Monday, March 31, 2014

Heeeerrrre's...the Timblerline Lodge!

Text and photos by: Albert Rodriguez
Hotel spotlight: Timberline Lodge (

When Jack Nicholson terrorizes Shelley Duvall in the 1980 horror film The Shining, she nearly escapes out the window of the snowed-in Overlook Hotel, which bares a striking resemblance to Timberline Lodge. 

Well, if you didn't know by now, the Oregon ski resort was used for exterior shots in the Stanley Kubrick classic.  But not much else.  There was never any filming done on the premises of Timberline Lodge, and neither did it inspire the setting of the movie; author Stephen King was inspired to write the story after his stay at The Stanley Hotel in Colorado. 

The 70-room Timberline Lodge rests beautifuly at 6,000 feet above sea level and is positioned at the perfect spot for guests to inhale views of Mt. Hood and foothills below.  A domed walkway allows visitors to enter the lodge's lower level, where they're immediately greeted by a cozy fireplace, which stretches 98 feet tall, and an intimate area to sit by a toasty fire.  US Forest rangers are often around to give guided tours of the property, but in the event they aren't present the hotel has a chronilogical timeline with photos to puruse, aside from a model unit featuring an armchair made for FDR when he dedicated the lodge on September 28, 1937.  You'll also find the reception desk on this floor and the first batch of guest rooms, including affordable bunk bed-style "chalets" - great for families or groups - with access to shared restrooms. 

Visitors can purchase ski passes and chair lift tickets from a day lodge steps away from the hotel, in addition
to renting gear and equipment, or grabbing a bite to eat at a few eateries tucked into the building. 

The highlight of Timberline Lodge is its main lobby, up a floor from the lower level.  The hexagonal-shaped space is like a big, warm living room with sofas, armchairs and antique bookcases all surrounding the fireplace and chimney in the center.  Off to one side is the Cascade Dining Room, known for its lunchtime buffet with a terrific spread that includes house-made pastas, salads and soups, roasted meats, fresh fruit, make-your-own-waffles and an assortment of yummy desserts.  And just above the main lobby, on the top floor, is the Ram's Head Bar with tables and chairs spread around that provide the most impeccable views of Mt. Hood.

Outdoors, guests can absorb the sites in a beautiful heated pool with a 10-foot deep end.  Back inside, near the pool, is a small workout facility.  But the real amenity, of course, is where you happen to be, right smack in the middle of nature - trees, mountains, sky, birds, peace and quiet. 

With rooms to fit every budget, Timberline Lodge is a terrific weekend escape in the Great Northwest.  The resort is about 90 minutes away from downtown Portland. 

And although Jack Nicholson never stayed here, over the years celebrities from Olivia Newton-John to Avril Lavigne to Reese Witherspoon have all enjoyed the comforts of Timberline Lodge.  Witherspoon was the most recent A-lister seen here, filming the adventure movie Wild on location a few months ago. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Getting high in Seattle: Sky View Observatory offers spectacular city lookouts

When in Seattle, everyone rushes to the Space Needle.  Not that I'd want to discourage anybody from visiting this national landmark built for the 1962 World's Fair, but there is a less expensive alternative that you might want to consider, as well, or instead.

The Sky View Observatory ( opened almost a year ago inside Columbia Tower, the tallest building in Seattle at 932 feet, which also makes it the second tallest structure on the entire West Coast.  While the views from the 73rd floor observatory aren't exactly panoramic, like the Space Needle, it does provide better close-ups of Mt. Rainier, CenturyLink and Safeco fields, Lake Washington, ferry terminal, local neighborhoods and nearby suburbs.

Here's more information about this new Seattle attraction.


The Columbia Tower is located at 701 5th Avenue and takes up a whole block, allowing its tenants - the majority of them law firms - to enter the building at 5th and 4th avenues.  If entering on 5th, the main elevators are directly ahead of you, but if entering on 4th, you'll need to ascend three escalators to the 5th avenue level (the elevators are to the right of the information desk).  Two separate elevators are required to reach the 73rd floor - take the first elevator to the 40th, where there's a Starbucks (of course!) and the second elevator (just behind the first one) gets you to the 73rd floor.  The Columbia Tower actually extends to 76 floors high, with an exclusive restaurant and bar at the top, but the general public only has access up to the 73rd.  The Sky View Observatory is open daily from 10am to 8pm. 


