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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Tag: Hotels USA

A Family Favorite in Las Vegas - Excalibur Hotel

Paula Gaston

Before Christmas we did a road trip from California through Nevada to Utah. On that trip we spent two nights in Las Vegas. Maybe you already read about out tips what to do in Vegas with kids (or even without). At that time I promised that I will tell you more about the Hotel Excalibur later. It was our first time in this hotel, and here is all the info you need when deciding if it could be a hotel for you.

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Excalibur Hotel & Casino is one of the theme hotels on the Strip, the main road in downtown Las Vegas, and is popular especially among the families traveling with kids. It is built in a medieval theme and looks a little bit like a castle. It also attracts families with its entertainment. And it was very easy to find in the evening, since the castle towers were lit and looked amazing. After circling around a while, we managed to find the self parking entrance too. Parking there cost us $10 per day.

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EXCALIBUR ROOMS

I had booked our room through Booking.com, and since we travel with two kids, I always choose a twin queen or twin king room. These rooms are most practical for us and usually available in most hotels. We do have a travel bed for the baby too, but when staying in a twin room we don’t really need it.

While checking in to the hotel, we were offered an upgrade to the Royal Tower with for $10 per day. And since my husband had been a little doubtful that the Excalibur, that it would be outdated, we decided to go ahead and upgrade. I kinda thought that all the rooms in the hotel had been renewed last century, but we were told that the Royal Tower had rooms that were remodeled only a few years ago. That sounded good to us. Later I was a little bit bummed out that I didn’t ask for a room where we could see the colorful towers outside. The view from our room was to the Strip as the receptionist proudly told us. Oh well, I would have rather been looking at the towers than the street.

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The room was very basic and to be honest, it had already seen better days in my opinion. And in that regard, overpriced as well. But that was not a surprise for us since most hotel rooms in Vegas seem to be old and used. I felt exactly the same in Luxor few years ago. Overall, be prepared for the Vegas hotels taking your money every possible way they can. This time however, we got free wi-fi. The room prices vary hugely depending on the time, even from $40 to a couple hundred. Guests can use the pool area and the gym when they are open. Unfortunately when we visited in November, the pool area was closed for the winter season already.

EATING AT EXCALIBUR

There are plenty to restaurants to choose from when looking for food in Excalibur, but be prepared to wait. There are almost always lines to get in to the restaurants. The first night we ate at Buca di Beppo, which turned out to be a great family restaurant with good food. I had read about Dick’s Last Resort but after seeing it, it didn’t seem like a place we would like to eat with kids. It was very loud and people were in a party mood. They offer obnoxious service in a funny way and guests sit with paper hats on their heads. Maybe if we visit without kids someday we will try it out.

Finding breakfast turned out to be a little bit more challenging, since everywhere we went had huge lines. We ended up getting some breakfast sandwiches and coffee from Starbucks in Luxor, and then ate a bigger lunch that day. We were thinking about the breakfast buffet, but the line looked like it would take us hours to get in. Even though I love a good breakfast now we just needed to get something before getting out to explore.

TAKE A TRAM TO LUXOR AND OTHER THINGS TO DO

Like most hotels in Las Vegas, there was of course a casino downstairs. And the ones in Las Vegas are especially complex, so that you will get lost many times while trying to find places. We walked around many extra miles while on our visit. If it was summer time, we would have for sure been at the pool too, but now we didn’t spend much time at the hotel. Excalibur Family Fun Center didn’t seem appealing to us and even the roller coaster looked too scary for our kids. The Family Fun Center has all kinds of activities from mini golf to go karts, but we wanted to see more of Vegas. Excalibur also has other entertainment like Tournament of Kings (a joust), Cirque de Soleil and other shows.

The Mandalay Bay Tram is a free tram which will take you from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay or Luxor which are both part of MGM Resorts. At least Luxor is a fun place to visit since it is shaped like a pyramid and had an Egyptian atmosphere.

