We have taken several trips on AA across the Atlantic, both in business and coach classes. Food and service continue to be underwhelming and disapointing. The staff attitude ranges from angry to arrogant. On a recent flight from London to New York, a flight attendant explained why AA charges extra for everything such as the little wine bottles: “every little bit helps!” Hard to imagine that AA would make their earnings based on wine sales and if they did it would reflect poorly on board and management. When we pointed out that other, mostly international airlines such as Virgin do not nickel and dime their passengers on long-haul flights, the response was a new low in airlines arrogance and here we quote the AA flight attendant: “Lately our flights have been so full that we do not really care…”. This is just a short sample of various AA “infractions”. Other include, for example, refusing to move a business class passenger with a full fair ticket to London to a 30-min earlier flight without asking to pay an extra $2500 while the seats are open on a flight departing in 45 minutes. Our recommendation is to avoid American Airlines and instead for transatlantic trips we specifically recommend Virgin Atlantic – either in coach or business, or even British Airways or various discount business class carriers such as EOS. Safe Travels!

Film Review:Valet

May 20, 2007

A short funny bon-bon of a movie. It is pure, humorous entertainment with predictable story lines and stereotyped characters, but one that will surely please. **

Mischi’s is our favorite dining establishment in Miami. it is one of a few places we have visited in Miami that has toned down the superficial glitz and insane unsubstantiated pricing that characterizes so many restaurants in South Beach and turned up an outstanding innovative menu and wine list. Recommended ****

Great place for an outdoor lunch and for people watching. La Goulue has decent food and good selection of wines and champagnes, but it is hardly a gastronomic destination. Yet, as you are washing down your steak tartar or burger with a glass of chablis or champagne and observing the clientele taking a rest from a hard afternoon of designer shopping,  culinary excellence is not what comes to mind. Recommended. ***

Over several recent visits to London, Wolseley (160 Piccadilly) has become our favorite place for breakfast, brunch, lunch, drinks, dinner, and really late dinner. Wolseley transformed an old bank space on a busy Piccadilly corner in Mayfair into a luxurious Viennese-style eatery with excellent food, matching wine list, exquisite desserts and outstanding coffee. It is expensive, even by London standards, yet the only thing that one will remember from a visit is the food, the stimulating people scene and the festive feeling of being transported into a modern, luxurious gastronomic equivalent of the Orient Express. Highly Recommended. ****

Film Review: Blood Diamond

January 6, 2007

Leonard DiCaprio delivers in this bloody and violent story of illegal diamond smulggling from Africa. The film stays true to its genre, so one should not expect too much depth here. DiCaprio does a great job with a near perfect imitiation South African acccent. The film itself tells a highly disturbing story that over the last few years has occupied a peripheral spot on news reports. The portrayal of diamond-related violence in Africa makes one wonder if the director has over-exercised his creative license and exploited the story to turn it into the 21st century version of the King Solomon Mines. By pure coincidence, a few days later on a flight from Miami we met a wholesale diamond dealer. When asked about the film, the dealer replied: “I saw it on the opening day. It is almost accurate, – the reality is much worse”.  Recommended.

We are very mixed on this property. The location at the beach is great, the rooms are fine and many have great views, although the 1br studios are quite small. The restaurant – Bice, does a great job of feeding and hydrating the well-heeled clientele.  The desk staff and the concierge are very courteous and helpful. Yet, there was one area of the hotel that has nearly completely ruined our perception of the hotel – the service at the beach and pool area – the worst beach and pool service we have ever experienced, perhaps anywhere. The hotel charges guests a daily “resort fee” – a practice that may be difficult to justify given the high room rates, but one that has become routine in many Miami properties. It is a simple task – tracking the hotel occupancy and making sure that you have enough lounges, chairs, tables, pads and towels and also making sure that there is sufficient and well-trained, courteous staff. Being under new ownership – Starwood, seems to have made the service worse. The beach and pool area management which is run by a thuggish young crew that ignores process and has little desire to deliver customer service. We waited for 45 minutes amongst a crowd of many to get 4 beach chairs and cushions only to get 2 chairs and one cushion and no towels. Another 45 minutes later and after much arguing with the beach staff we wrangled away 3 precious towels but only after being told that those were given to us because we were “so impatient”. Finally my kids could go to the pool, but by then our whole mood was ruined. About an hour later, our neighbors at the beach were leaving and graciously offered to give us their loungers. We thankfully accepted, but about 5 minutes later I was accosted by three members of Le Meridien beach staff who claimed that I took the chairs “illegaly” and I should vacate them “right away!”.  At that point, our patience ruptured and the staffers learned some choice NYC vocabulary.  A young manager showed up and finally after nearly four hours since we have first arrived at the beach, we had some peace and quiet. Not bad for a hotel that charges guests about 700-900 per room in high season. Seems the beach staff has gotten so addicted to fat tips (or call them mini–bribes) from wealthy Eastern European tourists that the minute their clientele shows up at the beach, all chairs and towels simply dissappear. It is infuriating to watch, but it is hard to blame these young enterprising hustlers for what is a total lack of competent hotel management in this area. There are a couple of staffers at the beach and bar area who happen to be over 18 and do have a hang for service, but their efforts just drown in this sea of “who will give me a bigger tip”.

We did not go to the hotel management to complain, because we did not want to listen to their textbook hotel management explanations, but someone did and things did improve at the beach in the next couple of days. For one thing, a few more “men in suits with walkie-talkies” showed up – which looked somewhat comical for 80F degree weather and the staff began to ask us “if the service is better?”. We tactfully avoided getting into a discussion with them, until finally one morning I did share a conversation with one of the young beach staffers and told him that the service has gotten better but was generally sub-par for a place of this caliber. In response, I got “Well maybe some caviar will do you justice!”. Well, – perhaps a towel would do.

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