How Hotels Can Make a Difference in Your Travels

Wander With Wonder – Discovering Wow Moments Around the World or Across the Street

I love hotels! They really can make you feel at home when you travel. Come along with me as I share stories of some of the best hotels I’ve encountered during my travels.  

Welcome to Wander Stories, a podcast bringing you stories from destinations around the world or across the street.

In Wander Stories, we go behind the scenes to share some of the wow moments we discover as we travel. My husband and I sometimes find the best stories as we travel the US in our fifth-wheel trailer. Other times, we might discover stories as we jet off to other locales. No matter the source or where we go, we love bringing you Wander Stories to help inspire your own travels. Pull up a chair, grab a glass of bubbles or your favorite beverage, and listen to this episode of Wander Stories.

Listen online here or on your favorite podcast app, or read the full script below.

Where is Susan Today?

Welcome to a new episode of Wander Stories. Where in the world is Susan today? Today, I’m coming to you from Menifee, CA. Menifee is about 16 miles north of Temecula and is part of California’s Inland Empire. Menifee is also about 30 miles southeast of Riverside, has a population of about 92,000 residents, and has only been a city since October 2008.

The area’s earliest inhabitants were the Luiseno and Pechanga people. It became part of the Spanish empire in the 1700s and was eventually annexed into the US from Mexico in 1850. At the time, Menifee was a farming community and became a major mining community in the 1880s with the discovery of quartz by miner Luther Menifee Wilson, the town’s namesake.

In the early 1960s, Del Webb founded Sun City here; at the same time, he began Sun City in Arizona. Sun City began as a planned active retirement community. Soon, other master-planned communities popped up around Sun City. Then, in 2008, the entire area was incorporated as the City of Menifee and includes the communities of Sun City, Quail Valley, Menifee Lakes, and portions of Romoland.

Now, on to the episode where I discuss how hotels can make a difference in your travels.

Aerial view of Menifee Lake and neighborhood. Photo by Thomas De Wever via iStock by Getty Images

How Hotels Can Make a Difference in Your Travels

I’ve always loved hotels. As a little girl, my parents would take my sister, Catherine, and me on frequent trips. Sometimes, it was just a quick weekend getaway. Other times, it was for trips with my dad’s cattle business. He raised Chianina Cattle in Virginia—an exotic breed of cattle from Italy. We frequently traveled for cattle shows and auctions, and the hotel—or a motel in the late 60s/early 70s—was the highlight of every trip.

My sister and I would rush into the hotel room, opening every drawer and door. Looking under the beds. Trying out the beds and chairs. Even cheap hotels—we used to stay a lot at Holiday Inns and then later at Days Inns—used to have glasses and ice buckets arranged on a tray. Oh, the hours of entertainment from those glasses and that tray. We played restaurant for hours in our hotel room.

I’m posing with my mom (holding my sister) in a hotel room in early 1967.

The Fascination with Hotels Continues

I’ve never gotten over that fascination with hotel rooms. I adore those little soaps and am fascinated by the amenities you find in hotel rooms. As journalist Bill Bryson says, “It amazes me that I still get excited in hotel rooms just to see what kind of shampoo they’ve left me.”

I totally get that.

My husband says I’m a hotel snob and, yes, I’m guilty as charged. I ADORE nice hotels. Some people feel it’s a waste of money to splurge on a nice hotel while on vacation because you only sleep in the room. But, that hotel room is my sanctuary while I’m away from home. Some of my most memorable travel moments revolve around the exceptional hospitality I’ve received at hotels, from the super luxurious to the more budget-friendly stays. The wow moments usually are because of someone reaching out during a time of need. Here are several of my most memorable hotel experiences.

