Hotel Review: DoubleTree Yerevan

DoubleTree Yerevan

Elite Status: Hilton Gold

The DoubleTree Yerevan is an 4-star Hilton property in downtown Yerevan, within walking distance from Republic Square. I spent two nights here using Hilton points rate, using 60,000 points for two nights.

DoubleTree Yerevan

Check In/Check Out

I showed up at noon, and was given a room immediately. Check out was fast, too.

Room

As a Hilton Gold, I was given a high floor room. The room is of a decent size, with the King bed occupying majority of the room. There’s a long table by the wall, and a mini-fridge. Interestingly, the contents (3 bottles of soda) of the mini-fridge was complimentary according to the front desk. The wardrobe has a safe and ironing board.

DoubleTree Yerevan

DoubleTree Yerevan

There are power outlets by the bedside, and the wifi worked fine during my stay.

DoubleTree Yerevan

Bathroom

The bathroom is fairly standard-sized, with a rain shower, toilet/bidet, and single sink vanity. It also has something that you don’t see often – towel warmer! While the weather wasn’t cold during my stay, it’s always nice to have a warm towel.

They stock CrabTree & Evelyn products.

DoubleTree Yerevan

DoubleTree Yerevan
Food

I chose breakfast in lieu of points as my Hilton Gold amenity. Breakfast has a large selection, but it didn’t vary much over the two days I was there. You can get a substantial breakfast.

DoubleTree Yerevan

DoubleTree Yerevan

Amenities

There’s a 24hr gym at one of the top floors, but I didn’t check it out when I was there.

Overall

Although it is located in downtown Yerevan, DoubleTree Yerevan is located ~10 min walk from Republic Square, i.e. some ways from tourist attractions vis-à-vis other major chains like Marriott. However, it’s a perfectly functional hotel. I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay at it, but also have nothing bad to write about it.

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Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, 06-08 August 2016

Conrad Maldives Rangali

Introduction

Back in June 2015, I signed up for Citi’s Hilton Reserve, which gives 2 weekend nights in any Hilton property anywhere in the world after spending $3000 in 3 months. This set the wheels in motion. Where could I go that I’d never pay for? Maldives.

Maldives has always struck me as this expensive, couples/honeymoon place. Almost everyone I know went there for their honeymoon and shelled out a 5 figure sum. I like beaches, climate change and rising sea-levels are winning against places like the Maldives, so I sure as hell was not going to depend on finding someone before mother nature wins!

The Conrad Maldives retails from $500 to $900 for their regular rooms (and up), so this was a perfect candidate for me to blow my two free nights, and not shell out a lot of money. I also get to check another country off my list. Travel hacking for the win!

Trans-Maldivian Airlines

Getting to and from Male and Rangali

At this point, I moved back to Singapore, so getting to Male wasn’t difficult. I did make a bit of a mistake, because I actually booked a one way mileage ticket on Singapore Airlines. That cost me 15,725 Krisflyer miles, and more importantly, 139 USD. I could have done things differently, because the taxes on the award is almost the same price as a one-way on the budget airline, Tigerair, which also flies direct to Male. It has a less-than-ideal timing, but I could have just paid more, and saved some Krisflyer miles. But as luck would have it, things worked out in my favour, because the Singapore Airlines flight I took was full so I did a voluntary bump, and got 250 SGD in cash, getting there a couple of hours later. For my trip back, I simply booked a Tigerair one-way flight for 220 USD. It could have been a lot cheaper if I didn’t book it at the last minute.

The real big expense, is getting from Male to your resort. As long as you are on one of the standalone resort-islands, you have to take a seaplane, and there’s no way to avoid the 500 USD per person round trip charge, so that was a big one for me.

Conrad Maldives Rangali

Pre-Departure Communications with Conrad

Despite my stay being an award stay, I’d say that their communications were excellent. A week or so before my stay, I got an e-mail from their pre-booking coordinator, asking for details of my flights, so they could arrange my seaplane transfer to Rangali.

