carlton, one of New York’s top luxury hotels, feel inviting and warm. The property dazzles with old-world ambience and doting service, and its location on the southern edge of Central Park means park views from many rooms and an easy stroll over to Wollman Rink, the ice skating rink in Central Park. Guests can also walk a couple blocks east for the decked-out department stores of 5th Avenue, and a couple blocks west for the high-end shops and restaurants, and the outdoor crafts-and-gifts fair, in and around Columbus Circle’s Time Warner Center. The hotel’s on-site BLT Market restaurant offers a fixed price Christmas menu that includes options like ginger butter poached lobster, orange glazed maple leaf duck, and lemon-tangerine baked Alaska.

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The Setai, Miami - Studio City View Suite

The Setai, Miami - Studio City View Suite

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we stop and give thanks for all our hotel-related blessings. Tiny toiletries, fancy, clean sheets, doormen in uniforms that make us smile — and gorgeous hotels in general.

While you may be traveling to homes near and far to share the holiday with friends and family (and may be faced with cat hair situations, screaming relatives, or the tiny twin bed you slept in growing up), don’t forget that there are plenty of “happy” places — should your Turkey Day accommodations turn out to be less than happy. Check out our huge slideshow of all the best luxury hotel rooms across all destinations we’ve visited so far.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Oyster Team!

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Doorman at the Sir Francis Drake

Doorman at the Sir Francis Drake

The Sir Francis Drake in San Francisco is well-known for its uniformed Beefeater doormen — one of which is the city’s most famed hotel staffer, Tom Sweeney, who has been posted on Powell Street for over 25 years. According to local legend, Mr. Sweeney holds the honor of being the most photographed person in San Francisco.

But he — and his Beefeater colleagues — just might have some competition. Meet Doorman John from the nautical-themed Argonaut Hotel: he’s friendly, he’s fun, and he’s rockin’ puffy sleeves and a sweet hat like it ain’t no thang.

Doorman at the Argonaut Hotel

Doorman at the Argonaut Hotel

Both hotels are run by Kimpton, a hotel company that is apparently quite skilled at finding and hiring gentlemen who are very, very good sports. Give the Argonaut a few more years (it opened in 2003; the Drake has been around since 1928), and those sailor-ish uniforms just might creep into just as many San Francisco photographs as those Beefeaters.

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L'Ecole

L'Ecole

[Flickr / roboppy]

Having grown accustomed to elaborate foodie feasts during the boom years, recession-era New Yorkers are always looking for a high-end restaurant discount. Some of the best deals can be found at restaurants attached to culinary academies, where you’ll get meals prepared by soon-to-be top chefs — complete with A-list ingredients, white tablecloths, and all the fancy trappings of a five-star restaurant — but at a fraction of the price because everyone from the kitchen crew to the waitstaff are still in school. These aren’t exactly bargain basement meals, but considering the quality of what you’re getting, they’re some of the best deals around. Read More »

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"Georgina's Mind Eraser," $15

"Georgina's Mind Eraser," $15

Last night, we attended a coming-out party for the new Gossip Girl-themed cocktail menu at the Empire Hotel in New York City. In case you’re not up on the show’s developments (or haven’t been reading New York Magazine’s brilliant episode recaps), the hotel has become something of a character itself on GG since the dapper rich-kid Chuck Bass “purchased” the property sometime during the current season. Yes, he was apparently capable of purchasing a Manhattan hotel just after high school. Right then.

But don’t get caught up in details; let’s talk booze. The Empire lobby bar’s Gossip Girl menu features $15 cocktails based on each of the show’s primary characters: Serena, Blair, Jenny, Chuck, Dan, Georgina, Nate, and Vanessa — plus a special “XOXO” cocktail whose components are kept a secret (kinda like Gossip Girl herself. Get it?)

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Dashing through the…no. Not ready for the snow and freezing cold temps just yet? Give yourself an early gift and enjoy your last moments of sweet, pre-holiday freedom in Hawaii. Or better yet: surprise someone this holiday season with a sweet Hawaiian getaway at one of the top hotels on Oahu, Maui, or Kauai.

We’ll make this even easier for you: here are our picks for the best hotels in Hawaii — for anyone on your holiday gift list.

For the Pampered Prince or Princess

The Adult Pool at the Four Seasons Maui

The Adult Pool at the Four Seasons Maui

The Four Seasons, our pick for the Best Luxury Hotel in Hawaii, is quieter and more subdued than Maui’s more grandiose resorts, but a two-to-one staff-to-guest ratio means over-the-top pampering like nowhere else in Hawaii — poolside Evian spritzes, beachside yoga classes, and they even have someone to unpack your bags for you. The best part? It’s all free — gym and spa access, beachside cabanas, outrigger canoe outings, and even the kids’ club. No ugly “resort fee” surprises either, unlike at most Maui resorts.

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View from The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, San Francisco

View from The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, San Francisco

Simply put, the views from some of the San Francisco hotels we visited are remarkable (others, ahem, are not). To see the yummiest window shots and sweetest cityscapes, take a virtual trip to the City by the Bay by flipping through our Best Hotel Views in San Francisco slideshow.

Slideshow

Slideshow

You’ll be able to spot Alcatraz from Top of the Mark at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins; Coit Tower is visible from some rooms at the Fairmont San Francisco (and yes, other rooms even have views of the lovely Golden Gate Bridge).

Cruise on over to the gallery here.

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‘Tis the season for lots of feastin’! With turkeys, sweets, fatty trimmings, and sugary cocktails in your face all winter long, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to bump fitness center offerings up closer to the top of your priority list when you’re searching for a place to stay. To offset your festive calorie bombs during your holiday travel, you best be hitting those hotel gyms — and here are our selections for the finest hotel fitness centers in Los Angeles.

Terranea Resort

Fitness Center, Terranea Resort

Fitness Center, Terranea Resort

With floor-to-ceiling windows and top-of-the-line equipment (as well as a separate exercise studio with spinner bikes), the Terranea’s large fitness center feels more like a full-service club than a typical hotel gym. On the less-rigorous side, the resort offers boccie ball and croquet terrain with free equipment rental, and three pools with great views of the ocean.

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Hotel Gansevoort

Hotel Gansevoort

One of the great pleasures in exploring New York‘s bar scene is finding those secret gardens and back patios that make summertime drinking infinitely more enjoyable. But a little chill in the air doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time for boozing hibernation — you just have to look a little harder. (Hint: start with hotels.) With the help of heaters, warm drinks and a little creativity, these six watering holes put a wintry spin on outdoor drinking.

Plunge: The dress code and door drama at the Hotel Gansevoort‘s rooftop bar can drive casual drinkers a little batty, but it’s hard to argue with the goods at this scene-y Meatpacking District spot, namely, the glass-surrounded, 365-day-a-year heated outdoor pool, with an adjacent, uncovered rooftop area as well. 18 9th Ave. Read More »

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We’ve already spotlighted the creepiest pieces of hotel art we’d encountered in Vegas, New York, and Miami (we chose “creepy” rather than “quirky” because most of those pieces appeared to be watching us). But after our San Fran and Los Angeles trips, we came home with plenty more photos of artsy, wacky-coolness found in the hotels we reviewed on the West Coast.

Feast your eyes upon (or avert them from, depending on your taste) the Cali edition of our Quirky Hotel Decor Hall of Fame.

Spotted in Sofitel L.A.'s fitness center

Spotted in Sofitel L.A.'s fitness center

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