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Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn Review

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn Review

Last week, I had the pleasure of staying at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, which is located about 1 hour from San Francisco in the heart of wine country.

Cost: A+

As I had posted earlier in the month, both nights at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn were FREE because I signed up for the Fairmont Credit Card from Chase.

By signing up for the card, you get 2 free nights and 4x $25 breakfast vouchers!

In addition, as a cardholder, you get an automatic upgrade to Premier Status in Fairmont’s loyalty program. As a Premier Member, you are given a Suite Upgrade, Room Upgrade, and $50 food / spa credit annually.

The Suite and Room upgrade can be used on the 2 free nights that you earn with the Fairmont Card, so we were able to upgrade ourselves to a Wine Country Junior Suite for free!

Had we paid for this stay out of pocket, it would have been around $519 a night or over $1,040 for 2 nights.

In addition, the rack rate (or the most the hotel can charge for this room), was listed in the room as $1,500 a night!

Grounds: A-

While I had expected the property to be secluded and surrounded by vineyards, it is actually just located off the main street going into the Sonoma town square.

Since you do have to drive to this property, thankfully there is free self-parking.

I am not sure what the property used to be before it was a Hotel, but for some reason the huge water tower reminds me of Warner Brothers Studios or Alcatraz.

In addition to the Hotel, there is also a golf course and separate spa on the grounds.

Room: B+

The guest rooms are spread out across the property in clusters, with the hallways being outdoors.

Depending on what Room or Suite you receive, you might have an entire patio or balcony to yourself.

We unfortunately did not have either : (

As for the Junior Suite, it was fairly large but as you can see from the images below, the furniture definitely seemed a bit dated.

My 2 favorite things about the Suite were that it came with a real live working fireplace with wooden logs that you could burn AND it also came with a free bottle of wine!

Nothing like relaxing by the fire after a “hard” day touring Napa…

Dining: A-

While there is a Michelin starred restaurant on the premises, you unfortunately can’t use your breakfast vouchers there so we settled for their casual restaurant on the property called The Big 3 Diner.

Typically when I hear the word diner, I tend to think of Denny’s but The Big 3 Diner was surprisingly delicious and fairly affordable even if you didn’t have $100 in vouchers.

I got the breakfast burrito and some of their famous lemon cottage cheese pancakes. Both were excellent.

Overall: A-

While the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is definitely dated and shows its age, overall I found it to be a great property and would happily return.

Unless you are going to a Hotel only to stay in your room, in all the categories that matter, Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn delivers.

The location is excellent for doing wine tastings (even if you are doing Napa), the spa amenities looked amazing, and there were both fine dining and casual dining options to suit all tastes.

If you are visiting Sonoma or Napa and are looking for a relaxing experience in wine country, then I highly suggest burning your 2 free Fairmont night certificates here. You will not regret it!

-Parag

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Austin Photo Recap / FFU Is Now On Instagram

FFU On Instagram

All the young kids these days keep talking about Instagram, so I caved and created an FFU Instagram account. I currently have all of 4 followers so if you would like to follow me, please feel free to add me below!

Instagram.com/FrequentFlyerU

I remember back in my day where we had this thing called film and if you wanted to get your photos developed you had to take them to Walgreens where you inevitably found out that the “great” photos you took on your vacation turned out terrible. Oh the good old days…

Austin Photo Recap

Now that I have Instagram, for Trip Reports I am going to try something new and just do a photo recap of the trip.

Hopefully this will satisfy my friends who say I don’t post enough photos!

Friday

Friday afternoon I was greeted at Midway (MDW) with a long security line and this humorous sign.

I’m sure TSA Agents just hanging out and not opening new security lines has absolutely nothing to do with long lines…

As someone on Twitter said, TSA = Thousands Standing Around!

I couldn’t agree more!

My Southwest flight to Austin was fairly uneventful.

To get from the Austin Airport to Downtown Austin, I took the $1 Airport Bus which was an absolute deal!

Based on his expressions, I am fairly certain this elderly man reading The Onion on the Bus did NOT know it was a fake paper…

After my Cousin arrived in Austin, we hit up Pelon’s for some Tex-Mex.

We had to start off the night right with some margaritas…

After Dinner we hit up 6th Street, which is the main bar strip in Austin.

Literally the entire street is just all bars and they actually shut it down to cars at night.

To make things even better, almost all the bars were playing live music!

We ended up meeting my neighbor who goes to University of Texas – Austin.

Oh the joys of being in college!

Saturday

Saturday morning we decided to walk down South Congress Street to visit Home Slice Pizza.

After eating we wandered down South Congress Street and checked out all the food trucks and shops.