Château de la Messardière, St. Tropez

One of my most unforgettable trips was the first time I flew alone to France. I was excited but a bit anxious to be so far from home and alone. I was staying at the gorgeous Château de la Messardière in St. Tropez. Seriously, it’s a dream destination in a beautiful luxury chateau. When I arrived, the general manager, a lovely British gentleman named Gerald Hardy, met me and showed me around. I was impressed by Mr. Hardy – he called other guests by name as we passed them. He also spoke to every employee with the same grace and respect, whether it was the young man polishing the banisters, the chef with his two Michelin stars, or the doorman who opened the door for us.

Château de la Messardière near St. Tropez, France. Photo courtesy Château de la Messardière

Mr. Hardy and I spent a wonderful evening over dinner, telling each other our stories. Even though I was an experienced traveler, I did reveal to him during dinner that it was my first solo trip to Europe, and I felt a tad bit anxious. He reassured me that Château de la Messardière was the perfect start to my journey but told me to call him if I needed anything. He gave me his card and let me know that he would be the manager on duty for the evening, so I should feel free to call. Jet lag can be brutal, especially when traveling across multiple time zones. Combining that with my first-solo-international-trip jitters, I had a hard time sleeping.

A Kind Gesture Makes Château de la Messardière One of the Best Hotels Anywhere

At about 4 am, I decided I wanted something warm. Hot tea. I realized nothing was in the room, so I called the front desk. To my surprise, Mr. Hardy himself answered. I asked him if there was a place to get a cup of tea – I was hoping for a hot water dispenser and a tea bag at that point – but he reassured me the hotel would bring me a pot of tea immediately. After asking if I was okay with Early Grey and if I preferred milk, he told me it would just be a few moments. About 10 minutes later, I had a knock on my door. I opened it to Mr. Hardy, holding a tray filled with a pot of Earl Grey tea and steamed milk. He sat the tray down, and the aroma of hot tea and pastries filled me with the most amazing sense of gratitude. He pointed to a plate of beautiful croissants. “I hope you don’t mind, but the pastry chef took hot croissants from the oven for breakfast, so I added two for you.”

Did I mind? I almost cried.

A Cup of Tea Saves the Day

Mr. Hardy poured me a lovely cup of tea, suggested that I try to doze a bit, and reminded me that I had until 10:30 to come down for breakfast as he left me alone. As I sipped my warm cup of tea, I curled up on the sofa and nibbled on the most amazing pain au chocolat and flaky, buttery croissant of my life.

I slept beautifully for a few hours and emerged refreshed in time for breakfast. Although Mr. Hardy had left after his night on duty, he had notified the assistant manager about my night, who checked in on me to ensure everything was okay.

I kept in touch with Mr. Hardy until his passing a few years ago. I would get a lovely Christmas card every year, and I wrote about Château de la Messardière countless times in various publications.

Aerial view of Château de la Messardière. Photo courtesy Château de la Messardière

Texas Hospitality

I have two Texas hotels that saved the day for us, both during snow storms. Yep, snow storms in Texas. The first was ten years ago—in December 2013. I had flown into Texas for a press trip to Grapevine, TX, and that’s where the adventure started.

Snowmaggedon in Grapevine, TX

Grapevine—the Christmas Capital of Texas—wanted us to experience all the fun Christmas activities, so we flew in the first week of December.

Grapevine, TX, is the Christmas Capital of Texas. Photo by Bill Graham

That same afternoon, I discovered that a good friend had passed away from cancer, so I was feeling very sad being away from Bill. I called him and was very upset, but I told him I would be okay with a busy schedule over the coming days to preoccupy me. We discussed the possibility of snow, which was forecast for the Dallas area starting later that night.

I gathered myself and joined my group for dinner. We had a great first night at dinner, with the weather forecast at the forefront of the conversation. Now, the Dallas, Texas area is not accustomed to snow, so any accumulation shuts down the city, so we were hoping it wouldn’t really snow. As I enjoyed the meal with my fellow travelers and the folks from the Grapevine Convention and Visitors Bureau, I didn’t realize that (1) it was snowing heavier and (2) my husband, who worked for American Airlines at the time, had hopped on a plane for Dallas just to be with me because of my friend’s death.