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Our experience at Excalibur was ok. Nothing bad or especially good that stood out on our stay. But our 6 year old still remembers her night in a medieval castle.

 

A Night at Seven Wives Inn, Utah

Paula Gaston

Our road trip continued from Las Vegas via Hoover Dam to Utah. We had already driven 1440 kilometres (894 miles), and we still had a ways to go until our final destination in Utah. We had our fourth night ahead on this trip, and we had planned to stay in St. George which is in Southern Utah. Instead of a hotel, we had booked a room from a Bed & Breakfast called Seven Wives Inn. They had great reviews, and after Vegas we looked forward to staying in a place with a little more personality and quality. And we always love to explore different boutique hotels and other unique accommodations instead of chain hotels which all look the same. And the Seven Wives Inn really fulfilled our expectations.

 

As many of you probably know, Utah is known for the Mormons who practised polygamy before Utah became a state. Polygamy is marriage with multiple spouses, typically where a man can have multiple wives, but there have also been women marrying several men. Eventually, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS Church as it is known, started getting into trouble when the government set some laws against polygamy. The church finally renounced it in 1890, but there are still some people practising polygamy in Utah and neighboring states. So now, you must be guessing where the name of our Inn came from?!

The Seven Wives Inn has a long history. There are two separate houses and a cottage for guests to use. We stayed at the main house, which was built by Edwin G. Woolley in 1873. He hid some polygamists in the attic of the house after polygamy was outlawed in 1882. At the time, the house had a hidden door leading to the attic. One person hiding there was an ancestor of the innkeeper; Benjamin F. Johnson, who really had seven wives And that is where the Inn gets its name. The house next to it is called the President’s House, since many president’s of the Mormon Church used to stay there. Today the Inn is owned by a very nice couple who moved over from California, and who run the place with a big heart.

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The rooms at the bed & breakfast have been named after the seven wives. We had originally booked a room called Jane from the attic, but we got a complimentary upgrade to a bigger room downstairs. We were told, that it would be more convenient with kids since the stairs up were quite narrow. That was very nice! The room we then got was called Lucinda, and it was also larger than Jane with a full size folding coach. The room price includes homemade breakfast, which is served daily in the dining room. In the evening we returned our breakfast sheet to the kitchen describing what we would like to eat, and we discovered that there was some coffee, tea and apple cider with homemade cookies for the guests.

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Seven Wives Inn was a great experience and I can truly recommend this place. It had a lovely and peaceful ambiance, and the hostess was glad to tell us about the house and its history. Even though the building is old, it is well taken care of. Everything is very rustic. The price is obviously a little higher than an average hotel, which probably rules out some customers, and at first we were not sure if they even take families with kids. They do direct the families to call them instead of booking online. Guests are welcome to walk around the surroundings of the Bed & Breakfast, and in the summer time, they also have a pool. While visiting, I suggest you check out all the rooms where the doors are open. Down stairs they had a little library room and a room called Sarah, which had a vintage car as a bath tub. Quite interesting!

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We continued our trip the next day rested and very happy! Our next stop was Cedar City, where we visited Cedar Breaks National Monument. More about that next time.

 

A Night in Madonna Inn and the World's Most Famous Restroom

Paula Gaston

It was finally time to head back home from our Spring Break trip. We left the Santa Monica Mountains and the Channel Islands behind, and started our drive to Northern California. We still had a few vacation days left, so we decided to cut our drive in half by stopping at the Madonna Inn, in San Luis Obispo.

I remember years ago when I was still living in Finland, I saw a TV show about the most bizarre hotels. There was a hotel were each room was different from the other and had a theme, and their restaurant was pink. Then later I was on a road trip with a friend when she suggested that we should stop for a restroom break in this cool hotel. Right away when we drove to the Madonna Inn's parking lot, I recognised it from the TV show. At that time we only stopped quickly, but I have always wanted to stay the night there since. 

