Monday, July 25, 2016

The mythcal land called Honah Lee: Review of St Regis Princeville Resort

Just came back from St Regis at Princeville.  Had a great time.  The resort was quite nice although they really could use some improvements.... some simple, some not so simple.

This was my first time on Kauai.  I've been to the Big Island and Oahu before so Hawaii is not foreign to me.  However, many people said Kauai is the prettiest so of course I have to see it for myself.  I have never stayed at St Regis hotel chain before although the lobby of St Regis in San Francisco is quite chic so my expectation was high.  My understanding is that if one were to go to Kauai, St Regis was the place to stay.  A close second would be the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa.  Having stayed at both during this trip, I would say St Regis Princeville is definitely better than Grand Hyatt Kauai.

First, a little 411 about Princeville.  It was named after Prince Albert Kamehameha when he paid a visit at Hanalei Bay in 1860.  This location is also used as the back drop for Hollywood film South Pacific in 1958.  You can actually see the exact same trees in the movie that still exist today at St Regis Princeville's beach.  In addition, the legend has it that the song Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton, was about Hanalei Bay with red part of the mountain as dragon eyes and Na Molokama mountain range as its spine.  The mythical land called Honah Lee refers to the town Hanalei, a stone throw from St Regis Princeville.  

The pluses at St Regis Princeville: location, amenities, and the crowd.

St Regis Princeville is located at Hanalei Bay.  Having stayed at places like Four Seasons Koh Samui, Amankila in Bali, Aman Sveti Stefan in Montenegro, etc.  I would say the view of Hanalei Bay was the best.  The reason is with places like Four Seasons Koh Samui or Amankila in Bali, you get palm trees and white sandy beaches (or in Amankila's case, black sand beach), but at Hanalei Bay, you get all that plus Na Molokama mountain in the background.  Or shall I say icing on the cake!  The view is tranquil yet majestic.  Waking up daily to the view is just incredible.

There are lots to do around St Regis Princeville.  Some of the onsite amenities include snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking.  There are lots of coral reefs in the Hanalei Bay.  I would say it's actually not too safe to do regular swimming as there are just too many corals around to do laps.  If you like snorkeling, this is a very good place to be.  There is a desk next to the beach where you can rent paddle boards, kayak, or snorkel gear.  They charge by the hour (Four Seasons Koh Samui include these amenities in room rate... cough cough).  The fish is not as abundant as Hanauma Bay in Oahu or Blue Lagoon in Bali.  With that said, it's a lot more convenient to snorkel when your hotel room is few feet away.  There are definitely more fish (interesting ones too) when compare to Four Seasons Koh Samui which also have onsite snorkeling.  Some people saw turtles... I didn't unfortunately.

Another good amenity at St Regis Princeville is their Kauai Grill restaurant by Jean-Georges.  Possibly the best lunch I ever had was at Jean-Georges in NYC so I had high expectations for Kauai Grill.  I was not disappointed.  My surf and turf entree was cooked to perfection.  The maitre d' knew it was my birthday so they send a moist and delectable chocolate cake on the house for dessert.  A perfect way to end the dinner.  I would come back here again.  By the way, they require you to wear long pants and dress shirt at this restaurant.  Don't mind that as everyone was wearing t shirts and shorts.

Having spent a night at Grand Hyatt Kauai, I definitely prefer the St Regis crowd.  There are less people at the St Regis for one.  In addition, there are a lot less kids at St Regis as well.  If you are on a honeymoon, I would definitely recommend St Regis Princeville over Grand Hyatt Kauai.   If you have kids, then it's a toss up as Grand Hyatt Kauai has water slides which everyone likes.

