The best ski resorts in North America

Last year when announcing the top 50 resorts we began by stating the obvious: there are a lot of great ski resorts out there. While that hasn’t changed, our list of the top 50 certainly has—thanks to our readers.

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REVIEW-The Commons Hotel-Minneapolis, MN

This past weekend we had the opportunity to attend the Guiness International Champions Cup in Minneapolis, MN. We have relatives in the area, but really wanted to be near the stadium and close to the action. We couldn’t have found a better location than THE COMMONS HOTEL. Situated in the heart of the University of Minnesota campus, THE COMMONS HOTEL was just minutes away from TCF Bank Stadium. I think it took us about 5 minutes to walk it. That is perfect if you are planning on going to any football games this year-University of Minnesota or the Minnesota Vikings. You are also next door to the McNamara Alumni Center, the University Aquatics Center, the Williams Arena (basketball), and The Mariucci Arena (hockey).

THE COMMONS HOTEL was inviting and comfortable, and certainly did not feel like a college campus hotel. I have been to plenty that feel dated and in-need of upgrades. THE COMMONS HOTEL was fresh, clean, and modern. In the lobby, you can sit by the fire or snuggle up in a cozy chair. The staff always greeted us with a smile and answered all of our questions about the hotel and the area. Dining nearby is not an issue. The Beacon Public House is an on-site gastropub where you can relax with friends and family while dining or enjoying a cocktail or two. Applebees’s and Starbucks are also on-site so you are never far from a snack or a coffee. There are plenty of options in walking distance as well. The location is certainly convenient. There is a parking lot at the rear of the building and an overflow parking deck across the street which is connected by a covered skyway-definitely welcome in the winter months. The rate is $15 a night for self-park or $25 for valet services. The METRO transit system is literally outside the front door so you can travel to downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis with ease.

Our room was amazing. We had a king suite which included a separate living room and bedroom. I loved having a Keurig coffee maker (with Caribou coffee) and a refrigerator in the room. We used the iPod docking stations to charge up our phones. That was so much easier than hunting around for outlets. The bathroom was sleek in its design with rain shower heads-definitely had that spa feel. LCD televisions and complimentary wireless Internet are also superior amenities. Although we didn’t have time to use it, THE COMMONS HOTEL has a state-of- the art fitness center with new equipment like treadmills, elliptical machines, and free weights. A good workout may be in order after a night at the gastropub. There are 304 guest rooms to provide you with the home away from home atmosphere. There are also various meeting rooms and ballrooms for business events, weddings, reunions, or any other event you can plan.

If you are planning on visiting the University of Minnesota campus, attending an athletic event, or simply meeting up with friends and family, THE COMMONS HOTEL has everything you are looking for as far as comfort, location, and amenities. I believe you would be hard pressed to find another hotel on a major campus that was as convenient to local shops and events or as updated and fresh as THE COMMONS HOTEL. We will certainly be recommending it to everyone we know.

Official Website – The Commons Hotel

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Lake Buena Vista Best Western: In Review. ~ Tiffany Lindsey

I had the opportunity to stay at the Lake Buena Vista Best Western this past week (May 12th-19th), I wasn’t sure if I would like staying at a Downtown Disney resort. I’ve always stayed at a Disney resort before and didn’t know if I would miss staying at a Disney owned resort. Well my fears were put to rest the first night we got there!

We arrived around 5 or so in the evening and walked right up to the desk and checked in without a problem, we got our room keys and headed for our Disney view room 1613. The elevator was already down at the lobby so we walked right on and a short time later we were getting off on the 16th floor. We opened our room door and walked in to see a beautiful view of the Disney property! We could see all four theme parks in parts and we could see Illuminations and Wishes from our balcony every night! I was in awe of the view and the space in the room we had! It defiantly was bigger than what we are used to staying in a Disney value resort. I knew we were going to love it here.

After unpacking and checking the room and resort out, not to mention the view also, we headed down to Trader’s Island Grill for some dinner. The food was good and the service was great! The resort had several choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you wanted a big breakfast or dinner, Trader’s Island Grill is for you. But if you are looking for something quick Parakeet Café is best for you. They offer on the go style breakfast, lunch, and dinners for your convenience. They also offer Flamingo Cove Lounge for drinks and a pool side lunch. Or if you would like room service they offer that as well from early morning to late night. There were also several restaurants nearby if you have your own car or walk down to Downtown Disney.

