I will fully admit it’s hard not to become a little spoiled when you have the opportunity to stay at some of the most luxurious hotels in the United States and beyond. With each trip I take, I find a new, indulgent feature that finds its way onto my fantasy list for, what I would consider, the makings of the Ultimate Luxury Hotel.
Mandarin Oriental Hotels
Four Seasons Hotels
The Ritz Carlton
Sure there are the no-compromisestandards for me such as:
Service*Service*Service: My saying is that just as location, location, location is to real estate, so is service, service, service to the luxury hotel industry: in my book ~ No. Compromises. Ever. Good service is the first and foremost attribute that defines any luxury hotel ~ bar none.
Chateau du Sureau
Decadent Beds: This is a must for me because a big part of a vacation is being able to relax and sleep well in order to rejuvenate yourself ~ which is what a vacation is all about, right? Many hotels are very aware that this is a growing request among their guests and are now going to extreme lengths to provide this luxury. The Four Seasons Hotel brand has gone as far as to implement custom-designed beds for their guests’ comfort, Travel and Leisure printed an interesting Battle-of-the Beds article on this trend, and hotel beds are now even making “Top 25” lists. Great news for all of us!
Chateau du Sureau
Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain
Aside from the expected standard-of-excellence at a luxury hotel, I relish in the fine details and the little extras that many places offer. These touches are what can make or break a hotel. Throughout my travels, I have accumulated afantasy list of what I wish every resort would offer, so here are some of the top items on my list:
A Great Welcome: I love arriving at a resort and having the staff greet me by name. Sometimes I’m not even sure how they know it but it certainly makes me feel special. I also love a nice Welcome Amenity. There is something about walking into an unfamiliar room and finding a little treat awaiting you with a welcome note that immediately makes you feel special and at home. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way. The Rosewood Mayakoba is memorable to me in that the staff have a stealth way of communicating with one another throughout the property, ensuring that you are always greeted by name. The Rosewood Mayakoba also offered me one of the best welcome amenities, when upon my arrival, I was presented with a custom-monogrammed napkin with a welcome drink, as well as monogrammed pillow cases, a tote bag, a tequila set and a baseball hat placed in my room…talk about feeling special!
Breakfast Included: I know this might seem basic but I find this a nice perk as breakfast is my favorite meal of the day….and not any ol’ breakfast, let’s make this a gourmet breakfast! The Post Ranch Inn offers one of the most delicious breakfast meals I’ve ever had, not to mentioned it’s served in their Sierra Mar restaurant with stunning views of the Pacific. At Chateau du Sureau, a Relais & Chateaux property, I was awakened as the aroma of breakfast cooking seeped in through the floor boards and engulfed my room. It doesn’t get any better than that and obviously made for a memorable experience.
Outdoor Shower: I’m no exhibitionist but I adore an outdoor shower. There is something so invigorating about taking a shower outdoors in the fresh air. This has become one of my favorite amenities. Calistoga Ranch offers wonderful outdoor showers located under the beautiful mighty oaks on their property. It’s exotically rustic and decadent at the same time.
Luxury Car Program: Many luxury resorts offer a house driver that will usually take you anywhere within a few miles radius which is an extremely convenient service ~ and let me tell you, nothing feels more celebrity-like then when a place like the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills picks you and your besties up at the hottest restaurant in town in their stunning Rolls Royce.
But what is even more fun, is when a hotel offers a luxury car loaner program that allows you to complementarily use the car for the day. I’ve done this at many resorts but one of my favorite memories is when I rented a convertible Mercedes at Solage Calistoga and spent a gorgeous California day driving through the beautiful vineyards in Napa’s Wine Country. I can still feel the wind blowing through my hair!
Pool Amenties: Pool time is always a priority for me on my trips. So for that reason, I absolutely love pool amenities. Not just the water buckets, Evian spritzers, or occasional popsicles ~ although nothing wrong with any of those…but I’m talking about complimentary cabanas, having my sunglasses cleaned, my neck massaged, and yes, even a Margarita bar rolled over my way. To me, there is nothing more luxuriously self-indulgent than pampering pool amenities.
Valet Closet: Many of you may not even know what this is, and it’s probably not what you’re thinking, but it is one of my very favorite features and I wish that every hotel I stayed at had one these. This is a small pass-thru cabinet with a door opening from the hotel hallway and then another door opening from inside the hotel room that allows room service or other personnel to slip items into the cabinet and then you can retrieve the item from your room without having to open the main door to hotel personnel. Brilliant!! How many times have you been in your room relaxing, not appropriately dressed and someone knocks on the door with something for you? Too many times for me to count, so I really appreciate this privacy feature that allows me to remain in complete comfort when my room service order is delivered. The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas is one of the few hotels that I have been to that has this feature ~ other resorts please take note!
