For my remaining four nights in New York I stayed in mid-town at The Benjamin. A lot of people advise against staying in mid-town because it is loud and busy but for me, on this trip, I had planned to do things that were within a 20-30 block vicinity which is actually a fairly nice walk on a summer’s day.
I chose The Benjamin because it was more like an apartment than a hotel, but with all the facilities you could want from a hotel.
My suite had a huge lounge room and bedroom, so the room would defiintely be suitable for a family of four or potentially two couples who didn’t mind sharing a bathroom. The bathroom wasn’t big and the kitchen was just a kitchenette but the fridge was full-sized so it’s a perfect place to stay if you plan on buying groceries to save on eating out.
I really couldn’t fault this place. It was surrounded by plenty of cafes, a Duane Reade for essentials, a subway station was just 5 seconds around the corner, there were taxis everywhere, and being on Lexington Ave, it was a very quick walk to Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue or pretty much anywhere you really needed to go.
The only times I needed to take taxis were to see a couple of shows on Broadway, when I went to see a movie waaaaaaay downtown and when I was going to Penn Station.
There is a restaurant on site but I never used it. It always seemed really busy and had some great reviews but I just never needed to go there.
Best of all was the price. At only US$289 (plus tax) per night The Benjamin was far cheaper than a lot of hotels in the area and certainly a lot cheaper than the big name ‘brand’ hotels. I don’t mind splurging on a night or three, but 5 nights in New York can add up really quickly so I was really happy with this price given its location, size and cleanliness.
A lot of the suites have just recently been redesigned, and most have a decent view, too. I was looking out on to Lexington Avenue and I actually really enjoyed sitting on the window sill to take in the hustle and bustle of the city. Some rooms have a terrace, of course there is an added cost.
If you’d like more information on The Benjamin, their website is here. This is a fantastic place to stay in the heart of NYC and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again or recommend it to my friends. Just perfect!The Benjamin 125 E 50th Street New York + 1 212 715 2500
I mentioned in my last high tea post that the US in general had really upped its game in terms of afternoon tea. The second of my teas took place at The Plaza, and while they offer a range of high teas I opted for the Eloise Tea – why not? I’d just spent a night in the beautiful Eloise Suite.
The Eloise Tea is aimed at children, but as I’m young at heart I thoroughly enjoyed the different sandwiches – peanut butter and jelly, strawberry and cream cheese, toasted cheese and cucumber and cream cheese – as well as a vareity of sweet options including pink jelly, macarons, chocolate-covered strawberries and brownies. Instead of tea, pink lemonade is served.
As you can see, the array of morsels served is suited to a young palette, so if you are after a sophisticated high tea with a glass of champagne (or two ;) ) it would be better to go for something more classic. But to get into the spirit of The Plaza, the Eloise tea is definitely a winner.
I took home (well, to my next hotel) some of the leftovers and had them for breakfast for the next three days. They were still fresh and kept beautifully and the cakes and pastries were of a very high standard. I find often with establishments that are so popular for high tea the food can begin to taste a bit mass-produced, but not at The Plaza. Everything tasted as if it had been specially prepared just for you, to order.
The Palm Court is just beautiful. It may look familiar to you as it has featured in films such as Bride Wars. I also had my breakfast at the buffet there and it is great for people watching and just for a feeling of absolute decadence. Even if you are travelling on a budget, you must visit the plaza for a drink or something to eat to see this gorgeous part of New York’s history.
The famous portrait of Eloise lives in the right-hand corridor which also leads down to the lovely Todd English Food Hall and other boutiques (such as MCM) that are housed in The Plaza. I actually spotted Josh Duhamel here as he was hosting an event with his wife, Fergie, that night.
For more information on the afternoon teas served by The Plaza in The Palm Court, please see their website here.
One of my happiest memories as a child is getting lost in books. I used to absolutely devour them and never quite understood why Roald Dah’s Matilda was such a phenomenon when I, too, had read my way through the school and public libraries. One of my absolute favourites was Eloise, the story of a little girl who lived at The Plaza Hotel in New York, and all the mischief she got up to.
I had always wanted to stay at The Plaza but I think it was being renovated when I was last in New York so this time I knew I would be staying there no matter what. I couldn’t believe it when I saw on their website that the hotel also housed a dedicated Eloise suite, designed by iconic fashionista Betsey Johnson. I’ve always been a huge fan of Betsey Johnson and have lots of her pieces from over the years.
I booked in to the suite as soon as I could and eagerly awaited my stay. The ‘family ambassador’ really hypes it up when you’re in contact with her initially and when she takes your payment, but I emailed her with some queries and complaints while I was at the hotel and I’m yet to hear anything back (over 6 weeks later), so I guess she’s not too fussed about customer service once you’ve paid. The package was supposed to include a number of gifts such as a book, a dressing gown and a USB stick, however, I never got the USB stick??? Also included was a $100 gift voucher to the Eloise Boutique and Eloise Tea at the famous Palm Court.