The transportation was nice also, very quick and on time. Unlike some Disney resorts where you need to walk a ways to get to a bus stop for the resort, Lake Buena Vista Best Western’s bus stop was right out the front doors of the lobby. We stopped two other resorts  before heading to a park each morning. Being the first stop on the B line bus you get first choice of seats, by the time the bus got to the last resort on the line most people needed to stand. You were also the first to be dropped off on the return trip! At the parks the busses drop you off in the charter bus lots so it is a bit further than a Disney resort bus drop off locations. At the Magic Kingdom they drop you at the Ticket and Transportation Center and you can catch a monorail or ferry boat over to Magic Kingdom. After 6pm they offer transportation to Downtown Disney till 3 in the morning if you didn’t want to walk.

I would love to stay here at Lake Buena Vista Best Western again if I was heading back down to the Disney Resort property. Thanks to all the staff at the hotel for a great experience and relaxing vacation!

Review: Lake Buena Vista Best Western in the Downtown Disney Area

My family and I began a 7 night stay at the Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel, which is located in the Downtown Disney area.  I had always stayed in a Disney resort or Vacation Club villa so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I can say that I was very impressed.

We arrived very late in the evening and the friendly staff greeted us and told us we could go right up to the room.  Needless to say, after being in an airplane most of the evening, we were very excited to see our room and freshen up. We walked through the festive lobby to one of 4 elevators.  Our room was on the 17th floor so we listened to the island tunes on the way up.  When we entered the room we were immediately drawn to the view.  We could see the Characters in Flight balloon at Downtown Disney, Epcot, the Contemporary, and the new Bay Lake Tower.  It really gave a great perspective of how spread out the Disney area truly is.  The room was large with 2 queen beds, a couch, two tables, a sink and a counter outside of the bathroom, and a good size bathroom.  The size of the room would be similar to a moderate or deluxe at Disney.

After getting situated in the room we went and checked out the pool.  The kids loved it for the deep end while we loved it for the peaceful atmosphere.  The pool is a good size to keep an eye on the kids while still relaxing on the lounge chairs.  After taking in the pool we called it a night.

One of the perks of staying at the Lake Buena Vista Best Western is that it utilizes the Downtown Disney Area Hotel bus service.  The Downtown Disney bus system was very prompt and reliable.  The bus route began at 8 am, but we caught the 8:30 bus.  We stopped at 2 other Downtown Disney hotels before being dropped off in the main bus area at Epcot.  The bus then continued on to Hollywood Studios.  The driver told us the bus would pick up from Epcot at 25 and 55 after the hour.  It came right on time.  In fact, we have waited longer for a Disney bus.  The ride was just what we needed after a long day at the park, again prompt and efficient service.  We ended the evening eating in the hotel’s dining area which featured a buffet courtesy of Pizza Hut.  Pizza, Pasta, and Salads were available for our choosing.

As someone who has only stayed in a Disney resort on all my previous trips I was a bit intrigued about staying at a Downtown Disney resort.  What you need to know though is that while the Downtown Disney Resorts are not technically Disney run resorts, Disney is more like their landlords.  Everything they do has to gain approval from Disney, thus making these resorts top notch for your dollar.

When I was trying to find a place outside of a Disney resort, I was looking for one that offered the same perks that you would get from a Disney resort without having to pay the Disney price.  The Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort offers the same exact perks that you get by staying at a Disney resort.  You get complimentary bus service to all the parks in Walt Disney World.  Please note that you may see other local hotels claim that they are “minutes from Disney” and “provide free transportation to and from Disney”, but don’t be fooled.  The Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort is on the Disney property while others just claim to be close.

You also receive the ability to purchase your tickets at the resort, make tee times at any of the five Disney golf courses, a Disney gift shop in the lobby, the ability to make priority seating at any Walt Disney World restaurant, and free parking, which no other Downtown Disney area resorts offer.  Another plus is the Resort is a mere 15 minutes of from Downtown Disney, if you walk at a leisurely pace.  In fact, my father in law used a cane and that was how long it took him, so actually a normal walking pace would put it at about 10 minutes.

