Monday, August 6, 2012

Taking One for the Team: Trying out the Kiwi Collection

by Sue Finley

Several TDN readers have commented to me about the ads we have been running for the Kiwi Collection, offering our readers "2,500 hand-picked hotels in 135 countries."

"What's that all about?" they have asked. "How are the hotels? Are they owned by one company? Are the deals reallly that good?"

The Cliff House at Pikes Peak — Manitou Springs, United States
The Cliff House at Pike's Peak
It was a tough assignment to volunteer to find out, but, in a massive bout of self-sacrifice, I decided to do a little research and offered to go stay in one of these fine establishments in order to provide more information for our TDN clients. Not that I wanted to, mind you. But I'm all about the company.

As my family is in Colorado, and I had a visit planned, I looked to see what hotels the Kiwi Collection offered in the state on their handy booking widget, which is found here on the TDN website: ( A search for Colorado found 24 options, most of them ski resorts, but two of which caught my eye: the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, and The Cliff House in nearby Manitou Springs. We had planned a trek up Pike's Peak, so chose The Cliff House for its proximity (and for the fact that Travel and Leisure called it one of the top 100 hotels in the world.) Again, I was willing to make the sacrifice for our readers.

I rented one room for myself and two kids, and another for my 85-year-old aunt and uncle, who live in Estes Park, a few hours away.

The view from Pike's Peak, where you're literally up in the clouds.
I originally booked the vacation for the end of June, and watched the growing wildfires with some concerns, as they were located primarily in the Waldo Canyon, just west of the hotel. On June 23, I had a call from my uncle that his neighborhood in Estes Park was on fire. I called the hotel, and they said that while they were open, all of the attractions in the area were officially closed, and very graciously offered to rebook our stay for one month down the road. First experience with them: high marks.

The NY Attorney General told the TRF that the Colorado
Springs area wasn't suitable land for horses...but we saw
hundreds like these, and they all seemed pretty happy.
We arrived at the hotel last Tuesday. Manitou Springs is a touristy town, with one main street lined with the sorts of shops you'd expect (Indian curios, fudge shops, t-shirt stores, an arcade, etc.) and a series of mid-priced motels just outside of downtown. (The last time I was in Manitou, I stayed at one of these motels, where I watched my daughter's hair turn a vivid green after a swim in the pool. We were looking for something slightly more upscale this time.)

Tucked one block off the main road, however, The Cliff House may as well be on a different planet. Most closely resembling a huge Victorian home, it has a distinctive Saratoga feel to it, for good reason.

Sarah Finley feeds a giraffe at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Originally built in 1873, The Cliff House was an inn on a stagecoach stop from Colorado Springs to Leadville, one of the most famous stagecoach runs in the American West. When the gold strikes in the region started to dwindle out, the town found its resurgence in its mineral springs, which, like Saratoga, were thought to have recuperative properties. The hotel was reborn as a destination for the wealthy, and expanded to the 54-guest-room structure it remains today, with guests encouraged to stroll downtown to the public Soda Springs on the main street for a glass of spring water. We gave it a try, and it tastes remarkably like Saratoga's--slightly fizzy, slightly salty, and with just a touch of sulpher.

The junior suite.
The highlights: drinks and dinner on the Veranda--a deep, Victorian porch decorated with wicker furniture--was so good the first night, we did it again the next, starting with their great wine list in late afternoon, and moving seamlessly into dinner. The late-night menu prices are ridiculous, with good-sized entrees like fish and chips starting at $6. There's an extensive kids' menu, and an ever-changing vegetarian menu, from which I dined both nights.

The rooms are not huge, but are sumptuous, with multi-head showers with steam, free wifi, hundreds of channels, and a DVD library with 300 titles to borrow. They wouldn't allow three people in a standard room, so we upgraded to the junior suite. Again, I'm all about the sacrifice. Pillow-top beds, 400 thread count, and dead-quiet rooms ensure a good night's sleep. Each room has a mini-fridge, and stocks it with free bottles of water to ward off elevation sickness. At 8,000 feet above sea level, being in Manitou Springs is like being on a plane, 24/7, complete with the dehydration that accompanies it. As most of the guests will travel up Pike's Peak, to 14,110 feet, staying hydrated is a must.

The Pike's Peak cog railway bring thousands of visitors
a year to the summit.
Area attractions are plentiful. We took the cog railway to the top of Pike's Peak, where the temperature was 80 in Manitou Springs, and 45 and hailing at the top. The views are unforgettable, and the tour guide knowledgeable and funny on the ride up and down. A nearby wolf sanctuary was a hit with the kids, and the Broadmoor down in Colorado Springs organizes trail rides up into the hills. Whitewater rapid trips can be arranged for both the fearful and the brave. A slew of zoos, museums, natural beauty, cave and mining tours are in the area. Don't miss a drive through the Garden of the Gods for some of the most awe-inspiring rock formations you have ever seen. We visited the Olympic Training Center, where our Olympic athlete bobsledder tour guide was the only athlete left in the village, the others having gone to compete in London.

Everything has re-opened since the fire, but the damage is quite visible outside of town, and a sudden heavy rain sends dirt sliding onto the the main road, which is quickly cleaned up by crews. But the fires never quite reached town, and after two days at The Cliff House, I find myself immensely grateful the beautiful old hotel was spared.

The best part? By booking through the Kiwi Collection, our double room was $110, and the suite $170--an absolute steal for one of the world's top 100 hotels.

But come to think of it...I think I'd better try out another Kiwi Collection hotel. Say...Turks and Caicos? February?

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