Upscale Living Magazine’s Damon M. Banks certainly does a lot of travel each year, and is always eager to explore new destinations and hotels to discover the highlights from each adventure. Of course, with the good, also comes the bad, and while Banks acknowledges that perfect experiences are extremely rare in this day and age, he chooses to maintain focus on the positive experiences.

“I never hesitate to let management know of issues that should be resolved, or provide helpful advice on how to improve these experiences, but with media, and social media in particular, I find that most of these hotels and destinations deliver a great overall experience,” says Banks. “For this collection, I have culled through my experiences from this past year to recognize the best of the best to highlight the top 15 for 2015.”

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AKA Beverly Hills

The Most Unique Suite Experience

Having stayed at a number of AKA properties over the years when extended stays are a necessity, this newest addition in Beverly Hills has been making headlines since it opened their doors, and for good reason. Perfectly situated at Crescent Drive and Wilshire Boulevard, this property is an exclusive residential oasis, but with an even more unique offering for those in the know – the Mobile Suite. This partnership between AKA, Airstream 2 Go and California’s legendary fashion designer Trina Turk provide guests an opportunity to take the luxuries associated with AKA on the road for several days. As part of the very popular ‘Live It Program’ by AKA, this sleek, top-of-the-line Airstream from Airstream 2 Go is outfitted with AKA signature comforts and Trina Turk accessories; allowing for a curated road trip up the California coast while cruising behind the wheel of a premium tow vehicle — a GMC Yukon Denali. | 155 N. Crescent Drive  | Beverly Hills, California 90210

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Andaz West Hollywood

The Ultimate Rooftop Experience

This property is simply in a fantastic area that is within a few steps of great gyms, shops and restaurants along Sunset Boulevard. I love rooftops, and always enjoy the opportunity to visit the lounges, bars and restaurants that occupy the hotel rooftops around the world. This one is just special because you have the refreshing pool, comfortable daybeds, amazing scenery, and the ability to savor some California cuisine and drinks at The Sundeck. Both by day and night, this rooftop is one of the best places to relax and enjoy great service, food, drink and those amazing views out over West Hollywood, and into the hills. For those looking to indulge and completely savor the entire Andaz West Hollywood ambiance while lounging in the daybeds, VIP Bottle Service is also available. If staying overnight, consider their Presidential Suite that’s not only a spacious suite, but also comes complete with an oversized teak balcony. | 8401 Sunset Boulevard | West Hollywood, California 90069

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Boca Raton Resort & Club – A Waldorf Astoria Resort

The Ultimate Beach Club Experience

The Boca Raton Resort & Club and the Boca Beach Club come together to provide an unbelievably beautiful, peaceful and luxurious getaway. With multiple accommodation options, the suites overlooking the Beach Club are my favorite. The lower units have a lanai with direct access to the pools and beach, so it’s like having a personal poolside bungalow the entire stay. Breakfast on the upper patio while overlooking the pools and beach is a perfect way to start the day, and the resort staff is beyond accommodating both poolside, and on the beach. Though you may only be a guest at the Beach Club for a few days, it has that feeling of exclusivity that comes with a private club membership. It’s difficult to pull away from the “scene” at the Beach Club, but the main property has a beautiful golf course and tennis facility, an over-the-top spa and outstanding dining and lounge areas to satisfy the most discerning guests. | 501 East Camino Real | Boca Raton, Florida 33432

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CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa

The Ultimate Family Friendly Getaway

While I am not currently in a situation that warrants the need to discover the best family-friendly hotels and resorts, it’s a question I receive often, so always looking for unique properties to recommend. Nestled between the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains and Mexico’s picturesque Bay of Banderas, CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa offers a stunning setting with beautiful accommodations, four world-class gourmet restaurants, infinity oceanfront pool and plenty that is guaranteed to keep the entire family very satisfied. In addition to being home to an award-winning Marriott Kids Club, the resort’s Secretos de la Familia immerses families in Puerto Vallarta culture with sea turtle rescue programs and Catch of the Day dining experiences, while offsite partner Vallarta Adventures offers zip-lining, horseback riding, adventure parks and more. Also being home of the largest Spa in Puerto Vallarta, it’s a perfect escape for the parents to savor the peace and serenity that comes with their luxurious treatment options. | Paseo La Marina Norte 435, Marina Vallarta | Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco 48354 Mexico

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Dromoland Castle Hotel & Country Estate

The Ultimate Chef’s Dinner Experience

For those visiting Ireland, a stay in one of the castle hotels is a must-do experience, and the entire Dromoland hotel and estate creates an unforgettable ambiance unlike anything else. Golf, tennis, bike riding, falconry and so much more are available to fill the days, and their dining options here are legendary. Traditional Irish breakfast, afternoon tea next to the fireplace in the drawing room, a steak on the patio overlooking the gardens at the Fig Tree Restaurant, and of course, an elegant dinner at Earl of Thomond are all exceptional ways to savor the atmosphere that comes with historic properties of this caliber. Chef David McCann’s specialty at Earl of Thomond is the Six-Course Dinner with wine pairings, which was a seemingly endless progression of absolutely delicious creations by McCann that paired perfectly with the wines served by the sommelier. Here, you dine like royalty while a guest at Dromoland. | Newmarket-on-Fergus | Co. Clare – Ireland