You are told when you reserve the room that you will be escorted up to the suite where a photo will be taken of you on the bed and later delivered in an Eloise frame. This is not nearly as exciting as the staff member makes it out to be and my photo was taken with a really dodgy point and shoot so it ended up really dark – to the point that you can’t even see me in it. I thought, particularly travelling on my own, that someone might offer to take a photo of me outside the room as the door is quite pretty. Or, that they’d even offer to take my photo at the Eloise portrait near the lobby. However, even after waiting all afternoon for my room to be ready (I finally got in there at a few minutes to 4:00) I had no such luck.
The room itself is absolutely exquisite. It is definitely a pink overload but you will never tire of the detail, nor will you even be able to take it all in on the first day. Every surface has been carefully designed – the floral wallpaper, the zebra carpet, the printed curtains and the neon light above the bed. The bath gel and shampoo is even fairy floss flavoured and the wall in the bathroom is adorned with pictures of Eloise and her animal friends.
The bed is huge and luxurious and I pretty much didn’t leave it once I got in. The whole room is controlled by an iPad but everything else has an olde world charm, complete with chandeliers and gold-gilt embellishments in the bathroom.
For any little girls who stay there are plenty of dress-ups in the room, as well as Eloise books and DVDs to keep you entertained. I personally watched a whole lot of Seinfeld and Full House re-runs but to each their own.
I also ordered room service which wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be (by Plaza standards – $60 for a huge cobb salad and fries. Hey, I’ve seen worse!). The minibar, however, was pretty over-the-top expensive with those jars of lollies in the pictures above costing $15 each!
I really didn’t want to leave the room at all as it was just so fun and gorgeous. I can only imagine how mind-blowing it would be if you were a six-year-old and I certainly hope that the staff ham it up a bit more for any little girls who stay, as I certainly didn’t feel like I was a valued guest after being made to wait for the room and then shuffled around the lobby by security (they obviously don’t like people loitering (there is one really good way to fix that – don’t leave guests waiting!)).
That said, I would definitely stay at The Plaza again for the convenient location, the glamour and the Todd English food court downstairs. It has everything you want, from gourmet sandwiches to cakes and pastries and a cool deli/homewares shop and I wish I’d had more meals in which to eat there.
The Eloise boutique is also to die for. I put my $100 voucher towards a set of four plates printed with Eloise on them ($105). They have many gifts including lollies/chocolate, biscuits, the usual pens, keyrings and book marks, dolls, so many toys and clothes, costumes, tea sets, beautiful enamel boxes (which I think were hand painted as they were tiny and around the $200-$300 mark), journals, stationery, folders, snow globes, slippers – basically anything and everything you could want and at every price range!
Even if you’re not staying at The Plaza a trip in for high tea and a visit to the boutique is a must-do while in New York.
The Eloise Suite at The Plaza starts from US$1,295 per night (plus taxes). For more information on The Plaza and its suites, indulge yourself here.
New York was the next stop on my trip. I was actually here for the longest of all the cities, too, and aside from a couple of shows and a restaurant I didn’t really have much planned. I can’t believe how quickly my six days went by!
On the Monday and Tuesday I was at The Plaza and in its vicinity, Tuesday night I saw Of Mice and Men on Broadway and got to meet my love, James Franco, for the first time.
On Wednesday I honestly cannot remember what I did but I think it involved pork buns from Momofuku Milk Bar.
On Thursday I waited for six hours – yes, SIX hours – for a hamburger from Shake Shack.
As you may know, the wait for a famous Shake Shack burger is usually at least 15 minutes, but the week I was in New York was their 10th birthday and to celebrate each day featured a unique and special burger by a celebrity chef for one day only. On the day I decided to line up the burger was by Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. The burger was (thankfully) the best I’ve ever had. I really can’t believe I spent basically an entire day in line for a hamburger but I got to meet lots of people, have good chats and hang out in Madison Park, which is really quite pretty.
That night I went to a screening of Palo Alto, a James Franco movie and he just happened to drop by at the end for a Q&A session. I swear I didn’t plan that at all *shifty eyes*. Unfortunately he didn’t stay long because one fan got hectic and scared him off. I felt so bad for him.
Friday was another day-long activity: lunch at Eleven Madison Park. I can’t wait to show you all the photos!
I left late on Saturday afternoon to go to Chicago and I spent that morning on a massive walk up to the Upper East Side to check out the Cynthia Rowley Curious Candy store and to have another Shake Shack burger. It was so nice walking around up there and I think that’s where I’d live if I ever moved to New York (and could afford to).