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THE MADONNA INN

The Madonna Inn was opened in 1958 in San Luis Obispo, on Highway 101, and it was originally a 12 room motel. It was opened by Alex Madonna and his wife Phyllis. This unique motel became a success right away and they built more rooms to it in 1966. Unfortunately a fire destroyed all the original buildings in 1966, but Alex and Phyllis re-built the rooms and chose different themes for each of them. The goal was to offer people more than just a room, and make people smile when they stayed at the Madonna Inn. Alex Madonna died in 2004 but the family still owns the business and it has only been growing.

The Madonna Inn has 110 rooms. Some of the different themes are Caveman, Romance, Old Fashioned Honeymoon, Antique Cars, Italy, San Francisco, Desert Sands, Golfer's Room, Fabulous 50s, Hearts and Flowers, and Indians. Some of the rooms have waterfall showers. You can check out all the rooms from here. The whole decor of this place is over the top and kitchy, but also kind of cool. The dominant color is pink and some of the buildings are inspired by the Alps. Our room was called China Flower and all the furniture in our room was Chinese themed. For some reason I thought the rooms would look kind of old, but ours was really neat and clean. It really was "wow"!

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Soap Cake - not to be eaten!

Soap Cake - not to be eaten!

The Madonna Inn has been seen on TV shows like the Bachelor and the Simpsons. Many music videos have also been filmed here, like Roxette's The Center of the Heart and Lady Antebellum's Heart Break albums promotion video. 

FROM A MOTEL TO A RESORT

At the same time when the Madonna Inn was growing and getting famous, they also started adding different kinds of services. Even though the Madonna Inn still operates like a motel, you can easily spend a whole day or weekend there by doing different activities. Or, you can just stop for a cup of coffee or lunch like we have done before this trip. The Madonna Inn has two restaurants, a bakery and souvenir shop. And they have live music everyday. We ate both dinner and breakfast in the Copper Cafe which is a little bit more relaxed than Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steakhouse. It is also a lot cheaper too. You should still stop by the steakhouse since it is quite a site to see. In the middle of the restaurant, they have a golden tree and the whole decor is pink. I promise you, you haven't seen anything like this before! The breakfast at the Copper Cafe was delicious, but we thought that their dinner menu lacked for personality.

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The Madonna Inn has several different buildings and usually you can park your car in front of your room, or at least pretty close. On the other side from our room there was a gate to a Secret Garden where you can go enjoy some garden flowers, play outdoor games or for example read a book. Down from the garden lies two pink tennis courts and basket ball hoops. The latest improvement for the place has been their spa section which includes anything from an infinity pool to a gym, and massages. A horse ranch next to the Madonna Inn offers trail rides or if you are into hiking, the trails leave practically from the parking lot. 

After breakfast we walked around the premises just to see what all was there. They also offer some pink bicycles if you prefer to use those, or you can go for a bike ride somewhere further. The staff was driving around in some cute pink golf carts. Even the outdoor lamps were painted pink. Unfortunately we didn't have time to enjoy all the activities that the Madonna Inn had to offer, but  hopefully we can come back someday. Even though some of the activities are included to the room price, this motel is not the cheapest kind. Be prepared to pay for a resort fee. 

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AND THEN THOSE FAMOUS RESTROOMS

Many people just stop at the Madonna Inn for a restroom break since they have heard of the crazy restrooms they have. The water fall urinal in the mens room has been on many TV shows and has become quite famous. Don't be surprised if you see women coming out of the mens room since they want to see this famous room. I also sneaked in to get a photo for my blog. Just make sure you ask someone coming out that there is no one else inside before you enter.

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Also the ladies room is kind of interesting. It is completely pink and big chandeliers are hanging from the ceiling. This time I also visited the ladies room in the Copper Cafe which was kind of cool too. I think it's pretty rare for me to say to people "Don't forget to visit the restrooms when you stop!" but with the Madonna Inn, I have definitely done that.