Additionally, I was very interested in dining in Ithaa, their underwater restaurant, so they were also able to secure a reservation for me as well.

Even as a Hilton Diamond, I wasn’t expecting any upgrades on the property from their (already humongous) beach villa, which is the standard room, but I did ask if they would assign me a room on the sunset side of the island, which they did!

What was impressive, was when I threw a monkey wrench in their plans with my voluntary bump. Right after the bump, I shot them an e-mail, and their team actually arranged alternative plans, and managed to still get me to Rangali with very little downtime.

Conrad Maldives Rangali

Arrival/Departure in Male – Conrad Lounge

Upon arrival, I was met at airport by a staff of Conrad, who then handled all the details of my seaplane transfer. Shortly after that, I was put on a coach, and driven to the Conrad Lounge. The Conrad has a special lounge for its guests waiting for the seaplane, and it was excellent.

There are several comfortable lie-flat couches in the lounge, for those looking to take a nap after a long flight, or just stretch out their legs. There’s also a complimentary 15-min massage for guests. There’s also a buffet station for those who want to grab some food before or after their flights. There are also showers for those who wish to freshen up as well.

Conrad Rangali Maldives

Check In/Check Out

Very painless process. I was introduced to my concierge, who’s in charge of my stay, and he gave me a set of brochures for reference. There is also a small waiting room after check out, where you can get refreshments while waiting for the seaplane.

The reception area is also covered in sand, which enhanced the whole island feeling of the resort, and puts you in the mood for a vacation right away.

Conrad Rangali Maldives

Room

I got a standard beach villa, which is a massive 150 sq m/1614 sq ft. My room was a renovated villa. Previously, there was a water fountain in the villa, which created a lot of dead space, but that has since been replaced by incorporating that space into the room, putting skylights and a daybed.

Broadly, the villa has three areas. There’s the outdoor shower, which comes with a soaking tub. Enclosed within the room, are double vanities. If you so desire, there’s also a clothes line near the door, so you can dry your swim wear after a fun day at the beach. The walk-in closet is also in this area.

Conrad Rangali Maldives

In the middle section of the room, there’s the day bed with a coffee table. There are curtains, so if you have a small child, or a third adult, you can always sleep the extra person here, and still get some level of privacy. These curtains are thin though. Close to the daybed is the toilet and one more sink.

The bed/sleeping area takes up majority of the space in the room. There is a king sized bed facing the TV, and a sofa by the foot of the bed, if you want to watch some TV. There’s also a desk by the corner, and opposite the desk, there was the fridge with the Nespresso and an electric kettle. Guests are supplied with water, and if you want ice, just call housekeeping for ice.

Conrad Rangali Maldives

Each beach villa also has offers beach access. Just outside the room, there are a couple of chairs and loungers if you wish to spend time outdoors, but still shaded. This leads directly to the beach. And by your personal strip of beach, there are also loungers, along with beach towels.

Conrad Rangali Maldives

The set-up is simply amazing.

Conrad Rangali Maldives

Hilton Diamond Amenities

As a Hilton Diamond, there’s complimentary breakfast in the two restaurants that offer breakfast on the island. It’s a buffet with an excellent selection. I particularly loved their smoothies. If you eat late enough in the day, you probably can turn it into a brunch and simply eat dinner, saving some money. This represents some serious cost savings, because everything in the resort is expensive.

Conrad Maldives Rangali

In addition to breakfast, there is also a complimentary tea break at Mandhoo Restaurant, featuring finger sandwiches, and coffee/tea. Think of it as a dainty high tea. Also, they offer a cocktail hour at the Vilu restaurant as well for diamonds, should you wish to obtain a complimentary alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage. I went with a mocktail, which was tasty.

Conrad Maldives Rangali

My room was also stocked with diamond amenities. There was a sparkling wine, a bowl of fruit, and some chocolates.