Next I’ll be blogging about the Eloise Suite at The Plaza, high tea at The Plaza, The Benjamin (the second hotel I stayed at) and Eleven Madison Park. Stay tuuuuned.
I apologise in advance for the photos on this post. As I said in my last blog, as a female you receive a lot of attention walking around in Miami and while I never felt unsafe, I thought carrying a camera would make me more of an obvious target so I just took my phone, thinking that iPhone pictures would be ok. They didn’t turn out great, but I hope at least you can get an idea. Sorry to The Bazaar, as they’re not a 100% accurate depiction of the gorgeously vibrant food I was served.
I was recommended The Bazaar in Los Angeles but I looked up the one in Miami thinking it would be a lot closer to my hotel. I was right and I was able to walk there within minutes from the Shore Club. The Bazaar is housed in the SLS Hotel, a very luxurious property with about $12m worth of cars parked out the front.
The restaurant itself has a lovely feel and despite being just one big room, it has been designed well by Phillippe Starck to make it feel as if there are private segments throughout.
The menu is huge. It folds out into four big sections, with the recommendation to have about 3 – 4 dishes per person. I chose the beef sui mai, bao con lechón, not your everyday caprese, foie gras pb & j and the key lime pie. Woah, that’s a lot of food!
Of these my favourite was easily the key lime pie. I made a point of eating key lime pie as often as I could in Florida but obviously this was a standout. I didn’t think the caprese salad was all it cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely and I would gladly eat it again and again but the waiter did a very good job of selling it and the menu makes it sounds like a gastronomical feat when really it is just a pretty-looking, lovely tasting salad.
The filling on the pork buns was sublime, however, the bun itself was not my favourite. From a restaurant of this calibre I expected a premium bun but it fell short. As if they hadn’t been made fresh that day almost? Well, perhaps they weren’t. Don’t let this put you off ordering them, though. As I said, the filling was absolutely beautiful. In fact I would say it was the nicest pork belly I’ve ever eaten. The flavour ran right through the fat and it really all just melted in your mouth. There is nothing worse than chewy pork belly that leaves a coating of slime in your mouth – none of that here!
The beef dumplings were nothing special. If, a bit too overpowering with whatever the beef was seasoned with (couldn’t pick it) and maybe a little too strong on the kaffir lime. I craved more of the daikon to break up the flavour a bit. That said, I was one person eating alone and there was a lot of food for just me – one or two would have been plenty and would have left a much better taste in my mouth, literally and figuratively. I left a couple of these as they weren’t exciting me too much and I thought it best to leave room for something else.
The most interesting of all the dishes was the foie gras and peanut butter and jelly toasted sandwiches. Easy to eat, albeit a little rich for me to eat all three (I squeezed them in – can’t waste precious foie gras!)
I really liked the sound of the Baby Japanese Peaches with fresh burrata, hazelnuts and arugula but as you can see I’d ordered quite a bit and knew I was going to struggle with that already. I was also tossing up between the frozen blue cheese sandwiches with lemon marmalade and walnut bread. Damnit. Thinking back on it I wish I’d got those.
I had the most amazing cocktails ever at The Bazaar. I ordered a few of the same one – passionfruit up – and they were just magical. Thick and creamy and very tart. Mmm mmm mmm.
So, while I didn’t have the best meal of my life, I thoroughly enjoyed The Bazaar and would absolutely go back. I don’t think it is the ideal dining situation for a solo traveller, being that the dishes are designed to share but I had a wonderful time, was treated so well by the fabulous staff, had a very nice meal and would love to go back and try a whole lot more of the menu.
The Bazaar also has locations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and more information can be found here.The Bazaar SLS Hotel, South Beach 1701 Collins Avenue
So here we are in Miami, about a week into the trip. It was really hard to choose a hotel in Miami but I settled on one that was in a safe area, surrounded by lots of shops so I could stock up on things like bottled water, on the beach so I got the ‘real’ Miami experience, was a decent price and also had social pool events in case I decided to go down that route.
I settled on the Shore Club in South Beach because it was one of the more decently priced in amongst a few expensive hotels. It had direct access to the beach, a Nobu, was next to one hotel I’d booked into for brunch (more on that later) and very close to another that I was going to for dinner. I also liked that it was part of a group of boutique hotels, rather than a huge chain.
Unfortunately, I would not recommend my choice.
From the moment I arrived I received a lot of attitude from all the staff. The people on the door did not once actually open the door, say ‘welcome’, offer to get a taxi or offer help in any way and I had one woman look me up and down and then say something to her colleague in Spanish as she nodded in my direction. The staff at the pool were horrendous. I went to the Sunday pool part, Shore Thing, and it was not very busy because it was raining on and off. I kept asking one of the hostesses where I could get a towel from and she ignored me until I was basically in her face. She told me she didn’t understand English (???), waved her hands in my face and then eventually walked off and came back with a towel. WTF?