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what I would like to see at my Ultimate Luxury Hotel…complimentary minibars, Club Level perks, downloadable hotel apps, resort bikes are just a few others that come to mind as well. How about you? What defines your Ultimate Luxury Hotel? I would love to know.
Okay, this is a bit of tease since you’re not really going to get your hands on any of these rare automobiles owned by John Hendricks. These are only for your viewing pleasure ~ no drooling on the cars please.
I’ve always loved the old woodies.
Maybe a Duesenberg is more your style.
However, one of these luxury ladies can be yours for the weekend through the Driven Club…
What do you do when you are staying at a remote resort in the desert where the closest populated town is an hour’s drive away?
If you are at the Gateway Canyons Resort in Gateway, Colorado, your only problem is going to be how to decide amongst all of the choices available to you. This may be a remote area but Gateway Canyons’ philosophy seems to be “more room for us to play!”
One of the first things I did after I got settled into my room was to head over to the resort’s Adventure Center. The Adventure Center is the hub of all the fun activities offered at the property ~ hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, shooting, off-road touring, wine country tours and so much more.
I immediately picked up a complimentary bicycle to cruise around the property and secondly, I confirmed my UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle) tour for the following day…hey, with so much to do, I didn’t want to waste any time.
I was up bright and early the next morning and anxious to get the day going. I had a private UTV tour scheduled with Nick, one of the resort’s very knowledgable, adventurous and friendly staff…and then, there she was…my shiny red UTV sitting there waiting for me.
Let me preface the forthcoming statement by saying, I’m very much a girly-girl so in seeing the UTV my first thought was “this is probably going to be a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride but I’m going to be a good sport and roll with it.”
I could not have been more wrong. It’s amazing what a smooth ride (in relative terms of course) this little go-cart style vehicle offers…and believe me when I say, Nick did not spare me his adventurous side when he got behind the wheel to maneuver us around some very bumpy terrain.
From the moment we left the property driveway and started heading up the John Brown canyon road, I was in awe of what I was seeing. I was immediately immersed in the middle of the beautiful red rock canyons that surround the resort. (click on pictures to enlarge image)
Who needs to go to the national parks when you have scenery like this in your backyard.
This particular route took us up to the top of the highest point of the mesa with a stunning view of the landscape. Unfortunately, these pictures don’t begin to do the view justice.
Does anyone remember the TV segment Steve Hartman used to do on one of the major networks called “Everybody has a story”? That show used to fascinate me because Steve would throw a dart over his shoulder at a map of the U.S. and wherever it landed (usually some random small town no one had ever heard of) he would pack up and head out there and choose someone from that town to interview, and without a doubt he would uncover the most amazing stories.
Sorry, I digress, but my point is that before I arrived at Gateway, Colorado ~ a town I had never heard of ~ I truly thought that aside from this luxury resort that had popped up in the last several years, there really wasn’t any significance to this area…but I should have known, every location also has a story.
In point of fact, as we continued on with the tour, we came upon a large tower and some very rusty equipment. Nick proceeds to explain that this is equipment left over from the uranium mining that used to be (and still is) done in this area. It turns out that in the early 20th Century, Gateway was one of the areas most productive of uranium in the United States. It was interesting to see these remaining remnants as evidence of a productive existence from an earlier time. Hearing historical facts certainly gives a richness and a new appreciation for where you are.
So when I was told that there was another route that went by some outlaw cabins, I was immediately sold on another UTV tour for the next day!
Once again, an early morning rise to hop into ~ my now new favorite toy ~ my shiny, red UTV and on our way we were, on a completely new route passing by the Colorado River on our way to the outlaw cabins.
Apparently the story goes, that the Outlaw Cabins are from 1903, located in what is known as the Outlaw District of Utah, just west of Gateway. This particular area was a great place for outlaws to hide as the entire area was sealed off from Utah authorities by cliffs and jurisdiction restrictions with only one way in which was from the 4A (John Brown) road in Gateway, Colorado. It is said that some fairly notorious outlaws found shelter here and that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid may even have come through this area – how cool is that?
Step inside the cabin, and it’s incredible to see that there is still some old newspaper on the inside walls that was used as insulation. It’s really sad to think that due to weather and wear and tear, these cabins will eventually not be around any longer.