Conrad Maldives Rangali

Dining 

Dining is expensive. I’ve heard of stories of people who basically pack a lot of instant noodles, and cook it in their room to cut costs. That’s always an option. I did, however, dine at the resort when I was there.

Conrad Rangali Maldives

I really wanted to try their Ithaa Undersea restaurant, since it’s a unique feature. To cut costs, I went with their lunch service, which was a prix fixe at ~200 USD. It was pretty cool, and the food was pretty decent (I guess you are paying for the atmosphere), but as a lunch service, it was definitely not romantic or anything. There was a family with some unruly kids, and the parental units didn’t feel compelled to rein in their wildlings. The servers actually had to tactfully escort the kids back to their table, and there was only temporary respite for the other diners, as the wildlings were back to their disruptive behavior (one of them tried to jump on me).

Conrad Rangali Maldives

For my two dinners, I ate at the Rangali Bar, which is one of the more affordable options. Even then, a Wagyu burger with a soda set me back ~50 USD after tips. The Chicken Tikka that I had the next evening cost about the same price. In short, if you are going to pay for food, there’s really no escape from paying ~50 per entree.

Conrad Maldives Rangali

Activities

Many people do cruises or diving, but I was on a very short trip, so I just wanted to swim/lounge around.

Conrad Rangali Maldives

Snorkeling equipment rental is available for free at the dive shop. I checked out a set on my second day there, and went snorkeling around the house reef. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was a very calming experience.

Conrad Maldives Rangali

I spent most of my time swimming. I swam at the sea in front of my beach villa, and on my last day there, I actually swam between the islands. I also spent my time lounging. My personal favorite was the adult-only infinity pool on the island with the overwater villas.

Service

This is probably the defining factor for the Conrad Maldives – top-notch service. Everything was perfect. One day, I was at the infinity pool. I spotted a pair of flip flops under one of the lounge chairs. An attendant asked for my room number before bringing some towels. Some 30 mins after I returned to my room, my personal concierge asked if I left my flip flops at infinity pool.

Conrad Rangali Maldives

Overall

I never quite got the hype of the Maldives, but I must say, this was one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve ever had. Just walking around the various sandy paths between the islands and swimming and lounging in the clear blue sea. It was an incredibly calming experience, which was topped off by impeccable service. I actually found myself researching other options for Maldives vacations right after returning from this trip!

Miles & Points

Well, I didn’t get this vacation for free, but I did do it for ~1000 USD, which is still pricey for a weekend.

Accommodations:

2 Nights Hotel Stay: Citi Hilton Reserve (free) – at least 1000 usd saved

Flights:

Singapore – Male: 120 USD + 15000 KF points on Singapore Airlines

Male – Singapore: 220 USD on Tigerair

Seaplane in Maldives: 500 USD

Food:

300 USD

Hilton Gold status, which comes with the credit card, would have given you free breakfast at the Conrad, so the credit card itself would have effectively reduced your food costs.

I saved about 1100 USD on this trip with miles and points. This trip probably can be done with about 700 USD (seaplanes and budget airlines), if you’re willing to eat instant noodles for your trip.

Hotel Review: Hilton Garden Inn Sabana San Jose Costa Rica, 21 March 2016

Hilton Garden Inn La Sabana

The Hilton Garden Inn Sabana San Jose is one of the newer hotels in San Jose, Costa Rica. It also happens to be one of the tallest buildings in San Jose. We stayed there for one night in March. The rate can range from the high-90s to low-200.

Check In/Check Out:

Check in was pretty rapid. I did online check-in, and pre-selected my room on the top floor (20th). When we got there, we were just given the keys to our room, even though we were a little early (noon).

Check out wasn’t slow, but it was a little bit odd – I filled in the paperwork for express check-out, but was still held up to do a standard check out. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mind, but we were running late.

