Category Archives: Hotels

Warwick Hotels and Resorts Unveils ‘Warwick Journeys’

 

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Warwick Hotels and Resorts unveiled “Warwick Journeys” at their NYC location.

 

Recently, Warwick Hotels and Resorts unveiled “Warwick Journeys,” a guest recognition program with a twist. Instead of giving points, the loyalty program will reward frequent guests with personalized benefits, starting with its hotel properties within North America and Europe.

Available for immediate enrollment, “Warwick Journeys” not only gives credit for every completed stay within the program but also features what’s called a cross-stay accelerator benefit. This benefit works by allowing Warwick Journeys members to progress through benefit tiers quicker by staying at multiple Warwick locations rather than just a single one.

 

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Outdoor patio area of a Warwick New York suite, once used by Cary Grant

 

Here’s how it happens. With enrollment, introductory members will receive complimentary Wi-Fi during their first stay and can book Warwick Journeys exclusive member offers. Purple level members will have completed two to three visits at a participating property and receive perks such as continued free Wi-Fi access.

Warwick New York was once a residential building owned by William Randolph Hearst, which he built for his associates and, in particular, his mistress Marion Davies.

Upon completing a stay at two separate Warwick hotels or between four to 15 stays at one property, gold status members get additional bonuses such as guaranteed availability with 72-hour advance notice of arrival, when booking the member-exclusive rate, and a late checkout at 4 p.m. Then, upon completing a stay at four different participating hotels or 16 plus nights at one property, black-level members will get both gold-level amenities and additional bonuses, including guaranteed availability within 24-hour advance notice.

The unveiling of the program took place at Warwick New York, a property with a special history. Publishing giant William Randolph Hearst had the building built in 1926 as a residential tower to accommodate his friends in Hollywood as well as for his long-time companion, Marion Davies. She had her own specially-designed floor in the building. Other noted occupants include actress Jane Russell and actor Cary Grant.

Sleeping Overnight in Hôtel de Glace

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My winter hotel for one night

As I wiggled myself into my thermal sleeping bag, I hunkered down for the challenge of sleeping the entire night in a pretty cool accommodation – an ice hotel.

Located in Canada’s province of Quebec, Hôtel de Glace is what its name implies. During a recent work trip to Quebec City, part of my itinerary included a booked stay at this unique accommodation and tourist attraction.

Built anew every December, this winter lodging is primarily made from snow – 30,000 tons worth – that is continuously churned by snow blowers to harden and build the hotel’s foundation. Ice is also involved in the building process. Blocks are partly used in the construction, but also get turned into furniture and become stands for the hotel’s bar area.

 

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The hotel is usually open from January through March.

 

Hôtel de Glace opens for business after the New Year in January and stays in operation until March (in 2017, it is scheduled to shut down on March 26). While it debuted in 2001, Hôtel de Glace has been on the grounds of Village Vacances Valcartier, a resort/spa about 20 minutes from Quebec City, since 2016.

My reservation for Hôtel de Glace included the booking of a same night hotel room at Village Vacances Valcartier, where guests can keep their luggage and retreat to before and after their stay.

 

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Trek up and go down this icy slide.

 

Taking a Tour

Visitors who might shiver over the thought of sleeping in an ice hotel can opt to take a scheduled tour of the property instead. Tours offer peeks into different types of rooms and suites. They include a stop at the hotel’s lounge/bar area, with the opportunity to order a specialty cocktail served in a glass made from ice. The grounds also include the chapel, with furry seat coverings on benches and where weddings take place, and a side building displaying various ice sculptures.

 

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2017’s version of this ice hotel carries a Nordic theme.

 

With the 2017 version of Hôtel de Glace, the main building holds 44 various rooms and suites, bar/lounge, and a play area with a slide. Each sleeping accommodation is graced with wall carvings depicting various winter themes or creatures. Furnishings are mostly a bed with a mattress with an icebox base and a nightstand. Plus, the bedframe has a light switch, where can be turned on and off when needed.

 

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My sleeping sack

 

A Sleeping Lesson

Overnight guests of the Hôtel de Glace attend a mandatory sleep session, in which a hotel employee advises you on how to prepare for bedtime. For PJs, you’re told not to wear any cotton-based clothing (as it soaks up moisture) but put light ones made by synthetic materials. You don’t want to be over-layered either, as you will break into a night sweat; we’re told that we’ll be your own body heater. If you’re getting hot inside your sack, take off what’s excess. (Our guide suggested that you could sleep naked, as this helps body heat circulate more, but I decided not to go that far). And, yes, she reassured us that our sleeping bags are washed daily.

