Austin Travel Guide
The world is officially in "Countdown to Christmas" mode and now, so are we. Every day until Christmas we'll be featuring a hotel that's in a holiday mood--whether it be with gigantic gingerbread houses, over-the-top Christmas decorations, thrilling lighting displays and best of all, Santa appearances. But of course, any hotel can assemble a fake tree, put on some lights and declare themselves "festive." Which is why we're looking at hotels that are really going ALL OUT. Know of a hotel that's super excited for Christmas? Let us know!
The Four Seasons Austin got a jump on the holiday decorations last week, when they unveiled their Dr. Seuss-themed Gingerbread WhoVillage, a gingerbread replica of the town of Whoville from How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Conceived by the hotel's pastry chefs back in August, the WhoVillage features a Mt. Crumpet, Cindy Lou Who's house, a giant Town Center Christmas Tree, a Welcome to Whoville Sign and a train that looks like the Grinch's stolen bag of toys.
All in all, the village features ten houses made entirely out of edible materials (each one also takes the team of pasty chefs about 30 hours to construct.) Additionally, each house is sold to a sponsor and the proceeds are donated to the Seton Shivers Cancer Center. Sorry, we don't think sponsors can eat the house until the display comes down on January 1st.
Co-founder John Mackey told USA Today the idea for a Whole Foods resort came out of the company's existing employee health program which "focused on weight loss and reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol." Mackey didn't divulge too many details on what the resort would include but it would be in the mold of a Canyon Ranch spa resort. And we're gonna assume that it will have a mini-Whole Foods market off the lobby.
But all you health foods nuts out there should slow your gluten-free roll. The resort is still a ways away from opening. Right now the company is looking for the right real estate and hotel chain to operate it. (Hmmm...may we suggest Even Hotels from IHG?)
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As many people already know, Austin, TX is currently in the midst of the South By Southwest festival, in which music venues, event spaces, and, yes, hotels, are overrun with artists, musicians, filmmakers, tech start-up hopefuls, and pretty much anyone with a bent towards modern-day media culture.
Which makes this a pretty good time for Hyatt to announce their recent acquisition of the city's historic Driskill Hotel. The Statesman reports that Hyatt bought the iconic hotel (and classic SXSW celeb hangout) for $85 million, and plans to spend another $8 million renovating the place over the next two years.
Comprised of 189 rooms, and originally built in 1886, the Driskill occupies a bustling corner of downtown Austin and remains the city's most beloved historic hotel.
According to hotel lore, the original structure was named after Jesse Driskill, a cattleman who wanted to build the "finest hotel south of St. Louis." Looks like he had the right idea, as 126 years later, the hotel is not only thriving, but also incorporates its colorful past into its current identity (case in point: the Cattle Baron Suite).
A room at the Westin Austin at the Domain
2015 will be a busy year for Austin, Texas. We’ve looked at the 50-story Fairmont Austin that will add 1,000+ rooms on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Red River Streets, promising views-galore over Lady Bird Lake and the city. Another 1,000+ rooms come courtesy of the JW Marriott Austin, on Congress Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets.
If all of that wasn’t enough, Starwood has just announced the Westin Austin Downtown, on East 5th and San Jacinto, opening in spring 2015. With its 326 rooms, that means hotel capacity will increase by a staggering 2,400 rooms within a five-block radius.
After a drawn-out renovation process that completely overhauled the top five floors of the building, Omni Austin has reconfigured its suite options, creating twenty-five new one-bedroom suites.
Though the hotel had previously offered suites, it nixed a bunch of the pre-existing two-bedroom suites in order to cut down on space that guests apparently weren't even using. Which sounds a little strange when we put it like that—Texas is generally known for doing everything bigger than the rest of the country. However, if it's a space efficiency issue, then we totally get it. Bigger is better, most of the time. Until, that is, you end up paying for extra beds you're not even sleeping in...
The high-end hotel chain announced their plans for a new hotel close to the Austin Convention Center at the northeast corner of Cesar Chavez and Red River Streets. which will span 50 stories, making it the largest building in downtown Austin. Detes are still scant but the hotel will cost about $350 million to build and will feature over 70,000-sq.ft. of function space and the aforementioned 1,000 hotel rooms.