If you want to see more of what the Madonna Inn looks like, check out my Instagram profile @paulagaston.  You can find some videos under the Highlights on the front page.

 

From Madonna Inn we drove straight back home. It was such a nice and short drive compared to what we are used to driving. And so our Spring Break trip ended. 

Hofsas House Hotel - A True Gem of Carmel-by-the-Sea

Paula Gaston

*Our trip was made possible by Hofsas House Hotel,
but as always, all opinions are my own.


Earlier this week I wrote about our trip down the California coast to Carmel-by-the-Sea. I told you about its famous residents and bizarre laws, like that it is prohibited to walk in high heels in Carmel. We spent a nice weekend in Carmel, even though it was raining a little bit. We stayed in a European style boutique hotel called Hofsas House which was right by downtown, and it was easy to go everywhere from there by foot. The people in Hofsas House Hotel took really good care of us, and we could feel the warm and caring atmosphere that they have in this family owned place.

FROM SMALL COTTAGES TO A BOUTIQUE HOTEL

Donna Hofsas and her husband Fred moved to Carmel from Los Angeles in the 1940s. They bought four cottages, moved into one of them and started renting the three others. This was the beginning of the Hofsas house, which in 1957 expanded into a hotel. When Donna died in 1981 she left the hotel to her son, and ever since the business has been run by the family. The owner and general manager of Hofsas House, Carrie Theis talks about her grand mother with warmth, and told me how she used help at the hotel when she was a girl. It was nice to meet a person who truly has this much love for her job.

Hofsas House went through another expansion later and today it has 38 unique rooms. They also have a year round heated pool which is not very common in Carmel, since the hotels are typically in very small lots. The pool area has two dry saunas. Also the original cottages are still there and being used. For groups Hofsas House offers a meeting room with a full kitchen and a fire place.

The hotel is furnished following a European style. There is a big bavarian themed mural outside the hotel and other art work from Donna Hofsas' friend, an artist Maxine Albro. Most doors are built in the Dutch style, so you can just open the top part and look outside. Even the building itself reminds me of Europe. 

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EACH ROOM IS UNIQUE

Each room in Hofsas House is different which makes staying there more exciting. Many of the rooms have an ocean view and Dutch doors that let you enjoy some fresh air. Some rooms also have a balcony, fire place, wet bars or kitchens. Wi-fi works throughout the hotel. We stayed in a King Suite which had a nice view of the ocean. When we arrived, there was a bottle of wine and cheese in our room, as well as a frisbee for our daughter. The room had a romantic flowery wallpaper which was kind of cute, even though I normally wouldn't go with that pattern. It was clean, and we had a fire place in our room. Especially when travelling with kids, it is good to have some kitchen supplies so that you can keep their food cold or warm it up if needed. And of course, pets are welcome in some of the rooms, like almost everywhere in Carmel. 

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A continental breakfast is included in the room price. One thing that I really liked, was that the breakfast was set up at the lobby, but it was easy to take it with you to your room. There were little baskets for the bakery things, and the staff offered us a carafe of coffee and gave us a tray. They had both sweet and savory baked goods, yogurts, fruits and juice. I liked that it was a little different from most hotels in the U.S., and that we were able to eat in our room while watching the sunrise. Many times at a hotel breakfast, you have to fight to get a table for your party. This way we got to fully enjoy our morning. 

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DINNER AT BEACH HOUSE AND SOME WINE TASTING

We also enjoyed a dinner in the neighbouring town of Pacific Grove. The Beach House restaurant was an amazing spot by the ocean at Lovers Point. The name says it all! I almost wish we could have driven back there during the daylight just to see the view. 17-Mile Drive, which is said to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world, goes through Pacific Grove. So if you are driving either 17-Mile Drive or are on Highway 1, this is a great place to stop for a break! I recommend making a reservation to the Beach House since at least on that Saturday night, it was full. The food was great, and I have to say that their Beef Stroganoff was to die for!

