4.25.2015

when is a Ritz not a Ritz?

rotunda of the Ritz London
This column is inspired by yesterday's announcement that Four Seasons will cease management of the Ritz-Carlton Chicago effective July 31st. Ritz-Carlton Chicago (a Four Seasons hotel) is one of five (5) Ritz properties that currently are not managed by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. They are:

Ritz Paris — one of my favorite hotels anywhere (I've stayed twice), the Ritz Paris has an enviable location right on the place Vendome. In the heart of Paris's 1st arrondissement, it's easy walking distance to anywhere in the center of Paris and is steps away from high-end shopping opportunities. The Ritz is in the midst of a quarter billion euro renovation. Expected to reopen by the end of 2015, I definitely want to visit when it reopens.

Ritz London — a very British hotel right on Piccadilly and on the northeast corner of Green Park (Buckingham Palace is on the opposite southwest corner, I enjoyed my 2009 stay at the Ritz. Come for the Afternoon Tea, and enjoy your stay in a very reasonably priced, traditional London hotel. Deluxe rooms and above, request a room on a high floor with lots of natural light, and for a real WOW, book a 1BR Deluxe Suites overlooking Green Park.

Ritz Lisbon — a Four Seasons hotel in the heart of Lisbon, Portugal, I enjoyed my stay here in 2009. A tip: it's relatively easy to score a room upgrade into a Deluxe room here. Just book through a Four Seasons Preferred Partner travel consultant for priority status on the upgrade list ... as well as enjoy a rich set of FSPP amenities. Email me for full details on FSPP amenities at over 90 FS hotels worldwide.

Ritz Madrid — the Ritz Madrid is owned by Belmond (formerly known as Orient Express), and it's located in central Madrid next door to the Prado Museum. The Ritz is an older, traditional elegant hotel with great service. While I had to wait in line for concierge service at the Westin Place across the circle, two concierges approached me as soon as I walked up the Concierge desk at the Ritz.

Ritz-Carlton Chicago — still a Four Seasons Hotel (until July 31st), I can provide you with Four Seasons Preferred Partner amenities up until then ... and Ritz-Carlton STARS amenities afterwards (which include a complimentary daily breakfast for two, free internet, and more). I expect the hotel will remain a member of Virtuoso after the Ritz-Carlton take-over.


I can provide added-value amenities at each of the above hotels, including complimentary daily breakfast for two, upgrades if available, and extra amenities that differ by property. Contact me for full details!

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

your next destination, Mars or South Dakota?



An actual South Dakota marketing campaign, is this the best reason to visit or live in South Dakota? One of the states I've never visited, Mt. Rushmore is an iconic landmark...

There's not a single Virtuoso hotel in the entire state of South Dakota, but the hospitality is said to be superior than anyone has ever experienced on the Red Planet.

Enjoy the video... just 30 seconds long!

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

4.24.2015

don't cry for me, Argentina



YouTube video reposted with permission of Storyful Licensing, licensed.storyful.com

Sadly, my trip to Argentina was cancelled last minute. Literally the last minute. My driver to SFO was about to head to my house, and I had to make a "go" or "no go" decision without workable flight plans ... so I chose "no go."

As you may have heard, the Calbuco Volcano in neighboring Chile erupted for the first time in 40 years, spewing clouds of volcanic ash high into the atmosphere and disrupting air traffic into Chile and Argentina. My Delta flight from ATL to Buenos Aires was cancelled this morning, and the alternatives that Delta offered didn't work. (My SFO-ATL flight was on a separate itinerary from the ATL-EZE flight, so this wasn't Delta's fault).

So don't cry for me, Argentina. We'll just have to do it another time.

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

4.23.2015

Argentina, still on my bucket list...

Congress Plaza and Rodin's Thinker, from Wikimedia Commons
I'm returning to South America tomorrow (for the second time — my previous visit was to Chile). Traveling with colleagues from Brownell Travel, I'm excited to be exploring a completely new destination (for me). Here's our itinerary:

Saturday and Sunday - La Bamba de Areco
Activities include a visit the town of Areco, a gaucho skills show, and a folk show at our final dinner. Here's a video of La Bamba... looks beautiful and wonderfully relaxing.



Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday - Four Seasons Buenos Aires
We will get a chance to tour Buenos Aires, and there's a full day visit planned to the town of Tigre and the ParanĂ¡ Delta. During my three days in Buenos Aires, I will have a chance to do site inspections of the Four Seasons, Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau, and Alvear Palace. Watch here for my reports from Argentina!

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

4.17.2015

upgrading my travel photography

As photographers who use a Macintosh undoubtedly know, Apple is discontinuing its professional-level photo program, Aperture. I have happily used Aperture for many years and grew to appreciate its ease of use. Here's a photo, processed in Aperture, from my trip to Costa Rica two years ago.

Aperture 3.6

So I needed a replacement program. I first downloaded a trial version of Adobe Lightroom 5. Although reasonably priced, I found the program a bit disappointing. What I missed the most was Aperture's quarter-tone levels adjustment, and Lightroom's curves adjustment simply didn't do it for me. Still, this turned out a bit better than the Aperture image.

Lightroom 5

So I kept looking, and after googling the subject discovered Capture One Pro 8. Like any software tool, the program has a significant learning curve, but here's the same photograph processed using Capture One. The detail on the leaf is stunning. Click on each picture to see a larger versions in order to compare the image quality.

Capture One Pro 8

Granted, this is not a totally objective test, as it represents my "best efforts" in processing the same photograph in three different programs. However, given my own experience, I'm definitely sold on Capture One and have applied to be an "Ambassador." Once I get my promo code, I'll post it on my blog ... good for a 10% discount if you'd like to buy the product.

What do you think of these three versions of the same photograph?

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

4.16.2015

travel in the age of EasyJet | a 4-part strategy

graphic from easyjet.com which should thank me for the free link

A client wanted to plan a trip to Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini. He contacted me this Tuesday for his dates in June ... and I soon discovered that every hotel he was interested in was totally booked. There was no space whatsoever for his dates at the Grand Bretagne or the King George in Athens. Choices in Mykonos and Santorini were extremely limited. Quite a frustrating experience, as he was ready to book a trip ... so he decided to postpone.

Europe is crowded these days ... and a big reason for this is that it's so cheap and easy for Europeans to fly around the continent. Just hop aboard a discount airline, and be in Paris, London, Rome, or a Mediterranean beach destination in little more than an hour. And if you can get there for 26.99£ as EasyJet's website promises (see above), why not!

You need a strategy to plan your trip to Europe.

1. Book early. 60 days is not enough lead-time to plan a trip to the Greek Islands in June, as my frustrating Tuesday impressed on me. Start 330 days ahead. Think hotels as soon as you start booking your award tickets. You'll have more availability, and you'll also put a ceiling on the rate you pay; flexible rates can always be lowered!

2. Explore less well known destinations. Rome, Venice, and Florence are always crowded; ever felt like a sardine packed into the Sistine Chapel? When you go back to Italy, visit lesser known destination such as Verona (where you can see Juliet's balcony), Sicily, and Puglia. Avoid the thundering herds of tourists and encounter a more authentic side of Italy.

3. Employ private guides and drivers. Pricey, yes, but knowledgeable local guides can save you time, your most precious asset. Why stand in queue to buy tickets or get through the front door? Our Virtuoso on-sites can even arrange after-hours tours of many attractions. Imagine having a private candlelit dinner at the Library of Celsus in Ephesus ... after all the crowds have left, a memory that will last a lifetime! Or book a VIP skip-the-line tour of the Eiffel Tower or Paris Catacombs.

4. Take advantage of local experts. Your Virtuoso travel consultant has a network of local experts practically everywhere on earth. These ladies and gentlemen have the experience and connections to craft a memorable European vacation, sparing you much of the stress encountered by those in the back of an EasyJet.