You don’t get those things at other resorts “minutes from Disney”.  The Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel had everything we needed in a vacation location.  If you are looking for a resort for the family, a romantic getaway, a weekend with friends, or a place for the team to stay during an AAU tournament,  you can’t go wrong with the Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel.

Review: Bayside Hotel Santa Monica, CA

Everyone loves a trip to the beach and even better the ability to find a hotel near the beach at an economical price.  Well, in Santa Monica, CA that isn’t the easiest thing to find.  There are several hotels on or near the beach but they are too expensive for the casual traveler.

I researched the internet for just about every hotel in Santa Monica, CA within walking distance to the beach and Santa Monica Pier and checked the prices.  What I found was one hotel that stood out from the rest….The Bayside Hotel.

The Bayside Hotel is located a block away from the Pacific Ocean and beach and about a half mile from the Santa Monica Pier.  The Bayside Hotel offers a variety of room options such as a suite with a fully-equipped kitchen, ocean view rooms, courtyard and economy rooms. All rooms are non-smoking and many are wheelchair accessible. Bayside Hotel’s services and amenities include: daily and weekly rates, free parking, maid service, and wireless Internet access.

First off, this hotel has more of a motel feel to it, but I say that in a good way.  Many times people are tentative to stay in motels, but this hotel puts any motel to shame.  The Bayside Hotel is in the process of updating all of their rooms, which will most certainly give the hotel a more modern feel to it.  We initially had a room with a courtyard view, which featured a large bathroom, kitchen area and bedroom.  The only problem with the room was it was one that was not updated yet and we were in need of a room that offered air conditioning, which this one did not.  A quick trip to the office changed that and we were taken care of and immediately placed in a new room that did have air conditioning.  I can attest that the breezes from the ocean are wonderful if your room faces it!  The new room had a vaulted ceiling, ceiling fan, large bathroom, AC, TV, and everything was modern and updated.

The price for the hotel was amazing considering the location.  Anytime you can find a hotel near the ocean for under $150.00 you certainly have to look into it.  Another perk of the hotel is the patio area right in the front.  There are several tables, chairs, and umbrellas inside this quaint area perfect for relaxing and looking out at the beach and ocean directly in front of you.  We spent the afternoon on the beach and then walked back to the hotel and enjoyed the sunset from the patio area!

We would advise people to certainly give this hotel an opportunity to impress you on a stay in Santa Monica.  Whether you are coming for business or pleasure, I would recommend this hotel to someone who wants convenience, economical accommodations, and beautiful views of the beach and ocean, to book a night at the Bayside Hotel and enjoy your trip.

REVIEW: Embassy Suites Santa Ana, CA

I had the opportunity in March of 2009 to visit Irvine, CA. The Embassy Suites Santa Ana, CA was the perfect place for my family to stay at during our visit. It was our first trip to California and after a day full of cancelations of our flights due to the blizzard that was heading up the east coast and a very long 6 hour flight, it was nice that Embassy Suites was close to John Wayne International Airport. It was less than a 10 minute drive up the Costa Mesa Freeway to our exit for the hotel.  Not only was Embassy Suites conveniently located to John Wayne Airport but it was a 15 minute drive to Disneyland, 30 or so minutes to Laguna Beach, and less than 5 minutes to a grocery store and restaurants. It was also just an hour drive to LA and Hollywood.

The hotel was very beautiful and quiet even though it was right of the freeway. The lobby was grand and very pretty but what was even prettier was the atrium of the hotel. It was 1o stories tall and all the rooms were on the outer edge of every floor, most floors even had viewing decks on all the corners of the building. The 10th floor provided a beautiful view of the mountains that were on the edge of the valley.

The rooms were nice and big, very spacious and clean. Like most Embassy Suites it was a split room like a suite, it had a living room with a sleeper sofa and chair, coffee table, TV and table, coffee maker and sink. A door leads to the bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom had two double beds, TV and vanity table/ desk. Nice if you need to do some work on a laptop. Some rooms had a balcony, ours did but it wasn’t much a view as it was on the north side of the building facing some other buildings and a road.

The hotel had a large pool, sauna and hot tub and an exercise room with nice big windows to let light in during the day. It also had a full breakfast bar and fix to order omelet bar every morning and also a full service restaurant. In the evenings they also had free drinks and snacks. A business office was right off the pool area with some desktop computers and cable hook up for laptops. They also had very large banquet rooms and some conference rooms upstairs. The hotel did offer laundry service or you could wash your own but the machines messed up a lot of times and took a long time to dry and wash clothes. Off the check inn area there is a small connivance shop that sells drinks and snacks and things you may have forgotten from home.