The hotel's design will also use several green building elements and will seek LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. But best of all, guests here will be able to get free WiFi so long as they join the Fairmont Presidents Club loyalty program. Sigh, too bad it's three years away though.
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In the ever-expanding universe of Twitter, there is one particular trend @HotelChatter happens to quite enjoy: candid hotel photos. These pics range from stunning views to anti-views to celebrity tomfoolery and everything in between. And we can't get enough of 'em! Every Monday, we commemorate our favorite "Twitpic of the Week." Got a favorite of your own? Want to show off your sweet suite? Send it in!
We don't know exactly what might have prompted this awesome public display of nerd-dom (Star Wars convention? Flashmob? Family reunion?), but we are so very glad @k4ng took the time to capture these saber-wielding Jedis in the lobby of the Renaissance Austin. And what better place: with all the rooms looking down onto the lobby, pretty much every guest had front row seats to the show!
On our last visit to Austin, most of the hotels were full up with SXSW musicians, filmmakers, attendees and media types. But clearly, the real magic happens about a month later...
You don't really want to look down when you're plunging nineteen stories in a glass elevator. But of course, you do look down. Because the view is awesome. Here's a quick snapshot we took from inside the elevator at Omni Austin, which, we admit, we rode like a five-year-old on a Ferris wheel over and over again.
Interestingly, the hotel is housed under the same roof as an office tower. So when you look down on the lobby from above, you can also look directly across and into the windows of the neighboring offices. Whose occupants didn't look nearly as amused to be inside their glass cages as we were to be inside ours. Then again, theirs weren't motorized.
Nevermind the untold legions of Best Westerns, La Quinta Inns and Econolodges that dot highways all around the country. A Texas-based hotel company is attempting to bring back the classic American motor court with a new brand of "ranch tech" properties that are modeled on the old roadside motels from the 1950s.
Which technically went out of style in the 60s during Eisenhower's Federal Aid Highway Act. But hey, that was fifty years ago, and who's to say Americans still can't be thrilled by a cool motel concept? The first of these, named the Lone Star Court, will open in Austin in 2013, and, appropriately, will feature live music, a fire pit, and a dipping pool.
Ah, hotel room trashing. Sure, it's a bit of a cliche, but clearly it hasn't gotten any less cool for musicians and celebrities who have a little extra energy—and cash—to burn.
Last year, Complex magazine ran a video of young Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller offering his "guide to hotel living." And as you can probably imagine, he isn't the most attentive of guests (think loose cigarette butts, alcohol spills, food fights, and plenty of other, weirder messes).
Right now, we're down in Austin checking out the bands for SXSW. And we couldn't help smiling a little when we spotted Mac Miller out and about. He certainly looks harmless, but then again, maybe his animal side only comes out once the hotel room door closes...
Finally, there's some good news for the W Austin which recently had to deal with not one but two separate incidents involving falling glass from their hotel, the latter which actually forced closure of the hotel for 11 days.
The New York Times has just written a rare glowing review of the hotel with the reporter not even mentioning the shattered glass which injured guests by the pool or the recent closure but rather highlighting the hotel's four bars:
Austin doesn’t have many good hotel bars, so the four on the ground floor of the W are welcome additions. The rooms flow into one another and feature circulating waiters and scattered chairs and sofas (and two fireplaces) that make them comfortable spots for hanging out. There are thousands of vinyl records you can have played on a stereo.
Glass panels may be sexier, but for now, wood will have to suffice at the W Austin, which re-opened this weekend after an 11-day hiatus. The accident-prone hotel had to concede defeat when cascading glass panels were quickly turning the surrounding area into a hazard zone. So far, only one lawsuit has been filed against the W.
The above photo shows construction workers diligently re-installing 1,000 industrial wooden panels into the same balcony fixtures where the glass had once been. A city building official explained that in order to fully endorse the re-opening of the hotel, W required the approval of not one but two local engineering firms.