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Hotel Kämp – A Luxury Collection Hotel

The Ultimate Afternoon Tea Experience

Helsinki is such a fantastic destination, though often overlooked in my opinion. Located in the middle of all the action and cultural hub of the city, Hotel Kämp is a historical masterpiece dating back to 1887, and one of the regal properties managed by Starwood’s Luxury Collection. Like any good luxury hotel in Finland, the hotel’s architecture and stately rooms and suites (several with personal saunas) make you feel right at home. Dining at Hotel Kämp is an experience – Restaurant Yume is modern Asian, Brasserie Kämp has been serving delicious cuisine for more than 100 years and Kämp Bar is a favorite for locals and guests. The highlight is Afternoon Tea served at Brasserie Kämp, which is a delicious and unpretentious take on this favorite pastime for me that includes sandwiches, quiches, macarons and even mini burgers. Afternoon Tea is just more enjoyable when being savored in such a historically significant hotel property; and in the case of Hotel Kämp, the offerings and service are genuine and professional. | Pohjoisesplanadi, 29 | Helsinki, 00100 – Finland

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Ireland

The Ultimate Golf Destination

Golf in this area of the world is first class, and I was fortunate to visit three of the most exclusive private and public golf courses in the southwest area of Ireland: Dooks, Ballybunion and Tralee. One of Ireland’s oldest links courses, Dooks has some of the most amazing views imaginable in this corner of Dingle Bay that is on the Wild Atlantic Way. Ballybunion is a guaranteed to challenge any golfer, and the views out over the Atlantic Ocean are second-to-none – the Old Course is phenomenal, and the Trent Jones Cashen Course is a close second. Tralee is the direct result of Arnold Palmer’s design group taking the raw earth to create a true masterpiece – this course even has towers from the old castle dating back to 1190. Since most of the courses are played while walking and taking advantage of the advice from local caddies, the entire experience feels much more authentic, as it should in a corner of the world that lives and breathes golf. | Dooks Golf Links: Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry – Ireland  |  Ballybunion Golf Club: Sandhill Road, Ballybunion, Co. Kerry – Ireland  |  Tralee Golf Club: West Barrow, Ardfert, Tralee, Co. Kerry – Ireland

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Keswick Hall Club & Estate

The Ultimate Getaway

There are many destinations you visit to enjoy a high-octane experience, and then you occasionally find a resort that just instantly puts you at ease; providing a peaceful escape from the hectic everyday life. Welcome to Keswick, where the dining options, luxurious spa, championship golf, local wineries and an impeccable staff combine to create a very special atmosphere. This is where you go to simply get away from it all, and spend the days enjoying the amenities available in the hotel; or just fly-fishing, hiking and savoring all that this grand estate has to offer. Feeling stressed or simply need to be pampered for a few days? Keswick is your answer for singles, couples or families – there’s something for everyone here! And to make it even that much better, because of all of the local wineries, there’s always a great wine waiting to be enjoyed at the end of the day. | 701 Club Drive | Keswick, Virginia 22947

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Loews Hotel Miami

The Ultimate Pool Experience

I can certainly say that the feel of Miami has changed a lot in recent years, and there seems to be a host of new hotels intermixed with all of the ongoing construction. However, while shopping and dining along Lincoln Mall Road for a taste of the local culture, and a visit to Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts for international culture are must-do’s while in the area, it’s finding a peaceful escape to unwind that’s absolutely necessary. The Loews Hotel Miami is not extravagant, and the rooms and standard suites are not over-the-top, but walking along the palm-lined walkway that leads to a fantastic beachfront pool that has something for everyone makes this hotel a favorite place to call home while in South Beach. The entire team is quick to assist guests while lounging by the oversized pool, or guests can go all out and enjoy the exclusive services and amenities available at the poolside VIP area, SOAK. | 1601 Collins Avenue | Miami Beach, Florida 33139

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Park Hyatt Aviara Resort

The Ultimate Spa Experience

The Park Hyatt brand took over management of this property several years ago, and I must admit that they have done a flawless job of taking-on such an amazing property that has endless services and amenities to offer guests. The golf course is one of my favorites in the country, and the pools, dining options and simply a walk around this beautiful property make the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort a very inviting destination, just outside of San Diego. Visit the Aviara Spa for the absolute best in pure indulgence. It’s all about the entire bespoke experience here, and is not a situation where they advertise luxury spa services, but only offer a tired and cramped locker room. The spacious locker rooms with whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms and an indoor solarium lounge area at Aviara Spa are perfection. With 20 treatments rooms, the therapists and overall luxurious spa atmosphere make it a great place to spend the day (or two). | 7100 Aviara Resort Drive | Carlsbad, California 92011

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Ritz-Carlton Chicago – A Four Seasons Hotel