Adult tickets are $12.50, while seniors, kids 6 through 12, students and military (with valid ID) pay just $9.00.  Children 5 and younger are admitted free of charge.  Tickets can be purchased in advance at, or at the front desk, where you can purchase binoculars, souvenirs and a few other items.  Visit the website for group ticket information and further details.


The Sky View Observatory wraps almost completely around the 73rd floor in a fully enclosed space.  Windows on the South side face out to Mt. Rainier, CenturyLink Field (home of the Seahawks and FC Sounders), Safeco Field (home of the Mariners), Smith Tower, West Seattle Bridge and the redeveloped industrial SoDo District.  The East-end viewing area provides lookouts to Lake Washington, I-90 Bridge, Harborview Medical Center, Interstate-5 and Beacon Hill, Leschi, Madrona and Seward Park districts, along with the Eastside suburbs of Bellevue, Mercer Island and Medina, where Bill Gates resides.  There's lots of window space looking out to the West with stunning glimpses of downtown office towers, Elliott Bay, waterfront with the Seattle Great Wheel, Bainbridge Island and ferries departing or arriving at Pier 52.  Finally, to the North you'll see more downtown buildings and hotels, Space Needle and Seattle Center, Lake Union, University of Washington, Gas Works Park, 520 Floating Bridge and Capitol Hill, First Hill, Queen Anne, Eastlake and Westlake neighborhoods.


Guests are welcome to stay as long as they'd like, during normal business hours.  There's plenty of room to take photos, even to set up tripods, and if you'd prefer to relax your legs or not stand so close to the windows, the observatory does have seats and benches to sit down and rest, write, update your social media status, or enjoy a refreshment.  Coffee, juices and a small assortment of snacks are available for purchase at a counter on the observatory's North side.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quite prestigious: Korean Air's A380 business class is pure indulgence

Text and photos by: Albert Rodriguez
Flight service review: Korean Air (KE 018) - Los Angeles to Seoul

Talk about a dream ride, Korean Air's transpacific service from Los Angeles to Seoul on its double-deck A380 plane is about as dreamy as it gets.  Even sweeter is experiencing the journey aboard the Asian carrier's Prestige Class (business) with the proper pampering and in-flight indulgence one would expect for the price, or redeemed miles..

Although Korean Air flies non-stop between Seattle and Seoul, its lone West Coast gateway currently utilizing the A380 aircraft is Los Angeles.  Here's where my adventure begins.  After a short connecting flight into LAX, I'm now walking from Terminal 6 (Alaska Airlines) to Tom Bradley International Terminal. 


After checking in and going through security, Prestige Class and First Class passengers can proceed to the second level of the terminal for lounge entry.  The placard on the wall next to the elevator says "Sky Team Lounge", though it's actually operated by Korean Air.  There are separate lounges for Prestige and First Class passengers - the former is larger, the latter is exclusive, but they offer the same food (noodles, finger sandwiches, fresh fruit, cheese, cookies, Korean beer, bottled water, juice, soft drinks).

It was time for boarding and I was skeptical that Korean Air would be able to board an entire A380 in 30 minutes (seeing that Air France needed a whole hour to load the same aircraft when I flew to Paris last summer), however, to my surprise everyone boarded quickly and we were set for an on-time departure.

Now boarded, it was time to settle in for a long flight.  The customary daily newspapers, amenity kits, menus and champagne were distributed throughout Prestige Class.  In-flight slippers were already placed in our seat pockets, plastic-wrapped blankets and pillows with slipcovers neatly folded on top of our seats, and flight attendants happily took our coats to be hung.


