Bidding a fond adieu to quirky Virgin America Airlines

Bye Bye Virgin America Airlines hello Alaska

Alaska absorbs the little airline that was
Patti Pietschmann reporting

An Elevate member and avid fan of Virgin America I was disheartened to learn that it soon will be eaten up by its newish owners Alaska Airlines. This was really surprising especially after Alaska awarded Elevate members generous extra miles to convert from Virgin to it (which I did). (Also check out Delta vs Virgin America).
Below is onde of the First Class meals I enjoyed on Virgin America

That’s me using the free WiFi in the Loft, VA’s lofty LAX lounge, before the flight hope Alaska keeps its.

Alaska made it official yesterday sending out press releases that read, “Alaska Airlines and Virgin America today shared their vision for the future of the combined carrier, as the company solidifies its status as the West Coast’s premier airline”

“After careful consideration, the combined company will adopt Alaska’s name and logo, retiring the Virgin America name likely sometime in 2019. However, the combined airline will adopt many of the brand elements that Virgin America enthusiasts love about their favorite airline, including enhanced in-flight entertainment, mood lighting, music and the relentless desire to make flying a different experience for guests. The goal is to create a warm and welcoming West Coast-inspired vibe.”
“Our goal from the very beginning of this merger was to become the go-to airline for people on the West Coast, with low fares, convenient flights, a premium product and genuine, caring service,” said Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Air Group. “Three months in, we’ve dramatically grown our presence in California and are united behind a new purpose: Creating an airline people love.”
Alaska has been actively growing the airlines’ newly combined networks since closing the merger in December. Earlier this month, the airline announced 21 new markets with 25 new daily departures out of San FranciscoSan DiegoLos Angeles and San Jose, California – marking the largest addition of routes in the company’s history.
“We spent the last 10 months conducting extensive research and listening carefully to what fliers on the West Coast want most,” said Sangita Woerner, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of marketing. “While the Virgin America name is beloved to many, we concluded that to be successful on the West Coast we had to do so under one name – for consistency and efficiency, and to allow us to continue to deliver low fares.”
Alaska said it  will spend the next few years making major enhancements and incorporating favorite elements of the Virgin America experience.
Enhancements include:
  • Modern, warm and welcoming vibe – Music from fresh new artists will be featured on planes, in airport lobbies and at gates. In 2018, Alaska will debut an entirely redesigned cabin with new seats and amenities, and has already started to retrofit select Boeing aircraft with expressive blue mood lighting. Modern, stylish uniforms by fashion designer Luly Yang will roll out in mid-2019 for flight attendants, customer service agents, pilots, mechanics and ground crew.
  • Satellite connectivity – Alaska’s entire fleet of Boeing 737 passenger aircraft will be equipped with high-speed satellite Wi-Fi beginning in fall 2018, with the remainder of the Airbus fleet to follow. Both fleets are expected to be fully satellite-equipped by the end of 2019.
  • More premium seats –Premium seating will be expanded across the Airbus fleet beginning in the fourth quarter of 2018. The number of First Class seats will increase by 50 percent (going from eight seats in the Airbus First Class cabin to 12) and are customized for enhanced comfort, featuring 41 inches of pitch, improved seatback storage pockets, cup holders, footrests and personal power outlets throughout the cabin. The redesigned Airbus cabins will also feature 18 new Premium Class seats with 35 inches of pitch and complimentary beer, wine and cocktails.
  • The country’s top-ranked frequent flier program – In 2018, Alaska Mileage Plan will become the sole loyalty program for both airlines, offering guests more rewards, an expansive global partner network and the only major airline loyalty program that still rewards a mile flown with a mile earned on Alaska and Virgin America flights. Members of Alaska Mileage Plan enjoy some of the most generous benefits in the industry including complimentary upgrades, award travel starting at 5,000 miles one-way (plus taxes and fees) and a faster path to elite status compared to other airlines. With Alaska and Alaska Global Partners, members can earn and redeem miles to more than 900 destinations worldwide.
  • Complimentary upgrades – With 50 percent more premium seats being introduced to the Airbus fleet, elite loyalty members will enjoy the most generous complimentary upgrades in the industry. Mileage Plan MVP Golds and above are upgraded to First Class or Premium Class 75 percent of the time (based on average historic system wide rates of upgrade) on Alaska Airlines flights. Complimentary upgrades on Airbus aircraft will debut for the first time ever in late 2018.
  • Free movies – In January, Alaska launched a temporary promotion offering its entire catalog of more than 200 movies and TV shows for free. Starting now, free entertainment on guests’ own devices will be a permanent feature on its Boeing fleet and the same free library of movies and TV shows will expand to Airbus aircraft via Red entertainment system in August 2017. Guests on Airbus aircraft will continue to enjoy access to early release movies for purchase.
  • Free Chat™ – In January 2017Alaska became the first and only U.S. airline to offer Free Chat onboard and will expand Free Chat to Airbus-operated flights in August 2017. Guests can stay connected to friends and family on the ground via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage.
  • West Coast-inspired food and beverage – Alaska and Virgin America continue to enhance their fresh, healthy, West Coast-inspired onboard food and beverage menus. Both airlines will sell y craft brews, premium wines and imroved food options. By June 2017, Alaska First Class passengers will be able to pre-select meals before they fly, and by early 2018, Alaska’s Main Cabin passengers will be able to pre-pay for their meals before they fly. Food pre-ordering will be extended to Airbus flights sometime in the future.
  • Lounge expansion – By early 2019, there will be expanded airport lounges in SeattlePortland and Los Angeles, as well as new lounges in San Francisco and at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The expansion plans will double the square footage of Alaska’s airport lounges. Members also currently enjoy access to more than 60 partner lounges throughout the United States and around the world.
Fans of Virgin America still have time to enjoy the ride.
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Spa-ing in Shanghai

