Category Archives: New York

NYC’s Casablanca Hotel Is More Than Just A "Hidden Gem"…It’s #1

Casablanca Hotel New York City

I can’t imagine the angst that some travelers go through when searching for a hotel in New York City but it’s safe to assume that there are three basic steps that go into the selection process…hotel/price, location, and reviews (not particularly in that order).

When I travel to New York City I prefer to stay in Times Square.  I love the hustle and bustle of Broadway, catching a musical or play in the Theatre District, and the plethora of dining options that abound.  So for me, location is step #1.

I use Oyster.com for most of my domestic hotel research because I place more trust in a review as provided by a “professional” as compared to other services that allow anyone to write a review.  Reviews are step #2

Believe it or not I am not a hotel snob and I don’t have an allegiance to a particular hotel or hotel brand.  Sure there are some great corporate hotels that I have booked in the past but those decisions were primarily driven because I used rewards points or was invited to be a guest of the hotel.  Hotel/price is step #3.

Ok I know I’m heading to NYC and staying in Times Square but what hotel will I choose?  There are a couple that I am considering but one in particular that I want to zero in on is Casablanca Hotel.

Instead of just booking this hotel I’ve decided to contact Adele Gutman who is part of my LinkedIn network and just so happens to be the VP of Sales & Marketing for HKHotels.

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Adele I’m planning a trip to New York in October and I want to spend a couple of nights in the city.  Tell me about the Casablanca Hotel.

Adele Gutman

The Casablanca Hotel is a very cozy and warm boutique hotel, with a home away from home atmosphere. Similar to our other HKHotels, the center of life at the Casablanca is our clubroom lounge, Rick’s Café. There, our guests can enjoy complimentary refreshments 24/7 including a deluxe continental breakfast in the morning, 3 hour wine and cheese receptions in the evening from 5pm-8pm, and all day coffee, teas, cookies and fruit. We even have a very fancy Cimbali machine which makes self-service cappuccino, latte, and espresso in regular or decaf for our guests. We have a lot of other complimentary amenities, such as free wifi, which ordinary hotels charge extra for. Combined, these can represent a savings of up to $220 per couple per night. Our guests tell us that what’s great for them is that even though we are steps from Times Square, when you enter the hotels doors, it’s as though you have left the country and are transported to a Moroccan hideaway. It’s just 48 rooms so staying with us is a personal experience. We get to know our guests and they get to know us as well.

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During my research I saw that Oyster.com gave the hotel a “Hidden Gems” award and Casablanca ranked #1 out of 432 hotels on TripAdvisor.  That’s pretty remarkable considering the competition in NYC?

Adele Gutman

Don’t stop there! We also won two highly esteemed awards: Travelers’ Choice® 2011 Winner Top 25 | Best Service.  We are unspeakably proud of that!

What we are even more proud of is that all four of our HKHotels have been ranked in the top ten hotels on TripAdvisor for years. Today, 3 out of four of our hotels rank in the top four and one has temporarily slipped to #9, but we are working earnestly to get them all to the top. Years ago, in 2003 or 2004 we set a goal to deliver so much service, value, and hospitality to our guests that they would be wow’d enough to be inspired to tell their friends and write great reviews. Within a couple of years we all ranked in the top ten but it wasn’t until last year in September of 2010 that we took all four top spots. The Casablanca #1, The Library Hotel was #2, The Hotel Elysee was #3 and the Hotel Giraffe was #4. The people at TripAdvisor say there is no other hotel group who has achieved anything like that. It is an ever moving target since they update their list constantly, so being on top is a goal we have to work for every day. Over the years we have developed a way of hiring, training, listening to our guests and refining our services to their needs that has lead us to this level of consistent success.

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Speaking of which, who is your competitive set and what separates your hotel from them?

Adele Gutman

Most of our guests are leisure travelers so they really have the option of staying anywhere in the city that captures their imagination. Our guests might have stayed at big chain hotels before, but because of TripAdvisor, they felt secure about trying an independent hotel. They tend to be travelers who wish to be in the heart of exciting Times Square and the Theater district, but when they get back to the hotel they want a serene oasis, where people know their name and care about them and their experience in NYC. Because of the “HKHotels Signature Style of Hospitality” which includes all day complimentary refreshments, a deluxe continental breakfast each morning, wine and cheese receptions each evening from 5-8pm, free wifi, free bottled water, free passes to the local fitness center and more, no other hotel group is offering the same value that we do. Also, there is so much that is distinctive about the way we run the hotels, starting with the way we select staff and the how we coach them in customer service, we feel we offer a very unique guest experience. We are always on the lookout for new ideas, but we don’t really worry about what any other hotels do. We like to march to the beat of our own drummer.

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So then service, service, service is your mantra?