The upper deck of Korean Air's A380 is entirely Prestige Class, divided into three sections, plus the cocktail lounge at the rear.  The lower deck includes 12 First Class compartments at the front, about 30 rows of Economy Class seating, and a Duty Free kiosk at the back.  The Duty Free shop is open during the flight, shortly after takeoff until initial descent into Seoul.  Because of strict rules the flight crew isn't allowed to display any merchandise until the aircraft is in flight, and they must have everything put away just before landing.  And, how does the airline make sure precious bottles of perfume don't fall and spill on the floor?  All items are held down by magnets to withstand any turbulence.  Passengers can sample select merchandise (lotions, cosmetics, etc.), buy any of the items in stock and pay for their purchases all during the flight.  Now, that's convenient.  The Duty Free kiosk is available to all passengers, regardless of cabin class.

I must point out that upstairs in business class, the lavatory at the front-left side of the plane is enormous.  It's the largest airplane restroom I've ever been in.  I didn't have to actually use it, so I just meditated for about five minutes (yes, seriously) and splashed water on my face to pass the time in there.


In Prestige Class, the first thing you'll notice is the wide 21.6 inch seat that extends 180-degrees into a comfortable, lie-flat position.  Your seat can be adjusted at the press of a button, whether to lean back and watch a movie, or to sit upright and eat a meal, or to stretch out completely to get some rest.  Cocoa-colored Davi amenity kits contain everything you need for an overnight long-haul flight, including a full-size toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste, folding comb, eye mask, shoehorn, eye gel, lip balm and face cream (packed inside the cutest, teeniest square box).  Gray slippers are tucked inside the seat pocket, along with a copy of Beyond, Korean Air's in-flight
magazine.  A 15.4 inch individual screen and AVOD entertainment system, packed with films, TV shows, lifestyle programs, music library, video games and flight maps, helps the time fly by on the half-day trip.  There are multiple compartments, at your seat and below the entertainment screen, to stow everything from your smartphones to shoes to books, plus a large overhead bin for your carry-ons.  A reading lamp, noise canceling headphones, pull-out tray, shellback seat exterior for added privacy, direct aisle access and spacious leg room are other in-flight amenities to note.


I hope you're hungry because Korean Air feeds you, and doesn't stop feeding you.  In Prestige Class, you'll be treated like a royal with a six-course meal, beginning with Pre-Drink Service and concluding with Dessert.  The first of two meals on my flight (three if you count the "Refreshment") was Lunch, starting with the Pre-Drink Service consisting of a preferred beverage and amuse-bouche of roasted zucchini and eggplant.  The second course was an Appetizer, seared tuna slices with oriental sesame dressing.  It was quite good and served with our choice of bread - garlic baguette, oatmeal roll, soft roll.  Next came the Soup - tomato cream on this flight - and it was silky, zesty and hot.  We had three choices for our Main Course, the traditional Korean "Bibimbap", or the grilled beef tenderloin, or the roasted cod fish.  We were asked to select our Main Course prior to takeoff, and when I chose the beef I was then asked how I wanted my meat cooked.  I've had steaks before on several business class flights (Air France, Lufthansa, Delta, ANA), but they were all delivered well done, a bit more cooked than I prefer them on the ground.  So, given the option, I requested my steak medium well, and to my amazement the grilled tenderloin was indeed medium well with the slightest bit of pink inside - just the way I like it.  The Cheese Tray followed with a nice selection of stilton, camembert and chaumes, though a mild disappointment was that the accompanying grapes were damaged, forcing the flight attendants to forego adding them to our plates, so we had no fresh fruit to balance out the saltiness of the crackers and cheese.  For Dessert, it was either a lemon cheese tart or ice cream - I went with the tart, and I was content with my selection.

Dinner, served about 2 hours before landing, was just three-courses long and began with a Salad and Bread Selection - focaccia, soft roll, ciabatta roll.  The Main Course was a choice of braised chicken thigh, or seafood and linguini pasta, or pork and shrimp wonton soup.  I went with the chicken with "Bulgogi' sauce (a national dish often made with beef), which was hearty and flavorful - kind of like a stew with chunks of zucchini, carrots and potatoes.  Seasonal Fresh Fruit closed out our pre-arrival Dinner.  Coffee/tea/green tea is offered at the very end of each meal.  I wasn't particularly fond of the red wines served in Prestige Class, a 2011 Bordeaux from France's Aquitane region and 2008 Merlot from California's Sonoma County, but others seemed to like it.  Overall, however, all of my meals (even on the return flight to Seattle) were elegant and filling. 


