Ultra Luxury Resorts

The lovely Pelican Hill in California. Photo courtesy of Pelican Hill.

In 2008, the luxe Pelican Hill resort opened, setting the bar (believe it or not) higher for southern California luxury resorts.  This lovely hotel, resort, golf paradise and spa is situated in the foothills between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.  


I have classified Pelican Hill as an ultra-luxurious hotel for several reasons.  First, the resort takes incredible pride in its design and in particular, the intricate detail in the design.  Pelican Hill pays homage to Andrea Palladio, an Italian Renaissance master of architectural design, born in 1508 in Padua, Italy.      Palladio’s name at birth was Andrea Di Pietro della Gondola; it was changed by scholar Gian Giorgio Trissino to mimic the name of the Greek goddess of war and wisdom, Pallas Athene, often simply called Athena.  This name change was undoubtedly a sign of respect and awe at the incredible skill the architect possessed.  Pelican Hill further honors Palladio by following his style and dedication to perfection.

Inside, the open lobby is very large, but still maintains intimacy.  The hearth here, as well as in all public areas and accommodations, is made from limestone imported from Italy.  If you’ll look closely, you can see it was hand-carved.  The tapestries decorating the walls are originals from the Renaissance period.  Their whimsical princess, castle and unicorn themes are charming.  The color palette of the entire resort is neutral in order to draw the eye to the details and natural color outside. 


It is in accommodation design that Pelican Hill reveals its pledge to the privacy of its guests.  All accommodations are either bungalows or villas, each with a private entrance.  Bungalows include almost all of the items on my personal comforts of home checklist.  Their cashmere robes are exquisite – the best I have personally experienced.  Each bungalow has a gas fireplace, double sinks and a marble soaking tub.  The Bose sound system and private terraces go above and beyond my expectations. 

Pelican Hill’s villas are gated –a resort within a resort.  These are no-holds-barred luxury homes.  The defining characteristics that set them apart are:

  • Gourmet kitchens with wine cabinets, Sub Zero refrigerators, Wolf ovens and cook-tops, and professional cookware from Cuisipro.
  • 60-inch flatscreen HD TVs and Bose sound systems.
  • Private one- or two-car garages.
  • Fine table linens from Rivolta Carmignani and Fili D’Oro.
  • A 10,000-square-foot exclusive Villa Clubhouse.


Pelican Hill is ultra-luxurious not only for its design and quality finishes, but also for the meticulous attention to detail that continues in their dining experiences.  Pelican Hill has two fine dining choices, restaurants Andrea (named after Andrea Palladio) and Coliseum.  The hotel also features two cafés, one of which offers handmade gelato in deliciously distinctive flavors created by the chefs of Andrea.

On a spectacular Thursday morning, I had the opportunity to enjoy brunch on the heated veranda of the Coliseum.  The view of the beautifully groomed golf course, the intricately-hand tiled brilliant blue Coliseum pool, the pool cabanas arranged in leveled coliseum fashion, the already spring-green southern Californian hills and the vast Pacific Ocean was breathtaking, to say the least.  My meal was up to the challenge of matching my view – I ate every bite of the huge Belgian waffle garnished with locally-picked berries.

Just as Palladio looked to his surroundings for inspiration for his architecture, Pelican Hill revels in the local treasury of ingredients the area has to offer.  Ancient olive trees can be found around the property and, on occasion, olives from on-site are turned into olive oil for the hotel’s chefs and guests.


As you would expect from a hotel in this class, the Spa at Pelican Hill is quintessential indulgence.  It is no wonder that celebrities are drawn here.  Celebrity or not, though, do not miss this treat.  I recommend the Amber Gold Signature Massage.  Like most, it uses Swedish massage techniques to relax the guest.  Unlike most spa massages, extra steps are taken to insure the best possible experience.  For example, the masseuse uses a soft brush to exfoliate the skin before an infusion of natural oils is applied to the body.  This allows the skin to absorb the oils more efficiently for a lovely glow.  Personalization is another way the spa caters to each guest.  I am always asked for my preferences before a massage, but rarely are techniques varied in response to my input.  My massage at Pelican Hill was different – the masseuse used her fist instead of finger tips to accommodate my request for even pressure and it worked very well.  Amazing.            


Pelican Hill is an absolutely beautiful luxury resort.  It still looks and feels brand new and yet manages to blend into the countryside as if it has been there for ages.  The staff is quietly dedicated to guests and the concierge efforts are outstanding.  This is the place for a private, calming vacation to relax and renew.

Thank you, Kate Starr of Pelican Hill, for your gracious help in making this review possible.