05de6a13f90456fb138acf7ebf83602aAttention globe-trotting spa-seekers, Asia’s leading spa operator, Banyan Tree Spa, just announced  the launch of the Banyan Tree Spa Shanghai On The Bund, located in Shanghai’s first all river view hotel. The three-story facility is located on Shanghai’s iconic Bund district close to both historic landmarks and the new cultural and commercial centers of the cosmopolitan city. It has 11 exquisitely appointed treatment rooms including two Imperial Rooms with a Rainmist facility or Thai Massage area along with a beauty salon, nail bar and Banyan Tree Gallery.

Embracing the local culture and traditional Chinese healing philosophy, Banyan Tree Spa Shanghai On the Bund’s colorful design concept is inspired by the Five Elements – Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth. The Spa’s contemporary design showcases a combination of sleek lines with traditional materials to create a warm, inviting atmosphere. An elegant reception area features a clear glass panel embedded with grey textured patterns while a beige sofa and silk floral-motif throw cushions are just a few of the comforting touches.

Signature Spa Treatments

The destination-inspired Banyan Indulgences feature holistic signature treatments for total renewal. The 150-minute signature package, Banyan Hot Stones, is a harmonizing treatment where heated stones are soothingly massaged over the body along with the use of warm Clarity Oil to exert warmth and pressure on energy points for smoother flow of “qi” and the discharge of toxins. The treatment concludes with a Rose Body Scrub, Chrysanthemum Body Conditioner and Rose Bath to leave the skin nourished and soft.

Blissful experiences include a selection of popular therapies reflecting the Five Elements – Gold for Purifying, Wood for Renewal, Water for Relaxing, Fire for Revitalizer and Earth for Balance. Five Elements oils are created for each specific treatment. Guests may discover the healing powers of Chinese herbs and indigenous ingredients in body scrubs which harness the benefits of Pu’er tea leaves, Pearl, Chrysanthemum and Ginseng.

A day at the spa is the perfect panacea for aching feet after a day of roaming the sites of sizzling Shanghai. You can relax with a massage, body scrub, facial, hand and foot treatment, and just chill out.  The Spa is open to both hotel guests and visitors daily from 10am to 11pm. For more information or reservations, please contact +86 21 2509 1188, email spa-shanghaionthebund@banyantree.com or visit banyantreespa.com.

About Banyan Tree Spa

The leading Asian spa operator and pioneer of the tropical garden spa, Banyan Tree Spa first opened in 1994 in Phuket, Thailand. As the first luxury oriental spa in Asia, it re-introduced an exotic blend of time-honored Asian healing therapies and beauty remedies.

Like the tropical and sacred tree that inspired its name, Banyan Tree Spa offers guests a Sanctuary for the Senses – a haven for physical, mental and spiritual renewal. Its spa philosophy focuses on a non-clinical and holistic ‘high-touch, low-tech’ approach that celebrates the human touch and the use of natural herbs and spices. Sensing the moment, Angsana Spa complements Banyan Tree Spa with its contemporary chic and vivacious treatments. Inspiring guests to live life spontaneously and savor time, its refreshing blend of treatments emphasizes on the use of native flowers and fruits. Banyan Tree Spa owns and manages a total of approximately 70 Spas in close to 30 countries under the Banyan Tree Spa, Angsana Spa and Elements Spa By Banyan Tree brands.

