At first, I thought, “Lol nope. Zero chance.” But then I thought about it some more. And then I googled it. Apparently, sharks are not interested in eating humans. Humans are friends, not food. In the immediate moment after reading a very persuasive article about the safety of sharks, I booked a tour with Hawaii Adventure Diving.
When you tell someone you’re going to China, they always ask about two things: pandas and egg rolls. Turns out that egg rolls were most likely invented in New York City and are practically impossible to find anywhere in China. However, panda bears are native to south central China and there was zero chance that I was going to miss an opportunity to hold a baby panda bear.
There is literally one place in the entire world where you can hold a baby panda bear and it’s at Dujiangyan Panda Base and Center for Disease Control which is two hours outside of Chengdu, China. Chengdu, a four hour plane ride from Shanghai, is the capital of Sichuan Province. It’s known for incredibly spicy food and being the birth place of Po, the panda bear from Kung Fu Panda.
Perfect Person: The JW Marriott is perfect for the business traveller that doesn’t mind being away from the city center and wants relaxing accommodations.
Location, location, location: Located 30 minutes from city center and a five-minute taxi ride away from public transportation, the hotel is the suburbs of Shanghai. The location is an excellent opportunity to get a glimpse into a non-touristy part of the city. I enjoyed walking through the nearby Changfeng Park to observe groups of elderly Chinese women dancing and elderly Chinese men engrossed in card games.
Vibes: Despite a striking lobby and grand high ceilings, the hotel gives off a peaceful and tranquil vibe. Away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, the lobby and hallways are so quiet you’ll feel the need to whisper. The indoor pool’s ceiling is lighted to look like stars and each of the guest room’s feature blackout electronic curtains.
Foodie: The hotel’s club lounge is a constant supply of every changing snacks and meals. Guests can get breathtaking views of the nearby park and the distant Shanghai skyline. Each night an in-house chef prepares a local dish and serves it to guests. The Pearl Chinese Restaurant restaurant features several private dining rooms and local cuisine making it the perfect spot for a business meeting.
Extras: Previously a classic Marriott hotel, this JW Marriott has recently been renovated and is almost entirely new. While not as grand as the other hotels on this list, the JW Marriott is a peaceful retreat where it is easy to get work done.
Perfect Person: The Portman Ritz Carlton is perfect for the traveller that wants the traditional luxury hotel experience in a high-end location.
Location, location, location: With the best Western grocery store in the city located on hotel grounds, the Portman Ritz Carlton is a constant stop for almost every expat in the city (the only place I could find granola bars). Located on West Nanjing Road, the hotel is nestled between exclusive designer stores and the Shanghai Convention Center. It’s the perfect spot for those looking to be in an upscale, modern area.
Vibes: Every aspect of the hotel’s decor is impressive. With an imposing entrance and grand lobby, you’ll find plenty of picture worthy rooms throughout the building. Ranked as “The Best Service Hotel” by The City Traveller, the staff did not disappoint. Whether it be the personal trainers in the high-tech gym (which includes a squash court) or the wait staff in the club level lounge, the employees went above and beyond to meet the needs of guests. Within hours, the staff were referring to me as Logan and bringing me more of the candy that I complimented them on.
Foodie: The Ritz features three restaurants including Alan Wong’s. I sampled Hawaiian fusion dishes and fell in love with a coconut sorbet that left me ready to get on a jet for Hawaii. I was delighted to meet Chef Wong and attempted to impress him by complimenting his food despite not even having the vocabulary to pretend to know about high-end gourmet food. I ate the remainder of my meals in the club lounge which featured global dishes and a variety of cocktail choices that would satisfy the most picky of eaters.
Extras: The entire hotel could be considered “extra”. Luxury and opulence are everywhere. From rooftop yoga to a library-esque bar, it’s lives up to the expectations of a “Ritz”. The hotel also features a tea ceremony on Fridays that gives guest a luxurious way to see local culture and customs.
Four Seasons Puxi
Perfect Person: The traveller that wants to experience the culture of Old Shanghai and hang with locals without losing the luxury five-star hotel experience.
Location, location, location: I easily navigated from the airport to the hotel using Shanghai’s (super clean) metro system. The hotel is in the heart of Shanghai and is within walking distance to the major shopping street, West Nanjing Road, and The Bund skyline viewing area. With the metro station less than a block away, I had no problem getting anywhere in the city.
Vibes: The hotel has recently been remodeled and vibes like a standard luxury hotel. With high ceilings and art deco accents, I give the overall lobby aesthetic an A. The Four Seasons has all of the standard amenities: a full-service gym and spa, a business center with city views, and an indoor pool. If it weren’t creepy, I would have snapchatted the gym’s bathroom. The bathrooms rival any spa and feature multiple jacuzzis, steam rooms, saunas, and a relaxation room. It’s worth checking out (even if you don’t make use of the gym).
Foodie: If I would have stayed at this hotel any longer, I would have gained weight. I had never tried “hairy crab” prior to staying at the Four Seasons, now I am obsessed. The hotel’s Si Ji Xuan is Michelin Guide recommended, features Shanghainese and Cantonese dishes, and serves all food on real Jade utensils. Followed up with an incredibly extensive breakfast buffet or picture perfect afternoon tea in the Lobby Lounge, the Four Seasons does not let a foodie down.
