Thursday, May 21, 2015

Park Hyatt Aviara Resort Review

View from a Park Suite on 4th floor.
After a night in the Regency Mission Bay and a night at the Andaz San Diego, our third and final night on our mini-vacation was spent at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort.  The resort is located in Carlsbad, actually about 30 miles north of Downtown San Diego.  It is 3 miles from Legoland, and 20 miles from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Park Suite Bedroom
My girlfriend and I had spent the day at the Safari Park, and were happy to arrive at the resort for a night of R&R (and as it turns out: pool, air hockey, foosball, and shuffleboard).  We dropped our car with the Valet, which is the only parking option at the resort, costing $35 nightly.  Tony at the front desk went out of his way to make a positive impression, offering info on the spa and restaurants, upgrading our room, and walking us to the elevator to get us on our way.
Our original booked room was an ADA King tub room, which I booked due to availability with the government rate.  Tony upgraded us to a Park Suite, likely in part due to my Hyatt loyalty.

Our suite was exceptionally large.  It featured 1 1/2 Baths.  It had two balconies each with chairs and a table.  It had a living room with two single-person chairs and a sofa, master bedroom with a single-person chair and ottoman and a desk work-area.  It also had a walk-in closet and a master bath with dual-vanities and a separate tub and shower.
Park Suite Living Room

While the size made the room comfortable to me, the furnishings I felt were less than welcoming.  Not for a lack of an update though, as the hotel website states it was renovated in the last couple of years.

We dropped off our belongings and went back to the lobby to inquire about the on-property restaurants.
There are several on-property options for dining, but for dinner the concierge printed us menus for both the Lobby Lounge and Vivace.  We settled on the lobby lounge, and found a seat on a couch.  Shortly afterwards we were brought pistachios and green olives, and we placed our order.
We shared a non-alcoholic Strawberry Campari Crush, which was terrific, and munched on House Smoked salmon, Applewood Smoked Bacon truffle Mac and Cheese, and the Brandt Natural Beef Sliders.  For dessert we took back to our room a slice of the Aviara Cheesecake.

Park Suite Master Bath
All in all our evening meal was delicious.  I preferred the sliders to the Salmon, and the cheesecake would have been better if my girlfriend had shared more with me!

After loading up on our dinner, my girlfriend scrolled through hotel activities and discovered that the Park Hyatt featured a game room.  We went in search for the room and found it on the opposite end of the hotel one level below the lobby.  In it were pool tables, foosball tables, an air hockey table, and in a separate area a bar and shuffleboard table.  It also featured an video game area with an attached Xbox.  We were the only ones there, and so we played a round of roll-pool, a few rounds of air hockey, a single game of foosball, and some games of shuffleboard.

When we were thoroughly worn out, we went back to the room where we plopped into bed and immediately.... turned on the TV and watched it until 1 A.M when we finally passed out.

Where I relaxed and fantasized
about never working again.
In the morning we made our way to the California Bistro for the breakfast buffet.  As part of my Diamond membership benefits, we both received complimentary breakfast.

The buffet was a decent size, offering standard fare: waffles, sausage links and patties, scrambled eggs, French toast, bacon, and more.  The food was enjoyable, and there was better selection than at the Mission Bay's Regency club, but it paled in comparison to the prior morning at the Andaz.  It was comparable to the buffet's found at Hyatt House and Hyatt Place hotels.

Our last quest was to tour the Spa.  We had tried to visit the previous night, but it was already closed by the time we got over there.  Spa access at the Park Aviara is free for Diamond members, and the receptionist led my girlfriend on a tour of the ladies' spa while I quickly strolled through the men's.

There was nothing particularly great about the spa: but for anyone who wants to get away there was a relaxing Jacuzzi available.  There was also a solarium, where I found myself kicked back enjoying a magazine while my girlfriend showered at the spa.  Between running all over the place over the last three days and being out in the sun all day at both the Zoo and the Safari park, I was thoroughly exhausted, and the solarium was the perfect place to get some comfortable relaxation.

After packing up, we left the hotel around noon and headed back to Sacramento.