Let's talk about that in-flight cocktail lounge, shall we?  "The Celestial Bar" is located at the very back of Prestige Class, on the upper deck.  It becomes available during cruising altitude to business class passengers exclusively, although I'm sure First Class guests wouldn't be turned away.  Korean Air has partnered with Absolut to create a tantalizing drink menu that combines the vodka company's berry, citrus and vanilla products with standard components (club soda, fruit juices, etc.).  Hors d'oeuvres are set out for passengers to enjoy with their beverages.  The space, consisting of cushioned benches and built-in counter tops, is cozy and cool, and provides a terrific spot to socialize with travel partners or fellow passengers.  A mini bookshelf contained a limited collection of reading material, mostly elaborate coffee table books.  Flight attendants double as bartenders, shaking martinis and garnishing cocktails like pros - although, my drinks were inconsistent in taste (sometimes too strong, other times watered down).  But since I didn't have to worry about a bar tab, I'm not actually complaining.  By the way, seat belts are attached to the benches, allowing Celestial Bar guests to stay and sip their cocktails even during turbulence. 

Also, there's a self-serve second bar at the opposite end of the upper deck.  It's really a nook, not a lounge, but it became my haven for the last 2 hours of the flight - intimate, quiet and mostly unoccupied. 


There are a few things to point out about Korean Air's in-flight service vs. other airlines I've flown.  The first is how sanitary the lavatories were, thanks to one flight attendant assigned specifically to wash up after every guest had used it - yes, I said that right, after EVERY guest used it.  I observed this while drinking at The Celestial Bar - as each passenger exited one of two lavatories, a flight attendant would rush in and clean up.  I was really impressed by this.  Second, upon request, flight attendants in Prestige Class will gift you a travel size can of "Mineral Water Spray" - it's a facial mist that refreshes your skin during the long-haul flight, made with Jeju pure water.  Third, the "Ramen with Side Dishes", available in-between meals in Prestige Class, is absolutely heavenly.  It's not to be confused with "bibimbap" (regularly offered as a lunch or dinner entree) - these are just instant noodles, but they're served steaming hot with a garnish (I asked for mine without) and accompaniments.  Even if you're full after the first meal, go for the ramen!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Raid the Pantry" at Woodmark Hotel satisfies those late night munchies

Text and photo by: Albert Rodriguez

One of the more unique amenities I've come across in my recent travels is "Raid the Pantry" at the Woodmark Hotel, Yacht Club & Spa.  The lakeside retreat is located in Kirkland, an Eastside suburb of Seattle and former headquarters of Costco (now based in nearby Issaquah).

Every night between 10:30pm and 1am the hotel invites guests down to the lobby to load up on complimentary snacks, available in a pantry room next to the concierge desk.  On the nights I stayed at the Woodmark, the assortment of goodies included Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Tim's Cascade Style Potato Chips, Coke products, bottled water and juice, house-made cookies and pastries, hot soup, Kettle chips, granola/cereal bars, Tootsie Rolls, cold milk, half sandwiches, and several other types of chips, candy and essential junk food.

Trays are provided for guests to take snacks back to their rooms, where they can eat and work, watch TV or unwind in their own privacy.  

The hotel itself is a beauty, the only waterside property (aside from Seattle's Edgewater Hotel) in the city and suburban area.  A complete room renovation is expected to be completed in February 2014.  The Woodmark's premiere restaurant, bin on the lake, is quite good with a seasonal menu of Northwest favorites and the more casual establishment, Beach Cafe, offers comfort meal-type selections at most hours of the day - I really enjoyed having breakfast there. 

What I also liked at The Woodmark was their complimentary bike rentals, allowing me to absorb the stunning scenery while getting exercise to downtown Kirkland (7 minutes by bike, 2 to 3 minutes by car).  During the summer months, June through September, the hotel rents out watersports equipment (Waverunners, kayaks, paddleboards, etc.) for guests to experience on Lake Washington, as they take in views of the Seattle skyline, Husky Stadium and lakeside communities.