Adele Gutman

Absolutely! We hire people that naturally enjoy making other people happy, we show them how, empower them to make decisions, and then we stand back and watch with amazement how much creativity, talent, and pride they bring to every guests interaction. The guests respond by sharing their stories with their communities both on and off line. Word of mouth was always the best advertising but that is far truer now thanks to Social Media.

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48 guest rooms in the hotel.  Blessing or curse?

Adele Gutman

Naturally, we would love to have some more rooms because we certainly have the demand to fill them, and it brakes our hearts to say no to travelers who have their heart set on staying with us. But the joy of having 48 rooms is that we have the time to pay attention to each guest, get to know them, understand their needs and provide them with all the support we can to ensure they make the most of their visit to NYC. If that’s the kind of experience you are looking for, I believe you can only find that at a small boutique hotel.

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Describe your “typical” guest?

Adele Gutman

Our typical guests are couples from around the country and around the world who are coming to New York to experience the “excitement Capital of the World”, take in a few Broadway shows, shopping, and all of New York City’s cultural attractions. They want to be located in the thick of all the action, but when they come “home” at night they want a serene oasis with the comforts and conveniences of home. A tremendous number of our guests choose the Casablanca to celebrate their honeymoon, wedding anniversary, or landmark birthday. We always remind our staff that every traveler has chosen us with great care and they have been looking forward to this trip for a long time, perhaps all their lives, and we owe it to them to do all that we can to give each of them an experience that exceeds their expectations. They are unpretentious travelers who are not seeking hipness or opulence; they want quality, value, comfort, and kindness, and that’s where we feel we excel.

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How does the size of your standard guest room stack up against other boutique hotels?

Adele Gutman

Our smallest room is about 225 square feet and our largest is about 275 square feet. I think this is pretty typical for New York City and other large cities where space is at a premium. Our mini suites are about 375 square feet and we take care to call them mini suites because many suites can be larger elsewhere, and we always want to be very transparent about what we are and what we are not. On our website we show photos, floor plans, 360 virtual tours and everything a traveler would need to know in advance exactly what they are booking.

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So my dining options are Rick’s Cafe for breakfast then it’s up to me to find a spot for lunch or dinner correct?  No bar?

Adele Gutman

There is a bar in the hotel, in Tony’s Di Napoli Restaurant which is one floor below Rick’s Cafe. There is a not so “secret doorway” into the bar at Tony’s in the lobby so you don’t need to go out and you can sign the bill to your room. They also provide our room service. Tony’s is a lively, very family friendly place, and when I go out with a big group, particularly with family, we always go to Tony’s because they serve delicious, flavorful food, perfectly prepared, in large platters for sharing and the prices are very modest. But what impresses me the most is how great the staff is. They make you feel happy to be there. A big Italian meal like that is also a classic New York experience and should not be missed.

In Rick’s Café, we actually offer 24-hour a day complimentary refreshments including a 3-hour wine and cheese reception from 5-8pm. Our deluxe continental breakfast buffet includes a lot more than most people expect, including hot oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs, whole wheat toast, assorted croissants, mini-muffins, Danish and scones, bagels with cream cheese, peanut butter, preserves and butter, fresh whole fruit and fruit salad with melon and berries, fresh orange, apple and cranberry juice, assorted cereals, assorted yogurts, and a selection of international coffees and teas. Soy milk and gluten free toast and cereal are available upon request.

Some people may want a hot breakfast during their stay, and they can get an amazing section of options at the Brooklyn Diner next door, or they can order it delivered to be delivered for in room dining if they prefer.

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Do you have any favorite spots for lunch or dinner in the immediate area?

Adele Gutman

For a leisurely lunch if the weather is fine, I love to eat outside at Bryant Park Grill. Most of the time I am just grabbing a quick salad at Chopt or a Falafel at Maoz. You absolutely must try Maoz. It is soooo good, it may convert you into a vegetarian.

For dinner, I love Toloache for Mexican food and  Kellari Taverna for Greek. Garret, our VP of Operations also recommends Becco which is owned by Lidia Bastianich. They are famous for their amazing $25 wine list and “symphony of Pasta”.  If you are a steak lover, however, John, the General Manager at the Casablanca, loves Benjamin Steakhouse.  What I am very excited about is that the Copacabana just re-opened in a new location here in the Times Square area. In my opinion, we just don’t have as many options for dinner and dancing as I would like so this is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

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I’m flying into La Guardia which is the closest airport to the hotel.  I assume Newark is the farthest then JFK.  What’s the transfer time and approximate cab fare from each?

Adele Gutman

LaGuardia Airport, which is in Queens, is about 8 miles or approximately a 25 -35 minute drive to Manhattan. Taxi fare is $35 – $45 plus tolls and tips.