Extras: The reason this hotel is my hands-down choice for Shanghai is the “Inside Historic Shanghai” experience. Local renowned photographer, Gang Feng Wang takes you to the neighborhood he grew up in, gives you an oral history of his life and the neighborhood, introduces you to locals, and conducts several impromptu photoshoots. The experience is a once-in-a-lifetime exclusive opportunity that will leave you with profile pic worthy photos, a great appreciation for the history of Shanghai, and several new friends.
Frank and Logan in the Burj Al Arab
Frank and I are not the typical guests found inside the Burj Al Arab luxury hotel. Branded as the only hotel in the world to have a 7 star rating, the Burj Al Arab caters to royalty, celebrities, and the world’s most elite clientele. However, for one morning, Frank and I, two American undergraduates studying abroad in Dubai got a glimpse inside the most luxurious hotel in the world.
Upon arriving in Dubai, the Burj Al Arab is an instantly recognizable part of the skyline. Shaped like an Arabian dhow boat sail, the hotel is nestled on it’s own private, man-made island in the Persian gulf. From the moment I saw the hotel illuminated in colorful lights on the late night taxi ride from the airport to my dorm, I put going inside at the top of my “Dubai Bucket List”. Frank Musuruca, a friend and fellow classmate, shared my desire to peak into the exclusive hotel and we began to plan our visit
Unfortunately, Frank and I quickly found out that checking out the lobby, unlike most American hotels, is not as simple as walking inside. To get on to the private island, one must either be staying at the hotel or have a reservation at one of the resort’s restaurants. With the cheapest room costing over $1,000 a night and most meals priced at a minimum of $250 a person, the Burj Al Arab was out of my “I am a college student and eat ramen noodles for most meals” budget.
Determined to get inside, we schemed several possibilities that did not involve us spending the entirety of what we had budgeted for the summer abroad. As a last ditch effort, we emailed the PR office of the hotel asking for a tour in exchange for a blog post. Not expecting a response, we were beyond ecstatic when we received an email the following day from the Marketing Communications Executive of the Burj Al Arab granting our tour request.
The Burj Al Arab
On the morning of the tour, we woke up early (a large feat for a college student) and got ready in our mold infested dorm rooms. Dressed in the nicest clothes we brought on the trip, we walked in the 105 degree heat to the bus stop and paid our $1 fare. We excitedly discussed our expectations for the tour as we took the Dubai Public Bus to the fanciest hotel in the world.
From the bus stop, we walked in sweltering heat to the private island’s entrance. As we approached, a guard stepped out of his post and asked us if we had a reservation for the hotel - he was likely confused as to why two kids were walking up (not even in a taxi) to the opulent hotel. We gave our names. I think all three of us were surprised when our names were on the list and we were granted access onto the property.
Frank and I attempted to remain calm and hide our amusement as we walked on the pathway approaching the hotel. However, the thrill of the situation won out. Staying true to our millennial status, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to Snapchat the experience and take selfies in front of the hotel and the Rolls-Royce fleet parked out front.
Entering the grand lobby, we immediately understood the hype. As we waited for our tour, our eyes bounced from the fountain garnered in Ramadan decorations to the aquarium wall to the colorful floors in the atrium above us. We tried our best to maintain our professionalism.
Nina, the marketing executive, did not treat us differently when she discovered that she was tasked with giving two American college students a tour. Most people in Dubai became disinterested in catering to us when they determined we did not have a large pocketbook.
Many portions of the hotel were under renovation but Nina took us on a complete tour. She took us to the top floor where we were able to look down at the 202 suites. Each floor had it’s own personal butler whose sole job was to accommodate the every whim of guests. Guests also receive a 24 karat iPad upon check-in and pillow menu with 17 different options.
The highlight of the tour was when Frank and I were casually informed that we would be touring the Royal Suite - the most luxurious and most expensive suite in the hotel. In the United States, we know the Presidential Suite to be the top room in a hotel. In the Burj Al Arab, the Royal Suite is a step above the Presidential room.
We pretended to remain calm as we approached the Royal Suite’s imposing double doors on the top floor. Our jaws dropped as we entered the foyer. Costing over $25,000 a night, the suite is over 8,000 square feet featuring two floors, a private movie theater, and dining room.
The Master Bedroom in the Royal Suite
While in the suite, it impossible to look in any direction without seeing gold. From the Hermès products in the bathroom to the private elevator, the suite oozed luxury. When we saw the four poster canopy bed rotating, we didn’t even try to hide the fact that we were Snapchatting.
Frank and I were also treated to a visit to the Skyview Bar. Located on the 27th floor, we were clearly able to see both the Palm and the World Islands through the floor to ceiling panoramic windows. After completing the tour, we were graciously walked to the lobby.
After leaving the hotel and struggling to decipher the bus routes back to our dorm, we were quickly reminded that we do not lead the same life of luxury as the hotel’s guests. However, we both agreed that the Burj Al Arab lives up to it’s image as the most luxurious hotel in the world and we were thrilled to check it off our bucket list.