As for what else you’ll be sleeping in, your main gear will be a cocoon-like sleeping sack with a hoodie that you worm your way into and close up with a side zipper and strap. We’re also given a visual demo on getting into it, which seemed to prove that some wiggling would be involved.

We were also given a number of do’s and don’ts. Don’t: putting objects like jewelry (as I asked) or eyeglasses on your ice-made nightstand. You’ll find them frozen to the stand in the morning. Another don’t: taking our sleeping sack out of its waterproof holding bag before settling down for the night. If so, it will get crispy and cold.

 

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These drinks are served in ice glasses. I had the first one on the left.

 

Of course, another important issue was addressed: what we needed to do if we had to use the bathroom. Basically, you have to get out of our sack, quickly put on your boots and any needed outdoor gear to leave your room, and head to an outdoor area with heated and lighted porta potties (so go easy on drinking beforehand.) You keep your sack zipped up, too, to retain its heat. Your room door consists of a curtain and your morning wake-up call involves staffers giving you a shout (your last one comes at 8:30 a.m., so be out at least before 9 a.m. or you might wake up to find a tour group staring at you.)

Our stay also included access to an outdoor hot tub and sauna area, where guests can properly warm up and dry off before going to bed. But then I envisioned a mad dash in my provided robe to escape the reminding cold air and decided to pass on it.

 

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My sleeping quarters

 

Going to Bed
Overnight guests at Hôtel de Glace are let into their rooms at 9 p.m. My game plan for the night was to first go for a cocktail at one of the three bar sections and then run back to my room at Village Vacances Valcartier to get dressed and use the toilet one last time. I also wanted to secure my white-colored room key inside my pocket.

Apparently, there is no curfew inside Hotel de Glace, so if need to, guests can opt to go back inside the Village Vacances Valcartier’s hotel area. Particularly if they decide that they want to sleep back there instead. I wasn’t sure if I think I would stay the entire night in my iced room, but I figured I’d see how I felt – and how cold I would feel.

 

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The door to my room

 

Room 41 was mine. It was cozy in size, reminding me of a studio apartment. I found my bed to be reasonably firm and the light switch readily accessible. I pulled out my sleep sack and put my boots inside its holding bag to keep them from freezing. While trying to fully remember my given instructions, I wormed my way into the sack.

I tugged up the zipper and crunched myself down inside, while wearing my probably well-approved long johns and knit socks, along with gloves, snow pants, hat, and ski jacket (I tend to err on the side of caution). For peace of mind, I kept one hand warmer inside one glove and another in a lined pocket. I pulled over my sleep sack hoodie and after a bit of maneuvering to get comfortable and removing a slightly sweaty hat, I slept. I woke up a bit during the night but rolled back into a steady slumber.

Startled awake by my wakeup call, I unzipped myself out, got dressed, left my sack on the bed, and headed out. Going back to my hotel room at Village Vacances Valcartier, I rewarded myself with a warm shower, put on a change of clothes, and headed down for breakfast inside the restaurant area. I don’t know if I would do a return stay, but it’s interesting to check off a stay at a place like Hôtel de Glace off my bucket list.

Delta and Palace Resorts Offer Bostonians a ‘Survive the Winter’ Giveaway

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Hey Bostonians, here’s another reason to celebrate. Delta and Palace Resorts have partnered to offer Bostonians the chance to “Survive the Winter” by entering to win a five-night stay at the all-inclusive Moon Palace Jamaica Grande and two VIP tickets to see the rock band Survivor perform at the resort on February 25, 2017.

Bostonians can enter to win on the resort’s Facebook page, which includes roundtrip airfare, free transfers and a $500 credit for two additional winners, courtesy of Delta. Enter by Friday, February 17.

This new route is part of Delta’s larger efforts to enhance Boston service including expanding its domestic and international destinations, as well as offering first class on every flight. In summer 2017, the airline will operate over 90 peak day departures from Boston, with daily service to 21 different cities and Saturday-only service to five cities.

 

Exploring Mexico City with Le Méridien

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Le Meridien Mexico City eclair, by pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini

In December, I was invited by Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts to come to Mexico City and get a taste for their “Éclair Diaries” program led by pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini. Through his partnership with Le Méridien, Iuzzini has the task of creating signature eclairs for various properties within the U.S. and overseas. So far, the project has taken him to New Orleans, Paris, Barcelona, Cote D’Azur, and New Delhi, where he scouts out venues for obtaining local ingredients and creating a destination-themed eclair.