Please write to me at lori@travelbylori.com and take a look at my hotel and resort video reviews by visiting my Travel by Lori YouTube channel.


My front-row spot for the show.

OneRepublic band member Brent Kutzle plays a carbon fiber cello during the performance at the Four Seasons, Denver.

The Four Seasons Hotel and Residences in downtown Denver hosted an extravagant grand opening event last Saturday night.  The party took over two entire floors and the pool deck as well as the presidential suite on the 16th floor.  Attendees reached an impressive total of 1,300.  The theme was clearly “entertainment at its finest” as the hotel dazzled its guests with theme rooms, delicious cuisine, music and Cirque du Soleil-type diversions.

I began my grand opening adventure by making my way upstairs to the second floor where I found myself in the Willy Wonka room.  I proceeded directly to the lush strawberries on display that simply begged to be dipped in the white chocolate (my favorite!) fountains flowing in shades of fantasy purple and M&M green.  Eventually I noticed the tables covered in nostalgic candy such as Mary Janes, candy buttons and the huge all-day suckers I was never allowed to eat as a child.  Not wanting to spoil the delicious dinner I knew was waiting, I ducked out after only a strawberry, to save the rest for later. 

In the hallway, I came across actors on stilts and in costume, sometimes serving hors d’oeuvres and sometimes just smiling a hello.  Just outside the main ballroom, various stations of food catered by the Four Seasons were arranged for sampling.  I ate scallops in a mouth-watering licorice sauce and rice and sun-dried tomatoes in pesto.  Down the hall, a cowboy-themed room served up “grub” and an open bar offered chocolate martinis along with bottled waters and anything else a person could dream up. 

The main ballroom was nearly deserted at the beginning of the evening since most of the action was elsewhere.  Because of this, I had the chance to admire the décor without many distractions.  The overall décor of the Four Seasons is chic and modern with a bit of understated glam.  The ballroom’s lighting is gorgeously made up in square chandeliers that reminded me of various Trump properties I’ve had the privilege of reviewing.  While some hotels translate modern into curves in their interior spaces, the Four Seasons embraces and repeats a linear pattern in both furnishings and fixtures.

Within an hour of my arrival, the main ballroom was packed for the big event—a concert by OneRepublic, a local band who is now famous world-wide.  The band was enthusiastically introduced by the Four Seasons General Manager, Thierry Kennel.  I had a stunning view of the performance from my prime location leaning against the low stage–Guitarist Brent Kutzle played about six inches away.  The band did not disappoint—they rocked to the delight of the packed room.  At one point, lead singer Ryan Tedder made his way into the audience, lending an even more personal feel to the show.  At the end of the playlist and after my favorite song, “All the Right Moves,” Drummer Eddie Fisher handed me a drumstick.  It was the perfect ending to, as Public Relations Director Dana Berry aptly called it, “a spectacular night.”

Travel By Lori--the Chicago skyline

The impressive Chicago skyline

Trave By Lori--David and Lori on the Odyssey
Our lunch cruise on the Odyssey with beautiful, grey Chicago in the background.

I am so lucky that my work takes me to such beautiful places! The second luxury hotel I was able to visit and review during my first and only trip to Chicago was the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. 

As I looked at the Chicago skyline from the deck of the Odyssey, I noticed that grey clouds were hiding the top of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, Illinois.  The sight of the sleek, ultra-modern 92-story skyscraper actually touching the sky was as impressive as the building itself—the seventh tallest in the world.

The Trump Tower, as it is referred to locally, is both a hotel and a residence.  Pulling up in a taxi to the arrival area, I was met by a British doorman who greeted me graciously and directed me to the hotel side.  The lobby is divided in half, with a residents’ lobby on one side and the hotel lobby on the other.  It’s small in comparison to other area luxury hotels whose massive lobby spaces take an entire floor, but adequate for small groups, waiting or checking in.  The interior design is in perfect unity with the exterior look—“posh contemporary” sums it up nicely.  The color palette of all interior spaces is the same as with many Trump properties, favoring the cooler shades of grey, violet and blue with few exceptions.  Tactilely, The rooms range from studio suites with approximately 600 square feet of living space to three-bedroom suites averaging about 1,000 square feet.  All have either a small kitchenette or a fully-functional and equipped kitchen.  The quality of the furnishings in even the smallest rooms is remarkable.  Trump didn’t cut corners—the mattresses are comfortable and the technology is up-to-date.  I especially enjoyed the TV in the bathroom mirror.  It was helpful for morning multi-tasking—i.e. catching up on the news while applying makeup.  Electronically controlled drapes and various levels of ambient lighting also set the standard.  I found the personal touch of framed photos of Chicago landmarks set around the room to be charming and a fantastic idea, especially as this was my first visit to the city.

