Review: Conrad Washington DC

 

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One of the newest hotels in Washington DC at just a couple of months old, my wife and I got to experience this beautiful property courtesy of our AMEX free weekend night certificates.  Unfortunately, the American Express Hilton Honors Ascend Card no longer has this benefit on the cardmember anniversary. Now you have to spend $15,000 in a given year to get the free night and I don’t think it’s worth forgoing points with Chase or AMEX Platinum/Gold to pursue a free night with Hilton in most instances. Since my wife and I both have the AMEX Hilton Honors Ascend Card, we were able to combine our free nights into a weekend stay. The nightly rate for our room was $450 so we got $900 worth of value plus $50 credit towards dining for the cost of the annual fee that we paid for both cards ($95 per card).

Check-In

When you walk into the hotel, take the elevator to the third floor. There is no second floor and the third floor is where the check-in desk, lounge, restaurant, and lobby is located. Upon checking in, the receptionist verified our Hilton Gold status, courtesy of the AMEX card and upgraded us to a room on the 9th floor. We were given a choice between 1,000 Hilton points and a $50 dining credit. We took the dining credit (please don’t ever take the points in this scenario). The receptionist was kind enough to give us a mini-tour of the hotel, Estuary restaurant, and some of the amenities this hotel offers.

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The circular lamp changes color each hour

My first impression when walking in was that this hotel did not have many 90 degree angles. The architect made a concerted effort to make the interior as curvy as possible. The lobby was beautiful and since the hotel was only 45 days old when we stayed, it still had that brand new scent.

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Looking down from the 10th floor to the lobby below.

Hotel Room

Our room was on the 9th floor which gave us a nice view of New York Street down below. Keeping up with the theme, the room was curvy but spacious and very comfortable.

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Coffee and snacks

As an avid coffee drinker, I always appreciate when a hotel provides a Keurig type machine with pods. The coffee was complimentary per usual but the snacks were completely overpriced. If you need snacks, there is a CVS across the street where you can get the same offerings for 1/4 of the price.

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The bathroom provided two sinks and a separate blurred door to the toilet so two people can use the bathroom simultaneously while still having some semblance of privacy.

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The toiletries were Shanghai Tang and the scent was very nice. Not too overpowering but not too light either. The room also provided slippers, a safe, laundry bag, iron, and bathrobes.

Estuary and Estuary Bar

Estuary is the restaurant on the premises which is located on the 3rd floor. We went there for breakfast on Saturday morning and ordered a custom made omelet and buttermilk pancakes. Both were delicious, albeit smaller in portion than your typical brunch diner.

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The Estuary Bar area was spacious and seating was plentiful during the day time. If there is an event going on at the hotel, it’ll likely get packed during the evening going into the late night hours. ConradLounge

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3rd Floor Terrace and Rooftop Bar

Since the hotel was only 45 days old during our stay, the Rooftop Bar was not officially open to guests so I could only take pictures from behind the glass door. At this time, it’s likely open and running.  The 3rd-floor terrace was open for use.

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View from the Rooftop Bar

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The Terrace on the 3rd-floor

Fitness Center

The fitness center was one of the better ones I had seen at a hotel. Upon entering, guests are greeted with towels, earphones, and apples.

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There are multiple treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationary bikes

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If you’re into lifting, they have that covered as well.

Miscellaneous

Although I forgot to measure the internet speed, I had no issues with speed or Wi-Fi connectivity. If you are planning to park your car at the Conrad, the price of parking at their garage was $36 a day. I opted to use the Parkwhiz app and found a garage two blocks away which allowed me to park for $14. There is also metered parking on the street but it has a 3-hour time limit during business hours and it’s free overnight. One of the most appealing aspects of staying at Conrad DC is that the National Mall, White House, Capitol building, Smithsonian, and many other points of interest are only 10-15 minutes away by walking. I also want to acknowledge the receptionists on the 3rd floor who always gave us complimentary bottles of water whenever we walked by. The staff made an excellent stay that much better. We look forward to coming back in the future.