Now, for the “Eclair Diaries,” Mexico City has become the latest chapter, with Le Méridien Mexico City being the recipient. To see how Iuzzini begins his recipe process, our group accompanied him to Central de Abasto, Mexico City’s major wholesale market. It was the perfect place for Iuzzini to conduct his research, and for me to learn more about Mexican cuisine.

Joining us were Jared Reardon and Sonia Arias, a husband/wife culinary duo from Jaso Restaurant in Mexico City. The couple led Iuzzini around to different vendors, providing details about what was on display and negotiating with various merchants.

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Johnny Iuzzini selects ingredients for the Mexico City eclair.

We followed Iuzzini, as he examined foods by sight, scent, and taste. He tried fruits unique in look and flavor: the citrusy granada china, the papaya-looking mamey sapote, and the dark colored but sweet tasting zapote negro. (I did too.) With every stop, Iuzzini pulled out his notebook, jotting down notes and first impressions. And, of course, he made some purchases like piloncillo, a brown cane sugar molded in a cone shape.

As Iuzzini spent the following day immersed in kitchen R&D, I got to spend time with another Le Méridien ambassador – coffee connoisseur Esther Maasdam. Maasdam is in charge of training Le Méridien’s master baristas and creating a series of latte art inspired by property destinations.

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Coffee expert Esther Maasdam creates a latte work of art.

And she knows her coffee. On the final day of our visit, we got to watch her work her magic at a barista machine and hand-paint latte images inspired by her time in Mexico such as cacti and a Mexican wrestling mask. Also that morning, Iuzzini unveiled the finalized recipe for his Mexico City éclair. It consists of a mole-flavored shell with a mamey-vanilla cream filling, a tamarind-lime glaze, crispy peanuts, caramelized bananas, and crystallized huitlacoche.

Along with Central de Abasto, our group got to explore other sites in Mexico City. They included:

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Amazing fish dish at Restaurante Nicos

Restaurante Nicos: In the Claverai neighborhood, this family-owned restaurant has simple yet elegant décor, and its breakfast/lunch menus are quite refined. For lunch, we had a mix of orders such as a river fish steamed a corn husk, barbecued rabbit, and turkey and pork with mole. Desserts were just as grand: Mexican buñuelos, a fried dough, served in molasses, a corn cake with eggnog sauce; and spiced popcorn paired with pumpkin gelato and zapote negro sauce. Of course, an order of guacamole is great for starting off your meal, and Nicos staff makes it table-side. At the end, order Mexican coffee, as it’s also prepared right in front of you.

Museo Tamayo: Le Méridien’s “Destination Unlocked” program partners each of its properties with a local cultural institution, giving guests get free admission. Le Méridien Mexico City is paired with Museo Tamayo, a contemporary art museum in Chapultepec Park. Named after abstract painter Rufino Tamayo, his featured works include “The Watermelon,” inspired by his childhood selling fruit. Outside, find a swing set that, yes, you can go on. However, it’s best that you don’t climb on the adjacent jungle gym; you might get yelled at by security. The museum’s restaurant offers modern takes on traditional Mexican cuisine, with one must-try being the chicken stuffed with cuitlacoche and goat cheese over pinto beans.

Chapultepec Castle (Castillo de Chapultepec): Also in Chapultepec Park, this hillside castle was once the Imperial residence of Mexican Emperor Maximilian I, and his consort, Empress Carlota. Over time, it also served as the official home of Mexico’s presidents. Now it’s a history museum. Spend some time at the royal couple’s furnished rooms, a stained-glass corridor, an observatory, and a terrace with aerial views of the city.

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Eno Petrarca brews up an assortment of coffees.

Eno Petrarca: In the Polanco neighborhood, this coffee shop/sandwich place gets good remarks for its meal selection but I can more so vouch for its java. I savored a nutty flavored Latte Cacahuate and sipped on a cold coffee infused with almond and lemon. And while we were there, Maasdam had a turn at their machine (ironically, one of the employees recognized her!). This place is also the sibling of Pujol, a fine dining establishment next door that’s hard to get into (it seats about 13) but specializes a seasonal tasting lunch/dinner menu.

Licoreria Limantour: As a place suggested to Maasdam by one of her colleagues, this cocktail bar in Roma Notre is definitely where to get a quality mixed drink. Bonus: If your knowledge of Spanish is un poco, not to worry: the menu feature pictures of their selections alongside drink listings. I had the Vicqua, a fruity concoction topped with a dried carrot/beet garnish.

La Bodega Mexico: It’s easy to spot this restaurant in the Condesa neighborhood, due to its bright red sign and drapery. Inside, it’s even more colorful with decorative fixtures and a room specifically for live music and dancing. The menu is just as interesting with choices ranging from coconut shrimp to chicken in a mole poblano sauce.