John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport, which is in Queens, is approximately 15 miles or 45 -60 minutes driving time to Midtown Manhattan. The new flat taxi fare is $45 plus tolls and tips.

Newark International Airport in New Jersey, which is the furthest airport from NYC, is 16 miles or 50-60 minutes –driving time. The fare is approximately $45 – $50 plus tolls. Since it is a trip across state lines, the fare in a yellow cab is the amount on the meter, plus $10. Keep in mind, of course, that unusual levels of traffic can seriously extend these driving time estimates.

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Are there any particular times of the year that a traveler can find a great deal at your hotel?

Adele Gutman

Without a doubt, the most affordable time to come to New York is January, then February, then July and August.  Peak time in NYC is from the day after Labor Day – December 20th. Christmas week and most holidays will have special rates so if you look at our Hot Dates Calendar on the website, it will point you towards the special dates with exceptionally good pricing.

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Anything that I’ve missed that you’d like to mention?

Adele Gutman

Just that we hope to welcome you and your readers to New York soon, whether it’s at the Casablanca, the Library, Hotel Giraffe or Hotel Elysee. Anyone is welcome to contact me at adele@hkhotels.com and I would be happy to help them with their arrangements personally.

Tom Costello is the CEO, Partner & Co-Founder of Groups International, a company that provides marketing, consultative services, and technology solutions to the group and leisure travel markets.  Connect with him on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter or contact him by email.


Conrad New York Slated To Open In 'Q4 2011

Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Worldwide’s global luxury brand, will raise its flag in New York’s Financial District in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The Conrad New York will be the brand’s fifth property to open in the United States and the first Conrad hotel in New York City. Existing Conrad properties in the United States include Conrad Miami, Conrad Chicago, Conrad Indianapolis and Conrad San Juan.

Located at the current site of the Embassy Suites New York, situated at 102 North End Avenue (at Vesey Street), the hotel will house 463 luxury rooms in a prime location in the heart of New York City’s Financial District, adjacent to the Hudson River to the west and the new Freedom Tower (One World Trade) to the east. The hotel will be situated within a short distance of downtown Manhattan’s historic landmarks and popular attractions, such as the New York Stock Exchange, City Hall, Trinity Church, South Street Seaport, Battery Park, and the trendy neighborhoods of Tribeca, SoHo and Greenwich Village.

The soaring, sunlit 15-story atrium lobby features a dramatic Sol LeWitt art piece rising 13 floors above the check-in desk. Each luxuriously appointed guestroom will feature an average of more than 550 square feet, a minimum of two flat panel televisions and a full complement of contemporary electronic features. Conrad New York will also feature upscale dining and beverage outlets that are consistent with Conrad’s global definition of luxury. Interior design is being styled by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, Office dA and Remedios Studios.

In addition, more than 15,000 square feet of flexible meeting space will ensure that guests can stay connected and meet in comfort, supported by state-of-the-art technology and meeting facilities. A 6,000 square foot Grand Ballroom is designed to accommodate conferences and social gatherings for more than 600 participants.

New York City "Direct Connect" Hotels From Hotelmine

New York's Times Square

Congratulations on deciding to visit the Big Apple.

Whether you choose to spend time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or shopping at Bloomingdale’s Department store, or both, you’re in for quite an experience. NYC isn’t nearly as crazy as movies make it out to be, so relax and enjoy its intrinsic uniqueness.

By the way, we’re assuming that you want to visit Manhattan. The other boroughs (Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island) all have their own charms, but save those for your next visit.

Here are just a few of the many hotels in New York City that you will find at Hotelmine.  Don’t forget when you decided to book a guest room you will be dealing directly with the hotel and not an online travel agency.

Hotelmine…see where the world’s largest “Direct Connect” travel site can take you!

New York City Hotels

Getting around in New York City

The real fun in New York City travel is getting around the city. There is an intangible but strong sense of accomplishment in being able to go from one destination to another within this almost intimidating maze of the Big Apple.

Fortunately, there are several methods of getting around New York City. There are buses, taxis, and the world-famous subway. Tourists may want to consider renting their own car but for very short distances, walking is highly recommended.

Here are several important tips to remember when you use any of these methods.

New York City Travel On Foot

If you are not ready to walk for more than a couple of blocks, then your New York City travel plans need to be changed. Walking is inevitable in New York City. Even when you ride in subway trains or buses, you will still need to walk a few more blocks to get to your ultimate destination. Happily, you will be walking with many other New Yorkers and the sidewalks are paved and wide.

New York City Subway

The most popular mode of transportation in New York City is the subway train. It charges the virtually same right at all destinations. For New York City travels with tight budgets, the subway is the most affordable way in getting around the city.