 

 

 

 

Review: The Langham, New York City

Thanks to my cousin Salma Hatia for this detailed review on The Langham.

This was my 2nd time staying at the Langham in NYC, but my 1st time staying at the Langham as an AMEX Platinum Member—which was a whole new experience! Don’t get me wrong, I had a great first stay, it was what I expected for a 5-star hotel, however as an AMEX member I felt like the experience was so much better—like, seriously, who was I?When I checked-in, they immediately upgraded me to an executive suite with a kitchen on the 21st floor because I was an AMEX Platinum member. Along with the upgrade, they told me that I had a $100 credit to use on whatever I wanted, like the spa or room service, complimentary breakfast for 2 at their Michelin-star restaurant, Ai Fiori, and late checkout at 4pm, which was clutch because our flight was at 5:30pm on Sunday.

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When we went up to our room the first thing me and my cousin immediately noticed was the view through the large windows—we were able to see down 5th avenue and we could see the beautiful Chrysler building.

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View of Bank of America Tower and the Conde Naste Building (with H&M sign)

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Beautiful view of the Chrysler building and looking down on Fifth Avenue

The 2nd thing we noticed was that we had a powder room—when does that ever happen? Needless to say, we had more than enough room. We even had some of our friends and cousins come up to hang out with us in the room, 6 adults and a baby were hanging out comfortably. All the cafes around us were closed, so we ordered lattes from room service (using my $100 of credit) and they were excellent!

bathroom

 

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Full kitchen via AMEX Platinum upgrade

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Views of Manhattan from the bathroom

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Soap, shampoo, and conditioner were all Chuan, a holistic proprietary brand owned by Langham

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Another huge selling point for the Langham is their location. The hotel is centrally located in Manhattan, so we were able to walk to most of our destinations on Saturday. We walked to Washington Square Park, Times Square, and the Highline. The next day, we had to check out by 4pm and catch our flight at 5:30pm so we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. We woke up at 8am and called the doorman to arrange a ride to central park at 11am using the hotel car service (which is free!).

Pro Tip: The hotel has a Jaguar that will drop you off wherever you want to go up until 59th street, they start taking appointments in the morning at 8 am, and it is on a first come first serve basis.

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Jaguar that’s provided for guests of The Langham

After we had our ride set up, we got ready and cashed in on our complimentary breakfast at Ai Fiori—which was phenomenal! My cousin and I decided to order a couple of things and share. We ordered the buttermilk pancakes, uova in purgatorio, and the house potatoes —everything was phenomenal. You can see the picture below.

Breakfast

If you asked me what the stay was like after my first time, I would’ve said it was great—all the basics of a 5-star hotel. But, staying here as an AMEX platinum member really made this experience next-level amazing, to say the least! It is rare to have a travel experience where you don’t find yourself compromising on something, whether it be the room, service, or location. But I can truly say that there was no compromising at the Langham NYC, everything was at the top of its game—the room, the service, the amenities, the location, and the (free) food were all a 5 out of 5.

 

Review: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

Since there are several readers who have asked me about the Maldives and my accommodations during my stay there, I figured I would just do a proper review of the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.  I have already made a post on the number of miles and points it took to book this trip and you can read about that here. The Maldives is one of the world’s premier beach destinations and there really isn’t any place like it. Crystal clear waters, an abundance of marine wildlife, and hospitality that is unparalleled regardless of the hotel you may choose. This particular Conrad is located on Rangali Island, an island that is part of the Alif Dhaal Atoll. The Maldives has 26 different atolls with some of them subdivided into two or three.

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The atolls of The Maldives.

Getting There

The only way to get to Rangali Island is via 45-minute seaplane flight on Transmaldivian Airways from the capital city of Male. The distance between the two islands is about 59 miles or 95 km.