The Diva and the Dirty Martini

Richard's Martini from the well, Martini Bar ($9.50 plus 18% tip)

Acapulco ftom the Diva’s verandah on Oceania’s MarinaArriving in Los Cabos on Oceania Cruises’ MarinaMS Marina in Chiapas, Mexico

Heading through the Panama Canal

Free Bloody Mary's on the Marina during crossing of Panama Canal

Marina makes maiden voyage through Panama Canal
The Diva looking out to Cabo on the Marina

Salmon tartar served on the Marina, like all the food it was exceptional

Diva’s favorite bar stool in the Casino Bar on the Marina

Information: www.oceaniacruises.com,     photography by Richard and Patti Pietschmann

Rock Your Lover’s Mojo on Valentine’s Day

Rock your lover’s mojo and amp up your own at a romantic resort with dreamy pampering, massage lessons, champagne and more….

Offered for the month of February at Terreana Resort and Spa, the package include:

Love Yourself Package:  two 30-minute mini services and a glass of champagne or smoothie (pick the bubbly). Cupid’s choices:  Rose Petal Soaking Bath; Chocolate, Vanilla or Rose Body Scrub; Reflexology with Rose Petal Foot Bath; Facial; or Massage. The package costs $150 per person and includes gratuity.

Loving Touch- In Room Spa Package for Couples:  Learn how to rub each other the right way with this in-room lesson by a massage therapist.  After you’ve mastered the techniques, you get to relax in a candle-lit rose petal bubble bath and sip champagne. The 75-minute Loving Touch Experience costs $250 per couple. 

 Couples Massage Package:  a 50-minute couples massage for $100 each is offered from Monday through Thursday and $125 on Friday and Saturday. Spa Couples Fireside

Couples Flickering Embers:  You get to canoodle and cocoon  in VIP spa suite by a warm fireplace wrapped up in nutrient-rich, detoxifying volcanic ash and washed off a neutral bath of fragranced essential oils and healing magnesium.  There’s an herbal elixir included along with a balancing abdominal massage of the Hara, the energy center of the body. Warm, comforting marine poultices are placed across the lower back, knees and neck, inspiring a deep relaxation and reconnection. Flickering Embers lasts 120 minutes and costs $325 per person–so it’s for the big spender.

For spa reservations, call 310-265-2740, 866-802-8000 or go to www.terranea.com

About Terranea Resort  is located 20 miles from Los Angeles International Airport, above the Pacific Ocean on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Managed by Destination Hotels & Resorts.

Resort amenities include The Links at Terranea, a 9-hole par 3 golf course; The Spa at Terranea, a 25,000 square-foot oceanfront spa; and three unique swimming pools, one with children’s play area and a 140-foot waterslide. Three ocean view restaurants offer a variety of food and beverage experiences including Catalina Kitchen for casual, all-day dining; mar’sel, the free-standing signature restaurant; and Nelson’s, a cliff-side restaurant and bar with spectacular vantage points for whale watching. Designed to reveal the Resort’s dramatic outdoor vistas, Terranea’s conference and meeting facilities include 135,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space. Other amenities include a children’s center with interactive programs and several miles of scenic bluff-top trails that connect miles of off-property coastal trails. A secluded beach cove also adds to the unique experiences at Terranea Resort. For more information visit www.terranea.com.

Gina’s Italian Cuisine A Real Foodie Find

So there we were wending our way to the Just Inn in Paso Robles when hunger pangs hit and we pulled off the Freeway to find a place to eat in a town called Arroyo Grande.

We walked all three-four blocks of the burg and decided to stop for a bite at an inviting-looking eatery called Gina’s–which we later learned is one of the best Italian restaurants in this neck of California  central coastal woods.

The place was filled with locals who lunch and looked like they really enjoyed it.  We were probably the only tourists in the joint.

What a surprise.  Richard’s freshly made goat cheese ravioli raised the taste buds to new heights, my Caesar salad was better than I’ve had for twice the price, and an authentic cannoli was a good as you can find in the best Italian bakeries in New York.

 Our waitress seemed genuinely pleased with our enthusiasm for the meal, she must be Italian.

Mama mia it was tasty. And all for less than $30 with two amazing espressos and tip.

Gina’s also has pizzas, soups, assorted homemade pastas and specialities like chicken Marsala, chicken  saltimbocco, chicken piccata, scampi gorgonzola and much more priced from $7.95 to $18.95 at dinner, less at lunch.