The minuses at St Regis Princeville: physical plant, weather,

When comparing this resort to others ones such as Four Seasons Koh Samui, or Four Seasons Haulalai on Big Island, this St Regis just looked tired.  The architecture had not been updated since the 80s and it showed.  The finishes in guest rooms looked like something out of 80s/90s/ and 2000s and we are already halfway pass 2010s.  Lounge chairs on the beach look like something right out of 1980s sitcom.  I stayed at St Regis Ocean View Suite and the marble in the bathroom was green.... Alexis Carrington called and she wants those marble back!  What Starwood Property really need to do is revamp this whole hotel.  The location is magnificent but the physical plant is not.  With that said, I have a feeling that Starwood is going to milk this property dry until Four Seasons finally put a resort on Kauai.  Better yet, Starwood should sell this resort to Four Seasons as I'm sure Four Seasons will do a phenomenal job at this resort.  I mean just look at what they did to the Four Seasons Lanai... it went from a tired 1980 resort not too long ago to a modern day rock star!              

The weather is another ding against this resort.  I was told summer is the drier months at this location and it rained every single day when I was there.  Rain usually does not last long....sometimes ten minutes...sometimes thirty minutes.  Only one day was more or less all day.  You rarely see sky without any clouds.  In fact, clouds typically linger around Na Molokama mountain range while Hanalei bay is usually fairly sunny.  A bit odd but as long as the clouds don't interrupt my sunbathing, I'm fine with them.  If you are planning to be here during the raining season, you may want to think twice.

If you are staying at the suite level, you will get a butler.  What's great about St Regis butler service is that they will come and unpack and pack for you.  For some people, that's a huge plus.  In addition, they will iron your clothes.  That's a big plus in my book although I'm in Hawaii so not exactly useful.  Moreover, they will bring freshly brewed Kona coffee to you anytime you want.  Most places when they say they serve Kona coffee, it just means Kona coffee is part of the blend.  But not here.  Your butler will bring 100% Kona coffee to you and it's heavenly!  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Lastly, your butler can really enhance your cultural experience here on Kauai.  The odd thing about this St Regis is that some of the staff are very friendly while others don't smile at you at all (somehow St Regis didn't train them right... but that's a different complaint).  We had the fortune to have Robert as our butler.  He's the head butler at this St Regis and I can see why.  I honestly think that St Regis does not deserve to have him as their head butler.  He's exceptionally wonderful and kind and dedicated to his job.  If Four Seasons ever opens a resort on Kauai, Robert is the guy to train all your staff.  He's worth every single penny and then some.  Robert took time to explain to me about the culture and history of Kauai.  He advised me where to go for a great authentic luau.  He even planned a lei making session as well as Hawaiian dance session for me.  I can honestly say besides the great view, Robert was the second best thing at St Regis.

I really enjoyed my time at St Regis Princeville.  There are definitely cons to be had (mainly the dated facility while paying high prices).  I'm crossing my fingers that next time when I return, I will see a beautifully remodeled resort.  Until then, mahalo.



Saturday, July 16, 2016

JAL First class review


I was very excited to take JAL's first class Sky Suite.  The route I took was from SFO (San Francisco) to HND (Haneda).  It was a blissful 11 hour flight.

Unfortunately, I can't say that about their SFO private lounge area.  The first class lounge is essentially a small room next to the business class lounge with a sliding door separating both areas.  They basically have club chairs line up against walls and that's it.  No amazing designs (which Japanese are known for) and food station is in the business lounge area with just typical nuts and soda.  Going into the room made me feel depressed actually and I should feel opposite!

Luckily my seat on the airplane was fabulous!  The brown leather seat is nice and wide (although not as wide as Cathay Pacific's) and there are plenty of storage compartments where you can store your hand bags and ipads.  Normally your tray is stored in armrest.  But this particular design, your tray is actually butt below your TV and can be slide to you when you want to use it.  I actually don't like this design as I typically wear my seat belt at all times so when I want to use the tray table, I actually have to unbuckle myself to get the tray.... not end of the world but a slight negative with the design imo.

The amenity kit is from Loewe!  Nothing extraordinary inside though... just your typical eye mask, refresh towel, brush, lip balm, etc.  But the bag is cool and I love Loewe so a big plus for me!  Oh, and you also get Shiseido products. I got travel size bottles of cleansing face wash, hydrating toner and total revitalizer face cream.  I actually like the face cream quite a bit.  I need to go to my local mall to pick one up.  You also get a set of PJ.  I have to say, their PJ is the softest one when compare to British Airways and Cathay Pacific) although the top is thicker than the other airlines which may be a plus or minus depending on the person.