To anyone visiting Austin, I highly suggest talking a walk down this street as it is full of so many interesting shops and restaurants.

We were really surprised to see a Indian Dosa Food Truck since you typically don’t even find dosa’s at Indian Restaurant Buffets.

What is even funnier is that the dosas were being promoted as vegan and gluten-free. Gotta love hipsters!

After spending a few hours wandering South Congress, we stopped at Amy’s Ice Cream and got some Mexican Vanilla Ice Cream.

It was so delicious we ended up coming back on Monday…

South Congress Street also had some pretty cool graffiti!

You can never go wrong with a little Texas Flood!

After South Congress, we decided to try out Rainey Street where they have taken old run down houses and converted them into unique bars.

It was definitely one of our favorite parts of Austin because every establishment was different.

Many of the backyards of these bars were turned into mini-concert venues.

For Dinner we went to Iron Works BBQ. I am not really a huge meat eater, but this place was endorsed by George W. Bush and that was all the proof I needed.

Let’s just say Mission Accomplished because this place was delicious and we had no problem liberating our entire plate of food.

After Dinner, we headed back to Rainey Street for some live music & libations.

We even got to visit the White House!

This neon sign was in one of the bars / houses.

It sums up Austin pretty well, “Everything Is Good Here”.

Sunday

Sunday and Monday, we used my Cousin’s Zipcar account to rent a car in Austin for $50 for 5 hours.

We used the car to drive around Austin & the surrounding areas.

Although it wasn’t a convertible, Mini Coopers are really fun to drive!

We heard about a Kite Festival in Zilker Park, so we headed on over to check it out and were blown way (no pun intended) by what we saw.

There were literally thousands of people flying thousands of kites! It was unreal!

After Zilker Park, we visited Mount Bonnell which is the “highest point” in Austin.

The houses in the valley below were fairly spectacular!

Monday

On Monday, we again rented a Zipcar and this time used to it trek out to Driftwood, TX to visit the world famous Salt Lick.

This place is a good 25 miles outside of Austin and is literally in the absolute middle of nowhere, yet still has 1,400 Yelp Reviews…

Texans will apparently go any distance for some good BBQ!

Even though we were stuffed, we made reservations for a late dinner at Uchi, which is known as the best sushi restaurant in Austin.

It was a bit pricey but a very relaxing end to our trip!

Tuesday

My flight coming back to Chicago on Tuesday afternoon actually got canceled due to a Chicago snow storm so I took a gamble and rebooked for a 6AM direct flight.

Unfortunately boarding was delayed because there was a small colony of bats in the jet bridge. The plane actually had to back away from the jet bridge to let them out.

It was definitely one of the most unique flying experiences I have had!

In spite of the bats, luckily my gamble on a 6AM flight paid off because as soon as we landed in Chicago, the majority of flights in and out of Midway were canceled.

Recap

Visiting Austin was the first time (with the exception of Houston for the SMD4), that I have visited the South as an Adult.

For some reason or the other I just have never had a strong desire to visit the South, and honestly was a bit skeptical when my Cousin suggested that we visit Austin, Texas.

In hindsight, I am 100% thankful that I threw caution to the wind and ended up going to Austin because it quickly became one of my favorite U.S cities.

The people there are all very polite, it is extremely quirky, and is full of great restaurants and bars.

A lot of people think that you have to go to a different Country or Continent to experience a different culture but truth be told, you can get a similar experience in the United States.

If it wasn’t 115 degrees in the Summer, I’d probably strongly consider moving to Austin.

For anyone that has never been to Austin, trust me that it is definitely a place you want to visit. You will not be disappointed!

-Parag

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Westin Times Square – New York City Review

This past Friday – Sunday, I stayed at the Westin Times Square in New York City. This was pre-Huricanne Sandy, so everything was still functional at the Hotel.

Location – A+

“Here it is, heart of New York City, Times Square. Named for the good times you have when you’re in it. Most people when they come to New York, they go straight to the Empire State Building, that’s pretty touristy. I come here. Great places to eat. We have Bubba Gump Shrimp, Red Lobster down there. Ya know. This is, this is the heart of civilization, right here.” -Michael Scott

As the name would imply, the Westin Times Square is located 1 block from the clusterf@#$ amazing tourist attraction that is Times Square. Thankfully the Hotel entrance is not directly in Times Square, so you can still feel the Times Square energy, but far enough away that you don’t have flashing neon lights outside your window or throngs of crowds outside the door. That being said, while trying to get to the Hotel, my iPhone died, so it was quite a struggle trying to find the Hotel because I actually thought it was located within Times Square.