Since my wife and I booked with Conrad,  our experience actually started upon landing at Velana International Airport in Male. The Conrad staff guided us to an exclusive Conrad Lounge as we waited for our seaplane to arrive. It’s very rare for a hotel to have a branded airport lounge and this was our first time experiencing one. The lounge was very spacious, had a decent selection of food and drinks, and was clean and well maintained. It also offered free Wi-Fi and couches that could be used as beds. It was much better than most airport lounges we’ve visited.

About 45 minutes later, our seaplane arrived and it was time to take the much-anticipated flight to Rangali Island.

Seaplane

 

I apologize for taking this video vertically.  The plane seats around 15 people and flies at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. You get some amazing views of the other atolls and islands on your way. It’s a loud flight due to the propellers but it was much smoother than I anticipated. Once we arrived, we boarded a golf cart that took us to our villa. The staff gave us a tour of the villa, the amenities, and explained to us in detail the services that they offer. We also found a complimentary bottle of sparkling grape juice and a fruit basket that had been left for us. You can see the video of our villa below.

 Retreat Water Villa (Overwater Villa)

Sorry again for the vertical video. Snapchat and Instagram have basically programmed me to do it this way.

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The stairs lead you straight into the water. I’d say the depth is around 7 feet.

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The path to the beach area

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Jacuzzi with a view

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Shower area

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Private spa room

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The various colors of the jacuzzi at night. 

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Majestic sunsets are the norm in the Maldives

As a Hilton Gold member, Conrad upgraded us from a water villa to a retreat water villa. The retreat water villa came with our own jacuzzi and also had a more private feel since the neighboring villas were several hundred feet away.  The villa itself was incredible. This property has won numerous awards including the best luxury resort in the world.  Each villa also included a private spa room with two massage tables. We didn’t use this service since all we wanted to do was be outside and soak in the sun. Each villa also has stairs which take you right into the water. I would estimate the depth to be around 7 feet right at the villas so if you don’t know how to swim, you might want to keep that in mind. It gets much shallower once you’re near the beach.

Dining

As Hilton Gold members, we were entitled to free breakfast, free afternoon tea at Mandhoo Spa Restaurant, and free cocktails/mocktails between 5-6pm. The breakfast had a large variety of options and I had something different every day. The afternoon tea at Mandhoo was more like a lunch since they also had sandwiches.  Purchasing meals at this property was quite pricey. I mean it is a Conrad Hotel after all.  To minimize meal costs, we would have breakfast at the latest possible time, around 10:30 am and then have the complimentary tea and lunch at Mandhoo Spa Restaurant at 4:30. Since this was pretty darn close to dinner time, we only utilized the Atoll Market for dinner once. Dinner can easily run past $120 a person so if that matters, it is something to beware of.   Conrad Maldives is also home to the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant. Unfortunately, all the daytime slots were reserved during our visit there and there was no point in making a reservation during the evening hours since you couldn’t see the marine wildlife.

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Mandhoo Restaurant

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Pastries, cookies, and tarts

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The roast beef sandwich and the fruit tart were delicious.

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A wide variety of teas

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You can help yourself to as many sandwiches you want

Other Areas of Conrad Maldives

This property actually has a total of three islands. Two of them (Rangali and Rangalifinolhu) are used to for guests and a third is used only for employees. To get from one island to another, we just called the front desk and they sent a golf cart which got us from place to place. You can certainly walk the distance if you wanted to but it would take a solid 25-30 minutes. You will save a ton of time by using the gold cart below.

I didn’t measure the Wi-Fi speed in the villa but it was pretty fast and I had no issues with connectivity. They also have a fantastic business center within a lounge on the second floor in case you needed one. I only used it for a few minutes to print out some documents but it had everything you needed. If you’re a Mac person, they had those as well. Great job Conrad!