Food is good not great.  For my dinner, they give you a nice jar of caviar which is tasty although the jar is smaller than the ones from Cathay.  I thought sushi would be great on JAL.  Well, not so much....  I'll just leave it at that.  I had a lobster salad which was tasty.  Fruit plate was nicely presented.  For breakfast, I had Japanese breakfast which was good.

I usually don't sleep much on international flights regardless if I get lie flat seat or not.  JAL give you option of soft mattress or hard mattress.  I picked the soft one.  I ended up sleeping for 4 hours which is very good for me.... so I definitely like their beds.

The bathroom is your typical airplane bathroom except they have that water spray function you see on many Japanese toilets!  A first I seen on any airplane I've ever been on. 

Overall, I have to say I'm very happy with my flight.  I thought the service was very good, my seat was very good, and food was good.  They can definitely improve with their SFO first class lounge situation and better sushi on board.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Romance in Napa Valley

Calistoga Ranch is a luxury resort located in the upper Napa Valley.  It's about hour and a half north of San Francisco.  The resort is about 157 acres with lots of oak trees dotted around the property.  If you like dry heat, this is a great place to be in the summer as temperature definitely gets up there.  The property is divided into two areas.  On one side is the resort.  The other side is the residences.  There is a river that cuts through the middle part of the property which basically divide up the property.  I believe the residences part is essentially luxury timeshare.

Each home is outfitted exactly the same.  The difference between each category is: location of the lodge, the size of the deck, and if you have an additional living room or not.  What Calistoga Ranch doesn't say on their website/ brochure is that this resort is essentially a collection of trailers.  Or what I jokingly call the most expensive trailer park in the world!  The reason why it was built this way was because the town of Calistoga didn't want Auberge Resort to build a luxury resort there.  To skirt around the rule, SB Architects devised an idea.... why don't we build whole bunch luxury trailers with decks!  So town of Calistoga got out maneuvered and Calistoga Ranch was born.  Because each trailer is exactly the same size with same finishes, the only way to have a different category of rooms is by the size of outdoor space and how many pods (trailers) you get.  Deluxe Lodges get zero deck but they do have enclosed outdoor showers.  Deluxe Hillside Lodges gets a deck.  The One Bedroom Lodges gets two pods: one of them is a bedroom plus bathroom, the other one is a living room.  The option above One Bedroom Lodges is One Bedroom Oak Creek Lodge which gives you a deck with an oak tree piercing through plus a bit more privacy.  Then after that is 2 Bedroom Lodges.  This gives you four pods: one bedroom with bath, one bedroom with bath, a kitchen, and a living room.  The Estate Lodge, which essentially is their presidential suite, consist of everything 2 Bedroom Lodges have plus privacy.  The estate lodge I stayed at was actually located at the very end of the resort so it was incredibly private with no one looking in.  Simply put, I can live in my lodge for months on end because it's so fabulous.  While I joke that this is the most expensive trailer park in the world, the finishes are topnotch and honestly, with decks and all, no one can tell you are sleeping in a trailer.  SB Architects was very smart in their design and blended the outdoor and indoor spaces seamlessly.

The food at their restaurant was good.  I thought the view was quite nice; nothing beats eating outdoor under moonlight next to a small lake.  I had a facial at their luxurious spa.  The facility was quite pretty and again, the architect blend the indoor and outdoor area really well.  The resort also seems to have a very good wedding facility.  There is a wine cave where you can have an indoor reception.  You can also do it outdoors next to the small lake on a gentle hillside.  In fact, while I was there, I saw a wedding next to the lake.  It was quite pretty and I'm sure bride and the groom had a marvelous experience.  If you are into hiking, then this is a good resort to do so.  I believe there is two or three hiking trails inside the resort.  There is also a large swimming pool next to the check in area with a bar.  I didn't use that part of the facility but it did look nice from outside.

Overall it's a fantastic resort which I would have no problem of recommending it to my other high maintenance friends especially if they want to splurge and stay at the Estate Lodge.  I look forward to coming back to this resort sometimes in the future.