The Westin Times Square is also located right next to 2 Subway lines, so it is really easy to get to via Public Transportation or if you are trying to get anywhere else in the City. Overall, this is probably the best location in the City for site seeing because many of the major attractions (Central Park, Rockefeller Plaza, Empire State Building, David Letterman, Penn Station, Grand Central Station, etc) are all within 1 mile walking distance of the Hotel.

The Westin Times Square is the letter “A” below and the the Red Box is Times Square.

Lobby – B

The lobby of the Westin Times Square is on the 2nd floor, and is very spacious with lots of couches to sit on.

The one thing I found surprising is that there was no free internet in the lobby. I have stayed at quite a few Westins in the past and they have always had free internet in the lobby.

Room – A

The Hotel Room was on the 39th floor and was a fairly decent size. I am not sure if this was normal or because it was a handicap accessible room.

The room faced West 42nd Street, so although we were fairly high, there wasn’t necessarily a city view because of all the other skyscrapers. However it is New York, so that is expected.

The room featured a King Size Heavenly Bed (which I love), a desk with a chair, flat screen tv, 2 night stands, and a chair near the window.

Bathroom – B

The Bathroom was interesting. As I stated before, I believe this room was handicap accessible so the bathroom was quite large and had hand rails, etc. The one thing I didn’t understand though was the sink. As you can tell in the picture, it is very industrial and almost out of a prison movie. Of course it is just a sink, so it doesn’t really matter, I just thought it was a bizarre choice given the other furnishings in the room.

As for the shower, although it didn’t have the normal dual shower heads (again most likely because it was handicap accessible) that you find at most Westins, it did its job and was fine.

The amenities in the Bathroom were standard Westin products.

Cost – C+

Given it was a weekend, the normal room rate was $380 a night. I was fortunate that my friend got the room through work for free, so I didn’t have to pay anything. In my opinion, I don’t necessarily think it would be worth paying $380 if you had to pay for the room out of pocket. However it is Manhattan, so you are paying for location and space, and this Room / Hotel certainly had both.

The Westin Times Square is a Category 6 Property (out of 7) and costs 20,000 Starpoints for a free night. The only two Category 7 Starwood Properties in New York are the St. Regis and The Chatwal, which both cost 30,000 Starpoints a night. To help put this in comparison, the Four Points by Sheraton in Peoria, IL only cost me 3,000 Starpoints for a free night.

I just signed up for the Starwood American Express Card and earned 35,000 Starpoints for free, however if I was going to use Starpoints for a Hotel in New York City, I probably wouldn’t stay at the Westin Times Square.

The only reason for this is because it costs 20,000 Starpoints a night, while the Westin Grand Central, which is just down the street, only costs 12,000 Starpoints a night! Similarly there are some Sheratons in the area that also cost 12,000 Starpoints a night.

The 8,000 Point difference might not sound like much, but if you are staying 3 nights, that is the difference between 60,000 Starpoints or 36,000 Starpoints!

If you have a ton of Starpoints to blow, instead of spending 20,000 Starpoints at the Westin Times Square, I’d definitely recommend using those 20,000 Starpoints at any of the four W Hotels in New York. If you want to go big, then I’d recommend using 30,000 Starpoints for St. Regis or The Chatwal.

As I said earlier, the $400 Westin Room was free for me, so I can’t really complain too much. However for other people who are thinking about going to New York, those are my recommendations.

Overall – B

If this review was based solely on location, then the Westin Times Square would get an A+, as it is situated in one of the best locations in the City. However when you factor in the cost, it becomes a little more tricky since there is another Westin in the vicinity and cost almost half as many Starpoints.

I would have given the Westin Times Square a B+, had it not been for the no internet issue in the lobby! This is my number 1 pet peeve!

Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, I can understand that Internet was something of a novelty and only Business people had Laptops therefore it made sense for Hotels to charge a premium for it. However it is now 2012, and even my 5 year old Niece has a iPad. Hotels don’t charge you to watch TV, why do they charge for Internet?

The one thing I will never understand about Hotel Internet is why the lower end brands like Starwood’s Four Points and Intercontinental’s Holiday Inn can provide free wi-fi, but properties where you are paying $400 a night, they feel the need to get an extra $15 out of you.

Similar how Southwest has built their television commercials around the fact that they don’t charge you Baggage Fees, any of the major Hotel Chains could easily do something similar by providing Free Internet at all their properties (not just the lower end ones) and use that in a marketing campaign.

Anyways, outside of that I really enjoyed my stay at the Westin Times Square, and would have no problem returning as long as the price was right.

I am sure many of you have stayed here before, so curious to hear your impression of the property.

-Parag

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