I didn’t have to wait in line at the bar but I did have to wait a while to get someone’s attention. When I went to settle my tab (earlier than I wanted to, because I was getting unwanted attention from a very hairy man in the pool) I had been overcharged and then when I questioned it was met with eye-rolling and a look as if I was lying. I did mention these few things from the pool in a survey the hotel sends out post-stay and to his credit, the manager of the pool emailed me to try to rectify the situation, so I am grateful for that.
The decor of the rooms is really atrocious. The hotel defend comments about the furnishings on TripAdvisor and the like by saying it’s designer, trendy, Mexican-chic — nah, it’s just ugly! Everything is concrete, which I suppose works well for people walking sand through it and having dripping swimmers and all of that but it is revolting to look at! The room was so small that you couldn’t walk around the bed without bumping into something and the view from my room was absolutely horrible so I kept the curtains closed for the time I was there.
The other annoying thing was that the free WiFi was basically non-existent. I had to stand on an angle in the bathroom with my phone as that was the exact spot that it would pick up. Really irritating for someone who was relying on it to keep in contact with family and friends. I wanted to be able to sit at the desk or lie in bed and write emails as opposed to perching myself against the sink with my arm up in the air.
A couple of positives – because I’d be lying if I said there were none – the location is absolutely fantastic. You walk past the pools and through a gate and you’re literally on the beach. The beach set up is great. A third-party company manages the seating/bar and as a guest you are given free use of the chairs and towels, however, I think you are charged for an umbrella. I stupidly forgot both my camera and phone on my first day at the beach and thought, ‘oh well, I’ll be back tomorrow’ and even though I was back the next day, it was hideous – black clouds, thunder and rain – so my photos do not do it justice and there’s no point sharing them. If you love the beach and won’t spend any time in your room then maybe this hotel is for you.
As I said earlier, it is also very close by to everything else that you need. There is a liquor shop a few hundred metres up the road, a Walgreens, heaps of tourists shops that actually had decent gifts and clothing and a lot of cafes and bars. I found the guys in Miami
a bit very sleazy (lots of comments as I and other girls was/were walking down the street) but I never felt unsafe and I think that’s just what happens there – lots of skin on display and lots of guys seeing that as an invitation to be like, ‘DAAAAAA-YUM GURL’. Eh. No.
The outdoor bar and pool area is also very nice. I didn’t drink at the bar after my ‘ordeal’ (I’m exaggerating!) at the pool, but it seemed busy, even late at night. There is an Italian restaurant on the premises, too. Kanye West said he might walk in Nobu with no shoes and I actually got to do this while coming back from the beach. My room was in a tower that only had access through the restaurant, so in I went, barefoot. Tick that one off my bucket list!
I paid about $330 per night for this hotel and would not stay again. While it was actually one of the cheaper hotels I stayed at on my trip, there were next to no inclusions – a towel at the beach isn’t worth anything to me, and the ‘free WiFi’ didn’t work. The surrounding hotels are more expensive but seem far more beautiful and also have the great pools and access to the beach which are pretty much the only positives about Shore Club. As I mentioned on twitter, I went to both the SLS and The Setai to eat and I was treated like a princess even though the staff knew I wasn’t staying there. The Shore Club has the foundations of a fantastic property but has a long way to come.
If, for some reason, like to know more, check out their site.
On the evening of my visit to Sea World I had dinner with the stars of the park, the killer whales. Dine With Shamu is something you can (and should) pre-book and has only one seating, at 5:30pm.
You are required to ‘check-in’ from 3:00pm and then line up from 5:00pm for your table number. Every table has an excellent view of the main pool as there are two rows behind the glass, but I was first in line to make sure I had the very best table.
Once you’re seated you can go inside to start getting your dinner. The buffet is wonderful and is full of lovely salads, freshly cooked meat, seafood, pastas and even hot dogs, burgers and nuggets, which I obviously piled my plate with.
Drinks (including beer and wine) are also included in what is an unbelievably low price – $29 per person.
While eating your dinner you’ll notice all the whales bobbing up and down in the water, playing with their toys and subtly interacting with the trainers. It’s not until the last 20 minutes or so that the trainers all come out to teach you more about killer whales and show you their amazing skills in the water.
Unfortunately my camera was on its last bit of battery so I had to keep turning it on and off and missed a few vital shots of the whales leaping in the air, but hopefully this teaser will entice you to go and see for yourself!
Dine With Shamu is a must-do if you’re visiting Sea World. At such a low, low price and with beautiful food and a stunning show you’d be really silly to miss it.
To check availability and pre-book, click here.