So if you find yourself between an Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles at 138 East Branch Street (805-481-3266) be sure to stop for lunch or dinner.

A Birthday Celebration at La Quinta Resort And Spa Fit for a Diva

That’s the Diva at Morgan’s at La Quinta Resort &Spa  holding up a new, spiffy backpack purse her husband gave her for her birthday. It was just one of many treats.

Seems like going to the Desert for my birthday has become a tradition. Last year I spent it with Richard (herefore mentioned husband) at Morongo. And that was great,too.Breakfast on the balcony.

La Quinta sets off a magical charm when you enter the Spanish-style lobby to register, everybody’s so nice, the atmosphere so relaxed and you feel more like you out of the country than just a 2 hour drive away from Los Angeles.That’s a view from the Freeway.

I just posted the whole article, save for a review of Morgan’s–the resorts fine dining restaurant, which is worth the drive from LA just for dinner–on my examiner.com site, plesase check it out:  http://www.examiner.com/x-23074-LA-Insider-Travel-Examiner 

I’ll give you a few highlights:(The decades old resort has nearly 800 guest rooms of various sizes and shapes, all with flat screens, fireplaces, some balconies,some patios, some private pools and Jacuzzis, all charming and comfortable and priced from $199 in season to a $5,000 for the top suite).

What’s to Like:

Bedding down in our Starlight Casita (the maids made a special welcome swan out of towels) with a balcony providing magical mountain views and privacy for relaxing or enjoying room service breakfast. Great fritatas and perfect scrambled eggs.

Dinner in Twenty6 (delicious salmon), massage (Jeremy went deep) and steam at the charming,  23,000 square foot Spa; working out in the Diva-approved fitness center (has all the right stuff).

Swimming in the clean, warm pool that’s just a few steps down stairs from our bedroom. Took a photo but it got deleted, bummer. But trust me, the pools are great.

Dinner at Morgan’s

Transcendental atmosphere framed by snow-capped mountains, fertile with grapefruit trees, stately palms, plants, flowers with musical accompaniment of chirping birds.

Lots of action with locals flocking for drinks and/or dinner. Lots of hotel guests, energy, yet plenty of privacy.

The nice people at the resort.

Dislikes: the $27 resort fee; the $25 entry fee for the Spa if you’re not getting a treatment; the chintzy towels provided in the room for use at the pool. Need big,fluffy ones.

Factoids: Once a maven for movie stars and moguls from Frank Capra to Greta Garbo, La Quinta Resort & Spa provides the perfect escape from LA, or out of town. You can fly into Palm Springs Regional Airport, to LAX or drive (go to www.google.com for map from your area).

Location: 49-499 Eisenhower Drive,La Quinta, CA. 800-59-3828, www.laqunitaresort.com

I’ll be reviewing Morgan’s at www.thediningdiva.wordpress.com and at my examiner.com site, because it’s too good to share space with.

Diva Discovers Diva-delightful 2 for 1 Deal at Four Seasons Westlake Village

Your Diva On the Go just had to check out the Double the Fun special at the Four Seasons Westlake Village Hotel. I mean spa treatments, dinner and assorted services  for two people for the price of one.

How could I resist. The spa offering was enough to get me packing my bags.

I mean this is one of  the prestigious Four Seasons chains, a swank property with a world class spa and diva-delights galore. A hotel where even Internet discounted room rates start at $239 a day for “moderate” accommodations and rise to $429 for a Premier spread.

The ongoing “Double the Fun” promotion works like this: one person books spa treatments, the second person gets the same treatments FREE. The two of you go to dinner, one meal is complimentary (excluding alcohol or gratuities). Whatever service you pay for is free for the other guy or gal–quite the recession buster.

We opted for a superior king which is $250 a day on Friday and Saturday and $339 during the week, which, on this promotion amounted to $125 daily. 

We also booked “Therapist Choice” massages that would normally cost $145 a person and amounted to half that.  The 40,000 square foot spa at the hotel is a-one and so are the therapists. Mine was Lora who despite her diminutive size managed to pummel and pamper me to my taste for a deep massage–ditto for Richard’s masseuse, Mae.

“Organic Protection Facials”, normally $165 a pop, cost that for both of us, as did any salon or spa service we opted to book.

Spa facilities include steam, Jacuzzi, amenities, fluffy robes, lockers, showers, and gorgeous relaxation lounges stocked with assorted beverages and fruit. There’s also an indoor pool nearby and a top notch fitness center with all the latest equipment.

We managed to rack up about a $120 tab in the Asian Restaurant, ONYX, which was reduced to $60 since one of us got to eat “free.”