Between a night at the Regency Mission Bay, a night at the Andaz Downtown San Diego, and a night at the Park Hyatt, I discovered all had their special aspects, and I think the Park Hyatt would easily be the best option for a couples getaway.  Less rowdy than the Regency and more refined than the Andaz, the Park Hyatt caters not so much to the family crowd or the partying crowd.  That's not to say there was a lack of activity options for families.  Quite the contrary: a family pool, game room, and close proximity to Legoland and the Safari Park make this a decent choice for families, but ultimately the focus seems to be on making this property more of a retreat than a family getaway spot.  Golfing, tennis, an adult's only pool and bar area, a spa, and upscale dining options all lend to this aspect.

In the end, this was an excellent hotel, though I'm impartial to waterslides at the Regency Mission Bay and both the Regency's and Andaz's proximity to the city of San Diego and the beaches.  I was also disappointed that none of the rooms have solid views of the Ocean, though there are a couple from which you can supposedly see the ocean from.

If you have a chance, check out my video from the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park.  Available in both 3D (top video) and 2D (bottom video) below.


3D Version Above (3DTV and Glasses Required)
2D Version Below

Monday, May 18, 2015

Andaz San Diego Review

Our Andaz Large King Room
Night two of my three night San Diego Vacation took place at the Andaz San Diego.  After spending the day at the San Diego Zoo, we drove the 3 miles south to downtown.

The Andaz only offers Valet parking at $40 per night.  I did not inquire about other nearby parking options.  We dropped off the car and walked into the most elegant lobby of the 18 Hyatt hotels I've stayed in (although not the most impressive).  As opposed to a standard check-in counter, the front desk agent entered my information into her tablet, and quickly processed my check-in.  While she did that, we were offered wine or soda along with delectable Red Velvet cupcakes.  I chose my 1000 point bonus for Diamond membership as opposed to the standard food/beverage amenity, and was told that our breakfast at the Rooftop Restaurant/Bar would be removed from the bill.
Mirrors give the illusion of a much larger room.
After less than 5 minutes, we were on our way up to our room: #513.
This was the first time since beginning my loyalty to Hyatt that I booked the room using another source than Hyatt's website: in this case, Rocketmiles.
I took this route, paying $175 for the night as opposed to the Government Rate of $145, and instead of earning 1375 Hyatt Points for the stay (Diamond Membership 30% bonus + 3X Points for using Hyatt Visa), I instead opted to use Rocketmiles' promotion to earn 350 Ultimate Rewards Points (2X for Travel on Sapphire Preferred) and 5000 United Miles.
Our original booked room was an Andaz Queen, but we were given a free upgrade to an Andaz Large King.
Our initial impression of the room was that it was huge, and I immediately thought I had been given an upgrade to a suite.  But my girlfriend and I both quickly realized that it was an illusion: mirrors on either side of the room made it seem much larger than it was.  After comprehending the actual size, I realized this was not a suite, but it was certainly much larger than we could've ended up in had we gotten what we booked.
View from room #513
The highlight of this room (and apparently most of the rooms in the hotel) was a see through-shower area with Rain-shower head.  It also had a nice view of Downtown San Diego.  But as much as we both liked the room, my girlfriend is extremely sensitive to smells, and the room smelled as though they may have covered up some smoking.  To me, it was a light, non-bothersome odor, and I could've easily stayed, (I also feel most people would not be bothered by it) but it was not to be.  Before we went downstairs for dinner recommendations and to request a room change, we quickly toured the rooftop of the hotel.  The rooftop features a bar area, dozens of chaise lounge chairs and numerous cabanas along with a small sized pool.  On this Sunday night, there were a few 20-somethings scattered about relaxing or drinking, all rather quiet.
After taking a few minutes to relax in a cabana, we made our way downstairs.  We told an agent about the smell and asked to be moved.  He introduced himself as one of the managers (I'm pretty confident Daniel was his name), and offered to show us another room we could move to.  We followed him to the elevator, and he took us to the 6th floor.  He opened the door to room #647, and we determined it would be more than suitable:
Room #647, an Andaz Suite.
The room was an Andaz Suite, featuring a separate living area and a full tub and shower.  Though I still feel there was a smell in this room as well as the other, the odor here was significantly less noticeable.  Neither room bothered me at all, but this was more tolerable for the girlfriend.
Desk area of Andaz Suite Living Room.
Living area of the Andaz Suite.
We headed out to dinner while Daniel had the staff move our luggage from the previous room to this one.  We took many recommendations from Daniel, but we ultimately ended up at Osteria Panevino.  I won't review dinner here, but I do highly recommend it.

