A little more than a year ago our friends Dave and Jake announced they were hosting a party and invited us to attend. Fellow avid travelers (we originally met in Peru on a train returning from Machu Picchu) they had picked a non-standard destination: Lanzarote, Canary Islands. We couldn’t say no!
most people wonder where these islands are…
Airfare to the islands is generally through Europe and can be pricey, so we decided to use miles for this trip. Since it was summer the difference between economy and business class is smaller so we also decided to fly in style! Last year airberlin joined the OneWorld alliance, which meant we could use our AA miles to fly with them. After a few days of digging we found a route that would take us through Miami to Dusseldorf and Cologne, Germany on the way and then Berlin to JFK on the way back. Thus, our summer European adventure was born.
Hotel Cristall, Cologne
I originally wanted to use hotel points to stay near the Dom cathedral, but unfortunately for us that particular hotel pulled out of the program last spring. So I researched some of the other hotels within a few blocks of the train station (since we were coming from Dusseldorf) and the central square. The Hotel Cristall had good marks for breakfast and style, plus the requisite location, so we made a booking through Pointshound.com (AA miles for a hotel is a nice bonus). We had a pleasant stay with a few quirks.
The front desk was quite friendly and were able to assign us a room even though it was mid-morning. Though they gave us directions to our room we still became slightly lost- the elevator off the lobby was not for us, instead, our room accessed by going up stairs through the breakfast area, up a set of outdoor stairs, then an elevator or more stairs to our room. Thankfully we didn’t have much luggage as this was a bit of a hassle.
Our room was larger than expected and quite comfortable. There was a fairly busy road just outside our window but it didn’t affect our afternoon nap or sleep that evening. The bathroom was also quite large with a wide counter and a shower with good water pressure.
Breakfast was a reasonable buffet in the main building, fairly typical for a German hotel – cheese, meats, breads, granola, a few hot items, etc. Juice glasses were tiny as is common in Europe. Overall, this was a solid choice and we would consider a return.
Iberostar Papagayo, Playa Blanca
The Iberostar was the host site for the party so we stayed here too. This is a fairly typical resort, with people getting up early to drape towels over their favorite chairs and an all-inclusive mentality. We’re not really resort people so instead we used it as a jumping off point to explore parts of the island.
We had booked a Double sea view room, and we definitely couldn’t complain about our view.
our beautiful sea view from the balcony – room 349
The room was fairly similar to resort rooms we’ve had in the Caribbean and Mexico- a good size, with no major problems, but a bit bland and worn around the edges. The beds were annoying as they were rather stiff and tended to come apart easily so we effectively had two separate beds.
Free internet was quite slow, only available in one bar, and limited to 30 minutes a day, but since we were on vacation this wasn’t a big problem. You could also purchase wifi and that signal was seen around the resort.
As mentioned above, getting chairs around the pool was competitive and it didn’t seem like the staff did much to combat the issue. The pool area isn’t large either so some areas were quite congested. While the resort is near the water the closest sand beach is bit of a hike; however the snorkeling off the hotel’s dock was surprisingly good.
the pool area at 8:30a with a variety of towels adorning every chair
Food on the hotel plan was mixed. There was a wide variety to choose from, but many dishes were surprisingly poor, partially as a result of sitting under heat lamps. We were definitely getting bored with our choices by the third day.
While the price was quite good and there weren’t any major problems we probably wouldn’t return to this site.
Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof, Berlin
I was in Berlin in July and wanted to stay in the same area for this trip too. We found a good deal on the Pullman and decided to try it out for our two nights. We’re glad we did, this is a stylish hotel!
The front desk was quite helpful, putting us in a zoo-facing room on the top floor, and taking the time to explain different features of the hotel. Our room was quiet, spacious, and very comfortable with a nice view.
Wifi signal was strong in our room and in the lobby area.
Breakfast was great, the best on our trip, with quite a few hot and cold choices. Notably, the hostess was spacing people across both sides of the restaurant instead of packing people in to one side. Leandra also appreciated the strong coffee.
We really enjoyed our stay at this Pullman, and would certainly consider returning on our next visit to Berlin.
our view of the treetops from the 9th floor