2016 Black Friday and Cyber Monday Travel Deals

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Photo courtesy of Friendly Planet Travel

Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are not just about TV sets, clothes, toys and home appliances. Travel deals are also up for grabs, and all that’s needed is a solid Internet connection (and maybe an alarm setting).

I did some Google searching and found some great Black Friday/Cyber Monday travel deals that might be too good to pass up. I’ll add any new announcements as they come up. So go ahead and take a look.

Tour Companies

G Adventures is offering number of deals on their sailing, active, rail and wildlife adventures, and more, with their cyber sale starting from 12:00 a.m. EST Friday, November 25 through 11:59 p.m. EST Monday, November 28.

From now through December 2, 2016, Contiki is taking 30 percent off of trips to destinations in Europe, Asia, U.S./Canada, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand for travel now through December 31, 2017. Also during November, Millennial travelers can save 15 percent on select trips with promo code, BLACKNOVEMBER.

Gate 1 Travel is having its annual Black Friday sale November 23-25. All Gate 1 Travel, Discovery Tours and Signature Collection packages will be discounted at that time. Customers can book online using the promo code on new bookings only all three days or by calling 1-800-682-3333 on November 23 and November 25. Limit one promo code per reservation.

Here is a list of Gate 1 Travel’s Black Friday deals:

  • Spend $500 or more and receive $50 off with the promo code BKFY50
  • Spend $1,000 or more and receive $100 off with the promo code BKFY100
  • Spend $2,000 or more and receive $250 off with the promo code BKFY250
  • Spend $4,000 or more and receive $500 off with the promo code BKFY500
  • Spend $10,000 or more and receive $1,000 off with the promo code BKFY1000
  • Spend $20,000 or more and receive $2,500 off with the promo code BKFY2500

Friendly Planet Travel is having a Cyber Monday sale with savings up to $1,110 per person (or $1,400 per couple) on 60-plus international tours and packages. Destinations include Cuba, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Dubai, South Africa, Iceland, Prague, Myanmar, Cambodia, and New Zealand. The sale starts at 12 a.m. ET on Monday, November 28 and lasts 48 hours.

Go Ahead Tours is having Black Friday savings of up to $600 per person on all their tours, with this promotion valid from Friday, November 25 through Sunday, November 27. Only on Black Friday, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., “morning doorbuster” specials will let travelers customize their experience with either getting $75 off an excursion or $125 off a tour excursion. As for Cyber Monday, travelers can still save up to 25 percent off all tours when they book online at Go Ahead Tours’ website.

Intrepid Tours is having a Cyber Monday sale from now until Monday, November 28. Get 15 percent off an adventure departing between January 15 – June 30, 2017.

Hotels

Marriott is having a four-day cyber sale from Friday, November 25 through Monday, November 28 and is said to offer savings on staying in various destinations within the U.S. and other countries.

IHG is putting on a cyber week sale from Monday, November 28, starting at 8 a.m. through Friday, December 2, at 8 p.m. ET, featuring discounts on hotel stays and special IHG Rewards Club point offers.

NYAH, Key West is having a Cyber Monday special offer of $129/night. Valid travel dates run from May 1 through September 30, 2017; Minimum two-night stay required. The special is for the NYAH 4-single bedroom type only; blackout dates apply. Use promo code CYBER upon booking.

Lark Hotels  is having Cyber Monday specials for 25 percent off stays at their Stowe, Vermont property, Field Guide, from March 1 through July 31, 2017. The deal includes plus one beer per guest and an appetizer to share at onsite restaurant, Picnic Social. Visit www.fieldguidestowe.com and add the code CYBER upon booking.

Search Engines

Travelocity is having a Cyber Monday sale on Monday, November 28, with up to 75 percent off savings on select hotels.

Orbitz is holding a Cyber Week with travel deals between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with discounts on hotels and specials on flights and hotel/flight packages.

Airlines

American Airlines is having a Black Friday sale with a variety of vacation destinations to choose from. Book now through November 28, 2016, and enter promo code BLACKFRIDAY for travel now through September 30, 2017. A minimum spend of $1,300 is required.

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Visiting the Mall of America

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Photos via Mall of America

Earlier this summer, I attended a travel blogger conference called TBEX North America 2016 primarily because of its location – the Mall of America. Yes, because the conference location was adjacent to this mall.

Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, about 15 minutes from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, the Mall of America is far more than a place to shop. Featured on travel shows, the Mall of America is a hybrid of retail stores and tourist attractions. And it’s a big place, at 4.87 million square feet. Really big. To put it in perspective, this mall can fit seven Yankee Stadiums, 32 Boeing 747s, and 258 Statues of Liberty.

