Greetings! Last week we left off from the Bahamas, and if you are following me on Twitter, then you know that from there I traveled all around the U.S. Highlights included attending my brother’s surprise birthday party in Connecticut and the grand opening of an amazing new luxurious hotel in Chicago. We also have my cousin Nicole’s trip to Beaver Creek, Colorado, where she partook in Bon Appetit‘s Master Chef Classic.
BAHAMAS – FLORIDA
From Nassau I flew 39 minutes to Fort Lauderdale on jJetBlue. I never realized how close paradise is to the U.S., and with JetBlue’s individual entertainment monitors that feature 36 channels of Direct TV, it’s almost too close.
I spent a few days in Delray Beach, Florida, at my sister Carol’s house, catching up on work. Of course I was there not only to spend time with my family, but I also needed to be in Connecticut later in the week, so it was a whole lot easier (and cheaper) than flying back to L.A.
Since I waited to buy a one-way ticket, I decided to save some money and cash in 12,500 American miles for a Miami (MIA) to New York (LGA) ticket. Instead of burdening my sister for a ride to the Miami Aairport, I took Tri-Rail. From Delray to the Miami Aairport stop it took 90 minutes and cost $6.25 (during peak fare) times. From the airport stop you need to take a free five- minute shuttle to the airport terminals. FYI: Tri-Rail has new improved ticket machines and trains.
I arrived early, so I got to spend more time than usual at the Miami Aairport. MIA used to be my least favorite airport in America, but ever since they built terminal D I’m really digging it. I would put it up there as one of the best airport terminals in America. FYI: Flight time to New York was two2 hours and 25 minutes.
NEW YORK CITY
I flew into New York on Thursday since I didn’t want to chance any unforeseen delays and miss my brother’s big surprise party on Friday night. TIP: Always leave plenty of time to arrive for important events. I spent the night in the bBig Apple with Natalie, who flew in from Toronto, and my dad and his wife Nancy, who took the train in from Erie, PA (Amtrak only costs $60).
To get to South Norwalk, Connecticut (where I grew up), we took Metro North. It’s the commuter train that departs basically every hour from Grand Central Terminal. The hour -long ride during peak times cost $12.25 for an adult (peak fare). Be sure to buy your ticket before getting on the train; otherwise it’s roughly 50 percent% more. Except if –unless you are a senior (65 and older) –then it’s a $6 ticket no matter the time or place you get it. BTW: My brother was quite surprised, and we were all so fortunate to celebrate it with him.
I spent the weekend in Rowayton, Connecticut, at my sister Georgette’s house and then flew to Chicago (ORD) from La Guardia Aairport. Flight time on one of United’s regional jets was two2 hours and five5 minutes. I could’ve gone out of White Plains (HPN), which is closer, but it’s usually a lot more money. To avoid traffic and hassles on the road and in the airport, I left Sunday morning. Picking the right time to leave makes traveling much more pleasurable. Don’t you agree?
50th JW MARRIOTT
I was in Chicago as a guest of Marriott to attend their opening gala of their 50th JW hotel. JW is one of Marriott’s luxury brands, and it’s named after Mr. Marriott’s late father, J. Williard Marriott, who started the Marriott company in 1929. I learned while meeting with Mr. Marriott this week that he got the idea to name the hotel after his father from reading Conrad Hilton’s book; Hilton who named their luxury brand (Conrad) in honor of his father.
JW MARRIOTT CHICAGO
When I first rolled up, I was surprised to find that the bellmen were not that friendly. I guess standing out in the cold will do it to you. However, Jason Bryant, the clerk at the front desk, sure made up for them. Jason is a star, and with the way Marriott likes to promote its people, he will be an executive in no time. Jason walked me to the elevator and told me all about the hotel with pride: It opened in November 2010. It used to be a bank and was the last building designed by Daniel Burnham’s last designed building (he Burnham never saw the finished product). He also said the building has also been featured in a few movies, including the vault scene in The Untouchables.
I didn’t realize how important Daniel Burnham was until I did a Google search. The man practically built rebuilt Chicago for the 1893 World’s Fair, and he also designed several famous buildings in other cities, including the Flatiron in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C.
HISTORY OF THE BUILDING
After learning about Daniel, seeing the hotel, and getting to know the area, I understood why this hotel opening was such a big deal. First of all, the building is located on Adams Street in the city’s financial district. It was built in 1914 as the Continental & Commercial National Bank Building. After a $396 million restoration the first 12 floors house the JW Marriott Chicago with 610 well-appointed guestrooms. Floors 13-20 are offices, but there’s a separate entrance and elevators so you would never know.