We returned to the hotel and took a bath.  We discussed our breakfast options.  As a Diamond member, our breakfast would be free whether we ordered in room or on the rooftop.  My girlfriend was convinced that the layout of the rooftop restaurant would make for an uncomfortable breakfast, as we both figured we would end up at the bar.  But I ultimately decided against ordering in, as I wasn't completely enthralled with the room service menu, and hoped there would be additional items on the breakfast menu at the restaurant.
Breakfast Worth Photographing:
Andaz Bananas Foster French Toast: caramelized banana, maple cream.

As it turns out, I was right, somewhat.
We woke up around 8:00 with plans to head out to the San Diego Zoo Safari park 30 miles north of Downtown, followed by our third night stay at the Park Hyatt Aviara resort.
Breakfast Worth Photographing:
Caprese Omelet: Eggwhites, tomato, mozzarella, basil pesto.
After packing up, we headed upstairs to the rooftop restaurant for our breakfast.  We were happy to see that they had reconfigured some of the patio to accommodate tables, so no need to eat at the bar.  We sat down and scrolled through the menu. The breakfast menu offered only a few additional items than what was on the room service menu, including the Andaz Bananas Foster French toast.  I ordered the Daily Fresh Juice, which in this case was a delicious, frothy fresh squeezed Pineapple Juice, and ended up ordering an item also offered on the room service menu: the Caprese Omelet.  My girlfriend ordered the French Toast and Hot Chocolate with a fruit platter.  Both entrees were incredible, easily the best breakfast I've enjoyed during my many stays at Hyatt's around the country.
Total bill with Tax and Gratuity $62.50--- complimentary with Diamond Status.

Last on our list of things to do at the hotel was request a tour of their largest accommodation, Room #648: the Star Suite.  We spent 5 minutes touring the party-centric pad.  We didn't learn anything that couldn't be derived from the website, and since we had an agent with us the whole time, I didn't bother with photos.  I did learn that discounted upgrades could be had on request at the time of check-in pending availability.  The Star Suite varies in price from $500-$2000 a night depending on time of year and events in the area.

As I discovered from both the previous night at the Regency Mission Bay and the following night at the Park Hyatt Aviara, the three Hyatt hotels I stayed in during my trip to San Diego all had their own pros and cons.  Catering to the 20's-something crowd, the Andaz would be my last choice for a family trip, as activities are fairly limited and the pool is rather small.  The proximity to the Zoo is unbeatable, but for anyone looking to take in more of the San Diego experience than solely the Zoo, you'd do just as well at the Regency closer to Sea World or the Park Hyatt closer to Legoland and the Safari Park.  Major pros of this hotel versus the Regency or Park include select free mini-bar items, treats upon arrival and served throughout in the lobby, more modern and stylish rooms, and breakfast that can't be beat.
Cons include smaller rooms, less family activities, and views inferior to those at the Regency.

In the end, extra friendly agents, a modern lobby and rooms, and an incredible breakfast make this my favorite of the three.  Yet I feel that I would be unlikely to book any room smaller than a suite, as the Andaz Large king felt rather cramped to me.

On a final note, the hotel did attempt to charge me for my breakfast despite my Diamond membership.  I noticed the charge on the bill and questioned the front desk agent.  She removed the charge from the bill and all was settled.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Review