Yes, It Snows in Texas

We finished dinner and returned to our hotel—the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center. By then, the snow was falling heavier, and we agreed to meet for breakfast the next morning. Our host, Leigh Lyons, would let us know the schedule and if it needed to be changed because of the weather. My husband arrived, much to my surprise, at about midnight. It had taken him forever to get there. He got a seat on the very last plane, arriving in DFW for what would turn out to be several days, and finally found an Uber to bring him the few miles to the hotel. He said the ride had been long and grueling and warned that the roads were getting treacherous.

The Hotel and Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau Shine Through

We woke up the next morning to a winter wonderland. Grapevine was living up to its name as the Christmas Capital of Texas–the only catch was that we couldn’t leave the hotel to experience it. Everything was shut down. No vehicles were coming or going. Streets were impassable with layers of ice and snow. The hotel’s employees were stuck in the hotel. We dubbed the experience Snowmaggedon.

It could have been a disaster. Instead, I’ve never had a better trip. Not only was Leigh, on behalf of the Grapevine CVB, the most amazing host, everyone at the hotel made us feel welcome. We were all in this together. We spent our days in the hotel bar—Bonnie & Clyde’s Hideout—playing games, telling stories, and yes, drinking. The staff ate in the restaurants and slept in available rooms because no one could go anywhere. We all became neighbors over those few days.

When the weather finally allowed, we headed to play on even more ice. This time at ICE! at The Gaylord Texan. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

I will never forget the hospitality we felt during our stay. Several years later, in 2017, Bill and I moved to Dallas with American Airlines. We lived a few miles from Grapevine, and I would frequently stroll the streets, always feeling a special bond with the city because of that winter. And yes, I finally got to enjoy the amazing experience of Grapevine at Christmas.

Stuck in Texas During the 2021 Blizzard

But…surprisingly…that wasn’t my only snow encounter in the Dallas area.

As I mentioned, we moved to Dallas in 2017 and rented a home on Lake Carolyn in the Las Colinas region of Irving, about 15 minutes from DFW airport. During COVID, my husband retired from the airline, and in late 2020, we decided to return to Arizona. We made arrangements to move at the beginning of March 2021. We had everything all planned out…and then the snowstorm of 2021 hit. If you remember, a major ice and snow storm swept through Texas in February 2021—and we were still there. The storm dumped about a foot of snow on us in Irving and – once again – left roads impassable. I laughed when people told me that never happened in Texas. Yes. Yes, it does. I’ve been stuck in the snow in Texas twice in a decade.

The snow kept coming in February 2021. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

We Had No Water!

Most people in Dallas lost power, and many places lost water when water lines froze. Our apartment complex was without power for only a few hours, but the water lines froze in the apartments and between the complex and the city. Some apartments flooded. We were lucky that nothing flooded, but we were without water and could not even get water. After three days of getting water out of the pool just to flush the toilets, we were told it would be at least two weeks before we had any water.

We were all packed and ready to move. We called the moving company, and they could accelerate our move by about ten days, but that still meant we had a week, and I was not willing to sit for a week without water. The streets were still a mess, ice-covered and treacherous. Any hotels in the area that had power were sold out. I

I had met the manager of Marriott Dallas Las Colinas a few months earlier and had her phone number, so I called her and asked if there was even one room available. After explaining our situation, she told me one room was available. I booked it immediately. We packed a few clothes and our laptops and headed a mile up the road to the hotel.

Mind you, this was in the middle of COVID. In February 2021, there were no vaccines, and there had been a sharp spike in infections. We hadn’t been inside a restaurant in almost a year. We were nervous but we had no alternative given the situation.

A Hotel Staff Saves the Day

The hotel staff was amazing. Those of us staying were all there because our homes were flooded, without electricity or water. The restaurant was closed, but the bar was open, serving a limited menu at the bar.