Besides massive space, here is what else you find during a visit to the Mall of America.

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Photo via SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium

SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium
Underneath the mall, the SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium is a 1.3-million gallon aquarium featuring a 300-foot ocean tunnel and being home 10,000 sea creatures. The low-lit, lower level location is easy to explore, with stops along the way for observing marine life such as jellyfish, seahorses, stingrays, and sturgeons. One neat attraction to take your time going through is the Shark Discovery exhibit. Here, you walk through a glass tunnel and view sharks and other ocean neighbors swimming below or alongside you. There are daily feeding times, where for a small fee you can buy food to hand to certain aquarium residents like stingrays.

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Nickelodeon Universe
In the center of the mall, Nickelodeon Universe is a fun indoor theme park with 27 rides and attractions. When I was there for TBEX, my friends and I spent time going on rides that fit with our style (there’s a number of ones with paces that go smoothly or get a little twisted). While we were there around Memorial Day Weekend, we got to try a new park attraction called FlyOver America. FlyOver America is a fully immersive, flight simulation ride that takes riders on an aerial tour of well-known U.S. landmarks and regions. Nickelodeon Universe also contains an indoor zipline that takes you 60 feet above the ground, and features special visits by costumed TV characters like Sponge Bob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer.

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Specialty Stores/Restaurants
The Mall of America has a good mix of major retail brands (think clothing, electronics, cosmetics, accessories, etc.) plus regional finds. Among them, the LEGO Store is where kids of all ages can let loose on this Danish toy with its Pick-A-Brick wall, play areas, and larger-than-life models such as over 34-foot-tall robot. Fans of American Girl will not just find the store but also an American Girl ® Bistro. And being in Minnesota, and near neighboring Wisconsin, find stores carrying everything from locally made cheese to Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers gear or other state-inspired products. As for dining, there are 50-plus restaurants, including national chains like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Hard Rock Café, Rainforest Café, and Buffalo Wild Wings, to more regional brands like Caribou Coffee and A & W All-American Food. Consider Pizza Studio, where you can have a custom pie made; Crave American Kitchen & Sushi Bar, for a sit-down meal or Noodles & Company, which prepares noodles in Asian, Mediterranean or American style.

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Photo via Radisson Blu Mall of America

Hotel Accommodations
There are more than 50 hotels in various proximity to the Mall of America. The most direct one is the Radisson Blu Mall of America, as it’s connected to the mall via a skyway. I paid to stay here for the conference and liked how you could literally enter the mall from one of the hotel levels. It’s definitely convenient, for when you, um, realize that you need a last-minute extra pair of pants. That you pick up along with some Wisconsin cheese sticks and a cup of Caribou Coffee.

In short, if you happen to be in this area or thinking of a different kind of weekend getaway, the Mall of America might be the place to be. And shop.

Westin Hotels & Resorts Introduces Sleep Well Menu

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Here’s some news from my inbox…. Westin Hotels & Resorts has been busy promoting their “Well-Being Movement,” a new travel wellness brand, with a messaging campaign and a FitStar by FitBit partnership introducing a set of exercise programs at their properties worldwide. Its latest addition to this branding initiative takes an edible approach to getting a good night’s sleep.

Said to be available 24/7, the Westin Sleep Well Menu offers superfood options specially designed to promote rest and recovery. According to a press release from Westin, this specialty menu was designed to help guests “ease into sound slumber so that they can easily adjust to a new time zone, recover from a hectic day of travel or prepare for an active day ahead.” With input from SuperFoodsRx, the meals on this menu contain amino acids, vitamins, and minerals including magnesium, potassium, folate, serotonin, and thiamin to prevent insomnia and reset sleep cycles.

Choices include:

  • Grilled wild salmon with walnut quinoa;
  •  A micro chopped turkey salad;
  • Poached eggs on asparagus with snap peas and shitake mushrooms;
  • Oatmeal tabouleh, among others.

If guests prefer more of a bedtime snack, they can opt for whole grain crackers with peanut butter; non-fat yogurt with granola; edamame and whole wheat pretzels; or cherry walnut oat muffins. There’s tea too. Find herbals with a calming effect such lavender, peppermint, cinnamon, passionflower, lemon balm, ginger, chamomile or valerian root.

To celebrate their new Sleep Well menu, Westin Hotels & Resorts is giving away a five-night stay at any Westin hotel or resort, a Westin Heavenly® Bed, and other Westin items. Enter by April 30, 2016 by visiting this link.