For more information on the Woodmark Hotel, Yacht Club & Spa, go to

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Two contests that could get you to Hawaii

Text by: Albert Rodriguez

I mentioned at the launch of my blog over a year ago that I'd alert readers to travel-related contests, and 13 months later (apologies, sincerely) I'm posting a couple of them.  Not everybody wins, but plenty of people do - and there's no cost for entering, so it's worth a shot.

Both of these contests are sponsored by Hawaiian companies and each requires that you like their Facebook page, which I personally have no problem doing if they're offering free prizes.

The first contest is called "Aloha Intervention" from Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, which owns dozens of properties scattered across the Hawaiian islands, the South Pacific and now in Thailand.  I'm staying at one of them this weekend, when I fly to Oahu, and over the years I've stayed at several others.  They're conveniently located and because Outrigger isn't a luxury brand, their hotels are normally moderately-priced.

This contest ends very quickly, at the end of November, and includes:

Roundtrip airfare to Oahu for 4 on Hawaiian Airlines
·         7 nights for 4 at Outrigger Reef on the Beach hotel in Waikiki
·         $500 activities credit from Outrigger Activities
·         $200 gift certificate for dinner at Kani Ka Pila Grille
·         $440 gift certificate for spa treatment at Serenity Spa Hawaii

You need to "Like"'s Facebook page at and click on the "Sweeptakes" box, then fill in the entry form.

The second contest is called "Surf's Up" from Hawaiian Airlines, which is rapidly expanding their service to destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, The Philippines and Japan.  It's a great airline; I've flown them at least 5 times to/from Seattle and also inter-island.  They are the only US-based carrier that serves a free meal for coach passengers.

This contest also ends soon and requires a Hawaiian Airlines mileage number, which you can get for free by registering on their website, and includes:

- 80,000 Hawaiian Airlines miles grand prize
- 20,000 Hawaiian Airlines miles weekly prizes

You need to "Like" Hawaiian Airlines' Facebook page at, aside from being a mileage awards member, and click on "Sweepstakes, then fill in the entry form. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Aer Lingus, the airline with no free coffee

Aer Lingus counter at Dublin Airport.

Text and photos by: Albert Rodriguez
Flight notation: Aer Lingus, Dublin to Amsterdam (KL 3152, KLM codeshare ticket)

I understand some airlines are having tough times financially, but I was utterly surprised when my 6am flight aboard Aer Lingus this summer wanted to charge me for a cup of coffee.  Yes, really.

On-board, Dublin to Amsterdam.
It was a short hop from Dublin to Amsterdam, originally scheduled for 1 hour and 40 minutes but trimmed to 1 hour and 15 minutes after takeoff.  I didn't expect so many people to be wide awake at 4:30am when I checked in for my flight at Dublin Airport, though it was busy - the lines for the check-in counter were long, people were walking around everywhere inside the terminal, and there was a snack bar already selling pints of Guinness and Blue Moon.

I didn't buy a cup of coffee at the airport because I knew it'd be served on-board our flight.  Plus, I exchanged my remaining Euros for American currency because I was on my way home.  Shortly after takeoff, an announcement was made by the flight crew to glance through the in-flight menu for a list of beverages.  So I did.  Then I noticed they each had prices next to them.  About 10 minutes later, the flight attendants came up the aisle selling coffee and morning goodies.
Post-arrival in Amsterdam.

Sure enough, we had to pay for items on the cart.  Moneyless, I couldn't purchase anything.  Even stranger was that soon thereafter the flight attendants came through the aisles selling Duty Free products.

Air France complimentary snack to Dublin.
So, if you happen to fly Aer Lingus intra-Europe, be sure to save a few Euros for refreshments.  I'm assuming this isn't the case for their international service.  And while I'm not particularly ranting about paying for in-flight coffee, I just think it's something worth noting when choosing an airline to fly. 

