Whimsey meshes with preserved history at QT Sidney in Australia

            If you had an unlimited budget, an adventurous spirit, and the time needed to just explore different parts of the world, would you pick somewhere you’ve never travelled to, or somewhere more comforting in its familiarity? If the former, have I got some thrilling news to share with you.Mention Australia and automatically you might mentally think “Outback.” True enough, but Australia is also rich in culture, history, arts, and fashion. The 200-room QT Sidney capitalizes on history, the arts and cultural by preserving two of Sidney’s most iconic buildings set in the heart of the central business district and then doing a head-to-toe makeover to attract jetsetters. Set within the historic Gowings department store and heritage-listed State Theatre, the QT Sidney honors its past by carefully restoring the original stone cladding, gargoyles, façade detail, and original timber floors on its lower levels. The hotel is in close proximity to Darling Harbour, a tourist and nightlife area, The Rocks, Australia’s finest restored historical district, Circular Quay as well as Chinatown.

Tired of crowds and want something more from your vacation than shopping trips and fighting through mobs of tourists? Then Fabriken Furillen, a lime factory and eco-friendly design masterpiece created by photographer Johan Hellström, may be the destination to remember. Set into the northeastern corner of the Swedish island of Gotland, Furillen was a military area until the early 1990s. Tourists aren’t commonly drawn to its craggy limestone formations, deserted beaches, or sea birds nesting among the ruins of an old gravel quarry. A high-speed ferry or plane from the Swedish mainland drops you off in the medieval city of Visby,

Fabriken Furillen was once a stark military base in Sweden. Now it’s a Swedish retreat unlike any other.

a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by ancient stone walls. Forty-five minutes later, a modern Scandinavian structure in shades of gray and white, looms ahead. This is the getaway for minimalists who appreciate beauty in its simplicity. The restaurant, a former factory workers’ canteen, has heavy chains still hanging from the ceiling. There are comfortable suites and wide windows offering stunning views of the Baltic Sea or the quarry’s dramatic gravel hills. For day trips, visit the fishing hamlet of Lergrav, take the ferry to the island of Fårö (the inspiration for many Ingmar Berman films), or bicycle around the peninsula on a “Sheppskult” bicycle, provided free of charge.

I’ve just added the 137-room Epicurean Hotel in Tampa to my bucket list. I have plenty of time to save my coins because the food-focused hotel won’t open until November, 2013. The Epicurean is being developed by Tampa-based Mainsail Lodging & Development in collaboration with the legendary Bern’s Steak House and will be the first newly constructed property to join the prestigious Autograph Collection® of Marriott International.  I can’t wait to check out the large, state-of-the-art culinary classroom, high-end bistro, wine shop, rooftop lounge, full-service spa, and a retail and production bakery and pastry shop. Expected amities include wine lockers for guests, evening wine tastings, and all the luxury toiletries one would anticipate. The Epicurean breaks ground this month in the trendy Hyde Park historic district of South Tampa.

Wyndham Orlando Resort is dusting off its image with a complete makeover. The sprawling complex is eliminating about 400 of its previous rooms and upgrading 613 rooms and suites with more modern resort-check décor. They’re adding a meandering pathway will lead to a grand porte-cochére and an expansive lobby and conference center. The Wyndham Orlando Resort and owner I Shops LLC anticipate renovations be completed by May 2013. The new building will contain modern glass features and fixtures and will overlook an expanded Grand Lawn, an ideal setting for outdoor events.  The expanded conference center will create 60,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Surrounding the resort will be a host of new dining and shopping options through the creation of the adjoining I-Shops. “Upon the completion of the surrounding retail project, guests will enjoy shopping, 10 new restaurants and entertainment venues just steps away,” says Paul Kanavos, principal owner of Wyndham Orlando Resort and the I-Drive Live project.  “Our ‘best in town’ location makes us convenient to all Orlando has to offer, perfect for those individuals traveling to nearby Orange County Convention Center, groups looking to host conferences in our newly expanded conference center, or families heading to nearby theme parks and attractions.”

When I envision Turkey, images of beaded costumes on shimmying belly dancers, eggplant steeped in thick spicy tomato sauces, and mosques encrusted with brightly-hued mosaic tiles runs through my head like a fast-action movie. Fortunately, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts puts a new face on Turkey’s past with its contemporary, luxury Mövenpick Hotel Ankara, a176-room beauty in the heart of the Turkish capital’s business district. Situated just 500 meters from Ankara’s newly-opened 80,000 sqm Congresium and next door to the five-story award-winning Armada Shopping Mall, the hotel reflects the curved shape of Turkey’s famous Nazar Boncuğu – the eye-shaped amulet traditionally worn to ward off evil – with a 12-storey central atrium and glass ceiling that floods the hotel with natural light. Traces of Turkey’s colorful architectural influences from the Ottoman Empire are reflected in the marble swirling across the public areas to the glittering lobby chandelier created from hundreds of handmade crystal balls, a reminder of the country’s proud glass-making heritage. The hotel caters to corporate clients, offering nine meeting spaces that accommodate up to 450. The spa includes four massage rooms, a Turkish ‘hammam’ bath, sauna, indoor plunge pool, whirlpool and cardio fitness zone. Plus, the flagship hotel restaurant, serves Turkish culinary classics and Mediterranean favorites, as well as Mövenpick Swiss signature dishes.