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

4.09.2015

your chance to win £50 for food and beverage

this is just a facsimile — the original is printed on both sides (and is valid through 12/31/15)

Traveling to London or Ireland? Here's your chance chance to win a £50 certificate towards food and beverage at Red Carnation Hotels. I have one of these certificates, courtesy of Terry Holmes (whom we at Brownell affectionately know as Uncle Terry), and you can win it right now! Just be the first client to book a three night stay through me at one of the following Red Carnation hotels in the U.K. Each is a member of Virtuoso, and the great Virtuoso amenities are listed.

The Milestone Hotel
Located right across the street from Hyde Park, this is one of London's top-rated hotels for guest service. I had a great lunch at its restaurant (as I recall, it serves English "comfort food). Although the rooms themselves are small, I can definitely recommend the Suites at the Milestone. See this previous post from Travel Horizons.
  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Full English breakfast daily for up to two in-room guests 
  •    Choice of two entrance tickets (per room booked) to Kensington Palace plus a $60.00 credit toward Afternoon Tea at the Milestone on one day.
  •                  OR
  •    A three course dinner in the hotel restaurant for two people per room booked, once during the stay.
  • Suite Bookings 3 or more nights or any apartment bookings of 7 or more nights a one way airport transfer from London Heathrow to Milestone will be included as additional amenity
  • Early check-in/late check-out subject to availability

Egerton House Hotel
For a true sense of place, you cannot do any better than the Egerton House. Consisting of two side-by-side London townhouses in a neighborhood with a distinct residential feel, you're still close to great shopping. While lead-in rooms are small, the larger rooms are absolutely wonderful. And the Virtuoso extra amenity is a martini making lesson from the King of Martinis!
  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Full English breakfast daily for up to two in-room guests 
  • Exclusive pair of member tickets to all current Exhibitions at The Victoria & Albert Museum with full access to the members lounge
  • Free Wifi throughout the Hotel
  • Afternoon Tea for 2 on one day during your stay
  • Martini making lesson with the King of Martinis,  Antonio, plus 2 dry martinis and a Certificate of Excellence signed by Antonio Pizzuto, Head Bar Man of the Egerton House
  • One Way airport transfer for Suite bookings of 3 or more nights stay (cannotbe used in conjuction with any other promotions)
  • Early check-in/late check-out subject to availability

Ashford Castle
This Irish castle on the west coast of Ireland used to belong to the Guinness family. It has been lovingly restored and is one of the grandest estates experiences you could ever hope to enjoy. From Ashford Castle, you can go fishing, try your hand at falconry, or walk into the small town for a taste of local cooking or a pint at the pub.
  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Full Irish breakfast included in rates daily served in restaurant
  • 85 Euro Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay  (not combinable, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early check-in/late check-out subject to availability

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

4.08.2015

Four Seasons | so much is included!

view of the main pool at FS Maui

Have you overlooked Four Seasons for your next vacation or business trip, worried that a five star experience is beyond your budget? Think again! While many hotels and resorts nickel-and-dime you with charges for everything, so much is included with Four Seasons's brand of hospitality.

Using Four Seasons Maui as an example, here are some of the services that are complimentary when you're a guest.

At the property
Kids 5 and under eat free
Aloha Suite for early arrivals and late departures
free cabanas and umbrellas
free coffee and tea in the lobby in the morning
complimentary Kids for All Seasons (a full-day children's program for 5 and up)
Outrigger Canoe program
free resort shuttle to restaurants and shops in Wailea

In the room
beach tote to use during your stay
age specific amenities for your children
complimentary rollaways for children 18 and under
two bottles of water refreshed daily

Recreation
daily fitness classes, including yoga on the beach, pilates, and tai chi
fitness center open 24 hours
game room
golf putting green
pool amenities (chilled towels, ice water, Evian spritz, frozen fruit, and more!)
snorkeling equipment
tennis courts and use of racquets

Preferred Partner amenities
While Four Seasons does not want us to publish the list, I can tell you that the FSPP amenities are significantly better than the resort's Virtuoso amenities which the whole world can see at this link.

Email me, and I'll be happy to send you my easy one page guide to the Four Seasons Preferred Partner amenities at all 94 hotels and resorts around the world. It might be enough to convince you to spend your next vacation at a Four Seasons hotel or resort!

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.