A unique feature to the Trump Tower is the availability of their Spa Rooms, which invite guests to immerse themselves in the spa experience.  These rooms have easy access to the spa via an earmarked staircase, making the trek in a bathrobe less of an issue and providing convenient access.  The spa can also be brought to guests in Spa Rooms where a private yoga lesson can be arranged or many of the treatments can be done in-room.  The Spa itself is quite minimalist, with the focus on treatment rather than overly ornate surroundings.  The pool is in the spa and is for swimming laps more than for casual family play.

The location to shopping and entertainment is phenomenal.  I opted for a taxi due to the cool, rainy weather, but the Trump Tower is within an easy walking distance from the famed Miracle Mile and Navy Pier.  There is also a restaurant (Sixteen) and a lounge (Rebar, named for the building materials used) in-house.  Both are busy and lively in the evening.  I had the opportunity to enjoy a fantastic crushed berry drink at a premium price while enjoying a perfect view of a fireworks display over the river.

As a final note, the service at the Trump International Hotel and Tower is as sophisticated as the décor.  From the bellmen to the servers to the front desk staff and every other staff member I encountered during my visit, I was shown the best in professional hospitality.  I made note of it in my observations of their interactions with other guests, as well.  In conclusion, the Trump comes highly personally recommended for the ambiance as much as the location.  The Trump Tower truly fits my definition of luxury.

Other Recommendations:  There are lots of dinner and lunch cruises available near the Navy Pier.  David and I ate on the Odyssey for lunch, which had a fantastic fondue dessert buffet and good food.  If you like ships–give it a try.

Travel By Lori--A room at the Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, a Four Seasons Hotel

A room at the Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, a Four Seasons Hotel

The Ritz-Carlton hotel, in the spectacular city of Chicago, Illinois, has recently undergone a dramatic renovation, redefining this hotel and its definition of luxury. The focus of the $25 million-dollar redesign was the now quite impressive lobby, a new restaurant and bar, ballroom and presidential suite. 

My visit to the Ritz-Carlton began with a surprise as I walked into what I perceived as a tiny lobby. The doorman quickly informed me that I would soon have a bellman to take me and my luggage upstairs to the 12th floor to check-in. When the elevator doors opened, I’ll admit I caught my breath a little. I have seen many luxury hotels all over the country during my travels as a travel writer and in the luxury hotel marketing business and few have a lobby as visually stunning as the brand-new redesigned Ritz-Carlton. The original fountain with the ornately-carved relief just under the massive skylight remains the centerpiece for the entire-floor lobby/restaurant. The next design element to catch my eye was the atrium windows at the far end of the lobby, directly opposite from the elevators. Because the lobby is on the 12th floor, a gorgeous view of the city can be thoroughly enjoyed by guests. To take full advantage of the view, atrium windows cover the entire back wall. In front of the wall of windows is a lounge area, beautifully decorated and comfortable. 

My room, like most in the Ritz-Carlton, was a suite. Its eclectic style focused on texture and subtle incorporated design rather than bold statements. For example, the carpet on the floor of my room was the shade of the grey sky outside with a molded geometric pattern in modified squares. Unity between the bedding and floor was accomplished by simple square embroidery on the duvet. The wall was a lighter shade of grey that blended in a nearly silver embossed highly-traditional pattern in the wallpaper. The corner room boasted dramatic views of the skyscrapers outside on two sides. I couldn’t help but sleep with the blinds up, just to enjoy the twinkling city lights outside. 

The mini bar came stocked with actually useful items that were practical instead of trendy. My only room disappointment was the bathroom. The average tub/shower combo and single sink seemed slightly below the incredible standards the Four Seasons (the Ritz-Carlton Chicago is a Four Seasons hotel) has set for its chain. On the up side, the granite bathroom counter had much more space than I could possibly use. Counter space in bathrooms is always a premium consideration for me. 

As a treat, I had dinner at deca (the name is a derivative of decade) restaurant + bar, also part of the stratospheric lobby renovation. The restaurant is located on the opposite side of the lobby from the front desk and concierge. The staff, especially my server, was delightful and attentive. The bar accommodated my special request drink with grace and the chefs prepared steak frites with béarnaise sauce to absolute perfection. 

In my opinion, the Ritz-Carlton Chicago lives up to its name. The staff ranks above average in genuine concern for guests, the lobby is spectacular, the food is mouth-watering and the rooms are spacious and comfortable with views to amaze. I also recommend just trying deca and enjoying the lounge regardless of where you may be staying in Chicago.