Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hotel Review: Clarion Collection Hotel Griso, Lecco Italy

Last month I took a much needed vacation to northern Italy thanks mostly in part to bargain basement fare that I found from New York to Milan for $220 round-trip. Our trip included 3 days visiting Lake Como (of George Clooney fame) in northern Italy, 3 days in Cinque Terre along the Mediterranean Coast in two days in Milan.

Not wanting to have hotel costs eat into my savings, I looked for ways to use point redemption's for my accommodations. The Clarion Collection Hotel Griso in the picturesque town of Lecco was my choice as a base for exploring Lake Como. This hotel was a bargain at 10,000 choice points per night. Choice privileges routinely runs promotions where two stays can earn you 8,000 points. Considering that most of Choice's domestic properties are very budget friendly, you can easily earn several thousand points by taking short trips.

Cost: My booking was made with points for 10,000 points/night. Booking was for a large superior room. Out of pocket cost for this room would be around 180 euro/night. The cheapest rooms are around 95 euros/night. All rates include breakfast.

Location: Hotel is located in Lecco across a bridge and a short walk from the city center and main train station. Lecco is a very picturesque town and the views of Lake Como from the hotel and other spots around town are hard to beat. Lecco was easily accessible from Milan. Direct trains run from both Milan Centrale (45 minute trip) and Porta Garibaldi (1hr trip) stations. Cost is around 5 euros each way. Hotel is about 1 mile from the train station. A pretty easy walk but it might be a bit far for people with lots of luggage. From lecco there are seasonal ferries which go to other towns along the lake.

Lecco and Lake Como

 Room:  The room was very large for European standards.  There was a queen bed which was separated from a sitting area with a "sofa" and desk by a partial wall.  The TV was on a swivel so that you could face it in either direction.  The online room description mentioned a sofa bed but our room had something closer to a padded chair that could not under any circumstances have doubled as a bed.  This wasn't really an issue for us but something to keep in mind if you want to fit an extra person in the room.  The bathroom was pretty standard with a bidet and shower.  I only wish it had a bath tub as well.   By far the highlight of the room and the hotel was the view.  All rooms in the hotel have balconies overlooking the lake and the town of Lecco.   It was one of the best views I have ever had from a hotel room.  The balcony was very large and had a small patio table and two chairs.  The arrangement made for a very enjoyable evening with some wine, cheese and meats that we bought at the grocery store in town. Our room was on the second floor towards the right side of the hotel (if facing the lake).  I would recommend a higher floor but on the same end of the building for the best view.

 Facilities:  In general the hotel seemed well maintained and well staffed.  from our experience service was both attentive and hands off.  They were helpful when we needed them and non intrusive when we wanted privacy.  The hotel bar and restaurant both share the same view as the rooms.  Breakfast was included in the price of the room and was very well presented.  As you can see from the photos there was a nice selection of cold offerings with the addition of scrambled eggs and sausage.  All in all, the highlight of breakfast was the view rather than the food.

Summary: I would highly recommend a trip to Lecco and a stay at this hotel to anyone visiting Milan.  It is very easily accessible and is a very nice break from the chaos of Milano.   At 10,000 points including breakfast this hotel is a steal.  I would also certainly consider paying the standard rate of 95 euros to stay here. 

View from our room

Hotel entrance

Sitting Area


View from our table

Breakfast Room





 Bread and Pastries

View from breakfast

 Restaurant/Breakfast Room

Saturday, April 26, 2014

USAir lounge laGuardia

 A couple weeks ago I had a chance to spend a few hours before my flight in the USAir lounge at LaGuardia Airport.  The atmosphere was very inviting and the decor was very sleek and updated.  I believe they have done a recent renovation as i have seen other reviews calling this the "worst lounge in  America".  Older reviews have commented on worn out carpet and tired chairs, but this was not the case on my visit.  This was one of the smaller lounges that i have ever been in and I could imagine it getting crowded during certain times of the day.  There was a nice view out over the tarmac. 

One strange thing that I noticed was that there was one bathroom, literally one single occupancy bathroom for the entire lounge.  I had to wait in line for several minutes before it was my turn.     

For drinks, there was a full cash bar with complimentary house white/red wine or Bud/Bud light.  The food selection was a bit sparse (although i was visiting at an off hour) and included chips, salsa, Biscoff cookies, fruit and mixed nuts.

All in all, a perfectly acceptable lounge to spend some time between flights but certainly don't come here expecting a full buffet and open bar.  The recent upgrade is a major improvement.  

Location: Terminal C, next to gate C28
Sun - Fri: 5 AM - 9 PM
Sat: 5 AM - 6 PM

Seating area with snack area in the background
The bar
View out the window

Friday, April 18, 2014

Great Fares to the Caribbean

There have been some great fares to the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America recently, including many destinations which usually have notoriously high airfare.  Some examples below.  Prices are round trip, all taxes included.

Washington DC (IAD) to Georgetown (GEO), Guyana: $296 Copa
Baltimore (BWI) to St Thomas (STT), USVI $264 Spirit
Baltimore (BWI) to Aguadilla (BQN), Puerto Rico $244 spirit
Philadelphia (PHL) to Oranjestad (AUA), Aruba $287 USair/American
Philadelphia (PHL)  to Port Of Spain/Trinidad (POS) $295 USair/American
Philadelphia (PHL)  to Grenada (GND) $312 USair/American
Philadelphia (PHL)  to Vieux Fort (UVF), St. Lucia $292 USair/American
Philadelphia (PHL)  to Saint Martin (SXM) $292 USair/American
Philadelphia (PHL)  to Basseterre (SKB), St. Kitts $301 USair/American
Philadelphia (PHL)  to Providenciales (PLS), Turks and Caicos $314 Delta USair/American
Philadelphia (PHL)  to George Town (GCM), Grand Cayman Island $305 USair/American

St. Lucia