We have asked Katie Dillon of La Jolla Mom to share her thoughts with us about her love for travel and hotels, and Amberlair, of course. And before you ask, a #BohoLover is a Boutique Hotel lover … just like us!
How do you choose a hotel when you travel?
I adore luxury hotels and choose destinations based on whether they have a hotel or two that really piques my interest. I have a handful of trusted luxury large and boutique hotel groups that I turn to first because they’ve earned my loyalty and I don’t need to worry about whether or not I’m going to have a good stay, I know I will.
If you had to choose 3, which were the most special (boutique) hotels you have ever stayed at and what made them so special?
I’ve been a guest of Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong consistently since it opened in 2005. It remains my favorite hotel in the world for sentimental reasons because we spent almost five years living in the hotel apartments. The staff is largely why its special to me and some of the same people have worked there since the beginning (while other have been promoted to other FS hotels). I think it’s also a testament to the hotel and brand as a great place to work. I like seeing familiar faces every time we walk in. My daughter is 10 now but I still remember the day we brought her home to the hotel at 5 days old and how excited they were to finally meet her (not to mention our hotel driver, a father himself, had to install our car seat because my husband forgot to read the manual).
Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong is also sentimental to me as that is it was a social hub for us when we lived in Hong Kong. I’ve been checking in as a guest annually for about six years. The top two things that I love about this hotel are the rooms and how they’ve managed to win the hearts of locals with their spa, dining outlets and other services.
In regard to the rooms, I do not think that I have stayed in room that is better equipped than theirs as they are fully-stocked with amenities and user-friendly technology. They have Hermes bath amenities and drawers full of other bath necessities you may have forgotten to pack. While there is an ample mini bar with premium spirits and snacks, they also put in a hot water kettle, Nespresso bar, gorgeous tea pots and ornate ice buckets (if the ice bucket wasn’t heavy, I would have bought it already), dishware, flatware, cloth napkins, full-sized wine glasses, and more.
I also love that they have a valet cabinet to minimize disturbance. In lieu of ringing the doorbell to deliver laundry, for example, they simply slip it into the valet cabinet. A notification light illuminates in your room so that you know to grab it. They really want you to feel at home here and I do. Beautiful decor and a stellar breakfast buffet helps, too.
Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire offers activities that are simply different than any other luxury hotel we’ve been in. My daughter learned how to care for a pony, we took a private falconry walk around the estate, you can explore its 500 acres by bike, and they set up an incredible sunset picnic for us near the lake with fishing poles, etc. It’s the type of place you would come for a weekend getaway and never leave because you really don’t have to.
If you had your own boutique hotel, what 3 things would you make sure existed?
- As you might be able to tell already, amenities inside the room are incredibly important to me. I need to feel like the hotel has thought about who might be staying there and that they have taken care of the little things. Are there enough coffee cups and glasses? Is there an office kit in the desk? What about plugs and voltage converters? Extra toothbrushes? Kids robes? Nice towels? I think the reason why I care is that I want to feel that there is value in paying more to stay in a luxury property.
- Speaking of kids, amenities for them are also important. A welcome gift resets moods after a long flight. I love it when a hotel picks up on queues and does something to blow their minds. I happened to mention in conversation to Brown’s Hotel in London that we were going to do some Harry Potter tours and the pastry chef really knocked my daughter’s socks off with a gorgeous Harry Potter amenity. Later I heard that this was the first amenity that he had created like this. He really stepped up to the challenge! It is always nice when restaurants are flexible enough to alter menu items to suit a child’s taste or honor little requests without hesitation (like banana smoothies in our case) that might be off-the-menu. Traveling can be tough on kids and they, too, need a little familiar comfort food sometimes.
- I also feel that online photos of the hotel should showcase what the property is really like without glamming it up too much. There’s nothing worse than booking into a hotel thinking it has a nice big pool based on the photos when in fact it’s tiny and was just photographed well. This recently happened to us and it was a huge let down for my daughter, too. The pool was awful.
Name 3 things you loved in hotels you stayed in before…
- Cool kids amenities such as in-room pop-up tents. Yes, even a cheap pop-up tent can give a child hours of enjoyment while creating a positive and memorable stay. My daughter celebrates a birthday near or during our spring break trips. Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong filled our room with balloons.
- A complimentary glass of champagne at check-in is a nice touch, especially, if you have to wait for any reason.
- I am of the opinion that you can gauge what your stay is going to be like based on the thought that goes into a hotel’s flower arrangements. I look for and love extraordinary flower arrangements that are well-maintained.
Name 3 things you wouldn’t want to experience in a hotel ever again.
- We once had construction debris and cords in the hallway near our room in a five-star hotel that cost and arm and a leg. And, the construction noise was terrible.
- Ill-designed bathrooms are not my favorite. I was recently in a hotel where the shower flooded the bathroom floor every time.
- In-room coffee is a must. I am not a fan of it absent from my room.
How do you feel about the Amberlair concept?
I think it could be really amazing and they sure picked a gorgeous location. I also suspect its challenging to decide which traveler suggestions to really implement so I’m curious to see the balance that they strike. Through watching this process unfold, I’ve also found it really interesting to read what’s important to other savvy travelers. I do believe that if they really can build a hotel based on needs and wants of travelers, it should be a hit. I really look forward to checking in!
Where are you off to next?
Argentina for the Adventure Travel World Summit. It will be my first trip to South America.
Katie writes a luxury family travel and lifestyle site called La Jolla Mom that is named after her seaside community in San Diego. Before settling in La Jolla, she and her husband spent seven years as expats in London and then Hong Kong where her daughter was born. Her knowledge of luxury travel stems from plenty of first-hand experience as most of the Dillon family’s time overseas was spent living in a Four Seasons hotel apartment. Luxe Getaways Magazine, Luxury Retreats Magazine and Four Seasons Magazine are a few of the publications that Katie contributes to. She is also the San Diego editor for USA TODAY/10Best and never fully unpacked.