I don’t know about you, but I’d say these were some pretty smart outlaws who managed to elude the law and live the rest of their days in this beautiful setting.
As we headed back from our excursion, I couldn’t help but to get lost in thought of what it must have been like living in this paradise setting and yet, always looking over your shoulder for someone coming after you. A paradoxical existence for sure. I certainly took it upon myself to soak in the beauty of the area and again, experience a new appreciation for the history of this land.
…and within no time, we were back to reality!
In summary, not only did I learn that this girly-girl has a passion for UTV off-roading, but I was also reminded that everybody and everyplace has a story ~ so be curious, ask questions, and listen ~ you will be the richer for it.
I have truly grown to love the southwestern region of the United States ~ Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. The landscape is so completely different and unique to any other geography in the U.S. with its beautiful desert setting, yucca, saguaro and prickly pear cacti, looming large red rocks, rivers and so much more. This region of the country is also home to some of the most stunning national parks ~ Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and too many more to mention.
On a trip to Gateway, Colorado (Gateway Canyons Resort), I took the opportunity to take a day trip out to Arches National Park. The weather was perfect, so I opted to take the shorter 1+ hour route over the John Brown Canyon road which begins at the resort, instead of the 2-1/2 hour route via the highway. This is an easy drive, however, not a route you want to take if it is raining or wet, as a good portion of the drive is an unpaved dirt road and turns quite muddy when wet. I would also suggest only traveling this road during daylight hours.
John Brown Road
John Brown Road
It was amazing how much the terrain changed, starting off with the large red rock mesa’s, then coming to a very lush green area with some snow-capped ranges and then descending back into the red rocks but with completely different shapes and sizes.
I have been to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park and Arches National Park does not have as massively large red rocks as the other two, but instead it offers a very unique landscape. The mesa’s have worn away over time leaving peaks and pinnacles that in my mind resemble the remains of historic ruins. I could actually make out statues, animals, faces, but of course this was all in my mind’s eye….or was it? (click on image to enlarge)
Sphinx and Indian Chief?
Three Wise Men?
The twisted dead wood bark fascinated me.
And of course, there is a reason it’s called “Arches” National Park.
I have been very fortunate to stay at some pretty spectacular properties over the past few years, and as grateful as I am for that, I will fully admit that it’s getting a little harder each time to find properties that just take my breath away. Each time I stay at one of these properties, I think “how am I going to top this one?” In researching my visit to Gateway Canyons, I knew I would be in for something a little different but, as it turns out, I had no idea I was in for several breathtaking moments.
My journey began on the one hour drive heading southwest on Hwy 141 from Grand Junction to Gateway, Colorado. Believe it or not, my first breathtaking moment happened on this scenic highway as I followed the winding path through the gorgeous Unaweep Canyon. As I rounded a particular corner, my view expanded as the road straightened out unfolding the beautiful landscape before me. There is nothing more spiritual than that moment when you feel so small and humbled by the reminder that there is something greater at work.
As I was approaching my destination, the landscape started changing into red rock mesas with rich striations in different colors and unusual shapes creating, yet another, awe-inspiring moment. But I must admit, one of my very favorite moments on the drive was getting stuck in Colorado rush hour traffic when this California girl approached a real-life cowboy moving an adorable herd of cow to their destination. If I didn’t know better, I almost would have thought that the resort had staged this to add to the ambiance of the trip.
Gateway Canyons Resort is the vision of John Hendricks, the founder of the Discovery Channel. It may seem odd that a broadcasting giant would take on building a resort, but when you learn of the stories he heard as a child from his father about the beautiful red rock country in Colorado and how moved he was upon seeing it with his own eyes, it’s apparent that Mr. Hendricks had a clear conceptual vision of what he wanted to create. He has managed to do an exceptional job in translating the initial concept of the Discovery Channel ~ to educate, explore, discover and be curious ~ and incorporate it into a recreational resort that allows the guest to explore and experience their interests first hand.
As you approach this oasis that suddenly appears out of nowhere, it’s easy to see how Mr. Hendricks fell in love with this area. The resort resides in the middle of a valley that is the convergence of 5 canyons and is surrounded by stunning red rock mesas from every angle. The most prominent mesa and focal point is the Palisade, a stunning red rock with its pointed tip proudly staking its position over the resort. And although the resort is remotely located (the “town” of Gateway consists of one general store and is an hour away in any direction from the closest populated city), I dare you to get bored here. With the likes of such activities as hiking, biking, kayaking, off-road tours, guided fly-fishing, rock climbing, horseback riding, air tours, driving school, curiosity seminars, concerts and so much more (whew!), you could occupy yourself for weeks.