Over all I would recommend this hotel to anyone looking to visit southern California.


The ART HOTEL in Laguna Beach, California is the ideal destination for singles, couples, and families alike.  Located in Orange County in Southern California, the ART HOTEL is family owned and operated with the owners living on the premises.

With 28 rooms, the ART HOTEL makes its guests feel like family.  We were welcomed by Robert when we checked in.  Although we had never met before, his friendly demeanor and easy going attitude made it seem like we had known him for years.  The hotel is just 1 mile from downtown Laguna Beach.  The short walk took us past many galleries and shops and a beautiful view.  (The Midwest just can’t give you that view of the ocean on one side and mountains on the other).

There is a beach just 1 block away that has a very private feel to it.  Relaxation comes easy at the Crescent Bay Point Park and Crescent Beach.  The hotel has pet friendly rooms, a heated pool with an ocean view, an ocean view Jacuzzi, and air conditioned rooms with microwaves, refrigerators and free WiFi.  There is also free covered parking and a light breakfast each morning.  The rooms are unique as they all feature a different local artist.  There are also amazing murals on the walls throughout the hotel.

The owner and host, Gail, made sure we had everything we needed and were comfortable in our room.  The ART HOTEL is 20 miles from Disneyland and California Adventure, 7 miles from Newport Beach, 10 miles from Balboa Island, and 1 block from the Pacific Ocean.  Voted “Best Discount Hotel” by Orange County 2010 City Search, “Favorite Hotel” by, and winner of a “Certificate of Excellence for the Year of 2012,” the ART HOTEL is certainly worthy of awards.  There are off season rates and summer specials to take advantage of when planning your trip.

Whether you are a regular visitor to Laguna Beach, just passing through town, or wanting a break from the hectic pace of the city, the intimate setting of the ART HOTEL in Laguna Beach is just what you need to relax and enjoy your stay in Southern California.

We give the ART HOTEL 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it to all our readers.

Review: Howard Johnson Anaheim, CA

A vacation to Disneyland in California is something that many of us dream of.  This past weekend my wife and I were able to head to Anaheim and visit Disneyland for one day. We had a few requirements for our stay: The hotel had to be within walking distance of Disneyland, provide free parking, and be cost efficient for us for two days.

Many times veterans of Walt Disney World think that you have to stay on property to get the most out of your experience.  While that is mostly true, in Anaheim it is sometimes closer and much cheaper to stay off-site at a “Good Neighbor Hotel”.  We narrowed our choice down to the Howard Johnson Anaheim because it met all of our needs: close proximity to Disneyland, free parking, and only cost $59.00 plus tax using the Entertainment Book discount rate.

Some features of the hotel include seven private acres of gardens and landscaped walkways contain a secluded Garden Pool and the pirate themed Castaway Cove – A Watery Pirate Playground with a 30-foot pirate ship, slides, and water canons.

So how close is it to the entrance of Disneyland Park or California Adventure? The Howard Johnson is located right across from Disneyland’s Matterhorn Mountain on Harbor Boulevard, about a ten minute walk from your hotel room to the main gates of either park.  In fact it is closer to the entrance of the parks than either the Disneyland Hotel or Paradise Pier, as you have a long walk through Downtown Disney from those hotels.  Another perk is you can easily view the nighttime fireworks displays from Disneyland Park via Castaway Cove or your hotel room if you are lucky enough to have a room facing Disneyland Park.

The area is filled with restaurants and shopping on your walk to the park and the sidewalks are very well lit and professionally landscaped.  The Howard Johnson also has a great selection of Disney merchandise to choose from in its gift shop, an arcade for kids, internet access in the lobby, large rooms that are about the size of a moderate room in a Disney resort, and easy access to Interstate 5 a block away.

All in all we couldn’t ask for anymore from a hotel than what we found in the Howard Johnson Anaheim, CA.  The staff was very accommodating and courteous and the entire hotel was clean, safe, and a quality place to vacation.  We would highly recommend the Howard Johnson Anaheim to any of our readers if they are heading out West and will be in the Anaheim, CA area.