The 270-room Four Seasons provided a welcome addition to the burgeoning Westlake Village area when it opened four years. Nestled near the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains it rests roughly 35 miles northwest of LAX and about 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.

Don’t let the rather drab exterior deceive you, once you get past the entrance you walk into all the opulence that is Four Seasons—marble, wood,  signature Four Seasons floral arrangements,  fine art and upscale furnishings and appointments.

Its claim to fame is the California Health & Longevity Institute, which sits adjacent to the Spa and offers medical, dietary and life style training and screenings. Many house guests are participants in the program, but you don’t have to stay at the hotel to enroll.

Guest rooms are well put together with the obligatory flat screen TVs, fine linens, coffee makers,  mini-bars, marble bathrooms stocked with plush robes and towels, but not lots of toiletries. There was one bar of soap and one hand lotion on the sink,  a bar of soap on the tub, and a bottle of shampoo, condition and body  wash in the shower.

In addition to the Asian restaurant, the hotel hosts Hamptons, a fine dining experience offering healthy gourmet cuisine or regular menus. The setting is warm and elegant the food’s usually good and fairly pricy.

I loved the Lobby Restaurant where we had healthy breakfasts. I opted for the tofu scramble; Richard had the buckwheat pancakes, both tasty. We truly appreciated the waitress who obliged our request for strong coffee with just that.  Business people on the go can also take out food  from a little area at the entrance of the Lobby Restaurant that offers assorted whole fruit ($1.50), pastries ($2), granola with yogurt ($6.50), bagels for $2 (add $8 for salmon), fresh juice $6 and espressos or coffee ($3.50).
And if you’ve booked the Double the Fun Deal, you get one free of anything you order.

In addition to the Spa the hotel sports two pools (one indoor, one out).   Gorgeous gardens, on the back grounds, add a transcendental ambiance enhanced by 25,000 varieties of flora, 50-foot high sequoia trees surrounding the waterfalls, boulders imported from the River Kwai and an original Chinese poet’s house pagoda for meditation or special events.

The hotel serves as a pleasant getaway for Angelenos craving a quick escape, especially during the Double the Fun promotion.  Basically there’s no limit to how many spa treatments, meals, etc. you can enjoy for half the price when there are two people participating.

Hard to beat that.

The Four Seasons Westlake Village,  Two Dole Dr., Westlake Village, 818-575-3000, www.fourseasons.com/westlakevillage.com.

Movie, Dinner & Free Parking For $60 Offered for Special Date Night At the Grove LA

Date night at LA’s Grove: a movie, dinner and free parking for $60 a couple

 Hey, what a deal. A movie, dinner at any of 7 restaurants and free valet parking for $60 a couple at the Grove at LA’s Farmer Market. The special, on-going promotion tagged, “Date Night”  can be booked by calling the Grove’s concierge at 323-900-8080. 

 I just booked Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro for my husband Richard and I for Thursday night. We liked the menu that includes a choice of two starters: Romaine heart salad, roasted beet salad, organic mesclun of French onion soup; two entrees: fish & chips, chicken & mushroom crepes, buccacatini au meatballs, or turkey escalope; and one dessert: crème caramel or berry cobbler. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 When you call tell them what movie you want to see and the time, and when  and where you’d like your dinner reservation booked, they do the rest. You can eat before or after the movie. Whatever time you select you won’t have to wait in line to get into the theater, as you pass will allow you to walk right in. You’ll need to reserve your Date Night with a credit card. Caveat emptor: if you don’t show up your credit card will be billed for the full price, so be sure to cancel if necessary.

 When you arrive at the Grove, go to the Concierge station and they will present you with a special package that includes a certificate and tickets. According to David Swift, head of marketing for the Grove, “We’re hoping this will be a staple at the Grove.” “We’re trying it out to see how it works.” Sounds pretty good to me since movie tickets alone run $15 and that’s 30 bucks a pop right there.

There’s one small glitch, some restaurants offer three full courses a person, others are providing full entrees but shared appetizers and/or desserts. It gets a little confusing. The menus are posted on-line at www.theGroveLA.com , you’ll need to navigate it a bit. Go to the bottom of the home page and watch for the changing photos, then hit the one that says, “Date Night.” The 640,000 square foot, Art Deco’ Renaissance -style Grove is located between West Third Street and Beverly Blvd. In addition to movies and restaurants, the complex houses shops and boutiques anchored by Nordstrom. Call: 888-315-8883 for general information; 323-900-8080 for concierge services.