The Check-in Process
The check-in process is calm and relaxed. There is no huge round-about to navigate as you drive up with valet, bellman, and doormen surrounding you. You quietly park at the entrance and walk inside to the subtle lobby and are greeted by the friendly staff.
My reservation was for the Kayenta Lodge but I had specifically wanted to experience staying in a Casita which was not available at the time I booked. I asked if one had become available but there was not one available for the full duration of my trip. The staff really worked with me and we were able to book a few nights in a Casita and the remaining in the Kayenta Lodge. I really appreciated the fact that the staff made the extra effort to satisfy my request because in the end, staying in the Casita really made my trip special.
The Guest Rooms
The property consists of 72 units ~ 7 stand-alone Casita buildings (two units each), along with the Kiva and Kayenta Lodge rooms (two-story, multi-room style buildings). The resort was built in 2005, with the Kiva Lodge being the first phase, the next phase added was the Kayenta Lodge, and the most recent addition in 2013 being the Casitas.
The Kiva and Kayenta Lodges offer Deluxe, Signature and Premium categories along with the option of a Suite version which adds a separate sitting room. The Kiva building also offers their version of a Casita called the Grand Kiva Signature Suite.
The distinction between the categories are that the Deluxe rooms are the basic king size bedrooms some with fireplaces; the Signature category are larger rooms with a king size bedroom and the Suite version adds an additional living area. These rooms are located on the lower level and all offer different combinations between outdoor spas with interior and/or exterior fire places. The Premium category, for the most part, is the same as the Signature, however, they are located on the second floor and don’t offer outdoor spas but do have fire pits on the patio. All rooms offer large bathrooms and nice amenities. The rooms were designed by a local interior designer and are decorated in rich woods, interesting fabrics, Peruvian furniture, a custom-made paint patina in the bedrooms and my favorite feature, rolling barn doors separating the rooms.
The rooms are all very nice and quite similar in style, however given a choice, I would suggest booking the Kayenta Lodge (preferably facing the Palisade) over booking a Kiva Lodge room as they may possibly have better locations on the property and the interior finishes are slightly more upscale, probably due to the Kayenta Lodge being a little newer.
For part of my trip, I stayed in a Signature Suite category room in the Kayenta Lodge (room 103) and had a view of the Palisade along with an outdoor spa and fireplace ~ an excellent option for a room in the Kayenta building. Room 105 was very nice as well, had a nice red rock view, along with an outdoor fireplace but no outdoor spa. Since all categories offer different amenities in each unit and there are so many choices, be sure to specify what amenities you want when booking (i.e. indoor and/or outdoor fireplace, outdoor spa, separate living area, etc.). The Palisade view is probably the most requested, however, I encourage you not to give up other amenities you want just to book that view because the resort is surrounded by the red rocks and every room has a nice view.
But if you truly want the most luxurious experience, I strongly suggest splurging on one of the Casitas. As mentioned, these are stand alone buildings with two units each and are spaciously staggered at one end of the resort for privacy and are located closest to the Palisade. Each Casita is a one bedroom suite and there is the option of combining the two units to make a 2 bedroom Casita if you are traveling with family or friends. In my opinion, although the interior design is similar in style to the lodge rooms, there is a distinct difference in the feeling of luxury. The Casitas are much larger in square footage and much more private giving a more residential feel rather than a hotel feel. All Casitas have outdoor fire pits and some have outdoor spas. The Stargazer Casitas offer a second story loft that offers a sofa sleeper and balcony. The Stargazer Casita is considered the highest category and there are only two of these units available.
I stayed in the Scorpio (all Casitas are named for an astrological sign) Stargazer Casita and highly recommend it for its location and exceptional view of the Palisade ~ kudos to the architect who designed the Casitas to take full advantage of the views of the stunning mesas from every angle. The other Casita with an exceptional location and view of the Palisade is the Taurus building. The experience of staying in this Casita made my trip. For a moment in time, I felt as though I was staying in my own personal vacation home. In the evenings, sitting in the outdoor spa with the fireplace going and the outline of the Palisade looming over the Casita was a surreal experience.
As always, it’s my intention to fully disclose all information, and for that reason I will admit that there were two minor mishaps, not worthy of mentioning, at each of the rooms I stayed in. However, the sign of a true service-oriented resort is one that responds immediately to the situation and rectifies it to the best of their ability ~ and that is exactly what happened in my situation. Maintenance was out within 5 minutes (both times) of my call, was very professional and resolved the issues to my satisfaction. It is a given that incidences are bound to happen no matter where you go, however, it’s the difference of how the resort responds to it that makes or breaks the experience for you. Thumbs up to Gateway Canyons for how they handled it.