By comparison, Air France served complimentary beverages and a meat-cheese sandwich from Paris to Dublin during a flight a week before (that clocked in about 15 minutes longer).  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stylin' in Seoul: Conrad defines sophistication in South Korean capital


Text and photos by: Albert Rodriguez
Hotel review: Conrad Seoul

If the sign of a great hotel is one that you'd easily go back to and stay at all over again, then book me for a long-term stay at the Conrad Seoul (

This hip, almost year-old property in the bustling Yeouido business district will impress you immediately as you step through its grandiose lobby with 10 meter-plus high ceiling (over 30 feet), spiral staircase, marble floors and polished appearance.  Its sleekness goes hand-in-hand with a city that is surprisingly more modern and cosmopolitan than most Westerners figure it to be. 

Here are additional details on the Conrad Seoul.


View from Room 2814
Situated in the financial pulse of Seoul, the hotel inwardly faces the IFC office towers and outwardly looks out to Han River.  Incheon International Airport (ICN) is about an hour away by shuttle and Gimpo International Airport (GMP) is efficiently accessed by subway - an express train running from Lotte Mall Gimpo Airport to IFC Mall takes around 20 minutes, at a low cost of 1150 Won (approx. $1.50 US, one way), and from there it's a short indoor walk to the Conrad lobby.

Foyer of Room 2814


The Conrad brand, a luxury cluster of Hilton's international line of hotels, is well-known for its contemporary elegance with locations throughout Asia, and in North America, South America and the Middle East.  The Conrad Seoul is no exception; it's stunning from all angles.  Rooms are generous in size; large enough to be called apartments in some cities and come with common amenities - robes, slippers (disappointedly plain, no logo), premium coffee and teas with personal brewing systems, walk-in closets, flat-panel TVs, glass-door shower stalls with rainwater shower heads and double-sink bathroom counters with illuminated mirror TVs.  Also included in my room was a foyer with framed art, soft-cushioned day lounger, built-in beverage/snack cabinet, curved work desk and picturesque views of the Han River.  Hand-sized bathroom products from Aromatherapy were a nice compliment, as were new loofas and bath salts. 


Pulse8 is the hotel's fitness area, named for its eighth-floor locale.  The ample workout center features state-of-the-art equipment and yoga/pilates studio on hardwood floors with complimentary earphones, chilled Vitamin Water and locally-sourced bottled H2O.  A saltwater indoor pool with glittery tiles, multiple windows and see-through roof is next door.  The Conrad Seoul also has a world-class spa with saunas and individual relaxation nooks (vs. relaxation area), and currently features Clarins products exclusively.  A putting range with virtual golf courses from around the globe is on the eighth floor, as well.  But what I truly loved, though not accessible to everyone, is the Executive Lounge on the top floor (37th), open daily through 10pm with private breakfast, snack and drink service to eligible guests with semi-panoramic views and a nifty designed space that includes dining tables, armchairs, sofas, electric fireplace and tall coolers with complimentary refreshments.


Four on-premise restaurants comprise the dining options at Conrad Seoul, although Flames on the ground level is mainly a snack bar and espresso stand.  If you count the Executive Lounge, the total increases to five.  Our travel group had dinner at 37 Grill & Bar, which absorbs the other half of the top floor and its panoramic view.  The food was pricey, as you might expect from a hotel's showcase restaurant, but everything was delicious - from an amuse bouche of sweet corn mousse to my entree choice of grilled sirloin with a side organic green salad.  Atrio, on the second level, is an Italian restaurant in an expansive, bright and chic dining room highlighted by super high ceilings and enormous chandeliers.  House-made pasta is churned out in a glass-enclosed parlor adjacent to Atrio.  Also on the second floor is Zest, a buffet with open kitchens and made-to-order stations that offer guests everything from Asian to Mediterranean to Western-style dishes. 


Front entrance
From the check-in desk to the Executive Lounge, and all points in between, service at the Conrad Seoul was first class.  Staff members were friendly, always wearing smiles, courteously bowing, making eye contact, and were very accommodating during our two-night stay.  The only drawback was its slow-as-molasses elevators, which took up to 10 minutes at times to collect guests on their assigned floors.  A total of 6 elevators for 434 rooms is sufficient - I've stayed at hotels with less elevators and more rooms - but for some reason the waiting time to go and up down at the Conrad Seoul seemed unusually long and a bit ridiculous.