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Lounge on the second floor

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Business center within the lounge

People have often asked what we did after sunset. We made it a point to go sleep by 8pm every day. Sunset was at 6:20pm so we woke up right at sunrise, around 6am, and made the most of our day. If you’re in a place like the Maldives, I’d strongly recommend waking up early and not sleeping in.  As far as activities, you can do excursions such as swimming with whale sharks or go scuba diving and jet skiing. If you’re used to paying a certain price for those activities, you will be paying double and triple that over here. Seeing the exorbitant costs, I just preferred to snorkel at the reef right off the island and swim in the waters right near my villa. If only they allowed to book excursions with miles. This Conrad also has two infinity pools, one on each island and all guests are allowed to use either. I took full advantage of that as well.

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The beach area at Rangali island. Both islands have beaches

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Infinity Pool 2. The Dhoni ferry in the background is another way to get from one island to another.

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The seaplane platform which is also used to connect Rangali Island to Rangalifinolhu Island. It’s beautifully lit in the evening

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When I made this reservation, I informed them that my wife’s birthday would be on the second day of our stay there. They remembered and when we entered our room after breakfast during the second day, housekeeping left a nice little gesture.

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They also surprised her with a delicious cake during dinner

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Night time was perfect for the jacuzzi

Final Thoughts

To sum it all up, fantastic resort, pristine beaches, excellent food, excellent service, super friendly and helpful staff, and an experience that I hope I’m able to be a part of again in the future. If you do decide to book at Conrad Rangali Island, having the AMEX Hilton Surpass card or the AMEX Platinum card and the Gold status that comes along with it will take you a long way. I estimated that I got over $700 in value just by having the card.

Departure

View of the Conrad Rangali Island from the seaplane

Some of you have asked if you could take a speedboat rather than the seaplane to Rangali Island. From my understanding, the only way to get there is by seaplane. It’s way overpriced for what amounts to a 30-minute plane ride and unfortunately, if you don’t have miles that can be redeemed for cash (Chase Ultimate Rewards or AMEX Membership points), there really is no way around it. Transmaldivian Airways has a monopoly on this route so it probably won’t change anytime soon.  If the seaplane cost is a turnoff, keep in mind there are plenty of excellent hotels that only require a seaboat transfer from Male. The cost for that isn’t cheap either but it’ll save you about $500 for two people.

 

Airbnb vs Hotels

airBNBEven though Airbnb has been around since 2008, I never used it to book an accommodation until 2015. For those of you who have never used it, it is a website where homeowners rent out their houses, apartments, condos, cabins, even tree houses. There are filters that allow you choose what type of accommodation you’re looking for such as an entire place or a single room. I have used it seven times since and all but one of my stays were excellent. Five of those trips have been in Europe where I strongly believe booking Airbnb was the better option versus booking a hotel. During our trip to Prague, decent hotels were going for $140+ in desirable locations such as Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. Nonetheless, there were many excellent apartments and condos near these locations that were listed on Airbnb.  These accommodations were just a 5 minute walk away from Old Town Square or Wenceslas Square, which eliminated the need for taxis, Uber, etc. Including taxes and cleaning fees, our total for 3 nights came out to just $67/night. I’ve included pictures of the place we booked below.

 

There are a few things to keep in mind prior to booking an Airbnb:

1) Make sure the place you’re interested in has a minimum of five reviews that are spaced apart (I ignored this step once and ended up booking a place that had no reviews.  This resulted in my one below average experience using an Airbnb.)

2) If the owner has not posted pictures of the interior, that’s a red flag and you should avoid it.

3) Try to book a place that is a short walking distance away from as many tourist attractions as possible. By doing this, you’re saving money avoiding taxis and Uber.

So whether you’re traveling somewhere where hotels might be pricey or if you’re traveling with multiple families and want to rent out an entire house on a beach, Airbnb is a great alternative to hotels. If you use my link here you will also get $40 off your booking of $75 or more.  If you have used it before, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading.

– Shiraz