The one thing to remember is to have a MetroCard with enough credit. Metrocards can be conveniently purchased from token booths and vending machines and you can use a credit card. You could enjoy discounts if you would buy Metrocard’s One-Day Fun Pass and the Seven-Day or 14-Day Unlimited Pass.

When using the subway, it is also important to pay attention to the letters and numbers of the subway line. A good guide is the free subway map available at token booths.

New York City Travel By Car

With New York’s traffic, getting your own rental car may not make sense at all. But if you must have your own car, the first thing to remember is that New York City’s traffic rules about right turns are different.

Right turn on red is generally not allowed. Private cars must give way to fire engines, police cars, and public transportation. With expensive rates, it is not recommended to drive a rental car in New York City.

Buses and Taxis

When riding a bus, it is important to have an exact amount for the fare because the bus drivers will not give you change. In fact, many bus passengers prefer to use MetroCards. To choose the right bus, remember the letters and numbers. The letters indicate the borough while the numbers indicate the street. Therefore, the M72 bus operates in Manhattan on 72nd street.

When riding in a taxi, you should look for yellow cars with a medallion on the hood. Hail only taxis that have lit taxi numbers, which indicates that the driver is on-duty. Make sure that there is a special taxi license plate, stickers on the windshield, and a divider inside.

If you plan on using your credit card, ask first if the taxi’s credit card machine is working. Fare information can be found at the NYC.gov website but remember that passengers must pay all toll fees and there is a rush hour (4-8 PM) surcharge of $1 and a night surcharge of $0.50. Tips are between 10-20%.

Hotelmine Travel Planner – Taking in New York City

New York City, one of the most fascinating places on earth, offers a wide range of activities and adventures for everyone. Even if you’re lucky enough to visit New York more than a few times, you still won’t even come close to seeing all the secrets the city has to offer. Deciding exactly where to go and what to do is definitely a fun process, but it can also be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’ve never been to the city before. Here is a summary of the 5 top things to do in New York City:

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1. Lady Liberty and Ellis Island

The ever unique and widely diverse history of our country can be found at Ellis Island, where years ago so many of our ancestors set foot on American soil for the very first time looking for freedom and prosperity. If you’re a genealogy buff, look through the registry for names of relatives who may have stepped off a boat here before heading on to visit the Statue of Liberty, fondly known as Lady Liberty. If you’ve never seen the statue in person, she is definitely a sight to behold with her strong, majestic presence and watchful eyes overlooking the ocean. To visit Ellis Island from the city, or from New Jersey, take a ferry for $12, which also goes to Liberty Island where the statue is situated. Tickets often sell out, so buy yours early if at all possible, either online or from the site where the ferry departs. You can also tour the crown of the statue, but this might entail an extra cost. These tickets sell out fast as well, so reserve them quickly.

2. Times Square

There is so much to do in this one district and it’s all for free! (Well, unless you buy souvenirs of course). This is where you can watch the ball drop every New Year’s eve. There are plenty of shopping opportunities and stores to go into. There are also plenty of places to dine and eat. There is a tourist information center on 7th Avenue close to 46th Street. From Times Square there are endless possibilities. You can get tickets to one of the many Broadway shows or just sit back and enjoy the night life.

3. Central Park

You definitely won’t be bored in Central Park, which is free to visit unless you plan on riding the big, colorful carousel or visiting the zoo located inside of the park, which both charge admission. If you’re a John Lennon fan you won’t want to miss Strawberry Fields, the aptly named monument to the former member of The Beatles, located across the street from the Dakota, the apartment building Lennon lived in and lost his life in front of in 1980. The solitary word “Imagine,” one of Lennon’s most beloved hits, marks a circular set of stones to honor the late musician.

4. Ellen’s Stardust Diner.

For ’50s style fun, delicious food, and an incredible ambience for both kids and adults, visit Ellen’s Stardust Diner, which is not too far away from Times Square, located on 51st and Broadway. At Ellen’s you will be sung to by waiters and waitresses who know all of the best Broadway show tunes. In fact, several employees of Ellen’s Stardust Diner have gone on to successful careers on Broadway. If you can, sit in the upper dining area which provides a view of the whole place. Food is on the pricey side, but well worth it. While reservations aren’t necessary, the diner is rather well known, so plan on waiting in a long line most days.

5. The Empire State Building

Head to the top of the Empire State Building on a clear day and you will be rewarded with a stunning view of all the surrounding states. This is New York’s tallest building and is also one of the world’s most recognizable structures. It has appeared in several well known movies. Adorned with red and green lights for the holidays, the top of the Empire State Building also has various look-out points and binoculars for visitors to use. Admission to the building is $19 for adults, $2 less for those with a military identification, and discounts can often be found through AAA, in entertainment books, and newspapers. You can also buy tickets in the building’s lobby, but because this is one of the city’s most popular attractions, be prepared to wait in line many times during the year.

When in New York…