I was fortunate to be upgraded to one of the 29 corner suites. My cousins came by to say hi and they were like…, tThis is a Marriott? They obviously hadn’t been to a Marriott in years. The rooms have refined furnishings, a comfortable bed (though the pillows are too bulky for my taste), and a couple flat-screen TVs. I could write a blog post on Tthe TV’s could be a blog post on themselves asalone: they have an innovative system called ITP whichthat allows guests to stream on-demand content directly to their flat- screen, including Netflix! It’s awesome.
A growing trend in the hotel industry is charging extra for premium high- speed iInternet. For $14.95 a day you will get regular speed, but for $19.95 you get blazing fast, which is key to for downloading big files or streaming video off your computer. Both plans include unlimited local and long- distance (within the 50 United States) phone calls. But who really uses hotel landlines anymore?
All rooms have an elegant five-fixture bathroom. Highlights include a deep soaking tub. which doesn’tIt didn’t take long to fill, and mine had a killer view of the Chicago Board of Trade. There’s also a walk-in shower big enough to hold roughly seven people. Since I’m not Charlie Sheen I didn’t get to test it out, but you get the point. One of the bathroom mirrors has an LCD TV built in which –you can’t tell it’s there unless it’s on.
IN-ROOM DINING TIP
Every time I picked up the phone to call guest services, in-room dining, laundry… they answered on the first ring. I love that! They were always quick on in responding to my requests and extremely friendly. What’s interesting is that I inadvertently learned an in-room dining tip that can be used at any hotel. Instead of ordering off the regular in-room dining menu, order from the kids menu. That will save more than 50 percent%. The first day I got a chicken Ppanini ($19) and large bottle of Voss water (price wasn’t listed) for a total $41 (there’s taxes and gratuity built in). The second day I got wiser and ordered a kids cheeseburger ($6) and chicken fingers ($7), and they both came with a choice of sides. I chose a salad and tater tots for my imaginary kids. I didn’t get a drink, but they brought a glass of water, for aand the grand total of was $20. It was way too much food, so next time I will just get the kids cheeseburger and it will be under $10.
Unless you are going to the suburbs, I wouldn’t rent a car. Taxis aren’t that expensive, and the cityChicago has great public transportation. If you do rent a car or drive to the city, keep in mind that hotels charge a premium for parking. Valet at the JW is $52 daily and $45 for off-site.
The JW Chicago probably has one of the most unique hotel spas in the country, especially for a chain hotel. Valeo offers traditional and non-traditional personal care experiences. The hotel offered me a free treatment and I wasn’t going to turn it down, so I went down there for a consultation and they asked what I would like. I said, hHow about your signature treatment. The manager said well that’s would be difficult because our their signature is a myriad of options tailored to fit your unique needs and goals. She started throwing some big spa words at me, and my head was spinning from a combination of tiredness and work, so I just kept hearing blah blah blah, like you are reading this. I also kept saying tThat sounds great, I will take that, thinking the last yes would cancel out the other yes’. The next thing you know, I’m I was shown into the men’s room, which has an infrared sauna, steam room, and Turkish clarity room. After I changed into my birthday suit and donned on a robe, I was sitting in the lounge munching on the free snacks including Penny’s delectable gluten -free vanilla cupcake with strawberry buttercream.
For my treatment I had a facial that included a head, shoulder, foot, and leg massage, which was divine. But I guess I also agreed to get some treatments from their Eastern medicine doctor, who stuck me with acupuncture pins and later cupped my back, leaving marks so it looked like I had a party in my shower. The pins didn’t hurt and actually made my back feel better. Overall it was an incredible experience, and I wish it could’ve lasted longer.
Later I met with the other star (in my opinion) of the hotel, Larry Nash. He’s a 55 -year -old trainer who looks younger than meI do. No doubt he could kick my ass, but I think he’s too nice of a guy to even try. Larry showed me around the state -of -the -art gym and offered to give me a private training session. I was pressed for time, though, so he just showed me some quick stretches. He’s good and really personable.
The JW Chicago has more than 44,000 square feet of meeting space;, with 36 meeting rooms including the awe-inspiring 6,000-square-foot Burnham Ballroom featuring the building’s original domed ceiling. All the women in my group were oohing and awing aahing, since they saidsaying it would be a dream place to get married, as the building has so much history and there were are no vertical columns blocking views. The room can hold 400, but 290 people for a weddings 290. We also learned about Marriott’s green initiative for meetings, which you can learn read about here.
DID YOU KNOW: Chicago was the first place to have a Ferris wheel. It was created in 1893 for the World’s Fair, and the hotel has artwork highlighting it.
