Monika Canty joins an agent fam trip and travels to the sunshine state
Arabian Travel News editor Monika Canty joins an agent fam and discovers how to travel the Sunshine State in style
We have just checked in to the L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills — the first port of call on our whistlestop tour of California - when Angelina Jolie casually strolls in to the lobby (sadly there's no sign of Brad Pitt).
While we all do our best to remain calm and collected in the presence of one of Hollywood's most famous movie stars - the truth is it's impossible not to be dazzled by the glitz, glamour and all-pervading 'wow-factor' that sums up our entire trip to the Sunshine State of California.
Our group is here on a fam trip hosted by The Travel Collection which represents several luxury properties in California; and Delta Airlines which operates a daily non-stop service from Dubai to its hub in Atlanta, with onward connections to over 236 US destinations including Los Angeles.
Despite the long distances from the Middle East; popularity for US destinations among Gulf travellers is skyrocketing. According Sheena Thomas, sales manager - UAE & Oman at Delta Air Lines, load factors for its daily Dubai-Atlanta flight is in the “high 80s range”.
“Despite the challenging global economic environment, Delta is very pleased with the performance of our Dubai-Atlanta flight. Demand for our service shows positive growth year-on-year," she adds.
The Sunshine State
It's easy to see why California is such an appealing destination for Gulf travellers. The weather is amazing all year round; the lifestyle is glamorous; the shopping and eating out options are top-notch and there are so many family-friendly attractions to choose from — from Disneyland to behind-the-scenes-studio tours — that you will never be stuck for something to do.
Our trip begins in Los Angeles and takes us to the affluent coastal city of Newport Beach in Orange County which means we also get to experience the famous sunny beaches along the Pacific Ocean.
For a luxury LA experience, the only place to stay is in Beverly Hills 90210 — the post code of the rich and famous. The L’Ermitage Hotel fits the bill as a favourite among Hollywood’s A-list — in fact during our two night’s stay here we also spot Bruce Willis tucking into some breakfast and basketball star Shaquille O'Neal working out in the gym.
The stars choose the property for its understated luxury, discreet staff; and second to none service. But the location, right on the doorstep of Hollywood and a short walk to probably the most famous (and expensive) shopping street in the world — Rodeo Drive, will no doubt appeal to your clients too.
Previously owned by Raffles; management was recently taken over by the Abu-Dhabi owned Viceroy Hotel Group so the property is fully geared up for catering for Middle Eastern clientele.
Your clients will find Beverly Hills to be a surprisingly walkable city, jam-packed with stylish restaurants and boutiques. Shopaholics will be in heaven of course; but while Rodeo Drive might be strictly for window shopping it's not all high-end.Neighbouring Beverly Drive offers plenty of affordable shopping and department stores Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue are also round the corner.
A tour on the Beverly Hills Trolley will take you around the city’s landmarks, or if you want a sneak peek at how the stars live their lives, Glitterati Tours (glitteratitours.com) will point out which mega-star resides in which mega mansion, plus the Hollywood Hills and its most famous landmark, the Hollywood sign.
Attraction wise there is something different to do in LA every day, from studio tours with Paramount, Warner Bros, CBS or NBC; the Walk of Fame; Grauman's Chinese Theatre, a cruise down Sunset Strip; or football fans could visit LA Galaxy’s stadium for a chance to spot David Beckham.
After a few days in LA we head south to Newport Beach in Orange County — the area made famous by The OC TV show, and home to one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in the world.
For some incredible views of this coastline (as well as the driving experience of a lifetime) be sure to recommend that your clients hire a car (open-top cadillac is preferable for the full US experience) and drive the Pacific Coast Highway.
The highway, which runs along much of California's coast is one of the most famous in America and the drive is well-known for its jaw dropping vistas of the dramatic cliffs, golden beaches and the sparking blue Pacific Ocean below.
The newest and most luxurious addition to Newport's hotel scene is Pelican Hill. Set on a rolling golf-course, the resort features plush two to four bedroom villas with fully-equipped kitchens, and all the mod cons you could imagine — including a roaring fireplace that sparks to life at the flick of a switch.