Like in so many other areas of California, Monterey has some wine growing areas. It mostly produces Pinot Noir grapes. Carrie, the owner and manager of Hofsas House, told me that there has been a growing number of tasting rooms in Carmel which have opened, and people come there a lot to taste wine.

MY STRONG RECOMMENDATION

Hofsas House Hotel made our weekend very cozy. I really like places that have some personality and dare to be different. Even though it was raining on Saturday, it didn't ruin our vacation when we were in a beautiful room eating our snacks from 5th Avenue Deli. They were actually for our next day's beach trip, but we got a head start on all the treats. Well, at least we saved some carrot cake for the next day. If you are doing a road trip in California or driving on Highway 1, and looking for a place to stay, this is your spot! 


A Night in a Luxury Hotel InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco

Paula Gaston

Last weekend we had an opportunity to stay the night in one the legendary hotels in San Francisco; The InterContinental Mark Hopkins. It is said to be one of the true luxury hotels in San Francisco. 

When I started my blog, I decided that I wont be doing hotel reviews like most travel bloggers do. The reason for that is, that I don't like to read them myself. I would rather read fun travel stories or introductions to the hotels, and then I read the reviews from the sites that only do those. So that is why I wanted to tell you our story of spending a night at Nob Hill. 

THE COLOURFUL HISTORY OF MARK HOPKINS

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The Mark Hopkins Hotel was opened in 1926. At first, this was the location of a luxurious mansion of a man named Mark Hopkins. His mansion burned in a fire caused by the big San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Later, the Mark Hopkins Institute of Arts was opened at the same location, and it was there until George D. Smith bought the building and decided to build a hotel to replace it. Over the years, the Mark Hopkins Hotel has undergone several renovations. It was built in the Spanish Renaissance and French chateau styles.

Many US. presidents and celebrities have stayed at the hotel. For example: Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones have been guests there, as well as Prince Philip of England and Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. The Mark Hopkins used to host a popular dance club and event venue. It has always been a popular wedding venue. 

Today the Mark Hopkins hotel is registered as California Historical Landmark #754.

BEST PART OF THE ROOM - THE VIEW

Our room was on the 6th floor facing the courtyard of the hotel. In my opinion, the best part of the room was absolutely the view, even though I'm sure that the rooms facing the back of the hotel had even better views. I can imagine what it would feel like to look at the Golden Gate or Bay Bridge from your room. The room itself was pretty standard, clean but old. Everywhere in the hotel you could see how old it is, and maybe it could use a little facelift in order to hold on to its reputation as a luxury hotel.

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We only stopped at the room briefly to leave our things and then headed to the cocktail bar upstairs. But before that we went back to the lobby downstairs to see the little exhibit which showcases old items from the hotel's history. There is also a fun detail next to the elevators in each floor; a mail chute. By putting mail into it upstairs, it would drop all the way down to the lobby to wait for the mailman to pick them up.

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Old items at the lobby

Old items at the lobby

Mail chute

Mail chute

TOP OF THE MARK

We arrived at the top floor cocktail bar, Top of the Mark, right before sunset. Also kids are welcome there until 10 pm. The Top of the Mark is said to be one of the best views around San Francisco since the hotel is also on top of Nob Hill. Since it was still early, we got a nice table with a view. We ended the fun day with some cocktails and enjoyed watching the sun go down. Everywhere you turned, you could see people taking pictures of it. 

The Top of the Mark was opened in 1939 when the owner George D. Smith decided to transform the top floor penthouse into a restaurant. He was not sure if the guests would actually be willing to take the elevator all the way to the 19th floor, but the bar became an instant success. The rumour is that he was not able to come up with a name for the bar, and he told someone that he didn't know what he should call the top of the Mark. People then pointed out that it should be called "Top of the Mark". 

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While I came back home with the kids, my husband stayed longer in San Francisco. I wish I could have stayed too and see the rare super blue blood moon and the eclipse from the hotel. Oh well, it was still very pretty. 

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