The main meeting space is the beautiful 8,500-square-foot Grand Ballroom. This is where the grand opening event (video) was held, with exclusive live performances from some of Chicago’s greatest talent including the renowned Joffrey Ballet, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Emmy Rossum. The highlight for me was going around to all the food stations, which included huge piles of shrimp, crab, steak, cheese and crackers, and best of all, a cupcake bar provided by Crumbs. They had a few cupcakes that were seriously the size of my head, and what’s crazy is that they tasted better than the small ones. The party also featured the talented and sexy DJ Kiss.
One of the biggest reasons the finance guys who work nearby were excited about having the JW hotel openinged, besides having a luxurious place to put their friends and family up overnight, was is the hotel’s restaurant Florentine. It’s the newest concept from internationally acclaimed BLT Restaurant Group, and they offer a seasonal and substantial menu of Italian-American fare with a Chicago flair. They import top Italian pastas, cheeses, salts, and meats and are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Phone: 1-Tel.: 312-660-8866
I didn’t have a lot of time to explore, but what’s also really nice about the hotel is its location. It’s within walking distance of Millennium Park, the Magnificent Mile, and historic museums. On top of that, it’s just 25 feet to the Brown line (Adams and Quincy) and four blocks to Union sStation. JW Marriott Chicago, 151 West Adams Street, Chicago, Illinois. Rack rates start at $209.
TRAVEL GOODS SHOW
The day before I left for Chicago, I learned that the annual Travel Goods Show was taking place at the McCormick center Place ($11 taxi from the JW). I signed up and I walked the huge tradeshow floor. I found a lot of new travel products, which I will be writing about over the next several weeks in our Travel Product of the Week section. The highlight for me was finally meeting Scott Jordan, the founder of Scottevest, my favorite travel jacket. It has 26 hidden pockets so it’s perfect to outfox thieves and to make into a third carry-on.
FOX CHICAGO INTERVIEW
I alerted my old friend Bob Sirott, who is arguably the most- loved news anchor in Chicago, that I was in town, and he invited me to do a travel deals segment on his Fox Chicago broadcast. Bob is so easy to work with and he loves travel, so it’s always a pleasure. You can view my segment online (here’s the link). Although I had a couple brain freezes, the segment was received really well, and even two days later it’s still myFox Chicago.com’s number -one -rated story.
CHICAGO TO L.A.
I flew United home. It was the first time for me, –that I’ve noticed, –that my flight number was the same as the departure time: Flight 107 departs at 1:07 p.m.! How cool and weird is that? Thanks to my Premier status I got upgraded to first class for free. Gotta love that! After takeoff the flight attendant (FA) announced that due to cutbacks, United no longer provides blankets and pillows to economy passengers. There was one a blanket and pillow sitting on my seat, so I gave it the FA and said you can thishe could give it to someone in coach who neededs one it. He said, nNo., Iif I do that then everyone will want one, and then they’ll accuse me of playing favorites.
It still amazes me tThe appearance of United and other U.S. legacy carriers still amazes me. These planes are usually looking pretty ragged, and I always wonder what foreign passengers must think of our flagship carriers?. They must think we are from a third world country, not them. The good news is –, they always get us to our destination safe, which is the most important thing, right?
CHILI IN THE SKY?
The service up front was good. The flight attendant’s weren’t that friendly, but they were attentive and frequently refilled my water glass. For lunch the flight attendant’s came by with a piece of wrinkled paper and askeding what our first- and second -choice meals were. I can understand saving money and paper, but maybe they should just have one nice menu with a place to stick the current menu in it. Choices were salad with chicken or a hot turkey -and -cheese sandwich. Both entreées came with a bowl of chili, sSun cChips, and a chocolate chip cookie. They were all good, but Cchili on a plane? That’s not the smartest dish to serve on a flying tube, right?
Will you be in Los Angeles next weekend? If so, please come by and say hi, as I’m speaking for my sixth time at the Los Angeles Times Travel & Adventure Show. There will be more than 500 exhibitors., Ttrip giveaways., and Ccultural entertainment… My favorite part is listening to the country’s top travel experts including Samantha Brown, Arthur Frommer, Huell Howser, Andrew McCarthy, Rick Steves, and more! If you purchase the tickets online you receive a $3 discount off the regular admission price of $12 for adults. Log on to http://events.latimes.com/travelshow.
- JW Marriott Chicago
- J. Willard Marriott
- Daniel Burnham
- Valeo Spa
- Penny’s Pastries
- Travel Goods Show
- Fox Segment
- Johnny’s Twitter
- Johnny’s Facebook
Note: This trip was sponsored in part by JW Marriott Chicago