One usually associates Christian Lacroix’s designs with high-fashion models strutting down runways. The legendary couturier has now lent his imaginative styling to Sofitel So Bangkok’s new executive lounge, Club Signature. Lacroix has drawn on his personal touch of French elegance, theatrical flair, fantasy and folklore to produce an ambience of imaginative patterns, rich textures and vibrant colors in an interplay of images and motifs of old Siam and 19th-century France. Available to guests who stay in so Club rooms or higher categories at no charge, the 25th floor Club Signature provides evening cocktails, mini-massages, breakfast and snacks all day.

By mid-December, Imperial Palace in Las Vegas will have undergone more than just a name change. Caesars Entertainment is renaming the center-Strip resort to The Quad Resort & Casino. Interior and exterior renovations are underway and will be finished by late 2013. The Quad logo and creative were developed to evoke a sense of the unexpected with a playful and whimsical touch. As one of the quirkier letters of the alphabet, the “Q” becomes a distinctive brand icon and is a perfect starting point for the symbol within The Quad logo. Renovations include expanding the casino floor an additional 15,000 sf. Although the original resort’s main entrance faced the Strip, The Quad’s entrance and porte-cochére will now be on the building’s north side. A new pedestrian walkway connecting it to the adjacent Harrah’s Carnaval Court will wind through to The LINQ, Caesar’s $550 million retail, dining and entertainment district slated for opening late next year. Plans also include a dual-sided lobby bar, Starbucks, a retail promenade and a series of restaurants and eateries.

Fall is here (not that you’d know it by Florida’s still hot and humid weather) and the Hilton Sandestin Beach has an offer to entice planners to bring groups to relax and enjoy the soon-to-be-cooler weather and its sugar white sand beaches. Book a meeting at the Northwest Florida property by December 27, 2012, and choose extra amenities such as complimentary continental breakfast, $500 credit towards a Team Building exercise, or a poolside fire-pit party with hot chocolate, s’mores and live music. For all the juicy details:

Arterra at San Diego Marriott Del Mar serves up locally-sourced cuisine

A $3.3 million renovation at The San Diego Marriott Del Mar will redesign its 284 guestrooms, add 10 allergy-friendly PURE rooms, freshen the Arterra restaurant, and upgrade its event space. The updated suites add a living room area filled with tech-friendly devices for travelers. The San Diego hotel caters to business guests with heart healthy breakfast options, evening hors d’oeuvres, and an Honor Bar in the new Concierge Lounge. There are 14 function rooms and outdoor event space totally more than 12,000 sf. The Grand Ballroom seats 480 under high ceilings and decorative chandeliers.  Tucked away from the main dining room, Arterra provides an intimate setting for small group functions. Its eclectic menu uses locally-sourced organic ingredients. Sushi Master Andrew Hoh crafts modern, flavorful dishes from the freshest sashimi grade seafood. Located just 20 miles north of San Diego, the San Diego Marriott Del Mar is a seaside getaway that is close to the historic Del Mar Downtown Historic Village and the Del Mar Fairgrounds.


I love admiring historical architecture that’s been refurbished to its original glory and design. Not sure if I just like retro designs or that I appreciate the workmanship possible in past times. But next time I’m in the U.K, I hope I will be invited to an event at Troxy, a grand cinema built in 1933 on the site of an old brewery. Back then, it could seat 3520 people. The building featured a sweeping staircase, chandeliers, floor-to-ceiling mirrors and thick carpets. A floodlit organ rose from the orchestra pit during the intermissions and played all the latest music.In 1963, Troxy was taken over for the London Opera Centre. In its latest incarnation, Ashburn Estates are restoring the venue as much as possible to its original design, while incorporating state-of-the-art technology—and yes, even a fully-functioning organ, for events.

Fall is the perfect time of year to come to Florida to golf. The weather cools, the rain subsides, and people in lime greens and yellows seem to swarm the links. A new, enhanced user-friendly website now available will tell you who has the best golf travel packages and booking opportunities. “Northeast Florida is a golfer’s paradise, and this new site is the digital gateway,” said David Reese, President of Florida’s First Coast of Golf, Inc.  “Now golfers can quickly and easily research everything from courses and schools, to restaurants and resorts, then use our straightforward booking engine to put together the perfect golf getaway.” The site organizes Northeast Florida’s impressive golf offerings into five distinct destinations: Amelia Island, Jacksonville & The Beaches, Ponte Vedra, St. Augustine, Clay County and Flagler County.  Each area is showcased with video, photography and detailed information on courses, dining, attractions, lodging and more.  According to Reese, the booking engine makes it easy for visitors to take the next step and make their dream trip a reality. Florida’s First Coast of Golf includes three golf academy partners, 18 accommodations partners, 30 golf courses, Jacksonville Aviation Authority and five area tourism bureau partners.

Looking for a way to see San Francisco’s night life without having to wander off on your own? Las Vegas-based Nite Tours International gives you the chance to party out with them on their first tour of its kind in the Bay Area. Nite Tours Sip Happens San Francisco provides unique experiences in historic San Francisco Union Square. Attendees are treated like VIPs, from entrance past velvet ropes to signature cocktails. We are very excited about the Nite Tours expansion to San Francisco,” said Darin Feth, founder, global president and chief operating officer of Nite Tours International. “The City by the Bay is known for its unmatched cuisine, exceptional hospitality, rich history, exciting culture, and vibrant nightlife. We have been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming response by the concierge and local travel agent communities that have been seeking an innovative nightlife activity to suggest to their guests and clients.”

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events.;





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