San Jose

Location:

In the Sabana business park, it’s near a number of coffee shops (Starbucks, Juan Valdez, Costa), and there’s a McDonald’s across the street. There are also a number of little bistros nearby. I’d say it was a good 45 min walk from the HGI to downtown San Jose. The walk is pleasant enough, so it’s not too bad. We took Uber back, and that was ~5 USD (or less – I can’t remember)

Hilton Garden Inn La Sabana

Room:

Contemporary. Think retro sofas, over-sized, hanging lamps, and grey-tiled bathrooms. Space wise, it was a little bit tight, but no complaints. There was also a mini-fridge, and a coffee machine by the entryway table. The bathroom was stocked with Neutrogena products.

Hilton Garden Inn La Sabana

Amenities:

They have a pool, which while awesome in theory, wasn’t exactly pragmatic. The winds made it a bit too cold to swim. Also, it’s probably a one-lane lap pool. The gym is on the small side of things, but the equipment is new. It also offers a great view of the national stadium.

Pool at Hilton Garden Inn La Sabana

Breakfast:

As a Gold or Diamond member, you can choose the point amenity, or breakfast for two. We went with the breakfast, and it was excellent.

The buffet had quite a selection, and there were four hot items. The key to breakfast is – you had to read the menu on the table, where they have made-to-order breakfast items. I got an omelette, and the French toast. The French toast is amazing. Try it!

Breakfast at Hilton Garden Inn La Sabana Breakfast at Hilton Garden Inn La Sabana

French toast at Hilton Garden Inn La Sabana

Overall:

We had an enjoyable stay, and would return to this property. The staff were friendly, and the property offered great views. The lobby also had complimentary coffee and cookies.

Hotel Review: DoubleTree by Hilton Cariari San Jose, 20 & 22 March 2016

DoubleTree Hilton Cariari

The DoubleTree by Hilton Cariari in San Jose Costa Rica is a four-star resort that’s located midway between the Juan Santamaria International Airport and downtown San Jose. The paid rates hover around mid-90 to low-100s. For some reason, the premium rooms were available for redemption at a discounted rate, so I redeemed ~21000 Hilton points for the first night, and ~23000 Hilton points for the second night.

Overall, it seems like a lovely resort property, with some nice green spots to chill out. However the pool was undergoing maintenance during our stay, so we didn’t get to enjoy the resort fully.

Check In/Check Out:

Quick and painless. I’m currently in the midst of a billing dispute with them with regards to them double-charging me for transportation, though.

Executive Balcony Double Room at DoubleTree Hilton Cariari

Room:

We got the executive double room. It is large, and has a coffee machine, which we didn’t use. There’s also a nice-sized balcony, but with the pool maintenance going on during our stay, it was too noisy for us to hang out on the balcony.

The bathroom is average size, but dated. The resort has seen better days.

Executive Balcony Double Room at DoubleTree Hilton Cariari

Service:

There are highs and lows. In the online check-in, we could designate some items we wanted in the room. We asked for a map and slippers, and we found these in the room after check in.

At breakfast, the staff was very attentive.

On the other hand, the first front desk agent didn’t tell us where the executive lounge is, so I couldn’t locate it the first day.

Welcome package at DoubleTree Hilton Cariari

Breakfast:

The Gold and Diamond benefit is complimentary continental breakfast that was served in the restaurant. The hotel stuck with the rules of a continental breakfast. The pastries were delicious, and I didn’t quite feel the need to pay a $10 upcharge for a full breakfast.

Breakfast at DoubleTree Hilton Cariari

Executive Lounge:

Located above the front desk, it’s only open for select hours. They have hors d’oeuvres in the evening from around 5 – 8 pm. It’s hosted. The lounge itself is rather small, and probably had about four tables. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

Evening Hors D'Oeuvres at DoubleTree Hilton Cariari

Overall:

We enjoyed our stay. It’s a lovely property with a great location.