We felt like family during the week we spent at Marriott Dallas Las Colinas. The bartender knew each of us by name. The guests became familiar faces. We all spent our days wandering between our rooms and at tables scattered around the lobby. It was the first time many of us had been with other people in months. The staff accommodated us for anything we needed.

Lobby bar at Marriott Dallas Las Colinas. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

If you fly in and out of DFW and have an overnight, I recommend staying at the Marriott Las Colinas. It’s easy access to all the great restaurants at the Toyota Music Factory and the restaurants on N. O’Connor Blvd. And, as a side note, I recommend you have dinner at Hugo’s Invitados. You MUST order the Crackling Pollo. It’s one of the most flavorful dishes ever!

Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Ubud, Bali

A final example was when we visited Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Ubud, Bali. Under any circumstances, this is a magnificent property, hugging the banks of the Ayung River, surrounded by lush forests but close to the center of Ubud. The intimate retreat has 35 luxurious suites and 25 private pool villas, each with its own Patih (butler).

Entry gates at Mandapa, Ubud, Bali. Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton

Not Your Average Travel Experience

When we arrived, however, it was under extraordinary circumstances. The day before our big trip to Bali, my husband had a nasty fall about 7 feet from the top of a ladder onto our gravel yard. Fortunately, he didn’t break anything, but he couldn’t put weight on one leg. We decided to take the trip, arranging for a wheelchair to transport him on and off the airplanes and through the terminals. We arrived in Bali and spent a few days at a resort overlooking Jimbaran Bay before heading to Ubud. By then, Bill was doing better, walking with crutches.

We arrived at Mandapa, and our butler, a lovely young woman who had received her training in Switzerland, met us and immediately wanted to pamper us. She was particularly concerned about Bill, hobbling around on his crutches. After the first day there, Bill graduated to a cane and walked more, trying to exercise his leg.

We were staying in a magnificent riverfront private pool villa. When I say exquisite, that’s an understatement. It had a beautiful Balinese garden with an outdoor shower, a magnificent indoor shower, a soaking tub, a beautiful bedroom with a sitting area, a separate house with a living/dining area, and a private pool with beautiful views down into the river bottom.

We stayed in a one-bedroom pool villa. Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton

The Staff Made This One of the Best Hotels in the World

But, as spectacular as that room was, the kindness of our butler and the other staff made this an exceptional experience. Bill decided to walk up the hill from our villa to the main lodge to exercise. As he left our villa, the gardener working just outside offered to take him up the hill in the golf cart. Bill refused and explained he wanted to walk. He had two or three others offer to give him a ride as he made his way up the mountain.

As he arrived at the main lodge, our butler greeted him with a cool cloth and drink—and insisted on bringing him back down the hill in the golf cart and helping him into our villa.

Our butler greeted my husband at the welcome pavilion in the main lodge. Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton

The entire stay was like that. The staff greeted us by name each day we arrived at the restaurant. I asked about mangosteens—my favorite fruit in the world that I discovered on a visit to Thailand. They told me it was early in the season, but they would see what they could do. They greeted me the next morning with a plate of fresh mangosteens and even prepared a cocktail later featuring mangosteens. The morning before our departure, they arrived at our door with a package filled with fresh mangosteens for me to take with me. They also offered us the most exquisite little dish crafted of shells and a pair of the salt and pepper shakers I had admired on the table. Those items remain with me, reminders of the kindness of strangers who made us feel special.

The Best Hotels Make You Feel Welcome

In the words of Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I would love to hear some of your moments when you’ve felt special during your travels or how a stranger has helped you when you needed it most, so leave us a comment. I will talk to you next time with more Wander Stories, and remember, if you love this episode, please subscribe and share Wander Stories with a friend.

We welcome you to explore more of our favorite hotels and resorts on Wander With Wonder.


How Hotels Can Make a Difference in Your Travels

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