This Pre-cruise San Diego hotel is the best in the West
Beautiful Grand Del Mar Lobby
Although I live in Los Angeles, I was clueless just how many cruise ships sail in and out of the Port of San Diego. Turns out more than 190 dock at B Street Cruise Ship Terminal each year.
SAN DIEGO - A BUSTLING CRUISE PORT
Holland America and Celebrity Cruises have seasonal homeports here. Throughout the year, luxury cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas, Crystal Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd also drop anchor. And Princess and Norwegian are among other premium-level ships deeming San Diego a port-of-call. These vessels go so many places; Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, California Coast - even Tahiti.
The port is close to vibrant downtown San Diego and I can recommend nearby hotels like the historic US Grant and boutique Hotel Solamar. But if you're seeking a pre-or-post cruise experience that will knock your socks off (assuming you wear a pair), check out - or rather, check in - to The Grand Del Mar.
NUMBER ONE-RANKED HOTEL
Don't take just my word; this AAA Five-Diamond hotel is ranked Number One on tripadvisor.com of 271 San Diego hotels. I've visited here twice, and each time wished I could handcuff myself to the room and throw away the key. Why does this hotel have so many fans? What does it do differently - or better - than the competition?
The Amaya Terrace | See all of the pictures from this hotel here!
Nearly everything. As the name hints, The Grand Del Mar is grand. Let's start with the opulent Mediterranean design, mixing Spanish, Portuguese, Moroccan and Venetian elements in seamless style.
The stone was hand-carved by a family of four generations in a small town near Venice, Italy. Count some 30 different types of stone and polished marble on display. Impressed yet? Wait.
There's also 25,000 square feet of handcrafted wood floors, Venetian-plastered walls and custom art in frames that are exact replicas of those at the Louvre and Cluny Museum in Paris, France. Ceilings are hand-stenciled, naturally.
The landscaping is as lush as the hotel design. Count more than 10,000 mature trees - even though the hotel opened in 2007. Flowers flourish around fountains and marble sculptures, in courtyards and pathways.
GUEST ROOMS EXTRAORDINAIRE
The 249 guest rooms and suites are also grand. Each features a golf course or canyon view. Standard guest rooms (entry level) are a whopping 600-square-feet and possess European finesse, including hand-stenciled ceilings, brocade upholstery and cut-crystal. Three dual-line phones, mini-bars and Nespresso (espresso, coffee) machines are among the amenities.
And oh, the beds. Especially after a long plane ride. Unwind on Pratesi (Italy's finest) cotton linens and nestle into a 100-percent goose-down pillow.
Bathrooms are five-star-hotel-fancy; deep soaking tub and separate shower, flat-screen television, lavish bath amenities and candles, and bathrobes so plush, you wish you could wear one out to dinner.
Like every other gesture here, turndown hits high notes. Nightly gifts include elaborately individually wrapped chocolate-covered chocolate sandwich cookies, and beautiful boxes of chocolates. When the concierge learned I was celebrating a big anniversary, she instructed housekeeping to strew our bed and bath with pink rose petals.
King Guestroom | See all of the pictures from this hotel here!
A five-star resort should provide excellent service and The Grand Del Mar delivers. Meet a staff member in the hallway and they greet you with a smile and "good afternoon, madam." Restaurant servers and maitre d's are alert to even the most subtle guest signal. When I gave up a tennis court reservation to another, more eager, couple, the concierge sent a handwritten thank you note and chocolate-covered strawberries to my room.
Whether dining modestly or extravagantly, the cuisine is excellent. At gourmet café Cent' Anni, choose espresso and Parisian-quality croissants and brioche for breakfast. Come lunchtime, bliss out on organic iced tea, artisan sandwiches and homemade gelato.
While poolside, feast on fish tacos and salads. Servers deliver orders atop wooden trays and place them over your lap.
Amaya is an all-day dining venue with a chic Tuscan vibe. Marble arches, stone columns and two limestone fireplaces lend romance to the room. The menu, starring superb lobster bisque and wild Alaskan halibut with fresh English peas, is as carefully prepared as any non-resort fine restaurant. Service is exemplary.
Smoked Salmon Tart with Chives and Caviar | See all of the pictures from this hotel here!
At Addison, memories are made. Southern California's only AAA Five-Diamond restaurant is also Relais & Châteaux-affiliated. R & C dining establishments are more than exclusive; they're individualistic. Plan on an experiential evening rather than just a leisurely deluxe meal.
William Bradley - widely hailed as San Diego's best chef and one of the West Coast's best - prepares exquisite delicacies of Michelin star quality. His seasonal selections consist of modern French four-course tasting menus showcasing California artisan foodstuff, and are best paired with wines suggested by the knowledgeable sommelier. The wine list includes thousands of selections. Wine geeks (like me) read the list like a page-turner novel, cover-to-cover.
Every element of the evening is orchestrated and exemplary. Dine by the limestone fireplace in a rich wood and marble room with 22-karat-gold accents, or close to sweeping windows with velvet draping and verdant golf course views.
A server wheels over a cart of champagne bottles and a choice of three fabulous pours by the glass. Very Parisian. So is the purse stool and artisan breads for different courses.
Evenings unfold with an amuse-bouche (appetite-teaser. Lately, it's a flaky pastry bursting with mascarpone and aged Spanish sherry. This is a one-bite pop in your mouth, where flavors explode. I fell madly in love; I debated trading my husband for a handful more.
Dover sole has a velvety shrimp sauce so intense, it captures the briny mystery of the sea. Lacquered Kobe beef short rib nearly melts at the sight of a hovering fork. Peanut butter terrine with port wine ice cream? Divine. And so it goes, from start to finish, course to course.
Dover Sole Amandine | See all of the pictures from this hotel here!
The Spa enjoys top ratings nationwide. Many treatments are devised from natural resources of the neighboring canyon preserve, using flora, native herbs and mineral mud and clay. Fitness classes, adults-only relaxation pool, wet and dry saunas and indoor whirlpools are among several complimentary spa amenities for those with treatments booked.
WHAT TO DO
Plan on a minimum two-day stay to experience a taste of what The Grand Del Mar offers; four swimming pools, tennis courts, San Diego's only Tom Fazio-designed golf course, state-of-the-art fitness center. Hikers love the trails in the adjacent 4,100-acre Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. The Equestrian Center offers every activity from trail rides and professional riding lessons to pony rides for kids. This resort is family-friendly although many couples (like me) come for romance, too.
17th Green | See all of the pictures from this hotel here!
San Diego abounds with must-do activities. The famed San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park's 15 museums and Sea World. Old Town San Diego, reflecting the history of early California and Spanish settlers. Wild Animal Park, which emulates the safari experience. La Jolla and Del Mar teem with boutiques. Unspoiled beaches also beckon.