There are several dining options on property: Entrada and Paradox Grille are full service restaurants. Paradox Grille offers a more casual fare with a relaxed bar and game room while Entrada offers options for a more sophisticated palate; The Kiva Cafe off the main lobby offers beverages, coffee drinks and convenient items for those wanting a lighter, quicker option; The Cantina offers casual poolside meals for lunch and an early dinner. In-room dining is also an option.
There is a full-service spa on the property offering massages, facials, and body treatments along with a hair and nail salon. The spa is fairly small so I highly suggest making reservations for any treatments in advance. There is a small waiting area, however, I was a little surprised to discover that the spa does not currently have locker rooms and expanded facilities such as steam showers and relaxation rooms. With this remote location, it would be nice if the resort offered a more luxurious destination spa experience possibly even offering wellness classes and spa cuisine.*
There is a very nice fitness room offering a large variety of exercise equipment along with yoga and fitness classes.
*Since my first post of this review, I have been contacted by both the Managing Director and Spa Director of the resort who have confirmed that the spa is going to be expanded and will be offering Wellness Retreat/Yoga Retreat options after the renovation is complete along with locker rooms, steam showers, jacuzzi, infrared sauna and expansions of other treatment options. I was also informed that the resort does currently offer Wellness education and nutrition classes on an individual basis, so if this is of interest to you be sure to inquire with the staff. Not that I needed an excuse to return to this resort, but this solidifies that fact that now I must so I can properly update my review. (smile)
Unique to the Property
I feel like I should start this section by saying what’s not unique to this property?
The first undeniable factor is the stunning and unique red rock mesa landscape. This is not a sight you will find just anywhere. There are also many interesting places to visit in the area such as Grand Junction, Telluride, and the day trip I took to Moab and National Arches Park.
Then, there are all the engaging experiences offered at this property such as the Adventure Center which offers almost any adventure you can imagine…and if they don’t offer it, I truly believe they would find a way to make it happen for you. There’s hiking, biking, off-road touring, kayaking, wine tours, fly-fishing, and on and on.
I took the UTV tour (twice) and had a blast. The surrounding canyons offer the perfect setting for off-road touring with gorgeous scenic views from the top of the mesas – my favorite was the “outlaw” cabin tour.
The Adventure Center also loans complimentary bikes to the property guests, and although they state they are a four hour rental, if the property has low occupancy they seem to be generous in letting you keep them throughout your stay ~ this is a perfect way for getting around and touring the property. I will be posting a more detailed account of my adventure experiences soon.
Some other amazing experiences offered are Air Tours: offering helicopter tours, Auto Museum: a showing of Mr. Hendrick’s unbelievable personal car collection, Driven Experiences: Pro Baja driving classes and rentals of extraordinary luxury cars, Curiosity Retreats: retreats for inquiring minds, The Stables: horseback riding, and more. Not enough for you? How about a private concert series for resort guests only with the likes of performers like Kenny Loggins, Chris Isaak, the band America and others. There is also a small theater where you can request to watch some of the fascinating documentaries made by the Discovery Channel.
I must say that this resort truly exceeded my expectations in regard to both its unique setting, and abundant offerings of recreational and intellectual experiences. I felt like I had been initiated into a secret little world that I never knew existed.
This property is a perfect option for anyone who wants to do nothing but decompress from their busy life or the person who seeks to experience new adventures, engage in outdoor activities and discover something new. What you’re not going to find here is a raging nightlife, so if you’re looking for a nightclub with a disco ball, head to New York or Las Vegas.
In hindsight, my only regret was not staying longer as there were too many things to do. I can honestly say that this resort has risen to the top of my unique destination list and is the true definition of No Ordinary Resort!
Going to well-known, familiar places is always fun but I get a rush each time I book a new destination and resort where I have never been before…and I’m really excited about the trip I just booked at the Gateway Canyons Resort in Colorado.
I have always heard how beautiful Colorado is and from what I’m seeing of the landscape at Gateway Canyons, I think I’m in for an incredible experience.
I am excited about gettin’ my cowgirl on and touring the amazing red-rock landscape on horseback…
Maybe taking in the view from above…
…tackling the terrane on an ATV…
…and maybe even trying my hand at fly-fishing…hey, I might!
And I know there will be lots of R&R…
So stayed tuned for my cowgirl adventures and a full report on what I hope will be an amazing time at Gateway Canyons in Colorado.