My recent trip to San Diego took me through three different Hyatt Properties, each with their own unique niche. First on the list was the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, situated only a couple miles down the road from both Sea World and Mission Beach.
While my girlfriend concluded her business portion of our 6 day getaway, I drove over to the hotel from the Doubletree Mission Valley (where her job was conducting presentations) to see if I could check in early.
I arrived at just past noon, and was happy to find out they had a room ready for me on the 17th floor of their tower building.
I had considered using a Diamond suite upgrade (or two, or three) for this trip, but since each stay was only for a single night, I decided it would not be worth it and instead booked a King Garden View Room using my Hyatt Visa card annual free night. I did inquire as to what the suites were like (knowing already there was only availability for two queens and not a king as I prefer).  I was informed that most of the suites were waterfront suites in a separate building facing the marina, and were only two stories tall.  It was an easy call for me not to request an upgrade, since I generally prefer a better view over larger room size.  I mentioned seeing a rather large balcony on the top floor of the tower building, and asked if there were other suites in that building.  The agent told me there were other corner suites with living rooms.  She didn't expand on her description, and because I got the feeling I may have scored one of these corner suites, I didn't press the issue.
I parked the car in the nearby lot.  The Regency Mission bay offers both Valet and Self Parking for $35.  I decided to save myself the tip money I'd be doling out by self-parking instead.  The distance to my spot was no further than the distance to the valet, anyway.
I hauled our luggage across the sidewalk as I meandered through plenty of tropical foliage, then entered the tower building.
I entered the elevator, noting that the 17th floor was the top floor.  I was anxious to see my room. Arriving on the 17th floor, I found my room, #1716, a couple doors down from what I figured would be the corner suite.  I was bummed, but certainly not upset.  I entered the room....
A standard, comfortable room with a view.

The room was spacious and clean, and had a fantastic view of the Ocean beyond Mission Beach.  It was far from lavish, but not uncomfortable by any means.  It was also a decent upgrade from my booked King Garden View Room.

After dropping off the bags, I went in search of the Regency Club, which I found.... just a couple doors down.  The front desk agent had told me that the lounge was closed to guests from 1-3, and when I entered it was 12:30.  Someone immediately greeted me, and told me that the lounge wasn't quite open yet.  Not deterred, I asked if I could grab some cookies (which were on display).  She told me to help myself, and advised me that Hors D'Oeuvres would be served at 4.
I was somewhat put off, as she made it seem like I shouldn't be in the lounge, but I still grabbed some chocolate chip cookies and fruit water.
I went back to the room and took a seat on the balcony, only to be disturbed by significant base by a concert that was setting up between the hotel and Mission Beach (on what I found out later was Mariner's Point).  I managed to distract myself from the noise and relax for a bit, but I finally had to retreat to the room after it got just a bit too breezy to be comfortable.

Heated pool with a Kiddie slide and two Water Slides

I took a trip over to the front desk to inquire about the noise, and the concierge advised me that it was not a Hyatt event, nor typical.
Finally, it was time to pick up my girlfriend from the Doubletree.
Upon our return, we went back to the Regency club for Hors D'oeuvres.  On our way up the elevator, I discovered the reason why I thought there was another floor above us... there was a button for the Penthouse Suite on floor 18 (only accessible through the one elevator).
At the Regency club, I found the selection of food to be mediocre at best, with subpar asparagus and a tomato and mozzarella skewer being the highlights for me.
After finishing at the club and then spending some time at Mission Beach, we returned to the tower building.  When we entered the elevator, another guest hit a button to the Penthouse, and after a short conversation, we were invited to tour it.

A lesser view than that from the Penthouse.
The Penthouse of the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay takes up the entirety of the 18th floor.  Balconies on either side span from the living room over to the two bedrooms and feature views of either downtown San Diego or the Ocean.  The master bedroom features a king bed and a shower and tub while the guest bedroom has two double beds and a shower in the bathroom.  A large flat screen TV hangs in the living room.
I didn't press to stay long, as our host was part of a larger gathering, and I didn't want to impede more than I already had.  This room was easily the nicest of the rooms we stayed and toured in San Diego, and the price tag was shockingly reasonable (though perhaps not ordinary).
On check-out, I noticed I had not been charged for parking either through mistake or with compliments of the hotel.

As I discovered over the following two nights, the three Hyatt hotels I stayed in during my trip all had their own pros and cons.  This hotel easily had the best views of the three, and the heated pools with Waterslides definitely would appeal most to the family crowd. Its close proximity to Sea World was also a perk, and even the San Diego Zoo was relatively close (though Andaz was only 3 miles away).
The Regency Club experience was Sub-Par, though our breakfast the following morning was much more appealing than the Hors D'oeuvres offerings. 
I definitely wouldn't recommend using a Diamond Suite Upgrade, as you may easily end up in a larger room with no decent view.
Ultimately, this hotel met my expectations for the price I paid.