The Ultimate City Hotel Experience

Though the name of this property is always confusing for those visiting, the location is simply perfect when visiting Chicago. Just across from the historic water tower, and only steps away from divine shopping along Michigan Avenue, the hotel even has direct access to the high-end mall, Water Tower Place. For those cold winter days, this direct access to the shops, restaurants and other services is a true blessing. Many of the lake view rooms actually look into the landmark John Hancock Center, and beyond onto the majestic Lake Michigan. Perched high above the streets of Chicago, The dec Rooftop Lounge + Bar is a great place to enjoy the city views during the warmer months. Just a few blocks away is the other Four Seasons property, which is another beautiful Chicago destination; and if even for a quick afternoon visit, Allium a great place to enjoy Afternoon Tea. | 160 East Pearson Street at Water Tower Place | Chicago, Illinois 60611

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Rome Cavalieri – Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts

The Ultimate Wine Experience

A complete escape for anyone with the love of fine dining, authentic local ingredients and the ultimate wine list experience, the Rome Cavalieri features six food and beverage outlets including the legendary “La Pergola” restaurant and bar. Executive Chef Heinz Beck has been at the helm of the property’s Three Michelin Star restaurant, La Pergola, for 20 years. The restaurant’s wine cellar houses more than 53,000 bottles of wine, as well as a water menu with 29 choices, olive oils and vintage balsamic vinegars from the best producers in Italy, and the finest ingredients sourced in the Mediterranean. The ambiance here is blissful, complete with impeccable service, fresh ingredients, inventive dishes, world-class art and the extensive wine list that is only manageable with the helpful advice of their renowned sommeliers. With inspiring experiences exclusive to the Rome Cavalieri, an over-the-top spa, and just all-around stunning property, you’ll find yourself not wanting to leave this resort experience. | Via Alberto Cadlolo 101 | 00136 Rome, Italy

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The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort

The Ultimate Equestrian Experience

I will admit that a ranch is not normally my first choice for a getaway. However, The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort somehow brings together the best of an authentic ranch experience with the necessary modern touches to simply make it work. Accommodations are a bit rustic, but this 10,000-acre ranch just outside of Santa Barbara has fine dining, two amazing golf courses, tennis, pool and spa to make this resort very charming. Though I don’t get to be around horses nearly as often as I would like, I never miss an opportunity to spend time on the trails. With 50 miles of trails, a string of 100 horses, and the opportunity to escape on horseback to enjoy a unique perspective of the canyons, shaded hillsides, grazing cattle and babbling brooks makes for a perfect outing. They have rides and lessons throughout the day, and have a great fun-loving staff that caters to all levels of riders. | 1054 S. Alisal Road | Solvang, California 93463

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The Breakers Palm Beach

The Ultimate Casita Experience

Palm Beach has long been a favorite destination for those looking for a sun-filled Florida getaway, and The Breakers has been the hotel-of-choice since the beginning. Driving up the path of palm trees to the majestic portico is simply breath taking; and once inside, the insane level of architectural details is very unexpected for Florida. A new gym, spa and more enhancements were just recently completed, and the golf, tennis and pools associated with The Breakers are first-class. Dining here is an experience, and the walk across the street to Flagler Steakhouse, upstairs from the golf pro shop, is well worth the efforts and an indulgent affair. Poolside, the beach bungalows are some of the best options when it comes to bungalows today. The staff is there for anything needed, and I recommend guests try to reserve Number 25, as it’s a personal favorite – corner unit with private grass area overlooking the beach and all the standard amenities that come with bungalow rentals while a guest at The Breakers Palm Beach. | One South County Road | Palm Beach, Florida 33480

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Vail, Colorado

The Ultimate Ski Destination

Having visited a number of ski destinations throughout North America and Europe, I have discovered multiple reasons to return to these hotels, restaurants and winter destinations; but Vail sincerely is the entire package, and has quickly won me over. The picturesque Vail Village makes you feel more like you’re walking through a quaint village in the Alps, surrounded by private villas, lodges and hotels. To add to the Village’s charm, the boutique shops and restaurants are easily accessible due to the entire Village having heated sidewalks. The skiing is world-class with more than 5,000 acres of skiable terrain, and the entire operation is made complete with great staff and services. Even those that might not be ready to tackle the slopes, the mountainside restaurants, spa services and spectacular scenery make Vail a perfect getaway. Besides, any ski resort that offers free Wi-Fi in their Gondola is tops in my book. | Vail, Colorado 81658

 

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Damon M. Banks

With a dynamic 15-year history of working with a diverse collection of projects and assignments, Damon is able to provide his expertise and services to clients by seamlessly merging the worlds of writing, social media, marketing and promotion. He balances his work at DMB Public Relations with freelance consulting, while also serving as editorial contributor and industry expert to a variety of international travel, tourism, hospitality and luxury lifestyle publications. Connect with Damon directly at http://www.DamonBanks.com
With a dynamic 15-year history of working with a diverse collection of projects and assignments, Damon is able to provide his expertise and services to clients by seamlessly merging the worlds of writing, social media, marketing and promotion. He balances his work at DMB Public Relations with freelance consulting, while also serving as editorial contributor and industry expert to a variety of international travel, tourism, hospitality and luxury lifestyle publications. Connect with Damon directly at http://www.DamonBanks.com

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