The huge size of the villas make this an ideal option for families seeking a ‘home-away-from-home’ to de-camp to for an entire summer. Middle Eastern guests will be well looked too. The resort’s F&B director Khalid Mirza was previously right-hand man to Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed.
The hotel offers a special halal menu and is going all out to ensure guests feel at home during the Ramadan period summer with iftar and suhour meals and coach services to the nearby Islamic centre.
While Pelican Hill itself offers plenty of activities for the whole family — from kid’s camps, golf, a spa and swimming pools — the surrounding coastline and seaside town of Newport provides even more things to do, from watersports and horse riding to shopping at Fashion Island, which has over 120 boutiques on offer.
Not to be missed is a visit to Newport Harbour. Jam-packed with yachts and sail boats bobbing about, the harbour is lined with the billionaire homes of the rich and famous. You can rent your own electric Duffy Boat to cruise around the harbour and catch a glimpse of how the other half really live.
"It is charming and it feels like paradise," summed up Saroj Sinha, Al Rostamani Travel. We couldn't agree more.
Where to stay
L’Ermitage Beverly Hills
One of LA’s top luxury hotels; L'Ermitage Beverly Hills is peacefully situated on a tree-lined residential street, just a short stroll from Rodeo Drive. This boutique hotel is renowned for its legendary elegance and unquestioned privacy — making it a top draw for celebrity guests.
For the past nine years, L’Ermitage Beverly Hills is one of the few hotels in the US to achieve a Forbes 5 Star and AAA Five Diamonds awards. The rooftop pool area offers incredible views over Beverly Hills and has been the setting for many a glamorous occasion [Lady Gaga played a private post-Bafta-party here]. Wi-fi is provided free of charge.
Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills
Sister hotel to the L’Ermitage, the Avalon Hotel offers a more price conscious option. Set around a dramatic pool terrace with private cabanas and the recently launched Oliverio restaurant, the hotel is on the doorstep of top Beverly Hills boutiques, galleries and restaurants.
Originally built in 1949 as the Beverly Carlton, all the guestrooms were renovated in 2011. The design of the hotel echoes the relaxed “patio lifestyle” of mid-20th Century Southern California and offers guests a 'home away from home.' The property certainly has a star-studded past.
It was featured in the Oscar-winning film, Dreamgirls, and before it became a hotel, it was an apartment building with Marilyn Monroe its most famous tenant.
The Resort at Pelican Hill
No expense has been spared in creating this latest addition to Newport's hospitality scene. The opulent resort, inspired by an Italian hillside village offers up every luxury you can possibly think of.
Designed to be a relaxing refuge, the two, three and four bedroom villas are huge and ideal for large families, and beautifully furnished to resemble a real Tuscan retreat.
Private terraces all have spectacular views out over the 54-hole Fazio golf course and the ocean beyond. Pelican Hill also boasts the largest circular saline pool in the world. Butlers on call for you 24/7, ‘personalised grocery programmes' and customised menus for every guest are all just part of the service here.
HOW TO SELL
How to get there:
Delta Airlines offers daily flights from Dubai to its hub in Atlanta from where you can connect to Los Angeles (and over 236 other US destinations).
The agents flew to Atlanta on Delta's Business Elite which offers passengers a five- course gourmet meal, flat beds (with a built-in massage setting), a quilted duvet and full-sized pillow and a full entertainment system.
Each flatbed comes with PC and USB charging ports and noise-cancelling headphones so you can get on with work or watch films through the flight. The flight to Atlanta takes around 15 hours from Dubai; and the connecting flight to LA will add another five hours.
But the Delta Airlines staff are wonderfully attentive and thanks to the bag of Korres skincare products the whole group arrived into LAX feeling fresh and revived. www.delta.com
When to go:
California has one of the most enviable climates in the world with almost year-round sunshine. Summer (June – September) is peak season and its the busiest time for theme parks and attractions such as Disneyland, but also the best weather for enjoying beaches and the alfresco lifestyle. The winter time (December to February) is also a great time to visit, when temperatures are mild and pleasant.